Rock Climbing, Traveling, and Social Pressure

Pinnacles National Monument, California, USA

Last weekend both Jack and I got suckered into doing something we weren’t prepared for. Expecting a day of leisure climbing in a familiar area somehow we ended up doing a 10 mile hike (4 of which was done in the dark) and one very, very scary climb.

Pinnacles National Monument is about 2 hr drive from the Bay Area. It has many climbing routes of varying degree of difficulty. However, most of the routes were established by crazy and suicidal climbing dudes in the 70’s — so we’re talking 20-30 ft run-outs on dodgy rocks that can pop off at any time.

It’s not really my cup of tea, but the place is perfect for climbing day trip.

Climbing in Pinnacles
Can you spot our friend, J?

Anyway, the couple we went with talked us into exploring the other side of the park. The side that contains much more striking rock formations but looser rocks. Jack and I have never climbed on that side before.

It was the last day of the year before the they closed the area down from climbing to protect the nesting condors. So that fact alone along their insistence found us sweating in our heavy jeans and tshirts, carrying 20 lbs of climbing gear up and down a mountain.

The Balconies

We came upon the particular formation called ‘the Balconies’. It’s truly a striking formation with multiple dark water streaks running down its face. It’s about 300 ft tall, a beautiful piece of ancient volcanic rock, and intimidating like heck.

The climb was well within the capabilities of our two leaders. What makes the climb scary, however, was the fact that we had an outdated guidebook (for awhile we weren’t even sure if that was right route), lack of gear (you’re supposed to be use slings as extra protection, which we didn’t have), 20 ft run out on the first pitch, the need to set up a 2 rope rappel from a hanging belay, and the fact that it was 2 pitches tall and it was getting dark — so we didn’t have the luxury of time.

In non climbing terms, it was scary because we weren’t prepared. We didn’t have any plan of attack.

It all ended well, fortunately. It was a very, very fun climb. Tough for the grade, but doable. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was, at the time I felt pressured to do certain things I wasn’t comfortable doing, and it made me think…



During our upcoming RTW trip I can see us facing similar situations. What if we go with a group and have spent some time and money to get to… let’s say, to a starting point for a trek. We get there and was warned of the danger of landslides. The trail was open, but there are warning signs all over. Are we going to be:

1. Be the cool people. Do it anyway because we might not find ourselves having that opportunity again and risk injuries, getting caught, or other unpleasant consequences? But the reward might be great. It might be worth the risk.

or

2. Be the lame people. Back off and live with regret and questions of what-ifs? Or be seen by your contemporaries as ‘not fun’ and ‘party poopers’?

(not really the best examples, but I hope you get the gist)

I’m not proposing that scenario #1 is always better than #2 or vice versa. It’s truly a case by case scenario. In Pinnacles, we spent time on the ground rehashing how we’re going to do rope management. There were things I wasn’t comfortable with and I made it clear of what I wasn’t prepared to do. Fortunately that didn’t mean that the others didn’t get to climb and have fun, but what if it did?

What if me saying ‘No’ means the rest of the group would not get to do what we came there for?

What if ‘everyone else is doing it’?

I’m completely ok being seen as the lamest person in the group, but I do feel guilty if through my ‘lameness’ I ruin the day for other people. And I guess that’s why I’m using traveling as a group as an example.

Traveling often involves investing a lot of money and time into an activity and it’s more than natural to want to get what you pay for. There’s more of an incentive to force yourself (or others) to do something you’re not comfortable with (bribing officers, going into a dodgy bar, climbing multi pitch with unknown betas, you-name-it) because the next opportunity might not come by as easily or cheaply.

I’m simply hoping that during our trip we will have the wisdom to make decisions on what we believe is right, and not to bow in to social pressures and groupthink when presented a scenario like above.

(At the same time, we’ve been guilty for being the ones exerting pressure unto others. We tend to have higher tolerance of… adventures, than others. So, let’s also hope that we’ll have the wisdom and the patience for those who decide to be ‘the lame people’ in the group because, really, they’re simply standing up for what they believe in.

It’s hard to put somebody down for that.)

Which camp do you often find yourself in, #1 or #2? Have you ever done something you weren’t comfortable doing during your travels because someone talked you into it?

Do you know you can follow Jack and Jill Travel on Instagram?

This site contains affiliate links that give me a tiny commission if you buy from them. Thanks, guys!

7 Replies to “Rock Climbing, Traveling, and Social Pressure”

  1. If you want something new, put yourself outside your comfort zone. Experience something beyond your normal activities. You can enjoy your travel in this way. Different experiences create good memories of your travel.

  2. Interesting post. It's a tricky rope to walk I think that all comes down to the reason you feel uncertain about whatever it is. For instance, I felt really uncertain about rafting the Nile, though all my research showed that it was a pretty safe trip and we had picked a qualified company to go with. My fears were just of the unknown–a fear worth conquering. And I ended up having a fabulous time. On the other hand, when we were kayaking in Lake Malawi, I had a bad feeling when we first started out and were just a few hundred yards from shore. I thought we should have life jackets (which we didn't, and which weren't available) and should be better informed about the lake and its conditions (we were just given the boat and told it was fine to paddle across to another island). I ignored the feeling, though I shouldn't have. Those were legitimate concerns and in the end, they almost cost us our lives, when our boat capsized on the way back due to high winds and huge waves, and we had to swim to shore without anything to keep us afloat (http://livesofwander.com/2010/01/17/onboard-a-sinking-ship/). I'd say take the time to figure out why you have a bad feeling—whether it's legitimate or just normal nerves—and then decide from there.

  3. I think your right, it's a case by case scenario. It's important to avoid group think, and speak up if something is a really bad idea. At the same time it's also important to have new adventures and push past your comfort zone.

  4. You're right that it's definitely a "case-by-case" scenario, and the dilemma's not limited to rock climbing 'n such. Heck, most of my family and friends think I have a death-wish for some of the (in reality, easy-peasy) travel adventures I've undertaken – solo.

    The truth is – on one hand, we each take a risk just getting out of bed in the morning. And most certainly when we walk out the front door. Then there's hopping on the Interstate and whizzing alongside an 18-wheeler (ask-me-how-I-know that they can crush a Toyota pickup like a bug!)

    But on the other hand, such random risks to life 'n limb here at home, are preeecisely why we sometimes take on dubiously safe scenarios whilst on the trail in foreign lands (such as my tet-a-tet in Panama with a lit cigarette and an airplane gas tank: http://tinyurl.com/4ly5wvz). I mean…

    I'm surely not advocating doing something stupid, that you KNOW is unnecessarily dangerous. And giving in to peer pressure when your gut tells you a situation isn't right – that's not only foolish but downright DUMB. Indeed, if it's "lame" to use your own good judgment and pass on a potentially life-threatening situation (like hiking into the bush w/o proper water, gear, etc.), then I'm quite happy to be the "lame" one – and live to enjoy another adventure!

    But like I said, it's really a case-by-case call. And life is nothing, if not to be LIVED after all – this surely ain't a dress rehearsal folks!

  5. I've been in both camps, definitely. I did turn us around one time when kayaking in Patagonia because the winds had really picked up and threatened to overturn the kayak a couple of times into the freezing water. Turned out to be a good decision, as on our way back we saw wind devils on the water. Yikes! But there are other times when I've also been a "follower" and just crossed my fingers. It is a very appropriate discussion to have before traveling – Pete and I have a deal that if either one of us feels uncomfortable, we'll turn around no matter what.

  6. Whoa, I am ashamed to say that for 19 years, I lived in the Bay Area and have never heard of this place before! I'd love to go the next time I go back to my parents' house. Looks fun!

    1. You definitely should. The West Side has more striking formations and less people, but is definitely less developed than the East Side (which has a campground, visitor center, etc).

Comments are closed.