Shelf Road, a favorite winter climbing area
I’ve spoken at Professor Paul Strom’s class, The Ethics of Ambition, for many years. In 2013, I discussed the dilemma of would-be guided Everest climbers, who pass by dying climbers on their way up and down the mountain. I also discussed sponsorship, and climbers who perform death-defying (and in some cases, deadly) stunts to please their sponsors and their audience. One report by Deutsche Welle “uncovers the background stories of several deaths associated with Red Bull’s publicity stunts”
in 2011, I delved further into sponsorship and the pressure it can place on climbers (and any professional in extreme sports, such as base jumping, surfing, free skiing, and others.)
This year, for the first time since I’ve spoken at this class, we discussed a personal ambition of my own. The first consequence ( for this class, of my ambition): the students wrote the answer to their homework question, and were ready to post it, before I got around to posting my annual ethics post. And why? Because I was rock climbing at Shelf Road (photo above) in pursuit of my current ambition.
In the past year, I conceived the idea of trying to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan within 24 hours. Many climbers have done this, so it’s nothing that special — but I would be the oldest woman to ever climb it in a day. Perhaps even the oldest person , if it takes me long enough to accomplish!
So why this goal, why now, and what ethical constraints are involved?
As to why climb El Capitan, I’ve always loved climbing this rock face, since becoming part of the first female team to climb it. I’ve wanted to climb el Capitan since then, and was able to climb it two more times while I was still a student. Since then, I haven’t been able to climb El Capitan due to various constraints - job, career, and then I became a mother. While I continued to rock climb recreationally, I was not able to commit the amount of time and energy necessary to climb it within 24 hours.
Last spring, I was in Yosemite for a month, practicing the first third of El Capitan. In 2015, I plan to return to Yosemite and work on the route for another month of two. When my son was young, I could not leave home that long. and, even though he’s been in college the past four years, in 2012 and 2013, I was taking care of my extremely ill mother, who lied in the Bay Area. I could climb for the weekend, but not for weeks on end.
So, in the past years, I’d given up my ambition to take care of my son, and then my parents. The ethical constraint was clear: postpone my goals, or abandon my family. I chose to take care of my family, and climb El Capitan later. Perhaps waiting paid off: this spring, the American alpine Club awarded me a ‘Live Your Dream‘ grant to attempt this climb.
Why now? My son graduated from college in May, 2014; both of my parents have passed away, and my job as a ski instructor at Beaver Creek Resorts allows me to take the summer to climb. For the first timein decades, I have the time to go to Yosemite for a month or so without abandoning other responsibilities.
I’ve asked the students to discuss similar ethical dilemmas that they may have faced in their lives. for instance, perhaps a high school athlete had to choose between his sport, and academics. Or someone had to choose between attending a college that offered the best education, versus staying closer to home and family.
We all make choices in our life that affect others, and those decisions and ambitions can cause ethical conflicts.
What gets publicity are the famous athletes (and artists, politicians, and others in the media) whose decisions affect not only their only lives, but the lives of many.
El Capitan, Yosemite