Life is about challenges. Survival, to start. Then comes the battle to grow and thrive. And then, finally, there’s the quest to succeed on whatever terms we set for ourselves. For mountaineers, though, these kinds of challenges tend to have a different framework. Most people set up these challenges according to the rules and norms of society. But mountaineers like to play a different game. That’s where the challenge of rugged terrain enters the picture. Rugged terrain presents conditions unmatched in the human world. To overcome these conditions often requires a completely unique skill set.
Start with physical conditioning. This is often a given among skilled mountaineers. Its sure can be easy to forget just how diverse all this rugged terrain can be. Depending on both the mountain itself and the unique geography of the area.
Intelligence also enters the equation as well. Dealing with rugged terrain requires both planning and risk taking. Whether its the path chosen for a given climb. Selecting the right equipment. Dealing with unique climate factors, or the specifics in tackling a given mountain.
Rugged Terrain Brings out the Best
Why do all this then? And Why tackle mountains with rugged terrain when there are easier challenges that, in theory, can be just as rewarding?
The answer to that is easy, but far from simple. Rugged terrain brings out the best in us. That’s part of the reason many mountaineers consider it the equivalent of paradise.
To see evidence of this, look at the benefits offered by rugged terrain. Whether its fishing, hiking, camping, hunting, or just being in the outdoors. These benefits are often completely unique and unavailable in the “civilized” world. Then take it to the next level. Lets examine the way rugged terrain is handled at the highest levels by skilled mountaineers.
The Rules and Codes
There are rules and codes that have evolved over centuries. In different cultures about the “right” way to climb and the “wrong” way. They use these rules and codes to judge and evaluate one another.
Let’s look at a few concrete examples. Take the use of fixed ropes. This has long been an area of controversy among elite mountaineers. Whether they’re used to make a given climb too easy or dangerously hard.
The use of oxygen falls into the same category. As does the presence of a support team or a base camp. We live in an era in which relative novices pay gobs of money to “safely” climb Everest. Which has led to the response to the challenges of rough terrain. Taking it to an entirely new level of excellence
Climbing by fair means
Therefore; all this can be summed up, with the phrase “Climbing by fair means”. Which is a loaded expression if ever there was one. It does show the complexity offered by rugged terrain. It helps explain why it often brings out the best in us.
The best and most elite mountaineers rarely refer to the specifics of the mountain as the reason why. They tackled a given climb. More frequently, they turn inward, referring to the need to overcome fear, physical pain and other personal limitations.
As complex as all this sounds. This can also be summed up with a pair of quotes. Quotes that capture the essential appeal of rugged terrain for mountaineers.
The mountains are calling, and I must go
The first is a well-known quote from William Blake:
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet; This is not done by jostling in the street.”William Blake
The second is shorter, but perhaps more pithy. It was offered by a naturalist, author and mountaineer by the name of John Muir. He encapsulated the mindset that all mountaineers have when it comes to the appeal of rugged terrain.
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”John Muir