Beyond the Mountain - By Steve House - A book review
Disclaimer: This book, Beyond the Mountain, by Steve House was given to me by a Patagonia Press representative with no commitment from me to blog about it. The following review is my honest opinion of my experience reading the book. --- Not to compare myself to Steve House, an exceptional athlete 100% dedicated to his craft, but a lot of the emotions he goes through and much of the satisfaction and pains really resonated with me as I read the book.
Beyond the Mountain explores Steve House's evolution from someone with a passion for climbing to one of the premiere climbers of all time. I don't want to get into the details of the book, such as specific climbs or what came first. What I wanted to discuss what the spirit of the book and pull out some key quotations that spoke to me.
Steve talks about the thrill of taking a look at a mountain and wondering if and how he would get up. And down. How he continually carries less gear, sacrificing safety for speed. How he constantly wants to achieve more, at the cost of his relationships.
"I’ve watched myself crawl, belly-flat, across a mountainous landscape of fear. Climbing has shown me that I am all of these things: strong and weak, brave and cowardly, both immune to and at the mercy of the fear of death, all at the same time."
All things being relative, I've put myself in situations where I've had to prove to myself that I can go beyond what I feel is comfortable and reasonable. This brings to mind day three of my trip to Mount Whitney, where the PD and I hiked from 8AM to 9:45PM, really digging down deep in order to scale a sliding wall of talus towards the summit of Mount Whitney and then making the long trek down to Whitney Portal. Like Ben Stiller said, "I don't even remember when I wasn't doing this, in my life." Climbers are victorious, yet humbled by what it takes out of them to accomplish what they aim to do.
"I was lucky. My right leg will never be the same. But I will pay more attention next time. It’s the easy ground that kills you."
This passage really speaks to how the mind works while hiking. On the way up, you are aware, you are searching for the way or wondering what's around the next turn. On the way down, when you aren't breathing so heavily, and you are thinking about getting your shoes off and drinking something cold, your foot invariably steps on the wrong rock and your roll your ankle. Like he says above, it's the difficult portions that receive your critical attention, and you should also be vigilant when it's easy, too.
“In that moment, I understand that on the outer edge of infinity lies nothingness, that in the instant I achieve my objective, and discover my true self, both are lost.”
This passage hit me to the core. I am a hiker, but a key distinction is that I am a peakpagger. I like to get to the top of things. That is the end game. When the PD suggested that we go to the Grand Canyon for one of our summer backpacking trips, I clenched my fingers and didn't show much enthusiasm. I realize that I was hesitant to go since there were no peaks to climb.
I spend my time before each hike memorizing the maps and understanding what I need to know to get to the top of the mountain. Now, my adventures don't include ice climbing or (typically) life-threatening exposure like Steve's, but I form a plan and then I execute. I climb to the peak and enjoy the view. I enjoy the feeling of success. I am elated. The view is the reward.
However, within seconds, I am already thinking about the rest of my day. I am thinking about my family below. 10 minutes before, I had summit fever and would push through chest-high manzanita to get to the summit, skin-be-damned. Now I am at the top, so now what?
“Action is the message. Success is found in the process”
This is the answer to that question. Enjoy the ride up and down the mountain, too, as the joy found at the top is only a fraction of the experience.
“I move slowly, arching my back to take in the light and the scenery. I stretch my arms to bathe in it. Absorb it. It is difficult to leave this solitude and beauty. I cannot stay here indefinitely. Mechanically I slide down the ropes after Vince, reluctant to abandon this state of grace we have achieved, here, together, beyond the mountain.”
The book is pretty heavy with technical climbing jargon, which didn't put me off at all. In fact, it added to the enormity of his accomplishments. There are big successes and big failures in Beyond the Mountain, but woven through it all is the spirit of adventure and what it means, both physically and emotionally, to be committed to exploration at the edge of human capability.