Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ethics and style

A decade or so ago, Yvon Chouinard famously laid out the difference between climbing ethics and climbing style. “Ethics,” he said, “are so that you don’t screw it up for the next guy; and style is so you don’t delude yourself into thinking you are so hot.”

This made quick sense to me. And it made me feel virtuous, since there was never any danger of my thinking I was so hot, struggling as I usually was up a 5.1 with a top rope. And the only way I ever screwed it up for the next guy was to get stuck two pitches up and block the climb until I was reeled in from above.

I ponder, on and off, the rough application of the Chouinard formulation to areas of life other than climbing, but realize applying it would require pounding the round peg of concept into the square hole of definition.

Now I’ve just read some of the other seriously amusing things he said at the same time:

  • “I don’t care if Everest is climbed by an expedition of a hundred Rotary Club members all sucking O’s from a hookah connected to a giant oxygen tank at Base Camp—as long as the mountain is not altered, and the style of the climb does not mar the other climbers’ experience on the mountain. That means no leaving 30 ladders in place, no 10,000 feet of fixed ropes, no helicopters buzzing, no garbage everywhere.”
Bad, bad style, but good ethics. Go you chubby crazed Rotary guys!
  • “Perfect style would be a naked human being soloing a new route on sight. Anything other than that is of lesser stylistic value: If you put on shoes, you get docked one point; extra sticky rubber-two points; previewing or reading a topo—another point—and so on ad infinitum. The farther you get away from perfect style, the less proud you should be of yourself.”
Being a born judgmental Calvinist at heart, I go for this, but only as Puritan magical realism. I want neither to be nor to see that naked climber. (College doesn’t count, right?)

Of course, being a born judgmental Calvinist at heart is spectacularly bad style in itself. On the other hand, it means that my ethics are impeccable.

Doesn’t it?

I’m going for a walk.

3 comments:

Alan Sloman said...

You have it here.

I have always rather fancied walking across Scotland on the Challenge from a new Start Point just on a compass bearing, East, with no maps at all.

That would be discovery.

The trouble is, after fifteen crossings now, I guess that I would know pretty much where I was all the time. So perhaps the thing to do would be to take a chunk of country I don't know and just head in a direction to see where I end up?

Now there's a thought for a Big Walk...

6p00d83452942669e2 said...

Great post, Mark. Good thoughts, and I always love Chouinard's take on things - very insightful.

Thanks for sharing!

-Jake Norton

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Mark Alvarez said...

Cheers, Al and Jake.

Alan, you and your compass should just come over for a visit and walk across Connecticut. Maybe even toss in Rhode Island. That'll set you right up. Lots of back yards (remember Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer?). No haggis, though.