We were sitting at the base of the Nautilus, a rock formation known for prickly off-width cracks in Wyoming's Vedauwoo, when Sylvia Luebben asked me if I would consider writing a new edition of her late husband Craig Luebben's Rock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills.
A kaleidoscope of thoughts went through my mind as I considered her offer. I was honored that she would ask me. I was sad to think that Craig wasn't alive to do it himself. I was intimidated by the undertaking of trying to update an award-winning book.
As I sat there below the Nautilus, one of Craig's favorite rocks, his daughter Giulia was climbing a tricky 5.9, and my kids were playing around on the rock slabs at the base. Climbing is very much alive in our families, and while I've mostly stepped away from the big alpine due to the time away from the family, I go rock climbing a few times each week. Some people go to the gym, ride a bike, or do yoga. I climb.
I pondered the accident that killed Craig, an ice wall collapse in the North Cascades; the kind of accident that could happen while walking under an icy roof or driving a car across an avalanche zone. There is one big difference: our culture accepts the risk of walking under icy roofs and driving on wintery roads.
A couple of weeks later I told Sylvia I'd be honored to take on the new edition. My inspiration was partly his family's steadfast belief in the beauty of climbing, partly his and my friendship that took us up the first one-day winter ascent of the Diamond, up numerous first ascents in the Utah desert, and to China and Canada on ice climbing adventures, and partly a shared passion for showing others how fun it is to climb safe and strong.
I've been asked numerous times how I could continue climbing after losing a friend to the sport, and I'm sure people wonder how Craig's wife and daughter continue to climb after losing Craig. It's a good question, one I don't entirely know how to answer, but the best I can do to explain is that life is risky. Some people avoid nearly all risk. Some of them have high blood pressure. Some have strained relationships with their naturally risk-taking children. Some look back from old age with regrets about the things they didn't do when they were young.
To people like Craig and I, risk is part of life; it's how you manage the risk that matters. Rock climbing is the safest of the different genres of mountaineering, and modern climbing equipment and attentive technique make it quite reasonable to climb a hundred days a year for an entire lifetime and never have a serious accident.
In the end, that's what inspired me to pour my heart and soul into this new edition: Craig and I dedicated our lives to sharing the valuable methodology of calculated risk-taking. For much of our society, voluntary risk is a contradiction. For us, being bold while staying safe, teaching while learning, and taking risks while avoiding danger all make perfect sense - and those who have tied into a rope and discovered the beauty of climbing tend to agree.
I've climbed with many partners, including partners who were paraplegic, strong, weak, blind, obese, old, young, athletic, timid or fearless - and nearly every one of them found climbing to be one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
Perhaps my mountain guide father, Mike Donahue, put it best: "Life is not found by avoiding the doing; life is a mountain to be climbed."
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