Thursday, February 5, 2009

Moby Dick

Days remaining before I leave warm and sunny Arizona for the Himalayas: 53. Simulated altitude at which I am sleeping with my hypoxic generator: 12,100 feet. Today's training: two trips to the top of Camelback Mountain, a total elevation gain of over 2,400 feet. The first time up I was carrying a pack containing a six gallon plastic jug filled with water. I offered the water to other hikers who needed water and then poured out the rest to save my knees on the descent. The second time up I only filled the jug about a third full. I'm exhausted!

How do I respond when friends and family ask why I would climb a particular mountain? Everest pioneer George Mallory already took the now-famous best answer, "Because it's there," so I've had to look elsewhere for my inspiration. Here's a bit of wisdom from Herman Melville's Moby Dick: "For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, filled with peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life." Climbing big mountains for me is just one more part of drinking as deeply as possible from the cup of life. It's just one of many things about which I'm passionate. The thing is, greater climbers than I--of which there are many--might be able to reach the fabled Seven Summits and descend safely with half-lived lives, for perhaps they are capable of that and so much more, but for me it will take absolutely everything I've got, and so in a very real sense climbing big mountains like Everest is just another part of my ongoing personal quest to turn my attention away from all of the horrors of the half-lived life and enjoy the tropical island paradise of the soul Melville describes.

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