Fickle batteries

On May 8th, Dan Koestler and I skied Mt. Allen. We got up early, and the only photo I got before my phone died was this, of our approach:

Here’s one from the night before. Our line up went up the large snowfield on the right side of the near ridge, then traversing around the knob and up the summit ridge.

Normally, this post would be longer. It’d include a more comprehensive look into where we got to, and the excellent skiing down. But in the process of a dead phone battery (a noob mistake) and not carrying an extra camera (another noob mistake), it made the climb an exercise in enjoying the climb for it’s own sake. This was a good thing. Instead of a tool, the phone was inert weight in my pack–as good as a paperweight for all the good it could do. But it’s my attitude about those dead batteries that is worth some writing.

In this modern world of professional outdoorsfolks on the Internet, content is the main currency that makes us worthwhile for support. All those logos that show on the upper right allow me, in varying capacities, to keep chasing my dreams and playing in the mountains instead of doing something more traditional for work. I’m incredibly grateful to get to do these things as a sort of work. But such an occupation recasts the notion of forgetting to charge the batteries on my phone. Instead of a missed chance to impress friends on Facebook or show my grandmother where I went, it becomes a professional misstep. Something to regret.

Which can seem strange. Our climb went really well. Both Dan and I commented that, in effect, nothing had gone wrong or been super difficult to surmount. The climbing and skiing was straightforward. The summit ridge was gorgeous. Edwards mentions in his guidebook that Mt. Allen is not to be underestimated, and it did feel like we went up, and up, and up. Qualities like these characterize the mountaineering experience, and the trip was certainly a bonafide day in the places that keep me coming back.

Truth, though, requires that I take note of how what I do has become a sort of work. Of the myriad reasons why I love to climb things, to ski down them, the work of capturing and spreading that out to another audience is an occupational one. It can grate against a concept of mountainous purity; the voice that suggests that these places are wild enough to be left off the internet. That only eyes that did the work to get there should see them. That climbing or skiing should be done for the purity of purpose which they possess unadled by the need to make content or support yourself.

However, I don’t see that purity as the end reason for spending time in the mountains. There is an difference between climbing or skiing purely for their own joy and doing so with a camera and a writerly mindset. Just as there’s a difference between climbing, and seeing how fast you can climb. Or going with a group versus solo. All these have their place. I practice them all. I’ll head off on adventures that don’t end up with any documentation or ostensible occupational use. Keeping these notions clear allows me to do both, and I’d wanted to tell the story of our trip on Allen. So when the batteries died, and I felt like I’d failed at something because my attitude was set in that mode.

For me, documenting and telling the stories of the outdoors is about more than pleasing sponsors or earning a living. It’s about spreading the joy that I get out there. It’s about inspiring people to play harder, engage the natural world around them, and put those benefits to work in caring for the places that do so much for them. If you read my work, I’m thankful. If it motivates you to be outside, I’m fulfilled.

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