Peak Flow

 Mick Conefrey|   | 

Doug Scott answers the question: Why Climb?

Why Climb?

It's the age old question that mountaineers hate to address but are constantly are pulled back to. If you need to ask you'll never know, and if you know you'll never need to ask. 

Doug Scott

I heard Doug Scott lecture yesterday and then interviewed him for an article that I'm writing on the British and Everest. He was lecturing on his famous descent of the Ogre, a huge peak in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. He broke both his legs on the way down and had to abseil and then crawl down the mountain. It was an amazing feat, an epic of endurance and stoicism. Afterwards I talked to him about his ascent of the South West Face of Everest in 1975.


I was struck by his descriptions of climbing at high altitude in the Himalayas. Even though he was taking on immense challenges, climbing rock faces that looked impossible to the untrained eye, he always had an inner confidence that he would succeed. This confidence came from the feeling that he had served a long apprenticeship on lesser peaks elsewhere in the world. It struck me though that his description of climbing at high altitude chimed with the idea of 'flow', from experimental psychology

Peak flow

According experimental psychologists like Maslow, 'flow' describes the state of absorption and immersion, of someone engaged in an activity that both requires mental concentration and physical co-ordination. 'Peak flow' as the name suggests, is reserved for activities where the engagement is so intense that it has a spiritual, transcendental dimension. For many of us mere mortals, we commonly experience 'flow' when driving - assuming we're not in a traffic jam and like cars- but for an elite mountaineer like Doug Scott, it is not surprising that such feelings come when climbing. Which leads us back to the old question, 'Why Climb?'

Not because it is there but because we are good at it

When I was making The Race for Everest and Mountain Men for the BBC, I put that question to a lot of climbers. Unsurprisingly many of them were bored by it, and either avoided answering or came up some flippant reply. What struck me though, was that the answer was very simple. Climbers climb because they are good at it. Like much of life, mountaineering is a self selecting activity and those that have a natural skill and aptitude for it tend to be those who devote most time to it. Non-mountaineers tend to dwell on the negatives- why take so many risks for so little?- but for those who are natural mountaineers, the pleasure that it offers and the opportunity to experience 'peak flow' far outweighs the potential costs. 


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