Endeavoring Toward Purity
I am not a seasoned mountaineer in any traditional sense. My interest in mountaineering was sparked years ago but was never fully realized until last August- 10 months ago to be exact. In those 10 months, however, I have learned a lot. I have spent, in sheer time, what amounts to weeks in the mountains learning not only technical skills- effective crampon’ing, self-arresting, walking pied a canard, efficient use of body positioning on steep snow and ice, how to gauge terrain type through observation of hoar frost and evidence of recent avalanche activity- but also how to have respect for the mountains themselves.
These lessons have come with a cost- especially the last one. But, I have embraced that cost with open arms because I feel that it is only through experience and full immersion in something that one can truly grow from it. The respect that I have gained through the course of achieving 11 summits in the last 10 months is one that was realized through the push for authenticity. These summits were achieved through sheer will power; through support and coaching by my adventure partner, Andy; through tears and shaking legs and icy tendrils of hair. They did not come under the support of a guide- they were not paid for- nor were they embellished or shouted about across the broad spectrums of people that Andy and I have interactions with. Our adventures in the mountains come up in conversation and are often times touched upon briefly and coasted through routinely. Bragging about our achievements or experiences is not in either of our natures. We are proud of our goals and proud of reaching them- as impossible as they sometimes feel- but the photos we post and the blogs we write and the platforms we tell our stories to are nothing more than mere scratches at the surface of our experiences as a whole. No one can touch those- those experiences are ours.
But, going back to cost: perhaps because of the strive for authenticity and purity that I strive for on these trips, I find myself frequently infuriated by the myriad of misleading and often ignorant statements by others about what they have accomplished on their weekend jaunts. Pretending to know a mountain that you have not fully embraced is not only lying but it’s a disgrace to the mountain itself. It also happens to be flagrant evidence of insecurity. I have yet to meet a mountaineer who has not had their ass handed to them by a mountain and I have yet to find a mountaineer who is too embarrassed to talk to someone about that ass-handing learning experience.
Mountaineers are better at what they love not simply because of the “summits they’ve bagged” (another peeving statement to me- more on that in another post), but also because of what they have learned when they make the decision to bail off a route or stay an extra night at base camp because they don’t have the strength to hike out. They will fully admit to all of the above as well. What they don’t do, however, is expend energy blabbing to everyone within earshot that they made it “three quarters of the way up the mountain” or post photographs of themselves near the mountain but not quite on top. True mountaineers share stories of the quiet moments before the storm rolled in or discuss the scary as f*** ice climb they happened upon that they were not prepared to tackle. There is a difference.
That is not to say that mountaineering stories are not without alteration- as with all tales, epic mountaineering trip reports can grow in stature as time goes on and stories of routine treks up remote peaks either become progressively more fraught with danger and adversity or dumbed down with time and lack of proximity to the things that ‘went wrong.’ But, the point is, a purist would never blatantly lie about their ascent (or lack thereof) just to make a name for themselves. People such as Cesare Maestri are infamous for their tall tales and lack of honesty in their pursuits.
The truly unfortunate aspect of lies such as the one Maestri told about his “ascent” of Cerro Torre is that these lies build the shaky foundation upon which people’s lives become founded. I know of a number of people claiming to be mountaineers who have yet to climb a mountain in inclement weather, who have purchased trips to the summit of some of the most beautiful peaks in the Northwest, who have bought their way into the industry by acquiring the latest and greatest gear- gear that will never be used in its fullest capacity and will never actually be tested to the limit for which it was designed.
My fear for these people is that one day they will find themselves in a situation for which they are nowhere near prepared and will end up risking not only their own lives but the lives of the people who are relying on their stated experience to be successful in achieving their goals. On another level, as well, I fear that these people will never actually experience the maddening rush that occurs when preparation meets the achievement of lofty and seemingly unachievable goals- the rush that I’ve felt on a planned-for and not-so-planned-for basis now on multiple occasions. They merely spend their time concocting fantasy worlds in which they achieve the unachievable and spend their days designing experiences that they will never have because they have built themselves, brick by brick, into a world of lies.