Friday, October 2, 2015

Extra Work

"why not GPS? I did my first many, many trips without a GPS, and since roughly 2 years ago I started using one. It saved me a LOT of work wondering [sic] around doing extra work..."

This delightful quote comes courtesy of a Millennial peak bagger, and, to some degree, I understand the sentiment. Peak bagging is all about getting to the top of a somewhat arbitrary set of summits by the easiest route possible, and thus, in the fastest amount of time. Aesthetics and process simply don't matter when getting to the top is the principal objective. Conversely, climbers want to climb particular routes because they possess certain characteristics - clean cracks, sweeping corners, knife-edge ridges, and, climbers want to improve. A climber who was solid on grade 20 last season wants to climb at least grade 21 this season. The result is an endless iterative process of trying, failing, learning something, trying again, failing, learning something else, trying, succeeding, trying something else, ad nauseum. Process becomes way more important than outcome, whereas, for a peak bagger, outcome is all.

Summit of The Acropolis, Tasmania

The problem with outcome as the goal is that it blinds us to the myriad lessons we can learn along the way. As Thomas Edison famously said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." If we view our off-route ramblings, which is what I assume this Millennial is referring to, as "extra work" we learn nothing. If however, we ask ourselves what we have learnt from taking that wrong turn we allow the possibility that we will learn to read a map, route-find, navigate better than we ever did before. In the short term, it might be faster to download someone else's GPS track and blindly follow their route, in the longer term, we have not made any real progress. It's not that different to doing a half a push-up

 Tasmania's highest peak:  Mount Ossa

Sometimes I wonder if the attitude "error is a waste of time" is a Millennial thing born of an age where instant gratification is the norm and working for something is so 80's. When I started climbing, there was precious little information available on most routes and mountains. The only guidebook in existence summed up the majority of climbs as "easily to summit via NE ridge" or "interesting climbing via south face." In those dark times before mass produced guidebooks, route topo's, internet databases, and GPS units, you had one of two choices, not go, or work it out for yourself using a process of trial and error combined with theoretical knowledge. 

 The south ridge of Mount Gimli, a climbers wet dream, Valhalla Range

Now, you can download a GPS track, view three dozen trip reports, get a route topo, study Google Earth, almost tag the summit without actually leaving home. I don't recall us ever thinking that our mountain explorations were "extra work," wandering about the mountains, with a map, a compass and a vague plan, was just what we did. If the south ridge did not "go," we simply came back the following weekend and tried the north ridge, or the east face, or whatever route looked most likely based on our knowledge and experience. 

 The classic NW Ridge of Mt Sir Donald, Selkirk Range

You've probably seen this graph before on some annoying motivational website, and, much as it pains me to admit it, there is truth in this image. Progress is not a linear enterprise, there will be detours, side-tracks, dips, and hollows, you can either learn from these or view them as "extra work," the choice is yours. 

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