Simon Yates is restless by nature. I can relate. Faced with what looked like a conventional life he lit out for the mountains where he suffered an awful lot, but also had some big victories. Flame of Adventure (2001) tells that story, and it is typical mountaineer fare in the sense that there is a lot of suffering along the way, a number of close calls, some fractured relationships.
Adventure is what happens when plans meet reality.
I am never going to climb Mount Everest, or any of the other big Himalayan peaks for that matter. In fact, I will probably never be anything more than a hobbyist mountaineer. It’s risky business, and you do put yourself in for a lot of tough times, mostly due to the capriciousness of weather and the difficulty of navigating through foreign wildernesses.
What I liked about this book though was the unabashed defense of adventure, even when it goes poorly. This is a thing I feel as though I am constantly explaining to people, that I know full well that a lot of my activities will entail not-fun. In fact, I’m usually planning for things to get difficult. On some level the not-fun isn’t even relevant. Life is full of not-fun. I would rather have not-fun while on an adventure, than while sitting at the DMV or at my office job. Sure, I have to do those things too, but my point is that, at least sometimes, I get an adventure to go along with my suffering. I learn something about the world or about myself.
The other thing that Yates is clear about is that this need to go and see what happens is just in him. It’s not a choice thing. That jibes with me too. I don’t need to climb mountains, but I do need to GTFO.
I said before that, as books go, this is typical mountaineer fare, but typical mountaineer fare is pretty good, and Yates does a better than average job, and well ahead of his time, acknowledging the humans who make top-level mountaineering possible. I liked that he made the hard parts seem hard, and that the hard parts weren’t always the steep bits near the top. Copping hepatitis in Nepal, or getting covered in leeches on the approach hike to base camp, it’s not all candy-coated victories and endless vistas.
It’s an easy read, too, a page turner. It didn’t inspire to me climb Himalayan peaks, but it did inspire to keep going and seeing what happens, even when I don’t control all the variables, and that seems like a good thing.