“Why?” may be the most provocative question ever asked of anyone attempting extraordinary things. And for many, it is often the hardest to answer.
Why run a marathon? Why compete in a bike race? Why swim the English Channel? Why climb Everest? For most people, medical it comes down to some very personal reasons. Many cite goals, or to test themselves or to break the boredom of life.
Of course the most famous answer regarding “Why Everest?” was actually a sarcastic quip given to reporters by George Mallory in 1924; “Because it is there.” But he went on to say “Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”
And Sir Edmund Hillary explained that his summit of Everest was more being part of a team “I never had a vision to climb Mt. Everest. As with everything else, it just more or less grew … It was a growing process and a learning process. Never, in my early days, did I ever think of attempting to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. “
I decided to reach out to a few friends who have attempted Everest over the past few years to get their thoughts.
Bob Kerr, 36, attempted Everest in 2013 without a summit:
“When I was young, I was scared of heights. At age 12 I set myself a life goal of climbing Ben Nevis by age 16, Mont Blanc by 30 and Everest by age 50 to overcome my fear. Having set these goals I intend to complete them. Everest is my only outstanding goal. I didn’t summit in 2013 aged 35, but had a good recce and will be back to try to complete my challenge. I believe that it in life you should always set yourself challenges and work towards them as it gives a great sense of fulfillment.”
Bill Burke, 72, is one of the oldest climbers on Everest with a summit in 2009 and is returning in 2014:
George Mallory’s famous answer comes to mind, but I’ll try to be more original.
My love affair with Chomolumna began in 1998 with the release of the IMAX film “Everest,” recounting the disaster that occurred on Mt. Everest in the 1996 climbing season. I remember viewing that film at a theater in New York City and thinking: what a beautiful mountain. I’d like to try to climb it some day.
That day did not arrive until nearly 10-years later. My first expedition on Mt. Everest was in 2007. I attempted the climb to fulfill my dream in 1998 and to complete the “Seven Summits,” which I started in 2002. I summited Mt. Everest in 2009. It was a glorious and life changing experience.
After my summit in 2009, my reasons for returning to Everest year-after-year changed. I love that mountain and think about it often. Mt. Everest is beautiful, powerful, awe inspiring, fearsome and benevolent, all at the same time. It is always the same, and it is never the same. When I find myself blessed to be on its flanks, I feel like I am standing on sacred ground.
I’ll be going back to Everest this year, for the seventh time. If I am fortunate enough to stand on the summit at age 72, I’ll be a happy man. If I don’t make it to the summit, I’ll also be a happy man. In either case, I’ll thank God for giving me this marvelous friend to challenge and inspire me.
Scott Smith made the top in 2013 from the south side:
My reason for climbing Everest began during my teenage years in Vermont as a very simple quest to stand on top of the world. The sheer beauty and magnificence of that mountain rising above the world’s tallest peaks captivated me, and I wanted to be there.
Later, in my early forties, as the possibility of meeting Everest’s attendant costs and logistical demands became a reality, I tried in earnest to keep that original quest simple. Just get to the summit, or as high as you can, and enjoy the views. But that original reason became increasingly complicated as I made my way up that mountain.
The physical and mental demands changed me, and I saw life and death, beauty and discord, success and failure, in their various forms together in that one place in inexplicable, yet seemingly perfect harmony. High altitude climbing, I came to believe, was actually a very selfish act IF you didn’t make it home safely. So I found myself searching for other, yet undiscovered reasons to make that summit, but could not agree on just what those additional reasons, beyond the selfishness of it, might be.
I had lost my father to cancer when I was 7 and my mother to a car accident while in graduate school, but decided that climbing in their memory might lead only to further, self-imposed disappointment if I failed. Plus, I had no interest in going backward, only moving forward. It wasn’t until weeks later, after having reached that glorious summit and returned safely home, albeit 30 pounds lighter, that my original reason seemed so distant. It was Father’s Day Weekend. After months apart with limited communication, I embraced my two sons, ages 13 and 11, who simply said “great job dad, we knew you would make it”.
Nelson Dellis who attempted Everest twice (South 2011, North 2012) without a summit added:
The most personal reason for climbing Everest was because I wanted the ultimate challenge. Ever since I had climbed Mt. Rainier as my first peak, it left me desiring more and more – this somewhat insatiable appetite for achieving REALLY challenging and difficult things.
Everest has always seemed like the ultimate challenge to me (because you can’t go anywhere higher in the world), and that is why I’ve been so attracted to it. I love the time and dedication it takes to prepare for it, I love the journey it takes to get there, and I love the expedition lifestyle. Most of all, I love the memories it creates.
The other main reason I wanted to climb Everest was to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. My grandmother passed away from it in 2009 and I have been trying to find ways to raise awareness in interesting and powerful ways ever since. Everest was my choice for doing that.
In a sentence, the reason I climb Everest is because it invokes a sense of awe. That awe pushes and motivate me to achieve great things, things not just limited to climbing the mountain itself.
John Dahlem (age 66 and ten months) summited Everest with his son Ryan (age 40) in 2010.
For my son Ryan and I, it was a very special journey we could share as father and son….I am not sure anything can be better than standing (sitting, he! he!) on the summit of the highest mountain in the world with your son having gone through all the training, preparation, organization, sacrifice, saving money, support from a loving wife/mother (Sioux) TOGETHER!
We are both educators and paid our own way saving for years to make the climb…we considered ourselves “rookies,” but paid our dues on Cho Oyu, the 7 Summits and always followed the lead of our guides (IMG). You have to live your dreams and if, “You Think You Can – Then You Can.”
Age should not be a factor and “motion is lotion.” Life is a blessing (as are memories) and you haven’t lived until you leave your tent on the Col at 26,000′ in a storm heading towards the top…tired, scared, gassed, wondering why you are there, cold, nauseated, goggles fogged up, etc., and then crying together with your son as you leave base camp after a safe and life altering climb.
Ilina Arsova, 31, was the first woman Macedonia to summit Everest inspiring an entire nation.
A passionate climber and a visual artist, the heights must be the greatest passion that drives me. I always find the untouched nature as very inspiring and powerful which makes me feel fulfilled. After becoming first Macedonian female on Matterhorn, Aconcagua, Ama Dablam etc, one of my life dreams was to climb Everest by age of 30. It took a long preparation until I was finally ready to join Tim Mosedale’s expedition in 2013, who I had great time with on Ama Dablam 2011.
Role models and motivating people are very welcomed for pushing other athletes towards their goals. I was pleased to be one of them in my country by becoming the first Macedonian woman on 8848m, bringing up new level into the extreme mountaineering in the country. Showing an example that nothing is un reachable is why I always want to go back to the high mountains, and hopefully give trust to others not to give up from their dreams.
Zachary Zaitzeff, 39, summited in 2011.
I climbed it for three reasons. The first is there are few places that I can go that uplift my spirit as much as going to a museum and seeing greatness that has happened in history or in the form of a painting or a sculpture. For me, Everest is a museum. I think about all the expeditions that were done in the mid-twentieth century on behalf of ones country and humankind. These men were the astronauts before there were astronauts. They had relentless passion and vision. Passion and vision is where greatness comes from.
For this reason, I had to see it firsthand. Second, like most climbers, I love to push myself. I have found no activity were I have to put everything into making one step upward or downward. Third, there is no better feeling than coming home after having done something great.
So why climb Everest? The answers are as unique as the climbers themselves. For my own reasons, please read this essay I wrote several years ago.
Memories are Everything