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Courting Danger
Mom with a View

Courting Danger

What is the appeal of risking your life to climb a mountain?


Apparently the deadliest mountain in the world to climb is Annapurna in the Himalayas. Although it’s only the 10th highest, the fatality rate stands at 40%, dramatically higher than Everest or even the K2 in China which is purportedly a serious challenge where one in four climbers don’t make it home.

So what is the appeal? Why take a chance with such odds? It’s not a matter of survival. It’s not a matter of money. In fact, not only do you not earn anything, you actually spend a fortune. (I once read that it costs $60,000 to climb Mount Everest and it’s probably gone up since then!) It’s not discovery – many have been there before and, it seems, left their garbage behind to prove it.

So why do it? I think there are two reasons, neither of which speak to me but maybe it’s a guy thing…

One is the thrill of cheating death, a type a Russian roulette, a game where the stakes are the highest possible. I don’t understand this temptation, this desire to embrace risk. I don’t even enjoy its simulated version in the form of roller coasters or horror movies. There is even a delicacy in Japan – fugu – a fish that carries a deadly poison, only served by those who are specially licensed to remove it. But there’s no guarantee – which seems to add to the excitement because, seriously, how good could that fish possibly be? It’s the thrill, not the taste that makes this fish highly sought after and, you guessed it, extremely expensive. Yet perhaps this reason still begs the question.

Why do we want this thrill? Why would anyone feel compelled to court risk to such a degree?

Some passionate mountain climbers will probably disagree but I think that it reflects something more that just boredom. I think it suggests an inner emptiness, a hole inside that’s looking to be filled through adventure and daring. (I find that raising teenagers and trying to marry off my children provides all the adventure and daring I need!)

This is only my theory. I have no studies – longitudinal or otherwise – to prove it. But my guess is that is you lead a rich and fulfilling life, one with meaning and a connection to the Creator you don’t feel the need to affirm its preciousness through life-threatening activities. (I once had a sleepover party for a class of 25 4th grade girls – that was the closest I came to seriously courting danger!)

Although it is dramatic endeavors that make the news, the real accomplishments in life are not the deliberate confronting of unnecessary risk but the determination to face every ordinary day with a smile and optimism. The real courage lies not in climbing a mountain but in getting out of bed in the morning, embracing the day’s opportunities and battling its challenges head on.

Yes, it takes perseverance to make it to the top of the mountain. But then what? It also requires perseverance to make a good marriage, to be a supportive and loving spouse through relocations, illness, job change and loss, raising a family. It demands perseverance to be a good parent – through physical, emotional and psychological challenges. And even though the rewards may be years away.

It may not be as exciting as mountain climbing but it is clearly a much greater and longer lasting achievement. Obviously some people have a stronger need for adventure than others (and you can tell I’m not in that category!) but perhaps they don’t appreciate that life’s greatest adventure of all – to build a home filled with meaning and giving, to nurture a relationship with God – is right here under our noses.

I expect some vehement disagreement from avid mountain climbers and fugu eaters. Bring it on! Tell me what you think in the comment section below. I like to think I’m open-minded (although my husband and children may feel differently…)

July 31, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) Anonymous, August 20, 2010 2:09 AM

it's in the makeup of a person

it was a very interesting article. I have climbed, rappelled, rafted extreme rivers etc. while there is a thrill to it, there is something else as well. There is release. and for people with intense natures, this is, i believe, a very healthy way to release. yes, there is peace, time for introspection and time to bond with the one above as well. As a mother now, i have had to tame my activities . it is a great challenge for me to cope now. i find myself very frustrated when i can't get out there and do something challenging and a bit risky. there is a high i get from doing these activities and i must say a bond with my creator that i feel very much lacking now. while there may be other contributing factors, i do know my craving is even more intense now for the opportunity to climb another mountain.

(15) Anonymous, August 8, 2010 6:20 PM

No word for adventure

Doron, you're right, there is no word for "adventure" in Loshon Hakodesh, but did you know another word that doesn't exist in Loshon Hakodesh? "Fun"! Yes, all Israelis say "Eizeh kef!", [literally, "how fun!"] but the word "kef" is actually Arabic in origin. Really gives you a perspective that, just like we shouldn't do crazy things for the fun of it...we shouldn't do anything just "for the fun of it"--enjoyment is only good when there is a purpose.

(14) DorothyFrancesGoldstein, August 5, 2010 3:10 PM

The thing that's always bothered me is that these adventure hounds so often put other's lives at risk when they need rescue from their thrill seeking.. How often do we hear the news story about the person who drowned after going in after some idiot who insisted on swimming without a lifeguard in risk infested waters?

(13) Doron, August 5, 2010 10:50 AM

There isn't a Word for Adventure in Hebrew

I just learned this the other day. It makes sense, as we really get nothing out of adventure. I have spent the last 30 years of my life snowboarding through trees and powder, mountain biking down ridiculous technically challenging terrain, and dodging ketushas flying overhead from Lebanon. It was all adventurous; however, since there is not a word in Loshen Kodesh (the language that imbues all things in Creation) for what it really was, I believe that it is all an attempt, however unguided and unrewarded, to reach out to Hashem. When I reached the top of one of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado a few years ago, I was elated for days after. I don't think it is adventure that draws us and sustains us in these activities; I think it is our search for ourselves and our desire to connect to the Infinite.

(12) yehudit levy, August 4, 2010 8:08 PM

physical desire parallels spiritual yearning

There is a concept that our physical desires parallel our spiritual yearnings, and our soul is crying out but because we don't hear it we connect to the feeling in THIS world instead, effectively misinterpreting our inner voice. In the example of the rock climbing, one could say that the soul of the mountain climber yearns to reach great heights, but through worldly attachment the feeling is misinterpreted to seek out physical heights instead. I had a friend who lived in a fabulous house, but was haunted by the lack of light (none), and every house she went to see never had enough light. As she became more and more depressed, I realised and told her that perhaps it was her SOUL that was searching for the light: until she taps into the light her soul is yearning, her physical need will not be sated. Another example: someone obsessed with organic/healthy living: the SOUL may feel the need to be cleansed.....

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