The Golden Age of Climbing

May Your Days Be Golden

Evocative thread. Got lots of blood up from young and old. And so one can hardly complain about the ambiguity of the term “Golden Age,” but ambiguity does have its downside. When we use the term to reference the quality and nature of our personal climbing experience, we can rightly hope the golden age is now, as many posters have said. We want every climb we do today and tomorrow to be as “golden” as possible in terms of personal satisfaction. But when the term is used to compare the quality of the climbing experienced by persons in one time and place with of others in a different era and place (usually now), then the fireworks start, some if it fun and sharp and witty, some angry, righteous and divisive, certainly a downside in my book, if one believes camaraderie is an important part of the climbing game, maybe even a “golden” part.

A wise old lady I once knew once said “comparisons are odious.” While we must make comparisons and contrasts in life on many matters, I see her point when it comes to a thread like this. Indeed, who is to say their experience or that of anyone else at any time and place is superior, more “golden,” than that of anyone else at another time and place? And if and when they tout their days as so golden, they diminish the value of someone else’s experience, implicitly or explicitly, and so, understandably, blood begins to boil.

The other problem with “golden” used in a comparative way is there are no agreed to standards by which to judge. Some have intimated what’s golden is the potential for first ascents away from the maddening crowds, maybe in remote and stunning locations, exactly what drew me along through the days. Certainly old timers, including me, have harked back to what seemed a golden time when a relatively small set of climbers had a wealth of first ascent opportunities within their grasp in areas all over the country. But others have referenced the style of climbing as equal or more important to the opportunity for first ascents, with the rush of great ability, some risk and cutting edge style such as free soloing or speeding as golden. By this measure, golden can be doing an established route in a busy climbing center in a new way, not trouping off to an area little or never visited. So on we go with our varying definitions, all points as valid as any other because, well, golden is such a loose and free floating term. Fun, even revealing, but with no firm landing.

So, here’s one landing: May we all have the most fulfilling days we can find on walls of our choosing, whether coming from where or how one climbs or both. May we go to the walls with good hearts and care for others in the game. May we be safe and lucky enough to make lasting friendships with those who shared our times. May we pull off a few baby climbs as we grow old. May we find floods of joy coming from merely touching and viewing the walls we climb or once climbed, and some nights find ourselves inexplicable bowing beneath a starry mountain sky in praise of our climbing days, current or past. And when we speak about what we’ve done and how it was, may we do so with humility and respect, for we all are or were privileged to be within the folds of mountain stone, making our way in awe and wonder.

Supertopo post, Jan 18, 2012