What's the motive behind ascending big peaks?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Jon Krakauer

What's the motive behind ascending big peaks?
Question: Despite all the times that you've asked yourself (and been asked by many others, even outside mountaineering circles) about the motives behind ascending big peaks, aren't you more intrigued by the reason why this doesn't appeal to more people? Understanding what a life-reaffirming and self-defining experience mountaineering can be, don't you find it puzzling that so few people recognize the void in their existence that can only be partially realized (and filled) by such pursuits?

Lastly, I'd like to pass along a piece of collective wisdom that I learned in my training as a general surgeon. This advice is passed from generation to generation. Its point is to teach us to deal with and accept the frustrations, the feelings of impotence, and the outright vulnerability that occurs when we can no longer offer any hope of cure or improvement and when the ravages of illness and accident befall someone totally undeserving of such suffering. The statement is simple and true: "Remember, the patient is the one with the disease." Failure to adopt and accept this truism leads to incapacitation and causes one to be of no hope or value to anyone.

If you apply this advice to the events of May 1996, perhaps you too will come to terms with the reality that frequently unfair and unfortunate things happen. And worst of all, often they happen to good people when we are powerless to do a damn thing about them. As remorseful as you may feel about these circumstances, you are not the one with the "disease."

You survived and owe it to yourself and the memory of those who were taken by the mountain to lead the rest of your life accordingly. I think that only someone who has seen people around them die when they felt like they should have been able to intervene can understand your feelings. I can, and wish you luck in finding peace.

Best regards,

Brian K. Brzowski, MD
[email protected]

Jon: Dear Brian,

No, I've never really wondered why more people aren't drawn to climbing. Instead, I wonder why the small, ordinary pleasures that sustain most people don't seem to be enough for me and so many other climbers; I wonder why I have to do something as dangerous and self-absorbed as climbing to feel whole. But yours is an interesting and refreshing perspective — I'll definitely give it some thought.

N E X T   Q U E S T I O N

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!