Ben Gilmore has been a dirtbag climber and guide since the early 90’s. His first climbs on the small sea cliffs of Maine during college became a regular lifestyle of road trips, guiding, and training for new routes on mountains all over the world. Based in Jackson, Wyoming, Ben works as a guide for about half or two-thirds of each year to support climbing expeditions the rest of the time.
AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide
Exum Guide for five years
Level 3 Avalanche certified
Four-time Recipient of the Mugs Stump Award
Two-time Recipient of the Lyman Spitzer Grant
Nominated for the 2004 Piolet D’ Or
FA “The New Hampshire Route”, north face Kangtega, Nepal, Oct. 2008
FA “Bar’s Ears”, Yentna Glacier, Alaska, April 2008
“Moonflower Buttress”, Mt Hunter, Alaska, May 2008
FA “The Fin Wall”, Yentna Glacier, Alaska, April 2007
“Compressor Route”, Cerro Torre, Argentina, Jan. 2005
FA “Arctic Rage”, east face Mooses Tooth, Alaska, March 2004
2nd Ascent “Snow Patrol”, Mt Dickey, Alaska, April 2004
FA “Common Knowledge”, Washburn Face, Denali, Alaska, May 2001
FA “Southeast Face”, Mooses Tooth, Alaska, Sept. 2001
FA “Diedro Directo” variation to Cassarotto Route, Fitzroy, Argentina, Feb. 2001
2nd Ascent “Wall of Shadows”, Mt Hunter, Alaska, May 2001
2nd Ascent “Slovak Route aka Czech Direct”, south face Denali, Alaska May 2000
Mountain Athlete, Patagonia, Sterling Ropes, Julbo
By Ben Gilmore
Integrity 1) being complete; wholeness 2) unimpaired condition; soundness 3) uprightness, honesty, and sincerity
Before I write about integrity and how I think it relates to climbing, I’d like to clarify my views on the raging ethical debates common in the climbing world.
I’m a strong believer in an essay written about twenty years ago by Yvon Chouinard, entitled simply ““Coonyard Mouths Off, Part 2.” .” In his essay, Chouinard separates style from ethics, and he argues ethics are very important while style just doesn’t matter.
His definition of style describes the actions of climbers that don’t affect the rock and don’t affect other people, such as what they wear, whether they climb free or with aid, how fast or light they climb, or whether they use fixed ropes or not. These things only have an effect on the immediate climber’s experience, and they leave the mountain unchanged – unless, that is, they don’t remove their fixed ropes.
The example of leaving fixed ropes behind crosses the line into ethics, which Chouinard defines as actions that leave a mark on the mountain or have an effect on other people. Other examples of ethics are how climbers place fixed protection, how prepared they are for self-sufficiency, or how accurately they report their climb.
Much of the current debate in climbing makes the mistake of not separating style from ethics, and this leaves climbers arguing about stylistic differences.
I don’t care how fast people climb, whether they take a pack or a sleeping bag or not, if they pull on gear, or if they use fixed ropes. Judging climbers by their style just seems elitist and competitive to me, and I try to stay away from it.
I’m more concerned about things like bolts next to cracks, trash and gear jettisoned in order to go faster, rescues made necessary by incompetence or unpreparedness, and dishonesty or leaving out pertinent details when reporting climbs to others.
There are climbers out there with poor ethics, and I think it’s easy for them to shut out or disregard criticism about their ethics when people criticize their style in the same breath. There are also climbers who are sacrificing clean ethics in order to push the envelope in modern fast and light style.
The three definitions of integrity described above give a good framework for thinking about the word and how it relates to climbing and style and ethics.
1) Being complete; wholeness – is a route finished at the top of the difficulties or at the summit? To me, summits matter and I don’t feel like I’ve finished an alpine route unless I get to the very top. I can still have a lot of fun and adventure on a climb when I don’t quite make it to the summit, but I have a greater sense of integrity about my effort if I actually stand on the top. Usually post-holing across that corniced summit ridge when I’m exhausted at altitude has been one of the hardest parts of my climbs.
2) Unimpaired condition; soundness – how prepared was I for the climb? Sometimes accidents just happen because climbing is a sport with inherent risk, but too often rescues are needed because people get in over their heads or don’t come to the climb with the right judgment, skills, or equipment. One of my personal goals is to train hard enough at Mountain Athlete to prevent my back from going out high on a climb.
3) Uprightness, honesty, and sincerity – am I telling the truth about a route and how I climbed it, or am I sandbagging or leaving important details out of the story? I like to be completely honest and humble, rather than reporting in a way that is somehow designed to make me appear more strong or brave or competent than I really am. Most of all, I want my climbing achievements to speak for themselves.
I don’t claim perfection or complete integrity in my life as a climber.
My style of climbing is not always pure – I’ve used fixed lines, I chicken out and say, “take!” sometimes. I like to bring bivy gear on long alpine routes. But I don’t really care what anyone thinks about those things.
My ethics have been pretty clean but not always pure as well. Lapses in ethics are mistakes that lessen my feeling of integrity on particular routes. We all make mistakes and have to live with them, but I it’s integrity that reminds us to learn from them.