When I was in middle school, I decided I wanted to climb mountains. I was influenced by the fact my father climbed mountains in Colorado while he was in college (something I would do later when I was in college). I was also influenced by the books in our house about early mountaineers’ attempts in the Himalayas (including Mt. Everest) and the Karakoram (including K2) mountain ranges. I never knew for sure whether my father had these books because climbing quests made exciting reading or because he often hoped to climb those peaks himself.
Then, in 1953, when newspapers told the story of the first successful climb of Mt. Everest by Edmund Hillary (New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (Nepal), I was sold on the idea that such climbs were possible. K2, which is more difficult, was successfully climbed by an Italian expedition a year later. The family applauded my 14,000-foot peak climbs in Colorado but thought my notions of climbing Everest and K2 were insane. “So what?” I asked.
One of the larger family arguments occurred when I wanted to sign up with a trekking tour group to hike to the Mt. Everest base camp. I admit it was a bit costly (it’s more expensive now!) In part, nobody believed that once I visited the base camp for several weeks I wouldn’t ultimately push for an actual climb later. I probably would have.
For non-climbers, the statistics don’t look good: 14.1% of those who attempt Mt. Everest die on the mountain; 22.9% of those who attempt K2 never come back. But I look on the bright side: more people came back than don’t. Plus, I always said, one isn’t going to die on the mountain unless his/her number is up. If your number’s up, you’ll die some other way–like falling off a stepladder while changing a lightbulb. The family and I didn’t come to a meeting of the minds about the dangers.
Among other things, they weren’t excited about the fact that most of those who die on 8000-meter peaks are still there, impossible to recover. That didn’t excite me either, but it never changed my high-altitude dreams. My family can rest easy now. People my age are no longer allowed to climb Mt. Everest. So now I grieve what might have been and allow the characters in my novels to see the top of the world, a vision that changes everyone who makes a round trip.
I include high-altitude dreams in my novels “Mountain Song” and “At Sea.”
2 thoughts on “High-altitude dreams”
How timely, as I just watched 14 Peaks, and it opened my eyes to climbing. The amount of preparation that must go into these expeditions. Maybe you’re banned because of your age now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop dreaming about similarly challenging aspirations. And if you have them, make sure you do share them here!
So much work for (possibly) a few minutes on the summit! I’ll always dream about those mountains even though age has caught up with me. I approve of those who climb the 14 peaks without taking oxygen tanks. Ed Viesturs is another one who did it.
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