With all the mountain lift and trains in the Swiss Alps during peak season you'd think…
All trips and tours are off. It’s an interesting time for me to think about why I go into the mountains, and why my clients will pay to go with me.
Usually when you talk to people about why they want to get into the “hills” as you call it, it’s to get away or escape. For me it was like that. I had the romantic notion when I was young, in my late teens or early 20s, that I wanted to go and live in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone to be happy. As I started travelling further and further away from towns and cities I’d enjoy coming back as well, enjoying the contrast. If you ask most people they’d say it’s to get away from the crowds, from humanity, from the hustle and bustle, all those cliché descriptions of the rat race of modern life in the West.
If you go to into the mountains in some places it can busy however. Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Everest and these big-name places are all crowded (Ama Dablam was the busiest place I’ve ever been). We actually end up with crowds of people along with us. In some ways though we feel as if we relate to those people much more. At a smaller scale there’s a rapport between climbers but as the numbers increase, people are people and the same things that annoy us in society happen in the mountains. It’s ironic really that we want to get away from everything because really we are everything. We are communities and the way we behave is our culture. To avoid leaving rubbish in the backcountry we talk about “packing it in and packing it out”. We also do that with our beliefs and culture, our behaviour in the hills. We definitely “pack it in”.
At times in people’s lives it’s really good therapy, being in the mountains and having time to sort stuff out in your head. At other times it can be self-destructive or closer to suicidal behaviour, because of problems with relationships or their life that people want to get away from. They go into the hills so they don’t have to deal with it.
If you doubt that, try doing a trip with your partner. There can be great times but other times it can be difficult too. The same dynamics good or bad, that happen at home are there happen in the hills too.
For many the main reason they go into the mountains is nature. It changes the way you feel if you’re surrounded by vast wilderness, where nature is existing with no man-made effects. As opposed to being in civilisation where everywhere you look you are surrounded by man-made change. Most people feel humbled by the sheer scale of nature when they’re surrounded by it. You go to a really amazing place in the mountains and the nature is really abstract, different from modern life. As different as going diving when you’re under water as opposed to being in the air, you get a change of environment. There’s the old saying “change is as good as a holiday” but this is a change on a holiday. That’s a big driver for why we going to the hills too.
As I’m a bit older and thinking about times when I was younger, it was the relationships that I built in the mountains that kept drawing me back. We’d have powerful experiences. Perhaps that’s similar to soldiers who go into combat or people who get into situations where you are somewhat fearful of the outcomes, if your actions could all end in catastrophe given a mistake. In the hills I’ve made mistakes but generally I have been lucky. Now the whole world seems to be having an adventure where we don’t know what’s going to happen and people are going to make mistakes. Some people are going to be lucky and some unlucky. For the first time in generations adventure has come to our whole community.
Let’s hope most of us are lucky and maybe this powerful new experience may give us a new perspective.