Why climb mountains? The answer cannot be simple. It is compounded of such elements as the great beauty of clear, cold air, of colors beyond the ordinary, of the lure of…
For this week's Thursday Thought, I'm bringing out one of my favorite quotes. It is from a legend in mountaineering, Dr. Charles Houston (pronounced "House-ton").
Houston, now 96 years young, has had an incredible life. In climbing, he was a pioneer, with notable expeditions to Nanda Devi in 1936, K2 in 1938, and K2 again in 1953. His climbing books include Nanda Devi: Exploration and Ascent, Five Miles High, and K2, The Savage Mountain: The Classic True Story of Disaster and Survival on the World's Second-Highest Mountain.
Houston was also a physician, leading the charge in the study of high altitude physiology. Houston wrote books (and many papers) on the subject of climbing, altitude, and physiology, including Going Higher: The Story of Man and Altitude, High Altitude Illness & Wellness, and Going Higher Oxygen Man and Mountains.
Finally, Houston's memoir, Brotherhood of the Rope: The Biography of Charles Houston, came out a few years ago.Written by Bernadette MacDonald, it is an amazing look at the life and times of a pioneer climber, doctor, humanitarian, and, I would say, armchair philosopher. (Not to mention it comes with a great DVD featuring video and audio from the 1953 K2 expedition!)
On that final attribute – the philosopher – we get to the Thursday Thought by Charlie Houston. At face value, it is a commentary on climbing and why we do it. But, at a deeper and more profound level, his words are a call to action for us all to climb in our own lives, whether it be on a physical or metaphorical mountain. And, to always remember that the summit is nothing more than a minute part of a great adventure.
Why climb mountains? The answer cannot be simple. It is compounded of such elements as the great beauty of clear, cold air, of colors beyond the ordinary, of the lure of unknown regions beyond the rim of experience. The pleasure of physical fitness, the pride of conquering a steep and difficult rock, the thrill of danger, danger controlled by skill are also there. How can I phrase what seems to me the most important reason of all? It is the chance to be briefly free of the small concerns of our common lives, to strip off non-essentials, to come down to the core of life itself: food, shelter, friends. These are the essentials. These plus faith and purpose and a deep and unrelenting determination. On great mountains, all purpose is concentrated on the single job at hand. Yet the summit is but a token of success. And the attempt is worthy in itself. It is for these reasons that we climb. And in climbing, we find something greater than accomplishment.
– Charlie Houston
For some extra credit, take a look at the video below of an interview with Charlie Houston done in 2004 by PBS NOW hosts Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio. (The clip requires Real Player. You can also read a transcript of the interview with Charlie Houston here.)