Scaling mountains can be viewed as a basic chasing of chemical rushes; adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine all giving that pleasurable sensation that we as humans love and ultimately life for. Climbing is also a sport of higher pleasures and has produced a wealth of outstanding literature about endeavours made in pursuit of that hit.
At the climbing wall with Matt, demonstrations of how manly we are and discussions about books complement each other well. We got onto the subject of Yorkshire’s favourite masochistic climber, Andy Kirkpatrick.
“His books are just a prolonged moan about how uncomfortable and miserable he is,” said Matt. “If you hate climbing that much don’t bloody do it.” He has a point. I enjoyed Kirkpatrick’s books but the whinging does seem to outweigh the pleasure that he derives from his death-defying activities.
But then, who would want to read an article, let alone an entire book, along the lines of, “Everything went really well every day, we all had a capital time and climbed the mountain with ease, no one was hurt and we all made it home in time for tea”? Misery sells and is what we want to read.
John Krakauer in Into Thin Air sums up climbing Mount Everest: “The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain.” Great! Let’s read more!
In Touching the Void, Joe Simpson’s account of a severely broken leg, plummeting into a crevasse where he was left for dead, then crawling for days back to camp into his campmates’ faeces can hardly be described as a jolly jaunt in the mountains. But these are two of the best-selling and most popular pieces of mountain literature out there.
In this blog, I’ve written about the polar opposites of my outdoor experiences: wonderful nights spent under canvas in amazing places filling me with immeasurable joy, and terrible accidents where I tumble down waterfalls, cough up blood and have an all-round crap time. Which do you think got the most reads?
Good times rarely make good stories. Good times also don’t necessarily make good experiences, nor do bad times make bad experiences (stay with me here). This all goes back to the fundamentals of enjoyment – the three types of fun …
Type 1 fun is fun to do. Like eating a massive slab of cake, going on a rollercoaster or having sex (for all three at the same time, please refer to type 3 fun). It’s enjoyable at the time, but is not necessarily enriching. It can be fun to remember it but we don’t really talk in great detail about it for very long afterwards (those that do quickly push their listener into the realms of type 3 fun – see below). Too much of this type of fun can become sickly and unfulfilling. Examples include:
- Indoor climbing.
- Gentle good weather walking in familiar areas.
- Sunny sport climbing.
- Red-pointing easy climbs.
Type 2 fun is not fun at the time, but is fun afterwards. It can be a bit miserable but not damaging. With the benefit of hindsight and a stiff drink, it becomes retrospectively enjoyable and good to wax lyrical about. This type of fun enriches and is productive – this tricks you into putting yourself back into unenjoyable type 2 situations repeatedly, such as:
- Exhausting walks.
- Getting scared on climbs.
- Getting lost.
- Terrible weather.
- Being cold and wet.
- Sitting on a freezing, tiny belay ledge.
Type 3 fun is never fun, neither during nor after the event. It tends to be something you don’t want to talk about like:
- A brush with death so close that you could smell his aftershave.
This is not new science (though it’s barely science really). Climbers and walkers amongst others have dedicated much discussion and prose to fun-philosophy for some time. However, I propose two new types of fun to be added to the existing categories …
Type 1.5 fun. This closely resembles type 2 fun but produces such a kick of endorphins and adrenaline that the needle is pushed back a bit towards type 1 fun. This can also be called biological type 2 fun for added convolution. Scary but successful ballsy leads fit this category. Another great example of this is cycling for hours uphill – it hurts like mad but goodness is it great.
Type 2.5 fun. On the face of it this is type 3 fun, but is an event that has significance and a mostly positive influence on the rest of your life. It is a bloody horrible experience that makes you wiser and more likely to prevent further occurrences of type 3 fun. My personal example of this is my ice climbing accident. This is often the best type of fun for telling stories.
Writing about my experiences has helped me reflect on the type 2, 2.5 and type 3 events in my life. I also hope that in tickling the innate schadenfreude bone within every human, you have obtained some level of entertainment from these accounts.
Whilst I don’t go out looking to have a bad time, knowing that at least a good anecdote is guaranteed makes the misery pill that bit easier to swallow.