Before Vibram: Hobnail-Boot Ascents

The Great George Mallory.

When we cannot hike climb (mainly because of work and family), many of us enjoy reading stories of other explorers’ experiences.  Most of these stories tend to be about near-death or death experiences.  While climbing is inherently dangerous, it is actually about living. 

It seems the experiences of life and death in the mountains fascinates all of us.  We enjoy it with Gore Tex and fleece, and even that sometimes fails to keep us dry and warm at times.  Once upon a time, a legendary climber, who wore hobnail boots and climbed in various layers of wool (for warmth) and silk (for wind resistance) and his partner approached the top of Mount Everest and was never seen again. 

His body was not found until this past decade by American climber Conrad Anker.  He wrote an enjoyable short, enjoyable book with David Roberts and now National Geographic is releasing a documentary on Anker, who has parallels in his life to the life of George Leigh Mallory’s, and making an attempt on Everest with the equipment of the 1920s.  You can watch the of the trailor of the movie, The Wildest Dream, here.  It opens on August 6th. 

I have said before that the coverage of Everest gets a little silly and this is an example.  The mountain appears to get more media coverage in North America, at least, than any other peak aside from Mount Rainier.  I do not mean to diminish the climb or the effort; I have not climbed it and I do not intend to.  However, mountaineering is more than just ascending the highest peaks and being the first to reach the top (though sometimes I wish it was that simple).   That being said, this documentary will share with us, and possibly a new generation unfamilier with the suffering and sacrifice of early climbing, the magnitude of the challenge mankind faced, particularly in the Himalayas. 

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It Called to Him: Crossing the English Channel

When asked why he sought to climb Mount Everest, George Leigh Mallory gave a quick retort and left the room, “Because it is there.”  Whether he intended it that way or not, it has echoed as profound. 

Last week, Jonathan Trappe of North Carolina became the first person to cross the English Channel, not by boat or swimming, but by quiet, gas filled balloons.  In interviews he explains that the channel “called to him.” 

That may not be as unique a statement as uttered by Mallory, but it does get at how we are about adventure today.  Despite that peaks have been climbed, deserts crossed, and oceans navigated, many of us still have the urge to do something adventurous.  Trappe found something old but did it in an original way. 

Trappe did not press the boundaries of aviation technology (though, maybe he did), nor was he the first person to set-foot someplace no one had ever been.  He was motivated by his passion for a romantic kind of flight, and the channel stood out to him. 

Moments like Trappe’s are rare nowadays.  We have to find our own channel to cross and mountains to climb, and celebrate our victories by ourselves.  Though a little originality seems to cross a long way.