We turn on the TV and see the NBA broadcasted on four different channels, with announcers commenting on anything from the next rising superstar to personal drama between players. Baseball players hold records and then, years after their death, these records are investigated and sometimes even denounced. Fans follow the “acclaimed” in any sport to an absurd degree, and watching these gods even from the farthest away bleacher is an opportunity of a lifetime for some.
The White Spider was the first narrative we have read that spoke of climbing like a spectator sport. Among the various reasons we toss around as to “why climb” I have never thought about the impact of the climb of the spectators. However it seems that climbing, the North Face of the Eiger in particular, really is akin to a professional sports team. When describing the first attempt of the North Face by Sedlmayer and Mehringer, Harrer writes, “All day long people watched the intrepid Munich pair; the critisism of the of the know-it-alls died away into silence, quenched by admiration and sheer wonder” (Harrer, 25)
We have talked extensively about “armchair adventuring” but what about those actually watching it, or following the news from the rumors of who might attempt the next climb, to actually standing at the bottom, watching eagerly through telescopes, praying for the weather to hold both for the sake of the climbers but almost more so so that they will not be deprived of the show. Exploring the most dangerous realms of nature becomes a public event. Therefore my question is, does this “spectator sport status” positively or negatively affect climbing? If your purpose is to “become one with nature” then it certainly degrades that. Yet if you are climbing the North Face of the Eiger that cannot be your main goal. Maybe it’s a good thing; mountains become revered and outdoor adventures can bring you fame.
Then again, as Harrer points out, this fame can be dangerous. The North Face becoming the new, most dangerous challenge to climbers, served as a reason to climb it, not a warning against it. Harrer comments on how every climber comes down saying he would never climb the North Face again, yet more and more people continue to attempt, fascinated by the endless tragedies whose culprits range from lack of equipment, to weather issues, to the sheer difficulty the face presents. Yet this narrative, way more than the others, also introduced me to the whole culture surrounding mountaineering. Just like Red Sox Nation (yes, I know, I’m from Boston), climbing the North Face became a culture, a nation of its own. By reading about many, many attempts I began to learn more about the Eiger, not just about specific climbers. The Eiger played the role of the opposing team; you want to defeat it, yet you respect it. Each climber researched the mountain and past attempts extensively just as teams review videos and statistics of the other team before playing them. Yet just as teams change, and the normally benched player may suddenly slam the ball way over the left field wall, you can never really plan your climb up the North Face, or any mountain. Maybe our society is just used to the phenomenon of spectator sports; yet I’m almost embarrassed to say this made adventure climbing seem more appealing to me. But, evidently, the difference which Harrer brings to life is that losing against a mountain is fatal, where losing against another team leads to a bad day, a bad season, or at worst the end of a career in that sport.