The Adventure

The Wall Street Journal: You’ve Got to Earn Your Fun!

Posted by Jane Carswell on Tue, Jul 26, 2011

This is a guest post by Adventure TravelPerson

The other day I came across an article ostensibly about CMH Summer Adventures in the Wall Street Journal. The writer, one Michael J. Ybarra, was described as “the Journal’s extreme sports correspondent.” (Words you thought you’d never read.)

Here’s the story: Michael Ybarra came to Canada to make a big-time climb on the South Howser Tower, got rained out (for the third time), and decided, surely on the WSJ’s dime, to check out this Heli-Hiking thing. I thought the presumably young man’s article, “This Vacation Left Me Climbing the Walls” (translation: I’m too extremely sporty for Heli-Hiking) was sort of a snarky bit of work, and if you bear with me, I’ll tell you why.

Ascending the Mt Nimbus Via FerrataOff to Bobbie Burns Ybarra went, spending a day “hiking up to a ridge, admiring wildflowers, the rugged terrain and expansive views,” and another day on the new via ferrata at Mount Nimbus. “To keep things interesting,” he writes, “I decided not to use any of the rungs and just climb the rock like I normally would on a mountain--which turned out to be pretty easy, even in running shoes.” Reading this, I had a vivid mental picture of a CMH guide sighing deeply and rolling his eyes at this hotshot who’s had enough of wildflower admiring and wants to climb the via ferrata in running shoes, without the rungs.

Anyway,  Ybarra generously thought the via ferrata “a good way to let people without training or experience discover the thrill of being in a high and exposed place with very little risk. Everyone in my group,” he concludes condescendingly, “seemed to have a great time.”

But something was missing for the Journal’s extreme sports correspondent. He didn’t “feel the connection to the natural world I usually seek by going into the wild…everything was first rate. I was being treated like a king. I was miserable.” He has the self-awareness to wonder if he “can have fun only if I’m scared, exhausted and in danger,” but he turns his back on the undangerous Bobbie Burns and hits the hiking trail, eager to make that climb on South Howser and connect with the “natural world” by reveling in a little fear, exhaustion, and danger. He finally summits, and finds “the sights incredible” from the top. “It was like being on the helicopter,” he writes, “only this time, I felt like I had earned the view.” (It may be niggling to point out that his CMH experience surely included views from places other than the helicopter.)

Anyway, I suppose that Mr. Ybarra is a fellow well supplied with youth and quite possibly similarly stocked with the arrogance that often attends it. And I don’t want to be too hard on him. But I thought his article sadly disrespectful of the company that treated him like a king. He doesn’t have time to mention the CMH guides, many of whom have made climbs I suspect he’s only dreamed of. And I thought him condescending to his fellow guests, who may or may not have “training or experience,” and I wondered what they thought as he displayed his extreme sportiness by disdaining the normal (and tremendously fun) way to climb a via ferrata. “Everyone is my group seemed to have a great time,” is not a sentence that betokens a lad who bonded with his fellows, or gave much thought to their ability to connect with nature in their own way.

(A few months ago I blogged on this site about the wonders of the via ferrata. “I’m a survivor of the 60s,” I wrote, “and have experience with being around high people, and I’ve got to admit that I’ve never seen people with such sharp eyes, clear minds, and lifted hearts who are that high. Listening to people talk about the Via Ferrata is almost as uplifting as climbing it.” I did not get the impression that Mr. Ybarra did much listening during his stay with CMH.)

And I felt a little sorry for a fellow who seems to want to “connect with nature” but perhaps can only do so while he’s in some kind of danger. That attitude personifies, for me at least, a kind of extreme sports mentality that often has as much to do with love of mountains as gynecology has to do with love of women. And it’s indicative, in my not-always-entirely humble opinion, of a kind of zero-sum mindset, in which blessings must be earned, in which there’s no free lunch, in which nature must be strenuously courted, almost seduced, must be earned. Speaking as someone who has experienced some danger, fear, and exhaustion in my day, I am glad--relieved, really--to have reached a point where it’s clear to me that nature offers itself for admiration freely, almost wantonly, in just about any context, to anyone who cares to take up the offer.

Reading his article, a great insight by G.K. Chesterton came to mind: “There is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset.” Or a view, for that matter.


Tags: Bobbie Burns Lodge, Via Ferrata