Courage to live on the edge

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, for the past month, every time I hear a wave crash against our eroding shore, I flinch. I’m hypervigilante and my brain rushes to worst-case scenarios. Is beauty really worth the agita? Can I take another month of cursing the wicked wind of the west?

Hermann Buhl, after his successful summit of Nanga Parbat, 1953
Hermann Buhl, after his successful summit of Nanga Parbat, 1953

As a distraction, I started preparing an excerpt from Headlong for publication in Medium. The one where we find ourselves climbing the 9th highest mountain in the world without a clue. It got me back into reading about the heroically crazy people who actually decided to climb the mountain to its peak. I came to my story of Hermann Buhl, the first man to summit, in 1953.


We were walking in the footsteps of strong-willed super-achievers, willing to risk their lives for a view of the world from 26,000 feet. When the Austrian Hermann Buhl summited in 1953, he had gone on alone after his companions had returned to base camp. Fueled by a concoction of stimulant drugs, he made the peak too late to get back and had to bivouac standing upright on a ledge all night long, while holding on for dear life with one hand. Had he shown courage or only an absurd kind of say-yes bravado?

I looked up his achievement today in newspapers.com and found several articles about a spirit who supported his way back.

The Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 18 Jul 1953
The Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 18 Jul 1953

His story makes me feel less lonely, less crazy, living out here on the very civilized, 7-miles-to-the-grocery-store edge, fretting over my soggy shoreline. I always wanted to live big, take risks, experience the sublime. Sometimes I have to remind myself that doing that isn’t always fun. (But I’d like one of those friendly spirits, please.) Wine poured.

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