Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Naming Mountains

Here's a remote, unnamed peak on the Glacial Lake / upper Cobblestone River divide that you want to climb. You carry an 80 lb. sack of climbing gear from the Kougarak Road for two brutal days across tussock and swamp, only to CHICKEN OUT at the base of the intimidating summit tor.
You do this again a year later from the other side (the one shown in this photo, the western, Glacial Lake side) and you can't even reach the summit tor, the mountain is so convoluted and riven with chasms, you CHICKEN OUT of the 8 pitches of soloing up and down over death choss that it would take just to get over to the summit tor.
At the end of the summer you do the 80 lb. pack thing again from the Kougarak Road, unaware you are compressing a disk in your lumbar region. You get 35 feet up the summit tor before CHICKENING OUT. The excuse is rain, but really it is the weight of so much solitude bearing down like someone is watching you. It was the age before the SPOT device, before that advancing technological boundary layer found its way into your pack...

Picture of:
The "Sulu Tor," third bail, Aug, 2008.
Equalized pins, self belay anchor are
visible. The gnawing solitude had me
standing in aiders on what would later
prove to be easy 5.8 . This is a close-up look
at the tower discernible as the
high point of the peak pictured above.

So, you've slid down its intestines, you've almost broken your leg a thousand time within its recesses, you've been dreaming of it and spraying all over Nome for a couple of years now about it, you have rendered yourself quite at the mountain's mercy, it has forced you to grow and overcome your own utter CHICKENSHITTEDNESS and you have festooned it with ironmongery- (you have even come back now with your partner Andy from Fairbanks, the weight of Kigs solitude suddenly lifted like a cover, and you actually summit the Sulu Tor, two satisfying pitches of 5.8 orthogneiss death choss in a fine setting.)
Picture of: Andy executing a Bridwell, Long and Westbay with the fore-
shortened Sulu Tor visible over his right shoulder, the day after we climbed it in July '09. We forgot to bring cameras on the ascent itself, assuring a successful climb.

So you've referred to this peak thousands of times now in conversation with other Nomens, backcountry Nomens, friends, partners: "Peak 3750+on the divide between Glacial Lake and Cobblestone River drainage," or "next to the 29 on the inch-to-a-mile USGS maps," or "Ever hear about a wall up by Glacial Lake that has a 25 second echo?" When you finally get there again, and you are crouching in the wet miserable tent at basecamp with Andy, the two of you employ only the simplest of terms between you to indicate the mountain above: "the peak," the "summit tor," the "project," the wall. You talk often with Andy of the need for a name for what you are climbing, the name for the climb. The words between the two of you eventually create a one-on-one correspondence between the mountain and those circuits in your's and Andy's brains that are thinking about the mountain. But the both of you are still lacking one certain word, one sequenced pattern of phonemes and symbols, that would easily and efficiently summon for each one of you the neural networks to form images of the mountain.

You cannot ever hear your partner, this is an axiom, a fact.

It can therefore also be logically concluded, that

This is Andy on the Sitamen Pinnacles section of the W. Ridge of a mountain that has no known linguistic antacedent; next he will turn around and through a sequence of obscene motions do a little mini-rappel down that choss gendarme...

A name is needed. A name is needed for the mountain. But you cannot justify this statement. There is no proof stating that a name is truly needed. You know only that you keep on finding yourself in situations where a term for this piece of the Earth's topography is required for quick and efficient communication.
There is more.... this mountain seems to have a personality. Sun, wind, rain, snow, sleet, cataclysmic collapse, avalanche, winter, summer, glacier, nothing, ROCK! All these transforms and entrained processes are happening on this mountain, though it be entropic, it be also prone to sudden surges of entropy. The mountains seems to be satisfying five of Gregory Bateson's Six Criteria of Mental Process. You're not hallucinating. After 20 hours on the go, you felt its presence. Dangling deep in its innards from one flexing Bugaboo, water oozing from your rock shoes, you heard the mountain speak its own name. Though there is no english equivalent, you vowed you would return to civilization and tell all those who care this name.

But when you get to town, you are prevented from uttering the name. Your ego is not sufficiently enlarged, your chakras are blocked, and the chi you gained among the granite runouts quickly bleeds away among the butting of the horns, the fanning of the tails. The paltriness of your achievements is revealed. Who are you to name a mountain?
Besides, you have now forgotten what the mountain said. You must go back....

No comments:

Post a Comment