The Fun Scale

Everybody likes fun. And fun, like anything, can be nuanced; not all fun is created equal.

But it wasn’t until June 2001, while bushwhacking through thickets of Alaskan devil’s club—home to hungry grizzly bears—that I learned of the Fun Scale. Fun, it turns out, is quantifiable.

The bushwhacking came about because my friend Peter had invited me to join him on a low-key outing: a boat ride across a gorgeous bay to climb a small, mellow mountain. It sounded like the perfect finish to my trip, as I’d spent the previous month climbing in the Alaska Range. My climbing partner, Scott, and I had had a terrific trip. Though we were often terrified while actually climbing, we loved it later.

I tried to keep up with Peter as branches whacked me in the face.

“You know that there are three types of fun,” Peter said, bushwacking onward.

“Hey, bear!” I responded. We were trying to return to his sailboat—home to a cooler of cold beers.

Peter kept going, and described the Fun Scale. Here it is:

Type I Fun

Type 1 fun is enjoyable while it’s happening. Also known as, simply, fun. Good food, 5.8 hand cracks. Sport climbing, powder skiing, margaritas.

Type II Fun

Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect. It usually begins with the best intentions, and then things get carried away. Riding your bicycle across the country. Doing an ultramarathon. Working out till you puke, and, usually, ice and alpine climbing. Also surely familiar to mothers, at least during childbirth and the dreaded teenage years.

I remember that very trip to Alaska, just a week before learning about the Fun Scale, when Scott and I climbed Mt. Huntington. Huntington might be the most beautiful mountain in the Alaska Range, but the final thousand feet was horrifying—steep sugar snow that collapsed beneath our feet as we battled upward, unable to down-climb, and unable to find protection or anchors. On the summit, with the immaculate expanse of the range unfolding in every direction, Scott turned to me and said, in complete seriousness, “I want my mom so bad right now.”

By the time we reached Talkeetna his tune changed: “Ya know, that wasn’t so bad. What should we try next year?”

Type III Fun

Type 3 fun is not fun at all. Not even in retrospect. Afterward, you think, “What in the hell was I doing? If I ever come up with another idea that stupid, somebody slap some sense into me.” Many alpine climbs. Failed relationships that lacked Type I fun. Offwidths. Writing a book.

Into which category a given experience falls, of course, is highly subjective and highly subject to shifts (particularly from III to II) born of the rosy reflections afforded us by the passage of time.

Which is probably a good thing. After all, as alpinists and mothers both know: It doesn’t have to be “fun” to be fun.