Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Do I Climb?

A few months ago I was going through a mini-crisis. It had to do with my motivation for hiking and climbing mountains. In the past few years I have accomplished quite a few of my goals regarding getting to the summit of various mountains. This past summer it got to the point where I was not really enjoying it anymore.

Back at the end of July I did Mt. Whitney again. Let me preface what happened this year by saying that the experience of getting to the top of that mountain last year was awesome. There was one point I did not think I would make it, but once I did I took in all the views and the trip down was a celebration. For about a week after the hike I was "high" and then life went back to normal.

It was interesting for me to read this thread on The Whitney Portal Site titled Post Whitney Depression. It is not only this person since I have read various messages and heard people talk like this before. For me, I can kind of understand what they are saying in that a person spends a long time preparing for that mountain, they get to the top, and then they go through a down period. What I do not get out of that is, "What do I do next?" That type of question boggles my mind. It is as if the rest of the Sierra Nevada (or any other mountains in the world) do not really exist. That was never a question for me. Part of me wants to tell a person, for my own very selfish reasons, that they are right and Whitney is the best they are going to find in the Eastern Sierra so do not waste time looking elsewhere.

I did get to the summit again this year. This time it was not as fun for me. There are a bunch of reasons why and I will go into them at a future blog. The accomplishment was not as exciting this time around. I had people congratulating as I came down, but as they did so I was thinking, "I did this last year!" At some points I felt like I just wanted to get the hike over with. I had to rationalize why I was doing it by telling myself the reason I needed to do it was to get the video footage I did not get from the year before. In fact, I was thinking that I better do the video footage because this will be the last time I do this hike. Whether it is or not I can not say, but I have no plans to return at this time.

When I went back to the Eastern Sierra after this I had to ask myself why I continue to climb this mountains. I realized the preperation and anxiety before the hikes was really bothering me in such a way that I was not enjoying some of the other things I like to do. For example, it is one thing for me to visit movie locations where I just relax and drive to those areas. It is another thing to plan long day hikes where so much can go wrong. There is a lot of work involved, and I am not just talking about staying in shape.

I did get to the top of a few more mountain peaks and did do some other hikes this year. The question still remained about why I do this. I thought about it as I was climbing those mountain peaks.

First, as one would expect to come out of me, the scenery has to be good. With almost any Sierra hike you will get some good scenery. I do not enjoy the hikes in So. California as much because of this. Looking down over big cities is not as interesting to me, but I still do those hikes when I need a quick fix. The thing about Mt. Whitney is that I would take its scenery over a lot of things, but it is not as impressive as a lot of other areas I have been. My big problem this year is after I did it the first time I had "burned" in the scenery images into my head in such a way that when I came back this year I was just bored with what I was seeing. That is looking down from the summit. Looking up at it from the Alabama Hills is a different story and is the classic image shown so many times in pictures and movies. All I am saying here is that there are so many other better scenic hikes that I would much rather do. Sometimes there are people on the Whitney Portal message board that mention how many times they have climbed Mt. Whitney. 5, 10, 30+ times, and this is so puzzling to me since there are so many other better climbs out there. I need new experiences if I am going to put that much work in to a mountain hike.

Another thing is there has to be intrinsic value to the hike. Meaning, I am not doing this to impress other people. I do enjoy showing where I have been to others, but that is hardly the point of it. The hike and scenery have to be good in themselves. On one of the boards I have read in the past there is a person that always likes to put pictures up with that person's face in a bunch of the shots. Okay, a few pictures like that are fine, but week after week of that sort of thing really gets old. Let me see the scenery and not your face and body all the time! I do not see climbing mountains and hikes as some sort of social networking thing. At least, not the major focus of doing it which leads to my next point.

This is related to the scenery in that I feel I am viewing artwork in nature. A lot of well known people that have hiked and taken pictures of the Sierra tend to look at it in a very religious or spirtual sense. I am no different in that I feel I am experiencing the artwork of God in nature. When you are having that 1st person experience of these areas you do feel like there is something transcendent or much more powerful going on. It is the "WOW!" factor of it all. Last month while I was on the Ansel Adams tour at the festival the guide said that whenever he finishes taking that one picture he set out for he finishes by saying "Thanks!" He then said he did not know who or what he was thanking, but even with that agnostic approach I think he was still hinting at what I am refering to. It is interesting for me to admit that every single picture and video I take never really capture the 1st person experience of being at these mountains or locations. I always encourage people to visit these areas themselves if they can. What I show is fine, but I really think if ones goes these areas they will have a very powerful experience.

Honestly, I am not a guy that wants to do technical rock climbs. I enjoy doing some of the easier trails and off trail scrambles. These are the class 1, 2, or 3 hikes. In fact, if I am told there is an easier trail up a mountain I will usually always take it. This is not really a sport for me. I kind of realized this year that if I get in one or two mountain summits a year then I am happy. I do not have to do every one out there either. I am going to make a point of trying to do more hikes that just go over some passes. There is a lots of stuff out there, but at some point I realize that this will come to an end for me.

I wanted to bring this issue up because it was a major issue for me this last summer. Sometimes I may act as if these long epic mountain climbs are really easy. In some ways the physical parts are easy in that I do not really have to train very hard for them and do not suffer from elevation sickness like others seem to do. The big problem I have encountered recently was the mental part and the motivation of doing it.

My next blog will show one of the classic and exciting peak hikes that I did. It is one I have wanted to show since I did it. The time has come!