Ah, movies. Is there no end to your ability to show me things that I’ll never, ever do?
This fall, we’re getting The Walk, in which a guy walks on a tightrope 110 stories above the ground. The Martian will feature a guy stranded on Mars, a destination to which you can now sign up to go. (I’ll pass on both of these, thanks.)
And on Friday, we have Everest, the story of an expedition climbing to the peak of Earth’s highest mountain. Sure, they get up to the top OK, but when a killer snowstorm strikes before they can get down, that’s when they run into trouble. Big trouble.
What kind of person would subject himself to that?
Meet Andrew Lock, a man of tremendous courage, a mountaineer of extraordinary skill, and the author of Master of Thin Air: Life and Death on the World’s Highest Peaks (Arcade Publishing, September 8, 2015). Over the course of 16 years, Lock reached the summit of every “eight-thousander” in the world (there are 14 peaks that exceed 8,000 meters, or more than 26,000 feet). As is his preference, he made most of these climbs solo, or in small teams without Sherpas. He’s lost more than 20 climbing friends during these expeditions, and was an eyewitness to Mt. Everest’s deadliest avalanche. And—he’s lived to tell the tale.
Lock makes it clear that mountaineering is a personal conquest. It’s a challenge during which you not only battle elements, danger, and altitudes meant more for 747s than for people. It’s one in which you put your mind and your body to the ultimate test.
“Mountaineering is an apex sport, and as Hemingway apparently put it, ‘all the others are merely games,’” writes Peter Hillary in the book’s forward. (Hillary also a mountaineer, has climbed Mt. Everest twice, and his father was Edmund Hillary, who made the first ascent of Everest in 1953.)
“So why take the risk?” he asks. “George Mallory put it most simply—and perhaps most memorably—when asked in 1924, during a press conference and a succession of mind-numbing questions about his motivations for why he would attempt to climb Mount Everest: ‘Because it is there.’
“[Lock’s] ambitions have been as steeply inclined as the peaks themselves,” Hillary writes. “Because when you are out there—tired, frightened, thirsty—the only real companion you have is you. You are all you have! That’s a very fundamental realization, and not many of us want to go there.”
“That, ultimately, is what high altitude is all about,” Lock writes. “The mountains are a medium through which we can discover who we really are. Altitude exposes our strengths and weaknesses, our true characters.
“It absorbed me,” Locks writes of his journey to the world’s highest peaks, “and blessed me with insight into another dimension of existence that only a lucky few will ever experience.”
Lock, now retired from 8,000-meter climbing, lives in his native country of Australia (ironically, the flattest country on Earth). He’s been awarded the Order of Australia for services to mountaineering and works as a motivational speaker, delivering his insights on leadership, motivation, teamwork and goal-setting.
He also has time to reflect on his amazing achievements and what they mean to him. “Certainly, it was worth the risk,” he writes. “I like to think that I managed that risk as well as I could, but I know also that I was incredibly lucky when others were not. Of course, I shall always feel great sadness for my friends, so many friends, who were lost to those mountains . . . They paid the ultimate price for their quest to know themselves.”
But, he writes, “All the hardships, the pain and fear . . . the loneliness, and that bloody bone-penetrating cold…it was all worth it.
“I was glad that it was over,” he writes about the moment he decided to retire, “but I knew I’d do it all again in an instant.”