‘Because they are there!’
This was what Reinhold Messner answered when questioned in an interview. For those not in the know, Reinhold Messner is regarded as the greatest mountaineer of all time. He was the first climber to make a solo ascent to Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen and also the first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders (peaks above 8000 mtrs.) solo. Yeah, he was pretty crazy.
Mountaineering, I believe, requires a bit of insanity. Something’s gotta have fallen off from up there. Messner’s answer was not ridiculous; it was not even rude, or silly. It was the only answer. After all, what purpose is there to mountaineering?
If the extent of your contact with mountains has been watching them through your car window while you were holidaying in Himachal, then you probably don’t appreciate what I’m saying to its full extent. Mountaineering is no joke. It looks great fun and seems exciting — living life on the edge and all — but the only thing on the edge here is your life. Reaching the summit may or may not be possible, but death is always a possibility, with every step. If not death, you face the possibility of becoming disabled temporarily or permanently, physically or mentally, and rest assured, any of these consequences are going to be unpleasant in the least, if not agonizingly painful and dreadful. This is what mountaineers live to do. Does it make sense? At all?
And yet they do it. When Reinhold Messner climbed the Everest without supplemental oxygen, he achieved what was considered physicially, physiologically even mentally impossible for a human being by doctors, medical experts and moountaineers alike. Reinhold Messner chose to do it because he thought it was only fair to climb like that. It may seem mighty unfair to some that he’s still alive.
All this brings us back to my point — Why? What’s so amazing about the possibility of getting buried alive in an avalanche? One might say it’s the thrill. But no, not entirely. Mountaineering is not exactly thrilling. It’s dangerous, and when done at an amateur level it is purely adventurous, but it’s not ‘AXN’ thrilling. You can’t afford to get thrilled on a mountain. It would take up too much energy and oxygen.
There was a time when it was necessary — in order to battle the enemy or to travel to another country. Even that’s not the case anymore.
I think the answer lies somewhere in this statement: “If you stand in front of the mountain and don’t think, there’s no psychological space between you and the mountain. You are the mountain”
I’ve spent some time in the mountains and I know, that it is the only place that can suspend my thoughts. And looking at a picture doesn’t do it. When I stand right there, right in front and behold that spectacle of might and majestic proportions, for some time, even if it’s a moment or two, I stop thinking. At that moment I’m just being. Being in that moment, in that place, in front of that mountain. And it is the only other thing that can do that to me.
In front of a mountain is the only place that I have felt humbled, and yet felt good about it. There’s this majestical entity in front of you. It’s real, it’s not those lines you would draw with pencils on your drawing book. It’s been created, evolved rather, over millenia. The formation of the Himalaya started 70 million years ago, and it is the youngest mountain range. Can you imagine such a measurement of time? So when you stand, looking at this mountain, you realise that you are looking at something that is 70 million years old. You can’t even comprehend the extent of the time period this would be. And here you are, on this planet for a mere 22 years and you’ve come to climb it. Or have you?
No, the mountaineer hasn’t come to climb the mountain. He’s come to see it. His own smallness is no match for the mountain — but he’s not here to compete. He comes because he relates the might of mountain with the might of his own will. The mountain makes him what he is, it gives him a sense of who he is. This has not been made by him. But yet this is real. Reality untouched by man’s perception, and yet existing. A truth that no one can deny. A truth only he knows, and the mountain.
However, people are so used to creating their fanciful, whimsical and flawed versions of reality that even the realism of the mountains seems lost on them. They watch the mountains through their car windows and play in the snow and they will never know what a mountain really is. All they can do is ask: Why do you climb mountains?