I was asked yesterday by Mr. Sarin to speak on mountaineering in the United States, a rather overwhelming topic given the vast geographical and environmental differences in our country. I therefore chose to change the topic. Another reason for doing so is that I feel very inadequate standing before this august group lecturing on mountaineering. Many of you in this room were my boyhood heroes, people whose exploits fired my imagination, whose writings still inspire me. So, in many ways you are responsible for the subject of which you are about to hear, a new use for wilderness.
I think all of who have spent a number of years in the mountains have done so primarily for the sheer enjoyment of them. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to climb in these beautiful Himalaya have usually looked back and declared, "I was really lucky to be able to go!" Somewhere along the line fortunte has smiled upon us. Without that stroke of luck, we would be unknown except, perhaps, in our own locales. I suppose that is why most climbers of international fame possess a profound sense of humility. Many in this room have shared their fame to help others less fortunate than they. We have taken from the mountains, some of us guide in the mountains, and there comes a time when we must give something back to a society, to humanity which assisted us originally.
For several years I have taken young people, juvenile delinquents, blind people, mentally retarded and others to the places where I find peace and decency; to the mountains. There are social uses for our wilderness, our mountains, our rivers and lakes. From Petrarch to Kalidasa to Young to Smythe, men have found new dignity and awareness by contrasting urban sprawl and squalor with the incredible beauty and vastness of our .mountainous regions. Why not try to use these contrasts as therapy for socially troubled individuals? "Aha," scream the conservatives, "you are now going to overrun our wilderness with people." Whose wilderness? Is it yours or mine, or does it belong only to those of us strong enough and wealthy enough to get there? I hjardly think so. This troubled planet may survive nuclear holocaust and food shortages if we use our heads, but is the planet worth saving if we turn our backs on our fellow man in order to accomplish the task?
In the summer of 1972, my small adventure company in Oregon in conjunction with the Oregon State Mental Hospital raised enough money to take 51 mental patients to the mountains. These patients were chronics. They ranged in age from 15 to 60. Their incarceration time was from a year to 27 years. They were schizophrenics, neurotics, manic depressants, murderers, rapists . . . the whole gamut. I operate a series of adventure camps during the summer months which involve climbing, ecology/survival, and whitewater rafting. It was into this program that these mental patients wrere thrust.
We sought to accomplish several things:
To break the patients' dependency roles
To open new lines of communication between patients and staff
To ensure at least one small success each day
To provide excitement and challenge, possibly in a way that most had never dreamed even existed
To remind them that a body could be strong and fit, and be used for something other than simply transporting the head from one part of a hospital to another
To reinstill long dormant imagination and desire
To make patients responsible for themselves and others.
Perhaps a few words should be said regarding institutions for those of you who have had little or no contact with them. Time is measured from meal to meal. Hopes and dreams are for the most part dead. A patient may see a psychiatrist once a month, a psychologist every other week. Most patients have little or no family contact, many have been totally rejected by family. They are alone, frightened and discouraged. An institution is a drab place at best, colorless and foreboding. Funds to improve them seem always to be better spent on machines of war. I have never heard of an institution which is adequately staffed because ratios must be maintained of staff to patient. The deliumaniza- tion process is complete, yet the patient is somehow supposed to improve!
One eminent American psychiatrist once stated that an institution has been successful when it hasn’t harmed the patient any more than what had already occurred. That is a comment which all mankind should rise up against with utter abhorance.
Another problem with mental patients is that no one really seems to know what mental illness is, if in fact it does exist. Terms are applied to certain types of anti-social behaviour patterns. These patterns are also called "abnormal", as if there is something which is "normal". I'm sure many of us in this room have sometimes wondered about our actions and the criticisms levelled at us by those who think we are "abnormal." I have been questioned by many psychiatrists and psycholologists regarding my motives. They seem amazingly preoccupied with my sexual life, my parents, my dreams, whether I climb mountains which resemble phallic symbols, and why I appear to enjoy challenging situations. I can only answer that I wholeheartedly enjoy my sexual relations, got along quite well with my parents, do dream, climb all sorts of mountains, and relish challenges whether they be social, physical, or intellectual. In short, I enjoy my life immensely, do not consider myself any more "normal" or "abnormal" than anyone else.
When one reads studies and accounts of psychiatric personnel, nurses, and other "normal" people who have been put in mental institutions as an experiment in living, only to find that psychiatrists, psychologists, and aides would not believe them, nor let them make phone calls to prove it, one gets an inkling that all is indeed not well in the state of the system. If an institution cannot distinguish a psychiatrist who is living as a patient from a "mentally ill" person one must conclude that either psychiatrists are in trouble or the institution is not performing its function, which purportedly is to rehabilitate.
We in my company who were working on this project chose to prove that there is a better method of rehabilitating than incarceration. Dr. Dean Brooks, Superintendent of the Oregon State Mental Hospital, and I worked out the following plan: we would take patients who could not afford to go out on their own, patients who volunteered (even though they perhaps did not fully understand it) and patients of opposite sex. Each patient would have a hospital staff member, painter, carpenter, nurse, aide, psychiatrist, etc., with them as a 1 to 1 ratio for this first experimental camp. Each patient would be given the opportunity to climb, to backpack, study survival, learn about ecology and row his own boat through rapids. I had 30 professional mountain guides, river guides and survival/ecology people from my staff. The camp was not to be watered down, even though progress might be slowed. We would treat patients as we would our regular clients. My guides were not told who was patient and who was staff, and in some cases there were questions for up to five days as to who was who. The camp was to last 16 days.
I was told by many psychologists and a few psychiatrists that I was the one who should be hospitalized, that all sorts of terrible things would happen and that patients would be driven deeper into their neuroses. I was terrified of doing further harm, but believed in the concept that having a great amount of fun in a new environment with friends (in this case my guides) is extremely therapeutic. A rat in a cage will seek a challenge, a monkey will make a game out of something easy so that the task becomes more difficult for him. I believe that man's desire to use fun and game is more than frivolous time wasting, and is indeed an extension of his being to create challenges he can learn to overcome. That is precisely why men explore new techniques, lands, thoughts, climbs and routes. Why should such a desire be withheld from a person who is incarcerated because of anti-social behaviour? Perhaps the very reason for incarceration was the removal of challenge by family, society, government. There is ample documentation among alcoholics to support such a thesis.
All of us here escape to the mountains frequently, a therapeutic method we have learned. I always come back more refreshed and ready to handle my business when I have been teaching a climbing school or trekking and climbing in the Himalaya, Why not use this for patients? Why not try to re-instill the desire to have fun, to laugh, to be free from regulations, to use imagination, to simply sit under a tree and enjoy the mountain scenery?
The end result of this experiment was that it is now eight months since the camp, and 30 chronic patients out of 51 have been released! One of the patients had been hospitalized for 24 years! It worked. You might be interested in a few stories which illustrate how some of the patients reacted.
"Bill has been hospitalized for many years. He's been withdrawn at the hospital. But yesterday he was approaching more people and talking to them. He walked on the hill climb with the kind of swing he never used before", said his one-to-one partner.
"One withdrawn, reclusive boy who had killed his father would talk to no one, and would not respond to talk or smiles except by turning away as if to hide in corner somewhere. The boy did not want to go rock climbing nor did he want to be pushed. A female guide broke through to him by talking to him in a kind, soft, gentle encouraging way. Suddenly he was about 10 feet off the ground climbing towards the guide above him. Through her encouragement he finally reached her some 25 feet up. The guide responded by saying, 'Joey you did a great job, its fantastic, look where you are. "He turned, saw where he was and broke into a tremendous grim . . . his face was totally alive. From that point on he climbed, rappelled, even rappelled off a 90 foot cliff!"
"An adolescent Cherokee Indian girl, knowing the doctor was alone and awake in his tent, superficially cut her wrists with a rusty tin can lid. She wanted attention and subsequently received it from the guides who discovered her knowledge of written Cherokee sign language. She responded to the guides' interest with hieroglyphic poems and their interpretations. She became warm, friendly, open. She even wrote a poem which got published in a local newspaper.
Another patient exclaimed from the top of a 15 foot boulder, "This is my Mount Everest!"
The mountains do have social value when we use them imaginatively. We gave a lost and neglected segment of society the opportunity to experience something new, and they benefited from it. We were not psychiatrists but interested guides who took patients to our "play pen" where there are no rules except those which deal with safety, no hours, no punishments, only success-oriented activities. Man does not seek order as the panacea of all woes, he seeks challenge and fun. He does not seek to be regulated but to be free and responsible. He does not seek to be anti-social but will become that if he no longer feels that he can give or receive love. It is much simpler to provide challenge and fun where love and responsibility can flourish than to wash our hands off our social degeneracy, declare a human "abnormal", take our pound of flesh and lock him away for therapy which more frequently than not is punishment, pure and simple. If a society should develop where only the utilitarian manufacture of work-easing implements should be tolerated, all of us in this room would be patients requiring "rehabilitation” from our desire to seek challenges in non utilitarian, neutral environment. Who is socially deviant among us, and who is socially correct? Who among us dares to point a finger at anyone else? We are considered by some segments of society to be not only deviant, but harmful and dangerous. Each of us in his own way has been able to answer such accusations or merely scoff and walk away. Each of us is confident enough in our own abilities not to really care if society likes what we do or not. All men, however, have not had our opportunities. I think we owe something to those who need such experiences and opportunities. We made a small begining with our mental patients, and we hope to continue the program, but at the moment we do not have federal funds to continue it. Social programs, you know, which are this simple are always suspect, especially in a concerous monolith known as a defence budget.
The words of a girl patient should ring in all our ears. She had just climbed a 40 foot pitch and rappeiled off a 90 foot wall. When she had removed her sling and carabiners she looked up and said, "You know, if I can do that I can probably solve my own problems, can't I?"