The Continuous Rock-Climbing Game

You hear a lot of stories about mountain climbers in the news, but the tales seem so far-fetched. Who mountain climbs anyway? Turns out one of the guys in my hall does, and not just as a side hobby.

In Lito Tejada-Flores’s Games Climbers Playshe works to define what climbing really is. She inquires, “The attraction of the great walls, above all, is surely that when one is climbing them he is playing ‘for keeps’.” This may be the case, but why do something so dangerous just for the thrill of it? My friend, Jake, let me in on the secret thrill that climbers get whilst in the air.

Why do you climb? What makes it intriguing to you?

Jake: I do it because it’s fun, relaxing, and beautiful once you get to the top. There’s nothing quite like it. You’re on your own – just you and the mountain – and it’s basically you challenging yourself to see how far you can get.

Have you ever climbed with no rope? Nothing to catch you when you fall?

Jake: I usually don’t have a rope, although I haven’t ice climbed without one just for safety purposes. It definitely makes it scarier without one, but I don’t mind either way.

Jake on ice mountains outside of Fairbanks, AK.

Jake on ice mountains outside of Fairbanks, AK.

Jake has been climbing all his life. He started with rock walls when he was little, and gradually worked his way up to his largest endeavor, Chilcoot Trail, AK, that had a 3,700 foot elevation change. When climbing, he says that the thrill is just the half of it. “The concentration, the intensity, everything that holds you back from reaching your goal is really what makes climbing so exhilarating,” Jake explains, “It’s the love for being challenged.” His statement coincides with Tejada-Flores’s argument: that climbers prefer obstacles to increase the satisfaction of their game. She states, “…the rules of all climbing-games are changing constantly, becoming every more restrictive in order to preserve the fundamental challenge that the climber is seeking from the inroads of a fast changing technology.” But why is this the case? More times than not, if someone is presented with a challenging option, like a harder exam, they would prefer an easier option. Why is climbing so different? When I brought this point up to Jake, his answer was actually very surprising.

“Oh I definitely prefer more obstacles,” Jake laughed, “What’s the fun in climbing something that doesn’t pose a threat? People may go for the easier test, or the cheaper sweater, or the lesser work load, but all of those things are necessities. When someone is forced into something, it takes the challenge aspect out. That’s why I like climbing – it’s me against myself. If I don’t want to climb, I won’t. I’m not being forced. I’m just doing it for fun.”

That’s the difference. Play and work are two completely different aspects, especially in this sense. In accordance with many other readings we’ve had in this class, play has been defined as a leading component in a person’s life, a necessity for happiness or even a utopia. So maybe climbing a steeper mountain or taking the path less traveled is more difficult, but if it makes it more fun, then why not? I think that is a key life lesson: do what makes you happy.

“But surely this, or any, new framework for thinking and talking about what we are actually doing when we climb is at least a valid step toward the future.”

-Lito Tejada-Flores, Games Climbers Play

Why do you climb?

One thought on “The Continuous Rock-Climbing Game

  1. I was, obviously, fascinated by this post and impressed by your hall mate’s experience. I’m not a mountain climber, although the little sub-Alpine climbing I’ve done has been a highlight. For me, the continuous challenge, on the physical, intellectual, and psychological dimensions, is the most exciting aspect: getting better technically, figuring out new routes, and learning to deal with your fears (which I have a-plenty) is what’s so exciting.

    But I’d want to broaden the question at the end of this post: Why do you engage in whatever challenging things you engage in, whatever they are?

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