If you climb a peak that collapses in an earthquake, did you still climb it?

In today’s big philosophical question, we feature a video with the most entertaining commentary since these three Geordie lads went hiking on a winter’s day in the Cheviots.

At 8pm on 7 August this year, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake struck the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. It caused a famous rock feature known as Baron Spire, affectionately known as Old Smoothie, to collapse. The subsequent rockslide was captured on video by a group of climbers camping on the opposite side of a lake.

Baron Spire, a.k.a. Old Smoothie, perches (or perched) above Baron Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho (Photo: pnplibi / Flickr)
Baron Spire, a.k.a. Old Smoothie, perches (or perched) above Baron Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho (Photo: pnplibi / Flickr)

The footage is dramatic, as a massive cloud of dust engulfs an entire mountainside and surges down towards the shores of the lake. But the remarkable visuals are completely upstaged by the commentary, which couldn’t have been scripted better by a team of award-winning comedy writers.

One man has an orgasm when he notices that ‘Smoothie is gone’; another worries that the dust cloud might cross the lake and swallow their camp; one man has just hiked down the valley that is now resembling a bomb site, and is coming to terms with his narrow escape from the jaws of death; meanwhile another chap realises his plans to climb Old Smoothie the following day will need a rethink. ‘Oh my heavens to Betsy,’ says another, which I guess must be an Idaho expression.

I see that some of the commenters on YouTube are recommending that you mute the audio before pressing play, but I would recommend the opposite: turn it up loud, put your drink down on a solid surface and be ready to roar with laughter.

Watch on YouTube

Baron Spire was given its nickname by a group of Iowa mountaineers who climbed in the Sawtooth range in 1947. Two years later Fred Beckey, Pete Schoening and Jack Schwabland made its first ascent with the help of 22 bolts. Or did they?

In his article about the ascent for the American Alpine Journal, Jack Schwabland explained that:

It was a magnificent piece of rock, resembling nothing so much as a monster egg standing on its end atop the rest of the mountain. It overhung all the way around; and, search as we might, we could not find a single crack or hold anywhere. Reluctantly, we hauled out our drills and bolts and prepared to do battle.

Schoening reached the top of the monster egg first, drove in a bolt to use as an anchor and Beckey came up behind. But with worsening weather, Schwabland decided to ‘forego the dubious pleasure of being hauled to the top’. So he didn’t actually make the ascent; the ascent of a peak which no longer exists.

As we all know, if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it then it doesn’t make a sound. When Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (a.k.a. Ben ‘ad Chlamydia) in the Fisherfield Forest was demoted from Munro status to Corbett in 2012, the list of 283 Scottish Munros became 282. It was no longer possible for anyone to claim to have ascended 283 Munros because the 283rd one didn’t exist.

Ergo, Fred Beckey and Pete Schoening can’t have climbed something that doesn’t exist (and I expect some of you never even knew it existed anyway).

But hang on a minute. This wasn’t the first earthquake to knock a bit of a mountain down. More famously, the 2015 Nepal earthquake turned the Hillary Step into the Hillary Slope. But I distinctly remember reading Edmund Hillary’s account of leaning back on the ice and walking sideways up the step that later bore his name, hoping against hope that the ice he was leaning against didn’t snap off. Are you telling me that didn’t happen? Now I’m confused.

Anyway, before your brain explodes, I suggest you scroll back up, turn your headphones up loud and enjoy the magnificent commentary one more time.

Then ask yourself this. Is Smoothie really gone? I think it is.

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2 thoughts on “If you climb a peak that collapses in an earthquake, did you still climb it?

  • August 24, 2020 at 3:22 am

    “I remember when …” Yes, I remember when Shag Rock was a favorite climb on Sumner Beach in Shakey town, not LA but Christchurch, NZ. But sadly it is no more. It’s just a pile of rocks in the sand now all because of a little earthquake. Did we climb it back in the ’70’s?. Of course we did. Some of us will always remember testing our mettle on that iconic … figment of our imagination. Or was it?

  • August 26, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Ask anyone that summited St Helens prior to 1980. Of course it counts. :o)

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