While more renowned for their athletic prowess, endurance, and ability to negotiate large swathes of wilderness or gargantuan masses of rock, snow, and ice, hikers and mountaineers are also none too shabby when it comes to laying down the odd wise, witty, or inspiration one-liner.
The take-home? If you’re gonna go, go humbly. While a touch of hubris may serve you well in many other pursuits, in climbing, hiking, or mountaineering it’s far more likely to get you killed.
The take-home? Everest’s joint-first summiteer echoes many a wise soul with his iteration of the fact that the internal battle poses the greatest obstacle to our success in any venture.
The take-home? It is still unknown whether Mallory and his partner Sandy Irvine reached the summit of Everest in 1924, some 29 years prior to the success of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. What we do know is that he didn’t make it down and that his passion for the peak that would eventually kill him bordered on fanatical. His words, remarkably similar to Hillary’s, redouble the importance of identifying the true character of the “enemy” when faced with any challenge.
The take-home? Presaging the findings reached by science only centuries later, Thoreau knew that nature is the greatest lubricant to the mind’s creative mechanisms.
The take-home? The best our planet has to offer isn’t to be found a short stroll from the parking lot but more likely at the end of a long, lonely trail.
The take-home? Civilization has its merits but none worth denying ourselves time in the habitat our forebears called “home” for hundreds of millennia and which our bodies and brains still crave.
In the grand scheme of things, the places we ordinarily call “home” and all that we term “not nature”—brick-and-mortar buildings, offices, etc.—did not exist until very recently and, as a species, our more natural environment is not within the walled enclosures where we’re apt to spend most of our time but in the great outdoors. Given that our wild places and the natural environment are our “home”, moreover, they are something we should take care of and defend with all the zeal we would our beloved piles of bricks.
The take-home? Nature is a gift that just keeps giving, whether it’s sightings of wildlife, self-knowledge, new friends, new skills, or just reams of glorious natural eye-candy.
The take-home? While hardly groundbreaking these days, back in the late 1950s On the Road author and Beat Generation poster boy Kerouac’s words were pretty novel and certainly not cliche. And despite our familiarity with the sentiment, we all need a little reminding from time to time of the limitations of the status quo—all the better if that reminder happens to come from one of the 20th Century’s greatest authors and the man widely credited with instigating if inadvertently, the hippy revolution.
The take-home? We don’t have to hit the great heights or cover massive distances to enjoy nature’s many wonders.
The take-home? Although addressing his nation’s public on the eve of the anticipated Nazi invasion of Britain, then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words will be of equal comfort and inspiration to hikers, thru-trekkers, backpackers, and mountaineers when in the throes of any of the manifold hardships or struggles their pursuits are not shy in serving up.
The take-home? Certain demands on our time and attention can be ignored or put off until later, but when it comes to the mountains, if you gotta go, you gotta go.
The take-home? Born into an impoverished Sherpa family in Nepal’s Khumbu region, it would have been all too easy for Tenzing Norgay to live out a life of simple husbandry and farming. Instead, along with Sir Edmund Hillary, in 1953 he became the first to successfully summit our planet’s highest mountain.
The take-home? All too many of us view the outdoors as an optional extra to be indulged when our day-to-day affairs are taken care of, but for the sake of our wellbeing we’d do well to rework the ratios to ensure there’s a little more balance between the daily grind and the time we set aside for forays into where the good stuff’s at, i.e. nature.
The take-home? Mountains are impressive enough when taken at face value, but when we take into consideration the countless contingencies that have wrought them into their current form they become all the more impressive by far.
The take-home? Another man ahead of his time, the Greek physician responsible for bringing the world the Hippocratic Oath knew back in the 4th Century BC what scientific studies have only in recent years come to appreciate in full—namely, that nature time equals a good time for both our physical and mental wellbeing.
The take-home? A mindful and meaningful life is most easily lived where the distractions and frivolities of urban life are least in evidence.
The take-home? We live in a society and age where mental stimuli are everywhere and one of the few remaining places where we can truly give our brains a breather and reconnect with our “souls” are the wild spaces that Scotsman Muir—who would later be branded the “Father of the National Parks”—spent the vast majority of his life exploring.
The take-home? Nature, as many studies are now beginning to reveal, has a regenerative effect upon our wearied minds and bodies.
The take-home? Coming from a family with a long history of heart disease, “The Real-Life Forrest Gump” Robert Sweetgall became one of the world’s greatest exponents of hiking in a career that saw him walk the US coast-to-coast seven times, all 50 states in 365 consecutive days, and publish 17 books on the health benefits of walking and active living. And one of the greatest benefits he identified throughout his works? It slows us down…
The take-home? Concrete has its merits, but rarely does it lead to anywhere truly worth getting to.
We mountain-goers are all really just a bunch of egotistical suicidals (!)
Owing to the risks involved, mountaineering is a pursuit that demands a mindset blending a dark mixture of selfishness with a (perhaps subconscious) wish for self-destruction.
The take-home? Mountain-going can serve as both a means of escape from the grim and into the glorious.
The take-home? There will always be a second chance to reach the summit of any mountain—something which can’t be said of reaching the bottom and getting home safely.
The take-home? Legendary Italian mountaineer Messner knew a thing or two about living. He made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest, the first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen, was the first climber to ascend all of the worlds fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, and the first person to cross Antarctica and Greenland on foot. Speaking of his solo ascent of Everest in this quote, he reiterates the sentiment expressed by many mountaineers who extol the intensity, fullness, and purity of life at high altitude and in extreme environments.
The take-home? It’s hard to care one iota for such trifling things as who failed to “like” your latest Instagram post or which of your colleagues pilfered your break-time brownie when you’re surrounded by awe-inspiring mountain scenery or tackling testy terrain in which any distraction could land you in trouble—or a few hundred feet down the way!—in a hurry.
The take-home? The high risk involved in mountaineering poses an enduring riddle: why do we do it? While many struggles to offer any verbal response to this question, the fact that we continue to do it without adequate logical justification suggests it’s one of those things—like love, you might say—that needs no justification and that we do without any agenda or ulterior purpose than the activity in itself.
The take-home? Often referred to as the most famous three words in mountaineering, Mallory offered this barefaced trio to a reporter when asked exactly why he was so keen on climbing Mount Everest. If doing for the sake of doing alone every needed a catchphrase, this is surely the best there is…
The take-home? On a practical level: make sure your gear is fit to task and sand-free prior to setting off (!). Taking a more metaphorical interpretation: take care of the small things and the big things will come more easily. Alternatively: know thy enemy!
The take-home? Author Aldous Huxley’s father belonged to what later became known as the “Golden Age of Mountaineering”. At this time, society came to view the mountains as no longer something to be feared and avoided but laudable bastions and preserves of the sublime.
The take-home? When you go to the mountains, go as a pilgrim as opposed to a would-be conqueror, seeing your surroundings as a sacred space rather than just another arena in which we might puff up our egos.
The take-home? Don’t be daunted or overwhelmed by the size of any journey or obstacle ahead of you. The first step is always the hardest—once that’s taken care of, you’re already well on your way.
The take-home? The social norms, mores, and values we often take to have such grave importance count for little compared to the lessons we can learn from nature.
The take-home? Photographer Ansel Adams shot some of the most remarkable mountain landscape photography ever known. His words remind us of that feeling, known to most who have ventured off the beaten track, of nature’s ability to communicate things that our books, technology, and greatest thinkers never will.
The take-home? We’ll let you choose:
A) Mountaineers are nuts
B) Mountaineers are nuts but in a good way
C) Mountaineers are among that minority of people who actually live life as it deserves to be lived
D) All of the above
The take-home? In a few words: mountains don’t mess around, but a wolf dressed as a wolf is preferable to a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The take-home? Don’t view the mountains as a place where we can escape the hassles and woes of the city or town but one where we might test our limits and achieve what we never thought possible.
The take-home? We needn’t conquer the world’s highest mountain in order to achieve our own greatness.
The take-home? There’s nothing little a little bit of altitude to give you some perspective.
The take-home? In this age where the pressures of corporate sponsorship, client success rates, and the tight schedules of guiding agencies threaten to turn hiking and mountaineering into businesses as cutthroat and ruthless as any other, the words of a mountaineering great who did his climbing in a more conscientious time are a welcome and timely reminder that the wellbeing of our fellow mountain-goers should take precedence over our ambitions and the mighty $.
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Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.