Of Mountains and Men: An Extraordinary Journey to Explore Why Some People Feel the Irresistible Urge to Climb Mountains

Book written by Mateo Cabello. Review by Sue Griffith

Fresh off the Haute Route, Mateo Cabello stumbled upon the Mountaineers’ Cemetery in the garden of Zermatt's St. Mauritius Church. There, he was drawn to a small, bronze plaque commemorating the 1948 deaths of three friends while climbing the Matterhorn. Inexplicably moved by the memorial, Cabello wonders what it is that compels people to climb mountains—particularly where death is imaginable—and why he has never felt a longing to do so. In Of Mountains and Men: An Extraordinary Journey to Explore why Some People Feel the Irresistible Urge to Climb Mountains, Cabello examines the short lives of the three young climbers in an effort to find his answer.

A political economist by trade and self-described hill-walker, Of Mountains and Men is Cabello’s first book. Because he is not a climber and has never summited a mountain, the author brings an impartial perspective to the task. He digs deep into the archives of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club where the climbers had been members while students, connects with surviving family and friends of the three men, and retraces some of their steps while celebrating his own love of mountains. Cabello interviews accomplished climbers and tackles an impressive list of climbing and mountaineering literature, ranging across time from Leslie Stephen’s The Playground of Europe to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. In the process, he examines his motivations for writing the book and for writing it the way he did. Part memoir in this sense, the author reveals his own feelings about climbing while also searching for a more universal truth.

Rejecting the idea of mountaineers as larger-than-life conquerors, Cabello zeroes in on the human side of climbing. His book is a study not of those single-minded climbers bent on claiming records, but rather the story of a trio of talented young men who shared a love of mountains and were drawn together by their zest for life. Climbing was just one of the things they did, albeit an important one. In that sense, mountaineering may simply be the search for one’s own soul. “Climbers and mountaineers,” Cabello writes, “go to mountains in the hope of measuring themselves against the most powerful rivals that nature may offer. And they do it, not despite the risks that it involves, but because the risks are an inherent part of the joy of being measured.”

In the end, Cabello never quite finds his answer. He concludes, correctly I believe, that trying to define precisely why people climb is a pointless exercise—the reasons are as diverse as the people who climb. The mountains call to some people while others never hear the call. Cabello is sure about one thing, however. The important story is not about how climbers die but rather how they lived. Climbing is about life.

Read the book for its survey of mountaineering literature, to help articulate your own reasons for climbing, or to enjoy the story of three inspiring young men who celebrated living by seeking mountain tops.

Cabello, M. (2016). Of Mountains and Men: An Extraordinary Journey to Explore why Some People Feel the Irresistible Urge to Climb Mountains. United Kingdom: Oxford Alpine Club.


Mazama Awards: Tradition, Recognition, and a New Direction

by Chris Kruell, Mazama Vice-President

The Mazamas has a longstanding tradition of recognizing outstanding achievements of our members. Beginning with the Parker Cup in 1925, we have acknowledged these accomplishments, often in conjunction with a dinner held in November or December since 1925.

In the late 90s and early 00s the Annual Banquet suffered from lack of attendance and it became clear that we needed to try a different approach to the fall gathering to be financially responsible and to maintain relevance in a changing community. The Annual Banquet morphed into the Annual Celebration in 2006, but the event still saw big swings in attendance—high numbers when the guest speaker resonated with members, and extremely low numbers when they did not.

As a result, in 2013 we adopted a five-year plan to create a new event, the Portland Alpine Festival, in an attempt to combine the celebration of our organization and its achievements with an outreach effort to the greater outdoor recreation community. The Portland Alpine Fest has been a big success in many ways.  Both members and nonmember alike enjoy the clinics, speaker series, and The Summit, and the festival has increased its attendance each year. However, the feedback from the membership was that the Mazama awards were not a good fit at this new event—the awards felt rushed, lost in the shuffle of the larger festival, and awardees did not feel well recognized in this format.

We hear you and fully agree with this assessment. We have decided to separate our awards event from the Portland Alpine Festival because the achievements of the Mazamas are worthy of a standalone awards ceremony, which will be held in the spring of 2017. This event will recognize our volunteers and awardees in an event held specifically for the Mazamas membership.

This event will be a way to show our newest members, as well as potential members, the incredible spirit of volunteerism of the Mazamas and their tenacity to tackle big goals.

By having two large events, an internal Mazama-focused event in the spring and a community-focused event in the fall, we can both celebrate our member achievements and share our love of mountain recreation with the broader community. This will allow us to continue to bring the Mazama message of mountaineering education, activities, and conservation to our community.

The spring event is in the planning stages and as further details emerge, we will communicate them to you via the Bulletin, email, and social media. Our primary goals are to create an event where members, volunteers, and awardees feel recognized for their accomplishments, an event that is fun and engaging, and that is accessible to all members. We promise it will be one to look forward to!