Why climb a mountain? Short answer (from George Mallory): “Because it is there.” Longer response (from Reinhold Messner): “Most people are not interested in personal experience. The concept that one can willingly tax one’s physical and mental resources out of a pure joy of living: that one can become obsessed with a hunger to experience the world and the mind too – such an idea does not occur to them. No. Practical work, that’s different. They can recognize that, where there’s an instant utility or profit. But pure thought, pure exercise, a pure thirst for knowledge without a useful end product – that has no interest for them . . . How many of us suffer in one form or another from the fact that our energies and skills are not being properly utilized. More than ¾ of all people in the Industrial West, say the statisticians. I don’t know. I only know that under-realization of the bodily and emotional resources promotes a cancer of the soul, an unlived life. There are many ways one can safeguard against this. Climbing Big Walls, for example, is one . . .” I’m in full agreement with Messner. I climb purely for the transcendent experience – the celebration of being alive and maximizing full potential. The mountains listed are not all “Big Walls.” Some are walk-ups, others are not that tall, but all are regarded as sacred summits — never ‘conquered,’ but climbed with reverence and respect. What I’m after is not how high, but how deep a mountain takes me. In short, mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. -M.M.
*This section is dedicated to the memory of my friend and mentor, Galen Rowell: a world-class mountaineer and one of the best nature photographers to ever pick up a camera. IN THE THRONE ROOM OF THE MOUNTAIN GODS is one of Galen’s many books, which I highly recommend. Galen and his wife Barbara died, tragically, in a plane crash in 2002 near their home in Bishop, California.