22/02/2016

Why I climb mountains?

The question has been asked to almost every mountaineer and one of them has given a reply most people consider befitting. The legend George Mallory said, “Because it’s there”. That may have been true in 1924 when Mallory disappeared on Mt Everest. Personally, I think the major reason behind climbing for many current mountaineers can be summed up in one word – glory.

Trekkers near Mt Everest base camp, Nepal
Friends and a magnificent view near Mt Everest base camp, Nepal


If you ask me this question; that is one of the answers I will give too. Yes, I belong to the Facebook generation and it feels nice when you climb and post photographs which are acclaimed by many. I would say, as will others that it is in fact, good photography and nothing to do with mountain climbing specifically; which brings me to my next answer – the high you get out of doing stuff most people don’t (or won’t). That also explains the bungy jumping I did or the sky dives or paragliding trips that my friends do.

Unlike many mountaineers, I don’t feel like I belong in the mountains nor do I feel at home there. I feel it’s a desolate place, which is very tiresome to reach and exposes me to extreme cold. I hate getting cold, the aircon in my office and in Singapore's malls leaves me chattering and I literally get cold feet at night without the blanket. The weeks spent without shower and shaving, the itchy head and smelly feet make me loath myself and sometimes, the experience itself. The heavy backpack wreaks havoc to your body at high altitude and subzero temperatures. The mental anguish exacerbated by high-altitude headache is the not the last straw. The anxiety given to my family who pray I return safely constantly haunts me as I take every step uphill. So why?
I don’t have a fixed answer. It changes depending on whom I am talking to and whether I am sober or not. Wanting to be different only gets one so far; and there are many ways other than climbing to do this.

I have realised that it is good for me to push myself just beyond what I think is my limit. Read that again - "just beyond" and "what I think is my limit". And this is not just my physical limit, which remains quite inadequate, as every trek reminds me. If you notice, the most prominent mountaineers of our times are not images of Hercules or Adonis. Mentally though, they are very strong. Most of them have excellent leadership skills, a solid work ethic, carrying your own weight in a team (literally), a massive amount of trust in your partner (you entrust your life to him/her when you rope up) - basically the stuff that life in general teaches us, mixed with some of the fancy management stuff that business schools teach us. Above all, they have a strong urge to perform and a will to survive. What is life if not this? I certainly think that is what it is; climbing a peak is like an entire life condensed in a few weeks. And I want to live many lives before I die.

Check out a photo-story of my expedition to Mera Peak (6461 metres or 21,200 feet) on Facebook.

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