Monday, February 3, 2014

Extreme Privilege

In the past week, I've had two pretty close calls with the extreme: reading Annapurna and skiing the headwall at McCauley Mountain in Old Forge. I was thinking about commonalities between the two; as scary as the icy, scraped out section of a groomer run is, I am only partially kidding about the extreme-ness of skiing at this 633 vertical-foot lift-served ski mountain.

I kept thinking about it, trying to figure a bridge between my two encounters with the extreme, and it came to me. I went skiing on both Friday and Saturday. The Friday tickets at McCauley are $12 (...$12, such a steal)! I go every Friday for this wonderful deal, but this weekend, I also wanted to go on Saturday. Weekend tickets are $25, still a far cry from the $110 tickets at my local mountain in Colorado, but I remember feeling a bit robbed, "Am I really paying $25 to ski at this rinky-dink mountain?"

I was surprised to feel this way, but it made me consider, what is the price of adventure? How much am I willing to pay to ski for a day? Answers to this question range from $12 Crazy Friday's at McCauley to Aspen's going rate of $150 per day (get a little bit more extreme and you can pay thousands of dollars to hele-ski).

I see these same considerations to be at play in large-scale expeditions like Herzog tells of in Annapurna. Herzog and this Annapurna expedition team pushed to find the 'most extreme' - the most remote mountain in the Himalaya, at the time, thought to be the highest in the world. And while reading, I couldn't help but notice the seemingly indispensable budget that Herzog worked with. Is the price of adventure proportional to the extremeness of the activity?

That's not exactly a profound question. There doesn't seem a definitive response. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But I can only respond so indefinitely from the vantage point of my own privilege. I can think of instances of the affirmative; yes, only wealthy people can pay to be guided up Mount Everest. I can think of instances of the negative; no, there are always those people who go out and climb mountains needing no more than the basic equipment. In either case, I fail to step outside of my own privilege. My privilege is that I can take survival for granted; I pretty much always feel that my basic, fundamental needs (food, clothing, shelter, water) will be met. When those needs are met, or seemingly secure, I feel free to splurge on a nice new Patagonia puffy. For someone outside such a privilege, the price of adventure must be huge, perhaps never outweighing the need to secure the basics. In Annapurna, for example, the 'price of adventure' for those coolies who carried all of the gear was a wage rather than a deposit.

That is getting beyond the original question, but I think that is where we can find some solidity - in wondering what is the price of adventure we must also ask who has the privilege to pursue the adventure?

1 comment:

  1. "People do not climb mountains when they are trying to ensure their survival at the base of it." I once read that statement, the source of which I have long forgotten, in an article talking about the lure of climbing mountains and why often local populations have no desire to summit peaks when others will travel halfway across the world and risk their lives for the pursuit. In Herzog's account, Sherpas do not climb for recreation, but rather for the good wage working an expedition provides. I have often thought of excellence in recreational pursuits as a sign of modern post-industrial society climbing very high collectively up Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In the same way that one can occasionally splurge on another Patagonia puffy after the heating bill has been paid, societies that have met the basic needs of their citizenry can afford to expend resources on more superfluous pursuits such as high altitude mountaineering expeditions, the NFL, or even liberal arts education. Communities would not send students to college, develop strong individuals as professional athletes, or spend money on high altitude climbs if they needed to cut wood for heat, kill game and grow vegetables for food, and build houses out of local resources. Climbing mountains is indeed a privilege and one that is afforded to members of post-industrial modernized societies who are not occupied with cultivating food to ensure their survival in the valley below.