The Last Sandwich

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The Last Sandwich--
A Beta-Minimum

THE OPPOSITE OF A BETA-MAX is a beta-min: a route with scanty information about difficulty or direction or history. It may not be in a local guidebook because it is too new. Or perhaps the first-ascent party didn't bother to write it up, or is inaccessible, or dead. Perhaps it is an old route and in the guidebook, but the guidebook author heard only second-hand about the direction and rating. So it is entered with no topo or a vague topo.

I'm attracted to the beta-min because I feel that too much climbing is known and prescribed. My eyes glaze over when scanning the big matrix of shoes in climbing magazines, all rated in colorful columns and criteria. Route stars in guidebooks tell us which climbs are best. Rock stars tell us what exercise routine to follow, how to tape up, how to hang on a rope and still call it climbing. Nutrition fanatics tell us what to eat. Environmentalists even tell us how to excrete what you eat on big walls.

The trend toward increasing prescription in climbing insures that there are few beta-mins at any one time. One guidebook author might create a beta-min, only for the next one to clarify the mystery surrounding the route. Or someone like me writes about a beta-min, and it becomes a beta-max. Fortunately, climbers produce routes so quickly that some climbs are sure to be absent from current guidebooks. In such cases, the only source of information may be rumor or tall tales, thankfully subject to errors, varying interpretations and exaggerations central to good beta-mins.