Many a mountaineer has mentioned at one time or another that mountaineering is ‘the kind of thing that is fun to talk about when you’re done.’ That is to say, the act of mountaineering, itself, is sometimes the farthest thing from fun. Yet, we do it. Maybe it’s that somehow the suffering creates the reward.
Mountaineering isn’t all suffering. The comradery, the moments you find yourself in ‘the zone’ where it feels like your body could march up the mountain non-stop for days, and the splendor of the great outdoors are just a few of the things that we mountaineers get to experience that are often times extremely difficult if not impossible to experience in day-to-day living.
And in the simple act of wanting to ‘talk about it when you’re done,’ there is a suggestion that the sharing of the suffering is somehow intimately intertwined with the joy that it renders. I must admit that part (not all, but part) of the reason for the photos, for the blogging, for the videos, is that I want to share my experiences in the mountains.
There is a strange contradiction in this: on the one hand, I escape to the mountains to distance myself from the bonds of my interactions with people, as I tend to most enjoy the less-traveled routes; on the other hand, I very much want to share these same isolated experiences with my family, friends, and the broader climbing community.
And therein lies one of the greatest joys of an expedition: the comradery of the expedition team, itself. Further, I think the more trying and difficult (and I do not mean dangerous) the preparation and climbing, the stronger the bond created amongst the team.
As much as weeks on the side of a mountain together can get you and your team wearing on each other’s nerves, the struggle of making your way up the mountain and the dependence you place on each other develops that ‘brotherhood and sisterhood of the rope’ of which so many climbers speak. The comradery of climbing is one of the strongest bonds of connection I have experienced, and the level of trust I have in my climbing partners is rivaled only by my family.
And make no mistake about it, Denali will be a struggle… and the preparation for that expedition has been a struggle, as well. Just a couple of weeks ago, I threw 20 pounds of clothing and gear on my body, another 50 in my pack, and 50 more in my sled, and drug that weight 2300 vertical feet to a camp at 13,100’ on Quandary’s East Ridge. You can see a video of that climb, here:
It’s a climb I’ve made many times, but never with that much weight. And in that struggle up a local and relatively tame mountain, myself and Aaron (my climbing partner that day) deepened a kinship that only shared burden can provide.
Charles Houston in his book “K2: The Savage Mountain” writes of the comradery of climbers, “…banded together in a common effort of will and strength–not against this or that imagined foeman of the instant, but against their only true enemies: inertia, cowardice, greed, ignorance, and all weaknesses of the spirit.”
So it is that in the wild places, where we struggle towards a goal while also sharing in the basic struggles of human survival, where I find true connection… not with the multitudes, but with a few souls with whom I find profound connection.
How strange that in a world in which rich and valuable human interaction is becoming more and more rare as we place more and more technology between ourselves, it takes getting away from people to be brought closer to them.