I can't remember how it started, but last night I went down an internet rabbit hole looking up information about the 1996 disaster on Everest. (Jon Krakauer wrote about it in Into Thin Air.) Well, that led me down the the more wide-rangingly morbid path of reading about other people who've died on Everest - that number is close to 300 since 1922. Most of those bodies remain up there because it's not feasible to remove them - people have literally died, trying. I'm haunted by the fact that some of these bodies serve as landmarks for subsequent climbers.

Just a warning: if you start looking into this topic...you can't avoid seeing photographs of the dead. The most interesting body to me, personally, is that of George Mallory, who ascended and died on Everest in 1924. His body was found in 1999, and it still has most of its flesh. I mean to say, it is not a skeleton. The flesh appears completely bleached white in photographs. (Edit to add: I'm interested because of how well-preserved his body is, not because of who he was.) For context...Mallory is the guy who gave us the phrase, "Because it's there," as an explanation for climbing Everest.

I have zero interest in climbing Everest, or even the more conveniently located (since I live in Seattle) Mt. Rainier, for that matter. I've been up to Camp Muir on Rainier, which is at about 10,200 ft. From there I could see the next leg of the journey that climbers take when they attempt the summit. It becomes a technical climb (as opposed to a "hike") from there - Camp Muir is where summit aspirants spend the night before the final 4,200 ft. push. I still remember looking at the crevasse field on the Cowlitz glacier, which is immediately adjacent to the stone shelter that was built up there in 1921. That view created a pit of pure dread in my stomach. I enjoyed the rest of the day - particularly "boot skiing" down the Muir Snowfield - but that dread haunted me all the way down. I was relieved when my friend Siobhan and I got back to our car. Since then, I haven't been up to anything  even approaching that altitude.

Another memory from that climb that sticks: how it feels, physically, to ascend above ~8500ft. where the oxygen deprivation starts to become very noticeable. It's a weird experience: working so hard; fighting for breath while making very little progress.

Mt. Everest is 29,029 ft. at its highest point. That is 3.4 times the altitude at which I started experiencing oxygen depletion on my way to Camp Muir. Climbers hang out for days at severeal different points in order to acclimatize to the altitude. Those who undertake that climb know that death is a serious risk, they feel the lack of oxygen, and yet they continue on up anyway.

I can't get my head around it: the desire just to attempt the summit of Everest, the persistence necessary to weather the extreme oxygen deprivation - to say nothing of the cold - and then passing all of those bodies along the way. To keep going, despite all of that.

Just to be clear: I don't think it takes courage or heroism to climb Mt. Everest - nor would I call it "ambition," exactly. It certainly takes desire and persistence. Also required: a downright pathological degree of hubris - verging on stupidity, in my opinion. I also don't begrudge anyone who chooses to make the attempt. Mostly I don't. I have serious questions for the ones who climb up that high when they have small children at home. Everyone leaves loved ones behind, but children are different. Dependents.

Why am I so fascinated by the stories, then? Why do they have the power to lead me down rabbit holes?

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Because it is there.

Just kidding. Because the struggle between desire and obstacles is fascinating. We do this every day.
And there's something to be said when those obstacles are SO big. When it comes to obstacles we know that we ourselves could overcome, it's easy to pass on to the next thing. When it's something we know in our hearts that we just _couldn't_ do ourselves there's a fascination factor. These are humans, so they aren't that very different than us, but what they seem capable of - or at least to have enough hubris to try....
Also - Mark and I have a friend from high school who does things like this. She's really kinda amazing, and her story is something to behold. The short version: her mother passed away young (I don't recall the reason atm). Our friend Payge was going through her mother's things when she found her mother's bucket list. Filled with grand adventure. Her mother was cremated and Payge now checks off items from her mother's bucket list - with a vial of her mother's ashes hanging from her neck.

All this after Payge broke her back in a car accident in front of my house. She's kinda amazing.

In case anyone's curious: http://www.turnthepayge.com/
Matt Lichtenwalner 4/8 '17edited
Holy shit.
I just signed up for her YouTube channel. She's amazing.
It's true. We're kinda bonded in this very small way for life because I was the first responder at the scene when she broke her back. One of these days I hope to run into her while I'm on the road. :)
Whoa. Gorilla Glue doesn't bond like that.
Yeah. It's quite an experience. I don't really recommend it though.
WOW. That is an intense way to meet someone. XOXO
Sharon Crowley 4/11 '17
I actually knew her beforehand - we went to the same high school and were 'friends' through common friends. Of course, we wouldn't have stayed in touch or known much of anything about each other as adults if not for that day.
That hubris, though...it's pretty hard for me to get past that.
Yeah. It's really something.