The Heretic



Heresy: An unorthodox practice, publicly avowed, and obstinately defended.

Heretic: One who carries out the above; traditionally burned alive as penalty for sins.



article by Patrick Cooke


There’s a particular dogma within our community that drives us and binds us together: get out every chance you can. Our season is short, and we need to make the most of it. Last year I climbed 55 days. I could have gotten out more, but I feel pretty good about the fact that I managed to get out so much in a season that didn’t begin for me until the week before Christmas, a full month after Doug, Court, Alan, and the rest of the gang had broken out the tools for first swings.

I needed to get out those 55 days. For me, every day out was a session in vertical therapy. Throwing myself at the ice, day in and day out, let me work through everything else that I couldn’t control in my life. I was the poster-child of the addicted ice climber – I couldn’t climb enough.


But how many of those days were truly good days? How many were days where I walked away as the sun set, thinking “damn, that was a great day of climbing!”?  The truth is, although I climbed a ton last winter, it wasn’t really my best season of ice climbing. For every great day I had where I’d climb something noteworthy for me, there’d be another day of cruising up moderates because that’s all my mind could handle. Sure, moderate ice is fun, but climbing it because you feel like you should instead of because you want to isn’t necessarily inspiring. In fact, on many of those days, I probably would have been better off skiing, running, reading, sleeping in, or hanging out with friends.

I won’t be climbing 55 days this winter. Having a full-time job made that a foregone conclusion before the season even began. But 40 days would be possible. 30 would be easy. I doubt I’ll get 25 days out this winter. And I’m fine with that.

An Unorthodox Practice:

Two weekends ago, I passed up the opportunity to go ice climbing. Not moderate gully cruising or anything of that like… a day at the Lake taking advantage of hero ice on steep lines I either haven’t done before or would usually jump at the chance of doing again. I stayed home, took a yoga class, climbed some with friends at the local gym, saw my extended family.

I’ve gotten picky in when I’m willing to go out… I’m bailing if it’s too cold, too rainy, or the offerings not inspiring enough. Instead I’m climbing in a gym, reading, writing, doing yoga, running, pursuing relationships, hanging out with friends, and everything else I’ve swept aside in my dogmatic pursuit of ice week in and week out.

Publicly Avowed:

I don’t know how many days I’ve climbed so far this winter. I started counting at the beginning of the winter, but don’t really care to bother at this point. Maybe it’s 12 or 13 days… it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how I’m climbing. Despite going two weeks between swings of the tools at times, I’m climbing better than I ever have.

This season I haven’t been getting out much, but every day has been a quality day. There haven’t been any of the “why am I here?” moments that seemed to happen so frequently when I was forcing getting on the ice. I’ve led pitches this winter I’d have been too chicken-shit to lead last winter, all with a cool, calm head and none of the overwhelming feelings of panic that lead to this.

I’m more relaxed, calmer, and climbing better. Replacing a single-minded obsession with a more balanced approach to life is reaping dividends for me. In three days of climbing in the Daks last weekend, I led more hard pitches and with greater ease than I did in 10 days in the Canadian Rockies last winter. Climbing the first pitch of PowerPlay Sunday as a pretty much dry, seriously runout line that required every trick I knew might have been the best lead I’ve ever done.

I have no regrets over bailing on that day at the Lake.

Obstinately Defended:

I’m not sure most people on this site agree with my stance. But I’m standing by it. I’ll climb less if that means I climb better.

The Heretic beginning his easiest lead of the Mountainfest Weekend
The Heretic beginning his easiest lead of the Mountainfest Weekend


There’s a heretic among us… Light your torches!



  1. Yes, there are many different ways to enjoy this game, and our understanding of that fact changes all the time. And don’t worry about the punishment for heresy, Pat. No one will want to waste any firewood on burning you at the stake, it’s too cold to waste it.

  2. I read somewhere that your climbing merit is derived from, not what you have done, but from what you have done lately. Although you may not be climbing day to day so that you can brag “well yesterday i was climbing at so and so pulling on the hard of hard”, you can feel proud about the other elements that play so importantly into your climbing LIFESTYLE : quality time with friends, stories, yoga, sleep. You have proven to yourself that what you’ve done lately FOR climbing doesn’t have to BE climbing. Hence, the essence of extra cirricular activities are the ones that complement; sometimes indirectly and serendipitously. Climbing is a complicated process because it is a passion. So it deserves many other references.

  3. Gates,
    I really like wht you have to say… especially the idea that “what you’ve done lately for climbing doesn’t have to be climbing. Hence the essence of extra curricular activities are the ones that complement”.

    If you’re ok with it, I may run with that line and ponder/build from it at some point.

  4. Well said; well read.

    When you’re in for the “long game,” priorities tend to reveal themselves… Way to set the tone/ highlight the permission we can give to ourselves to really flourish and shine when we’re attuned to doing so in the appropriate moment.

    Enjoyed it,