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Ground Truth: Geology and the Origin of Type 2 Fun

Every step took a herculean effort to breathe through as I slogged over hot boulders with no grip for my trail runners. The sun was shining hard on me in rural Maine as I slowly made my way down Hamlin Peak after 4,000+ feet of gain over six or seven miles. I had already climbed Knife Edge to get to Katahdin, the end (or beginning) of the Appalachian Trail, and by then I was out of swear words to shape the absolute misery I was experiencing with a fear of heights and what was perhaps heat exhaustion. In my head I was chanting, “Hiking lists are stupid. Hiking lists are stupid…”

My friend James Castignoli, an Appalachian Trail finisher and outdoor extraordinaire, looked at me grimly as he stayed by my side throughout my slow descent down Hamlin, a loop I should have been able to complete more quickly than I did. 

“You’re definitely experiencing Type 3 Fun,” he said. I looked up at him and breathlessly replied, “I hate this.” 

Four days previously on a different adventure, the sun found us west in the Adirondacks of New York. James had taught me something called the Fun Scale, a way to judge the quality of an adventure:

Type 1 — pleasurable to experience and reflect on.

Type 2 — unpleasant to experience but good to reflect on and might even provide growth.

Type 3 — unpleasant to experience and unpleasant to reflect on; little to no growth from the event.

Man climbing Knife Edge, a narrow ridge up to the top of a mountain. Clouds are positioned to the left and blue sky to the right with exposed rock and some brush covering the side of the rock.
Photo: Author Ari Iaccarino climbing Knife Edge.

The Adirondacks was my first backpacking trip, and it entailed over 20 miles and 7,200 feet of gain while hitting eight 4,000 footers. I had already completed the 48 4,000 Footers of New Hampshire without ever backpacking, and I had underestimated how heavy an electric toothbrush was over the more rugged mountains of New York State. While descending Saddleback Cliffs, a route that one should ascend instead, I had a minor panic attack while James and the others had a good laugh. 

“You’re going to be alright,” he said. “You’re experiencing Type 2 fun.” 

I chuckle to myself as well when I reflect on my first backpacking trip; I learned a lot and overall had a good time despite the humble pie I had to eat, which is why I’d label the trip Type 2 Fun. 

However, four days later in Baxter State Park while descending Hamlin, I was in bad shape. I hadn’t given my body enough time to recover from the Adirondacks, and the heat plus my fear of heights made for Type 3: I don’t even like reflecting on the experience, and I don’t think I grew from it. In true New England fashion, my friends gave me a light ribbing and a Hamlin Peak magnet to remind me of the unpleasantness.

What type of person labels fun types?

Misery is generally how adventurers come to know the Fun Scale, and I was no exception. 

But who was able to capture this human experience and invent the Fun Scale? What misery did they endure, and what wisdom brought them to this point?

I searched and found this article that discusses the Fun Scale. A guy named ‘Peter’ appears having taught it to the author, so I continued my search for Peter. From there I encountered a mouthful of a reference called The Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo: an Illustrated Reference to More than 650 Words. I was not only able to find Peter’s last name (Haeussler) but also read the original person who coined the Fun Scale: Dr. Rainer Newberry.

The Alaskan climber/geologist Peter Haeussler borrowed the Fun Scale in 1993 from Dr. Rainer Newberry, a geology professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, learning of it while the two scrambled over a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit on southeast Alaska’s Admiralty Island. Newberry had invented the Fun Scale while teaching a field geology class around 1985.

This brief explanation of the origin of the Fun Scale was intriguing. I had been an adjunct professor at Boston University, albeit in English to Speakers of Other Languages. I was intrigued in learning more about this educator who came to define the human adventure experience. However, several articles I found afterwards essentially said the same thing with no further explanation: the Fun Scale was invented by Dr. Newberry. 

I figured there had to be more of a story behind the Fun Scale beyond its apparition in a geology field class, so I emailed the Geology Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to see if Dr. Newberry would be interested in telling me more. After receiving permission to talk to Dr. Newberry, we scheduled a video call to discuss how he invented the Fun Scale.

A geologist's story of the Fun Types

The chime of a Google meeting announced the beginning of our talk, and an older man with disheveled graying hair, a straight-lined mouth, and an academic’s beard showed on the screen.

A picture of Dr. Rainer Newberry looking into the camera while wearing a red shirt, worn vest, and a pen in his shirt pocket. He is wearing glasses, has a grey beard, and a healthy head of hair on top.
Dr. Rainer Newberry; DNR Geological and Geophysical Surveys

“Hi there!” I said.

“Hello,” he responded.

“How’s life in Alaska?” I asked.

“Cold. Dark. Getting colder and darker.”

I liked to warm interviewees up with casual talk, but Dr. Newberry was just about the facts.

“How long have you been in Alaska?”

“Since ‘82, so going on 40 years.” 

“Where are you from originally?”

“I was born in Kansas.” 

“Ah, a fellow midwesterner!” (I was born in Iowa).

“Not really. My father worked for the federal government and got transferred successively east. So, I wound up going to high school in the DC area and then to MIT for college.” 

I could see why there hadn’t been much written about Dr. Newberry’s invention of the Fun Scale. He wasn’t particularly verbose, and interestingly, he wasn’t portraying the gregarious personality I imagined someone having invented the Fun Scale would have had. 

“Did you do outdoor stuff while in college?”

“Maybe? I was a nerd though.”  

I figured I had some conversational license to jump more to the point, and I asked Dr. Newberry if I could read the quote from The Climbing Dictionary and have him expand on how he created the Fun Scale.

He explained that during the 80s, geology entailed investigating on the ground outdoors rather than using drones or remote sensing. “Actually physically on the rocks, breaking them open, looking at them, trying to say what they meant, and then mapping that. In Alaska things are covered by snow nine months of the year or more,” Newberry explained. 

“So we had a very, very narrow window of opportunity to go out and work on the rocks and also to teach students about them. Geology classes in the lower 48, like Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming have warm, dry summers, whereas in Alaska summers could be really rainy, even snowy, so it could be unpleasant.”

He went on to describe how these Alaskan summers created tough conditions for undergraduate students trying to study geology, and that if you want students to continue taking geology classes in Alaska, then you have to make it feel like they’re walking away with learning that’s worthwhile, maybe even fun once they reflect on the experience. 

By this time both of our faces were ghostly lit by our computer screens as it was well past dark in Boston and Fairbanks. However, his candor began to warm up, so I continued asking him how he met the climber Peter Haeussler and came to bestow the Fun Scale. He told me that the geology field classes happened every other summer, so in the off summers he works with the United States Geologic Survey (USGS). 

Newberry described how the USGS sends geologists like him on day trips that entail being dropped off by a helicopter close (or as close as possible) to the study site and getting as much as possible done in the day before returning to the helicopter.

“These trips are not, for example, taking a week-hike on the Appalachian Trail. They're really concentrated periods of intense geologic activity, but depending on the terrain and the weather and whatnot, the focus can kind of shift to just surviving.” 

He continued describing the “trip” where he told Peter about the Fun Classes.

“We had this adventure, and it was pretty hairy. It was just really cliffy. And Peter's, you know, I wouldn't say a professional climber, but Peter's, definitely a climber, and I'm not. Part of his role was just to keep me from doing anything really stupid.”

“So you were just in survival mode on this USGS trip?”

“Yeah. I’m not a great person on steep terrain.” I instantly empathized with his statement.

“Was the weather tough?”

“I think the weather was fine. The heights were just frankly terrifying for me.”

I was trying to see if there was more drama, more specifics, maybe a moment where Newberry’s foot slipped, Peter grabbed him heroically, anything, but Newberry wasn’t one to embellish. 

“So, it was on this trip you told Peter you were experiencing Type 2 fun?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“What was Peter’s reaction?”

“I don’t recall it being memorable.” 

“But it was for him, apparently.”

“Apparently, yes.”

Dr. Newberry holding very hot molten liquid while smiling into the camera looking like a mad scientist.
Dr. Newberry conducting a science demonstration; Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“Yeah,” I said, and there was a pause that maybe was too long for my East Coast sensibilities but might have just been right for someone in Fairbanks. I think he could tell I was looking for more of an adventure story. Afterall, he was the guy who invented the Fun Scale. 

“You know, I’ve sprung that terminology on lots of people over the decades,” Newberry said after a few moments.

Then and there I realized I might know more about the phrase’s usage across the outdoor sphere than the guy who invented it. I decided to tell Newberry the funnel I went down to find out more about the Fun Scale, how Kelly Cordes, the writer of the first link above, learned about it from Peter, and after each explanation he replied, “Okay” or


“And then my friend James told me he learned about the Fun Scale from Andrew Skurka, a famous guide out west.” Newberry’s face slowly turned into a smile when I told him his phrase had been used in presentations and elsewhere, and he finally volunteered a “Wow.” 

I was feeling a mix of exasperation combined with resignation, so I decided to be blunt around how I was feeling. 

“It's interesting to talk to you. I guess, I'm so into myself that if people were using a term I came up with, I would be researching everyone who was employing it.” Newberry smiled and gave a small chuckle. 

The man was just living his life, doing geology, being involved in his community, and not particularly concerned with the wider use of the Fun Scale. It was an incredibly simultaneous display of humility and confidence.  

I continued, asking, “Why do you feel like the fun scale has taken off in the outdoor community? What is it about the outdoor community you think that really gravitates towards this growth of the term Type 2 and the Fun Scale?”

“I don't know. Well, I had mini traverses this summer [2021] working with the USGS that were just really painful, like really, really, really, really thick brush combined with lots of downed trees. When we have a forest fire here, the trees don't burn up — they just fall over. So we had to climb over tree after tree, after tree after tree. It was exhausting, and yet, I can look back at it now and go, ‘Oh yeah, that was  Type 2 fun.’ It's a way to sort of, I don't know, to laugh at yourself while you're doing something unpleasant.”

“So Type 2 fun is essentially how you face externalities? The outdoors is essentially providing lots of unknowns and externalities that are basically out of your control except for being able to react to them?” I asked.

“Precisely,” he replied. 

I had already told him how people were using this term widely in the outdoors beyond climbing, and I had also seen people in the corporate sphere adopt the Fun Scale as well in feel-good marketing posts. I asked him why he thought that was.

“You know, I think that's just sort of a facet of life. A lot of what we do just isn't real fun, but it needs to be done, and you can either laugh at yourself or you can whine about it. I think laughing at yourself is much more healthy than whining.” 

Rather than focusing on creating a detailed story around how the Fun Scale came to be, I let the man speak about what he was passionate about: geology. And in doing so, I got a better idea of how the creation of the Fun Scale wasn’t a moment but rather a lifestyle Dr. Newberry allowed himself to experience and teach to others. 

“The key thing is that the knowledge base in Alaska is really poor relative to the rest of the United States, both because a lot of Alaska is really inaccessible, and because the population density is low. I mean, these places we go are, gosh, 50, 100, 200 miles from the nearest community. There's a good chance no one has been on the ground there before. And things are vegetation covered. So you can't just take pictures from the air and figure out what's going on.” 

He became more animated as he spoke, reflecting on the adventure of his work.

Three men excavate minerals in New Mexico.
Dr. Newberry pictured right in New Mexico examining mineralogy. Courtesy of Lawrence D Meinert.

“You actually have to be on the ground, and so the way it works is you're working with a team of geologists somewhere between four and maybe eight people. And usually there's a person in charge who's assigning the traverse and says, ‘Okay, you're gonna go walk this ridge, you're gonna walk that ridge,’ and you don't know until you actually get out there whether it's gonna be a really painful traverse or fairly pleasant; you just have no way of knowing. It's all luck of the draw. You can be on a perfectly decent trail that goes to shit, or you could be starting in something really awful and suddenly a trail shows up.”

I asked, “So it’s important to keep a sense of ‘We’re going to get through this’?”

“Exactly — yeah.” 

Throughout our conversation I got the feeling that Type 2 Fun wasn’t just something Newberry did when reflecting on life; he used it while in the muck, climbing trees, and hoping to God to avoid bears. His mind lived in three places at the same time: the moment, the future, and the future’s considering the moment. 

Dr. Newberry began winding down the stories of geological exploration, but I hadn’t asked how he had gotten into geology in the first place. Knowing seemed relevant since it was geology, not mountain climbing itself, that birthed the Fun Scale.

He laughed a little when I asked, and he said, “Boy, it's a little embarrassing. I knew I wanted to be a mathematician, so when I went to MIT in the early 70s, they assigned us advisors using a computing dating routine. Back then anything involving computer programs was thought to be really, well, ‘high tech.’ So I was assigned a freshman advisor who was a geologist, and I thought, ‘Oh, well gosh, they must know something about me that I don't know!’”

Dr. Newberry eventually majored in both chemistry and geology, but he admitted that he never would have gotten involved in the field if he hadn’t been assigned a geologist as his freshman advisor. 

I decided to end on that note. Afterall, and maybe appropriately based on Dr. Newberry’s speciality, there’s no point in squeezing water from a stone. Rather, the story of how he came up with the Fun Scale was more of a steady stream of experiences synthesized between years of traversing rock, tree, and study. 

“Thanks for the interview, Dr. Newberry.”

“You got it. Have a good one.” 

Since that interview I’ve embraced Dr. Newberry’s version of the Fun Scale. Whether it’s been sleeping in the shadow of Mt. Washington on a freezing October night, hiking 26 miles to the Bridge of the Gods on the Pacific Crest Trail, or returning to the Adirondacks to summit viewless and wooded summits, I chanted to myself, “Type 2 Fun. Type 2 Fun…”


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