Steve House: What I’ve Learned
41, Alpinist, Ridgeway, Colorado.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 203 (July 2012).
When I look back on every big climb, I can identify one pivotal moment that would either lead to us finishing the route, or not. Now I can recognize this moment while I’m in it. That’s been invaluable because I know when to push, when to dig a bit deeper. I try not to stop climbing until something external stops me.
Training is a great facilitator of flow and teacher of discipline. Building the hours to complete my annual training program gives me plenty of time to think, calm my mind, and ultimately, hone my ability to concentrate without needing to summon concentration. Training has been crucial to my abilities to manage fear and risks, and ultimately to climb well when I get to the mountains. Training the body trains the mind, and in the mountains, the mind is primary. Confidence comes with practice. Doing. If you have skill, there is no hiding it. If you lack confidence, there is no faking it.
Long ago I observed climbers of great confidence and realized that they are humble people. That’s one of the greatest things about climbing: The tribe is small and it’s not unusual to meet your heroes.
Climbing is more art than sport in the sense that it’s an expression of intention, a discipline and a practice. My best climbing occurs when I have clean, simple motivation. Whenever I go climbing, I always seem to come back feeling better. There is catharsis in trying hard.
Whether to go up or down is a decision to make before you get scared. I was always disappointed when I made a decision to retreat while I was choked by fear. Being unable to find protection, dangerous snow conditions and loose rock are reasons to retreat, but you should decide before the rock sails past your head or the slope settles and cracks in front of you. Close calls are not part of a good day out.
After my accident on Mount Temple in March 2010 I came to terms with the fact that I had not always been a nice person over the years prior. Spend a few hours believing you’ll be dead before sunset and it does something to you.
The notoriety that came with climbing K7 and Nanga Parbat’s Rupal Face did affect me in a negative way; I wasn’t prepared and had no guidance. Writing “Beyond the Mountain” was cathartic, but in the end only made me more famous, as much as climbers are ever famous, which inflated my bad-boy side. In my heart I’m really an Eagle Scout. I’ve changed a lot of things about my life since 2010. I now am more passionate about what I create for others than for myself. Alpine Mentors, a new program I’ve started that aims to mentor the next generation of alpinists, and my next book, “Training for Alpine Climbing”, are direct extensions of this desire to somehow give back.
I no longer identify myself solely as a climber. It’s more important to be a good man than it is to be a good climber, but it’s possible to be both.
In the future I think big hard alpine routes will all be climbed in a single-push style like what I helped refine in Alaska during the 1990s and did on K7 in 2004. I believe that the next time the Central Pillar of the Rupal Face is climbed, it will be done in two days of nonstop climbing. The direct West Face of Makalu can be climbed the same way: 48 hours nonstop. I can see the evolution, but I can’t make the step myself. I’m too scared. I don’t have the confidence right now, though I believe it will happen in my lifetime. It’s going to take incredible confidence to head up onto that wall with daypacks.