A few thoughts on: Exploratory spirit

What is left to discover, at a time where every last corner can be surveyed and looked at via Google Earth, and where even rock climbs can be climbed in front of your screen by means of Virtual Reality. Is exploration even still interesting?

When the great explorers set sail or attempted to reach the poles, no one would have questioned the interest of their exploration. Prototypes of the “explorer”, such as Magellan or Scott, set out to explore entirely unknown and much, much bigger terrain than we have today. The big, white spots on their maps have become little undiscovered pixels. If someone wants to play Columbus in the 21st century, he or she will have to become an astronaut. That might well be true, but I still think that especially as an alpinist, it is still possible today embrace and act out on one’s exploratory spirit in the mountains.

Peter Ortner and I had just returned from our successful expedition to Patagonia’s Cerro Torre in 2012 when he sent me a photo of the huge Loska Stena north face in the Julian Alps (in Slovenia). Contrarily to Cerro Torre, this dark limestone wall is rather unknown and thus, no ascent, however committing or difficult, would ever be more than a side-note in the media. This thought didn’t even occur to Peter and I. Our entire attention was directed towards the unclimbed part of the wall that promised adventure and unknown in copious amounts. As we departed for Slovenia, all we had in mind was the upcoming first ascent, and the riddle that would come with it.

We would get what we had wished for. The rock was extremely compact and offered few options for protection. Often, snow covered the already few structures that allowed progress. On the wall, we felt “lost” quicker than we would have liked. Neither the summit, nor the base seemed to be in reach, around us, the wall dropped off steeply, and there was no obvious path leading to the top. When we had to deviate from our plan and set up a second bivy on the wall, the unknown had forced us to improvise. It might have only been a tiny lixel on the screen, but it was far and away big enough for a proper adventure. Even though that now meant fear and cold toes, it was exactly what we had longed for. We were content, even before reaching the summit.

I think that the core motivation is the same on all journey into the unknown, no matter whether it is an endless icy desert, an unclimbed mountain or the repeat of a classic climb. And that is why the experiences that such journeys create are similar. Exploring means experiencing, and that doesn’t happen in books or stories. What drives one is the thirst for adventure. At first, questions like “what will we find” motivate us to set off, but in the long run, it is the knowledge about ourselves that keeps us going.

Published in Magazin Bergwelten

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