Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A climbing addiction

We've talked about how anticlimactic reaching the summit is in all of the other texts, but Simpson is the first to really elaborate on the significance of this anticlimax.  He writes, "What now?  It was a vicious circle.  If you succeed with one dream, you come back to square one and it's not long before you're conjuring up another, slightly harder, a bit more ambitious - a bit more dangerous.  I didn't like the thought of where it might be leading me.  As if, in some strange way, the very nature of the game was controlling me, taking me towards a logical but frightening conclusion" (53).  His description of this "vicious cycle" made me think about drug dependency.  For instance, I've heard that people receive the best high their first time doing cocaine.  After that, the high is never as good, and this is one of the reasons people get addicted.  They continue to take the drug in order to replicate that initial high, but they never do.  Therefore, (although there are obviously other scientific causes of drug addiction) one of the causes is a sense of dissatisfaction and a hope that another attempt will yield desired results.  This is very similar to the process Simpson describes.  It makes me wonder whether Simpson, Krakauer, and the rest need to climb because climbing fulfills them or because it provides a glimpse of fulfillment or the hope that a satisfied life is possible.  When each successive summit fails to be life-changing, the climber instinctively looks to the next highest peak as the answer to his or her problems.  And so the vicious cycle of addiction begins.

On another note, in the "Ten Years On..." postscript Simpson writes about the public criticism of Simon's decision to cut the rope.  He writes, "Even so, the misinformed opinions of some armchair adventurers were never going to worry either of us for long"(206).  I was surprised by the disdain with which he seems to refer to "armchair adventurers," especially since his book is largely written for the armchair adventurer audience.


  1. I had similar thoughts when I was reading about the achievement of reaching the summit. I was surprised with the extent of the description of how anticlimactic the summit felt. My impression from what I have read this semester and films I've watched previously is that there's something about the act of climbing itself that provides the addictive pull towards the activity, in addition to the summit itself. Early in the text, Simpson describes how he climbs: "Head down, keep looking at your feet, swing, swing, hop, look at your feet, swing swing...all the way up a smooth 150 feet, no effort, no headache, feeling on top of the world. I drove in the screws, seeing the ice crack, split and protest - drive in, solid, clip in, lean back, relax. This was it!" (30). Granted, this passage is a describing when everything is going according to plan. Nevertheless, at this point climbing seems almost peaceful to me. I think that sense of peace comes from the intense concentration, focus, movement, difficulty, and rhythm that a climb requires. The goal of the summit is of course also part of the appeal of climbing, but I feel like the process of climbing itself contains more of the fulfillment you describe. I remember that when Simpson and Yates reached the ridge, Yates reminds Simpson that they still have about 100 feet to go to the summit. I think that the part of the passage where he writes about developing "a slightly harder, a bit more ambitious - a bit more dangerous" climb to attempt comes from the endeavor to find this peaceful feeling while climbing in a new situation and to test whether that peaceful feeling can even be achieved in a more challenging situation.

  2. I agree that I was surprised with how anticlimactic the summit was. But I have two thoughts on this. One, we never remember things quite truthfully. I have to wonder if he was in fact more joyous at reaching the summit at the time, but the disaster that came after tainted his memory of that joy. He may no longer be able to remember the summit with the disaster, and therefore all of his thoughts also hold that negative connotation. I also think this sense of wanting more is just part of human nature. We can become addicted to all sorts of things, and in a way its great that we always push our expectations. On the other hand, I think we can use our surprise as advice to ourselves, to remember to reflect and let out selves dwell in what we have accomplished, let ourselves be satisfied instead of always looking to the next step. Sometimes what we have done is in fact enough.