(Or the affective life of the Pyrenean marmots)
A street in the mountain town of Benasque.
Benasque was a dream of youth. An almost mythological place which name I used to whisper, in an age when the world still seemed infinite and my childish future career plans were a crossing between Galen Rowell and Sir Edmund Hillary. To a kid of fourteen who had never left Portugal, the Pyrenees might as well be in Bhutan.
Meanwhile, amongst readings of well-intentioned authors and day-dreaming, I got older. And like the vast majority of the human race, while we progress in life, from beginning towards the unavoidable ending, we have the sad tendency to replace romantism for pragmatism.
Like a very personal and intimate civilizational crash, to me that happened abruptly around my twentieth birthday.
Someone once told me that “in a family the younger child does what he wants to do and the older one does what he has to do”. Being the older brother in the family I knew what I had to do, alright: achieve my independence as soon as possible.
So at twenty I was choosing seafaring life over bum life (for some, they aren’t really that different, you know?) and a few years Iater I was finally living a totally independent life. On the side of that path I left a few (questionable) dreams.
Well, although I may hold some bitterness for a dreamt future never fulfilled, truth is I’m glad, so far, how things turned out and the Earth’s spinning movement drove my life to the present moment in time.
To me, for decades, and pardon my lack of ambition, the Aneto was my “Everest”. As the actual Everest is the Everest for so many.
Now, twenty-six years and kilograms later from my first visit to the biggest Iberian cordillera, I was finally standing at the top of the Pyrenees highest peak, after a seven-hour climb from La Renclusa (well, it was more like a high-mountain hike) and wondering why was I so lazy in the last quarter of a century.
After kissing the Virgen del Pilar statue that adorns the summit and while looking East, to the uncomfortable Mahoma step I’ve just crossed and to all the people following the same path, I finally understood it.
Like Monte Perdido, that I ascended twenty-six years ago, and, perhaps, the iconic Mont Blanc, this wasn’t just a climb. It was a pilgrimage.
Far from being just, in the words of legendary French climber Lionel Terray, “conquests of the useless”, there’s a lot to be learn, on a spiritual level, about such accomplishments.
We are living in an Era with fewer geographic boundaries to overcome. With less and less blank spots on the world map to be cartographed, and the progresssion curve of human physical capabilities leaning slowly to the horizontal plane, we find ourselves slowly steering from the Neanderthal-like bravado to a more spiritual level.
The statue of the Virgen del Pilar looks at the distant horizon from the highest summit in the Pyrenees in a particularly peaceful June morning.
The same also happens in mountaineering, where, after all the important conquests have been achieved, the only objective still worthy of a look is the ascension of Everest during the winter season, oxygeneless, solo and… errr… bare naked.
In the end, regardless of the narcissists’ childish opinions, reaching the high peaks accounts for just that: a deeply personal, metaphysical and spiritual experience that, hopefully, will bring a bit of light to the mysteries of our lives and, by that, perhaps, contributes to give us a better understanding of ourselves and the others.
But, above all of that, within the most intricate corners of our souls, we all secretly believe that it will lead us closer to God.
All the pictures taken with Nikon P7100