I took this photograph in April of 2009. The peak in the center of the frame is Everest, or Chomolungma. We were flying Buddha Air and the small plane was specially engineered for the high altitude. I likely will never get closer to that mountain. Tragically, two years later this flight crashed and all nineteen aboard were killed.
I have a friend, Chris Warner, who has been atop Everest, K2, and many other 8000 meter peaks. Chris is one of America’s premier alpinists. I climbed with him once in South America. It was during a period in my life when notions of climbing mountains appealed to me. Now, I prefer a canoe on Moosehead Lake.
With Chris I summited Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador. That took me to 19 thousand feet and change, the highest I’ve climbed. I don’t anticipate I’ll break that personal record for altitude. And that is just fine. Chris told me that his success in the mountains can be attributed to surrounding himself with highly accomplished climbers; that he learns from them constantly. What I learned from Chris was, in a manner of speaking, a hands-on tradition. It is a highly efficient way to learn anything and I recommend it. If you’re going into the mountains it is especially to be recommended.
As a young man I watched Robert Redford in the 1972 movie Jeremiah Johnson. The real-life Johnson (1824-1900) left the Civil War and went into the mountains, bereft and broken. His life turned on one adventure after the other. Watching the movie in a dark theater in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, I was spellbound. Upon graduating from high school I went to the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah, where the movie was filmed. There I experienced mountains for the first time. And so began a life methodology: turning curiosity into obsession.
One night in the Uintas I encountered a grizzled mountain man. He was a member of a team heading up to rescue an injured climber. They rested at our fire before advancing. The man motioned to the silhouette of mountains against the horizon. “I know what I need,” he said. “I need to see mountains.” I was seventeen and deeply impressed by a man who knew what he needed. Years later I came to understand the confusion that is wanting and needing. His wisdom remains among the profound lessons of my life.