Saturday, February 13, 2016

Being with the mountain

On December 21 last year, one of Japan’s top alpinists fell to her death from a winter climb on Kurodake in Hokkaido. Besides a glittering Himalayan track-record – for which see Ed Douglas’s tribute in the Guardian – Kei Taniguchi left behind a remarkable testament to her philosophy of mountaineering. This took the shape of an essay in Mountain 52, published just days before her death. Thanks to the generosity of Katie Ives, the magazine’s editor, you can read the full article online. It was the closing paragraphs that especially caught my attention:-

After decades of visiting the great ranges of the world, I've learned that I care most about the mountains of Japan. Each season, they reveal different faces. In winter, they wear only snow and ice and rock. They become luminous and quiet—although it's not easy to reach their heart in the deep drifts and the storms. A meter of snow can fall overnight. A swift blizzard can trap you. You inevitably have to face your weakness. How will you overcome it? The answer lies somewhere between the austerity of nature and your own ability. It's as if the entire scheme of existence plays out in a brief period of time. This harsh grace helps me grow the most.

From spring to autumn, there's an abundance of life. It's then that I like to be in the mountains by myself, catching fish, drinking stream water and picking mushrooms, nuts and wild grapes. I long to cross range after range, to venture ever deeper into the cradle of the wild.

The mountains have taken some of my friends' lives. But they have also shown me new life: the births of animals; the budding of flowers; the spreading of the vast, open air. The new dreams of lines and art that some- one might create—those are also essential elements of this vitality. For a climber, if there is no artistry, no beauty in alpinism, then there is no life.

In Japan, people have worshipped mountains since ancient times. These days, I enter the hills wishing to be accepted by the
yama no kami, the mountain gods. I ask to return safely, to be given some experience of beauty and to be taught some good way to shape my own life.

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