“The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Debbie Millman told me she asked Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth what it was like to be the biggest rock star in the world.
He said when you get to the top of the mountain it’s cold and you’re alone and the only way back is down.
(As sage an answer as that is, one of the weakest chapters in DLR’s otherwise excellent Crazy From The Heat is the one about mountain climbing.)
I’m not a mountain climber and I never will be, but yesterday in Edinburgh I climbed up an extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat. (Robert Louis Stevenson described it as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”)
There are a bunch of ways to get up up the hill, some more popular than others. The whole time I was hiking, I would stop, turn around, and admire the view. As I got higher and less-winded, I kept thinking, “This seems good enough. Do I really need to get to the top?”
When I got to the top, my suspicion was correct: The view, while majestic and panoramic, wasn’t really any more interesting than many of the other spots going up the hill. And, worse than that, it was crowded. There were people everywhere scrambling up the rocks to get selfies.
I stood there maybe 5 minutes then climbed back down to a more deserted grassy area and had a picnic with a seagull as a companion.
I thought about that photo of climbers waiting in line to get to the top of Mount Everest:
It’s an obvious metaphor, but people kill themselves for the view on the top of the mountain.
(I hate lines and nothing would turn me into an angry ghost more than dying while waiting in one.)
I walked down an easy grassy slope to the east and walked past the Dunsapie Loch, which looked, from the angle on foot, like it continued out to the sea:
A little further, I found a path by a stone wall that took me all the way through a wooded area back to Queens Road. I was alone the whole walk.
I came across these beautiful foxgloves:
And I felt happy.
Later, I walked through town and along the Water of Leith a few miles to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. It was even better than climbing up the crags.
No more climbing mountains for me. There are more interesting views in the foothills.