Possibly my greatest achievement as a human on this planet is single-handedly conquering the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. For those of you who wasted equally massive amounts of your childhood playing video games, you may well know how diabolical the puzzles contained within this dungeon truly were.
We’re not talking mere hours of frustration here. We’re talking days, maybe even weeks of wailing and much gnashing of teeth as you pieced together the subtle nuances of that forsaken labyrinth.
But such herculean feats of intelligence and resolve are more or less a thing of the past. My triumph occurred in an age before detailed walkthroughs and YouTube explanations - that long-forgotten Dark Age before the Internet. The modern gamer, in many cases, would not subject themselves to such privations. They would instead prefer to seek the easy way out by relying on the collective wisdom (?) of the masses.
I paused to reflect on this development recently as we travelled toward the United States – Mexico border. Instead of just winging it, as many in our position would have done no more than a decade or two ago, we sought detailed information on fees, locations, procedures and the like. This, I mused, was almost a shame… it removed that hint of the unknown, sanitised the adventure in some way.
How wrong I was...
Our recently purchased guidebook for El Potrero Chico contains fairly detailed information on how to cross the border at Laredo, a large frontier town split in two by the Rio Bravo. Prior to crossing, one can be led to believe that they have all the requisite information needed for such a procedure, but the reality is quite different.
As it turns out, those mere words on the page were extremely poor preparation for the veritable onslaught of stimuli to come. Our senses were bombarded by new sights, sounds and smells, overloaded by new faces, voices and a total disregard for traffic regulations. It was chaos, and it was fantastic.
After passing through immigration and customs, having lost some currency and gained a new passport stamp, I realised that adventure is alive and well even in an age of information. This idea was reinforced as we embarked on our first multipitch climb in El Potrero Chico, the charmingly named Snott Girlz (5.10c, 180m) – the grades were inconsistent, the pitch lengths weren’t given and the descent route was described in the vaguest of terms. And yet, it was enough, and we had a most excellent time uncovering the subtleties of the route as we climbed. Given that the route is entirely bolted and equipped with obvious chain anchors, any additional information would probably have been overkill.
It is now mostly a distant memory, but many climbers were resistant to the idea of publishing route information in guidebooks for quite some time. Eventually, the opposition to this development diminished when it was realised/remembered that literacy is the cornerstone of civilisation. Sharing information allowed repeat ascensionists to enjoy the existing routes and for developers to continue their craft without stepping on others toes.
But there is certainly a wrong way to write a guidebook, and the key, as always, is balance. I would love to be able to find the route and know that it is in the ballpark of my ability. I’m not so keen on knowing that there is a drop knee and difficult fingerlock at ¾ height where I will need to place a #4 Black Diamond Stopper.
All of this information is there to be found by those who would seek it, scattered through the annals of Qurank or Mountain Project. Some might decry the internet as having ruined adventure, but strap yourselves in for a PLOT TWIST – this information was always hanging around. Whether by word of mouth, via hand-drawn topos or through ancient data storage devices which archeologists call “books”, folks have always had access to information which had the power to illuminate and inform their climbing choices (or travel choices, a la Lonely Planet). Granted, we can now access it at far greater speed, but the principal remains the same.
So basically, just like Captain Planet told us, the power is yours. Don’t go into the hills uninformed, but remember to save some room for the unknown. Then as now, adventure is what you make it - it’s an attitude, not a destination.
“There are other Water Temples in the lives of men” – Maurice Herzog (mostly)
Ryan Siacci, Esq.
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