Why climb a mountain?
Look! a mountain there.
I don’t climb mountain.
Mountain climbs me.
Mountain is myself.
I climb on myself.
There is no mountain
moves up and down
in the air.
—Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008)
in Break the Mirror (1987)
and How To Live On The Planet Earth: Collected Poems (2013)
“Old friend Smoke Blanchard and I share the maturing mountaineer’s inevitable challenging of great northern ranges, with early climbs on Mount McKinley and first ascents in the Yukon. But just when one would expect a climber’s reminiscences to begin snuggling into hearth and home hills, we instead find Smoke walking the Pacific shoreline of two states, or across California, or bicycling in the footsteps of the Buddha, or wandering the mountains of Nepal, Japan, or China with the correct local dialect on his tongue. He’s hardly ever home anymore.
“…In 1979 I went on expedition to Nepal. I was crossing a bridge over the Dudh Khosi one day, when I looked up to see Smoke coming down the trail. These days, you’re more likely to run into him in Asia than in the Sierra. Leading treks or poking around on his own, Smoke is at home in Nepal, China, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Japan. Every year he’s gone longer; this year he’ll be home only three months. “Uphill or down, it’s all the same now,” he said that afternoon. It’s not surprising that the Sherpas have grown so fond of Gaga Esmoke, or that his friends there include Tenzing Norgay, who shared the first ascent of Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Smoke says his favorite famous climber is Nawang Gombu, who has climbed Everest twice and narrowly missed a third ascent. Together they’ve been mild mountaineering in Bhutan and India, with what even Smoke calls “a very rough storm on one trip and a difficult rescue on another.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Smoke just quits coming home. I can see him fixing up an old stone hut in the Himalayan back-country, one that the Sherpas considered too high for anything except summer herding. But Smoke would move right in, a blue-eyed Buddhist with odd cheekbones living high on a mountainside — but not a hermit. No, he’d want to be able to walk down the hill to joke with Tenzing, stop in to a tea house for a ration of local homebrew, and cruise the bazaar with an eye for the younger women.
“How many can say that they have fully inhabited their fondest dreams?…”
~Doug Robinson (b. 1949?)
from “Forward” to Walking Up & Down in the World: Memories of a Mountain Rambler (1984), by Smoke Blanchard (1915-1989).
“Doug Robinson is John Muir meets Jack Kerouac, a nineteenth century mountain man on a 21st century journey. A seeker and a visionary… he is that rare treasure: a mountain man who can write, and writes like a poet. His writing is filled with passion, pain and profound insight.” – William Broyles, Jr., author of the screenplay for Apollo 13.
“Doug Robinson, 68, is a professional mountaineer known internationally for his climbing, guiding and wilderness skiing, as well as his poetic writings about the mountains and why we climb them. Closely identified with California’s High Sierra, Doug has been called “the modern John Muir” and, alternately, with a nod to Doug’s own writing sensibility, “John Muir meets Jack Kerouac.” Doug was the 2010 recipient of the American Alpine Club’s Literary Award and has written for numerous magazines and journals. He’s also been referred to as “The Father of Clean Climbing” and was the first president of the American Mountain Guides Association.”