Why Climb? Why ski uphill to just ski back down it? Why compete in triathlons to just end up back where you started? Why spend all my money on an expedition to climb a mountain which is going to involve a lot of suffering? Why spend all your free time training to do all these things when you could be drinking beer? I’m not alone, many people dedicate their lives to seek challenge and adventure, I’m sure everyone has different reasons why and I’m going to try and explain some of mine.
The easy and obvious answer is because it’s fun, or as Mallory says ‘because it’s there’. Possible, skiing fresh powder is incredible but there has got to be a more fulfilling and worthwhile reason why I and so many other people devote their lives to this quest.
A friend Henry Iddon describes it as ‘type 2 fun’ – enjoyment you receive after the event, a satisfaction which lasts much longer and feels much better than just instant pleasure. Maybe this comes from the satisfaction of achieving things you didn’t think were possible or couldn’t do before but now are attainable. The instant reassurance of progress that you receive when you complete a route, you feel you have improved, the feeling of developing and becoming.
To have achievement there must be challenge, and doubt of whether it is possible or not. A primal desire to conquer nature gives us motivation to test ourselves against it. Everest is probably the greatest metaphor for a physical challenge of man v’s nature which draws hundreds of people every year attempt to ‘conquer’ the mountain. For me the term ‘conquer’ takes away a lot of what mountaineering is, implying that it’s just about the tick or the summit and it forgets about the experience gained and all the many other reasons of why we do it.
Experience, I think, is one of the main reasons. Getting to the top, or bottom or whatever the objective is it’s just a small part of the overall experience and what is learned. The outdoors provides an amazing environment for experiential learning, to find new places, new things, new skills, to find out about yourself, to develop personally and become a better person for it. The approach you have for the experience can determine whether you enjoy it, or hate it, or just whether you learn from it.
Relationships formed in climbing are like no other. You trust your life completely in the hands of the person your with, you live through the same experience making decisions which effect each other with the understanding that poor decisions can be fatal. The relationships are based on trust and respect earned over the time together, especially in difficult situations where skills and knowledge are tested and you live to look back and laugh. In Steve House’ book he talks about a synergy he felt when they were climbing, that they knew what the others were thinking and the three of them became one body moving together attached by a rope. I have never felt this type of synergy but I know my closest friends are the ones I share a rope with.
To travel, climbing/skiing gives you a purpose to explore, to find the most amazing places and meet people with different cultures, values and beliefs. It allows us to compare and reflect about our culture and question the way we live. A recent skiing trip to Iran really highlighted the difference in image created in the media about a country that is beautiful, incredible and with such amazing people.
Suffering is usually a large part of a day in the hills which is a difficult one to explain. Andy Kirkpatrick is probably top of his field for this. Of course the suffering is not the objective but usually a symptom of the adventure and weirdly, significantly adds to the overall experience. Winter climbing in Scotland is a prime example as are long expeditions in the Himalaya, demanding relentless suffering for long periods of time. I suppose the suffering and coping with it adds to the overall challenge and increases the amount of satisfaction gained from the route.
Risk is an inherent part of what we do and while it is not the reason we do it, it does add exhilaration, a thrill and heightened enjoyment of the experience but on the flip side can involve injury and death. A crucial skill learned is how to identify, minimise and control the risk.
In conclusion, the reasons why far outweigh the reasons why not. We are richer for the experience gained, the relationships made, the adventures, the challenge, the beauty, the progression, and the appreciation of the world. It makes putting up with the training, the suffering and the risks seem like a small price to pay for living lives to the full.
This link shows why… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU5vqCw3aWo