Mountain Challenge for Men – Who Needs Them

If I step outside the door at the house in Andalucia, Spain, and look to the right I see a ridge of three peaks. The one on the left is the highest at 888 metres. It’s a simple, gentle peak over some rough country. A mountain challenge all the same.

To climb it from the house on a round route back would take around six hours. So it’s not a big deal, but I do want to climb it. I have been scouting out the routes and am ready to go any day.

While I have been planning the routes I have been reading a new book on a disaster on K2 in 1996, “No Way Down: Life and Death on K2“. Many of the climbers get killed on the way down as they fight through darkness and cold. They battle against extraordinary odds to get back to a level where the can breathe properly and where they can, at last, sleep.

This is a unique and powerful book. It is a record of a series of conversations with Christopher Howard on masculinity, sex, addiction and relationships. In them both Chris and myself opened ourselves up in a very personal and revealing way. We held nothing back and explored what it is to be men.

I have always loved mountains and I am not the only man to love them. I used to live in Scotland and whilst there spent a few years climbing ‘Munros‘, mountains over 3,000 feet. It was challenging and was fabulous fun. Remembering this time I began to wonder why men need mountains, what is it about the challenge that drives us on. Is it to do with the idea that men can’t love?

For some people a Mountain Challenge is just a tick on a list.

The dreaded bucket list that drives too many people on. The instant fix that says they’ve done something. There is no desire to get involved, just skim the surface and move on. For many of the people on the K2 climb that’s all it was, it wasn’t a real mountain challenge..

Yes, it was a challenge, but a challenge to approach with little pre-planning and little involvement. The leaders take advantage of this to make money and the concept of leadership takes a dive. The consequence is often death, as is seen too often.

In describing the book Michael Kodas a writer on Everest said,

“No way Down is both a gripping read and clear-eyed investigation of the hubris, politics and bad luck that brought on one of the worst disasters in Modern Mountaineering history.”

Hubris, politics and bad luck are not a particularly worthy male characteristics. Doing a bucket list just shows a fascination with instant gratification.

For some people mountains are the ultimate challenge.

Joe Simpson, who wrote the amazing book “Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival“, is a prime example of this type of man. He frequently climbs alone or with a single partner, pitching himself against the most challenging and dangerous climbs in remote areas. He is the kind of man for whom there is no Plan B.

Anyone who has read “Touching The Void” will remember the fight for survival he had when his partner cut the rope that held him above a deep crevasse. His partner had to cut the rope to survive himself. Joe’s crawl back to camp with a broken leg has haunted me ever since I read it.

Joe said,

“Life can deal you an amazing hand. Do you play it steady, bluff like crazy or go all in?”

He always goes all in and never gives in. This is such a deep male characteristic, absolute faith, absolute dedication and a total belief in yourself. His whole life is a type of mountain challenge.

For some people a Mountain Challenge is a way of checking in with yourself.

I would put myself in this category. Mountains are there, mountains beckon to us, mountains are a challenge, mountains a great place from which to see the world. There is something undeniably stirring about standing on top of a mountain looking at the world below. You sense the scale of the world and you see your place in it.

Getting up there is a challenge and is a great way to see how you react to the world. A mountain challenge will show you if you are prepared, if you know what you are doing. Mountains and their weather are relentless and unforgiving. Can you deal with that? Do you have the humility to know when to turn back? Do you know why you are doing it?

John Muir the well known Scottish/American naturalist and lover of the wilderness said,

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.”

For him mountains were to be respected and loved. They are there to climb, to pit ourselves against but in doing so we should retain some perspective of scale, mountains are big, dangerous and fierce and we are but men, no matter what we think of ourselves.


  1. Cheta Urmila says:

    Amen to that! Knowing when to keep going AND knowing when to quit is what makes a great man – and in this case what keeps you alive. Love, Cheta

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