Words of Wisdom

Greater climbers and greater thinkers than us have lessons to teach.

Hsieh Ling-yun

early fifth century

At dawn with staff in hand I climbed the crags,
At dusk I made my camp among the mountains.
Only a few peaks rise as high as this house,
Facing crags, it overlooks winding streams.
In front of its gates a vast forest stretches,
While boulders lie around its very steps.
Hemmed in by mountains, there seems no way out,
The track gets lost among the thick bamboos.
My visitors can never find their way,
And when they leave, forget the path they took.
The raging torrents rush on through the dusk,
The monkeys clamour shrilly in the night.
Deep in meditation, how can I part from the Truth?
I cherish the Way and never will swerve from it.
My heart is one with the trees of late autumn,
My eyes delight in the buds of early spring.
I dwell with my constant companions and wait for my end,
Content to find peace through accepting the flux of things.
I only regret that there is no kindred soul,
To climb with me this ladder to the clouds in the blue

Aldo Leopold

What avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.

At daybreak, I am the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over. It is not only boundaries that disappear, but also the thought of being bounded. Expanses unknown to deed or map are known to every dawn, and solitude, supposed no longer to exist in my county, extends on every hand as far as the dew can reach.

The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone nor even in the present, but rather in the future.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

John Muir

In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountain of life.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight.
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

William O. Douglas

When a man knows how to live amid danger, he is not afraid to die. When he is not afraid to die, he is, strangely, free to live.

A people who climb the ridges and sleep under the stars in high mountain meadows, who enter the forest and scale the peaks, who explore glaciers and walk ridges buried deep in snow -- these people will give their country some of the indomitable spirit of the mountains.

We can keep our freedom through the increasing crises of history only if we are self-reliant enough to be free. We cannot become self-reliant if our dominant desire is to be safe and secure; under that influence we could never face and overcome the adversities of this competitive age. We will be self-reliant only if we have a real appetite for independence.

Robert W. Service

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
   Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
   Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
   Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
   Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

NOTE: This stanza was originally attributed (here) to Jack London, who wrote a novel called "The Call of the Wild". Michael Linnard of Little Red Tree Publishing pointed out that this poem, also called "The Call of the Wild" was written by Robert W. Service. We gratefully corrected the mistake in 2009.

Ansel Adams

The great rocks of Yosemite, expressing qualities of timelessness, yet intimate grandeur, are the most compelling formations of their kind. We should not casually pass them by for they are the very heart of the earth speaking to us. Boldly advancing from the matrix of the mountains, towering thousands of feet into the sky from the green edge of the valley floor, they dwarf every conceivable structure of man. Indeed, there are higher mountains, vaster ranges, deeper canyons, but nowhere except in Yosemite are cliffs that rise with such clean dignity, such vigorous sculpture, and such firm substance as possessed by these colossi of the Sierra.

John Muir

I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I *must* fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then a lifeless rumble down the one general precipice to the glacier below. When this final danger flashed upon me, I became nerve-shaken for the first time since setting foot on the mountain, and my mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke. But ... life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense ... Then my trembling muscles became firm again, and every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as though through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.... I found a way without effort, and soon stood upon the topmost crag in the blessed light.

Edward Abbey

Li Po

Zazen On Ching-t'ing Mountain.

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and I,
until only the mountain remains.

Mark Twain

There is probably no pleasure equal to the pleasure of climbing a dangerous Alp, but it is a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who can find pleasure in it.

Edward Whymper

From My Scrambles Amongst the Alps

There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say, Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Lord Byron

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Though sluggards deem it but a foolish chase,
And marvel men should quit their easy chair,
The toilsome way, and long, long league to trace,
Oh! there is sweetness in the mountain air,
And Life, that bloated Ease can never hope to share

Kurt Maix

Climbing is the most royal irrationality out of which Man, in his creative imagination, has been able to fashion the highest personal values.

Robert Leonard Reid

Suddenly, peering down from my giddy perch in the sky, I understood for the first time that here at my side was not friend but family, and that what we were doing was not climbing but living...

Warren Harding

Mountain climbing would be great if it weren't for all that damn climbing!

S. Omar Barker

They say they climb mountains because they "are there."
I wonder if it would astound them
To know that the very same reason is why
The rest of us go around them.

William Blake

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)

Reprinted from Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1915.


I never loved your plains!--
Your gentle valleys,
Your drowsy country lanes
And pleachéd alleys.

I want my hills! -- the trail
That scorns the hollow.--
Up, up the ragged shale
Where few will follow,

Up, over wooded crest
And mossy bowlder
With strong thigh, heaving chest,
And swinging shoulder,

So let me hold my way,
By nothing halted,
Until, at close of day,
I stand, exalted,

High on my hills of dream--
Dear hills that know me!
And then, how fair will seem
The lands below me,

How pure, at vesper-time,
The far bells chiming!
God, give me hills to climb,
And strength for climbing!