Tuesday, April 2, 2013


We have talked extensively about morality on the mountain and whether or not it it exists.  I think that morals are something that are forged at sea level and are meant to check people's actions while they are in a relatively secure environment.  While it is not to say that people are no longer bound to the same ethical codes in dire situations, is it not alright that people make sometimes unpleasant decisions when they are in dire situations?  However, I think it is interesting to relate this to the "don't make more victims" idea.  If people are knowingly throwing themselves into a situation with great potential for danger, does anybody hold the obligation (moral, financial, or otherwise) to save them?  What does it mean when money is involved? We know that Sheldon was not on his A game, so to speak, when he was dropping supplies and assisting the climbers.  I wonder how much money it would have cost to make him take more prompt, and helpful action.  It is always easy to talk about victims in hindsight and their tragedy, and it is equally easy to point fingers and blame people for the things that they did or did not do in a dire situation.  However, we rarely consider what it would have cost potential saviors in the event that they exerted themselves beyond reason to save another's life.


  1. Morality exists as a continually relevant topic to the majority of our texts. I certainly questioned Sheldon's morality throughout his seemingly disingenuous airdrops, just as one could not read of Washburn's implicit sabotage without judging his character. In "The Shameless Diary of an Explorer", Robert Dunn makes a reference to morality without explicitly employing the term. He states, "One requisite of the explorer--besides aversion to soap and water--is insensitiveness" (158). He goes on to explain how sensitivity cripples the explorer's ability ("They feel, but they can't do") and, contrarily, callousness enables a successful expedition. While Dunn never outright references morality, his statements reveal how, even in early 20th century expeditions, the sort of sensitivity and emotion ordinarily employed at sea level prove detrimental to an expedition's success.

  2. Along a similar idea, I found Dunn's views on people's behaviors--both moral and immoral--to be particularly relevant to what we've been discussing this semester. He says, "The passions of the long trail bring out the best in men and the worst" (5). He goes on to explain how distorting or hiding the emotions one experiences out on a mountain is the equivalent of lying. Dunn presents a really interesting tension between an explorer's obligation to not hide any weaknesses or struggles, thus telling the complete truth, with the responsibility that an explorer has to maintain loyalty to his or her teammates. As he says, "it wasn't loyal to one's companions in the battle of the trail to record words and acts for which their saner selves were not responsible" (6). However, he also says that insincerity in reporting is disloyal, so sincerity may in fact overpower loyalty to one's teammates. Dunn's writing struck me because of his complete belief in fully presenting the weaknesses in his expedition. Dunn was quick to assume responsibility and acknowledge that his expedition was "a failure." Instead of the blame game that happens in Tabor's, Howard's, and Joe's books, Dunn values complete truth over any alteration. I wonder - is it an explorer's responsibility to be completely honest? Or can we accept one's desire to let some secrets remain on the mountain?

  3. In response to Heather's query regarding honesty, I'd say this is related to what Claire posted about. Writing about an adventure is often called cathartic for adventurers, particularly those with levels of PTSD. Dunn seemed to get a kick out of writing the bare truth, according to those who knew him: "Dunn simply could not lie... Pencil in hand, this born artist had to report things as they were..." (Dunn viii) A therapist would probably tell you that facing the truth of something is the best way to get over it, accept it, whatever. So I suppose that honesty is most important for the explorer himself, to fully come to terms with a failure or tragedy, or just to take as much from his experience as possible, but I'm not convinced that an armchair adventurer should have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Things that happen on mountains can be very private, and I for one wouldn't want to share that with the world. I would, however, be happy to write a fictional story based loosely on my own experiences. Which, of course, brings back the question of whether that's good enough and the fascination with the truth.

  4. Matt, the comment at the end of your post reminded me of a discussion I had earlier this year about considering the potential costs to those embarking on a rescue effort. We were discussing a section of Not Without Peril Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe, which recounts a number of disasters on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, a mountain notorious for the severe variations in weather patterns and sudden onslaught of inhospitable weather. The section I remember discussing involved the question of whether or not to send out rescue efforts from one of the alpine huts in the midst of a sudden, and unexpected summer storm. What I remember most is that the rescue coordinator off the mountain, who was in communication with the hut manager, did not pressure the way less experienced hut manager. There was nothing but trust in the hut manager’s decision to not pursue the rescue until the weather cleared. Anyway, it’s a well-written case study for examining the question of whether morality on the mountain exists.

    Also, I agree with Nicole that people can have very personal moments while on wilderness excursions and I don’t think that they should feel obligated to share those experiences with the rest of the world. I do think, however, that people participating on expeditions, explorations, adventures, whatever you want to call them, have a responsibility to be honest with both themselves and their group about their own abilities because if overextended, or not doing enough can negatively affect the outcomes of an expedition.

    On another note, at the beginning of the second chapter, Dunn refers to the Alaskan landscape surrounding Denali as “the wastes of west Alaska.” I thought this was an intriguing choice of words because it highlights the various perceptions of nature and wilderness. Just through this particular word choice, it seems to me that Dunn assigns no intrinsic value to the lands surrounding Denali. Denali is higher not only physically then the surrounding landscape but also by the way that Dunn assigns value to different parts of the Alaskan wilderness. I have to wonder why the rest of the landscape is referred to as a waste, especially when he writes “to gain the base of the mountain might be hardly easier than to climb it” (10).