Harrer’s text The White Spider addresses two crucial questions that have remained central to our class discussions—Why climb? and Why write? He opens the narrative by addressing the latter question, namely, why he decided to write a book about his first ascent of the Eiger. After initially dismissing the question with the response, “For people read, of course,” he defensively goes into greater detail: “I believe the public has a right to authoritative information, especially when mountaineering problems become human ones. And I think it is a climber’s duty to contribute to the formation of public opinion in such matters” (1). His response evokes the suggestion that climbers have the duty to report back post-adventure for the benefit of general public. When “mountaineering problems become human problems”, he says, the climber must act as the translator of such issues to ensure that the public remains well informed and avoids the repetition of such mistakes and tragedies.
In regards to the motives behind climbing, Harrer acknowledges the complex, varied nature behind climbers’ intentions. He writes, “The unique thing about the urge to climb is that it springs from many other bodily, spiritual, and ethical motives beyond its purely ‘sporting’ basis” (16). He highlights the common criticisms of climbers as irrational, nonsensical, even suicidal. He counters such judgments by attributing “courage and the love of pure adventure” for climbers’ justifications, along with “the great adventure, the eternal longing of every truly creative man to push on into unexplored country, to discover something entirely new—if only about himself” (19-20). As opposed to a quest for fame or recognition, Harrer asserts that a climb is a personal triumph for the climber, often on an intimate and spiritual level.
Just as our class expressed apparent disgust at Herzog’s littering of Annapurna’s summit with a condensed milk container, I was very surprised to read of Harrer’s comparably ignorant behavior on the face. He writes, “I lightened our rucksacks by throwing down the precipice that part of the equipment and provisions which had become superfluous. Among it was a whole loaf of bread, which disappeared at a great pace in the mists below us” (123). What if Harrer’s rejected loaf of bread hit a climber below him or a bystander at the base of the wall? His behavior seemed a bit irresponsible for a self-ascribed outdoorsman. As we concluded with Herzog, climbers, mountaineers, and general adventurers are not automatically environmental enthusiasts.