I wrote this little meditation on mountains a few days ago, and then a terrible avalanche made yesterday the deadliest day ever on Mount Everest …
(CLICK ON PHOTOS if you want to see them full-size)
Mountains move me. They speak to me, embrace me, and have a hold on me that won’t let go. Sometimes I fear their rocky faces, and I frequently curse my wheezing breath as I climb them. The great ones are far away, expensive and time-consuming to reach. I will never achieve the summits of the “eight-thousanders,” or even much lesser peaks, and yet they call me to come close, to play along their flanks, to lean into their sides for a few weeks at a time. A few let me reach their crests, and my exhilaration knows no bounds.
For many years, I loved the ocean and thought there was nowhere I’d rather be than by the shores of a crashing sea. But the mountains were a part of me from the beginning and as time went on, their clutch tightened. I grew up in the Appalachians and took for granted a Sunday hike up through a pine grove to a stony knob overlooking the western Pennsylvania countryside. I spent early summers in the Blue Ridge mountains, and later came to know and love the Colorado Rockies, but it was not until I started hiking around the world that I really grasped the grip that high altitude had on me.
My memories are filled with mountain scenes. A cup of tea by a frosted window in Namche Bazaar, Nepal. A soft call of “jambo jambo” to rouse me from my tent in the Great Rift Valley of Tanzania. The last of the evening sun on the cuernos in Paine Grande National Park in Chile. A tinkling of cowbells in a wildflowery meadow in the Alps. The shiny, worn, ancient stone paths of the Inca Trail in the Peruvian Andes. And the absolute awe of being face-to-face with the most famous face of all, the North Face of Mount Everest on a cold June evening.
… Today, I’m feeling almost a little guilty about my mountain obsession in light of the number of Sherpas killed yesterday on Everest. For me and many first-world adventurers, mountains seem like mere playgrounds when we think about the fact that they serve not only as home but as livelihood to those who are doing our grunt work on their slopes. Rest in peace, Sherpa heroes.