I wish I had read this story about climbing Mt. Everest before I wrote my post yesterday since it deals with hypoxia, yesterday’s prompt. It also deals with mountaineering which interests me and has since I was a little kid. The article contrasts “then” with “now” with the notion that “now” is incredibly better than “then.” In some ways that’s true. The “jaunt” up Mt. Everest is safer (as long as the climbers have their wits about them and good luck overall, I guess). In other ways I’m not so sure. It seems that Mt. Everest is turning into kind of an “experience” — not sure how to explain that but this struck me as surreal:
As of April 2021, 5,790 people have reached the summit, including a 13-year-old Indian girl, an 80-year-old Japanese man and an American man who has summited 15 times, more than any other non-Nepali person. Over the past decade, about 800 people per year have attempted Everest. In 2019, according to the Himalayan Database, a record 905 people reached the summit. As many as 1,000 people are currently in Base Camp, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.story about climbing Mt. Everest
These days you buy an expedition, guide etc. and you are escorted up the mountain at a cost upward of $30,000.00 which almost makes the highest mountain on earth a commodity and an increasingly commodious commodity. It’s weird to me. A few days ago in a text conversation with a friend I laid out my beliefs about nature at this point in my life. I don’t know if she needed or wanted a lecture (I wasn’t lecturing her, it was more a lecture to an audience of several thousand people who weren’t there). I’ve had some of the most wonderful moments of my life “out in nature” (I happen to think that wherever animals are is nature so my living room is nature) and the good fortune to be “trusted” by some wild animals. I say that and mean it, but I don’t want wild animals to trust me or anyone. The nature-lover I was 20 years ago is different from the nature lover I am today.
Not long ago a woman running in the mountains near Durango, CO, was eaten by a bear and her cub. The bear and the cub were killed so that the contents of the bears’ stomachs could be identified. The woman was running with her dogs — off leash — during bear emerging from hibernation season. As I read the multitudinous expressions of horror and outrage, I only thought, “The bear didn’t do anything wrong.” And, “The bear didn’t get a fair hearing.”
If a dog runs ahead of a person, and contacts a bear, the dog will turn around and run back to its person bringing the bear with it. This is one very forceful argument for keeping ones dog with them in bear country. It was also the dogs running home without the woman that alerted the woman’s husband to something having happened to his wife.
Then…running. I loved to run. It was a consuming passion of my life until I was 55. But a running animal looks like prey, and, by moving quickly, is more likely to surprise a wild animal who might not have time to catch your scent or hear you coming. Also, I KNOW I was less attentive while running than walking. No one can be as attentive when they’re running. If I were to go into bear country now (I might) I would walk. I would keep my dogs with me. I would be very very attentive. I would have bear spray and I would wear a bell. Mostly, I think, I would know where I was. I think that’s the biggest, most important thing. Still, it would be dangerous. We can’t avoid danger; we can only minimize our chances of encountering it.
I spent a lot of my life oblivious. I did a lot of stupid and dangerous things. But the moment when I decided to try to see a mountain lion, I accepted that if I did, it was a contest I might not win. I succeeded and from that I learned lessons I badly needed, not just about how to see a mountain lion (safely) but about life and about nature.
During the time I lived in the mountains outside of San Diego a woman was killed and eaten by a mountain lion. Of course there was intense outrage and many calls to hunt the cougar down and kill it.
The news should have — but didn’t — make a big deal about the fact that the woman had a T-bone steak in her back pack. She had planned to hike to Green Valley Falls, get a campsite and cook her steak for supper. She was living in her head, clearly, not in that wilderness. The kind of fire that could cook a steak wasn’t permitted anywhere in those mountains after the Cedar Fire of 2003 but whatever. I think for a lot of people nature is an idea, the “wild” is an idea. The thing is, it isn’t an idea.
Last fall, when the Sandhill Cranes came through, I had a beautiful, magical time hanging out with them. Almost no one visits the Refuge during late summer into fall. Most days I was out there it was me and Bear or Teddy, on foot, quietly observing the cranes nearly every day. I don’t think the Sandhill Cranes are troubled much by people, but partly this is because our Refuge is designed to give the cranes a LOT of space. People cannot go INTO their world.
But, this spring, when there was no Crane Festival and more cars than ever were here bringing crane tourists who mostly wanted pictures, people violated the clearly marked parameters. The photos I saw were incredible, beautiful, but some were troubling because of that. When they are here in the spring, bachelor and bachelorette cranes find their mates. It’s not as sensitive as egg laying or some other things, but it’s a little sensitive. A couple of rangers (on the festival Facebook page) gently chided the photographers for going out of bounds. A couple of photographers had the nerve to defend their actions which were, IMO, indefensible. The wildlife biologists who care for the Refuge work very hard to establish a world that will keep the cranes coming and staying while, at the same time, giving people the chance to observe those wonderful birds. Boundaries.
So I don’t know. It reminds me of the bit in the Bible that says that humans have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fish in the water, the birds of the air. I guess — even people who reject the Bible — behave that way as if it’s all a TV show.
I changed as a hiker when my hips went south. I still wanted to be out there, but I couldn’t be out there in the same way I had always been. When my second hip went south a few years ago, my dog Bear taught me a new way to be “out” there. I probably couldn’t have learned that lesson any earlier in my life, but maybe I could have. Maybe it’s something we can teach people. Out here one of the best “schools” for that is run by the Bureau of Land Management for young hunters. It’s about the safe handling of fire arms and building a reverent and respectful relationship with nature.
P.S. Lots of people take their dogs out unleashed. Many of them know what they’re doing. This sermon/diatribe is not addressed to you. It’s to all the people whose dogs get lost in the mountains and need to be rescued, or whose poor paws are trashed by (suddenly!) going on a long trail hike on a hot day, or get trapped in talus, or get bitten by a snake or the numerous things that can happen to a dog who isn’t trained to come when called, isn’t trained to avoid snakes, isn’t trained to stay with its person. ❤