Why do you climb mountains?

On top of Mt. Pamitinan in Rizal, Philippines
On top of Mt. Pamitinan in Rizal, Philippines

Personal experience would seem to be a no-brainer but very, very few people will trust their own experience against the word of either many people or a single “expert.”

Sgt. Rory Miller on how you decide what is true; from Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence

Much of our suffering come from internalizing society’s “shoulds:” who we should be, what we should do, and how we should feel about them. And, failing to duplicate the expected results, concluding, “There must be something wrong with me.”


We were three hours into Mt. Pamitinan, our second mountain of the day.

My knees were shaking. It feels like I have been sucking all the oxygen in the world – or at least in Rizal, where Pamitinan is – into my lungs. We were in a short segment of the mountain where the rocks are just stable enough for me to stop and rest my hands – and my weight – on my knees.

Why the fuck am I doing this.

We had just passed a scary rock. There was no parallel ground to step on, so we had to climb it sideways. We did this by pushing our feet against some diagonally-stacked rocks, while holding on to hook-shaped ones in front of us.

Who the hell does this.

I am going to die.

These were the thoughts running through my head. I wanted to ask them out loud. What came out instead was,

Why do you do this [climb montains]?

My new friend Allen responded that it’s a difficult question to answer. To get away from the city?

I don’t buy it. I mean, I believe him. He does this almost every week.

But for the rest of the world, why not go to the beach instead? Why do they climb mountains?

If I am to believe the Facebook and Instagram posts, then I guess when I climb a mountain I am supposed to experience epiphanies. That when I reach the top and behold the breathtakingly majestic view, the sea of clouds, and how I am on top of the world, that it is all going to be worth it. All 8 hours of the ardous, streneous, even life-threatening climb.

I don’t think so.

True, once I reached the top, I did think to myself, “I can’t believe this is real.” But I also thought it while lying on the clean, white sands of Calaguas. While sailing the unbelievably clear, blue waters of Coron. And how can I forget the feeling of intense depth and breadth while on the Grand Canyon?

But I felt all this without stress, strain, and risk to my life. Why do people climb mountains?

I don’t know. Maybe for them, the risk is part of hiking’s thrill?

I guess it is a mix of the haphazard benefits of fitness, a romanticized notion of what it means to get away from it all, and social capital in the form of likes and favorites.

Jonathan Pogi's "buwis buhay" shot on Mt. Pamitinan
Jonathan Pogi’s “buwis buhay” shot on Mt. Pamitinan

Kung may tiyaga, may selfie.

– Our Mt. Pamitinan and Mt. Binacayan guide, aka Jonathan Pogi.

Maybe that’s what it all comes down to. The Selfie.

Would you still climb that mountain if you can’t post about it on Instagram? If what you desire is to get away from the city, I imagine whatever you do would still be worth it, even if it doesn’t come with the benefit of getting to tell people how awesome it was.

I don’t relish hiking. It’s grueling, life-threatening, and bereft of benefit. I have been to three, yet I have never had an epiphany while on top of a mountain.

Nor are there any clarities of thought to be had sitting on the beach, staring at the shore, under the moonlight. I have tried. All it did was make me feel like an idiot. What was I doing there and did I really expect the waves to take my worries away? Until when was I going to bear with this undertaking?

Am I being overly disenchanted for your taste? I hope not. Because this is not about mountains. But about why you climb them.

Why do you do it, and does your answer justify the suffering you went through to do it?

It’s about listening to your experience. And learning to trust yourself.

If you don’t find it worthwhile, you don’t. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.