Lately, I’ve been fascinated by Mount Everest, specifically the people who climb it, and the tragedy of 1996 when twelve people died trying. I’ve read Mountain Madness about Scott Fischer, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev. You could be the best mountain climber and have reached the summit many times before, but if a storm blows in, or a mistake is made, or you get altitude sickness — nothing can save you. You can’t be rescued because the air is so thin, a helicopter can’t fly. Friends can’t even carry the dead bodies of their friends down from the mountain, because it’s all they can do to save themselves. Climbers simply step around frozen dead bodies and keep pressing upward.
Why do they do it? It’s sheer mental and physical torture to climb the tallest mountain in the world. Krakauer says that mountain climbers are, by their very nature, obsessed and beyond reason. I think part of it is the way it forces them to be in the moment. Every second counts, every step can mean sudden death, and there’s no room for the petty worries of the workaday world. It is a clear, pure experience. That kind of willpower and focus fascinate me.
I know I could never climb mountains. Occasionally when visiting Colorado, I’ll look up at the peaks and think, “I wonder what it would feel like to climb that mountain and be up there?” But Krakauer says after he came down alive from Mount Everest, the simple act of walking barefoot to a warm bathroom made him ecstatic. Yep, I’m content to read about it, not do it.