At 11:30 a.m. on May 29th 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth. The two, part of a British expedition, made their final assault on the summit after spending a fitful night at 27,900 feet. News of their achievement broke around the world on June 2, the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and Britons hailed it as a good omen for their country’s future.
Climbing mountains can be deadly as the recent earthquake in Nepal has shown. With the tragedies that have occurred on various mountains, it begs the question: Why do they do it? Why do people regularly risk their lives to summit a mountain peak or scale sheer cliffs?
"Because it’s there," George Mallory famously replied in 1923 when asked why he was trying to climb Mount Everest. The quote caught the public’s imagination, as it expressed both the childlike whimsy of doing something just for the fun of it, and the adult heroic ideal of dedicating oneself to meet any challenge, no matter how tall.
However, it is a good question to ask. Besides attempting to justify the associated risks, the question delves into the essence of the human spirit. It touches on who we are and where we are going. When we stop exploring and pushing ourselves to new heights (pun intended), we will begin to devolve.
Beyond the obvious rewards of climbing, such as the spectacular views, the health benefits, the interesting characters and the exotic travel, many people climb because it provides them with something they can’t find anywhere else. Seasoned climbers sometimes answer the question "Why do you climb?" with the short and easy answer, "If you have to ask, you’ll never understand."
All attempts to explain why people climb aside, sometimes the only way to answer the question is to climb a mountain yourself. Because, after all, you may be the only one who can truly discover the answer.