Must Passion Equal Crazy?

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I’m honestly not sure how I ended up on a news clip documenting a deadly K2 ascent that occurred in August of 2008, but watching the story of how 29 climbers began climbing and only 18 still live to tell the tale somehow piqued my curiosity. I googled and wiki’d and followed hyper links through pages of material on K2, Sir Edmund Hillary, David Sharp, bottled oxygen and anything else related to “eight-thousander” fatalities.*

And afterwards I felt…humbled, subdued, even a tad bit queasy. See, K2 has a 25% mortality rate. For every 3 people that ascend and descend successfully, 1 person dies. And not a pleasant, or even a quick death. Thrombosis, edema, exposure, all lead to a larger percent of the death toll. Really, if you’re going to die on K2, falling hundreds of feet is actually the most humane way to go. And so I have to wonder: why?

Why do people willingly attempt this climb? sometimes 2 or even 3 times. What could possibly make taking such a risk worthwhile? I mean, when does passion end and self destruction begin?

It’s not that I can’t or don’t respect these people for the time, energy and enthusiasm they put into what they do, I just simply can’t comprehend whatever element it is that makes a premature and excruciating death an acceptable option.
I personally have almost nothing that I care enough about that I’d make self-preservation a secondary consideration. I suppose I’d willingly put myself in harm’s way to protect a loved one, but that’s the extent of my willingness for self sacrifice. I mean, a great passion of mine has always been marine biology and I think I’d swoon with joy if I ever got the opportunity to cage dive with great whites.

But would I jump into the water unprotected in order to take my passion to the next level?

Hell no.

I appreciate my presence on this planet enough to place preservation over a rush of adrenaline or a particular feeling of accomplishment. Because really, what good is accomplishing something when you’re too dead to enjoy it?

There are reasons that humans don’t have wings or gills or specialized body parts for climbing. there are some things on this world, in this lifetime, that human beings are meant to enjoy and appreciate from afar.
I’m really not sure if defying our physical limitations in the name of passion isn’t simply a manner with which we legitimize insanity.

*And advantage of being a Gemini? I am now a middling expert on the recent expeditions on K2, the ethics of bottled oxygen use in climbing and the David Sharp controversy
A disadvantage of being a Gemini? Next week I will most likely no longer be interested in any of it.

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4 responses »

  1. For some people, I think “because it is there” is the answer. For others, “because I can” is the answer. And for others “because YOU don’t believe I can” is a reason/answer. Motivations are strange things!

    Thank goodness for self preservation…a wise instinct! Climbing the huge rockwall on a Royal Carribbean cruise ship was enough for me and I made it to the top and rang that bell!

  2. I was curious too and I interviewed a few climbers back in New Zealand and came away even more fascinated. I don’t have the right personality for high altitude climbing but they do it because they love life.
    There’s a good book by Andrew Greig on it, titled Summit Fever – about a poet who is invited to go on a hard out high altitude climb. He’s interesting, then I have a favourite documentary type recreation of Joe Simpson’s remarkable book, Touching the Void.

    Yep, fascinating. I’m still in Antwerpen, you must pop by and have coffee one day. And thanks for your lovely comment on my website. It was muchly appreciated.

  3. Oh oh, and one of the climbers I interviewed, was a K2 climber, up there with Alison Hargreaves and others, who died near or on the summit. Interesting, really interesting.

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