The Ceiling of the World
Mountaineering has always held great appeal to me. As a New Zealander, I grew up hearing of the feats of the late Sir Edmund Hillary and later those of the great Tyrolean – Reinhold Messner. They inspired a great many people to go ‘bagging peaks’ . I had a small taste of alpine adventure as a teenager visiting a few peaks in the Southern Alps of New Zealand and at that time I would have said it was going to be a habit of a lifetime. It hasn’t quite turned out that way but there is still a distant call from various peaks that has given me a hunger for it again.
When I was sixteen I would sit at the breakfast table polishing off a hearty bowl of weetbix and stare at the back of the packet of cereal reading of the feats of two other New Zealand climbers, Rob Hall and Gary Ball. They had completed the Seven Summits in seven months and I just thought they were legends. But it wasn’t all glory and success. Three years after completing the seven summits, Ball died of pulmonary edema on the slopes of the worlds seventh highest mountain – Dhaulagiri. Three years after that it was Rob Hall who would meet his fate on the side of Everest. On the 11th of May 1996, Hall and seven others perished as a storm hit the death zone (above 8000 metres). It was the hearing of those tragedies that certainly curbed my aspirations for a while.
I think I realised that if you did any climbing you had to be extremely well prepared and well guided and you had to follow rules to the letter. In 1996, it was said that the guides ignored the 2pm turnaround time (an unwritten rule if not near summit) and pushed the clients on knowing the commercial pressures they were under to deliver. It seems that when in sight of the summit people tend to lose all sense (known as ‘summit fever’). I didn’t think I had the cop-on to take up such a hobby, especially when people with all the resources in the world met their fate on the mountain. Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air gave an insight into the commercial side of mountain climbing and what it has done to the sport. Ethics and honour go out the window when money is involved and there are many great books out there highlighting the dark side of Everest.
By no means do I want to ‘bag’ Everest. Maybe Base Camp, maybe one of the seven summits…who knows? But I would like to get back that feeling. Even from those little old mountains in the South Island the vista was unforgettable and the simple act of eating a sandwich or drinking a cup of tea on the summit was elevated to something more special. I’ve no intention of being reckless or gung ho but for me it’s time a new adventure began.