ALL over the world there is a new wave of enthusiasm for the mountains. The Alps are an attraction today like never before. More and more people from all walks of life come from near and far. This stream of visitors is, no doubt, partly the result of more availability of leisure, more time, long weekends—all of which we all can enjoy these days, thanks to our affluence; an affluence which enables more and more people to travel. Fast means of transport—the automobile and other modes—help a great deal. But yet the question remains: Why, in particular, are the Alps such an outstanding attraction?
There may be many factors worth mentioning.
The somewhat unhealthy living conditions: of our modern civilization, the cry back to simplicity and to a more natural way of life, the expectation to see and feel unpolluted nature—these were all motivations for the beginning of mountaineering in the previous century. And all these factors are equally, or even more so today motivations for mountain trekking. But a lot has already been written and recorded about all this.
Physical education today is most popular nationwide—keep fit, jogging, the rediscovery of hiking, and many other forms of sport, with a great enthusiasm for using mind and body together in harmony; with an enthusiasm that surely also promotes the destination 'Mountains'.
But there are obviously other factors as well which have their origin in our day-to-day life that is so different from what it used to be. Most people are dissatisfied with their jobs and vocations. Our capabilities are not necessarily utilized in their entirety. There is no more spontaneity. We lack friendship, interest and concern for others. Our jobs let us become more and more one-sided; the body and its capabilities are being neglected—not only the body, valuable talents of ours may also suffer neglect. Affluence apparently does not lead to more fulfilment. In fact, one may say, the better off we are, the more unhappy we are.
In times like these, mountain climbing is not only physical exercise, it is not only to counteract physical laziness and prob- lems arising from our modern way of life.
It is indeed remarkable that mountaineering which serves no material ends, which is of no economic benefit, today generates such enormous interest among people from all walks of life.
* Mr Sanders is the President of the German Alpenverein.—Ed.
'Les Conquerants de I’Inutile' (Conquistadors of the Useless) is the title of the unforgettable book by the French mountaineer Lionel Terray. And it is this which fascinates mankind. In days like these where everything has to be of economic and material benefit, it is this 'uselessness' which at times deserves to be valued.
The enormous changes lately witnessed in this world explain why mountaineering enriches our life today more than ever. Our work and career has become dull? we are 'immune' to other human beings; our attitudes and pattern of behaviour have changed; we are striving ever ahead with ambition, we are success-hungry— and all for the sake of material well-being. The monotony of our daily life; the boredom on one side and craving for thrills on the other. The total lack of things happening in our daily life accounts for our adventure-hungry attitude during leisure time. In circumstances like these it is natural when man feels that his real life can be lived only during leisure time—only then can he be himself; only then can he be master of his own decisions. Mountaineering opens up new, most fantastic perspectives. All these interests and talents which we could earlier employ in our vocational and professional careers can now come to life again in mountaineering.
The body moves; the mind is awake and alert. We are able to think. Here is a challenge for all our talents and capabilities. Man is engaged in his entirety. Our natural balance is being reestablished. And all this is in the midst of the grandeur of Alpine scenery—a scenery that is so extraordinarily beautiful in form and colour that it uplifts us; it conveys to us a very special sense of freedom; it reawakens our sense of beauty that has become so dull in the environment of ugly cities.
Our aesthetic sense and our emotions—which are rarely employed nowadays—are stimulated. We actually feel the rock of nature, we negotiate crevasses, we breathe the special mountain air and cool off in the gushing rivulet. We need a clear head, but also adaptability and an instinct to find our routes. New and unknown talents of ours are being awakened.
We need knowledge and experience—a lot of it—if we want to master the situation. Walking on a glacier is something one must know and it requires our fullest attention. One has to have knowledge of weather conditions, first aid, avalanches and many other things. One has to have a hand for all sorts of practical jobs in order to be successful with mountain tours. All this leads to a sense of satisfaction, quite different from what one can ever have in one's job. The sense of satisfaction to be at home with all aspects of mountaineering, to have mastered a field much wider than the narrow scope of our daily job.
While mountain climbing, one usually develops a strong sense of feeling which is of particular value in our days where, generally speaking, people are somewhat immune to emotions. The untameable joy of having been successful, of having mastered dangers, of having had new visions! Fear, exertion, abstaining from worldly pleasures—all this enhances our sense of feeling. We are experiencing the real naked life.
Mountain climbing can be a matter of life and death. And this aspect again has a particular meaning in our world today. We are normally, more than ever before, insured against all eventualities. We do not take any kind of risk in our day-to-day life.
It is good to face the natural dangers of life through mountain climbing—to live through heights and depth in order to grow, in order to become aware of one's own limitations and in order to realize that we are part of a much larger community and society. To master danger with one's own strength gives self- confidence. But it also teaches us to respect life and nature. The more we tame the dangers that threaten our lives, the more we realize that life can become dull and crippling. In a society that tries to keep death away, the confrontation with real danger or death itself is a valuable, if not necessary experience.
Mountaineering promotes a lot of healthy natural inclinations and talents which are particularly important for our human relations within the community. We all know that among mountain climbers there is usually a strong sense of individualism. Mountain climbers are known to be strong-willed people. But this proves their independent personalities, their sense of responsibility; and these characteristics are as well prerequisites for a successful community life. If you look beyond the individual as individual, you will realize that particularly those qualities are being developed in mountaineering which enable us to understand our friends, that enable us to live in harmony with each other.
In the mountains we are all there for each other. We need each other's help for the rope. The rope, is, in fact, a symbol of team spirit. It is the weakest in the team who sets the tune. We learn to be considerate and to adapt ourselves. We learn to be at ease even without the daily 'necessities'. We learn understanding and respect; we learn to help one another whenever help is needed.
The most beautiful aspect of Alpinism is that it is accessible for everybody. The wonders of the mountains are there for all of us. Whether an experienced mountain climber or just an ordinary mountaineer, whether physically strong or weak, whether old or youngs—all can reach for the experience, each according to his own abiity. All that matters is that one makes use of one's ability.
This is no sport to strive for medals. This is no sport where only the winner counts and where those who can't excel themselves can only watch and cheer. In mountaineering everybody gains in his own way. It all depends on him personally. He only needs courage because every trek is a risk, a trip into the unknown world of the mountains and also into the unknown of one's own self.
Mountaineering can be pursued even at considerable age as it leads to ever new experience and enlightenment. Unlike many other activities it makes mind and body more alert and strong;
Of course, mountaineering certainly does not solve all our problems. But we do develop a different attitude towards life. We get to have a feeling for things that matter. We get to think and meditate and find our own self. We find our own place in life, the place where we belong. Life takes on a new meaning, a new spirit. Mountaineering is one of the great opportunities of our time to prove oneself, to free oneself from the dangerous burdens of a day-to-day routine life. It is an opportunity to awaken within us the forces of creativity and to mobilize them so as to become and feel oneself a part of the universe. It is an opportunity to get away, to find one's own self, to become more humane—for the individual as well as for the community.