Putting the family through it - worth it?
You often hear: “It’s better to set an example doing the things you love, even if they are dangerous, and inspire your children, instead of leading a less risky life.” Or, that a climber’s family and friends would somehow find solace knowing that she/he died doing “what she/he loved”; to me that’s scant consolation to the children. Both these statements do not really capture the meaning of what it means to seek adventure in the mountains as a husband and father. For me, it’s simply a case of spending time in the mountains: to play in, be in awe of, a place that provides strength to body and soul alike. If I’m not in the mountains then I become a drag to myself, and those around me.
I don’t have a delusion that climbing an 8,000m peak in the Himalaya is safer than everyday high-risk activities like driving. But I do believe the sum rewards of an all out Himalayan adventure outweigh reasonable risks to my family and me. Having this goal is uplifting, and makes me a better husband and father. In fact, fatherhood in many ways is like planning for a Himalayan adventure. Nothing truly prepares you for either: all the expert explanations, advice from friends, instructional courses and manuals — nothing does fatherhood and the Himalaya justice. I’ve learned this firsthand after 5 years at the first and multiple expeditions to the second (albeit smaller peaks). In the end, climbing in the Himalayas and fatherhood come down to one thing: until you’re there yourself, staring wide-eyed and terrified, you have absolutely no idea what it’s like. Combining two such powerful and all-consuming life experiences will always be a challenge (or a curse), and both experiences share the same challenge at the center of a happy, fulfilled life: dealing with risk.
Are being a husband and father and planning an expedition to the Himalaya conflicting passions? Ambition and passion makes me want to excel at both, an impossible task because time spent on one takes away from time spent on the other. I’m conscious of my family, and I actively let their presence influence what I do. The last time I was on a Himalayan expedition was 2012, so these trips are not regular. I also find myself doing less frequent multi-day mountain trips, but maximizing the days out. When I was pre-kids, I was definitely willing to do more, go farther, more often, go at a moments notice, and if I am honest I never felt the risks were that high, but most times in hindsight I have to say I was way out of my depth! When I climbed Ama Dablam (6972m) in 2012, and recognizing the enormity of what I had on the line at home was a really good thing. It changes your focus; if things get weird in the mountains you sense it faster, and it helps you focus on what’s really important. And so I think whether its age and/or kids, my risk tolerance has changed. My mantra before starting each day in the mountains is: “it’s a round trip”. What has also changed is that my wife and I are not doing multi-day mountain tours together. This winter will be interesting as my wife is ready to ski again, after the recent birth of our second child, and like many mountain activities recently, it will be separately – more pragmatic. Like most other families, our time budget is tight.
I agree that ours kids will absolutely do better to have us around, and I fully grasp that watching my children grow up is one of the greatest gifts. It’s an adventure beyond anything, even the Himalayas. Its both the consolation for growing old and the reason I look forward (sort of) to growing old. But, I also know that if I don’t see through my goals, I’m not going to be complete with my family. My wife often accuses me of being selfish, and she’s 100% correct. I try to mitigate the risks and time away as best as I can. I don’t see that I have to inspire my kids to go to the Himalayas, but I do live this life and hope my kids do see at some point that living the life you truly WANT is worthwhile. I personally hope that my kids get into skiing, or maybe into triathlons or something, but I hope they find a passion. For me it’s about living a meaningful life, and for me that includes big mountains. This winter I plan to ski a lot with my five year-old. Last winter he was just starting to get the hang of it and it was awesome to share the sport together. That’s also very much in the equation for me. My wife and kids are very important but so is my sanity. They are better off with a father who shows them by example how to live an intentional life. I also hope they see life is for living, not just for surviving.
In short, if you are a father and a husband, there are many compelling reasons not to plan expeditions to the Himalaya. As parents, we strive for a precarious balance between nurturing our children but encouraging them to take wing and fly. As someone who is planning an 8,000m adventure, it’s the same balance between safety and challenge. So, is it worth putting the family through it? It’s all about balancing our personal needs with those of our family. I have a dream that one day soon I’ll be back skiing with my kids, as a family, exhilarated from the high Himalaya, and exhilarated from watching my kids develop into much better skiers than me.