The Definition Of Adventure

As I descended the corniced summit ridge, I saw a climber coming up the same path. I hacked out a small ledge in the snow on the uphill side of the path and waved for him to come up and pass. There’s not much room for two people, and a fall to either side of the ridge wouldn’t stop for 1,000 feet or more.

The Mönch, by most definitions, is a pretty casual climb in the Alps: After a train ride to about 11,300 feet, you walk a snowcat track to the base of a ridge, scramble and climb snow on an exposed ridge to the summit at 13,474 feet. It’s not exactly a walk in the park (people have died on it), but it’s no Eiger North Face, for sure. You can order a coffee before you start up the ridge, and walk into an Indian restaurant 15 minutes after you take your crampons off. But the view as you climb up is amazing: jagged, snow-covered peaks as far as you can see to the south, the largest glacier in the Alps starting its weaving, 14-mile descent 5,000 feet below.

As the man approached, he slowed and stopped right in front of me, smiling. I gave him a thumbs up, gestured to the mountains and said, “beautiful, amazing,” hoping he might recognize one English word. He nodded, smiled bigger, and said, “Czech Republic,” and I said, “USA.” He slowly pronounced “voon-dah-bah,” looking around, and we had one German word in common, two guys in helmets and hoods on a knife-edge ridge having a moment together, a little in disbelief that something could be so beautiful. I laughed and nodded. He held his hand up, started to move his feet to continue upward, hand still in the air, and then he did a slight bow as he grabbed my arm and gently squeezed, like he had been climbing all day waiting for someone to share the view with.

I watched him walk away for a second, stepped back into the trench and continued down, unable to remove the shit-eating grin from my face for several minutes, sure that that was the best thing that had happened to me during my entire year of climbing, maybe ever.

One day when I got back, a friend asked on Facebook, “Has the word “adventure” become cliché?” And I thought about that, and yes, Yvon Choiunard says it’s overused, and plenty of people agree with him. And I thought about all the e-mails in my inbox from friends or acquaintances who have climbed The Nose in a day, soloed remote big walls in faraway countries, and gone on proper “expeditions,” where they get dropped off on glaciers for weeks at a time so they can climb or ski mountains nearby, and how I may never get on something worthy of National Geographic, or a Goal Zero sponsorship. Sometimes I wonder if I waste too much time comparing my own adventures to those of my friends or peers, in that ridiculous way someone compares their lawn to their neighbors’ lawn, or their new car to their co-worker’s car.

Then I remember that I grew up in a small town in Iowa in the 1990s, and not so long ago, my definition of “adventure” was going to a bar in a different state to get shitfaced. So that’s a little perspective.

I interviewed my dad a few years ago for a Dirtbag Diaries episode, and the best thing he said during our talk was this: “I grew up poor, and had nothing. Everything I did in my life was an adventure.”

That guy from the Czech Republic, on the summit ridge of the Mönch, had probably traveled even less than me to get there. It’s a 12-hour train ride or an 8-hour drive from Prague. He must have been in his mid- to late 50s, and lived most of his life that close to the Alps. But he was so excited to be there.

And I think maybe it’s all about gratitude. Is this an adventure, or is that an adventure? If my dad says so, I think it is.


19 replies on “The Definition Of Adventure

  • Matt V

    Another good one Brendan. I love exploring areas within a few hour radius of my home in Bath ME and it feels like an adventure to me in the context of my life now. My trips and rides locally have three ingredients that make them adventures in my mind. They take me to beautiful places. They are often new places (but not always). And I’m grateful that I have the health and ability/proximity to be able to enjoy them.

    I’m tired of being sold adventure as this high level thing that require a plane ticket and huge amount of time and resources to experience. F that. Hell, everyday life can totally be an adventure when you look at it right, all due respect to Mr. Choiunard.

    • Todd Baker

      Matt V. I totally agree that local/everyday life can be adventurous if you have the right attitude/mindset. i am a serious road cyclist, and every ride here in CO is an adventure. But, I find that I have to go to somewehere totally different (preferably out of country) every once in a while to squash my boredom. Seriously. In my younger years I moved around a lot (national parks, ski resort, etc.) and had lots of different jobs. I’ve now lived in the same place place for 10 years, and I have realized that it has had a really negative effect on me. I need change!

      On a side note- You said you live in Bath. I worked with your local State Farm agent Jason Ritchie at Keystone Resort.


  • Justin

    I think there’s something in the sharing as well. Both doing something that you find exciting and rewarding. Sharing that feeling you have inside and grateful you get the chance to verbalise it, and have someone really understand what you feel, because they were there. they saw it and felt it too..

  • Sue Behera

    I can totally relate about your adventures in Iowa. However now that I’ve left Iowa I find myself a little sad because I didn’t have the gratitude that Iowa deserved. I wish I had explored more and embraced the what Iowa had to offer. I miss the trails and the corn fields. I miss the snow and I miss the fall weather. But now I’m in Arizona and I’m trying to embrace every little thing about it 🙂

  • Ricardo

    Adventure-inflation: Where summiting a particular mountain was once considered the adventure of a lifetime, we must now slack-line it with a pogo-stick while wearing a duck-tape thong in order to legitimately* call it an adventure.

    Adventure, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The Joneses raison d’être is to poke the beholder in the eye.

    *as determined by “The Joneses”

  • AaronF

    Is it exciting? Did it scare you a bit? Classifying something as an adventure is totally up to the person experiencing it.

    Even though I’ve been there many times & wont be scary; the trip we’re taking this Thanksgiving to Canyonlands National Park will be an adventure. Cant wait.

  • Kevin B

    I used to fall into the trap (sometimes still do) that I had to go somewhere “big” for my adventure. One thing that helped to change my perspective was Galen Rowell’s book Bay Area Wild. I live in the Bay Area and reading that book and seeing all of the wild places – many of which I had been to and dismissed as local – changed my view forever.

    Another thing happened when I was hiking in the local hills. I distinctly remember hiking and thinking about some Outside mag cover I had seen and how I’d like to be in a place like that when it hit me that if someone took a picture of me at that moment it could easily be on that cover.

    Adventure is where you find it.

  • Kaj Bune

    For me, adventure = outcome unknown. I’m grateful, especially in this always-connected era, to find myself in circumstances for which the outcome is not scripted.

  • RJR


    Adventure is what you make of it. Fantastic day hike with a summit does not get any better. Climbed Mr Muir in the eastern sierra under same situation years ago. Still think about that day. Would not have made the final push without direction from a friend on the trail that day.

    Thanks for the story.

  • Patrick

    Thanks Brendan, for yet again making me think about life a little more. When I feel like what I’m doing isn’t good enough, I happen to read something of yours that snaps me back into place.

  • Megan

    I agree with others, gratitude and perspective are what define adventure. Stu and I went to Moab a week ago (he’d grown up in Colorado and not yet been!) and couldn’t believe how many people we ran into on hikes and in town that were from other countries. It was awesome and made the trip feel like we’d left America, sort of, for a weekend.

    The earlier comments about an adventure being a bit scary are totally true. My goal for the trip was to hike to Delicate Arch, a 3mi hike I’d done previously and that tons of people do. However, being 7 months pregnant, I didn’t know if I’d make it. Luckily, it was easier than I thought it would be and we had a great hike. Adventure is definitely in the eye (and possibly belly) of the beholder!

  • Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb

    Great insight and perspective. I’m sure I’d be considered one those that uses the word ‘adventure’ too often, but I truly do see darn near everything about life as an adventure. The hunger to do more and see more….all done with appreciation and excitement. =)

  • Laura

    Hi Brendan, I think this piece is so rad. Like, all of rad, not just part of it. I think of it often when I’m not getting out and doing the big objectives like all the “cooler” climbers than me. I blogged a related piece today, quoting your work in it. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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