Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Following in his father's footsteps

Something that really struck me was Tenzing Norgay's refusal to let Jamling climb Everest.  He said to Jamling, "I climbed Everest so that you wouldn't have to."  Although Tenzing's position makes sense since he knows exactly how dangerous climbing Everest is, I would expect Tenzing to be more sympathetic towards the "need" to climb, which so many others have expressed in the other texts.  I found myself wondering if there is something to Tenzing's claim, or if it simply provided a convenient excuse to keep his son safe.  On the one hand, Jamling describes Tenzing's attraction to the mountain since his youth and his intense desire to summit Everest, but, on the other hand, he may have felt compelled to climb for economic reasons.  We questioned in one of the first classes whether the motivation to climb and always achieve the most extreme feats might be largely a western phenomenon.  It seems like climbing might be a luxury for those who are privileged enough to not have to worry about day to day survival.  Sherpas, who already live at a very high elevation and most of whom live relatively modest lives, probably view climbing as crazy and irresponsible.  However, Everest has become a huge source of income for Sherpas, and, for many, the increase in income might outweigh the risks.  Jamling writes that "By the 1990s Khumbu Sherpas had, by and large, gained enough economic independence to be able to retire from high-altitude mountaineering work" (48).  The fact that Sherpas tend to "retire" from climbing once they gain more financial stability shows that they climb out of necessity rather than desire.  In this context, it seems likely that Tenzing's claim is sincere.  He viewed climbing as a means through which to create a comfortable and safe life for his children.  His father's intentions complicate Jamling's justifications for climbing since much of Jamling's inspiration and connection to Everest is derived from his father's climbing career.


  1. I agree that I found Jamling's wish for his son not to climb interesting; yet it actually made me respect this distant father character more, as I feel that is the natural parental instinct not to let your child climb a mountain that has taken so many lives. However, although Tenzing climbs "for his father" I think it really was necessary for him to find internal peace. He comments, I feel that i relseaed him (Jamling) on the summit. The respect and the love and the memories remain today-- but not the attachment, the push and pull of father and son, the compulsion to please and impress him, or the stinging desire to have him back." (301) After reading this, I felt certain that for Tenzing the climb was "worth it" . Buddhists view attachment in a very negative way, and it seemed to me that this need to make his father proud really bogged him down. Tenzing found a freedom on the summit that, whether or not his father intended, could not have been found without reaching the top.

  2. Related to this, one thing that I thought was interesting was the way that Jamling spoke about his children at the end. He says that while he will not forbid it, he too will not encourage his children to climb. This story illustrates a very interesting parent- child dynamic, and I wonder if Jamling will reach a greater understanding of his father's opinion if his children decide to try to climb as well. Maybe once he is in the position of his father, he will be able to see more of the reasons why his father wanted to protect him.

  3. I think the reason Tanzing is unwilling to let his son climb hinges on what the Buddhists mean by "need." They are not referring to the "need" to climb for piece of mind which comes only when one's material needs are met. Rather, he is referring to actual economic need, which Jamling can't claim after his father's fame and fortune.