Roads Rivers and Trails

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Because it’s There: Finding Purpose for Adventure

When asked why he desired to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, legendary mountaineer George Mallory allegedly replied, “Because it’s there.” Does one need any more reason than that? Of course, we all know how Mallory’s story ends- he disappeared on his summit attempt and his remains weren’t discovered until half a century later. It is still hotly debated whether or not Mallory reached the summit of Everest on that expedition, but most adventurers will agree Mallory’s three simple words were a strangely elegant, sufficient answer: because it’s there.

For many of us, our outdoor pursuits give us something we can’t find anywhere else. They make us feel a certain way, a euphoric yet peaceful je ne sais quoi. Whether it be backpacking, climbing, biking, or paddling, our experiences outside leave us fulfilled. We know inwardly why we do these things, why we push our bodies past their limits, suffer through the elements, and emerge with a tired smile on our faces. But how do we explain to parents, friends, and strangers why we do this? For them, Mallory’s answer is insufficient. So we must find the words to explain what drives us to set out on expeditions into the unknown.

I’ve done my fair share of adventuring and found ways to enjoy even the most grueling days. But I can’t claim to have an enlightened answer for why I climb and hike. Truthfully, there probably is no way to accurately describe my ambitions, to ease the worries of my parents with an eloquent arrangement of words about why I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or climb Mt. Washington in the dead of winter. For the uninitiated, “because it’s there” answers nothing. We each have unique and individual reasons for setting out on adventures. I’ll try to capture some of the shared reasons we set out into the wilderness.

I get a certain enjoyment out of pushing my body and mind to their limit and then discovering possibilities beyond those limits. Adventures are an escape from routine, an opportunity to experience something new. The feeling of freedom on a backpacking trip is amazing. It is refreshing to wake up to a mountaintop sunrise and realize you have no obligations- no texts to respond to, no work, no deadlines; your only obligation is to hike. An adventure is not just an escape from routine, but an escape from people. The woods provide an opportunity to release stress, a place where your limited interactions with people are genuine and you don’t have to adhere to social norms. 

The simplicity that comes from living out of a backpack is unbeatable; the knowledge of having everything you need on your back empowers you. The thrill that comes from being 100 feet up a rock wall, looking down on the trees, will make even the longest approaches worthwhile. The sense of pride that comes from sending a route or finishing a trail leaves me wanting to do it all over again. There is a certain beauty to fog sifting through the woods or of an early morning on the river, a beauty that can’t be found anywhere else.

I love starting my day with a steep climb and ending it soaked in sweat; I love the feel of wind in my face, staring up awestruck at the Milky Way from the comfort of my sleeping bag, and falling asleep to the steady murmur of a mountain stream. Time and time again I go out there for the sunsets and waterfalls that inspire my adventures. Without fail, I return from a trip exhausted but content, renewed by my time in the woods.

Our backcountry adventures might seem reckless or dangerous, but they bring us something that nothing else can. No amount of climbing at the gym is as exciting as a weekend at Red River Gorge; an hour on the stair-stepper pales in comparison to summitting a rocky peak. Each time we embark on one of these trips, we feel as if we’re going home. There is a sense of familiarity in the backcountry, even in unexplored places, that implores us to return. 

I’m not sure any of this really explains why we do what we do, but maybe that’s the point. We do it because it can’t be explained. In the end, Mallory might have done about as well as anyone in explaining our adventures. Why do we pursue longer and more remote trails, climb harder and more technical routes, or find faster flowing rivers? Because they’re there.


by: Will Babb