I know I’m a newbie, but can I call myself a mountaineer yet? : )
I like how mountain people are always talking about ‘movement’. Movement on snow, ice, rock. There’s something elegant about the idea of efficient movement. Mountaineers are always talking about efficiency too. In packing, in setting up camp, in getting your shtuff in order. “Cleanliness is next to guide-li-ness” said Carl. It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me. Perfect knots, perfect tails, no twists. I guess you would call Carl a bit of a purist, at best, or particular, at worst. Thanks to Carl I appreciate tidiness in a way I never did before. It’s not just aesthetics (though an orderly cordelet bundle is a wondrous thing to behold! ha ha). It’s a reflection of your state of mind, I guess, as well as having practical purpose. A professional chef’s station is always pristine. In the mountains you definitely want a clear-headed partner.
I came to mountaineering from trail running, to trail running from road running, to road running from triathlon, to triathlon from swimming. I did other stuff in my history but I suppose you could say that they were largely individual sports and activities.
What I like about mountaineering is that it’s about the team. Your skills at companion rescue aren’t to benefit you; it’s for the people who might be relying on you. The money you spend on avalanche kit is to benefit not you, but others.
The mountains kick my ass. I’m never in the shape I want to be in. My legs are always weaker than I’d like. Maybe it’s the heavy pack (!!). What I like about mountaineering is that fitness, physical aptitude, is not an egotistical thing like it is in many (all?) sports. Performance in mountaineering is not by necessity about besting others or about posting the fastest time. Sure your rope team might accommodate you if you’re tired and slow. But it might mean exposing everyone to danger, for a longer time than acceptable. The concept of “training” takes on new meaning, as does the motivation to train. There. Again it’s about the team.
But it’s not just about fitness. It’s also about skill and about good judgement in assessing hazard. Mountaineering is an exercise that combines critical decisions (maybe the most critical in your life) and physical exertion, and when executed with thought, is exhilarating; rewarding beyond compare. Enough e-x words for you there?
Mountains are everlasting. There’s something awesome about being able to follow the footsteps of men and women who pioneered routes and ascents. I love learning about the names and the people who came before. I think it’s a bit like how runners feel about the Boston Marathon; about experiencing a historic route that is still in existence over a century later, following the very same path that the great athletes of their time, who are now gone, did. Maybe Lawrence Grassi put his leather boot on this very same rock. It’s not implausible.