Alpinism is Not a Game

Nick Cienski, the creative at the sporting brand Under Armour and formerly mountaineering brand Arc’teryx, has boldly declared that he will be pursuing a record in the Himalayas, through a budget of $5.6 million, to draw attention to one of the most horrible of crimes against mankind, human trafficking. He plans to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks within the shortest timeframe ever (just 24 months).

This may excite some, and why not? It sounds like a fresh adventure. Maybe it awakens something in you. He’ll take you along every step of the way through social media, if you want.

While I love a good linkup, I’m sincerely worried that Cienski is a courageous ego with too much money and not enough independent alpine experience to take on this mission.

Until the 1960s, the most historic mountaineering and alpine climbs were lead by Europeans and those empowered by money. As Phil Powers of the American Alpine Club recently wrote, their access within places like the Explorers Club was as much about their “pedigree” as it was on skill and talent.

Today, the most historic climbs seem to come from climbers with skill and talent rewarded financially with grants and other financial awards. They’re encouraged by others to pursue their latest ambition. The awards are votes of confidence.

Cienski hasn’t earned such broad support, and those that have thousands of hours of experience climbing 8,000-meter peaks I doubt would want to pursue such an endeavor like the one Cienski is pursing. While he has some support from knowledgeable friends and those with financial resources, he’s promoting this adventure as his alone. So I wonder, does Cienski’s resources, without validation from the climbing community, matter?

For his goal, the effort, at altitude sustained the way he would experience it, would be exhausting. The dangers of climbing would mount on each successive ascent, mainly because of the time limit Cienski has placed on himself. What choices would be acceptable, which weren’t acceptable before, when he falls behind schedule due to weather or a permit issue. And in those situations, what kinds of dangers would he place his support team and would-be rescuers in if he ran into trouble. (I have a horrible feeling that he wouldn’t accept the responsibility of getting himself out of a jam, though I really don’t know for certain.)

Based what I’ve seen and heard from friends more familiar with Cienski’s project and his limited experience in the Himalayas, the quest he’s embarking on appears to be as much, if not more, about his reputation and ego than it does for his cause. Alpine mountaineering is the most deadly form of climbing and Cienski will pursue it on its biggest stage, the Himayas, and very publically on social media.

I seriously admire his audacity but I cringe at his style. I wish him well, hope for his success, and pray he makes wise judgments in the mountains even if that means turning around and his goal is unsuccessful. If it’s about raising awareness for human trafficking, then he would have been a victory regardless.

I appreciate you stopping by for a read once again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following The Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook and Twitter.

Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.


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