When reporter Jon Maletz called me about his writing up our Denali trip for the Aspen Times, one of the first things we spoke about was the multiple story lines of the journey. It really was quite interesting how many threads ran through our expedition: Jordan bringing his father’s ashes to the summit; young crew with one seasoned oldster; real-time blogging online; skiing trials and successes on a big peak with lots of dangers; father/son journey; gear testing and reviews.
Jon said he was trying to figure out which story to focus on, I suspected he’d probably latch on to the father and son journey, as well as my return to the mountain after a nearly 4 decade hiatus. Sure enough, that’s what he did, while doing a nice job of weaving most of the sub-texts in there as well.
Maletz’s piece is is a good read and overall fairly accurate for something done in the usual quick newspaper style. More, Caleb Wray and Jordan White’s photos look fantastic in full large-format printed glory. I especially like the way Maletz wove in the emotional component of the trip. A few tears were indeed shed, something to be expected when I can honestly say reaching that summit and skiing off it with my son was the best day of climbing I’ve had in my more than 40+ year career as an alpinist.
Hopefully the Times can correct the spelling of “autobahn” so it’s correct in the online version. Also, the meaning of the second to last paragraph got muddled up by a typo. It should read as follows (myself being quoted):
“On most trips I do … there is not much uncertainty. So I don’t experience that winning-through-adversity feeling that people do when they’re new to the game,” he says. “It was neat to experience that again. … Anybody gets that feeling when they challenge themselves.”
Of course, the above is a distillation of a fairly long discussion Maletz and I had about what one gets out of mountaineering. He didn’t have space for much of our talk, but I thought I’d expound a bit here. After all, this is a blog, and what is a blog without riffing now and then on a print article?
I mentioned to Maletz during his interview that while mountain climbing is indeed a somewhat pointless endeavor now that the planet has been pretty much explored from end to end, it still has a lot of benefits. While some of those benefits are somewhat self centered and I most certainly do indulge in those (as in, having fun), I learned a long time ago while working for Outward Bound that what you can bring home with you is the most important part. If a mountaineering trip helps you learn to get along better with a group, or keep a more positive attitude, or balance risk and reward intelligently, or any other of the things an intense experience schools you on, then perhaps you can bring a bit of that schooling home and thus benefit the people you encounter every day.
As for the winning through adversity part, as Maletz quoted me talking about, for many people the most powerful part of mountaineering is indeed that of dropping themselves into an uncertain situation with physical and emotional risk, then receiving the self actualization of success (or the lessons of failure, for that matter). You can get this in any part of life, but activities such as alpinism peel the veneer and expose the raw core of such experiences, and they may thus be more powerful. But not to be smug or elitist, the main point is that no matter your lifestyle or physical abilities, it is beneficial to hop out of your comfort zone now and then and do something challenging, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual.
Climbing and skiing from the summit of Denali was one such challenge for me. It was indescribably sweet to be up there with my son, and I did learn some things about myself. Now, the goal is to keep those experiences and lessons alive.
(Oh, by the way, the cover photo on the Times article is one of Louie in the led with me roped behind, and the expression on my face is one of utter physical annihilation, while Louie looks quite chipper. I didn’t like the photo at first, but now it makes me laugh because it actually does tell the story, and that’s what I kept telling the Denali boys a good photo is supposed to do. Shoot, a victim of my own advice!)