“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” –Herman Melville
There are two ways to set out for an adventure: alone or with companions. Solo ascents are held up as enormous achievements but many of the greatest adventurers in history have been in teams. Does company make an adventure less adventurous?
Solo adventuring can be both for oneself and for praise from others, after performing an impressive feat. Jon Krakauer’s story demonstrates an interplay of internal vs. external motivating factors: at first he portrays his climb as something he did for himself, but as the story goes on he partially recognizes that approval from others is important. Although Krakauer takes great pride in his solo climb up an uncompleted route of the Devil’s Thumb in Alaska, upon his reentry into society, it is apparent that no one else cares as much as he hoped they would. While he has the satisfaction of climbing the mountain entirely self-sufficiently, the glory lives only in him. There is no way for him to share an equal understanding of the experience with anyone because nobody was there with him.
While solo expeditions necessarily isolate the adventurer, shared adventures connect people to one another and allow the adventurers to really focus on the experience of the exploit. Unlike Krackauer, in Annapurna, Herzog continually mentions the importance of a ‘team.’ The different people necessary for the preparation of the ascent of Annapurna (I’m only about a third of the way through the book) all contribute to the energy of the group, creating a more exciting atmosphere for all. Companionship takes many forms, so similarly to Herzog’s experiences on the mountain, John Muir’s relationship with Stickeen, his dog, proves to be a central component of many of his adventures. Although he cannot have a conversation with Stickeen, he speaks forcefully about their shared awareness of one another and their day stuck at the crevasse. It is clear that the shared suffering of that day allows for a deep understanding between them.
Completing an adventure entirely on your own may seem more momentous than doing so with company. However, it is a lonely existence to have an amazing adventure but not be able to share or debrief it with anyone. It may have been an amazing experience for you, but how can you connect it back to everyday life, which is so intertwined with the lives of others, if it was a solitary experience? At the end of the day, memories fail us and all we have are our connections to others.