Glued to the computer these days, looking for updates on the search for the climbers on Mt Hood. This morning, the mother of one of the climbers said, “The mountain has no right to keep our sons.” I understand why she is saying this, in her fear and grief, but it reminds me of when I was climbing a lot, how my family just didn’t understand the whole mindset of climbing.

When you start a climb, there is a vast sense of possibility. You think about when you are due to return, and you project yourself to that (safe) future, but then you come back to the present moment and recognize that you are now going to move into a reality where you take one step at a time, where you cannot predict the outcome, and where you will try to minimize your risk. It’s imperative that you stay deeply connected to your actions in the present — lapses in attention can add up to problems in the future (and some lapses have immediate consequences in a split second). Basically, you try to stay attuned to the present moment, listen to your intuition, and factor in everything you’ve experienced, or heard other people tell about their experiences.

Climbers are great talkers. It’s a responsibility to the community at large, to share information about any problems or disasters or near-disasters that one has experienced or been told about. All climbers have when they go out into the wilderness is their equipment and their wits and an encyclopedic array of stories of other climbers. Equipment, human psychology, human physiology, the physical terrain, and weather — all of these factors play out over the course of the adventure. You never know what’s going to happen, with so many variables in the mix.

The combination of having to be intensely connected to the moment and the unpredictability of the outcome is what makes an adventure so compelling. No one ever goes alpine climbing or rock climbing without recognizing that things could go very wrong. At least, no experienced climbers do. It’s a perfect example of recognizing reality and choosing to be optimistic. I’ve met climbers who were severely injured, who’ve lost friends and climbing partners, and not one has ever suggested that their optimism was misplaced or mistaken. Things happen. Sure, you put yourself on a mountain in winter and a storm may come. Or it may not. You put yourself in a car and drive to work in the morning and a drunk driver and a head-on collision may come. Or not.

I’m not sure why I feel like I need to make an argument for climbing. I guess I worry that people look at these stories and say, “Why’d they do that, anyhow? Why do something so crazy and purposeless?” Yeah, um, okay. Better to do sensible, purposeful things, like watch TV and buy things, right?

The Human Route

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed — that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?

–Seung Sahn


2 Responses

  1. It sounds like these guys were on a big ego trip and thousands of dollars is being spent to rescue them. It was a STUPID choice, it is real easy to check the weather these days….not one bothered to check and did not question the possibility of something going wrong. Heros are the men who stay home and do not cause so much suffering to there families. Choosing to go climbing is diffrent then a freak accident.

  2. Oh yeah, now I remember why I might need to make the argument…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: