Monday Motivation from Robert Pirsig

Mdra0040 I’ve climbed Mount Rainier now nearly 90 times, and when people hear that, they usually either (a) question my sanity or (b) wonder if I left my car keys up on the summit.

In all seriousness, most people wonder how on earth anyone could enjoy climbing the same mountain that many times.

Doesn’t it get old? Don’t you get sick of the peak, of seeing the same old thing time after time?

The answer – surprising to many – is no, it never gets old to me. The reason? Because I’m passionate about climbing, I revel in the small steps, the minutia of the moment, the thrill of the challenge and the joy of pushing myself.

A mountain is a dynamic place, constantly changing, ever in flux. As a result, a mountain – much like the passage of each day of our lives – is never the same as it was the day before.

Certainly, it can be seen as the same. I could choose to focus on the sameness and lose my self in the drudgery of routine, of climbing the same route on the same mountain again and again. I would find monotony, for we often find what we seek.

But my choice has been to hone in on the differences, the nuanced changes from one day to the next, and to enjoy the moment, the here and now rather than the distant summit or even more distant finish of the climb.   

That crevasse is wider than it was last week.

Look at the way the soft pink of dawn is radiating across the glaciers.

I felt tired at this point last time, but feel good here today. Let’s push on.


By focusing on the difference rather than the monotony of the climb, each of my trips on Rainier have been unique adventures, new experiences, rather than repetitive drudgery.

Back in June, 2007, I shared one of my favorite quotes – and the one I mention in closing my keynote presentations –  by Robert Pirsig, author of Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. At another point in the book, Pirsig discusses the difference between what he terms selfish (ego) and selfless climbing. This is a relevant passage all of us can apply to our lives:

To the untrained eye, selfish or ego climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical.… Both kinds of climber place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step says he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be further up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be ‘there.’ What he’s looking for, what he wants is all around him. But he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step is an effort, both physically and spiritually because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

How will you climb your mountain? Selfishly, or selflessly?

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

  1. Velu
    VeluAugust 14,07

    Hey there Jake.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog & thanks for the kind comments. Its a great feeling that someone who was actually in the expedition would stumble along the blog. Blew me away!

    I’m glad you did & corrected me. UI think you have a great blog here. The layout is neat & the content is very very nice. I loved this picture over the clouds.

    You must have climbed a lot in India as well. Keep up the good work. 🙂


  2. DSD
    DSDAugust 15,07

    Hi Jake,
    Wonderful quote…
    Meaningful imagery…
    We do indeed often find what we seek.

  3. DSD
    DSDAugust 16,07

    Hello again Jake,
    After enjoying yet again my Monday morning inspiration here, I thought to make comment about the MountainWorld on my blog. Hope I got the details and pictures right.
    Thanks for your motivation…

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