What’s In A Name?

Me on the summit of Sharkfin Tower

How do you define your passion?

Are you a hiker, climber, skier, and mountaineer? Or do you simply wrap them under “adventurer” and “outdoor enthusiast”?

What experience and what at what level of mastery are you allowed to proclaim that title?

A few days before Christmas, I was in a Seattle coffee shop with my friend, Beth (of 3 Up Adventures) and a question came up that I hadn’t thought of before:

What am I?

I consider myself a climber overall because I’ve put passion and knowledge into my practice. Do I have the right to call myself an “alpinist” if I haven’t achieved the mastery of the sport but I put my whole heart into my development?

This isn’t about assigning a name or a title. An adventurer is “a person who enjoys or seeks adventure.” This about using outdoor experiences to define one-selfs abilities and passions.

So what is in a name?

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Until August, 2014, my Twitter profile, which is a CV of sorts documenting my interests as an outdoorsman, read “aspiring alpinist”. I held myself against a certain standard. What was the point where I could delete the “aspiring”? Was it when I went back and climbed that last peak (Rainier) and a host of smaller granite towers that I felt had held me back for two years?

Turns out, in elation when I finally made the summit that same month, I had enough pride and confidence in my abilities that I could call alpinism “the goal of my outdoor life”. Now the focus has turned to skiing. I’m developing, but being hindered by a few factors, I think – can I go ahead and even say that I’m developing and learning? Do I only have the right to call myself a skier when I’m out every weekend, or does it reach that point when it becomes an obsessive project that I’m working on?

I don’t think that a title comes with pure mastery. I think it’s assigned when a certain level of consistency is attained. I know that there are exceptional climbers who are constantly pushing boundaries that I haven’t touched yet. I know that I’m constantly raising the bar for myself, and even if I’m not climbing, I keep my interests and my passions aligned with the sport and the community. Therefore, by being an active and participatory member of this community, encouraging others to join, and paying attention to the issues and the events that occur, I call myself a dedicated climber.

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So that leaves mountaineering. I know it’s where I’m headed, and I consider myself fairly accomplished, but have I flipped through “Freedom of the Hills” and climbed enough in the North Cascades to give myself that title? I considered Rainier to be a breakthrough moment, and the moment that I realized that I would do anything to go back and finish what I had started. After the fact, I entered the gray zone between “mountaineering” and “alpine climbing” and decided I wasn’t as in love with climbing on glaciers as I was scaling vertical walls in the mountains.

Before Luke could call himself a Jedi Knight, he was told that he had to confront his biggest fear, in his case, defeating Darth Vader. While the situation isn’t as extreme, feeling comfortable with surroundings, circumstances, and risks, plays into proclaiming a title.

So how do you define yourself?

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6 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Well written and thought provoking…my two cents would be that the only prerequisites for such a self-applied label to be accurate would be a high degree of passion and a reasonable level of competence. I call myself an alpinist because I’m fairly good at alpine climbing and I spend most of my resources either training for it or doing it. Will I ever be as good as Steck or House or Huber? Nope. Will I ever be able to do it full time? Probably not. But I love it and it has shaped and defined a large part of who I am.

    Separate note – I’ve looked at some of your trip reports, pretty cool stuff! I need to get out to the Cascades more often…or move.

    1. Much appreciated! You don’t need to be at their level (because Steve House isn’t from this planet as far as i’m concerned) but just need to be out.

      Also thanks a lot! Where you climbing?

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