What is Hardcore?

Recently, I invited a friend to come climbing with me in the Glasshouse Mountains. It’s one of the few venues in the near vicinity of Brisbane in which you can engage in multipitch climbing, both trad and sport. The route in question was a moderate, five pitch trad route on Mt Tibrogargan, which despite the notoriously sandbagged grades on the peak, was well within my comfort zone. It was, however, far outside of hers.

With her eyes glazing over with a curious mix of fear and admiration, she declined on the outing before telling me that it was “too hardcore” for her tastes.

I’ve never felt hardcore. I maintain that I am not. Those were her words, not mine.

A similar experience occurred to another friend of mine recently. She’d just descended after a big day on Mt Barney, a scrambling peak with the occasional moment of tremendous exposure. Back at the lodge, the climbers debriefed and discussed the day over a few beverages. One particular hiker from another party was overwhelmed by awe at the accomplishment. What my friend saw as a modest objective, others saw as an achievement worthy of space on their bucket list.

Like so many things on this earth, hardcore is a relative term. We view everything through our own lens, based on personal experience and perspective. When I returned home in the middle of what we erroneously refer to as winter in this part of the world, people were complaining of a cold snap that dropped temperatures into the single digits (that’s Celsius, not Fahrenheit). Having just come back from the Alaska Range, to me the weather seemed tropical. Hardcore works the same way. If you’ve recently been soloing big walls in Yosemite, a moderate five pitch trad line wouldn’t draw even a passing glimpse. However, if the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done in your life is drink out-of-date milk, a five pitch trad line suddenly appears as a mighty adventure indeed.

Being hardcore is like Fight Club. The first rule of hardcore is you don’t tell anyone you’re hardcore. The second rule of hardcore is you don’t tell anyone you’re hardcore. The Radness Quotient of your activities should speak for themselves. If you have to tell everyone how awesome you are, you’re probably not that awesome. It’s kind of like speaking with combat veterans. Those who saw genuine action generally don’t have much to say about it, whereas some who perhaps saw less than befits the needs of their ego have a tendency to blabber about non-events. It’s a case of there definitely being smoke without fire. In both cases, actions speak louder than words ever could and the events that occurred are difficult, if not impossible, to articulate to anyone who didn’t experience them directly.

There’s always someone out there training harder, climbing or skiing better, going for longer and putting in more effort than you are or perhaps ever will. Again, it’s all relative. Most of my climbing buddies back home are just making the transition from gym climbing to actual rock. Many have never even seen snow. To them, our recent expedition on Denali was decidedly hardcore. However, we met a three person team using the West Buttress (our chosen route, which incidentally we failed to complete) as a warm up before descending the West Rib and subsequently ascending the Cassin Ridge. That’s enough to make your own paltry efforts on the “tourist route” seem decisively meek.

And these are just amateur climbers. You open up another can of worms entirely in comparison to the Ueli Stecks or Steve Houses of the world. And even amongst professional athletes there are comparisons to be made. First ascent of La Dura Dura? Pretty hardcore. But compared against summiting every 8000’r without supplemental oxygen? Not so much.

Hardcore is a nebulous idea, something which never really sticks. You can’t self-apply the title. Even if awarded it by another in a moment of slack-jawed wonderment, you simply shrug it off. You can never be hardcore. Just like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. It does not exist outside the mind of the perceiver.

So what is hardcore? To my mind, it is neo-millennial parlance for ‘inspirational’. People we define as being or doing hardcore things are those who exist on a plane beyond our capabilities and sometimes even our wildest imagination. They’re the people who inspire us to push harder, dream bigger and achieve more. They are the yardstick by which we measure what we could be if only we put our minds and bodies to task. And should we ever reach that lofty plateau, there will be still greater heights above us, stretching upwards to infinity.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in August 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?