Because It’s There
Do you know who George Mallory is? Few people know who he is. Now, have you heard this famous sentence that he said? “Because it’s there.” That was his answer to a question why he continued to climb mountains in spite of countless failures and injuries. Probably, those three words, “Because it’s there”, were the only possible way he could express how much he loved climbing mountains.
Have you ever had a moment in your life when you felt you were close to death? Some of you might recall the moment when you swallowed a piece of candy and choked until your face was turning blue and purple. Or some of you might think of the moment when you were almost hit by a car when you were crossing the street.
Actually, I hadn’t had a brush with death in my life up until two weeks ago.
On November 13th, at 1am, I left home to go on a backpacking trip with some friends. The mountain that we planned to summit was 10,000 feet tall, located in the South Lake Tahoe area. Since the mountain was already covered with snow, we wore a pair of crampons. Crampons are traction foot gear with two inch long sharp spikes to help from slipping on the snow or icy surfaces.
We climbed for about four hours, and those first four hours were just a lot of fun. We stopped at many vista points — some for beautiful frozen lakes. The icy surfaces of the lakes were glowing and beaming as they reflected the just-rising sun.
And then, finally, we were confronted with the main peak of the day in front of us — Dicks Peak.
Initially, I was at a loss for words. I was overwhelmed by its steepness. The peak was inconceivably inclined and covered with snow and sharp rocks which jutted out here and there. My heart was palpitating so strongly that I thought my friends could hear it, and I felt myself shrinking before this precipitous peak.
Then, I took out my ice axe. An ice axe is a mountaineering tool to help climb slippery and steep mountains. I was holding an ice axe in my right hand and a hiking pole in my left hand. I started putting my steps forward one by one, with great concentration and caution, poking the snow-covered surface with my crampons and my ice axe. I dared not look down to see the path I was making because it was so nerve-racking.
At about three quarters of the way to the top, I realized that the sharp points of my crampons did not do a good job of resisting against the slippery surface. Suddenly, in a split second, my feet slipped. My body was flung into the air. I started sliding down on my chest. My body was hitting sharp granite rocks for about 100 feet. Shhhh-thud, shhhh-thud, shhhh-thud…
I thought that it was the end, and I was going to die. Eventually, my body stopped against a mound of rocks. The impact was intense, but at least I was able to stop sliding down further toward a cliff.
For a few seconds, I checked for any injuries on my body. I did not feel any blood, my face and head felt ok, and I did not feel any fractures in my legs or arms. The bottom line was that I was alive. However, I felt excruciating pain in my chest which repeatedly hit against rocks while I was sliding down.
I shouted to my friends that I was ok, since they must have panicked watching me sliding down, flung in the air, falling down further and finally going out of sight. Upon hearing my shout, they shouted back and came to where I finally landed. With the help of my friends and lots of pain relief pills, I barely managed to hike back down.
The following day, I saw a doctor to check my injuries, especially the cuts and bruises on my chest and rib bones. I got a wide range of tests including a CT scan and an electrocardiogram, called EKG. After a 40-minute-long-but-felt-like-a-four-hour-long wait to get the test results, the doctor said that no bones or any internal organs were affected. Whew! 😥
I am frequently asked a question from my friends whenever I talk about my hiking trips, and I have been asked the same question even more than before when I share my recent life and death experience. “Why on Earth do you climb mountains?”. There is no simple answer to describe my love of mountains. So, I answer just like what Mallory said.
“Why on Earth do I climb mountains? Because it’s there.”
*One of the friends who was with me on the backpacking trip posted the video clip (link) on his YouTube Channel.