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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To the Mountain Gods

In his hit book about a disastrous 1996 climb of Mt. Everest, "Into Thin Air," from which a very vivid and highly realistic film of the same title was made, Ron Krakauer, surely a patriot, speaks of how mountain-climbing, specifically of the world's highest peak, has even entered what he calls "the swamp of American jurisprudence."

That characterization really zooms up to hit the bell at the carnival top, with those of us who have bones to pick with the American legal system, which I would estimate to be about 97 percent of the population. Even wealthy people who otherwise would vote the straight Mean-Spirited and Nasty ticket, i.e. Republican, not to mention lawyers who get their bread and butter from that system, occasionally find fault with it, and maybe even more than occasionally. I think this is mainly because in this country there is way too much law and not nearly enough order.

Krakauer is talking about how climbing to the top of Mt. Everest has gotten so commercialized that a number of companies have been formed to assist those climbers who can get their hands on enough cash to go to Nepal or Tibet and get into it, so that they come back home with bragging rights that easily surpass those of ordinary world travelers. But the problem is that some of these clients seem to think that climbing that mountain is akin to riding a trolley to the top, or at most is just a brief, leisurely trek over a few short stretches of rock and ice. They don't look into all the effort and time and tragedy it took people who knew exactly what they were doing, mainly British-type guys, before the first two men finally made it to the top, and that was years after -- from calculations somehow made a hundred miles away -- it was determined that Everest was the peak that, among a vast acreage of similarly gigantic spires, had managed to poke its head a few feet higher than all its competitors.

So, when those companies couldn't get them to the top, some of those unsuccessful climbers quite naturally went back home to the U.S. and sued the companies for breach of contract.

Is it too easy to say that this is the contentious American Way? Because it should be easy as pie to recognize that nothing can guarantee that anybody can or even should be able to reach the top of a mountain that close to the hideaways of the mountain gods and still survive. And if it could be guaranteed, then something really valuable would have been lost, and that is the sanctity of mountain tops and other high places -- any high places but especially mountain tops.

In all my reading I have never read that anybody ever found a box of assorted Youghiogheny stained glass sheets or anything that valuable waiting at the top of a tall mountain. I have trouble believing that Moses or Abraham or whoever it was accomplished that. The only thing they found on the summits of Everest or any of its rivals was a spectacular view that only lasted a few minutes before the climbers had to get back down off there pronto, before severe inconveniences set in, such as their oxygen running out or a storm reaching up from below, and they would find themselves looking at an immeasurably uncomfortable night that would also be their last night, ever.

Being a big believer in the virtues of leaving as many things as possible strictly alone, my feeling is that any mountain that can't be walked and then struggled up to the top without the use of ropes, pitons, or any of that stuff, especially oxygen tanks, except a light lunch, and then struggled back down before it gets dark, is best left strictly as is.

The main use of mountains is to be looked at and to be admired. They are not there to become the graveyards of adventurers or the trash dumps of egoists. Respect for the natural world's many wonders trumps bragging rights every day of the year, and I fail to see how climbing Mt. Everest is even worth losing more than one of a person's valuable God-given toes, as Krakauer, a seasoned veteran of climbing high mountains all over the world for no more reason than the empty one of "because they are there," experienced during that 1996 climb.

There are plenty of figurative mountains to be climbed at sea level to more worthwhile ends and that test wills to the utmost and that are easily explainable and that, distasteful and unheroic as it may be, don't involve getting deathly cold, gasping for a few molecules of air, losing all ability to move, and being reduced to the mental level of a six-year-old (or a 150-year-old), all at the same time, and all on purpose. That's the worst part of it. That supposed sacrifice of one's own self to the mountain gods is all on purpose! Mountains and the deities thereof, if any, don't ask for sacrifices of any kind. They just sit there, watching over things, and that's it.


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