Thursday, March 29, 2012
Why Do I Do It?
Even after 40 years of running to the mountains, and now 12 years of living in the bosom of Vermont's Green Mountains, I occasionally ask myself why can't I ever seem to get enough of it, and what is it that keeps pulling me back.
There are two key factors: One is the mountains themselves, and the feeling you have there. Charlie Houston described the ecstasy he felt being alone in Camp III in his great book, K2, The Savage Mountain: "...wrapped in the immensity of my surroundings." Mountains can make you feel very small, almost insignificant in a physical sense. Yet by feeling one with the mountain, your spirit feels light, free, and very much alive.
The other factor may be even stronger for me, and that's the lure of spending time amongst people who live at the foot of the peaks, especially the great peaks of the Himalaya. Despite their differences of language, dress, culture, and religion, these people share something much more essentially human. They are tough as nails on the outside, because not being so makes you an endangered species. You can't survive in a vertical world if you're not hardy, resourceful, and prepared to put in long hours of hard physical labor every day. But these people are gentle on the inside, and humble. After all, it's hard to get too carried away with your own puny power when you've experienced first hand, or in stories around the cooking fire after dinner, avalanches, floods, earthquakes, and Himalayan snowstorms. Arrogance just won't get you very far in these places.
On a recent trek in Mustang I climbed a hill to have a last open look back down the trail at Nilgiri, a peak in the Annapurna massif that has held my fascination for several decades. There in the foreground was one of the trekkers in my group, a doctor from California on her first Himalayan trek. From her body language, seeing her from behind, I could only imagine the expression of awe on her face. She looked so small as to be almost invisible, but her body language told a story not of smallness but of exaltation. I still get that feeling myself every time I go back, but I enjoy it so much more when I get to introduce others to the experience.
Above the Clouds