On Objective And Subjective Hazards

Here’s how you can truly horrify your entire family and everybody who cares for you, and perhaps to some extent even your enemies: float the idea that the European Alps are not enough anymore, and that you intend to summit one of the 14 mountains taller than 8000 meters (in the spirit of NFN: alpine style, of course). So far, I’m amazed how well this works!

Seriously, for the past several weeks, I’ve been giving this some thought. So far, I haven’t done any real high altitude climbing; I certainly haven’t come anywhere near what is commonly referred to as the death zone. And I’m not even obsessed with summits. More than once, I just walked by a summit less than 15 minutes away, because it was too crowded, or because I saw no photograph to be made, and so forth.

Here’s why I’m interested. Most importantly, a project like that clarifies things. I’m pretty radical in eliminating almost everything I don’t like from my life –– and still, like everybody else, I’m caught up in a lot of irrelevant chickenshit. Going for one of the tallest peaks puts things in perspective. If you take serious anything that does not immediately serve the purpose of getting up the mountain and back down again, you are not going to make it.

In my case, for starters, I’d have to train very hard for about two years. I’d have to take thorough medicals, take a hard look at the weakest links, and come up with a plan what to do about them (I suspect the first thing that might cave in up there is my right knee –– weakened from an old skiing accident). But overall I have the genes for this kind of thing, and apart from that I’ve two things going for me: I’m quite cold-hearted in assessing risks on the one hand, and I enjoy following through with things right to the breaking point on the other.

So, which one of the 14 eight-thousanders would it be? The majority of them are out of reach for me –– technically too difficult to climb even after excessive training and under ideal circumstances. Ironically, the highest of them all, the Mount Everest, is one of the technically “less” difficult. So here’s the rub. I certainly don’t want to be yet another amateur, dragged and pushed up the Everest siege-style, in a set-up that seems colonialist and ecologically offensive to me. Still, overall, the Mount Everest is not inconceivable. A more modest alternative: the Cho Oyu is a lot less popular and more accessible at the same time, and not too tough if everything goes well.

At his point, I’d say the chances that I’ll actually follow through with this are remote. Much speaks against the Himalayas, most importantly perhaps the lack of Italian food. But if NFN at some point in the future temporarily turned into a blog on high altitude mountaineering, you’ve been forewarned!

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