I highly recommend reading Sean Wood’s cover story, True Wealth, found on page 22. It should make all of us think long and hard about where our lives have been and where our lives should go in the future. For the record, I feel that without having a phrase to describe my own philosophy, my life has been one of striving for “True Wealth.” In my early 20s, I realized that people who make large sums of money from their work are fascinated with the art of making money and little else. Once I understood that I did not have a similar fascination, it freed me up to pursue my dual fascinations of engineering and being in the mountains without feeling guilty about not pursuing money as an end in itself.
About the same time, I also came to grips with giving up on my dream of becoming a world-class mountain climber and getting into the record books with some astonishing ascents of 8000-meter peaks. I was far more interested in being at one with the mountains.
World-class mountaineers, like people who make huge amounts of money, have a single life fascination that leaves little time for anything else. I have no problem with the fact that some people are built that way. In fact, I admire and respect what they can do because of the way they are—to the point that I can actually defend their lack of “balance.” Alas, as much as I fight the supposed benefits of a “balanced” life, my life has for sure been more balanced than the climbers I admire.
Just as Sean gave me the concept of “True Wealth,” the Italian writer, Paolo Cognetti, has given me another viewpoint with the title of his latest book, “Without Ever Reaching the Summit.” This phrase is so much more expressive than the really boring and mundane phrase of “being at one with the mountains.”
As climbers wander the mountains, they are always looking up to the peaks. I am no different. I could lay in a meadow for hours studying a single peak looking for the easiest route, the hardest route and the most beautiful route. Then, I reflect on how many times these routes have been climbed and who was the first one to summit via one of my routes. It’s in my blood. I can’t stop gazing at peaks and wondering….
So, hiking and even climbing peaks in the backcountry without ever reaching a summit is a climber’s version of Sean’s True Wealth. When no longer laser focused on making the summit or putting up a first ascent, your mind can be freed to reflect on life and why you are in the backcountry to begin with.
I have said for a long time, and in many of these ponderings, that I believe one should be in the backcountry to live in the mountains the way the mountains want you to live. Whatever happens in the mountains is what you should accept as why you are there. Getting blown off a pass, soaked in a sudden downpour, eating cold food, shivering by a fire all night, or enjoying a warm sunny day are all reasons why you are there.