This episode and episode 126, A Death In The Family, carry similar themes. Life, death, and risk. So I’ll refer you back to my post from 126 for my thoughts there. Instead, I’d like to write a bit about that mountaineering spirit, or “gene” as Jon calls it, and what I learned about it on the trek.
First, a little history. I am far from what I would call a mountaineer, claiming to be so would do a disservice to folks like Ben Clark who really are living that life. I’ve gone on all of two climbs in my life, both to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and both unsuccessful. The first was stopped by a knee injury, and the second due to me overestimating my fitness level at the time. But it’s also something I’ve found myself really enjoying, and wanting to get out doing more often.
Watching this episode and listening to Jon talk about how he doesn’t get the mountaineering thing, doesn’t have that gene, I realized that many of the same things I found so rewarding from my two little climbs are the same things I found rewarding about the trek. First, there is the finding and testing of your limits. Learning that you are capable of so much more than you’ve ever thought you were. Whatever you think your limits are, they go far, far beyond that. On both those climbs and on the trek I pushed myself harder than I ever have in my life, and they were each huge personal victories that I could never have gotten elsewhere.
There’s also getting to go places and see things that you couldn’t experience otherwise. I got a view of the White Mountains, and of parts of Mt. Washington itself, that you can’t get during the warmer months. The foliage obscures these views, so you must bust your ass and climb it in the winter to see them. And there is no other way to visit any of the places we did on the trek without also busting your ass and trekking your way up there. The effort (and risk) required to do these things pays off with rewards that are unavailable otherwise, rare and unique.
Finally, there’s the people. On both climbs, I was sitting next to a complete stranger lacing up my boots in the morning, and was carrying on lengthy conversations about a myriad of topics with them in between the crunches of our crampons my the afternoon. And there were a number of interesting people to meet and chat briefly with along the way too, all sharing in a common experience. The trek amplified this greatly. Hopping on the plane that morning, I’d never met any of these people. Three weeks later, I considered every one of them a friend. Some of them even became like family. And there was a seemingly endless supply of people to meet along the way, all interesting in their own ways.
So when Jon says he doesn’t get it, I wonder if maybe he does and just doesn’t realize it. I know he comes away from the treks with much of these same rewards, rewards that aren’t all that different from what I think many (perhaps even most) climbers experience. The mountaineer has just taken it and cranked it way up, sought out those things at a different level. But I don’t think that the base hunger that drives it is all that different. To adventure, and explore. To see and experience the world.
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