I’m drawn to the sepia toned photographs and washed out Kodachrome images of the great Himalayan expeditions of the fifties and sixties. Many of these expeditions were organized along military lines with a few pre-chosen prima donnas supported by a host of just happy to be here worker bees. In the new millennium an expedition leader would be hard pressed to put together such a trip, but nonetheless I brought this paradigm to the meeting. I’d done some respectable climbing and had as good a resume as most, but I didn’t view myself as eight thousand meter material.
I liked Tom at the outset; he had come prepared, and spoke to the two of us as though he were addressing peers. I had arrived at the meeting a cynic, and consequently twisted every one of Tom’s words searching for that piece of convincing evidence that would provide me with a convenient face-saving way out. Tom didn’t oblige, and for the first time I allowed thoughts of Manaslu to begin their slow seep into my consciousness. At the end of the meeting Brian and I listed our mountaineering credentials; Tom immediately invited us to join the team. Once again this is not what I had expected. I had figured that Tom would take our resumes to the rest of the team, who would then hold a kind of secret meeting during which they would scratch their weathered chins, and make comments such as, “gee Tom I don’t know these kids seem a little inexperienced to me.” Nothing had come off as expected. Brian and I drove home in silence. My mind spiraled. Should I do it? How could I do it? Is it worth it? What it I don’t go? What if I do go?
Normally I think with my heart instead of my head, desire always trumps reality, but when it came to the prospect of spending two months and upwards of ten thousand dollars attempting to perform a dangerous and essentially useless task I didn’t have the luxury of such a cavalier attitude. On the first day of September 1990 I married my one and only girlfriend, Melony Matte, and from that day forward my life was no longer mine to lose. Prior to meeting Mel I viewed death with easygoing indifference. I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but I hope there is because I know can stand tall and justify my life, and if there isn’t, well who cares because if you’re dead then you wouldn’t know that you’re dead because you’d be dead. So in my pre-Melony years I figured that I had death beat, you make the most of your life every single day, and when your number comes up it comes up. Mel’s arrival forced me into a more mature view of life and death. My marriage is a serious undertaking wherein the physical death of one would mean a kind of spiritual death for the other, and needlessly risking my life is, I guess for lack of a better word, a kind of sin. On a wet October day in 1997, my life became even less of my own. This was the day I first held my son Sam. To my son I owe my presence. So this is the conundrum of living recklessly: you go out and kill yourself so what you’re dead it doesn’t matter to you, but what about the damage to those you leave behind.
It would have been very easy for me to simply dismiss the idea and walk away.
The risks were high, the rewards few, so why do it? Adventure for adventure’s sake is becoming more and more of an anomaly in a nation where most decisions are governed by the shortsighted financial theory of maximum return for minimal investment – take as much as you can and give as little as possible in return. This bullshit Wall Street mentality doesn’t work in the mountains. Mountaineering offers very little material return on investment unless you profit from pain, exhaustion and disappointment. Many climbers have tried to explain their habit, some with pithy catch phrases others with elegantly worded prose, but in the end it all comes out the same – some are irresistibly drawn to adventure, while others are repelled by it. That’s just the way it is.