Even Big Mountain Pros Succumb to Suffering

The first Youtube comment on this video says: “Settle in for 11 minutes of whining.” And, well, sure, there’s some whining. But that’s not terribly fair. When freeskiers Cody Townsend and Chris Rubens headed for the Himalaya for a first ascent of Colangma, they knew they were in for a serious sufferfest. For Townsend, that suffering proved far more intense than he’d imagined. This was a brutal mission that prompted lots of soul searching.

Colangma tops out at 22,808 feet in elevation. Townsend and Rubens spent time in Lhasa, Tibet, acclimatizing slowly. When they began their push to the summit, Townsend was stricken with a one-two punch of a respiratory infection and altitude sickness. Forced to return down to the mountain to regroup and try again, Townsend had plenty of time to ponder the meaning of suffering for something as seemingly inconsequential as outdoor pursuits. Rubens, who kept on pushing for the top, comes to the same philosophical moment while straining to reach the peak top of Colangma. In the end, they both come to their own answers for why we do this—push ourselves to physical and mental exhaustion in pursuit of pastimes we love.

This 11-minute film is part of a short series that shows how Townsend and Rubens planned their trip and acclimatized, or tried to, before they set out. Those side videos are worth a watch too.

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