Why do you climb mountains?

‘Because they are there!’

Yup, he's still alive

Yup, he's still alive

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?

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17 thoughts on “Why do you climb mountains?

  1. Simply amazing………..I don’t know who has written this but this is the first time that I have come across someone writing something about his feelings for the mountains and ever word rings so true.

    • Thank you. I wrote this sometime after my mountaineering course in Manali. Glad to see people out there can understand what I feel.

      • grt stuff!! I like climbing mountains but didn’t know why. may b u r right, still I m not sure. but at least now I have a nice reason to tell all my friends!! 🙂
        According to them I am a mad person jisko patthro se sir fodna pasand hai (who loves banging head against rocks.)

  2. Fantabulous….

    Very nicely written, I liked this line the most – “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” …. very deep meaning and yes many interpretations as well…
    keep writing, bookmarking your blogpage 🙂

    • Thank you. That line is something a prof. (and close friend) said to me once. He is the reason I ended up going to Manali for a mountaineering course. I was trying to describe to him how I felt looking at the Pir Panjal range. That’s when he said this. 🙂

    • Thank you. That line is something my prof (and close friend) said to me once. He is the reason I ended up going to Manali for a mountaineering course. I was trying to describe to him how I felt standing and looking at the Pir Panjal range. That’s when he said this. 🙂

  3. Not sure how many times I have read this post, but thought to finally put up my comments. Its AWESOME. Am not a mountaineer, but I love travel and trekking forms an integral part of my outings. People do ask me what do I get by trekking- I guess your post is the answer. Anyways in the end, they still won’t understand. Lovely post again, well you’re on my favourites 🙂

    Regards,

    Deepak
    http://www.picasaweb.google.com/pulsurge

  4. Thought I’d leave a positive comment to make up for those snarky fault-finding remarks. It’s made difficult by the fact that I’m accessing your blog on my phone, but I shall persevere (and no, that isn’t an attempt at anticipatory bail in case you spot any typos).

    Agree completely about the mystique of the mountains, though I haven’t climbed any. The closest was perhaps a trek in Kufri in Himachal Pradesh in winter, but that was a long time ago…

    It’s funny you should mention Messner because he used to be a childhood hero of sorts. As a schoolboy I first came to know about him from an article I read in Reader’s Digest in the late 70s. It was called ‘Challenging Hidden Peak’ (the peak in question being Gasherbrum I) and it appealed to me much more than the breathless drama-in-real-life articles that were a staple in RD.

    How did I stumble on to your blog? I have no idea, but about a month ago I was researching trekking routes near Mumbai, and I believe a link to your Lohagad adventure came up in Google. I recall I spent some time reading the rest of your blog. You should write more regularly.

    • It pains me that you must refer to the result of your discerning eye and obvious death-grip over the English language as ‘snarky fault-finding remarks’. We spend too much time apologizing for being better, don’t we?

      I’m just glad to see a comment, any comment, on my lil ole blog (the catchphrase is funny only if you’ve watched ‘The Adventures of Penelope Pitstop’ as a kid). Although I did delete something the ‘IRS Attorney’ left on this post about expats.

      To be honest, I myself prefer trekking in the sahyadris over the Himalayas. Too effing cold. Freezing. Numbs me to the point where I’m no longer able to feel anything. But til the numbing sets into 5th gear – sigh.

      If you’re still interested in trekking – and you should be, for monsoons are the best time to trek – try this website: http://www.mumbaihikers.org/. They list out all the possible treks happening in the city.

      My link came up in Google?!?!?! WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!?!
      😉

      It’s funny you should recommend that, because I just decided, like 10 mins ago, that I will write more regularly.

      • So do write regularly! See how prompt I am with my replies? 😉
        I’m out of Bombay now, and drifting south. But I’m still within hiking distance of the western ghats, so I’m wondering if a rain trek wouldn’t be a nice idea. I’m planning a 50km bicycle ride this weekend; let’s see if it builds up to something more elaborate…

  5. Hi,
    I came across your blog today while searching for an information about “Mordhan”. Coincidentally, I am going to Mordhan this weekend with Chakram Hikers. I read your other posts like Pornography – Can we please get Real?, Trekking to Lohgad & now this post. You write really well. I liked this post as well. Everyone’s answer to the question will be different but I feel the conclusion is – we find peace and happiness when surrounded by Mountains.

    There are few factual errors in this post.
    1. “Because it’s there !” is a famous quote by George Leigh Mallory (not Reinhold Messner ), when asked why he continued to attempt to climb Mt. Everest. He died in 1924 on Mt. Everest.

    2. Reinhold Messner is not the first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders solo but he is first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders. I think till date no one has climbed all eight-thousanders solo.

    Regards,
    Rajan

    • Hi Rajan,

      I’m glad you liked my writing 🙂
      The post might very well have factual errors – to be honest, I got that phrase from an anecdote that a professor of mine shared with me, and I didn’t really bother to check. But thanks so much for sharing this with me. You seem to have a keen interest in mountaineering and also well-read on the subject. I lack the latter part. 😛
      Chakram Hikers are a very well-organized group and they take good care of all the members. The only drawback I can think of is that the group is primarily made up of Maharashtrians, so most conversations happen in Marathi. You MAY feel left out if you aren’t familiar with the language. But like I said, they take good care of everyone. 🙂
      Mordhan should be far more beautiful now in the rains than it was when I went (I went during a dry spell). Have fun!

      • Hey, I just got an alert when someone commented on this post. A good thing too – I’d forgotten all about your blog. I last looked in about a year ago. Time to read all the updates… what a treat. Do keep writing!

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