Thursday, July 12, 2018

Alpine readings (2)

Heinrich Harrer on the concept of a character-forming climb

The "White Spider" on the Eiger is the extreme test not only of a climber's technical ability, but of his character as well. Later on in life, when fate seemed to spin some spider's web or other across my path, my thoughts often went back to the "White Spider". Life itself demanded the same methods, the same qualities, when there no longer seemed to be any possible escape from its difficulties, as had won us a way out of the difficulties of the Eiger's North Face - common-sense, patience and open-eyed courage. Haste born of fear and all the wild stunts arising from it can only end in disaster.

I remember a saying of Schopenhauer's: "Just as the wayfarer only surveys and recognises the road he has come when he reaches some high place and can look back over it in its entirety, so we ourselves are only able to recognise and value a stage in our life when it is over." The North Face of the Eiger and the crossing of the "White Spider" were for me an expedition and a stage in my life at one and the same time; though I only realised it a good deal later.

Today I have no doubt whatever about the invaluable contribution a difficult and, in the eyes of many, an incredibly dangerous climb on a mountain can make to a man's later life. I do not believe in a blind Fate which dominates us; nor can I unreservedly agree with Schopenhauer's statement-" Fate shuffles the cards, we play them." I am quite certain that we have a hand in the shuffling. There is nothing new to be said about the behaviour of man in exceptional circumstances of danger or crisis. It has all been thought and said already.

But if I had to write an entry in the autograph-album of the worshippers of blind Chance and inevitable Fate I could not find better words than those used by the Athenian, Menander, more than two thousand years ago. "A man's nature and way of life are his fate, and that which he calls his fate is but his disposition." This truth was brought home to me clearly for the first time on the slope of the "White Spider". Perhaps all four of us were the fortunate owners of a disposition which was the basic factor in our successful climb; training, scientific preparations and equipment being only very necessary adjuncts.


Heinrich Harrer, The White Spider, translated by Hugh Merrick,  Rupert Hart-Davis, 1961


wes said...

Interesting choice of literature. This was one of the books I 'inherited' from Michal Vojta's collection.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Wes: yes, indeed. As an undisputed classic, The White Spider must be read. But, like any strong intoxicant, it needs to be imbibed carefully, critically and in very measured doses...