Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Mountains of our mind.

The North Face of Mellizos- Cordillera Vilcabamba-Peru. Photo: John Lawrence.

Occasionally I look at photos taken on my first overseas expedition to Peru at the tender age of 19. The photo above was taken by  John Lawrence, who lives in North Carolina, USA, of the most technical, and most difficult climb we did during the month we climbed together. The photo was taken 45 years ago.
 John is finally digitizing his vast photo collection and we are working together on a book of that amazing expedition to the Peruvian Andes. John and I did the first ascent of the North Face of Mellizos, by the route marked on the photograph.

In the forty five years since we did, from memory, five first ascents in the Andes, we have both gone our separate ways but have kept in touch regularly. John has gone on to be a very respected psychologist and is still very interested in the 'Mountains of our Minds." He has explored the theme rigorously.

I recall John and I on two occasions, being stuck in tents as blizzards raged outside. In the intimacy of a tent at 19,000 feet, where there is no privacy, and your life is in the balance, you think about mountains and the place they have in your mind. In fact, you think a lot about fear when nature takes control of your life and environment.

John was about eight years older than me and had just obtained his PhD in psychology. I remember John telling me that "the mind is limitless," and he quoted the following.

"It is not the chains that bind our body, but the chains that bind our minds that restrict us."

Another view of the North Face of Mellizos

It was John's influence that helped me come up with the title of my second book, The Mountains of Our Mind, a collection of essays, poems and photos I wrote in Afghanistan The cover photo of my book is below.

In 1995 when I was camped under the peak of Mir Samir in Afghanistan, I wrote this poem about the mountains of our mind which explores the way we escape to the mountains from the mess on the plains.

Mountains of our Mind

From the courtyard of our dreams
To the mountains of our mind
We escape the blood and violence
To a white world sublime

Born on the edge of a cloud
I saw snowflakes form
Together we danced a ring of fire
Before the day was born

We travel on a moon ship
Where lunacy dictates
Where love is like a mountain
And where there is no hate

We scud along the summit ridge
Where the updrafts push
I am the King of Kabul
And lord the Hindu Kush

Bob McKerrow (copyright)

The same year as I published my book, Robert Mcfarlane published a book with almost a similar title as mine, 'Mountains of the Mind."

The result is a compelling and affectionate portrait of Man’s changing attitude to Nature at its most extreme.

Bob McKerrow at the top of the North Face of Mellizos, climbing up to the summit ridge. Photo: J.E.S. Lawrence

This attitude started to change in the eighteenth century, when ‘people started for the first time to travel to mountains out of a spirit other than necessity, and a coherent sense began to develop of the splendour of mountainous landscape’. Prior to this, dangerous peaks were to be avoided, and climbing them for the sake of it was considered tantamount to madness (and, to other cultures, such as the Sherpa people, almost sacrilegious).

As the nineteenth century progressed, courting danger at high altitude for the sheer thrill that it provoked became firmly entrenched in society. Ruskin in particular thought that turning back from a dangerous place would result in a slight deterioration of character.
Upon their return to Britain from their exploits, explorers gave lectures to huge crowds in the cities, and it soon became the thing for sons of the aristocracy to be guided through the Alps as part of their Grand Tour.

Gradually, this spirit of adventure, in conjunction with the twentieth century’s advances in transport and communication technology, has conquered almost all the unknown regions of the world. No matter how many people die on mountains every year, climbers will continue to climb, in search of personal fulfillment and victory over the inanimate peaks.

Macfarlane’s book is a classic.
The one we didn't climb in 1968, Pumasillo, Cordillera Vilcabamba, Peru. We got well (over 6000 m) up on this, the north ridge of Pumasillo, and John got snow blind, and we had to retreat. I doubt as if we would have climbed it as the snow was like melting like ice cream, and kept breaking under our weight.

I started this posting with a tribute to John Lawrence who opened by mind to the mountains, to handle fear in a rational way, and above all, to understand the mountains of my mind. Thank you John.


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Alpistan.it said...

Hi Bob,
nice to read your blog.
I was in Mir Samir last July 2nd and I will go back soon, to climb it, probably. Do you think it is still an unclimbed mountain?

Ferdinando Rollando, Alpistan's director, IFMGA mountain guide

Alpistan.it said...

Hi Bob,
nice to read your blog.
I was in Mir Samir last July 2nd and I will go back soon, to climb it, probably. Do you think it is still an unclimbed mountain?

Ferdinando Rollando, Alpistan's director, IFMGA mountain guide