Climbing Mountains for Dumbies
Climbing Mountains For Dumbies
An Illustrated “How-To” Book
by Fringe’s Folly
Chapter 1: Why Climb At All?
The answer is not, as Edmund Hillary said,”because it is there.” The answer is, “because Kansas is boring.” You don’t learn anything about yourself, the world, mountains, or anything else by just standing still. Risk is its own reward. Without climbing, you’re already on the ground you’ll be buried in. At least give your loved ones the courtesy of having a hell of a time getting you into the ground.
Chapter 2: How to Choose a Mountain
Mountains come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are like cubes. Some are like pyramids. Others are like needles, or fortresses, or penises, or the head of a gorilla, or a pair of tits. Climb whichever one appeals to you. Remember when you were a kid and a teacher told you to draw a mountain? What did you draw? That’s your mountain. That’s the one you should climb. Don’t think about it too hard though, all mountains are good. Can’t remember what you drew in kindergarten? Draw one now. Then google “Mountain” and go climb one that looks like that.
Chapter 3: Picking Out Your Tools
There are lots of different ways to climb mountains. Some people climb them naked with no protection. Some people bring partners and wear clothes and use ropes. Some people hammer pitons into cracks, other people don’t like to. Some people use roto-hammers and drill bolts, some people think bolts are for murderers. In the end, your tools depend upon how much risk you are willing to take, which depends in turn on what kind of mountain you chose to climb. If you can’t climb the mountain you drew the way you want to climb it, that’s called learning. Leave that mountain behind, go back to the drawing board, and draw another one. Keep doing this until you can climb the mountain of your dreams. By that time, it will probably look like the mountain you drew in the first place.
Chapter 4: Making a Plan
You don’t have to make a plan to climb a mountain. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe the best way to climb a mountain is to just start from the first moment possible, and let your hands and feet do the deciding. Maybe the very act of climbing mountains is a defiance against the cogs and machinations of a world that is hellbent on convincing everyone to always make plans about everything. Maybe plans are for people who live in Kansas. Poor Kansas. What about Nebraska? Kansas is a fine place, but it has no mountains. You know where people from Nebraska go when they want to climb? To the closest place with mountains. That’s called a plan. Beyond that, I would just let the mountains do the work. They’ll let you know which way is right or wrong. And if they don’t, just keep on going in the direction that makes the most sense to you. It might take a long time, but I promise, if you just stick with that path you’re almost guaranteed to hit a mountain.
Chapter 5: Getting to the Base
From Kansas, take I-70 west until you crash into the mountains. You know what’s amazing? When you’re still well east of Denver, and the first glimpse of mountains is just barely visible, and it feels like you’re still more in Kansas than Colorado, you’re already almost a mile high. If you chose to climb a 10,000 foot mountain, you’re practically halfway there. Even if you can’t see the mountain you’re going to climb yet. You know what else is amazing? Once you get to the true base of your mountain, and you look up to the summit, you’ll think you’re a lot closer than you are. Mountains can be that way. When you think you’re far, you’re near. When you think you’re near, you’re far. You would think mountains would make much more sense than that, but they don’t. Anyway, to get to the base, drive until you have to walk until you have to climb. Then you’re there. If your mountain isn’t in Colorado, you might have to add a step. Such as fly, sail, helicopter, or hot air balloon. It depends what mountain you want to climb. But either way, once you can no longer call what you’re doing walking, you’re already well on your way. And if you never reach that point and all of a sudden you’re on the top, well then this is the wrong book for you. This is “Climbing Mountains for Dumbies.” If you never climb it doesn’t count.
Chapter 6: Starting the Climb
Remember when I said ‘by the time you can no longer call what you’re doing walking you’re well on your way’? Well, that was kind of a half truth. You’ll know it when you’re there. It’s when your blood turns to electricity and your legs turn to Jello, and suddenly you feel a deep urge to shit yourself. Once you start climbing, fun and fear go up in parallel lines. So do risk and reward. So do confidence and performance. The most important thing to do is simply to put on your climbing shoes. If you’re climbing with a partner and protection, make sure everything is arranged according to plan. If you want to have a plan, and you don’t have one yet, you better make one now. Before you start. Not everybody needs a plan, but if you do, what the heck are you doing without a plan? And if you planned not to have a plan… well, there you are. Any questions? Oh yeah, and don’t forget to breathe. It’s hard to climb well without breathing.
Chapter 7: What to do When it Gets Hard
This is what everybody wants to know about mountains – that, and where/how/when do you poop. The answer is easy: try hard and smile. Try hard, because if you don’t then you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you did. Smile, because it makes it easier to try hard. Don’t turn around (unless you tried as hard as you possibly could and it’s become clear this was not the right mountain (in which case, return to Chapter 2)), or you’ll end up back in Kansas, or somewhere like it. This is what you came for. The struggle validates the experience. You are literally climbing mountains because you want to do something hard. If it wasn’t hard, it would be called sitting on the couch watching the football game. And the mountain you drew when your teacher asked you to draw a mountain would have been a collection of horizontalish lines, and she would have said “Johnny, that’s not a mountain,” and she would have been right, and you would have been a dull boy. Unless you gently removed the paper from her hands, slowly turned it 90 degrees, and looked her in the eyes mischievously but also quite seriously as you revealed one hell of a fucking mountain—a sheer vertical scream of stone—and then you would have been named Johnny Copp. Or Johnny Waterman. Who are either completely the same, or completely different, and probably a lot depends upon which is true, but either way, this brings us to Chapter 8.
Chapter 8: Whether or Not to Die in The Process
Unfortunately, nobody still alive knows the answer to this question. All the climbers who died in the mountains know the answer. But most of them are still out there hiding under glaciers and such, and even if you find them, they might not tell you. And the dead climbers that aren’t in the mountains, well, they’ve either been burned up in an incinerator and put into a small box that their loved ones could keep on a dresser or scatter as they like, or they’ve been pumped full of formaldehyde and other chemicals and locked up in a big box and put deep in the ground where their loved ones can always go to visit the lawn and headstone that sits on top of them. Either way, they are pretty tight-lipped about their secrets. Any climber that’s not dead has guesses about the answer to this question. Many of them will present those guesses to you as answers. But they are not answers, they are guesses, and anyone who thinks his or her guesses are answers – beware of that person, friend. They don’t know the answer. Not yet anyway. Personally, I would GUESS the following: it’s either in the mountains all alone or in a hospital bed in Kansas surrounded by your loved ones. That might help you figure out your own guess, or it might not. In the end, there’s only one way to find out, and by that time, you’ll be dead. You could always ignore the question altogether, and ask a different one instead. For example: whether or not to live in the process. Either way, life’ll kill ya. At least, that’s what Warren Zevon said. And he should know.
Chapter 9: What to do When You Get to The Summit
Keep on breathing, for sure. Less air up there. You’ll want to take a look around. If it’s safe, get down on your belly and take a good look at how far you’ve come. Look out for sea gulls, condors, peregrine falcons, and other birds. They are beautiful, but also might shit on you, divebomb you, or vomit in your face, causing you to lose your balance and fall. Beauty is often like that – don’t let it cause you to forget who or where you are. Say thank you, because being on summits is a rare gift, and some people won’t ever get to climb in the first place. Climbing, like living, is a privilege. Not everyone gets to do either. That means that if you’re a climber, you’re doubly privileged. And somebody else has it worse than you. And they’re down there in Kansas, maybe dreaming of their own mountains. When you come down, you may be able to use what you’ve learned to help them achieve that dream. Which is another mountain to climb altogether. Don’t look in any mirrors unless you’re ONLY looking to make sure your head isn’t getting too big. If it is, pop your own bubble. If you don’t, you’ll lose your balance and fall, and the higher you are up the mountain, the further you have to fall. Keep breathing. Smile again. And say thank you again, one more time, for good measure. It’s pretty easy for a mountain to kill you. For whatever reason, this one didn’t. Not yet anyway. And that’s plenty to be thankful for.
Chapter 10: How to make it back down again
Presuming you’re still alive by the time you get to this step, the answer is “very carefully.” Sometimes you’ll want to retrace your steps, undoing all that you’ve done, carefully returning to the base of the mountain, carefully walking back to the car in the gathering shadows, and driving carefully back to civilization which is glowing eerily in the distance like a vast network of arteries and veins all injected with radioactive goo to see if there are any major traffic jams or clots that might cause the whole thing to spontaneously seize up precipitating a myocardial infarction. Or you may carefully seek out a different route altogether than the one you climbed, carefully descending terrain that you still don’t know in the tenebrous gloom under only the dim glow of your headlamp, which is great at illuminating a tiny circle known as your immediate future, but shit at showing you what’s more than a few seconds ahead. No matter how you get back down, be careful and watch out. You’re more tired than you realize, you’re hungry, you’ve been thirsty for a long time. All of this is dangerous. But the most dangerous thing of all is that going down feels a lot easier than going up, so it’s easy to let your brain turn off, and get suckered into instant replays of your climb that remind you of your more heroic moments like that time you WHAM! and of course that’s right when you trip over your own feet and turn into an all-knowing ever-loving human pancake way down there in the darkness. And once you’re a pancake, knowing it all won’t do you any good. Go quietly so you can hear the mountain speaking, go gently so you don’t disturb the mountain’s slumber, go humbly so you don’t forget how much bigger than you the mountain is, and go proudly so you can trust your arms and legs to deliver you safely back down the mountain.