Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Few days ago I gave a talk at Chennai where a fellow came up to me and said, ‘I am going to attempt Everest next year; any tips for me?’ He is a likeable lanky lad with a broad grin and the right attitude to succeed in life in whatever he chooses. Another girl, likeable lanky lass with an infectious grin said, ‘I am desperate mountaineer, what should I do?’ That set me thinking about climbing, something I do so often that I never give it a real thought… how many times do you think that you are breathing!
With unlimited supply of equipment, time and good weather anything in the world, natural or man-made can be climbed; by anyone… almost. I know this is a bold statement and perhaps no one has ever made before, still I will stick to it even at the risk of criticism from my fellow climbing friends. To me climbing is a way of life and I preach climbing for fun and for everyone. This must naturally lead us to the following fundamental questions to which I would endeavor to answer in this post, though briefly since these questions and answers are actually philosophical in nature and can be debated through an entire life time. And mind you, every climber is a philosopher in her heart without fail. Mountains and high places do that to you. If you don’t believe me then go climb something.
Q1. Why don’t we all climb?
Q2. Why do we still have unclimbed mountains in the world?
Q3. Why do climbers stop climbing?
Q4. Why even the best of climbers sometimes do not reach the true summit?
Q5. Why some climbers climb till they die and why do they die?
Q6. Why some climbers (yours truly included) don’t die even when they are foolish, rash and inadequate?
Q7. What do we gain out of climbing and more importantly what do we stand to lose?
For the time being let’s stick to the above few questions else such questions are endless. Now let me try and answer in the same sequence.
A1. Good question, hmmmmm… I do, so maybe I am not the right person to answer this! Why don’t you climb? You my reader; why don’t you climb? You are capable of climbing that is for sure, if you have ever climbed a single stair step in your life and I am sure you have. But going out into the outdoors and climbing a gradient is something that you haven’t yet experienced perhaps. You should. Why didn’t you, why don’t you! May be you think you are incapable of such an activity, then let me assure you that if you can get out of bed and walk to the door then you are capable of climbing. Don’t be bogged down by the scale of climbing of people like us. Your Everest and your summit can be the end of a pretty wild-flower laden trail through the Valley of Flowers and I have no right to say that yours is inferior to mine. It’s your Everest after all that you must climb and not mine and vice versa. You might be apprehensive of failure or the unknown. But then so am I, but instead of feeling fear I feel curious, curious to find out ‘what’ and ‘if’ situations by actually experiencing it. The thrill of the unknown by far exceeds the assurance of knowledge – take it from me. I am sure you like thrills, you can’t be that sedate, else you wouldn’t be here reading my post right now. Why live vicariously, go out and experience. Live even if for a moment. Why be satisfied with my pictures and posts, once you experience then you could write back to me, ‘yeah right Satya, I know what you are talking about… it’s no big deal.’ And that would be a real compliment for me. In an endeavor of this nature, the best thing is no matter how soon or where you stopped you are a winner. You cannot fail, you will not fail. Just make sure you reached your Everest, your summit – that’s the key. And from your summit watch the brilliant sun and the scintillating sky and the blooms and the birds and return home to climb another day since I can promise you that once you have been bitten by the outdoor you will be transformed forever. So good question, ‘why don’t we climb’ and I hope that you won’t have to ask this question to your own-self for long. Happy climbing.
A2. This is simple to answer. When the objective is so immense that it cannot be reached ever within a finite time then how do you accomplish it. Out of the world’s population of around 6.5 billion only a hundred thousand perhaps climb mountains and even within that most of them climb mountains that have already been climbed. Now when we consider that there are more than half a million summits (over 3500 m) across the globe, many of which still unknown, unseen, uncharted it is easy to see why all mountains will never be climbed. Not so fast; I can almost hear some of you jumping up, what about the mountains that we all know about, can see, has name, is mapped, etc still unclimbed. Well like I said in the introductory passage, following the unlimited WET (weather, equipment, time) rule anything can be climbed. But this is a trick situation since none of the factors are unlimited. Good weather doesn’t last for more than 4 – 5 days at a stretch and this window keeps diminishing with altitude (I don’t know why God is so unkind or maybe he really wishes us to leave few mountain tops alone), equipment is never adequate since it works more on estimations and there is always a load carrying limit for an expedition, which only diminishes with the size of the team. Everything is finite and so is human life and patience and perseverance. Beyond a point even a crazy lunatic like self would put his tail between his legs and head down. So there will always be mountain tops where no man has ever landed or stepped and fools like me will keep seeking them out for the sheer perverse pleasure of saying, ‘what the hell… I tried.’ To which you might justly retort, ‘so what?’ Any more deliberation on this topic seems fruitless and mind you my time is limited hence let’s move on.
A3. This is the easiest to answer. We climbers stop climbing for the following (one or all of them together): grow old and physically unable to climb anymore, assume social and financial responsibilities and get attached to other kinds of expeditions in life, get hurt beyond repair, get scared, suddenly grow brains and start thinking, finally gets sick of answering everyone why does she climb, gets married, finally dies (can’t blame the climber), loses the appetite one day, finds a better paying occupation, opts to climb the corporate ladder instead, and for reasons unknown to me (may be you all can fill up the ones I have missed out). I will let you know mine when I stop climbing though I am sure it will be because I would one day find myself at the end of a broken rope thousands of feet above ground and then falling without a parachute all the way to mother earth and returning to dust finally.
A4. Answer to this is closely linked to A3. No matter whether we reach the true summit (as defined by a point in time and space that happens to be at the summit cone of a mountain where all its ridges and faces unite) or not I am sure we all reach our individual summits, where we exhaust our complete inventory of experience, technique, equipment, aspirations, motivations, visions, dreams and our will to live. We reach a point from where anything above seems irrelevant if not necessarily unreachable. This is called ‘nirvana’ our complete self-actualization and I have returned many times from my own summits. True summit is subjective whereas ‘individual summit’ is objective since it is defined by you, the climber and no one else. Only you know where you are and what you feel. Before any of you jump out of your chair in defiance to my universal understanding of subjective Vs objective, please give it a long and philosophical thought.
A5. This is a compound answer derived out of A3 & A4. Simply put when we don’t stop climbing come what may; we keep climbing till we die. Why, you might justifiably ask? Simple, maybe we don’t know if we can do anything else, or maybe we have discovered that this is the best thing to do in life, or maybe we are escapist and wish to escape the turmoil and travail of a normal horizontal life. Can you imagine how blissful a life is without electric or grocery bills, no crossing roads or driving to work, no shaving each day, no laundry, etc etc. Now why do climbers die; that’s a silly question if put in this way; I mean we are not invincible or immortals, we die just like any other living. But why do some of us die in the mountains while climbing; hmmm may be they wished to climb beyond their ‘individual summits’ or maybe they failed to define or understand the summits or perhaps they got too competitive and wished to prove a point or irreverent or pure unlucky or most obviously had reached that point where destiny had defined their final exit from this life.
A6. Funny question really this one! While I have watched and heard of some of the world’s finest climbers dying in the upper stratosphere, how come a fumbling fool like self who keeps landing and crashing into impossibly insane locations and situations manage to stay alive. Even by the law of probability I should have gone by now. Hmmm perhaps my destiny is still deciding on the location of my final exit and is as baffled as I to stick to one point since its point of reference keeps moving so rapidly in every possible direction. It could also be possible that climbers like me have not yet taken adequate risk to really excite destiny into action. Or I was born with an incredible luck or an immense number of well-wishers.
A7. You gain altitude, attitude, a larger than life perspective, an understanding of your weakness and strengths, amazing views, jaw dropping horizons, calm mind and body, stronger heart and lungs, patience and empathy, the knowledge of how little is really necessary for a happy life, etc etc and what you really lose is your weight and your stunted views (if you have any) of things. So all my friends please head for a hill and as you move up while cursing me at every step please remember that it is just one more step and any mountain big or small can and is always climbed one step at a time.
Now to conclude this utterly pointless post let’s go back to the two endearing youngsters eagerly awaiting my sagacious answer. To them I say collectively, ‘Just keep going.’ And to the lass I add, ‘Don’t be desperate, just be a mountaineer that would be enough.’ I take their leave thereafter only to find myself in the literal grasp of a woman of exotic beauty and strength… but that’s a different story altogether and has no place in my blog about climbing and impossible dreams.