Gexev0480

PASSION and OBSESSION…

May 14, 1999: I was 25 years old, sitting in a tent at 25,600 feet on Everest’s North Ridge with my teammate Conrad Anker listening to – and feeling – a gale force wind pummel the mountain around me. Every few minutes, a freight train of Himalayan fury would slam into us, flattening the sturdy tent walls…and us in the process.

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Gexev0480 May 14, 1999: I was 25 years old, sitting in a tent at 25,600 feet on Everest’s North Ridge with my teammate Conrad Anker listening to – and feeling – a gale force wind pummel the mountain around me. Every few minutes, a freight train of Himalayan fury would slam into us, flattening the sturdy tent walls…and us in the process.

This storm continued for the better part of three days, pinning Conrad and I and our other four teammates in the inhospitable Camp V. As the hours ticked by – our food dwindling and tempers rising – I found a familiar thought creeping into my head: Why on earth do we do this to ourselves? I could be on the beach watching the surf and drinking a daiquiri!

The answer, of course, is passion. It is our passions in life which drive us across daunting crevasses, pull us through hellacious storms, push us through mental and physical fatigue and stress, and on to our lofty summits. Without passion, I never would have found the energy to keep on climbing after that storm subsided in 1999. My passion for climbing, for pushing my limits in the high mountains, kept the flames of inspiration burning and enabled me to climb higher, onward and upward toward my dream summit.

But, as Kahlil Gibran noted in his work The Prophet, we must be careful with our passions and be sure they are tempered by reason and, I would add, a healthy dose of fear. For our passions, if left to run free, can quickly make the dangerous transition to obsession. And obsession in any of life’s Everests leads to trouble.

Gexev0956 In the mountains, and on Mount Everest in particular, I have seen the results of a passion turned to obsession all too often. On each of my five Everest expeditions I have been involved in some sort of rescue of climbers who pushed too far, broke their own rules, and paid a hefty price for their actions. Sometimes, fortunately, the rescue parties were able to save them. Other times, we were not. Although each circumstance was different in detail, in essence all of these rescues were the same: the climbers let their passion overrun their reason and fear, and transition into obsession.

The obsessed climber does not feel the burning in his lungs and the fatigue in his legs, because all he can see is the summit of his mountain. The obsessed climber does not see the setting sun, the dwindling daylight, the storms rising from the valleys below, and the threat of being benighted on the slopes of the world’s highest peak, for all she can see is the top of the world. When we let our passion go unchecked, we can no longer reason and decide we must turn around given the current circumstances, weather, and so on. Once our passion overrides our fear, we no longer react to the threat of frostbite, hypothermia, edema, or even death, for our sole focus is on the end goal and no longer on the process through which we realize that goal.

So, while we must have passion in our lives to not only embark upon our summit quests but to also get us through the storms and over the crevasses which line our path, we must always keep that passion tempered by reason and fear. If we do that, we will climb high on all of our mountains in life, and return to tell the tales and climb again another day.         

What is your Everest?

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