WHY MEN CLIMB MOUNTAINS
Keeping the bigger adventure in sight
What if my best qualities are also my biggest flaws?
Let me put that another way. What if the traits I value the most about myself are deeply tied to the things I really need to work on? What if they both stem from the same place? The same trait?
I have an uncle who used to say that for every strength of yours you have an equal and corresponding weakness. Perhaps you have a heart that naturally rushes to tend to and nurture everyone around you. That probably means you’re prone to burn-out and could benefit from self-care. Maybe you’re a perfectionist, which means you produce great work, at the expense of being difficult to work with.
I had a college professor who used to hammer home the point of playing to your strengths and managing your weaknesses. I suppose we’ve all got to do that in some way, and if these two things really do share the same root, I guess it’s helpful to know that root.
What I’ve been learning about myself is this: I am an experiencer. I crave new experiences. I have an appetite to see new places face to face, to walk down unfamiliar roads, and to look down every single alleyway. The unknown isn’t intimidating to me. It’s alluring. It’s overfamiliarity that intimidates me. I have a high energy to go places and do things and to have a life that’s simply full of fun and memories, and much like a literal hunger, I can’t help but try and feed this appetite. It would explain why I’m always making lists of fun experiences.
Really, I should go and work for Lonely Planet.
Actually, it kind of makes sense. I think of all the times in high school when people asked me what I wanted to do with my future and I would reply “I don’t know. Something as long as it isn’t the same thing every day.” To me, that was the worst case scenario. To run out of room for growth and expansion and new adventures.
This weekend, we hung around Portland and crossed a couple big items off of our marriage bucket list.
First of all, we climbed up Mount Hood. Not all of it; it was a bit of a comprimise. Deanna was reluctant to go to Mount Hood at all and I was pretty motivated to make it to the summit. We ended up climbing about 4/5ths of it, making it up to the highest ski-lifts but stopping before the air got extremely thin.
Oh, and when I say we climbed Mount Hood, I mean to say that the three of us did it. Ben came with us too. He flew in to Portland from California, and it was nice to have some more company along for the ride.
We made our way up the mountain pretty slowly, and while I was expecting the snow and wind to combine for some pretty low temperatures, it was actually pretty sunny on our way to the top. The sun and the phsyical workload of the hike kept us pretty warm and way overdressed. Every few minutes I had to stop, shed some more of the layers I put on this morning, and figure out how to cram even more of them inside my backpack.
The view on and around the mountain was gorgeous. I really mean it. There was a blanket of fog over Portland, but from that high over the city, we were above it. We could see clearly where the line of fog ended and we had a fantastic view of the Timberline Lodge to keep looking back at the higher we got. Each time it got slightly smaller, and each time we knew we were that much further away from where we had parked our car.
We also finally got to see a Portland Timbers game. I wish I could say that our first in-person MLS game resulted in a Timbers win, but that wasn’t the case. They played pretty underwhelmingly and lost to New York FC, 2-1.
It was a fun weekend, but I could tell that it was pretty taxing on Deanna. I don’t know this because I have extremely sharp gifts of perception. She let me know just before our Uber to Providence Park arrived. “I’m extremely, extremely tired.”
I’m learning this about myself. What I’m also learning is that most other people aren’t like myself in regards to how much energy I have to go and do things. That’s fine, and my personality is neither superior nor inferior, but this just means I’ve got to remind myself that people don’t quite have the same energy or drive to go and do things that I do.
That’s important for me to learn in relationships. In team settings. In work projects. In marriage.
Most definitely in marriage.
Deanna has a lot of energy herself, but it’s not my same kind of energy. She has a social energy, a big personality full of life that can fill up a room. She can get the most reclusive introverts to start sharing their deepest secrets in seconds flat. That’s energy. But it’s a totally different kind of energy from my own.
When it comes to running around from one city to another National Park, she has a fraction of my energy. That’s not to say she has a low stamina for it, just that I can be a glutton for adventure if I’m not kept in check.
So far, Deanna’s kept me in check, and I appreciate it. It’s good for me to have somebody who is in many ways different from me so I can see these pieces of my personality. It also means that this adventurous appetite is one that I have to keep under control if I don’t want to burn her out and drain her. I do this sometimes. I don’t mean to, but it’s something that I can do without thinking. It’s that much of a second nature.
I’m not too unlike our dog, I suppose, at least in that aspect. I get this build up of energy and an urgency to go and play. Often at inopportune moments.
It’s really both a strength and a weakness, and I strongly believe this. I like that I have a natural inclination towards fun and adventure. I want people to feel thankful to be alive, and I do so by living as fully as I possibly can. I think life if way too short, valuable, and sacred to spend it cooped up and doing things that will be forgotten in a month or two.
Plus, I really believe that you learn the most and grow the most when you’re a good deal out of your comfort zone. I think of all the things I’ve found to be the most amazing about people, and I’ve often discovered those things while in a new place, or in a totally different setting, or while trying to do something challenging.
And I think back to all the different people I’ve taken on memorable road trips, that I’ve shared some pretty good moments with overseas. It’s been years but the friends I did those journeys with continue to bring them up pretty regularly, and I’m glad and thankful that those experiences meant so much to them.
In the end, you wind up with some pretty magical experiences.
When we got to the top of Mount Hood, and by that I mean our top rather than the actual top, it was quite the reward. We got to sit back in the snow and enjoy some of the energy bars we packed while watching the way the city of Portland peeks back from in between the Cascades. Even better than the view was the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of having successfully completed a goal.
I’ve always wanted to accomplish a significant mountain climb within my lifetime. It’s a true bucket list item. Everest is a bit too expensive and too demanding for me to even think about, but I know people who’ve done Kilimanjaro, Fuji, and Acoconcagua. Their stories have made me realize summiting one of those Hall-of-Fame mountains isn’t just possible, but that it’s something I have the strong desire to do. It’s something like that same motivation that pushes people to run marathons or ask other people out on dates. You can’t quite explain it, but you know it when it strikes.
It kind of reminds me of that William Johnson quote.
If you think that men climb mountains for the view or the glory or the hero pictures, then you don’t know much about men or mountains.
Though, I’ll be completely honest here, whenever I do get to the top of Kilimanjaro or whatever mountain I climb someday, there will be plenty of selfies involved.
The thing is, I’ve never climbed to the top of any mountain. At least not anything tall enough to feel like I’ve really accomplished something significant. This was part of the reason why I wanted so badly to climb Mount Hood. I figured it would be a good start.
Overall, Mount Hood is a easy mountain to climb, and easy is an incredibly subjective word.
Mount Hood is nowhere near as tall as Mount Whitney to the south, nor is it as demanding as Mount Rainier to the north. In the time that I’ve been alive, though, it has claimed 22 lives. Most of the deaths were the result of ill preparation, avalanches, and ultimately, people underestimating the power of the mountain.
When I read that on the mountain’s Wikipedia article, I knew I didn’t want to have to make anybody edit it this year. I invited Ben to come along, since he had experience climbing Whitney. I tried to see if anyone else I knew with mountain experience might be interested in coming along, figuring strength in numbers. No luck.
Of course that article ended up giving Deanna even more motivation to try and talk us out of the trip. And when her health and safety is involved, that’s the one thing that ends up getting me to reconsider an idea.
In the end, we put our heads together. There was some debate, and a compromise. We’d park at the Timberline Lodge and start climbing. If we got to the point where we felt like we shouldn’t go any further, we’d give ourselves permission to go back. Anyways, no matter how experienced of a mountaineer you are, this should be your game plan. People are specks in comparison to mountains, and some humility in the face of nature is something you shouldn’t leave home without.
It made for a better experience, and I knew that I had made a right choice. Marriage is the bigger adventure. Not the mountain.
For many people, doing things like climbing mountains or going to other countries constitutes a big adventure. It’s a challenge, and there’s a lot of growth and reward to be discovered by going out and doing those things. For me, those things come naturally. In fact, the more difficult thing for me to do is to turn down those opportunities.
It sounds frivolous to say that one of my biggest fears is to live a boring life. After all, isn’t this the same world where billions struggle just to survive? To have enough food and shelter to make it another week? To find safety for their family without having to worry about another explosion in the middle of the day? To say that I fear a boring life sounds unjust, when so many people would trade everything for what I’d consider boring.
The thing I actually fear, is letting this life go to waste. A better way to put it would be to say that I fear stagnation. I am fully aware of the people who do no get to live lives as comfortable as mine. I’m aware of the people in this world who I could never get to explain my need to take risks, while their entire life has been a struggle for safety. But I’m also aware of my deeply held desire to be able to look back at my life at some point and to say, “yeah, I’m glad I used those years well.
That’s why reframing things matters so much to me.
While I crave the biggest adventures possible, the best and most meaningful stories to tell, and the full experience of life, I’m learning that for me, those things are found in the most seemingly mundane occasions.
My biggest adventure is marriage, and the meaningful story wasn’t so much climbing the mountain as it was coming to a compromise during the drive up to Portland. The most meaningful and richest experiences are the ones where you sacrifice and give up your own desires for other people.
This is probably only true for a minority of people, but sometimes the most adventurous thing you can do are things that look incredibly ordinary. It goes completely contrary to my natural way of thinking, and that’s how I know it’s such an opportunity for growth in my life.
After all, I will always seek to live out the most adventurous life possible. That comes too naturally for me. I just need to continue to remind myself where the deepest, richest adventures lie.