Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A New Reason to Climb

Thus far we’ve read books written by Westerners about adventures in extreme places. Thus far we have questioned these peoples’ motives for climbing - psychoneurosis, “because it’s there,” relative economic security, the desire to push oneself / self-discovery, to change one’s life, or simply because one is very good at climbing, enjoys it, and has found a way to make some money by it (ex. Fischer and Hall). But thus far, we have not seen the truly more rational perspective to climbing in dangerous, high places: economic security. The Sherpas who climb are considered a form of celebrity in their communities, and those who climb higher, faster, with less help, gain more fame. But for them, this is important not for their egos but for their families’ well being. Climbing pays well, and making a name in the climbing world allows a Sherpa to get even better pay, more business. Money can’t buy everything, but it can buy a significantly better life in those countries.

The thing I found most interesting about this narrative, though, is not that Sherpas climb for money and still think it’s very dangerous and kind of crazy. Jambling climbed because he liked it, because it was the family business, but primarily, I think, because it was a way to know his father intimately. Jambling wasn’t just searching for celebrity and a paycheck - he was seeking knowledge first. I think this is the noblest of motives we’ve seen yet. I’m also struck by Jambling’s humility in his telling of the story - he rarely speaks more than in passing of the tasks he had to accomplish in terms of coordinating Sherpas and porters, cooking for and taking care of the sahibs, and carrying many heavy loads back and forth. Although he mentions these hardships, he never complains about bearing them, understanding climbing as a job and not a vacation. I look forward to finishing the book and finding out what Jambling discovered about himself, his father, and the world.


  1. I hadn't read Norgay's reflections on climbing on pages 187-188 before writing this, but discovered it shortly after. What the text says closely mirrors what I've said.

  2. Earlier in the text (page 80), Norgay poses a relevant question, "So what motivates these foreigners to climb?" He lists a variety of reasons stated above--business (for guides and sherpas), personal challenge, and the desire to prove something or gain recognition. He seems to look upon these motivations with some criticism and juxtaposes them with a reason "more complex and subtle": climbing as the next step in one's life path. He again identifies with this motivation, writing, "Most of these climbers, myself included, don't know what we will find during our journey, other than a brief glimpse of impermanence and the frailty of the human condition. If we truly saw only that, and gained only that much understanding, then I would consider our venture entirely worth our while" (80). Norgay seems to believe that the most "worthwhile" motivation for climbing Everest, or perhaps any mountain, is the blind search of life truths. As ambiguous as that sounds, I'd have to agree.