Monday, September 28, 2009


Passion or Recklessness? Rock Climber John Bachar Falls to Death - ABC News

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I suppose it's headlines such as this one above from ABC that really stick in the consciousness of non-climbers. I know my dad already equates climbing with recklessness, with immanent injury or death (as I did not so long ago). But I think the word "reckless" is a loaded one, a word assigned by a comfortable majority to those who go against the grain of what seems "sensible," or "inarguably true."

Though I have a different set of personal ethics than Bachar's, though I am not nearly so experienced or provocative as he, I do respect his philosophical notions about his version of the sport. As Peter Beal, the long-time blogger at Mountains and Water wrote:

Thus to watch Bachar was to believe that poise, control and reason were at the heart of climbing well. Somehow with him soloing 5.11 onsight made sense or you could at least try to make sense of it. He never looked remotely in any danger or ill at ease with his surroundings. His example could encourage you to master yourself and your own fear to live up to your aspirations. Even if you found his sense of climbing ethics overly strict or his media persona overdone, at the core something endured that was hard as steel and genuine.

As Beal notes, other climbers wrote of Bachar's influence, like John Long in The High Lonesome: Epic Solo Climbing Stories. Reading about Bachar, all those stories before his obituaries and tributes, it seems that the man challenged conventional wisdom as an attempt to fully live his life. And perhaps that's what rankles those so attached to safety, so anchored into the idea that life should be predictable, comfortable, and without a crux.

To read of Bachar, to watch videos of his climbing skills, is to know this: A life fully lived risks all conventional wisdom.

This could be interpreted as recklessness, but then again, it could be read as an outcry against all that makes life seem small, insignificant. I believe Bachar had, in his career, so many moments on top of the world, he knew with every fiber of his being what mattered to him most. American culture, so fond of deathbed epiphanies and the long goodbye, doesn't know what to do when someone prefers to live life on his own terms, and die doing what he loves. So culture will cast him a name, make his death into an argument, create a spectacle of personal freedom - violating the very nature of solo climbing itself.

His solo work inspires me, the bumpy newbie just starting out all roped in and secure. I'm encouraged, not because of its extreme nature and obvious adrenaline high, but because he grabbed his sense of freedom hold by hold, foot by foot, and made it possible for others to try to emulate him if not in kind, then in spirit.

Few of us will get to claim that kind of success, no matter when or how we leave this earth.

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