Mt. Everest is insane. I didn’t know much about it beyond the fact that it’s the tallest mountain in the world. That all changed a handful of years ago and since then it has become a glowing ember in the back of my mind. [I don’t know if I’ll ever climb it because I’m really concerned about dying up there, but I would definitely like to at least go to base camp and feel the energy.]
My newfound semi-obsession with Everest actually started with a real appreciation for Eddie Vedder. Wait what? I’ll explain. I like/love/write folk rock music and I was really excited when the Into The Wild movie first came out because I was already a Pearl Jam fan and I had heard that Eddie Vedder was doing a folk-y soundtrack. There isn’t a single part of that that doesn’t still sound awesome to me, so I saw the movie and felt an immediate connection to Christopher “Alexander Supertramp “McCandless. I got the book and I’ve read it like five times since then, most often when times are tough. It serves as a reminder that there is more to this world than we see in our daily lives. We don’t have to become the people that others want to be. There is adventure out there.
Jon Krakauer originally wrote an article in Outside magazine that detailed what was known about McCandless’ life and death at the time. He was then approached to expand on the article and make it into a book. The movie is awesome and Emile Hirsch does a fantastic job, but the book is solid because it gets more Chris’s childhood and explores the reasons why he (and others like Everett Ruess and Krakauer himself) sought out and continue to seek out such intense isolation from the rest of mankind. I think part of it is because human beings can be so hard to understand sometimes. Even if you are one. Especially if you are one. I can’t tell you how many times a day I think about loading Family Glass into the ole Chevy and bidding farewell to humanity for good. Maybe not for good, but at least until the silliness settles down a bit.
Jon Krakauer’s writing really spoke to me and I wanted to read more of it. There is a Language Arts teacher at the treatment facility I used to work at and she has this stellar library of books that she lets any and all of the residents (and staff) borrow from. It just so happened that Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, was in her collection so I borrowed and tore through it in no time. It is the amazing firsthand account of the 1996 Everest disaster that took the lives of several climbers and stranded many others.
I didn’t realize what an extensive climb Everest was. I know it sounds silly, but I figured you pretty much just climb straight up. In reality, you have to go up and down between a total of five camps, acclimating yourself to the oxygen levels at each elevation. Otherwise, you can develop fluid in your lungs and pretty much drown. On a mountain. All in all, you wind up doing the equivalent of like five or so ascents’ worth of climbing over the course of several months before you can even attempt the final ascent to the summit. When (If) you get up there, you only have a few minutes to take in the view from the top of the world before you have to descend, so you don’t run out of oxygen and die. You also have to worry about huge drops into crevasses that you cannot escape from if you fall into them. And avalanches. And falling “ice pinnacles.” Like I said, it’s insane.
[Bear Grylls, one of my favorite people in the world, has also climbed Everest. His talks about the long journey to his ascent in his autobiography Mud, Sweat, and Tears and it’s pretty riveting.]
I consider myself a rock-climber even though I don’t really do any climber because I feel like I have the courage and determination that it would take to be able to pull off a feat like Everest. Maybe not on such a grand scale, but something in the same vein. That’s kind of the whole point of this point. We all have Everests in our lives. We all have something that we need to conquer, either inside or outside of ourselves. You only going to get to the top and make it down alive if you keep climbing.
I think that courage is crucial to being a productive human being. Lev Vygotsky was a famous psychologist whose ideas on the intellectual and social growth of humans has greatly influenced the educational field. His concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (the “comfort zone”) is the basis for the notion of scaffolding. Scaffolding is when someone, typically a child, starts with a set of skills that they have mastered. Then, with the help of an adult or more advanced peer, they began to reach beyond the skills they know. Eventually, those skills will be come part of their ZPD and the will start the process over with the next level of skills. This process mirrors the process of ascending Everest almost perfectly. You have to acclimate yourself to the next level and eventually you master and overcome it and continue moving onward. And upward! It takes courage to move beyond our comfort zones, especially as an adult. And especially when you’ve tried it before and it hasn’t worked out.
But not reaching the summit of your Everest doesn’t make it go away. It’s still there. You have to commit to it and keep it in mind even when you don’t see it. Remember the top, even when you’re peering down into a crevasse. Remember the top when the ice falls or you do and keep climbing. The summit is waiting for you and it will continue to wait, whether you climb or not, because that’s all it can do. But you can rise to the challenge. You can conquer the mountain, but most importantly you can conquer yourself and grow into a better person.
P.S.- There is another quote from Sir Edmund Hillary that I thought about using for this post. I will include it here and allow it to speak for itself:
“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary