html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Anand called me a girl for this. He's wrong, too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Anand called me a girl for this. He's wrong, too.

You guys are going to get the wrong idea about me. You’re gonna think that I hate all the time. I almost never hate, so I don’t know why it keeps coming up here. But Justin has been completely mistaken twice in the last week; as a friend, I need to show him why.

Justin linked to a video of extreme climber Dan Osman yesterday and to Touching the Void last week, as examples of courage. I would guess that he also liked Into Thin Air, about summiting Everest. I refused to watch the Osman video or see Touching the Void, but I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, so I’ll talk about that one. I was livid when I finished Into Thin Air. I thought every last person on that trip up Everest was unbearably selfish, someone I hope I never meet or care for. That’s what I think about Osman, and about all extreme climbers or mountaineers.

I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard that forty trekkers walked past David Sharp as he lay dying by their path. After all, every one of those trekkers had basically shit all over their families and everyone who loved them just by deciding to climb Everest. Climbing Everest, or falling off big rocks in Yosemite, or anything along those lines is both pointless and extremely dangerous. When a person chooses to do something like that, what he is saying to the people in his world is “Fuck you, Dad. Fuck you, wife and children. Fuck you too, friends. I am going to go risk my life, our future and your happiness because I might temporarily feel good doing something extraordinarily stupid. It won’t be enough, so I’m going to do it again and again until it kills me. Fuck you and your sadness, Mom.”* If I heard of some unloved man going off and doing some extreme something until it killed him, well, I would briefly mourn the death of a person and respect that he died doing what he loved and hope that he didn’t leave a mess for someone to clean up. But reading that Osman left a baby daughter behind made me think he was a contemptible selfish hollow inadequate man. What an asshole.

The thing that makes it all the worse is that the activities are so fucking pointless. Osman looked to be an incredibly physically gifted man; he could have used those skills for something. With that ability, he could have hooked up with some study, climbed redwoods to monitor murrelet nests. He could have done search and rescue, helped stuck people. If he needed to fall, he could have jumped out of planes to fight fires. He could have offered the world something, and instead he spent his days gaining and losing potential energy. Such a stupid, stupid waste. The Everest people are worse, by the way. They aren’t just taking a hard, pointless trek, they are trashing a mountain that wasn’t bothering anyone and violating the locals’ ideas of sacred space.

I have no objections to thoughtful, cautious mountaineering, which is dangerous enough. I don’t even think that all activities have to be productive; I love fun for the sake of fun. But I don’t see any courage in people who have made this type of extreme risk-taking a lifestyle. They are selfish addicts, living out immature boy fantasies, stroking themselves to death.

*Smokers say this too, with an added emphasis of “And you can take care of me for two years as I wheeze to a painful death. Fuck you, grown kids.”


Blogger billo said...

Megan, surely something *can* be said for the adventurous, heroic spirit? Haven't done any mountaineering myself but a best friend has and having seen the majestic Rakoposhi I can understand why.

However, I think you're spot on even though one can't generalise. I wrote on this on my blog, 'A Testament to the Unnoticed'. All this escaping from the world-whether it be drugs, 'the exotic', space travel, extreme pursuits etc seems like a rejection of life , not an affirmation of it.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Joe Simpson, the guy who wrote Touching the Void, is pretty critical of the whole ignoring that guy on Everest thing. Though, I've heard explanations as to why, like it's exceedingly dangerous to attempt a rescue up there, but, not knowing much about it it's hard to judge.

As far as Dan Osman, you can hear it in his voice before his first jump in that video, he's scared. I don't think he's fearless like people who see that say. I wouldn't advocate risking one's life the way he did. But, the fact that he could solo these crazy hard climbs, and not freeze up is impressive. The people doing these things are generally pretty soft spoken, not really the image of extreme sports Mountain Dew, and whoever else, are pushing. They're very calm and in control. It's impressive to see.

But, no matter what you think of what he's doing. And, I agree it's crazy, and selfish especially considering he had a daughter. You've got to at least respect his abilities. Somewhere in that video there's a clip of him climbing a waterfall, right up the stream of the water. Christ, I've almost died just slipping on the wet rocks walking too near a waterfall.

That aside. Most of the people I know doing these sports are in them for the challenge, not the risk. I like that feeling of finding what my limitations are. I like the feeling of straining my muscles to the point they fail. I like the to see where, psychologically, I just can't do it, where I freeze, and have to give up.

And, like I said, people die doing lots of things. I've hurt myself far worse on my bike, and on skis that I have climbing. I've seen plenty of people hauled away in ambulances playing basketball. Risk is always there. We do what we can to minimize it, but sometimes things just go wrong.


1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... Slippery slope...

I like risk. I hike, backpack, sea kayak solo, ride a motorcycle, and I really like mountaineering.

I've been down 6 times on my motorcycle. That is likely because I enjoy being near the limits. I've almost frozen to death in an unexpected ice storm while backpacking. I've tried bungy jumping and look forward to trying skydiving at some point. Heck, I'm going to be in New Zealand in November, maybe I'll try a big bungy jump...

I love the people in my life and I care about them deeply. I feel that taking some risks are necessary to find joy and happiness. I have a feeling that my risk assessment will change when I become a father, but I don't expect to stop taking risks like riding my motorcycle. I think that the people that I love understand this. I am not thumbing my nose at them whenever I take a risk.

I understand that Osman was doing really, really dangerous stuff, but who knows what his loved ones thought about it. Maybe they were at peace with it because it was part of him. As for the evil bastards who let a man die in front of them on Everest, it's not the same thing.

I plan to do some mountaineering in the future; maybe Kilimanjaro, Ranier, who knows. Likely I won't climb Everest, but the idea appeals to me. I don't, however, condone the trashing of a natural wonder or trespassing on someone's sacred land, but I think it likely that there is a sensitive way to climb Everest.

I don't know about a girl thing, but I do think that you're a bit overboard along this line. It is a slippery slope. Accepting risk is a different thing for each person. You accept certain risks, why are these ones too much... It's all shades of gray.


(sorry for babbling on...)

1:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I think there are really valuable ways to use the impulse to push oneself (like emergency rescue). I also think that doing stuff like that can just be recreational, doesn't have to contribute. I'm sure Mr. Osman could climb like a demon (which makes his death even more of a waste).

But you aren't just choosing gratuitous risk on your own behalf. You are also choosing it on behalf of the people who love and need you. The activity better have been worth it if the costs come due.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Billo: You're not seeing the evolution that leads up to these things. With Osman all you know about are his biggest jumps, and ultimately the one that killed him. You don't see the years of him taking fairly common 20', 30', 40' lead falls as a climber. You wouldn't know that it's common to intentionally take some falls on a climbing rope to stretch it out, so when you take a real fall eventually you don't fall further than expected.

I went through this as a skiier. The better you get the more control you have, but you also start skiing harder things, doing riskier things. And you're walking this finer and finer line between being in control and sudden death. You don't feel it though, when things are normal your control is there. Then things go bad. I fell into something once where I couldn't get my tails to come around and at about 30mph went between 2 large trees so close together I put my arms in front of me and brought my shoulders in to avoid contact.

I got a couple of wake up calls like that, near misses with trees at high speeds due to ice patches and whatnot. I tipped out into a hole I couldn't see on a green circle. I just suddenly went face first into the snow.

People don't wake up one day and think, I'm gonna take a huge risk with my life today for the rush, generally anyway. The people who do tend to die immediately. You build up comfort and confidence with something over time, and don't even realize what you're doing is risky.


1:40 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

justin: Um, the dude wasn't stretching out his rope.

I am with you on the incrementalism that leads to big risks. Heck, even when we are driving we get wake-up calls every once in a while about some of our less-than-perfect behavior.

But there *are* differences. Megan was spot on with the words "gratuitous risk". I like to ski, and I like to go rock climbing. But I don't ski in order to get as close as possible to running into a tree. Rather, I like gliding around the mountain. The risk is unfortunately bundled with the experience. The same goes for my rock climbing. Hell, I'd be using two ropes if they wouldn't make fun of me.

In Mr. Osman's case, I think he was in it for the risk. There are much safer ways to experience the sensation of falling.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before he ever took a big fall on ropes he'd prestretch them by taking smaller falls. And, generally speaking, it's a good idea to do with your own ropes, before you lead on them. Climb something easy and take a couple of small safe falls. You know, break it in a bit before really using it.

And, I don't think anyone skis to get close to trees, but there are runs where you're closed in tight on both sides by trees, and where trees are just scattered through the run. I've had a few close calls where I hit ice, or fell in the wrong place and slid helplessly towards obstacles.

And, you can always switch to double ropes. Though, you should be happy to know no one has died of rope failure in something like 50 years. Climbing ropes don't just fail. They can be cut. But, you're more likely to have anchors fail or rappel off the end of your rope than have your rope break on you.


4:16 PM  
Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

Do you think these extreme sports people even like sex? I mean really, they all these fancy thrills out side, then they get in the sack, I wonder if they can't finish unless they're flying off a cliff or something.

Or maybe they're those sick people who get hookers to stomp on their nuts, 'cause you know, after cruising past someone dying on Everest, what else can you do to get off?

4:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Geez UnderwearNinja. You're harsh.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous DaveL said...

I think you're basically right about this. I'm not sure where the line is--I kayak solo offshore but won't ride a road bike around the traffic in this town--but Everest, etc., is way the hell over it wherever it is.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous shannon said...

I lived in Salt Lake City when Osman died. One of his close friends was in my calculus class, I saw first hand the implications of his decision. I whole heartedly agree with Megan. Osman devastated those around him, he was selfish and foolish. Life is about calculated risks, just getting in the shower has risk, but it is important to take a step back occasionally and decide if the risk of what you are doing is worth the potential benefit. I think that is a lot of what Megan is saying. If Osman had been jumping off cliffs to save someone, the benefit might outweigh the risk, but to do so just for the sake of doing...unforgivable. And to the commenter who stated that maybe those in his life accepted the risks he took, you failed to take into consideration his daughter. She needs him and he failed her in the most selfish of ways.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly, I just read Todhunter's book Fall of the Phantom Lord on Osman.

One thing neglected, Osman, Fischer, and Hall had a financial incentive to take some of the risks they did. Osman was a sponsered climber and you don't really get paid unless you're pushing the envelope. I don't know how this influenced Osman's behavior but I think it directly contributed to the death of Hall and Fischer on Everest.

But as a mountaineer and climber with a taste for technical routes at altitude I agree it was irresponsible of Osman to pursue controlled-falling while he had a family. At some point you have to live your life for others instead of yourself.


7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*Smokers say this too, with an added emphasis of “And you can take care of me for two years as I wheeze to a painful death. Fuck you, grown kids.”

Bullshit. This is completely out of touch with why many people start smoking, not to mention why they do/do not quit, not mention whether they are even able to quit. As for other addictive behavior, the entire post could be true, but it also ignores the nature of addicted human beings. In this post you've presented value judgments, not any sort of fact, about entire classes of people. Which truly is bullshit.

This book, whatever it says about the people whose lives it chronicles, simply cannot, by nature of what it chose to do, be representative of all climbers, tree skiers, rock jumpers, etc. The only way to make supportable generalizations about such people is to investigate enough of them to establish, even if only anecdotally, that only assholes could survive in the culture of the endeavor long enough to reach that level of ability.


7:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hunh. I thought I'd get more disagreement on this. No one wants to step up and make the "stallion's got to run" argument?

7:51 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

that only assholes could survive in the culture of the endeavor long enough to reach that level of ability

I agree with this to some extent. I spent 25 hours a week with the tkd team in college and found that as a general rule, the better the martial artist, the less I liked the person. (Which meant I was spending all my evenings with people I didn't really like. And also that I wasn't one of the stronger competitors.) That much dedication requires a willingness to put everything else second.

Smokers? They don't start smoking with any eye to the long run, but once they have kids, keeping smoking is a decision that what they are getting from the addiction is more important than the likelihood of grief to their children. Don't think the adult children of smokers don't bitterly resent it.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say instead that serious mountaineers tend to be compulsive, driven, self-absorbed, competitive and emotionally distant. Coincidently, most of the people I meet in the mountains have a technical background.

Yet I find this stuff extremely rewarding. Which is why I'm going to Alaska & S. America in the next couple years to make hard, pointless treks up various peaks.


8:18 PM  
Blogger Ennis said...

Another post hating on tourists and people who get more vertical air than you, Megan? Tsk tsk ... somebody needs some snapping jaws!

8:18 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I mostly need to get off this train of posts. I don't like the tone I've set recently.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Ennis said...

While I was teasing, you're right, it's not going to get you any sex from extreme athletes.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...


No one's saying "the stallion's got to run" because the claim speaks for itself.

I never met Dan Osman (though I found his stunts tiresome. Like a David Blaine of the 90s)... so I wouldn't know if he's a good person or a bad person.

I did however meet Alex Lowe on multiple occasions. He struck me as unusually friendly, intelligent and caring.

He had a deep visceral need to climb and explore (which happened to make him the best alpine climber ever), and he died while pursuing this need. I don't think this made him a bad person. You apparently disagree.

Not sure what the point was in writing this. As I said, either you accept that the stallion's got to run-- or you don't.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I understand deep compulsions. My fascination with water policy has no reasonable explanation. Marlene Braun evidently felt that about the Carrizo Plain. But if your deep compulsion is also dangerous, you either need to manage your life so that your death would hurt as few people as possible or manage your compulsion to reduce the risk. It is hard to be driven.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

You are also choosing it on behalf of the people who love and need you.
I feel this; if you need to climb so hard, so very, very, dangerously, then bringing people into your life is a selfish endeavor.

10:30 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Justin, you're right, the better you get, the more control you have: there's no doubting the skill involved. And people die in their homes watching t.v.

Mountaineers are a special breed of people and questioning them from the plains doesn't make that much sense.

But in general-not talking about you here-everyone's got their compulsions (fair enough) and what would life be without stretching the limits? But there seems to be a drive to conquer nature and this is a part of it. The locals I met in the spectacularly beautiful Karimabad, Hunza do climb but it adds or takes nothing away from their ego.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Ennis said...

" Anand called me a girl for this. He's wrong, too."

He lived in a naked coop with you and it took your opinions about extreme mountaineering and smoking for him to realize that you're a girl?

I take it back, I don't want to read his writing about your rack, unless he does so from a mountaineering perspective.

5:41 AM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

If the worst thing you can find to be bitter at your parents about is their smoking habit, you probably had a pretty good childhood.

Megan, neither your hating nor your bustline are what brought me to your blog in the first place. May I suggest returning to posts about how you consider really needing a beer to be an emergency? Or about befriending the spiders on your front porch? Or an update on Los Osos?

By the way, this item seems to be apropos the discussion on risk and adventure, about Christopher McCandless, a young man who starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness several years ago:

7:40 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

My parents didn't smoke. Except for a couple hard years with the other kids, I had a great childhood. All of my family is solid and loving and supportive, if a trifle complicated after the divorce. I've seen other adult children be angry about their parent's smoking.

I listened to Krakauer's book on Chris McCandless. I thought he sounded like a lost kid and wish he'd given his family a chance to do something about that.

Believe me, I look for stuff on Los Osos every day. Nothing. The Blakeslee bill got out of committee in the Assembly, but I couldn't build a post around that.

I've been struggling for topics and how to return to a cheerful tone for a couple weeks now. Requests or suggestions?

8:07 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

(Referring to comments way up in the thread)
I didn't mean to say Mr. Osman never stretched his ropes. I meant to say that the intent of falling off a cliff that high wasn't to stretch his ropes. This is indicated by the fact that he seemed to get quite a bit more enjoyment out of the activity than would be justified by just thinking "hey, I stretched my rope!" Also, I think the Metallica in the background says something.

I don't think anyone skis to get close to trees...

This is the point. (Sorry I didn't make it more clear.) The risk isn't gratuitous. Rather, it is incidental to the activity. It comes bundled with it in a way that is difficult to unbundle (without uprooting trees.)

8:08 AM  
Blogger thor said...

I love to read so how about something simple first, like another book list, and this time include sci-fi in addition to your other categories. Another possible subject: what makes good porn good?

8:32 AM  
Blogger srchngformystry said...

i agree with you that there are degrees of selfishness when risk is taken.

take the x-games, for example. no one was climbing a colossal natural wonder, but those competitors were pushing their limits, the boundaries of gravity, and surely, the amount of stress family members can take. is this selfish?

i believe that whenever someone puts my life or the life of someone i care about in danger, they are just insulting idiots.

doesnt matter if they are pursuing a momentary high or if they are exhibiting road rage.

perhaps im selfish, though, because i dont see anothers perspective. all i see is that if something were to happen, i would be with one person less to love.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob V: Sure that wasn't the intent. But my point was, falling is a part of climbing, that most people here won't get. It's not uncommon to take 20, 30, 40' lead falls. It's just something you have to accept if you're going to lead. If you're a serious climber you're going to take even bigger falls on occassion.

Apparently he took something like 50 falls trying to set a single bolt on some 5.13.

So, it's not like he just woke up one day and said, hmmm, I think I'll throw myself off a 1200' cliff today. There was a long progression, which would have allowed him to build up confidence, and get over the fear of taking big falls.

And, Billo: I think you missed my point too. The better you get, yes, the more control you have, and you push yourself closer and closer to the edge. And most of the time you can be right on it in complete control, and you don't even realize how close you're coming to seriously hurting yourself.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, actually, I disagree with this mentality that, because someone has a family and friends, they shouldn't pursue dangerous hobbies.

To me it seems selfish for other people to step in and say, you have to give up the things you love so we can feel secure.

I don't see why having friends and family means you should have to change your life around to suit them. If family and friends are unhappy with the risk taker's life style they are free to stop associating with him. No one forces them to stick around and watch.

Maybe it's a different story if you have kids, fine. But, as a general rule I say other people can take whatever risks they want with their own lives, as long as they're not endangering me.

Justin (The post before this was mine too, I forgot to sign it, whoops.)

9:08 AM  
Blogger Sweet Coalminer said...

I am with you 100%.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents smoke... I wish they wouldn't... I don't bother them about it.

I this that this is a fundamental difference in belief about choice and responsibility. I love my parents and I want them to be around for a long time. Their smoking will likely shorten that time. I'm OK with that. It's their choice. They are adults and they make their choices the same way that I make mine. They are not bound to choose a lower risk path because I love them.

By the exact same token, I am not bound to a lower risk path by those that care about me. If what I do causes those I love discomfort, I change it or they get over it. When I have children that I am responsible for, I may alter my acceptable risk profile. However all of this is a compromise between those involved.

No one wants a loved one to die. However, if Osman's activities weren't hurting anyone prior to his death, then I don't believe that he should be judged so harshly. I wouldn't make the same choices. I would not want my loved ones making the same choices and I would tell them so; however, I wouldn't judge them and I wouldn't begrudge them their choices. If it was someone that I depend on (like the mother of my children), I probably wouldn't have gotten to that point in the relationship with someone who lived that way. But it is not my right to judge the decisions of others.

-- Tim.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Sweet Coalminer:
Which of us?

This is last post by the mean, hater Megan (for a while), so use this thread for any last judging you want to do. After this, I'll look all hurt and ask in a real sad voice how you can say such terrible things.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Ennis said...

I wouldn't make the same choices. I would not want my loved ones making the same choices and I would tell them so; however, I wouldn't judge them and I wouldn't begrudge them their choices.

Since when has judgment been such a bad thing? Why is "choice" something that shouldn't be judged?

Personally, I walk around with a set of scorecards and feel free to judge anything I like, whether it affects me directly or not. Sometimes I hold up a low score card, just so that people try harder, because I think we've gotten soft and girly in this age of low expectations where everybody comes home with a blue ribbon and a trophy, just for trying.

If people don't like my judgements, I tell them to stop crying and go play some gentle, easy sport where everybody is a winner with lots of hugging and little exertion ... something like Ultimate.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would have been difficult to save David Sharp, the thing is nobody even tried. Every climber who stepped over him had their own (selfish) motivation to keep on pushing to the summit.

Concerning Dan Osman, there is maybe some truth in the, "f... you ..." Our life's choices often depend on past influences, education, traumas, experiences, etc.... It is not conscient.

I am happy he reached the objectives he had as a teenager, iow, to live from his climbing stunts. i lost him on earth, found him again, and lost him from earth to younder.
Graceful talented artistic powerful climber, rock dancer, he would probably of switched from rope to base to jump/fly down big walls.

Are we really free of our choices? Looking back on my own personal story with Dan, our spiral, i would say no. To understand one would have to have shared some of the ordeals Dan went through.

As grigri would say, "consider the angle"


6:02 AM  

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