Ego Integrity: 8/8 Climb if you will …

This is the final post in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. (The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph.) It conjures up the words, risk management, alive, suffering, trust, Buddhism, patience, companionship, hopefully all easy to see within the post.

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime! ….” are the words of Edward Whymper (1840-1911) an English mountaineer in his book Scrambles Among The Alps. These were also the words of my climbing partner and instructor Rich Cross, every time I began to follow him as I made the first swish of my ice axe to follow him up the ice! I learned a lot from Rich, 30 years younger than myself, and I write this partly to acknowledge his patience and skill as he taught me so much and also led me on so many frozen waterfalls and snow clad peaks in the French and Swiss Alps.

During my “gap year” and practice retirement at the age of 55, I had decided to upgrade my mountaineering skills to include serious ice climbing ……. two curved axes, rigid crampons ….. frozen waterfalls. To begin I went on a winter mountaineering course in Scotland where I first met Rich Cross and Kenton Cool, instructors and mountain guides and I would recommend a quick look at those links, especially Kenton who lives only a few miles away. Following this training I started to go on trips with Rich to La Grave in France, a steep sided valley with numerous waterfalls that became solidly frozen in the winter months. This was one hell of a playground for ice climbers and also a “release” from the stressful work I was now involved in with several financial services companies. So, a short flight to Grenoble, a simple drive from the airport, and 5 hours after leaving home I was settled into an Alpine hotel sipping a hot gluhwein and planning the week with Rich. During these trips I slowly progressed from Grade III to Grade VI ice, meaning I was now climbing waterfalls that had some vertical sections. I wasn’t strong enough or skilled enough to climb a continuously vertical icefall, but I HAD got to where I needed to be!

My reason for learning ice climbing skills at this level was because a year previously I had been in the Nepal Himalaya and failed in our attempt to climb a 21,000ft peak because just short of the summit we found an ice pyramid barring our way. It was a measly 30ft or so, but just too dangerous for me to attempt. So, after stomping our way back off the mountain I knew I needed to get upskilled if I was to summit any more Himalayan peaks, and thanks to Rich …… I did it.

Friendships are severely tested when engaged in serious mountaineering; disagreements about levels of risk, which route to take, who goes first, what to carry or not carry; then there is the ultimate in proximity like sharing a tent with someone for 2-3 weeks who snores …. amongst other things, but don’t get me wrong, I was just as guilty as Ged, Andy and Mingma ….. all now deceased but never forgotten! “Trust is Earned” is a maxim applied not only to mountaineering, but my goodness it has poignancy beyond belief when you’re dangling on the end of a rope held by someone else, and we 4 undoubtedly trusted each other with our lives. The same is true if I add in Michael, my son-in-law, who climbed several peaks with me in the French and Swiss Alps. But it was Mingma Sherpa who shared several expeditions with me as my guide on numerous 20,000ft+ with me in Nepal. A simple man, little or no formal education, but a highly skilled mountaineer born within sight of Everest.

I have written elsewhere in detail about several Himalayan expeditions so won’t repeat them here, but overall this was a stimulating and exciting period of my life, so late in life too between the age of 55 and 60 when I decided enough was enough! A lot of high altitude mountaineering is complete “suffering”, aching limbs, breathlessness, coughs and colds, headaches, awful food and poor hygiene, and long periods of waiting in a tent for the wind or snow to stop. Sounds awful! Not really ….. until you reach 60+ and ask yourself “what the heck am I doing here?” No regrets, time to move on to something less strenuous.

{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


Categories: Philosophy

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9 replies

  1. A perfect ending for the series. I thoroughly enjoyed these posts, interesting and well written. You have had a full life. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  2. A visualizing post and could sense the adrenaline rush. You have a way with words and effortless writing which is compelling Sir.

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  3. Never been tempted by climbing or mountaineering. I’ll stick to my bike.

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  4. Can I presume your Cumbria upbringing began your taste for climbing? My own early experience on the N. Yorks Moors did not give me a desire to indulge in similar pursuits.

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    • Yes Roland, it did, by the time I was 23 I’d walked up most of the fells in West Cumbria but always marvelled at the rock climbers I saw regularly on Napes Needle. When I moved to North Wales I shared a large flat with some expert rock climbers and joined them a little, but was no good at it. It was marrying a girl from Nepal that got me going again, bigger stuff, snow and ice covered. I was driven beyond belief so just had to upskill!

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