It is Everest Season again… And hopeful climbers are getting excited and ready to challenge themselves on giant mountains.
Most likely they will be supported by extraordinarily strong ‘Sherpas’ , exception made of the few who have the Force within.
Let me add I was never one of the Chosen, my most glowing achievement being climbing Shishapangma’s West Summit without ropes or oxygen. Or perhaps it was the Alpine Style attempt without O2 on Cho Oyu in 1994? Babu and the four of us: Jon Tinker, Michael Brennan, Billy Pierson and yours truly. Huge packs! Did you know that alpine ascents (that is, you carry everything on your back and you go for it) are also called light weight ascents? Someone in the good old days had a wicked sense of humour…
Flashback: the five of us in our tent at Camp 2, the monsoon rolling in, Babu’s overwhelmingly pungent socks and boots in the tent vestibule, a girl squatting over her pee bottle, head serving as main pole in the toilet tent of her sleeping bag. Yep, it’s all about the journey my friends.
I have been thinking a lot about this passion of going high. Climbing big mountains.. Is it still about the journey or is it about getting to the top? In 1997, I was roughly number 918 to summit Everest. Today, Everest has seen close to seven thousand ascents.
Thousands of people, often looking directly at the feet of the climber in front of them. Yet it is still about the journey. Perhaps not for everyone, but that has always been the case. There are just more people these days. When I look back at the way it used to be, and the way it is now, with commercial expeditions providing members not only oxygen and support, but the best odds to summit especially that big mama Everest, I do wonder if people who go to climb it, Chomolungma, the Goddess Mother of the Earth as the Tibetan call her, I wonder if they actually stop and think about it. The amount of resources poured into climbing Everest has made it a lot safer for climbers. It is something to be grateful for, in a way.
I grew up with tales of people pushing the boundaries. People too often paying with their life the mistakes made in the high reaches of the planet.
I remember those on a mission, loving the crunch of the snow and ice under crampons, breathing in freely the thin air. Such as these beautiful souls I once knew..
R.I.P * Craig Nottle Fred From Michael Joergensen Ginette Harrison Alison Hargreaves Babu Chhiri Sherpa Lakpa Sherpa Sue Fear Keith Edgerton Mark Moorhead Bill Denz Macek Berbeka
Rest in peace. There are more. The above are just the ones I knew, who died at high altitude, climbing without supplementary oxygen. There are others, too many others, forgive me if I left your name out, your energy is still within everyone and everything: Rob of Chamonix days, Mark Miller, Rob Hall, Scott Fisher, Michael Rheinberger…
Back to the O2 factor.
Supplementary oxygen takes the altitude down a thousand meters or so. Why not climb summits of that height without oxygen then? Why wear a diving suit when you can you can free dive?
When you only rely on your humanity to get out of your comfort zone and into that another dimension of pushing limits that includes the fully assumed risk of death, total connection with the moment and our God core happens.
Mountains are beacons of universal energy. The way we approach them, whether we do the pilgrimage on foot or on a motorbike (read using oxygen) determines the level of oneness with the universe. I felt connected to my universality breathing freely, if a little heavily, step after careful step on the cathedral floor of the Western Cwm’s snow. A lot more than I did, getting to the top of Everest with an oxygen mask on, with Dorje Sherpa and Kipa Sherpa metaphorically holding my hand.
I am not advocating giving up supplementary oxygen at very high altitude, I am asking for humility in the face of history, in honour of those who died meeting Their God-ness breathing in the rarefied air of Oneness.
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