Why do we Climb Mountains? Part 2

why do we climb mountains -the-great-question

This is my attempt to articulate my personal reasons that answer the question: “Why do we climb mountains?” I forewarn you: I am a total master of rationalization — finding possibly logical (and sometimes magical) reasons to develop passionate motivation to do the things that I really want to do, but that might be seen by most as high-risk, unconventional, or flat out crazy. Well, as I always reply: Crazy Good.


This is my top level summary. The intent is to expound upon each of these points. We shall see if that actually happens. Sometimes I like to write, and sometimes I like to go outside and generate new experiences which I can then later write about. So,

Why Do I climb mountains?

  • for the glory of God
    • this is core to my mission as one who has invited Jesus into my heart, and who reads the Bible as my primary scripture. My daily action, my moving meditation, should do justice to the miraculous gift of life that God has granted me… my brief time on this Earth, this wilderness paradise playground, with this amazing mind-body-spirit-temple that is capable of such powerful feats and ecstatic sensations.
  • to prepare humans for the AI Tsunami
    • don’t think you could get out of this without a mention of AI. I’ll admit this rationale is slightly abstract, but I’ll try to summarize it in a sentence:
    • The best way for humans to ensure that they thrive / flourish in a post-AGI world is to excel at being the best, most biologically activated, most socially interconnected, most physically healthy, most playful, most alive humans possible. imho, climbing mountains — or the analogous outdoor activity of your choice — checks every single one of these boxes.
  • to destroy the modern Myth of Safety
    • express the core truth that safety is an illusion
    • the envelope of human experience (and risk) is FAR FAR wider and broader than the imagination of most affluent inhabitants of the industrialized west.
  • to inspire others
    • literally: to encourage people to get off their couches and into the wilderness / great outdoors
    • Like my momma always told me: “Go Play Outside!”
  • to inspire others (via metaphor)
  • for my own ego fulfillment
    • Its true. And though I strive for humility and “respect the mountain” and all that, there are two counters: summiting mountains makes me feel like a badass in an action movie, and when i put on all my gear, my razor sharp crampons, and swing that mean-ass looking ice axe into the hard ice with a satisfying thwunk!, I feel more like I am laying out a full scale assault on the mountain as opposed to respecting her. It’s also kind of nice to casually drop “oh, I went north and summited mount ____” in response to “how was your weekend?”
  • for the calm
    • to achieve and revel in the deep calm state that i inevitably enter into upon my return
    • As I said, the amount of adrenalin that I expended on Whitney was so extreme, that everything was quiet and calm upon my return. The crowds and noise of Santa Monica nightlife used to bother me. But how could that possibly compare to the howl of 55 mph winds threatening to blow me off a ridge-line at 14,000 feet, in the depth of night, under a full moon, backlit clouds blowing by at time-lapse speeds, a thousand stars brightly piercing the midnight indigo sky?
    • and finally…
  • because i am called / addicted / obsessed
    • if none of those other reasons work, i can just go back to the simplest possible baseline:
    • I am *called* to the mountains. I am *compelled* to climb them. To go to the wild places, where and when no one else dares, and to get up to the top. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or a reason. There just has to be a desire… and hopefully, a fulfillment.
    • I like the challenge of the ascent, I like the total quiet of the wilderness*, I like the feeling of the edge of life and death, I like the accomplishment of summit…

So those are the summaries. Now we delve into a little more detail to try and answer the age-old question: “Why do we climb mountains?” Dude. <rant>I hate repeating that question. Full transparency: I’m doing it for the SEO. So that this page might actually show up on Google, and you might actually click and read some of it. In my defense, 99.9% of the contents of this site is my own actual writing (plus a sprinkling of quotes and transcripts). </end rant>

Climbing for the Glory of God

This particular rationale is core to my mission as one who has invited Jesus into my heart, and who reads the Bible as my primary scripture. My daily action, my moving meditation, should do justice to the miraculous gift of life that God has granted me… my brief time on this Earth, this wilderness paradise playground, with this amazing mind-body-spirit-temple that is capable of such powerful feats and ecstatic sensations.

I feel that we actually have a responsibility to honor our Creator, and that we can best do that by pushing this life, and these bodies we are given, to their absolute limits. A high mountain covered in steep rock, snow, and ice seems like a decent limit to push against, neh?

why do we climb mountains for-the-glory-of-god-man-in-prayer-cross-on-summit

Climbing to Prepare Humans for AI

I spent the better part of a year — Sep 2022 to Sep 2023 — learning everything I could about modern AI, deeply absorbing myself in it, testing every model I could get my hands on, and feverishly communicating my vision of an AI Tsunami (a term which I coined after much thought and experimentation, and which has now been widely adopted by the mainstream) to anyone who dared listen.

My first task was to convince people that the human-level AI / ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence, i.e. AIs that are far more intelligent across all subjects than any human) phenomenon was real, present, and not just the stuff of sci-fi.. that it was here, alive, today.

Then a strange thing happened. Sometimes those “convincing” conversations took days, with multiple online demos involved. Inevitably, though, they’d understand what I was freaking out about. And then came the question:

OK, the robots are coming. So… what should we do?

I’ll be honest, it stumped me for some time. I had been so frantic to communicate the cautions of the coming humans + AI age, that I had not taken a moment to think about how we — as individuals, communities, and a collective species — might actually prepare for and deal with it.

I made some early attempts: try 1 — try 2 — try 3

And then, around the time of TED.AI, I had something of an epiphany: This wasn’t about robots, and this wasn’t about AI. This was about humans, all along. And what was the best preventative medicine to prevent an AI Apocalypse?

Healthy Humans. Maximally Healthy Humans. Not just physically healthy. Emotionally healthy, socially healthy, sexually healthy, spiritually healthy, mentally healthy humans. IN other words, humans striving to be the absolute best humans they could be. I emphasise “humans” along with “best” because I am sure, that if we attempt to compete with AI on its terms, we will most certainly lose.

Chess? Mathematical Calculations? Memorizing & regurgitating Wikipedia? Skip it.

Having great friends? Authentic conversations? Exploring the natural earth*? Pushing our bodies to the limit and living to tell about it? YES.

*sidenote: it is an almost certainty that the first places that robots and AI systems will dominate will be the dense cities: places with ubiquitous network connectivity, well defined streets & navigation, built environments, and of course a massive electrical charging infrastructure. And where will the last places they penetrate be? The Wild Places, duh. Yet another reason to venture forth into the wilderness.

So. Why do we climb mountains?

I climb mountains to show humans what is possible, and hopefully to inspire them to get outdoors and pursue the travel / exploration dreams of their own. I firmly believe that engaging in these types of activities — solo is fine, even better with a team — and the ancillary benefits of such pursuits — are just about the best insurance that humans can obtain, hedging against the forthcoming AI Tsunami.

So there it is:

Go Play Outside. 


Climbing for my own Ego Fulfillment

This is not the prettiest or most noble reason to climb, and honestly, it may actually prevent certain victories on the mountain, but I have to admit that it is there and it plays a role. From what I have seen amongst professional mountaineers, I am not alone in this arrogance. Indeed, at times I think hubris, arrogance, and big egos go hand in hand with big-mountain climbing.

why do we climb mountains -to-fulfill-our-own-egos-superman-on-summit

That’s not to say that I like this reason. Its more that I admit and acknowledge it.

Cultivating energies of both humility, compassionate leadership, and respect for the mountain tend to, in the long run, achieve far better results. Because one thing is for sure: no matter how big your ego drive is, it isn’t as big (or as powerful) as the mountain. And you may go on a long “winning streak” thinking you’re the shit, but inevitably, the Mountain smacks you down. And when she does, she tends to not hold back. See: Himalayan Climbing Fatalities.

And remember, by and large: those who died were not amateurs. A good portion of them were the best and brightest climbers on earth… Olympic class athletes who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time (or, spiritually, those who met their maker… who found the end of their journeys).

The Sounds of Silence: a Profound Calm

*the wilderness is not *totally* quiet. Just very very very quiet. Which make the actual sounds that DO come through that much more profound. Forthwith:

On the ascent, there was no wind. There was, in fact, no sound at all. I have never been in a quieter place in my entire life than those three days and nights on Whitney. On the way up, three brief sonic events broke through the silence:

    • a flock of small black birds exploded out of a rock crevasse, circling me as i sat and rested next to Lower Boy Scout Lake. The only sound in the world was the smooth, ethereal susurrations of their wings beating air. Not a crow caw, not a song… just the sound of a hundred wings, frantically beating the air, moving them smoothly and efficiently through space and time.
    • A tree fell. I’m not joking. It was so loud, at first I thought it was a gunshot, or an explosion, or a huge rockfall. But (I think), it was a very large tree. It didn’t last long. It exploded, echoed, and was done. But it gave me a sense of awe, and also a light laugh, as I thought: “If a tree falls, and no-one is there to hear it…?” But this time, this one time, I was there. And I was the only one there.
    • A glacial stream gurgles loudly and flows speedily deep underneath a solid sheet of what appears (and feels) to be very solid ice. Its a spooky sound, because you can’t see it, and the ice feels solid… yet you feel like, at any moment, that ice (which you are standing on, and which your ice axe is stabbed into) is going to collapse right under you, and you’re going to end up waist deep in a gush of 33° ice bath water… That doesn’t happen, you cross over it, and in short time, the sound fades into the distance behind you…

The remaining sounds were all of my own making:

    • the scrape of my metal microspikes on rough rock with each step (well, not each step… more often than not I was either slogging through 2+ feet of thigh deep powder, or on ice slopes)
    • the clink-clink-clink of my ice axe on rock — very reassuring. At the start I thought that would bother me — my backpacking style is basically to tread as lightly and quietly as possible, smooth gentle footsteps of rubber on rock / dirt — but after that axe saved my life a few times, she was my trusty companion. As she was unleashed, the regular “clink – clink – clink” of her spike on the rock was audible reassurance that she was there with me, ready to stab, steady or self-arrest me at any moment.
    • the heavy laboring of my breathing, from time to time. This happened mostly after xtreme bursts of cardio, or segments where I got so excited (“this is the last 1000 feet to… X waypoint / rock / notch”), or, most often of all: points where my feet smashed through the frozen upper crust of the powder, and my body crashed down between the rock islands into 3 to 4 feet of powder. Crawling out of those holes — often through a series of less deep holes along the way, using all arms and legs and belly — took an astonishing amount of effort. Every time I’d get back to the surface, i thought  : “Damn digging out of that single hole feels like i just climbed 100 vertical feet! WTF!” and finally:
    • the deep beating of my heart. When I took the time to stop and rest (which was very very often, given my 55 pound pack and the steep slope and the altitude and the trail-less nature of the wilderness), everything would be dead quiet… and then I’d tune into that “bah-BOM, bah-BOM, bah-BOM” of my beating heart. It was both alarming (at its high rate) and comforting (hells yea, I am ALIVE!).

And finally, there was the stillness. When I stopped to rest. And especially, when I snugged up in my sleeping bag at night. such silence. such peace.

So… Why do We climb mountains?

We typically end yoga classes with Savasana, or “corpse pose.” We have exhausted the body, we have sweated, we have listened to and followed to the best of our ability the instructions of the teacher. We have worked the noise out of our bodies. So now we lay down on our backs, palms up and at our sides, totally vulnerable, totally open… and we embrace the calm, and the silence.

Achieving a good savasana generally takes some work. Not just the yoga class preceding, but a level of trust and relaxation that is not common in everyday waking life.

But in that tent, alone at 11,000 feet on the side of the mountain late late at night, I found savasana immediately. Closing my eyes, I found a place of total and utter peace. I cherish that. I think about it all the time. Trying to keep a little of it, to bring into the chaotic city life of Los Angeles.

Makes me want to buy 40 acres in the Rocky Mountains and have that luxury every. single. night.

Call my bluff. I dare you.


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G R E G O R Y ‘ S . M O U N T A I N S