July 10, 2008

“There are old climbers and bold climbers, but no old and bold climbers,”

Timothy Egan reminds us in a thoughtful and moving opinion piece in the New York Times. His article is a series of musings about climbing and mountaineering risks in the wake of two recent deaths on Denali, one on July 4th and another the following Monday.

My father spent summers in his 20s climbing and mountaineering in around Boulder. He and his father, my grandfather, were skilled mountaineers before Gore-tex was invented (They also used to ski in jeans. Some Texans still do, I might add). The summer I was 18, I lived in rural Thailand and taught English, but that was also the same summer my brother graduated from Dartmouth, so as a celebratory trip, he and my father backpacked in Wyoming and summited the Grand Teton. When someone asked my mom what she was doing while I was in South Asia and my father and my brother were roaming around Grand Teton National Park, she jokingly answered “sitting at home and taking Valium.” But in the that joke, there is an underscore of truth about risk and risk taking, even when there is risk assessment, not to mention skilled climbers and guides.

Perhaps I found Egan’s piece particularly moving because in 6 weeks I will be backpacking and mountaineering in the Himalayas with NOLS India. I am excited, but also a little nervous. I feel I follow in the footsteps of my father and his father; not literally, my father still hikes primarily in the Rockies, but in spirit. The same spirit that takes every climber first to the base of the peak and then, hopefully, the summit. And so while articles of climbing fatalities always send a cascading ripple of sadness and reflection through not only the climbing, but the non-climbing community, it also speaks to the inherent spirit in the sport that already recognizes our own mortality, and in acceptance of that, has chosen to live fully and in the moment.

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