Humans tell stories. We always have and we always will. While the content of these oral traditions has shifted; from water turned to wine to that time you bootied a #3 Cam, their sharing goes on. Climbers are some of the most devout practitioners of this dying art. Whether gathered around a campfire or case of beer, vertical adventurers will inevitably share their greatest epics until the beer runs dry or the “One-Upping” reaches ridiculous hyperbole. While I quite enjoy this banter I realize there is often a key component missing from the chat: accountability.
Spend enough time in the mountains or on the rock and you’re bound to have an epic of your own; a long day, an unexpected bivy, a huge fall, horrible weather, or forgetting your summit snickers at base camp. When it’s your turn to share you’ll use adjectives you don’t understand to describe situations you’ve slightly embellished and when it’s all said and done you’ll give yourself a pat on the back for surviving such a harrowing experience. But why did it happen in the first place?
More often than not awesome stories are the result of major fuck-ups. You got gnarly frostbite? Probably shouldn’t have poured fuel on your hand at -20°C. Took a huge crevasse fall? Maybe you shouldn’t travel parallel to crevasses. Ripped a cam on a 20ft whipper? Perhaps you should learn how to place gear. I am not trying to say you shouldn’t make mistakes, they are inherent in human endeavors and god only knows how many times I’ve messed up, but you should see your epic story for what it is, the result of an avoidable error. Looking at it in this way we can learn from our mistake, avoid making it again, and then make a new blunder to learn from next time (after all, a flawless ascent makes a shit story). Wear gloves when handling fuel in cold temperatures. Travel perpendicular to crevasses during the colder parts of the day. Practice with new cams on the ground until you know how to use them effectively.
So next time a climber hobbles up to camp; veins still bulging from the crux, adrenaline still pumping from the whip, ankle still broken from the ledge, listen to their story closely and find out what went wrong and why. Then retort with your own account of how you busted your ankle partway up [local hardman route], slapped some tape on it, and dyno’d the last pitches to the top. It doesn’t have to be true; he’s probably pretty deep into some painkillers anyway.