Of course it doesn’t have to be about hiking. It could be about anything that takes time and effort and appears an awful lot of work for, at least to others, very little reward… Well, I’m perhaps not as clever or as articulate as the following people, but they, and others, have helped me to understand the desire and passion the drives me to time and time again go to a lot of effort to get up there in the mountains, or the ocean, or the lake…
George L. Mallory (1886 – 1924), a British climber/ mountaineer, who participated in four expeditions to conquer Mt Everest in the 1920’s and died still trying, was posed a similar question in 1923 by a reporter of The New York Times after his 3rd expedition.
“Why did you want to climb Mount Everest..?”
“Because its there…”
Famous words, but these are not Mallory’s first pearls of wisdom about the challenge of mountaineering/ climbing. Mallory by all accounts was an extraordinary gifted climber, he didn’t appear to worry too much about the technicalities of what could or should be done, or what was “proper” He just approached the cliff, had a look, paused, and then started climbing up…
Before becoming fixated on Mt Everest, Mallory climbed throughout Europe and Britain, often finding and succeeding on new, very technically challenging climbs. Shortly before leaving on his first Everest expedition, he published an article recounting his experiences. In it he asked the question “Have we vanquished an enemy..? None but ourselves…”
And shortly before his death attempting Everest for the fourth time
“… there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it… What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy…”
John Muir (1838 – 1914), was a Scotman who emigrated to and fell in love with the American wilderness. A bit of a wild character for society in those days, or as I like to think, a loveable rogue, he advocated strongly for the preservation of the wilderness before it was destroyed, and he didn’t care who he told, he just wanted it done. Eventually he persuaded the President to start National Parks, starting with Yosemite in 1890 Yes, 1890! Compare that with the fact that they were logging Kauri forests to extinction in New Zealand until the 1920’s and you get some appreciation of how amazing this guy was. I’ve read a couple of accounts of this man and I’d love to have met him. Of course, the feeling might not be mutual…
But one of his more famous quotes is…
“The mountains are calling, and I must go…”
A simple but eloquent comment from a man who was years ahead of his time…
Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary (1919 – 2008) followed in the footsteps of Mallory and successfully managed to both ascend and descend from the summit of Everest in 1953. In 1981 he was asked about his philosophy on climbing, and why he did it. His answer was similar to Mallory’s…
“Its not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves…”
And its fitting that Sir Edmund’s Coat of Arms bears the legend “Nothing venture, nothing win.”. Actually as an aside, Sir Edmund’s Coat of Arms is the most fitting for any Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter… The Kiwi and Ice axe form the top of a crown, the Fiordland crested penguins are pure NZ, and the mountains were his life…
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Hillary
Ansel Adams (1902- 1984) was a pioneering landscape photographer in the same vein as John Muir.. He specialised in taking picture of the vast spaces of America’s National Parks, often taking both the public and other photographers by surprise with their composition and use of light and shadow…
Take for example his photograph of the the cliffs at The Face of Half Dome – I’ve hyperlinked it because its copyrighted and I can’t legally reproduce it… But its amazing- those are trees down there folks..!
“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”
A reasonable comment from another man wise beyond his years and his time. His text books are still as relevant today as when they were first published in 1976. I’ve a copy on my desk as I write…
Paulo Coelho (1947- ) is a Brazilian author who aspired to be an author but struggled, and suffered, in the face of society’s expectations of him. One day whilst hiking he had a spiritual revelation that he wasn’t happy with his life’s direction. He wanted to be a writer and that’s what he should be. So he started writing. Properly, from the heart.
Now he’s world famous for his books, “The Alchemist” being the most widely acknowledged. Okay, lets be honest, it got into the Guinness Book of Records for its achievement. Well done Paulo! Not just for achieving a world record, but for accepting the challenge and doing something that was meaningful for yourself.
Paulo, if you are ever in New Zealand, give me a call and I’ll shout for coffee… and cake.
“Each stone, each bend cries welcome to him. He identifies with the mountains and the streams, he sees something of his own soul in the plants and the animals and the birds of the field…”
My darling wife
I am a fortunate and eternally grateful man. Not only am I with the loveliest person alive, she also encouraged me to to return to hiking with her after over 20 years absence. Our first date was a weekend hike over Avalanche Peak (1800m), a short walk from Arthurs Pass village, Arthurs Pass National Park, South Island, New Zealand. Our summer holiday was two weeks walking in Nelson Lakes National Park.
When anybody asks me in the company of my darling wife why do we hike, all we have to do is turn and smile at each other. She gets it.
Well, there you have it. Somewhere in this mix, and a few others beside is that answer for friends, family, and strangers who ask me “Why..? Why go to all that effort just to climb a hill and come back down?”