Essay: Some Thoughts On Climbing John Race - Base Camp Wed, April 18, 2001 5:00AM
My view of Everest is shaped by the fact that I have spent the past 12 years guiding people up big mountains. I guide because it offers a good balance between time in the mountains and a high likely hood of being able to climb full-time for a lifetime. A few weeks or months in the mountains are such a simple existence that I return more able to gracefully negotiate the modern world.
Over the years I have had my share of epics and close calls, but adrenaline is not what keeps me coming back. I am comfortable with the risks involved, and not a stranger to dealing with fear, but the bottom line is that I donít see much value in dying in the mountains. As part of this relationship with risk I spend my time teaching people the basics of climbing and making summits possible for people who have not dedicated their lives to climbing.
In 1994 I reached 28,200 on the North Ridge while trying to help a friend and climber, Mike Rheinberger, who had spent the night on the summit after reaching the top just before dark. His bold, but reckless climb put his life on the line, yet I left Everest convinced that I had somehow not done enough to save him. Over time I managed to forgive myself when I realized he had the ability to make his own decisions. Mikeís death killed some of the romance of Everest for me, but it also inspired me to make better use of my time out of the mountains.
When I sat at 28,200 wrestling with the decision to turn around I had a few moments to ponder the more important parts of life back home. The list was clear. 1. To be close to your family. 2. To spend your time doing fulfilling work 3. To commit to living in a specific place. What did not make the list was owning a big house, an expensive car, or any of the other luxuries that American life can provide. I was not opposed to these things, but the pursuit of these things at the expense of the three more important items seemed to tip life out of balance. On Everest things were so clearly "out of balance" that I was able to focus on what a balance would look like. Communicating this balance became the focus of my guiding. I returned from Everest to start a program for young climbers called the Northwest Mountain School.
Without my Everest experience I would have never had the perspective to form the Northwest Mountain School. Climbing on Everest has changed in many ways since the 1920ís. There are more people, more deaths, more garbage, and most parties donít do much to push the climbing standards beyond previous standards. Despite these pressures, Everest still maintains its integrity, and the mountain still positively and profoundly affects those who spend time here. Reaching the summit would be great, but making it home in one piece remains my main objective. I hope to arrive home with a few morsels of new insight gained from the mountain.