Deadliest Sport Ever? Why People Risk Their Lives Mountain Climbing
Mt. Everest (Photo: AP)
It’s been the deadliest mountain climbing season in history, and it’s not over. With the tragedies on Mt. Rainier in Washington and Nepal, one question remains: 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.
Although Mallory perished the next year on Everest, (and his body not found for 75 years), his legacy of big mountain climbing remains. Last year, over 650 people summited Mt. Everest; each of them coming home probably had to answer the same question: “Why’d you do it?”
They likely answered with one of these three prime motivators of mountain climbers:
1. Conquering the Challenge: “Because it’s there”
Alpine guide Rich Meyer agrees with the “conquering the challenge” motivation. He told Yahoo Travel, “Climbing offers a series of mental and physical challenges played out in some of the most beautiful places on our planet. Overcoming those challenges, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and learning a little more about yourself is tremendously rewarding.”
But unless you’re the rare extreme climber seeking out a first ascent, the challenge isn’t to conquer the mountain — it’s been done before, by hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people. Climbers on Mt. Kilimanjaro, for example, grew from barely a thousand per year in the 1960s to 28,000 in 2003 and 52,000 in 2012. You won’t get any fame for being the 52,001st person atop the summit. So what’s the point of this “conquest?”
Mallory in a file photo dated 1909 (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Mallory asked himself a similar question about one of his expeditions in the Alps. ”Have we vanquished an enemy?” He answered, satisfied: “None but ourselves.”
And that remains one of the primary motivations for mountain climbers — conquering your own internal challenges, whether they be overcoming fears, pushing your limits, or trying to create a personal best in terms of physical and mental accomplishment. The mountain is really just an innocent bystander during this process.