I am proud to be called a Climber

Alan on the summit of Everest May 21, 2011 5:00AM
Alan on the summit of Everest May 21, 2011 5:00AM

On May 21, shop 2011 at 5:30am, I stood on the summit of Mt. Everest.

I felt small, tiny, and insignificant as I watched the sun rise over the world’s tallest peaks. I felt grateful as I hugged a down covered Kami Sherpa (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche).

I felt sadness and inspiration as I dedicated the summit to my mom, Ida, and the millions of Alzheimer’s s and their caregivers around the world.


Standing on the summit of Everest, provided fuel to my passion and purpose in life.

Today, May 21, 2014, marks the three year anniversary of that summit. But it is a time of immense sadness in the Everest climbing community. This year we saw the deaths of 17 Sherpa on the Nepal side of the mountain. 16 died in the single worse tragedy as a piece of ice released from a serac on the West Shoulder almost immediately killing the Sherpa waiting for a ladder to be repaired in the Khumbu Icefall.

Once again, Everest garnered the world’s attention for the wrong reason.

Climbing mountains is dangerous, you can be killed. This is not a secret or a mystery or even an epiphany to anyone, non-climbers included, who struggle with why someone would climb and are generous with their harsh judgments and conclusions. Most climbers just let the rhetoric roll off their shoulders knowing you cannot convince someone who is not open to listening, steeled in their world of superiority.

Death in the mountains cannot be defended or explained.

Looking for logic is a pointless exercise. There is no logical explanation as to why these Sherpa died the way they did. Yes, there is a physical explanation but ask each of them why they were there, and you would get a variety of reasons but the common theme would be it was their job.

The member climbers, or as the most judgmental of the critics like to call them – tourists, are quick to receive the blame for the deaths with hyperbolic statements like the Sherpas wouldn’t have died if the members hadn’t been there.

I received an email from one of my blog readers calling me a murderer. I assume he was blaming me for all mountain deaths because I climb mountains. He wasn’t specific in his spew of hatred. While I understand his anger, his aim is misplaced.  Climbing can be made safer, but the burden rests primarily on each individual.

I have been on 35 major expeditions since I started at age 38, all with Sherpas for the climbs in Nepal and Tibet. My respect for their culture grew as did my own experience in climbing. I am proud that I summited Ama Dablam with Lhapka Sherpa, Manaslu with Pasang Ongcho Sherpa last year and Everest with Kami three years ago, but I’m more proud that I have new friends for life. I am proud to again be climbing with Kami, this time on K2.

Our relationship is built on mutual respect.

I climb mountains because I love the connection with nature, the spirit of adventure and the challenge of a difficult objective. My ethos is one of preparation, self sufficiency, respect for the mountain and appreciation for those who help me in my quests. I could not climb the mountains I do alone, unsupported or independent. This is my reality and one I say with pride.

The support I receive enables me to aspire to greater goals than just a summit: to tell the world that Alzheimer’s must be stopped and caregiver support must improve. It is an means to an end, an environment of mutual dependency, of mutual gains. It is a relationship born of needs and desires.

The member climbers of Everest 2014 struggle with a confluence of guilt and desire. They ask rhetorical questions of should they have been there in the first place, what was their role, should they go back to pursue their dream. The critics are quick with a quip, a piece of satire or an insensitive judgmental reply damming their ambitions to Hell or worse.

Today, I mourn the deaths of the Sherpa. I mourn the deaths of all die in pursuit of making a better life for their families, those who work to survive. This dream has fueled ambition and risk since the beginning of human existence. It is life, and it is death.

Death is a fact in the mountains. It is a voluntary endeavor. Those who choose to climb, accept the risk.

I will continue to climb, accept the risk, accept the support I receive from those around me. We will climb together, benefiting in different ways for different purposes.

I am proud to be called a climber.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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69 thoughts on “I am proud to be called a Climber

  1. This is a late reply, I’m sorry about that 🙂

    I am in my late teens, and climbing is something I’m just starting out in, with the 7 summits as my eventual goal. I have been discouraged in all kinds of ways, from friends telling me I’ll never be able to make it, adults telling me I should really just go to college and get a normal job, the risks involved, and the “haters”.

    This post was so inspiring to me. I’m not sure I can be called a climber, yet, but with people like you as my role models and inspiration I hope I can get there soon. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Alan, as usual you have inspired and put things into perspective with your well written article. When I first decided to attempt Everest, I luckily found your blog when I started my research and since then you’ve never disappointed Sir! Climb On!

  3. People climb because they Love to Climb , Its in there blood so to speak , I say Climb ON , Karen

  4. When I was eleven years old I read the following quote in a magazine, memorized it as best as I could and tried to live by it. “it is better to know the sweet smell of success and the bitter taste of failure, than to live in the grey twilight of those who know neither success nor failure.” – Theodore Roosevelt. Keep on climbing and live life to the maximum!

  5. I fly airplanes, I ride bicycles, I climb mountains. I have had friends in all three disciplines die while engaging in their passions. Yet I do these things and have done so for the past 45+ years. Each time there is an adverse event people I know will ask for my “expert opinion.” There is not a clear answer for most of these events, yet people want a sound bite to justify their own prejudices generally. Few actually want to learn.

    Alan, I understand the passion for your climbing cause and for your quest for solving the dementia sweeping through the world. Please continue both.

  6. Alan, it a nice piece, but it’s too late. You should have written it earlier. I know the haters are out in force on this one. I understand as a climbing blog you might feel you need to justify why you climb, and why it’s OK. I have the luxury to only say, I climb. Thanks for standing up for the charity, compassion and positive impact climbers have made in Nepal. Lets hope the industry interests, particularly the expedition companies, government, and Nepalese, too provide encouragement and support to climbers.

  7. every mountain outing is a risk & only YOU can decide that. the way that i see you climb via the internet, i think that you still have many more summits & treks ahead of you. once you have covered most of Colorado, there are some NICE peaks down here in New Mexico. And Im not talking Mt.Wheeler either; altho thats a great one (but fairly easy 1) too.

  8. The critics – especially the person who emailed you Alan – are usually those stuck to their armchair, their computer, their TV, their newspaper, their local bar. They never venture anywhere out of their comfort zone. They have no relevant experience to be able to enter this debate. Their comments should be disregarded as they carry no weight. They have a little knowledge about most things but a lot of knowledge about nothing.

  9. Just to note- ACMG (Canadian Mountain Guides) receive only $25K life insurance last I checked and we pay the premiums ourselves. We can’t get additional insurance through a private provider because our work is considered too high of a risk.

  10. Just to note- ACMG (Canadian Mountain Guides) receive only $25K life insurance last I checked and we pay the premiums ourselves. We can’t get additional insurance through a private provider because our work is considered too high of a risk.

  11. Climb on, Alan!
    Pema and Karsang could not have summed up my words any better.
    With the money coming in to the country and also the guide services which give work to the Sherpa people – they should be providing them with life insurance for their trips (at minimum).
    Mountains are unpredictable – it is the responsible thing to provide in this type of situation.

  12. Alan, please KEEP ON CLIMBING, not to climb would be a DISRESPECT to those who lost their lives on the mountain. Being a daughter of a climber family, I have to admit that my and my family lives has enriched in many different levels due to the climbers/trekkers. All we ask is a decent life insurance so families doesn’t have to face a financial burden when accident occurs.

  13. Alan, climb on. Sherpas will be the last people to ask others not to climb, after all, it’s in our blood, and it’s the profession and passion for a good number of our tribe members. All we ask is that an acknowledgement that this profession has an off the chart high death rate, ( applying this rate to Walmart would mean 54,000 deaths at work place every year ), and hence proactively ask the sherpas what their life insurance coverage is, and then try set the coverage to at least 10 times their annual income. This way, should a tragedy strike, at least their families will not face financial years down the line. In the current context, we are talking around $50,000 life insurance policy.

  14. Alan, Do you and Kami discuss this upcoming K2 climb? Does he know how you prepare and how prepared you are when you meet up? Climbing is in your blood now. I think Ida would look at you and tell you to do what makes the world a better place- so don’t stop. We need people like you out there making a difference.

  15. Alan,

    I can’t believe that happened and I’m truly sorry that it did. Your blogs are not only interesting, informative and thought-provoking, but you do it in order to encourage people to join you in helping to defeat a terrible disease. You are life-affirming, not a murderer. Anyone who would say something like that and not tell you the reason for it doesn’t deserve your time in trying to figure him out. There’s no telling where it came from. He could just as easily be mad about something else, or just generally mad, and finding people to take it out on. He should be pitied for his unhappiness. I’ve never seen anything that you’ve written that killed anyone and you’ve never killed anyone on a climb. Everything I’ve seen you write has been positive and supportive, for climbers, sherpas, people who are sick, your readers or anyone else. I hope that your overwhelming support will overcome the bad feeling that an unhappy person tried to cause you to have.

    I know that this has been said by others and better, but I wanted to throw you my wholehearted support as well–for the climb, the blog and most especially the fund raising. There should be more like you.

    Climb on, Alan!


  16. If only this concise, comprehensive commentary would be published on every news website worldwide, as it gives a dignified voice to all experienced, responsible mountaineers. Alan, to say you have a gift for eloquent articulation would be an understatement.

    (oops, sorry …. posted 1st time incorrectly tagged on someone else’s comment … )

  17. There is nothing wrong with climbing Brother, for some of us it’s a need that we can’t live without any more than breathing the air around us! To override the impulse we feel that drives us to out the environment in which we feel most in tuned to the earth would do a disservice to the rest of society! Climb on, live strong, and fear no regrets!!!

  18. Alan, why do western people feel the need to justify their decisions to go to the mountains and do things there? If one wants to do something and is not taking advantage of anyone to do it or using someone else to achieve his or her goals, why the constant need for justification and absolution???

    From my experience, the sherpas treat the climbing as a job. They are not there to be your friends or to show you around. For them the reason to be there is to earn a living just like for the miner goes down the mine shaft every day. They do not do it for fun or pleasure or fame or self gratification. It is a dangerous job and it has been since day one, they all know it. They also make a choice in this respect. They are intelligent and entitled to full consent. They can be porters, cooks, guides or work in tea shops. But they make a choice to do this for money and money only (for the most part).

    One very accomplished sherpa told me that he hates climbing, it is dangerous and takes him away from his family. He would rather do a menial job in the west than climb in Nepal. He would leave Nepal but cannot as it is difficult if not impossible. So he does this as he wants the cash and the things that cash s. He wants the cash so that his children do not have to break their backs working like this. He climbed 8 x 8000m peaks and he is just one of many faceless sherpa to an average westerner passing through the Khumbu. He does not write blogs, books or articles. He does not view his feat as anything special or worthy of recognition. He does not care to be honest as he dislikes his job for the above reasons. He does his job and is good at it. But that’s it – nothing more. It is a reality of the third world. There are many dangerous jobs in the world (even in the US) that people do because of cash (even the bhuddists).

    The westerners seem to take on the guilt while ignoring the fact that it is the Nepalis themselves that create the corruption and chaos in their country robbing their communities of the opportunity for normal and dignified existence. The members of Nepali elite suffer from greed and are ignorant of poverty and suffering just like in any other place in the world. They are not special in this respect (Sherpa community included I am sure you witnessed it in the Khumbu. Sherpas will take advantage of their fellow Nepalis and gora if opportunity is there. no guilt on their part.).

    So before you start to justify your decision to spend your time or money in such fashion please consider that perhaps no justification is required or expected. Just enjoy what you do for the sake of it and for your charity. If conditions in Nepal become forbidding, I am sure that the Alaskan and Patagonian guides will gladly be in your employ if you so choose 🙂

    1. Well said Derek. Perhaps the community is different in Poland, a country of great climbers past and present but in the US, criticizing climbers seems to be a parlor party and those who love the sport often let it pass.

      The point of my article is that climbing is a dangerous sport where people die. There are no villains and attempts to place blame are superficial and deny the complexity of cultural and business models at work, for better or worse.

      I am not defending my decision to climb, I am celebrating it with pride.

      1. Good for you, do not forget that Poland had its share of mountain drama in the media with the broad peak tragedy last year. Of course, there had to be someone to blame as well (just like in this case on Everest)… Adam B. the star of the show decided not to climb with Polish climbers again. there you have it. The cancer of modern media machine. Good luck on K2 and remember that Pakistani curry is your true nemesis 🙂

    2. If only this concise, comprehensive commentary would be published on every news website worldwide, as it gives a dignified voice to all experienced, responsible mountaineers. Alan, to say you have a gift for eloquent articulation would be an understatement.

    3. Great points Derek, especially the one about Sherpas being smart, rational people who understand the risks when they take on the job. It makes me very angry when people act like the Sherpa are morons who don’t understand the dangers and getting taken advantage of by the climbing community.

    4. Very realistic, what you write here Derek. In my opinion, you understand Nepal, and mountaineering there, very well…

  19. Accidents happen ever day and every where and many people fall victims to these…… but that’s just the way life is. Life must lived by spending time with people you love and doing things you like to do. Climb on Alan…..eagerly looking forward to your K2 expedition…

  20. Beautifully and succinctly written. I too am proud to be a climber and to have many Sherpa friends. Thank you Alan and good luck on the Savage Mountain.

  21. Why should you stop? Still flying to your meetings? Still driving to climbing sites? Would you stop those activities? I don’t think so. The attention you are bringing to Alzheimer’s is too important. Climb On!

  22. Beautifully written and very honest. Death is a fact of life for everyone. Why lay blame with those who choose to live passionately?

  23. The Sherpas also loved the mountain and the climbing first. To quit climbing would make their deaths seem meaningless. Climbing is what they did. It’s what you do. Climb on Alan.

  24. As I said previously, what on earth would I do if I didn’t have your climbs to follow as I sit in my armchair ? I do so because I have to view the mountains from my chair not because I want to. You allow us to enjoy the mountains as you take us along for the ride and at the same time you raise so much funding for the worthwhile charities close to your heart. Nobody knows what lies ahead so you must do what you can whilst you can and your mountain climbing brings so much pleasure to many folk around the world so ‘Climb On ‘ Alan and do take care. Cheers Kate

  25. What on earth would I do if I didn’t have your climbs to follow Alan?. I am not an armchair follower because I want to be I am an armchair follower because I HAVE to be these days. It’s a bit like following my ambitions through you and it stops me being sorry for myself. None of us knows what the future holds so climb on whilst you still can and keep on looking after all the folk you help along the way, Cheers Kate

  26. You should not. You also increase the chance of causing an accident while driving to your climbs in Colorado that might hurt someone who has nothing to do with climbing, but that should not stop you, either.

  27. Heck No.

    Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.-Helen Keller

  28. I sincerely hope a natural event /accident doesnt happen when I next catch a taxi.If the driver were to die does am I at fault?Or if I died is he at fault?Or is the 3rd party at fault?
    Has a person in their climate controlled castle found contentment?
    You are who you are.
    Sometimes I envy some peoples contentment but never for one minute wish to be them.In the words of a well known climber “Climb On”

  29. Beautifully written Alan. I hope you consider writing a book one day. Hopefully chronicling a successful K2 expedition!?

    I think your point here, “an environment of mutual dependency, of mutual gains. It is a relationship born of needs and desires,” is spot on, and cuts through all the idealistic hyperbole perfectly.

  30. Heartfelt and beautifully expressed. Those who know you and follow you are also proud of you for your courage in pursuing your passion in a most thoughtful way and for your determination to leave a legacy that is even greater than the great mountains you’ve scaled. You understand life and death as few do. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the Alzheimer’s community. Climb On! Stay safe!

  31. I recall asking Anatoli Boukreev after the ’96 tragedy on Everest: “Should you think about not climbing again?” I got a quizzical look and a three word response, “Is my life.”

  32. It was a Saturday. I was at home. My phone beeped. I opened the message. “Hello, this is Alan calling from the summit of Mt Everest”. That was a great moment. Climbing touches more than the climber themselves. Many give back to the individuals and communities who helped them along the way. Keep climbing.

  33. Keep climbing, Alan ! Its your life passion ! Don’t quit what we all love !

  34. Alex. That is right! I came home and raised funds to put electricity into my sherpa and 6 other families homes who had been passed over as untouchables. I send funds for classes for him still. I don’t brag here because I know so many who have come home from a trek and done very similar things.

  35. Alan Hinkes once said something about ”we climb not to die, but to enrich our lives”. Darren don’t underestimate what many many climbers do give back to the Nepali community especially, be it sponsoring children, fundraising for them, donating things. Many visit and become so humbled by the people that they do an awful lot to support them but don’t claim recognition for it.

  36. Well written. Thank you for this post. I’m a climber, but I’ve never had the chance to experience the Himalaya. However, many of my friends were quick to disparage those who climb Everest using Sherpas, yet none of them have even been to Nepal, India, or the Himalaya. I hope to one day make the trip myself, and I thank you for your words of wisdom. Best of luck on K2!

  37. Keep climbing. If we all
    Shrink back to the safety of whatever is the safest we have already died.

  38. are you going to live a life of regret, having not lived the life you want?
    maybe in the future you have a car accident and are never able to climb again, maybe you die…. and what have you missed because you didnt do what you wanted to do with your life.
    if you love climbing and you die doing it, you die doing what you love…
    would you be doing what you love if you died in a car accident?

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