Smith Rock, Oregon
Climbers are some of the most immature people on the face of the earth and I mean that in a very good way. It is precisely because of this immaturity, that I think climbers are actually some of the most evolved and advanced group of people I have ever known. As I discovered on a climbing trip to Smith Rock, the human species has in fact naturally evolved by retaining immature characteristics. Part of what draws me to climbing is this spirit of neoteny (remaining young).
One of my most memorable climbing trips was when I traveled back to Smith Rock with my buddy John Schrader in March of 2007. I bought a copy of Still Life with Woodpecker, a Tom Robbins novel, right before we departed.
About halfway through reading it on the trip, I came across this passage:
"Behavioral traits such as curiosity of the world, flexibility of response, and playfulness are common to practically all young mammals but are usually lost with the onset of maturity in all but humans. Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature”
The passage captured exactly how I feel about many of the climbers I have met over the years - they remain young through the adventure and never ending journey of discovering the best rock to pull on and coolest ice to climb.
I have a tendency to only keep a journal when I go on climbing trips. Months or years after the adventures have passed when I'm back in my normal work and life routine I’ll pull them out to receive that needed dose of adventure.
I recently flipped through to the last night I spent at Smith on that trip with John in 2007. It was my first (and I think last) attempt at stream of consciousness. Here’s what I was thinking that night as I scribbled in my notebook….Stop making sense and stop making excuses! Live as if your life depended on it. Live with explosive spirit, the type that can topple over the complacent and reawaken idle minds. Be free and true and love. Love in a way that is irresistible and full of passion. Watch the sun recede into the horizon more often with friends. Go on walks and shout and scream when your spirit feels the need. Don't ever be embarrassed of that beyond your control. Laugh, and be friendly. Smile as often as you can. Try things out even if you’re dubious. Embrace what you believe in to the fullest. Be wild eyed and graceful at the same time. Offend only when necessary and do so with respect and firmness. Don't waver too long. You can go back and change, have conviction.
As I think about the recent loss the climbing community has experienced with the passing of Jonny, Wade, and Micah those words resonate with me more than ever. Those guys and countless others lived their lives with explosive spirit, doing what they loved and not looking back. The best we can hope to do is to keep that passion alive.