September 25, 2015

Expedition Stories: Leather and Nylon


On a knowledge expedition, as we climb the mountain, we talk about our gear. We discuss the tools and affordances that enable us to scale these heights. A trip up Sagarmatha requires top gear. Successful ascent requires the most sophisticated gear modern technology can spin out. Super-strong and super-light – adapted from aerospace environments to reach air travel altitudes – it enables us to extend our selves, our capacities. Nylon and titanium, woven and forged for spectacularly specific purposes, enabling feats that extend the imagination.

At the same time, while in camp, we ponder a more organic set of tools. Cowhide and spun wool – the fruits of thousands of years of animal husbandry that are woven into human culture – these materials likewise serve to strengthen and insulate.

People differ widely in their approach to ‘gearing up.’ One strongly held belief I had about myself when I undertook my first knowledge expedition climb was that I was always under-prepared in situations that required preparation. A climb up the mountain, even a metaphorical one, forced me to confront that belief and see that maintaining that attitude could actually be lethal. It was a paradox to confront – my own impetuousness and ‘being in the moment’ versus the need to carefully plan and outfit myself for a trek that had proven lethal to even the best prepared climber. What were some of the survival mechanisms in place that supported the ‘devil may care’ attitude that plainly would not work – again, even metaphorically? This I’ll say: the confrontation with this strongly held attitude was quite real. The calculation of the risk was no less stark than as if I stood in Lukla with my old Boy Scout gear.  

We have technology to apply. Super high-tech stuff. Polymer meshes of incredible strength. We gear up well – we know these rocky fields and the nearby slides and crevices. Gear deployed for inquiry and design. That’s our ropes and clampery. Portability, capacity – remarkable distributions of resources and  folks – folks telling stories. So we stand and sit and stand up there. And we sit, sometimes, to play cards.

We’ll keep our gear-head indulgences to a minimum, we promise.