Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Alpine readings (5)

Gaston Rébuffat on climbing as a natural instinct - and how not to lose it

I had, first of all, to learn how to climb.

I knew how to climb as a child. Instinctively, without having learned, all children climb walls, windows and trees. They do so for the pleasure of climbing and for the joy of discovery, of seeing further. Is this not exactly the same reward that climbers seek in high mountains?

It happens very often, however, that between our fifth and our twentieth birthdays, education, society and easy living weaken and little by little kill the instinctive desires and spontaneous impulses of our childhood. Farewell climbing, escape and discovery!

And if by chance one day, kindled by some wondrous and unexpected spark, these desires and impulses of childhood reappear, the instinct is dead and we must learn to climb all over again. This happened to me, as it does to many boys.

Thus it is that the climbing instincts of our childhood develop. The windows, trees and walls which we cheerfully climbed at the age of five or ten have now become the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc or the Himalayas. Our puny, childish muscles have grown stronger, and so has our will. In like measure has the need in us for fresh air, discovery and conquest crystallized. Austerity has become our way of life, and to make room for it, we have put aside sensitiveness and softness, resolved to remain strong on the threshold of life.

In quenching this thirst for discovery, in guiding this fervour which inspires the early part of a man's life, the mountains have provided for me what others have found in the sea, the air, the desert or the polar regions. These "wide open spaces," which allow a man to find the truth in himself and to develop it in all its fullness, are as close to each other in spirit as they are different to outside view. The externals matter little; are not mountaineers, sailors, airmen and explorers closely akin, for all the variety of their clothes? Are not they all carried forward by the same impulse?


Gaston Rébuffat, Starlight and Storm, translated by Wilfrid Noyce and Sir John Hunt, Modern Library edition, 1999.

No comments: