A few thoughts on: Trends
Trends are not only occurring in fashion and industry, they also play an important role in mountaineering. Some of them define the course of history.
The history of mountaineering shows that trends have often heavily influenced the protagonists’ style at the time. Whether I like it or not, I am continuously confronted with new trends. What concerns me is how they change my personal approach to the mountains.
The summits and early difficult lines in the Alps and the Himalayas were first ascended without much concern regarding style. Reaching the summit was the priority. The incitement was to explore the unknown and to overcome the greatest possible difficulties. All means were acceptable.
It took alpinists that were clear-sighted to understand that this approach was inevitably leading into a cul-de-sac. Only by defining self-imposed rules that eliminate some means, and developing a greater consciousness for style, the challenge could be kept alive. In the seventies, it was demonstrated that the highest mountains in the world could be climbed using the same means one used in the Alps. The personal ideology of a few became a trend that the following generation picked up and that has since had a major impact on alpinism. Contrary to expedition style, alpine style does not resort to the support of porters, fixed ropes and high camps.
From the start, this school of thought has influenced my way to climb. Whether it is at home in the Alps, in Alaska, or in the Karakoram: A fair approach is my priority. Sieging a mountain, with the amount of equipment that was normal in the old days, does not come to my mind.
An extreme form of alpine style is the trend to pursue speed ascents and other record chases. They become more and more fashionable and offer a “new” playground that is easily understood even by non-climbers. I personally find that these undertakings lack exploratory spirit and real increment in difficulty.
Will the trend to speed climb define the course of mountaineering? I doubt it. Routes that were first ascended almost one hundred years ago become simple fitness routines, and style alone does not encompass the entire soul of climbing. A stopwatch is not a natural piece of equipment for an alpinist.
The beauty of climbing, to me, lies in the creative process. A first ascent that is of high quality in regards to aesthetics, difficulties and style represents my personal ideal.
In order to find this ideal it is necessary to listen to myself and not copy others. Instead of spending hours every day trying to stay up to date via Internet and magazines, one should more often listen to one’s intuition and enjoy and experience the mountains in one’s own way.
No one needs to be afraid of swimming against the tide, if that leads to the own ideal. One should rather be worried about trends pushing one into a direction that deviates from one’s personal path.