I always like to think about my motivations for doing things. Reading Your Best Vacation is Someone’s Worst Nightmare triggered me to consider my climbing and mountaineering motivations again. I’d also recommend reading this essay on the behavioral economics/psychology of mountaineering The author says that classical economics is premised on rational people wanting to maximize pleasure and consumption. But this model is insufficient because people climb mountains, and mountaineering “tends to be unrelenting misery from beginning to end”. (If nothing else, the essay is worth reading for pithy observations such as “mountaineering suffers from the worst possible combination of long periods of stultifying boredom punctuated by brief periods of terror”). He sets out to examine why people are motivated to climb mountains and finds four reasons:
  1. To define themselves as mountaineers and gain the pride and prestige that comes with it
  2. To achieve the summit / a goal
  3. To master a difficult skill
  4. To get a new perspective on life / to search for meaning
As a recreational climber, and not the hardcore first ascensionist that the essay focuses on, I find my motivations to be much more diverse:

  1. Mountaineering sounded like an interesting skill to learn, I wanted to improve my outdoor skills
  2. I was looking for something new to do after work
  3. Meet people
  4. Consumerism / gear (sadly)
  5. Being outdoors is better than being indoors
  6. I am in awe of big things, and mountains are pretty much the biggest thing there is
  7. Enjoy going new places
  8. Like the feeling of going to work Monday morning and thinking about the unlikely places I’d been the past two days
  9. Scenery, beauty, photography
  10. Skiing is fun
I’ve always been somewhat proud that summitting Rainier wasn’t the reason I took the basic climbing class: I’ve always favored doing things for pleasure in the moment over doing things to achieve long-term goals. Thinking about this and the rest of my motivations makes me wonder whether both my tolerance for risk and what I think of as “normal” will continue to be pushed. I hope I won’t end up like my former dentist (who, btw if you’re concerned, I didn’t know very well at all). Or maybe I’ll be forever content doing basic climbs. Time will tell!

1 thought on “Motivations

  1. Anyone ever had a summit where they were so beat that they didn’t even enjoy it? I have, and that was my “why am I doing this” moment. I honestly thought about giving up mountaineering after that.

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