The Dark side of Extreme Adventure – Maria Coffey
Losing a friend or loved one is never an easy process, but it becomes even more tangled when they leave for a mountain adventure and never return. I first experienced this in the early 70’s when 3 close friends were killed while attempting Mt. Elias in Canada.
Maria Coffey examines how climbers, their families and friends cope with the devastating losses that shadow this sport. She searches for why people climb in the first place. And why they continue after close calls. Without becoming banal, she quotes Jim Wickwire. “One of the addictive aspects of climbing is that it allows you to be in the present moment in ways that are impossible in ordinary life“.
Similar thoughts come from Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow’. “enjoyment of risk comes not from the danger itself but from managing it, from the sense of exercising control in difficult situations.”
And then, there’s the ultimate mountaineering existential futility. Camus’ Sisyphus. “unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing… Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart”.
The bulk of this powerful book interviews the survivors and comrades of lost climbers. At times, it’s difficult to read, but the feelings expressed range from acceptance to anger and denial. In most cases, there is a community of shared experience and values. Whether you’re an active climber or armchair mountaineer this book gives a much-needed balance to the hyperbolic tales of expedition climbing. And for those of us who have lost people to the mountains it offers, if not comfort, but a way to stoic acceptance.
Have always been drawn to these stories, glad you shared th8is!
It’s always seemed to me that climbing isn’t just about the physical achievement, but the psychological challenge of rationalizing a decision to take on an extraordinary risk having only an intangible payoff. There’s something noble about that, but it’s also a little… weird. I think climbers might agree.
It’s a combination of the 2 for me – when you’re climbing you can be completely disengaged from anything but the immediate problem before you and the lack of a payoff means you’re not distracted. instead you focus on the next tiny step or handhold. for many of us, that was completely different from our workaday lives. (I’m not talking about indoor climbing walls & other training devices such as top-roping where there’s no penalty for failure, but rather leading a technical pitch)
OTOH, the boredom of a long hike-in with a heavy pack or a rest-stepping snow slog on a long snowfield lets the detached mind work out some real-world problems (eg, a trick piece of coding)