Character: Dancing with the Big Dogs

One of the absolute honours that I have had during my hiking career is witnessing the explosion of human spirit by some of my co-adventurers.

There are some things that I cannot learn on a solo trip. There are some things that I can only experience when I witness another person demonstrating Character within the Catastrophe.

Character is absolutely essential for genuine adventure.

There is personal character – the promises & commitments I make and keep with myself, and social character – the promises & commitments I keep with other people. This post is about social character.

Character is one of the main things that gives adventure it’s meaning. Adventure is valuable precisely because it creates opportunities for people to show character — demonstrate a concern for something bigger than their own ego, bigger than their own comfort and convenience. Character comes into its own when there is adversity, struggle and sacrifice.

Big Dogs” is a term I have used to refer to persons-of-character. And “Dancing with the Big Dogs” is a phrase that I have used to refer to the experience of being in a character-driven episode with one or more Big Dogs.

Note: “Big” doesn’t refer to the physical size of the dog, but rather to the size of the character and the spirit in the dog.

So here are a few of the “Dig Dogs” — persons-of-character — that have taught me valuable lessons during our shared adventures in the Catastrophe. The people on this list meet 4 criteria:

  • they have done at least two multi-day trips wilderness with me,
  • they have taught me something about character and the human spirit,
  • they have accessed this blog at least once (or at least claimed that they did),
  • I have a picture of them that is unique, but doesn’t reveal their full identity to the Internet.

This is only a partial list (more to come), and the pictures are displayed according to chronological order (earlier pictures first):


Towards Guanaco Peak, Coquihalla area,



Valley of the Moon, Monashee Park



Ralph Lake, Height-of-the-Rockies



Welsh Lakes Area, Central Purcells



After a particularly nasty bushwack on the Elk-Limestone Traverse, Canadian Rockies



Ferro Pass, looking toward Mt. Assiniboine



Juniper Meadows, Central Purcells



Above Deep Lake, towards Mt. Abruzzi, Canadian Rockies


Character disrupts the Catastrophe. The Catastrophe simply does not know what to do when it is confronted with character. Character creates — for brief moments — a “Joy in spite of” … a certainty that “this makes sense” even if big chunks of life don’t make sense.

And so, to the persons-of-character that are named in this post … I would like to say “Thanks for the Joy within the Catastrophe”. “Thanks for the Dance“.

2 responses to “Character: Dancing with the Big Dogs”

  1. Ahhhh character… I remember a day in perhaps 86′ or 87′ when you and I attended a B&G club conference and this fellow started to wax poetically on the importance of character in the the development of children. That one presentation opened up a philosophical debate between you and I. that changed our approach to running Camp Potlatch and the other programs management was silly to let us lead.. Imagine running programs that identified, celebrated and maybe helped people build or understand character you said! Imagine the IMPACT we could have on youth! (there might have been the odd time where it was positive impact as well:) Well, in direct response to the close up high definition image of Olivers legs, I reflect an old quote that goes somewhat like… The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be who we pretend to be. There’s been a lot of pretending in my life, pretending to be a good father, husband, business owner, but perhaps the greatest moments of pretending revolved around the 20 degree incline climbs, the heavy rain, the extreme weight of the pack, blisters, blood and sweat on our many adventures. And there it is. The key to character. Pretend to be a person of character and you live a life of honour… simple stuff.


  2. Bob,
    I remember that Character Skills conference session well (Ahhh, the 1980’s …)!
    And I appreciate all of our discussions about character skill development.
    I know that you and I both grew a lot from our adventures together, and from our “Philosophical Forums” on the trips — evening discussions on the days that we weren’t too exhausted to talk.
    Thanks for you Character throughout the years, and thanks for the comment on this post.


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