watch your language

Are you really ‘conquering’ the mountain?

Mountains, like men, have their history.
They too are born, grow old, decay and die.
“Do they also love?” a character from Mosca might ask. No, of course they don’t love. But they are loved, and with what love!
– Felice Benuzzi, 
No Picnic on Mount Kenya

Why do we use the language of aggression and violence to talk about what we do in the mountains? A mountain is a lump of rock that is subject to certain meteorological conditions. A mountain does not have agency. No mountain has ever killed a human being. Human beings kill themselves in the mountain environment by their actions and their decisions — and of course, sometimes by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A mountain cannot be conquered, because, like Gandhi, it does not resist. A mountain simply is. We ascribe attributes to it: it is beautiful, magnificent, awe-inspiring, imposing, terrifying; and still the mountain does nothing.

A mountain does not act. A mountain does not think. A mountain has no emotion. Whatever fate befalls a human on a mountain, that fate was neither caused nor enacted by the mountain. The mountain simply is.

Humans who climb mountains, telling themselves and others they are ‘conquering’ the mountain, are conquering only themselves. How do you conquer something that wields no weapons – and no, conditions of weather and terrain are not weapons; they are simply natural phenomena that exist whether you are on that mountain or not – and lifts not a finger in action against you? That kind of thinking is what led Don Quixote to tilt at windmills.

Why do we use the language of aggression and violence in the presence of transcendent beauty? Why do we direct words and thoughts of aggression and violence at something we profess to deeply love? 

Because we do love them, why do we not approach the mountain, and thereby also ourselves, with love?

We had learnt that when one stands on the summit after such a climb it is not the mountain that is conquered — we have conquered self and the mountain has helped us.
— W. H. Murray

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