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Are Mountain Climbers Selfish?

Recent deaths of alpinists once again raises questions over the dangerous pursuit of mountain climbing.

An element of selfishness comes with the territory of being a climber – based on the time away from family and friends, financial costs and the mental energy involved in the relentless pursuit of the perfect climb.

However, mountaineers don’t typically go to the ends of the earth and the edge of mortality for the sakes of  bragging rights.

There is something much deeper and existential that drives them.

Family members that truly understand that climbing is a part of these individuals stand to be affected the most if something were to go wrong, but are the first to say things like “they died doing what they love”.

Dierdre Wolownick, whose son Alex Honnold recently starred in ‘Free Solo’ the a rapid ropeless ascent of Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan, noted that she was completely unwilling to take something away from her son that gives him so much joy.

“The higher the risk, the higher the reward” is a well-known phrase but not one that most mountaineers would abide by and it undermines the true motivation for doing dangerous climbs.

Mountaineers are (on the whole) aware of the risks associated with each climb and will likely have friends within the community who have died, most likely dozens.

However – like it is for those who run lights, drink drive, run ultra marathons in extreme conditions, or any other risky endeavours – death always seems to be reserved for someone other than ourselves.

Newly favoured trends of going light and fast — with minimal gear, no fixed ropes and doing the route in a single push —  have made the sport of alpine climbing very dangerous.

Those who don’t assess the risk associated with these methods are not selfish, but ignorant.

But similar to real life, over-thinking or obsessing with death takes away positivity, focus and sense of adventure – all of which are valuable assets in climbing, even if they do obscure risk.

Is it fair to label individuals as being selfish for living and dying doing what they loved? Their unquestionable passion for the sport and pursuit of new limits simply blurs the line between safety and risk – and that doesn’t make them selfish, only human.

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