Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Alpine readings (1)

Mo Anthoine, alpinist, expeditioner and gear maker, on "feeding the rat"

'The truth is, I like an unforgiving climate where if you make mistakes you suffer for it. That's what turns me on. It's like the difference between windsurfing on Lake Como in the summer and off the coast of Maine in winter. One is a challenge, the other is a soft option, something you do at weekends when you want to have a good time. 

Alpinist D. on La Ruinette, Valais Alps
(Photo by Alpine Light & Structure)
But every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. It does you a power of good. I think it's because there is always a question mark about how you would perform. You have an idea of yourself and it can be quite a shock when you don't come up to your own expectations. If you just tootle along you can think you're a pretty slick bloke until things go wrong and you find you're nothing like what you imagined yourself to be. But if you deliberately put yourself in difficult situations, then you get a pretty good idea of how you are going. 

That's why I like feeding the rat. It's a sort of annual check-up on myself. The rat is you, really. It's the other you, and it's being fed by the you that you think you are. And they are often very different people. But when they come close to each other, that's smashing, that is. Then the rat's had a good meal and you come away feeling terrific. It's a fairly rare thing, but you have to keep feeding the brute, just for your own peace of mind. And even if you did blow it, at least there wouldn't be that great unknown. But to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are capable of, I can't think of anything sadder than that.'


Al Alvarez, Feeding the rat: Profile of a climber, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003 edition.


Iainhw said...

Good to see the phrase "feeding the rat" get some publicity. I've never forgotten it from when I read the book 20 odd years ago and frequently pondered it in climbing situations. Last year, when enjoying the delights of regular cold winter swimming, the phrase was also often at the forefront of my mind. I also got a kick to discover that Al Alvarez had also encountered the same in his later book Pondlife.

Edward J. Taylor said...

Amen brother. I'm quoted in an interview somewhere saying that this is what I like best about hard travel, that you are stripped of your usual comforts, and suddenly confronted by the person you really are.