Perspectives on Adventures Big and Small, and Calling Yourself an Adventurer

All smiles on Mount Rainier during snow school before
summit day. Am I allowed to call myself a mountaineer
after summiting one big peak with snow on it?
One of the big topics within my outdoor social media community lately has been trip reports, who should write them, and how (perceived) attention-seekers might cry "epic!" when, by a professional adventurer's standards, the "epic" might've looked like a normal, potentially boring day.

A discussion ensued, and it got me thinking about the importance of stories from all of us, regardless of how they might compare to the accomplishments of others, and labels we use.

Separately, I had a conversation with a friend who's done a marathon, who runs on a regular basis, who climbs occasionally, who lifts weights daily, and who makes a living as an engineer. When I asked him if he was okay with being labeled a runner, he said no, but the label "engineer" was acceptable because it's a label he's comfortable with. He's developed a level of knowledge and prowess he believes earns him that label, and he practices his skills every day. But he won't let me call him a runner, or a climber.

Who decides what the criteria are for calling yourself a climber, a backpacker, a hiker, or an adventurer? Why do we feel the need to label ourselves in the first place? What makes us okay with one label over another, and what makes us feel like in some cases, we need to tell others they've labeled themselves incorrectly?

The first time I saw a copy of Alpinist magazine was in friend's car en route to what would be my introduction to mountaineering last winter. I subscribed to Alpinist because I love reading about people doing incredible, risky, ground-breaking things. The unbelievable photography doesn't hurt either.

I love being inspired by adventures people I admire are having. Last night's video treat was watching First Ascent guide Caroline George pack for a trip to Antarctica. Queued up again next was a TED Talks video of Majka Burhardt discussing rock climbing in Namibia. The concept of going to Antarctica, of first ascents in Africa, is incredible. Some of the stories are so beyond my comprehension of what is possible and what is realistic.

If I said I was a mountaineer after one climb up Mount Rainier, undoubtedly, I'd be told I was wrong. But who decides? 
I don't know many people who don't love adventure stories. I know people who've never touched an ice ax, or know what one is, who could talk about Into Thin Air or No Shortcuts to the Top for days. These stories don't just inspire me to keep pushing my limits; they take me places I'm not convinced I'll ever go, whether by design or by choice. Do they make me doubt I'm worthy of sharing my stories? Absolutely not.

I'm still working to find my perfect risk/reward balance, and it changes daily. There have been days on the climbing wall when I felt amped up and ready to lead. There were also days I couldn't push my fear of falling away on toprope at the gym.

There were days I made decisions about risks I'd take far in advance of the risks themselves, and have face them whether I thought I was ready or not. I know the more I do, the more risks I take, the more confident I'll become. The balance will continue to change.

For some, a day hike might be an epic. That doesn't make their
story less valid, or less helpful to someone just starting out.
I don't know if climbing Everest or the like will ever be an acceptable risk, nor can I comprehend what it would be like. What I do know is what reasonable, attainable goals for me look like now, and I enjoy reading about those as much as the truly-epic-by-any-standard adventures.

Trip reports from Patrick Gensel about winter ascents of Mount Washington and from Aleya Littleton about climbing Devil's Tower are as important to me as reading about Ed Viesturs and Endeavor 8000. A winter ascent of Mount Washington is an acceptable risk, and an attainable goal. Perhaps a few years down the road, it won't seem like a big deal anymore because my risk/reward balance will have evolved. Who knows?

What seems epic to a beginning climber might be laughable to a seasoned mountaineer. It's all a matter of perspective. And no matter what you call yourself or whether your adventure is deemed worthy of sharing by someone else or not, share what you have to say. You never know who you might inspire.

Thank goodness for people like Patrick, Aleya, and all the other inspiring folks who, like professional adventurers, make sure to get their adventures down on paper for others to read about and learn from. Both perspectives of people who are paid to climb and those for whom a winter ascent of Mount Washington is an epic are incredibly valuable to me, and they inspire me, whether deemed epic adventures by others or now.

So, all you adventurers out there, keep writing, tweeting, instagramming, and doing your thing! What labels are you comfortable with putting on yourself? I'd love to hear if any of this rings true with anyone else!


I agree wholeheartedly with your post. I try to stay away catty discussions like you mentioned on the first paragraph. I enjoy good adventure stories, however small or 'insignificant' they are to the professionals out there. They're all inspiring in their own way.