“What’s the difference between success and failure in the mountains?”
Simple, right? The summit is the goal of every climb; it’s the best, perhaps only, metric of success. Upward progress should halt not because the weather threatens, the terrain above looks too difficult (or too easy!), or because fatigue, hunger, and fear have finally taken their collective toll. No, the climb ends at the apex of the mountain, when there’s nothing more to climb.
But, given this binary view, Success and Failure share a surprising number of characteristics. Failure in the mountains can be a fun, worthwhile, and ultimately beneficial experience. You can climb to within 10 meters of the summit and be forced to retreat, but you still will have formed lifelong memories, overcome challenging obstacles, forged ironclad friendships, and probably had a great time doing so.
In fact, it has been argued that failure is actually the mark of a cutting-edge mountaineer, one who pushes the envelope so far, sets his own stylistic and ethical standards so high, that success becomes a rarefied, and justifiably celebrated, goal.
Success, on the other hand, can be arduous, terrifying, and even debilitating. Reaching the summit, and then descending safely, is certainly no guarantee of a fun experience. Worse, if you compromise your standards and ethics in the pursuit of the summit, “success” might ultimately leave a hollow and haunting legacy.
“So, what really is the goal of mountain climbing?”
Experiencing the wild and massive spaces, either in solitude or with the camaraderie of a team; negotiating obstacles, both mental and physical, and finding creative solutions; escaping a dull routine; discovering real friendships; and creating confidence in one’s own abilities; these I think are the components of a successful climb, and a successful climber.
That, and the summit.
This Blog is about Success, Failure, and everything in between. It is about adventure in the mountains, and all of the obstacles, friendships, terror, hardship, and ultimately joy that come with it. I hope you enjoy it!
About the Header Image: I’m leading the last pitch of “The Tempest”, on Colchuck Balanced Rock, Washington. Photo by Garrett Grove. Thanks Garrett!
About the Name: “Rope and Summit”, the primary tool and the primary goal of mountain climbing. Also, an excellent song and EP from the Swedish group Junip. Listen here.