Hinterstoisser Traverse & Death Bivouac

March 6 2010:

Just watched NORTH FACE, a movie about two German climbers,  Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz, attempt to summit Eiger’s North Face. All drama and love aside, it was a very brutal and exposing reality of climbing a mountain in terrible weather conditions. Watching this film brought back the question which I’ve tried to answer many times: why do people scale unthinkable heights? I still don’t know the real answer but I am able to grip two reasons:

1) the euphoria you feel when you reach something you work very hard for 2) pride or ego

It may even be the case that both reasons could be placed in a single category, because, in essence, that “feeling of euphoria” is what feeds our pride.

You may think I am critical of people who climb or are fascinated by it, but that is not the case. In fact, I love climbing and I am trying to answer this big question as much for understanding the motivations of characters in the North Face film as for personally grasping the reason that moves me to climb.

It would be such a pity to know that people sacrifice their life for something like pride of reaching the summit, but nevertheless it may be what moves us. On the other hand, we do so many things in life that endanger our well-being for menial reasons such as carelessness, pure insanity, just plain stupidity or pride of reaching the summit. But I don’t fully buy this “pride theory” myself. I think there is something more than just pride involved in this. I think it’s our desire to get to know ourselves. To push the limit. And although pride is a reward for successful attempt at pushing your personal limit, it is also an immense reward to understand yourself on a deeper level.

All postulations aside, couple other things stuck in my head as I watched this tragic film. Two Austrians, Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer, made two mistakes that not only stood out, but caused a chain of events which led to deaths of ___ climbers ( i won’t say how many because I don’t want to ruin the movie if you plan to watch it).

  1. Wrong motivation – at one point Willy said how he’s looking forward to be praised after they return from the summit. Yes, he might have been impacted by the cold and head injury from the rock that fell so his words could be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless it was said and to me it was a clear sign of his underlying motivation.
  2. Poor judgement – this was exemplified in two ways. First, Willy and Edi did not share the same goals, it seemed that their “game plans” did not match, so I would call this a failure to choose a right partner. Second, they should have descended after Willy got hit by the rock, but he persisted to go and his vision became so narrow-tunneled that the only thing he thought of was the summit. In a mountain-climbing environment, where you need to be very sharp and alert to constantly asses and re-asses all variables, this was a crucial failure.

So for a take-away: there are important signals that can help us set a straight and reasonable course, even in the most dire conditions. Thus, judgement is always above endurance and strength (not to say that you don’t need one of these). And lastly, it’s of utmost importance to be humble with nature. It can overpower everything human… everything. In the end, we’re all products of nature which will decide what to give and what to take so the best we can do is be humble, alert and listen to it.

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