On mountain climbing

Seriously, just because it’s there? People climb mountains, walls, fences, and hills for various and different reasons. Some do it because they are escaping, others because they are bored, still others are trying to get some place and they don’t want to walk around the mountain to get there. I sometimes like to sit on top of a fence–the view from above can be intriguing. Mountain climbers climb because they have to do it, but once they make it to the top, what then? Many find the danger scintillating, giving them a natural high (no pun intended), or perhaps the climb is a challenge which forces them to examine their own mortality. As a child, my entire extended family would climb a hill called Silver Cliff, which is just north of Two Harbors, Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior. There was a dirt trail on the backside of the cliff that was not too difficult to climb, but it was a challenge, and the view from up there was breathtaking. The climb was dirty and sweaty, but the best bet for success was to just climb straight up the trail. I did feel a sense of accomplishment each time I made the climb, but at heart I am not a mountain climber. Perhaps what makes mountain climbing so interesting is that sometimes, not often, a climber dies. I would not risk my life to climb a mountain, but then again, I’ll never get to see the world from the top of Mount Everest. Climbing mountains is about the adrenaline rush, about the release of dopamine. If it were only a question of pleasure, we could put the mystery of mountain climbing away, forget it forever, but climbing is a behavior that just will not go away that easily. If we isolate climbing as an innate human behavior that has been genetically wired into our brains by evolution, one has to ask the question: how does this behavior give a human an advantage in surviving into the next generation? Since not all of us are climbers, I get the feeling that this is a very special over-specialization that gave some people an advantage, perhaps to migrate, maybe to seek higher, safer ground, to hunt and pursue prey at higher ranges, to explore and to find more food or better hunting grounds. Those are the obvious benefits of being able to climb, but I suspect that it goes deeper or higher or steeper. Is mountain climbing a sign of prestige for men? Do mountain climbers have a better chance of passing on their genes before they make that one false move and fall? Does the opposite sex find mountain climbing a sign of virility or femininity or a sign of physical prowess that might ensure the passing on of good genetic material? Mountain climbing is certainly the hallmark of risk takers, that group of humans who love roller-coasters, cliff diving, scuba diving, running with the bulls, racing fast cars, exploring unmapped jungles, spelunking, sky-diving, and snake handling. I don’t get my kicks from any of those activities, so I wouldn’t know, but the few times I’ve been trapped on a roller-coaster, I have just about thrown up from the adrenaline rush, so I’ll just leave those experiences to the junkies. Mountain climbing should go against the self-preservation behavior built into every human being. We are all hard-wired for self-preservation, otherwise none of us would be here, so I guess that mountain climbing is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum shrouded in mystery.