“High Crimes” & Mt. Everest


Mt. Everest, Dramas and Ticklists..And, Another Way
By R. Richards

Drama in the Mountains

I probably would have had the opportunity when mountain guiding for Alpine Ascents International, to eventually guide on Mt. Everest.  Had I the interest to do so, or stayed with the company, that opportunity might have arisen. But I moved away from the classical “guiding life” to return back to my experiential education roots, and started Mountain Spirit Institute.

There seem to be a few **main types of characters in the mountains. The tribe with which I’m most comfortable is the Outward Bound experiential group of students and instructors, who are willing to step out of their comfort zones, “stretch” and allow the place and experience to change them.
Then there’s the N.O.L.S. (National Outdoor Leadership School) student or graduate who tends to be more pragmatic in wanting an experience in just the mountain skills with a touch of “expedition behavior” mixed in and important “leave no trace”.
Then there’s a third group, usually professionals, but not always, who want to tick off another peak, whether it’s one of the seven summits, or Mt. Rainier. They want to say they’ve done it. They’re more interested in the trophy than the experience.

Almost every time I’ve been on the receiving end of someone recounting their experience with Outward Bound or N.O.L.S.,  I’ve noticed a marked difference in how they relate their memories. Invariably, Outward Bound students get this dreamlike look in their eyes, remembering the life changes they had, connecting to others in their group, but more importantly reliving the choice-points they made on their mountain program that made them better humans and community members. They recall the experience with their heart.  N.O.L.S. graduates that I’ve observed, on the other hand, tend to reflect more from the mind, about what technical skills they learned and what mountains they climbed.

Guide, old friend & mentor Willie Prittie, of AAI,  a good example of an ethical leader. Image: Chris Kruell

I’ve just finished reading  High Crimes, The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed.  In 1996 when Alpine Ascents helped pick people off the south col of Everest, ninety-eight people summited the mountain. In 2007,  six-hundred were summitters. Keep in mind these numbers are of summitters only, and don’t include those that didn’t summit or support staff and sherpas.

I think I shyed away from not only Everest, but so far, Denali as well, because it seems the largest mountains on the continent seem to draw that last group I mentioned, those looking to tick an activity off their to-do list – people that may not otherwise be interested in mountaineering, only to get up that one peak, then go back to what they do.  This, I find, is a bit sad.

Mt. Everest unfortunately had been drawing the lowest common denominators in the mountaineering world. While I’ve not been there, I realize any place is what you make it, but the book tells of the shenanigans of those usually found in sea-ports.

Further, I’ve done well, I think, to eliminate most drama from my life. I’ve steered away from people and situations that don’t foster a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately the author Michael Kodas, had drawn me in to such dramas that only come from a *grasping attitude common in the western mind. I felt worn and exhausted after having read High Crimes. Reading a about everyone’s mental position, defenses and attacks wore me out, and I almost didn’t finish the book for that reason. I only persevered because of my interest in mountaineering and getting caught up on what’s happening on Everest.  I almost got “caught up” in the dramas played out in the book as well.

Journaling – MSI Participants in Peru

In the end, it comes down to choices we make. If you’re thinking about mountaineering or climbing, do it for a love of the mountains, and to make yourself a better person, not to tick off a peak. Mountain Spirit Institute takes pride in passing on some of the fundamental principles of Kurt Hahn, considered the father of experiential education. Our programs bring experiential education and joy/peace together by helping our clients connect more to themselves, family and community members (locally and the world) and the environment. Read more about our mission statement, and if you’d like to join our small but cutting edge programs contact us.
*Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now is a good resource for finding out how not to defend, attack, take mental positions and how to free one’s elf from dramas so common in our western world.
** Not including a whole cast of characters in the guiding and climbing community, both professional and amateur.
Thanks to Chris Kruell for the use of his image of Willie Prittie. Click the link to see Chris’s Flickr page.

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2 Responses to ““High Crimes” & Mt. Everest”

  1. William Roth Says:

    Nice article, I haven’t read High Crimes, but people tell me it’s a book with some crazy stories and pulls you into a world you would not think existed. Regarding your NOLS vs. OB feelings I would say you are mostly correct. As a NOLS grad I do tend to talk more about my skill and terrain accomplishments, but I also add in the fact that the experience as a whole changed my outlook on life. As a southern boy on a winter camping course, putting myself that far outside of my comfort zone, I couldnt help but reflect inward most of the time. “I never realized I would be so happy with so little,” is a phrase I hear coming from both schools.

  2. mtnspirit Says:

    Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear NOLS had a good impact on your life. I hope I didn’t come across implying that the NOLS experience doesn’t have as much incredible potential for life changing experiences as other programs. Your comment was a good reminder for me to “clean my filters” once in a while. I recall in particular, the wonderful reading by Morgan Hite, that I and many Ob instructors have read to students over the years.
    R. Richards

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