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Monday, December 17, 2001

In his book Extreme Alpinism, Mark Twight makes this comment in a section called "Will and Suffering":

Suffering provides the opportunity to exercise will and to develop toughness. Climb on local crags in weather conditions far worse than any you would intentionally confront in the high mountains. Austrian climber Hermann Buhl carried snowballs in his hands to develop his tolerance (psychological) and to increase capillary capacity (physical). He climbed the local crags all winter long, even in storms, and bicycled for hundreds of kilometers on his way to the mountains. It all paid off when he climbed alone to the summit of Nanga Parbat - history's only solo first-ascent of an 8,000-meter peak.

I also seem to remember Twight making some comment about Buhl "putting the hard in hardman" or something like that. I've never read anything specifically about Hermann Buhl, but I think it's time I did. Nanga Parbat has an amazing history all by itself - Buhl climbed it solo for a first ascent, Reinhold Messner lost his brother Gunther in an avalanche after climbing the Rupal Face, and Twight himself barely escaped Nanga Parbat with his life in one of the great survival epics of our time.

People who embody this concept of "indestructible man" have fascinated me ever since reading Caroline Alexander's book The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. It's stories such as these that remind me that, like so many things in life, happiness and comfort are relative. Our levels of happiness and comfort are determined greatly by the tolerances we develop. Suffering because you have to is bad. Suffering by choice in an effort to develop tolerances that will guide you through tough times can be an empowering experience. Some of us have better reasons for going to a mountain than "because it is there".

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