Friday, March 12, 2010

Mans Need For Epic

A friend of mine just completed an epic trek in the Adirondack mountains.
Check this, I started at Elk Lake at 12 pm Friday night and didn’t crawl into my sleeping bag until 7 am Sunday morning. What!?! Yeah, that’s right. It wasn’t planned this way, but breaking trail really chewed up the time. Basically, I hiked all night Friday, rolled into camp Saturday morning, repacked my bag and started hiking again, making it half way up the 2,100 ft South Fork of the West Slide by sunset, bivied for 2 hours, hiked the rest of the exposed 1,000 ft of open slide in the dark, tagged the summit in a howling wind, got off the upper mountain by midnight, bivied again on the trail for 2 hours, then rolled into camp at daybreak Sunday morning. Sorry, but I was too tired to take any pictures worth a dam. Yahoo!

This is a reasonably sane family man pushing himself to the limit on a weekend. Why? It seems that the more time society gives us to relax there is a certain percentage who will use that time systematically trying to kill themselves. Is it that as the world becomes safer and more within our reach we feel the need to find things that are out of reach or, at least, barely within our reach?

I climbed Rainer with this fellow. He isn't a risk taker looking to stare death in the face. He lives up to his responsibilities and has a pretty normal job. There is just something inside of him that makes him do things that are hard sometimes. Maybe that is it. The fact that we know many people wouldn't do these things that are hard. A way to separate yourself, if only in your head, from the mass of humanity.

Books have always been a reasonable substitute for actually jumping into the jaws of death yet still creating that feeling of being alive. I just finished Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. A classic of mountaineering literature that chronicles the summit of the first 8000 meter peak. That book showed what hard is. Hard is a two week descent in which Herzog got severe frostbite and lost a bunch of fingers and toes. Gangrene set in requiring emergency amputations at camp without anesthetic.

Sure he was treated as national hero upon his survival and return home but never lived out his true dream of being a speed-typist.

Maurice Herzog

Lionel Terray

There is something in that drive to the edge that we love. So many great American novels capture it in some way: Moby Dick, Call of the Wild, The Sun Also Rises, All The Pretty Horses, Lonesome Dove...

Maybe London hit upon it in the that perfect title "Call of the Wild". Some feeling to see what we have inside. Then again Jack London ended up being an alcoholic womanizer who died of uremia aggravated by an accidental morphine overdose. Guess that can be the other side of the coin.

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