Monday, February 3, 2014

The Thrill of Danger

            There I was, high above the ground, clinging to a smooth, blue wall of ice with nothing, but a couple of ice axes and foot spikes. The thrilling, but queasy feeling of such exposure was quickly setting into my state of mind and my body. And yet, I had a challenge to overcome and a goal to reach. I set my mind to the task at hand and swung my right axe and then my left into the sheer, blue wall. The ice shattered as I drove my picks home and rained down on my helmet. I raised my right axe again and swung it higher into the ice above me. I did the same with my left. As I started moving upwards, my ice axes suddenly broke loose and a feeling of weightless filled me as I started to fall. As my adrenaline kicked in, I quickly and frantically swung an axe hard back into the ice, arresting my fall, which would have only amounted to a foot or two from the slack of the rope to which I was securely attached.
Although hardly a death defying experience, for someone who is not the biggest fan of heights, I did experience the thrill of breaching my comfort zone and I was for a moment able to truly appreciate the chilling feeling of utter precariousness and exposure that Krakauer had to endure on his several thousand foot climb up the sheer, ice covered walls of the Devil’s Thumb. And even though on my adventure I was securely attached to a rope, this experience gave me a window into the lives of mountaineers, such as Krakauer, of what it is like to be terrifyingly exposed and what it takes to be able to mentally and physically overcome one’s fear in order to complete the climb and achieve that overwhelming sense of success that only comes from accomplishing thrilling and dangerous adventures.

1 comment:

  1. This post reminds me of my favorite passage from the first chapter of K2 The Savage Mountain about an unsuccessful summit attempt of K2 where the team had to deal with an unexpected injury and endured a ten-day attempt to get everyone off the mountain alive. It succinctly states why climbers choose to climb. I think it will resonate with anyone who has experienced the thrill of danger.

    "During the ten days of hardship and disappointment, of pain and tragedy, which climaxed our venture, we spoke of the summit and of home, we remembered other storms and other critical times. No one tried to answer the question, "Why, Why climb mountains?"

    "In the year that passed since our ordeal we have been asked that question many times and have answered it many ways. No answer is complete or satisfactory. Perhaps there is no single answer; perhaps each climber must have his own reasons for such an effort. The answer cannot be simple; it is compounded of such elements as the great beauty of clear cold air, of colors beyond the ordinary, of the lure of unknown regions beyond the rim of experience. The pleasure of physical fitness, the pride of conquering a steep and difficult rock pitch, the thrill of danger - but danger controlled by skill - are also there. How can I phrase what seems to me the most important reason of all? It is the chance to be briefly free of the small concerns of our commons lives, to strip off the nonessentials, to come down to the core of life itself. Food, shelter, friends - these are the essentials, these plus faith and purpose and deep and unrelenting determination. On great mountains all purpose is concentrated on the single job at hand, yet the summit is but a token of success, and the attempt is worthy in itself. It is for these reasons that we climb, and in climbing find something greater than accomplishment."

    - Charles S. Houston