So, as part of my ongoing effort to be a more productive blogger, I am creating this list in the hope that I can encourage my readers to make mountaineering a regular part of their lives, or to at the very least try to climb a single high peak.
#1: Mountaineering is an amazing, uplifting, inspiring event that you will never, ever forget. Sure, it’s grueling, dusty, sometimes cold, sometimes hot, but the rewards are beyond measure. Standing at the top of some great mountain and being able to see further than you have ever seen before, and knowing that you and you alone got yourself up there is a tremendously satisfying feeling. Even if you do not enjoy the actual climb (realistically not everyone does enjoy such a mammoth effort), you will at least feel pride in your accomplishment.
#2: Climbing big mountains will get you in amazing physical shape. I was sore for a week after my first climb of Mt. Thielsen, but over the years as I climbed more and more mountains per year, I have gone from being someone who could only slowly plod up mountains to someone who can nearly run up them, and I am not yet in peak condition. The first time I climbed, it took me over six hours to get to the summit, and when I returned to that same mountain ten years later, I was able to complete the same climb in 2.5 hours. If you can get yourself up a mountain like Rainier in good time then you could also probably consider running a 10k. Just the simple act of climbing, even on the smallest mountains, takes a ton of physical exertion, so if you do it regularly, I guarantee you will end up in superb shape.
#3 Mountains are spiritual places. There is a reason why so many of the great sages, saints and spiritual leaders would go to the high places of the world: They are spirit centers. You can feel it, you can sense it, these are places to renew the soul and recharge the heart. The silence of the mountains is worth all the words ever spoken by mankind. As John Muir said “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” He also said, after completing the first ascent of Cathedral Peak in the Tuolumne region of Yosemite National Park, “This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California.”
#4: Beauty.Even if you are not a spiritual person, mountains are still fabulously beautiful places. You will feel better just having been around such tranquil, purified beauty. There is a starkness to the landscape, the trees are often twisted by the fierce winter winds, the rocks have been scoured by ancient glaciers, volcanoes show their explosive past in multi-colored layers of ash and basalt, the lakes and streams are either crystal clear or colored brilliant blue or turquoise by glacial sediment. The sunrises and sunsets in the mountains are justifiably famous, the peaks colored salmon by alpenglow.This austere beauty can stir even the most unmovable hearts.
#5: Solitude. Needing to get away from the madding crowd? Tired of cities, smog, noise and the pollution that comes with so-called civilization? Plan a trip to the alpine. Even if you do not venture far above treeline, the calm and quiet of the mountain world can be a balm for the ragged soul. Just be sure you go to the right mountain. Places like Mt. Hood in Oregon, Mt. Fuji in Japan and the Alps of Western Europe are unfortunately not the places to go seeking wilderness and solitude. There are, however, many many more mountains all across the world where a seeker could find complete emptiness and not see another human being for days.
#6: Climbing Mountains is a huge ego-boost. My own life is a perfect reflection of this. Before I began successfully climbing big peaks, I had experienced mostly failure in my life, I thought I was a loser, I thought I was ugly and stupid, but after years of climbing ever-larger and more-challenging peaks, I began to see myself as a success, I learned perseverance and determination and bravery through the act of climbing, and now, in my early forties, I understand that I was a better person than I ever knew, but it had taken alpinism to show me what I was worth. Now I apply those lessons to the entirety of my life.
#7: You can become a teacher and a mentor. Now this one isn’t something that will happen right away, but once you have gained the knowledge, and even more importantly, the experience of being a leader in the mountains, you can then pass on all of those skills to the next generation, whether it is your own children (as I am doing with my kids) or with a protege. This is really important. The difference this can make in a young persons life is almost beyond measure. The self-esteem and confidence that the young draw from climbing can have a huge impact on the course of their lives.
#8: Travel. Since mountains exist nearly everywhere, developing a climbing obsession can take you to places that you might have only dreamed of. North & South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Antarctica. There are so many mountains in the world that even if you only climbed in one smaller geographic area, like the Western U.S., you could spend your entire life climbing and still not come close to climbing or even seeing all the peaks there. Using alpinism as motivation for travel can take you to some pretty fantastic places. One benefit of the over-developed Western European mountains is that after a grueling climb, one could be back in town for a beer and some amazing food and culture shortly afterwards, while in other countries like Peru, you will more likely encounter mostly rural culture, but either way, taking up climbing can transport you all over the world.
#9: Knowledge. Anyone who has an interest in biology, geology, or even chemistry will discover a huge outdoor laboratory in the mountains. Volcanoes and sedimentary peaks, fault-block mountains, and all of the corresponding ecological life zones that start from their toes and rise up to their summits will give a scientifically-inclined climber volumes of study material in a very real, hands-on manner. Books on the Geology of climbing have even been written! Don’t forget that glaciologists too have ample opportunities in the mountain world.
#10: Going on a climbing trip will make you appreciate the comforts of home. This one is so true. When I am on a multi-day excursion, by the end of the trip I am often obsessing about a warm soft bed, cotton clothes, homemade hot food, a shower, and the loving welcome of my family. I cannot overstate how much you will rejoice at coming back to civilization. When I was in Wyoming to climb the Grand Teton, after nine days that was all I could think about, coming home. I didn’t want to climb any more mountains, I just wanted to get in the car and come home to my partner and our kids. Of course, a week later I was ready to go climbing again, but such is the cycle of an devoted climber!
Bonus Reason: There is something for everyone! Climbing mountains can entail a wide spectrum of experience, from easy walk-up peaks (even Mt. Whitney, highest peak in the lower 48 of the U.S. has a route where one literally walks to the summit.) to desperate rock and ice climbs where technical skill and knowledge are paramount for a safe experience. So go climbing! You can do it. I have suffered from Fibromyalgia, depression, and Asperger’s Syndrome the entire time I have been a climber, and while there have been occasions that have limited how much I can climb, for the most part I have found the act of mountaineering to be an incredibly healthy and positive part of my life, and it can be this way for you too. If I can do it, you can do it. I hope to see you in the mountains.