Adventures and Achievements
When the great mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he gave the enigmatic reply: "Because it is there" — a line that, like its author, had passed beyond the realm of mountaineering history and into the realm of legend. Mallory, a type of unfulfilled genius by all early accounts, -was radically altered by his struggle with the great mountain — it gave him an over-riding goal in life and became the symbol for him of that which is most worthy of' attainment. Here is how he describes his first view of Everest:
At the end of the valley and above the glacier Everest rises not so much a peak as a prodigious mountain mass (...) We paused in sheer astonishment. In the back of my mind were a host of questions about it clamouring for answer. But the sight of it now banished every thought. We forgot the stony wastes and regrets for other beauties. We asked no questions and made no comment, but simply looked. (...) There is no complication for the eye. The highest of the world's great mountains, it seems, has to make but a single gesture of magnificence to be lord of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated supremacy. To the discerning eye other mountains are visible, giants between 23,000 and 26,000 feet high. Not one of their slenderer heads
even reaches their chief's shoulder; beside Everest they escape notice — such is the pre-eminence of the greatest.
Mallory's determination bordering on obsession to reach Everest's summit, his tremendous courage and nearly superhuman endurance throughout two long expeditions, have made of Mallory an almost mythical figure in the annals of human adventure and achievement. Somewhere near the summit of the majestic giant Mallory's body lies. No one knows whether, in that final fateful attempt, he attained his goal. When last seen, he was already higher than any man had ever climbed. Then he disappeared into a mist of snow, on June 8, 1924.
"Because it is there"... The eternal thirst of the human spirit to'', reach to the highest drove scores of climbers to make the attempt afters 1924. Big international expeditions, eccentric soloists— again and' again the mountain resisted them all. Until, in May of 1953, a stub born, lanky Hew Zealander, Edmund Hillary, and his stocky, brave companion, the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, planted the flags of Great Britain, Nepal and India on the earth's highest peak.
Nearly thirty years later, a young mountaineer from Italy's Tyrolean Alps gazed up at that same peak. By then Everest had been "conquered" by dozens of climbers, as if Tenzing's and Hillary's triumph had somehow opened the way, making it easier for the adventurers who followed. But in Reinhold Messner's view, that adventure was now threatening to become an industry. By the 1980's, several times each year, huge expeditions employing hundreds of porters and more and more sophisticated technology literally assaulted the mountain. (By 1993, 800 climbers had reached the summit, 80 in May 1993 alone.) In particular, Messner felt that the excessive use of oxygen had reduced the challenge to something akin to climbing a well-mapped and much lower peak. Moreover, the expeditions were leaving behind more and more debris — empty oxygen cylinders, old tents and climbing gear, discarded food packets — spoiling the pristine Himalayan slopes.
Messner loved the mountain whose name in Tibetan, Chomolungma, means "Goddess Mother of the World". He did not climb mountains, he said, "simply to vanquish their summits. 1 place myself voluntarily into dangerous situations to learn to face my own fears and doubts, my innermost feelings." And he wondered, "Is the world so constructed that Man can climb to its highest peak without mechanical aids ?
The last picture of Mallory and Irvine three days before they disappeared
Mallory, a hero to Messner, had also opposed the use of oxygen as "a challenge to the human spirit and an attack by Science upon natural values." In 1978, Messner's determination to climb Everest "by fair means" would lead him to an exceptional achievement with one fellow climber: the first ascent of the mountain without the use of oxygen (something medical science said was "impossible"); and in 1980, Messner accomplished the first solo ascent, also without oxygen, by the seldom climbed northern route through Tibet, the route taken by Mallory.
In that same year, another adventurer looked not up but out, upon the wide open seas. To Steven Challahan the sea was the world's last great frontier where a man alone could test and expand his limits. Now Steven was about to attempt a trans-Atlantic crossing in a small sailing hip appropriately named Napoleon Solo. This was not an unheard-of feat, a few others had made similar crossings, but nonetheless a daunting one. "I was not interested in setting a record, " Steven wrote later. "For me, the crossing was more of an inner voyage and pilgrimage of sorts." Like all true adventurers, he was lured by the siren call of the
unknown; and like all true adventures, his was married to the unexpected. Steven 's boat sinks, and he is lost at sea for seventy days it tiny rubber raft. His ordeal teaches him more than survival — it forces him to plumb the depths of his inner resources and shows him, through pain and beauty, the perfect harmony of Nature, a transparent mask] the face of God.
In earlier times, adventure was an aspect of life essential to survival. Human beings existed in an uncharted landscape that exact the utmost of their physical potentials and left little time for other pi suits. Yet even then, as the world's ancient mythology testifies, o ancestors' great heroes were those who voluntarily left the relative security of family and fireside and sought adventure: a dragon to sit a damsel to rescue, a holy grail... With the advent of "civilisation humanity has achieved a measure of physical ease and protects which has liberated us for new kinds of adventures — voyages of discovery in the mind and spirit. Yet there lingers in most of us a deep kind of nostalgia for empty horizons, untouched snowfields, the pathless woods. Perhaps it is the very participation of the body in the pursuit of ideal goals that makes such adventures so uniquely and intensely fulfilling.
Safe in our armchairs, we marvel at the courage of a Mallory, a Tenzing, a Messner or a Callahan. Reading of their exploits, we feel we have climbed and sailed and discovered along with them. Their hard-won achievements and magnificent failures ennoble our lives; for being human, as we are, they demonstrate how the human being, through will, dedication and reverence, can exceed himself to reach the high summits of his unique aspiration.
Though few of us will ever face such physical challenges, we are grateful to those who pursue the call of solitude, the unexpected and the unexplored. These achievements expand our horizons and bring us home to an ancient yearning —a yearning to reach for the highest simply because it is there. A challenge to the body, mind and spirit expressed on the mountaintop, on the wide open seas, or even in the joy of the child who, one fine crystalline morning, rushes outside to make the first footprints in the newly fallen snow.