Great piece. Climbing seems to combine elements of “finite” and “infinite” games, a distinction conceived by James Carse, where finite games are played to win while infinite games are played to keep playing. Thinking about climbing through the prism of Carse’s distinction helps to make sense of some of the differences between, say, comp climbing and big wall climbing.

That said, although climbing has rules and victors, I’d argue it’s better understood as an infinite game because most participants cherish its self-transformative effects much more than whatever material or worldly rewards it might offer, now or later. Climbing is closer to writing a story than acting out a script, I think.

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Been distracted recently.

Lito put the cat amongst the pigeons!

A bit like "The emperor has no clothes". In the days of a super-complacent society, it was infra dig to question anyones motivation. Climbing was a personal myth everyone was supposed to enjoy without question or comment........except for german climbers using pitons on sacred british stone......and that was a political rather than a climbing-community denouement.

I think Lito kind of made us see that our vaunted "Climbing Ethics" was simply an idiosyncratic, personally indulgent construction...........not a divine anointment from On High.

There was no higher order validity or authentication here.......just a kind of hedonistic indulgence.

That does not detract IN ANY WAY from the magic that climbers have created.

In fact, given the amoral parameters, the self restraint that emerged is all the more dramatic and reassuring.

Climbing seems to have a built-in safeguard against bullshit.......Death.

When we Put It On The Line we are playing for real: the arbitrary rules we create are authenticated, in reality, by the unforgiving consequences we face.

I think this is where Lito was heading.

Of course the simple clarity of life-risk-taking is confused by issues of commerciality, nationality and self-discovery.........and climbers must choose what recipe of risks and rewards they choose to accept when planning to risk their lives.

And then we have the parallel phenomena of educational, recreational and tourist developments to attempt to make climbing less than lethal ...........and more "usefull".

The tools we use reflect these fundamental motivations:

Tools both support our deeper determinations -- when I soloed Polar Circus (1983) I spent considerable time choosing (and adapting) the primitive ice tools available, so that they would not fail in mid climb...........but tools also make some rule interpretations possible -- when my job required a safe area for my outdoor students to lead, I developed an early incarnation of Sport Climbing, which included oversize bolts and fixed-in chockstones.

Humankind has a long and complex history of tool-making and extending our capacities with tools has allowed..........and maybe prompted.........much of our evolutionary development............including, no doubt, climbing.

Faced with the mass (and mess) of tool and "ethical" choices in my own climbing, I eased my existential confusion by finding a simple and reliable guideline: I had to enjoy my climbing.

The challenge then becomes what you find truly enjoying rather than how you should fit into arbitrary restrictions devised by others.

Along the way you get to ponder the nature of Evil..........and the survival of the human species......but this follows more on the reevaluations of Royal Robbins after his bolt chopping on Dawn Wall than Lito's original epiphany.

PS: You do have Chouinard's favorite quotation on the aesthetics of Tools and Intentions...........

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Great comment (essay), Rustie! Thanks for that. I consider you one of the key philosopher/climbers of the 60s and beyond era, great stuff! Cheers. Polar Circus! Wow.

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Dec 10, 2022·edited Dec 10, 2022Author

One of the best parts of the film Fine Lines mentioned in the post, is when Steph Davis talks about proximity wing suit flying. What is the progression? Death. Love her insight and longevity of doing rad stuff.

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Dec 8, 2022Liked by John Middendorf

Nicely done!

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