Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Why do you climb?"

Two things prompted this blurb. First, friends and relatives have sometimes reacted with a bit of surprise to learn that my accident only made my desire to climb stronger. Some ask "why?" Second, an interesting thread in the mountaineering forum prompted me to basically write this out. So you ask ... "Why do you climb?"

I'll give it a stab...but many men who were better writers than I have done so already...I generally let them speak for me. Reading what men like Edward Whymperhave said about mountaineering is like reading my own thoughts, before I realized I was even thinking them.
Why does a songwriter make music? Why does a dancer dance? We all have heard, "Because it is there!" But it is so much more to me...I find it hard to explain to people who don't know...many times I've said to a friend, "Just come with me once ... then you'll see. Then you'll love it." Ed Vistures said, "I read a saying once that if you have to ask, you'll never know. It's a very internal thing." Secretly I sometimes hope that the people I invite don't come...secretly I want the mountain to myself.

Simply hearing the word "mountaineering" or "mountains" sets off an instant flood of emotions somewhere deep inside me. A mental slide and video show starts: vistas, faces of friends from the past, sounds, textures and smells all flood into my conscious. I am calmed, I am content, and I am challenged to head back to the mountains.

Mountaineering also makes me a better person when I'm down here in the real world. The things I've learned in the mountains serve me well in my personal life, as well:
  • Stay balanced.
  • Use your legs more than your arms.
  • Pace yourself...rest on the easier parts, so you have energy to push through the crux.-Breathe deeply and continually.
  • Stay in the present.

That last one is sometimes the most important, both on and off the mountain. Our bodies are always in the here and now ... our mind spends most of its time in the past or future, if we allow it. Letting ones mind drift from the here and now on the mountain can kill you (as I was recently reminded!) Keeping in the present down here in the real world is good for your mental health.

There it is ... my feeble stab at the timeless question of "why we climb." Reading back over this, perhaps it would be better to leave this question unanswered; to avoid trying to make something like mountaineering a thing that can be dealt with in concrete terms.

It cannot.

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