Veterans and Mountain Climbing

Veterans atop Grand Teton, 9/11/11

Back in January 2012 an article appeared in the magazine “Foreign Policy” asking why so many combat veterans take up mountain climbing. The article begins by referencing the question posed to Everest conqueror George Mallory, “why do you want to climb Mt. Everest” with his response, “because it’s there.”

The author seems to believe that at least part of the reason is because it’s a thrill seeking sort of experience that produces an adrenaline rush one might become accustomed to in combat. This seems pretty logical to me. But the author also writes of the “because it’s there” sort of mentality that veterans might take when looking at mountain climbing. A World War One vet, who decided to try and climb Mt. Everest after returning from war, wrote in his book Into the Silence:

But his eyes were drawn to those in khaki, perhaps thirty or more scattered through the audience, soldiers like him who had endured the slaughter, the coughing of guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead. Only they could possibly know what the vision of Everest had become, at least for him: a sentinel in the sky, a place and destination of hope and redemption, a symbol of continuity in a world gone mad.

This also makes sense, probably a bit more than the thrill-seeking part of it. The uncertainty of everyday life while at war is hard to trade in for the uncertainty of everyday life at home. The variables certainly change, but that esoteric feeling of  (sometimes) helplessness (for some) can be daunting.

As the author of the article writes:

Do we seek adventure to recapture the sense of purpose, mission, and camaraderie we may have found in war?

Only the veterans among us, those who have sacrificed the comforts of home to fight in a far off land, can really answer that question.

While we’re on the topic of veterans and climbing, apparently a having one leg (plus a prosthetic) isn’t enough to keep these guys from climbing and summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.


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