So, while I was in Alaska, I basically read nothing but Dudely Adventure Stories: The Passage (kind of), Into The Wild, Into Thin Air, Eiger Dreams, Endurance (which is a completely and utterly amazing work of narrative history, highly, highly recommended even if you have no interest in polar exploration or survivalism), and Underground. It was an interesting mental diversion. I like hiking and camping, though they’re not necessarily my first leisure activities of choice, but I have absolutely no desire to undertake risky mountain climbing or need to credential myself, either internally or externally, about surviving in the wild. I think geographic exploration is interesting, but I understand it in my generation to be largely over, there is no West I can set out for, no gold in them thar hills. I have a hard time understanding anyone who needs to prove themselves through those kinds of risks.
The house I was staying in, though, is owned by a serious mountain climber, and so as I got through some of the other climbing literature, I ended up reading some of Above the Clouds, a book published posthumously by Anatoli Boukreev, one of the climbing guides on one of the teams that met with disaster in 1996. His account is actually relatively consistent with Krakauer’s, I think, with the exception of explanations of how he felt climbing without supplemental oxygen, which I’m inclined to believe because, after all, they were his lungs. And I like Boukreev’s explanation of why he climbed: “Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.” I’m glad I get my own version of that clarity closer to the ground, but it made me think of serious climbing as less something you’re trying to prove or achieve and more something that people get something truly profound out of.