“The ego is not master in its own house.”
Among Sigmund Freud’s various calls to fame had been his tripartite theory of the id, ego, and superego — a compartmentalization of the human psyche, which encapsulated the idea that we develop these intangible systems of thought relating to everything from our predispositions to our ambitions.
Under Freud’s model, the id consists of primitive instinct, driving passion and desire; the ego is the voice of reason and rationality while the super-ego operates as our moral-conscience.
Freud contextualized a rather combative relationship between these three parts of the psyche, often detailing how one pushes or succumbs to the other. Since the inception of his theory, countless reiterations have sought to understand our behaviours through this particular tri-colored lens.
We may know how these three parts come into conflict, but what about when they work together? When, in a comprehensive sense, they collectively work to construct an ideal environment for self-actualization or a relentless pursuit of, well, whatever it is that we’d want to pursue: happiness, success, simplicity, victory, stability, fortitude, understanding.
I wanted to know how these different factions of the psyche function to help the human machine operate with utmost efficiency, cutting needless fears but abiding by pragmatic rationality; maintaining a focus on an ideal self without getting too self-centered; pushing but also pulling.
Then, with no particular motive relating to the purpose of this article, I stumbled upon Charlie Barrett.
Charlie’s an interesting guy. Look him up on Google and you’ll find entire discussion boards inexplicably dedicated to detailing how cool of a guy he really is:
“Charlie is definitely one of the more bad-ass climbers I know! I spent a couple good years hanging with him in TM.”
“Charlie’s the real deal.”
“Quite possibly the coolest and nicest guy to ever climb on the Eastside”
“Dudes a trip and a hell of a partyer”
They go on.. with striking detail.
“Charlie’s a close friend and a great person… He has zero attitude and zero ego. He’s one of the humblest and lowest profile climbers I know, especially rare given his exceptional accomplishments.”
“Charlie’s a rad dude! that’s my highest compliment btw… The guy has got sumpin special on the rock”
Charlie scaling Mortal Kombat in Lake Tahoe. Photo courtesy Michael Eadington
Climbers themselves are a fascinating bunch. Attention as of late has usually turned to one of Charlie’s friends, Alex Honnold, a seemingly unwilling star of the documentary Free Solo. Because of the radical death defiance, the self-competitiveness, and the lifelong development of skill — climbers make for fascinating studies into the mind — both the surface mind and the subconscious mind.
Charlie himself is quietly regarded as one of the best in the world, though he’d be the last to mention it. He’s a rare pioneer, conquering some of the most difficult bouldering routes along the West Coast. With a few decades of experience climbing his way through the Eastern Sierra and the Tahoe Basin, he’s written some of the most comprehensive guides out there and, through it all, has somehow maintained an ironically down-to-earth state of mind.
He's a combination of skill and mentality that's rare to come across these days — an absolute purist, who relies upon his passion more than any moment of publicity or recognition; someone with natural talent who always climbs above his own limits into new echelons of aloof achievement.
I had the privilege of picking this particular mind about his sense of ego, his passion, mindset and dedication to try and get a glimpse into what makes Charlie, well, Charlie.
Q. Dude — everyone loves you. Online forum boards devoted to how cool of a guy you are, how badass of a climber you are, etc. You only get that kind of rep by doing what you do with an absolute, uncontaminated and untamed passion. How (or when) did you realize that climbing was everything to you? And what made you realize it?
A. Ha! I don’t think everyone loves me but that’s a pretty cool way to start off the interview. I think since I’ve been climbing for 20 years now, I’ve traveled and have met a lot of people, and most the time I’m out there, I’m happy and genuinely stoked to meet new people and share the good times with them.
Climbing for me came pretty naturally - some friends and I used to go up to Yosemite as kids to hike around and learn the park, so when I got taken out climbing on the Sonoma Coast (where I grew up), I just put two and two together and it’s been life ever since.
Q. We’re seeing more and more people doing things solely because it attracts attention to their Instagram pages.. Fraser Corsan, a world-record holding wingsuit jumper, told me about how people are coming in and losing their lives doing what he does because they don’t care about the training/safety component and just do it for the sake of getting some good shots and videos of themselves. One thing that keeps coming up about you is that you don’t have an ego, you’re just in it purely for the experience. It’s probably weird to even comment on this, but what’s your take on ego when it comes to certain extreme sports? Is ego compatible with climbing?
A. “The ego is not master in its own house” Everyone has an ego to some degree.. For me, hard climbing is a personal competition.
I really like pushing myself physically and grades don’t even have a part in that, which I think grades is where a lot of ego is. Perfect example: I’m on my way to Joshua Tree to try the Asteroid Crack, which is given a “12d” [a classification system that can be better understood here for those curious], but since I have huge hands, it’s extremely difficult for me. But that doesn’t override the fact that I want to do the line because of its striking beauty.
On the Instagram side of things, it’s pretty weird to watch in some ways. I had a conversation about it the other day - people go travel to get the Insta pics, and others just post pics of their life, which at times can be rad.. I’m on the latter end of that.
Photo courtesy Michael Eadington and the Eadington Gallery