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Dusting Off: Alpinism

As connoisseurs of history, we sometimes find styles, habits and turns of phrase from the past that we wouldn’t mind bringing back to the present, Doc Brown-style. This time around, we’re dusting off alpinism.

It’s hard to know the meaning of our lives.

We muddle through, doing the best we can, but we’re mostly making it up as we go, ignorant of any larger significance our time on earth might have.

So we’re just going to tell you. The fates have guided you to this blog post, and now we’re going to provide you with the purpose of your existence. We’re not even going to put it after the jump.

Your purpose in life is to ascend the tallest mountains on earth, bringing glory upon your name and country.

It sounded strange to us at first too.

It’s a credo we’d like to dust off. In the eleven years after the first ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854, it drove dozens of expeditions up the tallest peaks in the Alps in the 1800s. Sometimes it was for science—experiments at that altitude were quite valuable at the time—but more often it was for simple pride. No human being had stood on the peak of the Eiger, and if you had the means and tenacity to be the first, you owed it to yourself to give it a shot. The real possibility of death was just part of the challenge.

Some peaks were conquered, others weren’t; but the general expansion of human capability drove on. It was machismo at its best, striving towards a sense of accomplishment that can actually better the world. The closest modern equivalent would be the space race…but Neil Armstrong never had to stand up to gale-force winds at 13,000 feet.

In recent years, mountain climbing has become more of a hobby than a calling—and along the way, the roster of unsummitted peaks dwindled to zero—but we think the alpinist spirit has a chance to make a comeback. One bright spot on the horizon is the recent craze for speed climbing, which saw a Swiss gentleman scaling the Eiger in two hours and 47 minutes. Oh, and it’s all on YouTube.

That’s a jolt of purpose if we’ve ever seen one.