Roshambo: a simple, yet effective, ancient, Chinese game of chance. Like many other climbing days of mine, this day started with it. As we ritualistically ran through the rules, Matt thought back to our last game of paper rock scissors. He remembered that I had thrown paper. I only remembered that I had won the last match and that it wasn’t really a win, maybe it was actually more of a loss. Today we were sitting in Matt’s truck in the pine tree filtered, grey dawn light of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel. The rack, ropes and other accouterments were still ensconced in the bed of the truck. There was a cool bite to the autumn air and the truck provided shelter from the nip. “If I win, we can sit and wait a bit for it to warm up” Matt says after I ask him if he wants to Roshambo for the first lead.

“Sounds good” I reply. “And if I win?”

“I can belay in two puffy jackets, no problem” Matt answers.

“One, two, three, shoot?” I query. It is always good in this well known decision making method to clarify the rules and expectations. Who gets to do what, when to throw, best of or winner takes all, etc.

“Throw on shoot” Matt adds.

“Word of God?” I ask.

“Best of one” Matt agrees. “Winner takes first lead.”

“Sounds good.”

“OK, one, two, three, shoot” we say in unison. Our closed fists slap our open palms in time with the count. I leave my fist closed, throwing the ol’ Bart Simpson standby. Matt’s throw reveals two fingers that mimic scissors. “Damn” I think, “I won.”

“What the heck, Don Jared? Last time you threw paper” Matt sighs.

“Good ol’ rock, nothing ever beats rock” I quote Bart Simpson in reply. The rock I threw feels like it just punched me in the gut. Not only do I “win” the run out, with ground-fall potential first pitch, the crux 5.10d finger crack third pitch is thrown in for a package deal. I feel the bundle of nerves tighten again in my stomach.

We silently hop out of the cab and disappear into the fancy, upper class hotel to use the restrooms.


According to the always factual Wikipedia, this simple decision making tool/game of Roshambo was first documented in China during the Han Dynasty, which ruled nearly four hundred years from 200 BC. Despite existing in China for centuries, it only gained popularity after it migrated to Japan. It was not until the early twentieth century however, that the game spread beyond Asia. The first known references to the game came in the 1920s and 30s and were descriptions of the game in newspapers in France, the UK and in the United States. That these were detailed written descriptions of game play and rules could lead one to believe that the game had yet to gain widespread popularity in these regions.


Matt Hartman on the South  Face of Washington Column
Matt Hartman on the South Face of Washington Column

Needless to say the game, or tool, depending on how you use it, has grown immensely and has its own place in popular culture. From the game of Evolution to World Rock Paper Scissors Society to US federal court cases and the Bud Light sponsored $50,000 USARPS Championships, the game is universally known and universally used. So obviously it is a go to for any small decision that needs to get made.

Roshambo really only works for two people, so decisions among three or more have their own tools, such as nose goes, even-odds, or horse and goggle. Most recently on Lost Temple Spire in the Wind River Range, Jake Perkinson lost a game of even-odds and had to climb a pitch to get a stuck rope. Deep in the Patagonian Andes I lost a memorable game of even-odds and had to take the first lead on a cold morning after a forced bivy. [ Link to Leader Article]

I remember one of Matt and mine’s first Roshambos. The event occurred at the Lander Bar as we were planning our first road trip together. We were about to head out on a seven hour drive to Devil’s Tower and the issue at stake was which truck we would take. My Toyota Tacoma or his. I am not sure if I won or lost, but he ended up driving and we have had countless matches since then, most of which I have lost.

Earlier in our Yosemite trip we had done a game of chance for the first lead on the South Face of Washington Column. It was a win, win or lose, lose proposition, depending on one’s views and desires. To win the first lead meant having to ascend a fixed rope to follow the Kor Roof pitch, which as a steep, overhanging face, is generally harder than leading it. To lose the Rock Paper Scissors meant having to jug three pitches with pack on and then getting to lead the Kor Roof pitch. Matt did not really want to jug with the pack on and I did not really want to clean the Kor Roof, but for some reason, we Roshamboed anyway. I “won” but in essence I lost, cause I didn’t really want to clean the Kor Roof. But I guess I didn’t have to jug with the pack. I guess I could not decide what I did NOT want more. Same with Matt.

Sometimes I feel guilty for winning, because someone else is disappointed, and have often tried to renounce the Rock Paper Scissors. Usually that happens later. On Washington Column’s South Face I repeatedly asked Matt if he wanted to lead when indeed I had won the RPS fair and square. He stoically declined every time. “Let’s just stick with the plan” he would tersely respond when asked. Years ago we RPSd for the crux pitch of Black Elk in the Wind River Range in WY. But we linked some pitches and I ended up on the top of the stack while standing below the off-fists splitter crux. Matt offered it up to me. I tried to feign resistance. “We could just restack the rope” and “…but you won the Roshambo…” I protested [add some sort of link here to that post]. Needless to say, the circumstances renounced the Roshambo and I ventured out on the sharp end. It is usually up to the winner to offer changes to the outcome, as it is poor style for the looser to ask for “two out of three” when best of one has decided the outcome.

Today, though, as I climb high above the Ahwahnee Hotel, there is no take backs. Standing at the anchor, looking upwards and racking up, I half-heartedly offer the lead to him. “Are you sure you do not want the opportunity to redpoint it” I ask with a small grin. “You only followed it last time.”

“You are already racked up” he points out.

And I know it, there is no backing out, not because I am racked up or because Matt won’t do it, but because I just truly need to try harder. I need to push and challenge myself, both physically and mentally. So I launch off, propelling myself skyward on thin hand jams and torqued feet and somewhere higher up the pitch, the rock I threw earlier gives me the chance to push myself, something I so rarely do. Maybe it is a win after all.

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A little bit less of a nomad now, Jared still likes to refer to himself in the third person.