SEED Science

Career of an Amateur Mountain Climber
Why Climb?

With danger lurking around each corner and in the body, what is it that drives people to climb mountains? Mallory, a pre-WW2 climber who was famously lost on Everest making a summit attempt, when asked why he wanted to climb the world’s highest mountain replied “because it’s there”. The phrase stuck and has subsequently acquired a reputation far in excess of its value in explaining the sport. There are of course deeper and more meaningful reasons, many of them I suspect common to other extreme sports.



First and foremost is a kind of peace. Mountaineering for many climbers, and I count myself in this group, assumes an almost religious significance. My sense of well-being is never so well developed as when I am committed to the vast open spaces of some mountain range. To know my trajectory and feel my body engaged like a well-oiled machine is better than any dream. The ground under my feet, the contours of that ridge, the sharpness of the summit are faithful companions that I know will always be there next time I go climbing.

Then, there is the sheer physical beauty of the landscape, the mystery of what’s beyond the next bluff, the muffled roar of a torrent a thousand meters below, the stillness of the late afternoon when you know you are late returning home, the sudden call of a circling bird of prey. There is the intense companionship when you share this dream with others, not to mention the pleasure of guiding young people to the mountains and seeing them taste the dream for the first time.

I once guided a group of local high-school kids up Mt. Kinnabalu in Sabah. One boy got bitten by a giant centipede; a couple of others got altitude sickness. But in the end everyone had the experience of a lifetime, even if the summit snow the kids carefully preserved in a tin to show everyone back home had melted by the time we got down. Given time and patience, you can lead anyone to the edge of the precipice and let them experience the thrill of surviving.

So the big question in my life at the moment is whether to have one more go at an 8000-m peak? I constantly analyze what happened last time when I collapsed at 7900m on Cho Oyu. Was it because I ate badly? Had too little oxygen? Got scared? Or a combination of all these and more? One thing is for sure. There’s only one way of finding out.

Cho Oyu