As I was taking the long walk to the boulders of Mount Evans, my mind began orchestrating an order to the work projects and tedious chores of my life. I moved at a brisk pace through the timbers and weeds, my negligent crash pad brushing columbine and purple fringe, now in full bloom.
I wondered what to write my next column about, but no ideas transpired and my mind turned against me. Amateur!
I surveyed the field of erratics in the alpine cirque of Mount Evans. The boulders relaxed on the grassy slope, taking a mere nap, a geological nanosecond, before moving on to rock Nirvana and being reincarnated by the earth's liquid-hot core.
As it so happens, the boulders have held their particular shapes and angles long enough for humans -- generally young, strong and loud ones -- to climb their facets, name them and assign them numbers, which are subsequently logged and debated on websites designed for this sole purpose.
Jen and I lapped a V2 to warm up, and tried a tall V6 with a devious sloper that rendered us phlegm, and our crash pads, a spittoon. So we headed up to the world-famous Dali boulder to try its namesake V8. Perhaps the addition of two more V points would change our luck.
Approaching the holiest (sacred, not hueco'ed) boulder in all of Boulder, I heard the growing din of an iPod boom box playing distinctly hipster anthems. This could only mean one thing: douchebags.
Upon rounding the corner, I was surprised to find only two buddies, far fewer than the standard 40 or so normally lying stoned and half asleep on camping beds (crash pads).
The first buddy had scrappy brown hair and a loud little flavor-saver under his lip. The second buddy was blond and possessed a neater appearance that suggested a quieter demeanor. Brown-haired buddy came up to me.
"Hello," he said, putting out a hand to shake. "I'm Lord Science."
It was my lucky day.
How he came to acquire such an honorific sobriquet is not worth detailing, because his explanation was broke. You know -- it made no cents. Despite the grandiose name, Lord Science seemed like a regular dude who, by his own admission, talked way too much. Now, I've heard that people like him exist in the bouldering community, so I was more or less prepared for the incessant chattering and unsolicited beta. But can you imagine how a naive but otherwise decent person would react to being so vigorously spoken to when he is simply trying to do some rock climbing in a peaceful alpine setting? It's no wonder that climbers hate each other.
I chalked up for the Dali, grabbed the starting grip, made two moves and fell. Fortunately, Lord Science was right there with a list of things I had done wrong, from the placement of my left foot to the more aggressive thumb wrap I'd need with the right hand. The only thing the list forgot to include was coming to Mount Evans in the first place.
Jen was less fortunate than I: she didn't even complete a single move before the onslaught began. Jen had opted to experiment with a viciously tiny crimp she thought might help avoid the low-percentage dyno. She locked off, but pulled up just an inch shy of the crimp.
"You need your foot up on this hold," Lord Science explained. "And your left hip needs to be closer to the wall. OK? Got it? Left foot here. Hip closer to the wall."
Despite being 5'4, and having a negative-two ape index, Jen is an impressive 5.13 climber, an expert at deciphering clever and efficient beta that works. I wanted to explain this on her behalf, but I was too busy daydreaming about sweet murder.
"My foot was on that foothold," Jen retorted.
"I don't think it was," said Science.
Sometimes you can't fight words with words. No matter. Jen had a better idea. She placed her toe on the exact foothold pedantically pointed out by the Lord, while I boosted her against the wall so that not only her hip but the entire left side of her body was flush with the stone. Lo and behold, her hand, still, was one inch shy.
"See?" Jen said.
"Oh," said Lord Science, whose commentary had suddenly run dry. Jen is a kindergarten teacher, and in that moment, as I held her hip against the 45-degree wall of the Dali boulder, I was offered a glimpse into what her daily life in the classroom must be like.
"So, have you done this problem?" I asked Science.
"No, but I've been working on it for a year or two. It's hard. People say it's V8, but I'm taking V9 when I do it."
I find it odd that climbers, myself included, typically hate being given beta. Why wouldn't we accept, with open arms and open minds, advice that could potentially help us succeed? The problem, of course, is in the delivery. How you go about giving beta is as important as, if not more so than, the beta itself. These are things I wanted to remind Lord Science of, not to mention that since he has failed to actually do the problem, how does he know that his beta isn't bad beta? Why wouldn't he consider, given his own circumstances, that he might be giving us the beta for turning Daniel Woods' warm-up into a two-year project?
"Captain Math, or whatever his name is," Jen whispered from the corner of her mouth (a weird idiosyncrasy she'd unknowingly acquired recently), "might be the most obnoxious person I've ever met!"
I sighed. I hated to agree only because another column complaining about obnoxious beta spewers would be an old chestnut, a joke that has worn thin and tedious. I prayed for something sensational to happen to give me something better to work with. A wobbler, fisticuffs, the spontaneous appearance of Jens Larssen and the 8a.nu grade police to take a stand on the V8/9 slash grade of the Dalianything!
But alas, nothing happened except that a Biblical storm moved in. Lord Science escaped just in time, but Jen and I cowered in a hole under our crash pads, getting positively soaked and watching water stream down the problem, which, on that day, would not be sent by anyone. Lord Science turned out to be just a regular ol' standard-issue beta lord, while I ended up cold, wet and still without any good column ideas.
"Why can't you write positive things?" one reader e-mailed me. "I want to read about all the positive things in climbing that uplift me."
In writing, it's easy to fall into the trap of deriving humor at the expense of something else, whether it's other people, or their dumb ideas, or even yourself and your own dumb ideas. However, the thought of candied articles about all of the positive things that we love most in climbing makes me gag worse than the Facebook status update I recently read, from a friend and new mother, who wondered whether it's OK to put breast milk in her coffee if she runs out of cream. (No, it's definitely not.)
Of course, I love climbing and its many positive and uplifting things. But like most climbers I know, I don't think this way. There are too many good things in climbing worth hating: boastful spray lords who are so plainly compensating for their other inadequacies, still-virgin gear junkies, haughty alpinists and their unrealized homosexual tendencies, those poor and uncoordinated gumbies, and, of course, the audacity of pro climbers who think that just because they climb hard, other people should give a shit about them and companies should pay for their self-indulgent lives. The list goes on and on.
I recognize that just ripping on guys like Lord Science is cheap and easy, not something that illuminates this Sport of Kings, as the gifted writer John Long most aptly called it.
But surely there's a compromise to a cloying, everything-is-wonderful portrait of our sport, and I think I may have found it in this tangential ending, a list of five things I don't hate about climbing.
1. The Global Bender. There are vertical planes to be scaled in every single country on earth. Think about how cool that is -- especially if it's actually true. Not even surfers, who spend their days with hot girls in bikinis, are so fortunate. Climbing is not only the perfect reason to see the world, it puts you on a wild course that few people ever tread, but those who do, all seem to know and like each other. The more I travel for climbing, the more I realize that these trips will be the reason I climb till the day I can't hold on any longer.
Of course, there are exorbitant costs to going anywhere farther than the local blood bank. Plus, I suspect that the people who run airline companies make Marsellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction look like the Dalai Lama. Then there are bad exchange rates, not to mention the rest of the world hating us, not to mention the septic systems found in places like Greece or Mexico, where you throw toilet paper into a trash bin instead of flushing it. How barbaric! The writer David Sedaris put it best: "Greece invented democracy and built the Parthenon and then decided to call it a day."
2. Deep-water soloing with girls in bikinis. This one doesn't need any explanation. However, I will add that since deep-water soloing means "going to Europe" (if you want the good stuff), and going to Europe means Euros, then "deep-water soloing with girls in bikinis" also means deep-water soloing with heinous hairy-backed Euros falling out of their banana hammocks and jockos.
You want to scream out, "No, stemming is not the beta! Stop stemming!" but you don't know the Spanish words for indecent exposure. Instead, you resign yourself to a lifetime of nightmares.
3. It's all so different ... yet the same! Climbing is varied. When you get sick of sport climbing, you can go trad climbing or bouldering or, what the hell, aid climbing if you're really feeling lazy. Best of all, these pursuits -- each one fulfilling, challenging and uplifting in its own way -- often correspond directly with the change of seasons, providing an invigorating circadian rhythm to your vertical life.
Think about how well climbing's varied disciplines complement each other. Sport helps you become better at trad, and trad helps you look at yourself in the mirror and not hate what you see.
4. Everyone can do it. One of the last remaining myths about climbing is that it's an elite gig for hardcore chisel-chinned alpha dogs. This is changing as new gyms, and new cliffs, pop up around the country like mushrooms, and more people are being encouraged to try the sport. What a great thing. Climbing saved my life. Now I have the pleasure of watching it save my younger sister, a positively thrilled gumby who is suddenly full of confidence and brimming with a meaning greater than herself.
Climbing's growth -- which I know some people dislike, but I openly don't hate -- must be in part credited to the sweet companies that make comfortable and user-friendly gear that keeps us safe. It also has a lot to do with the pro climbers, who make climbing look cool and fun, and whose self-indulgent videos keep us stoked to improve.
5. Lord Science. Well, I guess I don't hate Lord Science, either. I actually thought he was pretty funny. And to be honest, on the next trip to Mount Evans, Lord Science's beta worked perfectly.
Andrew Bisharat wants to thank Lord Science for the column idea as well.
1 I've noticed that buddy is Boulder climbers' preferred word for a person, friend or foe. For example: "You got it, buddy! Send it!" and "Hey, buddy! What's the beta?" and "Yo, buddy, when are we getting divorced?"