Some people thrive on risk. Normal is boring to them. You might find them taking large risks in a start-up business, a poker table, or the X games. I’ve just finished a book that I think captures the mindset of this population. Freddie Wilkinson has written One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story of Tragedy and True Heroism on K2 (New American Library, 2010). It is the story of Summer 2008 when 11 men died while trying to descend from the summit of the most dangerous peak.While all mountain climbing has risks and all high altitude climbing has even more risk, climbing K2 is out of this world risky. Wikipedia says 1:4 climbers who make it to the top do not survive the return trip. Even if the 1:4 is overstated, can you imagine engaging in an activity that gives you a 10 percent chance of dying?
What do you think drives folks to take this kind of risk? I’ve been to the top of a couple of 6,000 foot mountains and when you get a clear day it is an impressive sight. I suppose standing on top of a 26,000 foot mountain probably is pretty cool too. But, climbing Everest or K2 requires piles of money, weeks of strenuous preparation, hours of impossible climbing on the last day, probable frostbite, and only a few minutes of being at the top before you have to face the riskiest part–getting down before hypoxia sets in and without being killed in an avalanche. Oh, and you just as likely will see someone in your party die from a fall or from cerebral edema and you won’t be able to help them lest you die helping them.
Back to my question. What drives this kind of risk-taking? Fame? Utter confidence in self (narcissism?)? Excitement?