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Questioning the sublime in scaling mountains
Should we be suspicious when hearing of the ‘sublime’ in mountain climbing?
Since I was about 18 and got my car licence I’ve been drawn to solo hikes in the mountains. By the time I was 20 I was on a plane to Nepal with months to kill and no job to return to. I had a head full of Steinbeck, Thoreau and other literary and philosophical stuff and a nicely worn pair of Scarpa’s to test out at altitude. I truly felt that the mountains was the place to go and think and find out about stuff. Which is why I was really intrigued by Raimond Gaita’s recent comments on Radio National.

I like Gaita, he’s a philosopher, thinker and accomplished wilderness climber/explorer that I totally agree with in every respect, so this had me troubled, more so because I think he’s totally right once again. Speaking to Phillip Adams about the wilderness, he said the following in response to Adams’ question ‘what can we learn from spending time in that natural world Raimond?’

Gaita: ’well that I don’t know… of course people like mountaineers say they go to discover things about themselves, things like, things to do with the virtues. other times they say its a place where you get a real perspective on things and to put things in their proper place in life. But generally I’m suspicious of that because its just not true of mountaineers, (because) they come back to life and its much the same (as it was before) But when there is a really changed perspective, like a relative sense of unimportance to the things that matter to us, I (again) get suspicious of it… its not like you come back from those sort of places and only feel half the grief you normally would…’

Gaita also goes on to talk about the de-humanising aspect that can occur in the mountains. He recalls an amusing story when climbing with a friend of his - they were descending a steep peak and his mate was about 50 metres below him and taking a piss. Gaita stumbled a bit and set off a small avalanche. His mate was then taken over a cliff with that knee high avalanche and Gaita recalls that his first thought was how amusing it was that his climbing partner had been taken over the cliff while having his pants down. His climbing partner was fine, the safety ropes worked as they should have, but that initial thought stuck with Gaita. 

Anyways the rest of the podcast is worth searching out on Adams’ show Late Night Live. It delves into the romanticism of the mountains but it also gets behind the common cliches and poses some uncomfortable questions - ones that are definitely worth thinking about.
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