Mountain Climbing—What It Takes and Why We Do It
By Don Otis –
George Mallory, a member of the 1924 Mt. Everest expedition, was asked, “Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?” Without hesitation he replied, “Because it’s there.” That famed and ill-fated expedition saw the death of Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine. They were last spotted within several hundred yards of the summit before disappearing for the next 75 years. Mallory’s body was found in 1999. To this day, no one knows for sure if they reached the summit but that just adds to the often mysterious nature of mountaineering.
I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t climbing on something, somewhere. Perhaps it had to do with being chased by an older brother. I found that if I scrambled up the side fence of my southern California home, I could shimmy my way up the wood shingles and escape his grasp for as long I was willing to remain planted there.
I graduated, of course, to bigger and better challenges. Some of my experiences are a bit humorous, dangerous, and embarrassing. And after more than half a century, you accumulate plenty of experiences–good, bad and everything in between.
Since moving to Colorado in late 2007, I found myself on a mission to conquer as many of the 14,000’ peaks as my budget and time would allow. There is something magical about standing on top of a peak and looking down, surveying the landscape and the winding trail to the top. There are easy climbs and daunting hair-raising climbs. I have been on both kinds.
If you asked me the same question the press asked Mallory, I would give a bit lengthier reply: Climbing and hiking in the mountains engages our physical and mental strength. There is nothing predictable about climbing, as there is nothing predictable with life. We live with an illusion of control. Climbing is less about the destination than the experience.
Fortunately, for those of us who live in Colorado, we are blessed by our Creator with many places to wander. Last year I reached the summits of thirteen of the 14,000’ peaks here in the state. One of these, Mt. Lindsey near Walsenburg, was fraught with challenges from the start. The trailhead had an eighteen-inch-diameter aspen lying across the road. I parked where it fell and hiked the last three miles to the trailhead. Then, the skies filled with black clouds. Lindsey was far off in the distance and shrouded in clouds. I was alone—contemplating what to do.
We persevere in the mountains the same way we do in everyday life. We feel like giving up. We get off track, exhausted or second-guess ourselves. That day I chose to keep going, in spite of the imperfect conditions. Scrambling up through talus, spitting rain, clouds, delicately picking the cairns (piles of rocks) that mark the path, eventually there was no place higher.
I am not the only one scampering around the Rockies looking for adventure. Others have taken up the challenge and ecstasy of hiking or climbing in the backcountry. As someone who has stood on 32 of the high summits, I love nothing more than to see others experience the same.
In the future, Alison Gromme and I are going to guide a group up Mt. Shavano (near Salida). As personal trainers, we are encouraging people in a 6-week program that will build fitness and culminate with the climb. If you or someone you know are up for the challenge, comment below and I’ll tell you more!