I just finished re-reading the New York Times best seller by Jon Kraukauer, Into Thin Air. Each time I’ve read it, it’s left me with a horrible aftertaste about climbing. It’s a shame because I really love the mountains.
No matter how I sugar coat it by talking about character building or the experience among nature’s wonders, mountaineering is still a frivilous activity. As Kraukauer pointed out, mountaineering is best enjoyed by those ignorant of the knowledge of climbing. Some great pioneers have made historic FAs without knowing their right crampon from their left. But it was usually their determintation that got them to the top first, rather than their experience or skill. In any case, they clearly assumed the risk.
We assume the risk of frost bite, falling, altitude sickness, exhaustion, attacks from wildlife and who knows what else each time we go out. Of course, that is, as Krakauer put it, what makes mountaineering unique among all activities. The risk of death stands out. People have died playing basketball or football, but it does not hang around the activity like in our sport.
Getting home from our adventure in the mountains is always sweet, regardless of whether the goal was attained or not. After sleeping in tents, hanging on cliffs, waiting out bad weather or having to relieve oneself in odd places (and positions) the joy of being home is even sweeter than for people that rarely leave suburbia. We treasure the carpet under our bare feet and the ability to poor a glass of water from a faucet.
With the holidays upon us, the risks can be put into perspective again. Now we get to enjoy the best of it. Relish the accomplishments of the year’s hikes and climbs and enjoy some egg nog with your favorite accompanying fluid (Bailey’s anyone?) and family and friends.
Now, that I am done with Into Thin Air I think I will turn my reading attention to lighter book, like Jeff Alt’s A Walk for Sunshine. Then I’ll move on to Felice Benuzzi’s No Picnic on Mount Kenya, I think.
Well, Merry Christmas. I hope you all get the stuff from EMS or REI that you’re dreaming of! I’ll write again next week…
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