Mountaineers are not enamored with danger, we are not suicidal. High-altitude mountaineering is actually the art of moving through danger and avoiding it. But sometimes it goes wrong. I survived the big 25 April 2015 earthquake at Everest Base camp that killed 18 people.
‘Time doesn’t stop or slow down when you are in danger. Everything happens as fast. It’s just that – provided we survive them – we subject these periods of time to such intense retrospective scrutiny that we come to know them more fully, more exactly. We see them in freeze-frame,’ writes McFarlane.
Yes, everything is more intense, up there, especially the hardships. Yet, the body ‘uplifts’ the mind, and vice-versa. Body and mind, this is what the humanimal really is. The paradigm may be defined by the human ability to displace oneself mentally in space and time, but it is ‘conquistadors of the useless’ (Lionel Terray) who are actually climbing where no other will venture. Only the fiercest animal on the planet, the infamous wolverine (gulo gulo), seems to share this passion for climbing big hills for no other reason than hard-earned pleasure.
Unlike speed-climbers I do not seek to set up new records and certainly do not climb to deconstruct the laws of elementary physics. I rejoice in the simplicity of life and of what I do, but I am not interested in faster, faster, faster. This is a Western illusion which is rooted in the false notion that ‘progress’ is linear and always leads to something ‘better’.
Maybe the real reason why we venture up there is to ‘systematically rearrange the senses’ to paraphrase Rimbaud. Fear and danger dynamise existence, you live more consciously where there are no machines and buttons, no double clicks. It is back to fundamentals, as Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote: ‘To live at all means to live in danger.’