I was thinking about the question "What do mountains do?" after class, and I was having a surprisingly difficult time coming up with what felt like a satisfactory answer. I think it's a different answer for everyone. But I guess a general way to answer that question is that in a way mountains provide an experience, whether it's gazing from a far, or struggling to the summit. For me, I realize that it's not the summit itself that I find most appealing about a backcountry trip. Yes, usually when I plan a weekend trip it's to go "bag a peak" (odd phrase now that I think about it) but the summit is usually not the most memorable part of the excursion. Instead it's the stories that come out of the trip, hearing different perspectives on the experience, and the community that develops within a group.
It's also just comforting to be with other people, even if it is just one other person, when unexpected situations come up and things get frustrating, terrifying, absolutely miserable, or something so funny happens that all you can do is fall over in hysterical laughter. It's nice to have someone with whom you can share those moments. There's a part in Pinball Wizards where the two climbers are at an incredible low point and the narrator says or thinks "your backbone's killing me john, but i'm glad it's yours. i sure wish we could see each other. i love ya, john" (Stempf 216). I have never been in any situation remotely close to what these two people were experiencing, but I nevertheless could relate to that line of thought, of being glad that I had other people around me when things were just not going well on a trip.
And that makes me think about whether or not I would ever want to go on a solo trip. I go back and forth all the time on that question. Recently I've been talking to a number of friends of mine about their various experiences on solo trips, which ranged from 3 to 10 days, and one of them has a 5-6 week solo in the works for next summer. I've enjoyed listening to their stories and hearing about their adjustment to being on their own. It's funny how they all make similar comments about being dropped off at the trailhead, and how quiet it is once their ride departs. Krakauer's description of watching the plane leave reminded me of their stories of how they felt their isolation settle with the quiet.
On a completely unrelated note, there's a part in Stempf's piece where the narrator talks about how the pair became "obsessed with speed" (210) because someone had climbed the Eiger in ten hours and "this news juiced us up like our old school rouser" (210). When I read those lines, all I could think about was a film called "The Swiss Machine" that was shown at the BANFF film festival two years ago. It's about the new speed record for the Eiger, set by Ueli Steck, and so I thought I would include a link to a clip from the film.