On Sa­cred­ness in Climb­ing

Gripped - - OFF THE WALL - Story by John Kaan­dorp Tjukurpa Minga Tjukurpa. John Kaan­dorp is one of On­tario’s orig­i­nal senders who still fre­quents the lo­cal crags. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to

Af­ter 35 years of shin­ny­ing up steep rock and ice and two walks through the Hi­malayas, I am com­ing around to the view that climbers should not clam­ber and touch ev­ery­thing on the planet. This may not be a pop­u­lar view. As climbers, we pre­fer to have un­lim­ited ac­cess to ev­ery­thing within our grasp: build­ings, boul­ders, cliffs, walls, wa­ter­falls, moun­tains and their sum­mits. To walk at the base of a wall or in a val­ley be­low a moun­tain is good, but touch­ing them is bet­ter. Who has not felt com­pelled to reach be­tween the wires of a fence and touch the flanks of a horse, or be­tween the “bars” of an iron or glass cage and feel the coiled strength of a tiger? But nat­u­rally, we do not.

This idea of keep­ing some things of f l im­its to tour ists and climbers is not new to the Anangu people of Aus­tralia. When people as­cend Uluru, the world’s largest mono­lith i n cen­tral Aus­tralia, they of fend the Anangu people. For them Uluru is not just so much stone but a pal­pa­ble life force con­nected to an­cient abor ig­i­nal knowl­edge known as The wis­dom of

is un­der­stood by the Anangu to ex­ist at the base of the moun­tain and is known through the trees, stones and dirt found there. Their power and knowl­edge is not on Uluru’s sum­mit, so for the Anangu, there is no rea­son to climb. People are in­for med of the cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties be­fore their as­cent, both by sig ns and the Anangu them­selves, but the sa­cred gate­crash­ing goes on. Is it any won­der that in the lo­cal Pit­jan­t­jat­jana lan­guage they re­fer to climbers as­cend­ing Uluru as or ants.

Tse’Bit’a’i is the Navajo name for Shiprock, the vol­canic plug in the Amer­i­can south­west that re­sem­bles a bird with folded wings. First climbed in 1939 by four Amer­i­cans, Shiprock has been closed to climbers since the 1970s af­ter a fata l ac­ci­dent. The nearby Spi­der Rock and Totem Pole have been closed since 1962. The pro­hi­bi­tion of climb­ing on Navajo lands is in­for med by the sa­cred­ness of the land­scape and the ta­boos that are cre­ated when there are climb­ing ac­ci­dents. De­spite this, many clan­des­tine as­cents con­tinue to be made.

The Hi­malayas have the great­est den­sit y of peaks that are of f lim­its to climbers. We may gaze, but we may not touch. In 1994 Bhutan banned all climb­ing above 6,000 me­tres, and then in 2003, in def­er­ence to spir itual cus­toms re­lated to Ma­hayana Bud­dhism, al l climb­ing was stopped. In wester n Ti­bet, the 6,714- me­tre peak of Mount Kailash is re­garded as the home of Shiva, the Hindu god of de­str uc­tion and re­gen­er­a­tion. Ti­betan Bud­dhists be­lieve that Mi­larepa f lew to the sum­mit in the 12th cen­tur y and re­sides there in per pet­ual and supreme bliss. They be­lieve that to touch Kailash is sacr ileg ious and any at­tempt to climb it would be fata l. In­stead, Hin­dus, Bud­dhists, Jain­ists and Bon pilgr ims walk or pros­trate them­selves around the 32- kilo­me­tre base of the moun­tain. It is be­lieved that Kailash is the pil lar of the ear th and the epi­cen­tre of the world’s man­dala.

My most in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence of a sa­cred moun­tain with a “no touch” phi­los­o­phy is the shapely Khumbi Yul Lha, which tow­ers aiguil le-like above the Sher pa vil lages of Khumjung and Khunde in east­ern Nepal. Al­though it is dwarfed by other Hi­malayan peaks on the hor izon such as Ever­est, it is as­ton­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful and com­plex as it looms over the maze of stone lined walls and stone houses be­low.

Taschi Lama, a stu­dent of Bud­dhism, helped me to un­der­stand the sig­nif icance of the peak for the Sher pa people. He ex­plained that Khumbi Yul Lha is home to their pro­tec­tive deit y Khum­bila Terzen Gelbu who r ides a white horse, while his wife Tham­serku lives atop a peak across the Khumbu val ley. In July, Sher pas cel­e­brate Khum­bila at the Dumji fes­ti­val in the nearby vil lage of Pang­boche with dancing, singing and r itu­als.

The fang-like peak of Tabuche, 6,495 me­tres, is a lso cel­e­brated with the Tabuche dance and is cur rently be­ing pe­ti­tioned by loca l Sher pa res­i­dents to be of f lim­its to a l l climb­ing scram­bling or touch­ing.

In On­tario, there are str ict poli­cies about what can be climbed on the 700 - kilo­me­tre long Ni­a­gara Es­car pment. For in­stance, at the ver y tip of the es­car pment, in Bruce Na­tional Park, only boul­der ing is per mit­ted on the lime­stone boul­ders near the shore­line. Roped climb­ing is nei­ther en­cour­aged nor tol­er­ated. In par t, climb­ing is not per mit­ted be­cause the ge­og­ra­phy is a sa­cred sanc­tuar y for the easter n white cedar, some of which are re­puted to be 1,600 years old.

In gen­eral, climb­ing on the es­car pment is viewed as a “non-con­for ming” ac­tivit y but is cur rently tol­er­ated in pop­u­lar ar­eas such as Lion’s Head. A 2015 Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment Com­mis­sion plan re­view is sug­gest­ing that new route ac­tivit y be limited to spor t-routes 5.10 and harder, which tend to fol low walls with less dam­age to frag ile f lora. They would also like to see per ma­nent an­chors used to limit dam­age to the rock and clif f edge.

I en­joy ex­plor­ing a world know­ing that not ever ything is com­modif ied, for lease or rent or for sale. We may boast about adding value to a ser vice or a prod­uct be­fore crank­ing up the price, but per­haps not let­ting climbers as­cend a cer­tain ver y few cliffs and peaks around the world is a way of adding value by do­ing sim­ply noth­ing. It is a plea­sure to know that some moun­tains are free of via fer­rates, trails, bolt lad­ders, chalk dust, f ixed ropes and porta-ledges.

In Nepal this spr ing, while sit­ting on a ver y cold wooden f loor and af­ter lis­ten­ing to the morn­ing chant­ing and pray­ing in the Teng­boche Monaster y, Taschi Lama re­as­sured me that Khumbi Yul Lha has never been climbed and never will be. To him, this knowl­edge was as clear and con­crete as the moun­tain soar ing be­hind him into the cer ulean blue Hi­malayan sky.

As I stood with Taschi shar ing a cup of sweet tea be­low his sa­cred Sher pa moun­tain, I thought to my­self, “No mind­less ants on Khumbi Yul Lha.”


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