Mountains are special. “Climbing the mountain” is a long-standing metaphor for tackling a challenge in life, and reaching the summit is a common euphemism for achievement. “The view from the top”, we are told, is priceless. If you can’t afford a home with an ocean view, a mountain view is the next best thing. If mountains of paperwork overwhelm you, a weekend in the mountains may be just what you need.
The mountain of all mountains is Everest, positioned in the Himalayan chain with its peak on the border between China and Nepal. In May of 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first humans confirmed to have reached the summit. Twenty-five years later, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler reached the peak without supplemental oxygen, an astonishing achievement given the physical challenges of climbing at 29,029 feet. Securing his legacy as the greatest climber ever, Messner did it again without oxygen bottles in 1980, this time solo.
Another 21 years had passed when Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person (and so far, the last) to summit the world’s highest peak. Although I once had the privilege of chatting briefly with Erik at a wedding reception, I will never be a climber. When we owned a ski condo in Colorado, just carrying groceries up one flight of stairs left me gassed. The altitude was 9,000 ft. I was too embarrassed to use supplemental oxygen.