For those who may have seen the previous post, Going Solo, my climbing partner Alex has posed some interesting questions. The reply may be seen in its original context here. His reply is in blue below, and I offer my response to him as well.

Why is a justification necessary at all?  Justification sounds like rationalization, and rationalizations are never true, they’re just little stories the mind makes up so it can accept decisions that come from somewhere deeper. This is mostly a semantic point. Justification is what we do when we try to explain climbing to people who don’t approve. I know that what you’re trying to do is different; you’re trying to understand your own choices better. In light of that worthwhile goal, perhaps you’ll allow some me some questions.

I would respond to the question of why we need justification with something that you write below, that “other people also reap the punishments if you get yourself in trouble”.  You correctly surmised my objective in writing this post, but I would add that if you take your life to be something of inherent value, I see it as also valuable to justify risks against it, if only for the fact that in risking your life for a goal, you also risk all that you might otherwise accomplish in your remaining years.  The question is really, ‘is the goal that I face in this moment greater than those that the future may bring’, which if you think about it a bit is another way of asking, ‘is this action aligned with my life goal’?

I’ve never understood this idea that climbing is an act of expression. Expression implies communication, and perhaps you’re communicating on some different level with the non-human universe, but you’re not communicating with people at all. At least to me, climbing feels purest when it’s done alone, and without anyone else’s knowledge. That’s the only time I can feel 100% that I’m climbing for myself (and not for ego). How is this expression?

Do you not face yourself and your actions regardless of the presence of others?  If you accept my idea that life is a creative act, then every action is an expression of that creativity.  Expression is not primarily an act of communication, though it may later be interpreted as such.  It is instead the birth into reality of inner notions, and the creative aspect of life is the choice, conscious or otherwise, of which notions we deliver into the world.  Perhaps it may be better put that when you climb alone, you are most free to express yourself, unhindered by the concern you may have of others’ opinions or the like.

“[The soloist] alone will reap the punishments and rewards that result.” Well, no. That’s the big problem: other people also reap the punishments if you get yourself into trouble. This is why soloing requires justification and rationalization. I haven’t had much success with this rationalization myself, which is why I read your post with such interest.

See above.

This is brilliantly stated: “The risks that these climbers [take] are redeemed by their survival.” But we must acknowledge that the price of failing to be redeemed is high. I’m starting to think that responding to these failures with rationalization is futile, and our only alternative is to respond simply with grief.

Grief is of course the appropriate response, even when great risk chosen at will was the cause of a climber’s unfortunate end, and as I expressed above, I am not trying to rationalize the decisions of Jonny, Wade, or Micah– instead their deaths direct me to examine my own motivations, feeling that I must justify my actions for myself and others.  To say that the alpine climber is redeemed by his survival is interesting, as this seems to be the only way in which he is redeemed.  We take as our heroes those who have gone to the edge and returned (relatively) unscathed, but more easily forgotten are those who cannot return to write their stories and inspire us.  This is true of almost any activity in which men confront danger with power and triumph over adversity; rarely is the losing boxer glorified, and if he is, it is a sorrowful remembrance of the valiance of his effort in spite of his loss.  This is the remembrance that we offer to Jonny, Micah, and Wade, and a deserved examination of our own motivations  may serve to lift a lesson in celebration from their trajedy.

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