Roger Marolt: A full life lived briefly
“The Alpinist” is a documentary film about an uniquely talented young mountaineer, Marc-Andre’ Leclerc, who free-climbs and solos some of the most difficult routes on some of the most challenging mountains in the world. The film shines a light on this relatively unknown climber accomplishing things worthy of attention and acclaim — but that are so personal that he goes out of his way, and ours, to keep his spectacular accomplishments to himself.
Leclerc dies in an avalanche as the final edits of the film are being made. As the chronicling of this small cross-section of his life is set to conclude, the expected result of his exploits unexpectedly occurs. This is not a spoiler alert. Not more than 30 seconds into the film, as Leclerc appears a speck near the pinnacle of a spectacularly remote, frozen spire far from the professionally guided path of modern-day mountaineering, it is clear what this man’s fate is. He is not destined for an assisted living arrangement.
An easy mistake to make watching Leclerc climb is judging him for taking on what we can’t help but define as unnecessary risk. Why doesn’t he use ropes and anchors soloing massive rock walls? Why doesn’t he take a partner along to incredibly dangerous mountains in brutally harsh environments? Would simple precautionary measures that seem to fall under the umbrella of common sense be that detrimental to his wilderness experiences? These questions are not beside the point. But, we need to answer them pertaining to our own lives before it is fair to make them a point in his.
There is arrogance and ego mixed into this complex equation somewhere. There has to be whenever stakes are high and sacrifice appears great towards achievement. But, it occurs to me that the ego and arrogance are more ours than his. It is easy to criticize Leclerc’s decisions when we judge from a perch we don’t see ourselves ever falling from. Yet, we all will die. It is the common blind spot. Life is short for everyone. In the spectrum of infinity, even the longest life is, for all intents, equal to zero. In as much, maybe a good life should be an accumulation of meaningful experience rather than simply time stretched for fear of losing it.
Leclerc should have known that the risks he took would eventually lead to his death, just as the business person sitting at a desk for 10 stressful hours each day should know this will lead to an early demise, too. Traveling too light into the wilderness can kill us, but we may also accumulate so much that we can’t even get there. In between, there is a sweet spot.
Even along the path of “normal living” we have smoking, drinking, drugs, ice cream and sedentary lifestyles among countless things we know will lead to shorter lives, and we choose these vices continually.
What is revealed in watching Leclerc facing imminent danger is that it may be our own fear of heights we are confronting, not his. From the comfort of our living room sofas we worry about a fall from a 3,000-foot wall of rock as he is possibly avoiding his own tumble into the rat race that we confront daily. We believe he has a death wish. He may think we do.
We judge Leclerc’s actions not fully understanding the rarity of his skill set. If I look at what he did in the mountains while projecting my physical and mental capabilities there, what he did was insane. But, when I study his body control, strength and fluidity paired with his mind control, I must consider that my inclination to criticize may stem from envy — of course I could do that if I was silly enough to try.
It is a mistake to think we know a person from how he is portrayed in a documentary film. Yet, my impression of watching Leclerc perform on vertical mixed granite and ice convinced me he was not suicidal. Call it what you may — sickness, mental defect, a loose screw — but the reality is that he was simply not afraid of something that terrifies me. Perhaps he saw life as one precious thing, not an accumulation of years. He consumed his ravenously.
My final impression is that he loved and was loved while living a simple life with the exuberance and optimism of a happy child. A life cut short may be better defined as one in which none of this exists.
Roger Marolt is determined to continue pursuing a meaningful life within his comfort zone, however long God thinks that will take. email@example.com.
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