The Joy of the Internal Reward

Why do you do things? Do you do follow your passion just to post it on Face Book?  Why does the man of passion pursue his passions? Is the driving force the internal or the external reward?

A friend of mine has recently discovered the joy and amazement of alpine climbing but his path that brought him to the point of experience the internal reward as opposed the external reward was a bit round about.  Wes discovered alpine climbing at a late age, 52, and the climbing bug bit him bad.  Now Wes’ situation is a bit unusual because he lives in Geneva, Switzerland and has access to one of the greatest alpine climbing areas in the world, Chamonix.  Wes did what many people who lack climbing experience do, he hired a Chamonix guide to take him into the mountains.   Wes, with his guide went from 0 to 55 MPH.  With his guide, Sebastian, Wes managed to tick off some of the great classic climbs of Chamonix.  Wes filled is FaceBook page with stunning pictures of himself at the summit of Mount Blanc, the Aiguille du Midi, the Aiguille du Plan and Les Grands Chamoz.  I must say they are indeed great pics as I am one of Wes’ FB friends.  Wes was very proud of his climbing achievements, as he should be, in a short time he had climbed what others only dream of climbing… but did he really climb them?  Wes’ wake-up call happened one weekend while he was on the  “Goulotte Chèré, on the Triangle du Tacul.  (For you techno-weenies it is rate D/II/P3/WI4/350m/85° see .  Wes wrote to me of his experience with his guide:

Managing the ice was a piece of cake, but it was highly instructive for me to see him [the guide] managing the belays and screws and abseiling, which I’d not seen in that manner having generally been “lowered” in past climbs. So technically, it was useful, rather easy.  The problem was acclimatization on the return!  Crossing over the glacier and climbing back up the snow ridge to Aiguille du Midi was a real struggle for me and I slowed the guide down!  He hadn’t calculated the depth of snow, and we didn’t have skis.  Fortunately, one pitch from the summit, he realized we’d better hustle down asap.  It took me longer than his other clients to return, he claims.  But I really think he’s calculating this based on randonee skiers!  He was deathly afraid we’d miss the last lift, which surprisingly was at 4:30! … He noted that, had we missed it, we’d have had to overnight in the Cosmic hut without food or blanket….”If you’d made me do that, I would have had to drop you as a client!” he said.  I pointed out.  Then he admitted that, since I hadn’t been in the mountains since October, he really should have expected the lack of acclimatization and compensated for it.  He said that he only had very good clients: “I don’t have the patience….Other guides take less competent clients, not me.”  Now, I understand from other people I know that the guide community are quite hard-ass and consistently tough in the France/Switzerland area until you are essential competent enough to compare to themselves.  So in retrospective, I’m beginning to realize that almost all of the climbs I’ve done are really quite manageable and common by guiding standards – nothing outrageous like Frendo Spur.  I read in Monte Viso’s Horizon the author’s comments on guides – that if you are learning from a guide they will actually hold your progress back.  I’m beginning to suspect there is a degree of truth here: though I felt 100% safe, not sure about the quality of learning.  He said he would devote the next climb to more training, “with the climbs that are more technical, your and my life will depend on it.”  I need to undertake more acclimatization and will be able to do that with the weather warming up by means of some hikes, and hopefully more frequent climbs.  But what to do?  On the one hand, I feel like climbing with an acknowledged high-end pro (this guy is clearly super respected throughout the entire Chamonix Valley) is a privilege.  On the other hand, I feel like I will always be held back as a “client.”  Any useful remarks on this for me?  I suppose a bit a realism is useful – could I safely tackle the Frendo Spur and other long routes? Wes


Wes climbing…

I wrote back (slightly edited):

Wes, thanks for sharing this experience, it is insightful.  First: plan to come do a climb with friends.  I never used a guide until I was climbing with my son and I could not trust him to belay (he was 13 and we were in the Dolomite).  I am a huge believer in mentorship (which has been all but lost in the climbing community).  I learned all my skills from both adventure and mis-adventure and always from good friends.  Since I started climbing I have had only about 7 climbing partners.  Second: I would fire your guide.  If he was not joking with you he is being an asshole.  You, my  friend are the client.  He needs you and “word of mouth” is critical to guides.  If you tell folks he is a wanker, the word will spread.  You are also dealing with the arrogance of the Cham Guides.  Chamonix is a complex area and a guide is helpful–but 1000s of people climb there without a guide.  You are kinda like a dog on a leash with a guide they are just out to take you for a fun day in the mountains.
The experience of doing something on your own, dependent on your own skills, with a friend is an amazing feeling… and this is goal.  I would change your tack.  I would not use a guide to “haul” you up climbs but I would use them to teach you the hard skills.  And then pick a climb and go do it!  Experience comes with time and a lot of climbing.  I think you need to find a good climbing partner, one who is a little better than you so you can learn things together.  The external and internal reward is so much better.  There is always a slight stigma on a climb if you say it was guided–that is the external reward.  The internal reward is the true drug and addition.  I skill get jazzed thinking about my first hard lead at Seneca, WV.  A very hard 5.9 trad climb– I am still always trying to recapture that feeling.  If you had to bivi in the Cosmic Hut with a buddy with no food, sharing the experience, you would have been better for it–even better to bivi out in the open on the side of a mountain.  I am not recommending this, but is an experience.  Climbing after all and above all should be a spiritual experience.
Wes:   I no longer want to be leashed along for a photo op and an ready to move on, so your views are helpful.  I will learn much more.  Now its time to find a smart partner!
I chatted with Wes online and he has realized that the true reward for doing hard things is the feeling of accomplishment and self  satisfaction.  The reward for pursuing your passion is an internal one.  It is not posting on FaceBook..  The great mountaineer Reinhold Messner said he looked forward to the day he could go climbing without a camera and just experience the climb.
Enough about climbing…. The men of passion that I know who are involved with food: a baker, a charcutier, and a chief seem to get no external reward for their efforts.  These men of culinary delight get self satisfaction, they derive pure joy from practicing their craft.  Passions should be this way, and internal activity.  Perhaps some would say it is a selfish activity, to this I would say not so fast.  But another element of their passion is sharing.  These men love to create, and they love to share their creation.  Creating and sharing (and not on FaceBook but in reality) and this is the their reward–if they needed a reward.   So what is your passion? Art, music, even your work (if you are lucky enough) and why do you do it?

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