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Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

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Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby Matt Lemke » Wed Nov 06, 2013 7:15 pm

As many of you know, I call both Washington and Colorado home, and lately, I now also call Montana home. Therefore I have climbed extensively in the Cascades and the Colorado Rockies. Everything from backpacking trips to multipitch alpine adventure climbs. I would like to see what others here think about the climbing mindset differences I noticed between WA based climbers versus CO based climbers.

First I'll describe what I noticed over the past few years. My climbing career began shortly after moving to Golden for college from the Seattle area. So, I developed my climbing career in Colorado and naturally, adopted the Colorado climbing mindset, which I saw to be largely a very conservative, VERY safety oriented, and a mindset based on climbing just for the fun of it often times deciding to turn around or bail even if the chances of you summitting are still fairly high. What I mean by this is this:
First, nearly everyone I started climbing technically with had taken many years to say they can comfortably lead 5.9 trad, always wore helmets even on sport climbing routes, always felt the need to spend hours or even days researching the climbs they planned to do and an overall lack of climbing for the sake of adventure. Colorado climbers use ropes in excess of 9mm thick for most climbs...alpine or crag. Climbers in Colorado I noticed climbed simply because it was something they had fun doing and enjoyed the physical challenge of working through a route or the physical challenge of hiking to the top of a steep, high elevation peak.

Now to the second part of my intro. During my college years, I went back to WA during the summers, and now that I've been out of school a couple years now, I climbed in the Cascades as much as possible since it was my homeland and it killed me that I could name most peaks and classic routes in Colorado but still didn't have a clue as to what the peaks in the North Cascades even were or what it was like up there near the Canadian border. So I began climbing extensively in the Cascades and quickly realized climbers had a different mindset up here. For starters, using thin, 6mm ropes is the norm for alpine climbs...double ropes are also commonly used. However the biggest difference of all is that climbers in WA climb for the adventure...climbing into the unknown purposely leaving the maps, SPOT beacons, compasses and guidebooks at home. Actually, it's common to not research anything about a Cascade alpine route beyond driving directions to your desired trailhead.

Climbers regularly make 15-25 day solo trips into the heart of the Cascades, free soloing large 5th class alpine routes with glaciers and simply wandering without a set plan. Take this trip report linked below as an example. Feel free to read it if you have time but it's a 15 day solo trip of a guy soloing a 5th class route on Sinister Peak which is one of the most remote Cascade Peak taking days to get to. No map, compass, or route information. Adventure climbing rides king in Washington.

http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1113434

Now translate this mindset to trad climbing and you get the biggest difference of all I noticed between WA and CO. "You can lead that just go do it!"
That's it! That quote above summarizes it well. Climbers in WA push themselves beyond their limit all the time. If they fall, they fall and their properly placed cam will catch them. Falling on trad routes is praised up here. Even resting on a cam or nut is perfectly fine...it's just showing you are willing to go beyond your comfort zone and climb for the adventure and venture into unknown territory. Because of this mindset, I progressed to leading some 5.9 trad routes in less than a year but I believe I have still done so safely. Another friend of mine progressed from a new trad climber to a 5.12a trad leader in one season. He is the best climber I know and taught me a lot.

So in summary, I have loosely concluded Colorado climbers largely climb for fun while Washington climbers largely climb for adventure. I would like to know your opinions on this subject.
Maybe you think WA climbers are careless and dangerous but I hear of way more deaths in the Colorado's mountains...and I know lots of people summit peaks and climb everything in both CO and WA. Maybe because there are much less "easy" walk up peaks in the Cascades fewer people go after "the lists" but I can guarantee there are more "alpine climbers" in WA.

Thoughts?...disagreements?...other stories?... feel free to say what's on your mind I would really like to hear others' point of view especially if you have climbed in both WA and CO.
Thanks,
Matt
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby tlongpine » Wed Nov 06, 2013 7:50 pm

I spent a week in the Cascades and BC Coast Range this summer, and observed the attitude you're describing.

I'm probably not answering the question, as much as adding more nuance, but I'll share my observations.

1.) Many of the alpine routes in WA are truly mixed-apline and require a combination of skill-sets including route-finding, glacier travel, and technical rock/ice climbing. There are routes like this CO, but fewer and further between, and only seasonally.

2.) A far smaller share of the population in Washington / Oregon count themselves as recreation mountain enthusiasts. The Rocky Mountains are the Alpha and Omega of the Colorado identity, but the Cascades are just a piece of the PacNW mosaic that also includes the coast.

3.) Therefore, I theorize, that the alpinists in Wa/Or tend to be a more technically proficient and specialized in the discipline of alpine mountaineering - because the Cascades (and the Olympic Range) simply demand a higher standard for access. Whereas, Colorado plays host to a larger population of mountain enthusiasts with casual mountaineering skills.

This is not to suggest that there are not elite alpinists in CO. Many of the best alpinists in the world call CO home. But mountaineering in Colorado has a very low* common denominator: Quandary. Climb Quandary and you've earned some bragging rights to share with your bros.

Washington has a higher lowest common denominator. I'll use Mt. Hood as an example. Climb Mt Hood and the only people that care will want to know what route you plan to take up Rainer.

*In terms of difficulty, not in terms of elevation.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby d_baker » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:08 pm

Matt Lemke wrote:the biggest difference of all is that climbers in WA climb for the adventure...climbing into the unknown purposely leaving the maps

I hear that happens here too. This one time, on Marshall Pass, some tall geeky dude was lost and couldn't find his way up to Mt Ouray and had to ask some other hikers which way to go. Good thing those hikers were around to point him in the right direction....

And then there was this other dude here in CO that ripped others for not "finishing" in a timely manner, and then (a little to proudly) warned the Weminuche that "it was on." I think he never turned it on.

As to the OP, I have no idea of the differences. I don't have any experience.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby Dave B » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:14 pm

There are few similarities between CO and WA climbing mindsets.

My uncle, who sparked my interest in climbing the the first place, was climbing N. Face routes on Johannesburg and other remote Cascade Peaks in the 60's and 70's. While I'm far from considering myself an accomplished climber, not a single thing I've done here in CO has garnered much more than a perfunctory pat on the head for "trying."

The Cascades are brutal, remote and rugged. I have no doubt that the mentality that has arisen from recreation in such mountains is anathema to that which has arisen in CO where mining roads have made access to almost all peaks in all ranges simply a matter of owning a 4WD.

I would imagine though, that Alaskans probably giggle at any feelings of superiority from PNWers.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby tlongpine » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:40 pm

Dave B wrote:I would imagine though, that Alaskans probably giggle at any feelings of superiority from PNWers.


This reminds me of the Alaskan I ran into on Hood who observed that "Everything here is so small, and the peaks are all named."
I am unable to walk away from the mountain without climbing it. An unclimbed mountain tugs at my consciousness with the eternal weight of time itself. Until I've pressed my face into it's alpine winds, hugged it's ancient granite walls, and put it's weathered summit beneath my heal I'm unable to resist it's attraction.Knowing nature gives the mountain more time than she gives us adds urgency to the obsession. As has been said before; the mountain doesn't care.

It can wait forever. I cannot.

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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby Matt Lemke » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:48 pm

I hope no one interprets this as superiority by any means. I have thought extensively about what drives me to go climbing and I can't say for sure I know yet I just wanted to point out some differences I noticed. Whether you are driven to climb for fun, or for adventure, it doesn't matter. Whatever mindset you have, it's the right one for you and I hope no one tries to be something they aren't.

Just trying to see if geography is somehow related to the mental game of various climbers
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby d_baker » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:52 pm

Maybe it's pride in where one lives, and for what they know of where they live given their experience in their mountains.

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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby planet54 » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:01 pm

Matt Lemke wrote:Just trying to see if geography is somehow related to the mental game of various climbers


I climb Colorado peaks because I prefer to live in Colorado. Ain't no way I'm trading 300 days of sunshine per year for 300 days of drizzle.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby Scott P » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:05 pm

So in summary, I have loosely concluded Colorado climbers largely climb for fun while Washington climbers largely climb for adventure.


I'm from Washington, though I admit that when we actually lived there, it was mostly hiking. Still, I've been back many times.

Both states have a very active climbing community and they are different.

This is a huge generalization, but here's my take:

Colorado has more "peak baggers" than Washington. In fact, Colorado probably has more peak baggers than anywhere else. The Colorado 14er list has been completed by many dating back many decades. Few states can claim that all 50+ of their highest mountains are really popular. While it's understandable that the 50 highest mountains in Washington would receive less ascents then the 50 highest mountains in Colorado, due to the higher skill set required, it's more useful to look Colorado's neighbor, Utah.

Climbing all of the 13ers in Utah is about as difficult as climbing all of the 14ers in Utah. In technical difficulty, they are about the same. Colorado has more 14ers than Utah has 13ers, but Utah's 13ers are overall much father from the roads, so the difficulty in climbing either list is roughly equal. Still, the first person to even claim to climb all the Utah 13ers was in 1996. In fact, it's very probably that more Coloradans have climbed all the Utah 13ers than Utahs have! Both states probably have a roughly equal percentage of hikers and climbers, but the mindset is different.

So, Colorado is very much a peak bagging state and definitely has more of a list mentality than any other state I have been to.

Washington has more alpine climbers out of necessity. In contrast to Colorado, if you want to climb a large number of peaks in Washington, you have to be technically skilled. You also have to be used or prepared for extremely brutal conditions, especially if you climb outside the brief summer season. You have to be ready to carry huge packs and be into long trips as well. For better or worse, Washington doesn't have the luxury of being able to climb a bunch of the major peaks as single day trips unless you are superman or something.

Still, Coloradans have a different kind of hard core adventures. Most Washington climbers I know only climb in the summer. A huge percentage of Coloradans climb year round. Even if the weather was good, I'd bet they wouldn't have as good as a turnout for a Washington winter gathering vs a Colorado one.

Overall, Coloradans also do more ice climbing than those in other states, even when outside the states. For the hard core ice routes in the Canadian Rockies, I've heard that you always run into Coloradans up there; more than you do Canadians! Or so I've been told.

There are also the desert towers of Utah and Arizona. Most out of staters climbing the towers are from California and Colorado. Given, Colorado is closer to Utah than Washington, but there isn't that big of a difference when compared to California.
Last edited by Scott P on Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby Winter8000m » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:06 pm

It depends on who you know in the climbing community. If you are comparing 14ers.com to cascadeclimbers.com then I sort of feel like you are comparing a hiking community to mountainproject.com......How about mountainproject.com (Mainly CO based) to cascadeclimbers.com? I feel there isn't much difference from what I've seen. A lot of CO climbers go for it more then WA climbers but then again a lot of WA climbers go for it more then CO climbers? Feel like the comparison is off based.

Does it even matter though?

Maybe a good comparison is comparing Colorado to Slovenia, if you know what I mean.
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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby d_baker » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:13 pm

Winter8000m wrote:Does it even matter though?

No. I think we're all in it for the fun and adventure. Whether it's hiking or climbing, and how we do it is our own doing and choosing. So long as we have a good day, or days, just do it.

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Re: Thoughts about WA vs. CO climbing communities

Postby rijaca » Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:15 pm

d_baker wrote:
Winter8000m wrote:Does it even matter though?

No. I think we're all in it for the fun and adventure. Whether it's hiking or climbing, and how we do it is our own doing and choosing. So long as we have a good day, or days, just do it.


Dammit NO! I'm in it for the bragging rights! :mrgreen:
Last edited by rijaca on Wed Nov 06, 2013 9:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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