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Do less with more, the story of Leland.


Though the concept presents itself powerfully throughout the bible, by far the best example I have witnessed is an old climbing partner, Leland. I first met Leland while swinging a hammer as a summer job in high school. We both liked to rock climb quite a bit more than building houses, and often raced off to the local crag after work, hoping to catch a few routes before dark. In Seattle, summer days die slowly, allowing a fair bit of climbing, especially if you’re willing to use a headlamp to find your car. Amid these midsummer excursions I quickly realized this guy marched to a different drum.

Many climbers, if not most, carry an unsuspecting affinity for gear. Usually a very down to earth lot, they consider materialism and the American dream the very antithesis of their chosen lifestyle. Yet for reasons difficult to explain, an exception is made for anything remotely related to climbing. Driving a beat up old Subaru with 200k on the odometer is the norm, yet a backpack full of $2,000 worth of aluminum and nylon is also perfectly acceptable. Showing up with a shiny new SUV will bring looks of disdain, yet the $450 Patagonia parka will draw looks of envy. I as well, failed to escape this odd quirk of consumerism.

Evidently Leland never got the memo. This became quite evident on a long Saturday in June, when he invited me to assist in creating a new route on a local peak. Stuffing my pack full of shiny aluminum trinkets and ridiculously overpriced rain gear, we drove out the night before to catch an early start. The first hint of difference between our two approaches came before even lacing up our shoes. While I had fired up the stove to enjoy a warm bowl of chili, I looked across the trailhead to find Leland clanging a spoon against the inside of tin can. “Dude, I’ve got a stove, you wanna warm that stuff up?” I asked. “Nahh, it’s just fine right out of the can.” Feeling sheepish, but not enough to forego warm food, I watched the white gas of my stove torch to life.

The next morning the differences became more apparent. Shouldering our heavy packs, I noticed he was wearing basketball shoes. Reeboks to be precise. Climbing manufacturers have come up with an endless supply of footwear to cover ever conceivable condition you might encounter. Rock, snow, ice, mud, scrambling, light mountaineering, the list goes on. But I have yet to witness a pair of Air Jordan’s grace the pages of Climbing Magazine. When asked about the odd choice of footwear, he responded “if you can’t do it in basketball shoes, it’s probably not worth doing.” When pressed for how he dealt with ice covered mountains, he admitted to owning an old hand me down pair of plastic boots. Mine were brand new and bright yellow.

Three hours of hard, steep bushwhacking, and we finally leave the confines of the trail for the rock face. The weather can change quickly in the Cascades, so naturally I had packed gore-tex pants. Leland, of course elected for cheap, cotton sweatpants. Next came a horrendously ragged harness matched in deterioration only by the threadbare rope we were supposed to climb with. The 80’s Reeboks were funny. The frayed rope was not. I quickly offered him my old rope, which I was prepared to retire, but looked brand new compared to the mangy thread he brought today. At least he’s consistent.

Soon all thoughts of gear and equipment quickly died away, filling the remainder of the day with wonderful climbing, completely alone in a wilderness of granite and sky. Watching Leland climb, I realized that I enjoyed climbing with him not simply because he was an exceptional climber, but because he did so much with so little. It was a style all his own. A style that blithely skipped past the impurities of consumption. Leaving the simple joy of hanging from a big mountain with long stretches of space below.

Leland is not a Christian. In fact, he probably would find this whole thing a bit amusing. Yet no lofty sermon or weighty book of theology has taught me the great principal of thrift better than him. Jesus, of course never satisfied, blows this idea into every aspect of our life. He may ask you to preach a great sermon, though you feel inarticulate. You may feel called to minister to teenagers, but your well into your 50’s.

There is no doubt we are called to go beyond what is possible and depend on His grace to fulfill. This is obvious. But can we learn to appreciate, admire and even look forward to these moments. When my life comes to an end, I pray that I can look down from the summit and see a grand wall stretched out endlessly below. At the top, still laced to my feet, I hope I find a pair of old Reeboks.


Comment from nate
Time August 28, 2008 at 10:43 am

great story and better reminder. Reminds me of the scene in Jack Kerouac’s classic “The Dharma Bums.” One of my favorite books, and i definitely recommend it… if you like fiction. Which judging from your required reading, I am not sure that you do.

Though often forgotten as soon as i realize the next new thing i want, living simply is a life goal of mine… More inspiration can be found in Elliot’s “Walden”

Comment from jrmallory
Time August 28, 2008 at 11:57 am

Thanks Nate. I think my brother had that book lying around a while back, I’ll have to check it out. And yes, I do like fiction, I’ve just read much more non-fiction. Currently enjoy Pilgrim’s Progress. Lot’s of thee’s and thou’s.

Comment from hannah
Time September 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm

i too am a product of our consumeristic nation. this story is convicting, yet refreshing and inspirational. thanks.

Comment from Colleen
Time September 9, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I know the female version of your friend Leland and I’m convicted often when I hang out with her at the total simplicity of how she and her husband live. (They go to M.S.) I also had a very similar experience hiking with someone once and their simplicity of dress made me feel like such a snob for a simple hike…Very well written friend.

Comment from Jeremy
Time September 10, 2008 at 12:03 am

good stuff jim – thanks. this past weekend a couple of guys and I climbed Rainier. while the frayed rope wouldn’t be very funny up there, and having stove that works is clutch, i am left thinking about all of my own shiny gear, brightly colored fabrics & fluffy parkas. i’d like to think most of my gear is so crisp because I am new to the sport. will all of this new gear wear well over the next 10-15 years? probably so. will i have the discipline and contentment to use it and not upgrade to the latest and greatest? that’s where i’ll need conviction from the holy spirit to be content and remember that life isn’t all about the latest, greatest, biggest (or in this sport lightest) and best. thanks for the timely and thoughtful post.

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