Seven Climbing Commandments To Live By


If you’re going to have unprotected sex with a climber dude, you really need to get some digits before he vanishes in whatever mobile 4×4, light truck, pop-top, shitbox, dirtbag, shagin’ wagon he rode in on leaves – rather than smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and dreaming about the epic organic garden slash free-range chicken coop y’all discussed over the campfire the night prior.

Seriously bro, check your Facebook page!

A note left on the climber’s board at the City of Rocks, Idaho.

A recent note left on the climber’s board at the City of Rocks, Idaho.


Stoke trumps weather. In my opinion, the NOAA report should never change and always read:
Expect highs and lows with intermittent pain, blood, suffering, terror, laughter, triumph and ecstasy mixed with a small chance of death or bodily injury.


Know thyself.

When climbing, the difference between leading and following is massive. Leading routes puts you in grave danger. When following, you are protected. I think most new climbers dream of leading right up until the moment they’re gripped with terror, staring down at their first potential twenty-foot whipper. It’s in this moment that every climber learns who they are. Leader or follower?

Leaders make the conscious decision to push on, willing themselves to overcome the obstacle ahead in spite of the risk.  It’s by making this decision that they become a leader. Whether they succeed or not is secondary.

Leaders get scared like everyone else. Leaders fall like everyone else. Leaders bleed like everyone else. And ultimately, it’s their willingness to do so that makes them stronger than than everyone else.


Climbing is not a sport for posers. Ego is not rewarded. The hubris that gets you on the route will not get you through the route. The mountain does not judge you, but it will most certainly humble you.


If you’re a dude who’s new to climbing, as I am, you need to know your place. You are not a climber. You are a Sherpa, bartender and campfire bitch who’s working an apprenticeship. In exchange for making coffee, building fires, sharing your beer and carrying lots of heavy shit, all the wondrous knowledge of the climbing world shall be bestowed upon you. It’s hard work, but it’s well worth the effort. Conversely, while still labor intensive, the female apprenticeship can be a far simpler process. (See Lesson 7 for potential pitfalls.)


Choose your partners wisely. A good partner is trustworthy, loyal and dependable. This isn’t golf or tennis or any other bullshit country club sport. You are putting far more than faith into the hands of this individual. You are going to fall and when you do, you need to know that your partner will be there to catch you. That’s a good partner. A great partner not only catches you, but encourages and motivates you to reach new heights. As with life, who you tie yourself to determines how far you’ll go.

So I say again, choose your partner wisely.


Shit every morning. Shit everyday. Shit every chance you get, before you’re on belay!

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of great skiers in Teton Valley. I am not one of them.

I was reminded of this recently as I “tomahawked” through a no fall zone, cartwheeling my way toward a 300+ foot cliff and certain death.

Falling skiers left of Shady Lady Couloir is not recommended.

Falling skiers left of Shady Lady Couloir is not recommended.

Looking back up the mountain, the bug-eyed, slack jawed expression of helplessness and terror I glimpsed on my ski partner’s face moments after I self-arrested filled me with a mixture of emotions. Bursting with endorphins and euphoria, I was overcome with joy to be alive.

First, I chuckled like a giddy schoolboy who’d just stolen liquor from his parents. Then, after carefully navigating the face to a safe area, I took a moment to fully bask in the horrific amount of misery I had just put my best friend through and I laughed even harder.

What was dramatic for me, was truly traumatic for him.

On the skin out to safety I thought about a lot of things. Things I’d like to do. Places I’d like to go. Who I’d like to be. But mostly I thought about telling my friend that it wasn’t his fault. That if I were to die, he shouldn’t carry a burden of guilt, not even for a single minute. That I was there of my own volition and I alone was to blame… but instead, I said nothing.

A week prior, while skiing in the park, I ran into a member of the Jackson community who lost his best friend while skiing together in the mountains. His face was tanned and weathered like a perfectly worn saddle. He was touring alone. On a “solo mission” he said, while standing beneath the sheer granite cliffs of the Teton Range that had once claimed his best friend.

Unlike myself, his partner never got the chance to say what every backcountry skier would give their final breath to relay to their partner:
It’s not your fault my friend. It was my decision. Don’t waste a single minute feeling guilty. I alone am to blame.

I can only hope, whether by way of a gentle wind or a faithful friend, he has already heard these words and taken them to heart.


Good vs. Great

Life would be a lot easier if epiphanies were a solid punch to the balls. Unfortunately, they’re typically a bit more subtle, like a “hangry” woman who’s starving but refuses to admit it.

Tonight my own mental hunger manifested itself into a concise yet profound arrangement. “Good, not great, Morris” became my momentary mantra as I watched Russell Crow deliberate over slaughtering two newborn babies in Hollywoods’ latest biblical epic; Noah. Lord Of The Rings-esque, ark-building, rock monsters aside, the movie grades out as a solid two-star offering, much like a warm roadside motel that doesn’t give you crabs.

Inspired by Russell’s show of mammoth benevolence (ultimately sparing the lives of two hour-old, twin girl infants), I began contemplating whether I’d be better served to start concentrating on being good, rather than becoming great. Truthfully, I’ve spent the majority of my life believing that I’m destined to do great things – while simultaneously expending .05% of the effort required to accomplish anything above average… but, who knows, is it possible that all those lazy mornings and drunken evenings have actually served as my protector?

Case in point. Sunday after the Michael Franti concert.

Case in point. Me, seeking shelter Saturday after the Michael Franti concert.

After all, chasing greatness is akin to putting faith in a false prophet, right? As alluring and fulfilling as the relationship is, you’re destined to wind up feeling empty in the end. Not because you’ll fail, but because you’ll inevitably miss out on everything that’s truly important in life, while scrambling your way to the top of whatever mountain it is you’re hoping to conquer.

Russell Crow’s magnificent man-beard is starting to make me think the secret to life lies in finding meaning in everyday actions and encounters, as opposed to dreaming of and working towards one seminal moment of greatness. Duhhhh, you say? While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an idiot, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

If you’re anything like me and you long to be recognized as great, be careful that your search for validation doesn’t blind you to what you love most and ultimately keep you from being happy. Tonight I’m left pondering how my life would change if I began focusing on being good, rather than becoming great. In the end, isn’t it more important to be remembered for the goodness you imparted to others than the greatness you erected for yourself?

Each of us builds an ark over the course of our lifetime. What do you plan to fill yours with?

m.w. 3/14