I don’t know where my bizarre obsession with Mount Everest sprouted from, but it took hold somewhere around 15 years ago. I bought every book that was available over a period of years – even buying a couple I had missed last summer – about climber’s personal adventures. I received gift photo books from friends who realized that I was off on one of my goofy tangents. I wallowed in every detail about the killer mountain and what it must be like to actually BE there.
First, there is the hacking cough that almost everyone gets trekking through the filthy hovels in Nepal on their way to base camp. There’s the Rongbuk Buddhist temple that respectful climbers visit to be blessed by the Rinpoche before they dare to set foot on “Chomolungma”, the name Everest is still known by the Nepalese. There’s the acclimatization as you rise to the base camp elevation of 17,958 feet; at which point you’ve barely begun the actual climb, but are already completely wrung dry and ready to give up.
On a random side note: I was blessed by the same Rinpoche at a Buddhist gathering in L.A. that Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) was blessed by on his Everest journey. Maybe this is my connection to the mountain obsession. Hey – I think I could put a beat to that last sentence. Uh, where were we?
Right. Everest. I will never climb Mt. Everest. After reading so many detailed and horrific stories, I truthfully never really wanted to. That whole Khumbu Icefall thing outside of base camp wasn’t really doing it for me. I could see myself now; one step beyond base camp all pumped for my journey and then AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! – down a giant ice crevasse I go. So that was out. But I really, really wanted to see it. Finally, with all of the outlandish financial constraints combined with rigorous physical conditioning involved, plus the time put in and so on; it became clear to me at one point that I was not only not ever going to climb the big rock, but I was also unlikely to ever even see it from base camp, or at all.
But I can tell you exactly how to get there from the south side. I can take you through the icefall and up the south col across the ridge to the Hillary step – make sure the ropes have been laid ahead of time by the Sherpas – and then describe the view from the tiny summit at the top of the world. I can do this because so many really amazing writers have described it for me in such in-your-face detail, that I feel the biting icy cold, the fear of disorientation from lack of oxygen, the pain and exhaustion of just trying to do One. More. Step.
This is not to say that experiences don’t matter, not at all. I can have an unattainable (for me) experience, because others have lived it, and were able to translate those moments eloquently enough through words. On the flip side, I can also translate my experiences through words (one hopes they will at least be somewhat eloquent), and others can experience something that will never be real to them in their lives.
What’s even cooler? I can also write about stuff that’s not real for anyone, but is a what if? What if the zombie apocalypse REALLY happens? What if aliens come and whisk people away to their strange and spectacular world? What if society melts down and we have a whole new world to adapt to?
Books are the bomb. That’s why it’s okay that I’ll never climb Mount Everest. Krakauer, Norgay, Messner, Viesturs and others can tell me all about it.