On New Year’s Eve, growing a little tired of the superficial celebrations, and actually a little tired of meaningless college football bowl games as well, I stumbled upon a Discovery Channel documentary following an expedition on their ascent of Mt. Everest. I sat and watched the documentary until there was only 15 minutes left in the year of 2006, before I finally caved in to tradition and the expected festivities.
What is it about Everest? I did the same thing once last fall; I spent an entire night ignoring my chemistry homework, and just did research on Mt. Everest, intrigued by the details of the two primary climbing routes, the obstacles and treacheries along both paths, the mystery of Mallory and Irvine’s disappearance and the extent of their progress beforehand, the successful methods of Tenzing and Hillary on the first ascent, the disaster of 1996 and the debate that raged in its wake, the final discovery of Mallory’s body and the clues it yielded, and the indomitable mountain itself, its power and beauty. What a joy it must be, to stand upon the roof of the world, to be on the highest point of the planet, after battling with the elements and some of the harshest conditions on Earth, for days on end, and then to finally succeed at the top of the world. And what agony it must be, to be turned away just a hundred meters from the summit by life-threatening weather, to be so close to a Singular Life-Defining Achievement, only to watch it fade away just when it was within reach. To lose fingers, toes, or even limbs from frostbite on Everest: is it worth it? Is an ascent of the mountain a vain act of personal glory, or a true triumph of the human body and spirit? Or somehow both?
These days, even relative novices can hire experienced guides to take them up Everest. And who can say that they aren’t at least somewhat tempted by the thought?
I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just feel like the mountain reveals something very profound and powerful about human nature, and the whole thing is really fascinating to me. The Wikipedia article on Mallory has a few nice quotes.
Mallory’s daughter has always said that Mallory carried a photograph of his wife on his person with the intention of leaving it on the summit. This photo was not found on Mallory’s body. Given the excellent preservation of the body and its garments, this points to the possibility that he may have reached the summit and deposited the photo there [therefore meaning that Mallory was the first to ever ascend Mount Everest].
Chris Bonington, the widely respected British Himalayan mountaineer, summed up the view of many mountaineers all over the world:
If we accept the fact that [Mallory and Irvine] were above the Second Step, they would have seemed to be incredibly close to the summit of Everest and I think at that stage something takes hold of most climbers… And I think therefore taking all those circumstances in view… I think it is quite conceivable that they did go for the summit… I certainly would love to think that they actually reached the summit of Everest. I think it is a lovely thought and I think it is something, you know, gut emotion, yes I would love them to have got there. Whether they did or not, I think that is something one just cannot know.
I’m normally a terribly bitter and pragmatic pessimist, but something inside me wants to see Mallory at the summit of Everest as well. As Bonington said, it’s a nice thought.
On an entirely separate tangent (as if tangents can actually be completely separate, haha, oh my goodness did I really just point that out), the Teenage Fanclub song ‘Mount Everest’ is so good, among my favorite songs. The long coda with the distorted electric guitar and hammered dulcimer (maybe?) just gets me every time. Maybe that’s trivializing this whole thing, haha.
- Video of a space shuttle launch from the shuttle’s point of view, with the booster rockets and the camera then falling back into the ocean. A really beautiful video.
- The 2007 edition of Software for Starving Students has been released. It’s free, and useful!
- Also free are a pair of flip-flops! I have no idea if this will actually work, but it’s worth a shot. Edit: Doesn’t work anymore, sadly. If your order did go through, check your Order Status, and you’ll find that you need to call Customer Service, where you’ll get an apology and a canceled order. If you try and order now, shipping isn’t free anymore.
- Learn the correct (or at least most efficient) way to wrap headphone cords.
- Some guys with way too much free time find awesome ways to throw ping pong balls into glasses, and also quarters into shot glasses. I’m not sure if I want to give these guys a high five, or if I want to punch them in the face.
- US Airways now has an Arizona Cardinals plane! I don’t even know what to say to this, it’s just lolololol.
- Kissing Suzy Kolber has an amazing post on Mike Shanahan’s Masterplan in the aftermath of their unfathomable loss to the 49ers.
- Finally, take a survey to find what your brain’s gender is. I’m pretty much an average male, as it turns out. I aced the opening line test, which was pretty cool. On the other hand, some of these are a little more questionable, like the thumb test. Also, I scored a 1 out of 20 on that empathy questionnaire (hahaha), but then I was way above average on the face recognition test, which is supposed to mean that I empathize well. So how much empathy do I really have, Mr./Ms. Test? Anyways, it’s a fun way to waste time, and time is what I’m sure everyone has plenty of this winter break. Hope it’s going well so far!