The Summit Within


The Summit Within

By Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia

                 The Summit Within Introduction

Major H. P. S. Ahluwalia was part of the first successful Indian expedition to Mount Everest, which took place in 1965. He discussed his experience climbing the world's highest peak in this lesson. He describes how physical conquest alters one's personal and spiritual life. He has discussed the task of climbing the physical summit as well as the task of climbing the summit within.

   The Summit Within Summary

The author begins The Summit Within by describing how he felt as he stood on the summit of Everest. Despite his physical exhaustion, the peaceful view made him feel a variety of emotions, the most prominent of which was humility. He believes that after visiting the mountains, a man is never the same again. He went on to say that once he had climbed Everest, he would climb the summit of the mind. As soon as he was no longer physically exhausted, his mind began to wonder why people climb mountains.
Most people would simply say, "Because it is there," but the author had a more personal answer.  He had always been fascinated by mountains and would become depressed when he was separated from them. He describes the physical obstacles of mountain climbing. A summit climb requires endurance, persistence, and willpower. He discusses another question, "Why Everest?" simply because it is the highest and mightiest. No matter how difficult the climb is, the sense of accomplishment, excitement, joy, and satisfaction at the summit is unparalleled. The sensation is otherworldly.
He says that there is no perfect answer to why he chose to climb Everest. He compared it to the reason people breathe. He describes how fellow climbers assist one another in completing this challenge. Famous climbers have recorded the assistance they received, without which they would have given up. Standing on the summit proves that the struggle was worthwhile. The view inspires you to rise above your current circumstances. It allows for communication with God. On the highest point, he explains how to bow down and submit to the God you worship. The group had left pictures and relics of the Gods they worshipped.
He then goes on to talk about the other summit, which is more difficult to reach. However, any climb, whether physical or spiritual, has the potential to completely change you. He expresses that successfully climbing Everest has given him the strength to face life's challenges and that climbing a summit, whether internal or external, is a worthwhile experience.
       The Summit Within Lesson Explanation

Of all the emotions which surged through me as I stood on the summit of Everest, looking over miles of panorama below us, the dominant one I think was humility. The physical in me seemed to say, ‘Thank God, it’s all over!” However, instead of being jubilant, there was a tinge of sadness. Was it because I had already done the ‘ultimate’ in climbing and there would be nothing higher to climb and all roads hereafter would lead down?

  • Surged- arose suddenly and intensely
  • Summit- the highest point of a hill or a mountain
  • Panorama- view of a wide area
  • Humility- the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance
  • Jubilant- very happy because of success
  • Tinge- race; shade

The author begins the story by telling the readers about the rush of emotions he felt as he stood on Mount Everest's highest point. The vast landscape below them made them feel small and insignificant. Climbing to the top had exhausted his physical strength, and he was relieved it was over. However, rather than feeling proud and joyous about having climbed the highest peak, he may have felt some sadness. The only possible explanation for this feeling is that he had now become proficient by climbing to the highest point, and all roads from there will only lead downwards.
Climbing to the summit of Everest fills you with a deep sense of joy and gratitude. It is a joy that will last a lifetime. The experience completely changes you. A man who has visited the mountains will never be the same again.

As I look back at life after climbing Everest I cannot help remarking about the other summit — the summit of the mind — no less formidable and no easier to climb. Even when getting down from the summit, once the physical exhaustion had gone, I began asking myself the question why I had climbed Everest. Why did the act of reaching the summit have such a hold on my imagination? It was already a thing of the past, something done yesterday. With every passing day, it would become more remote. And then what would remain? Would my memories fade slowly away?

  • Formidable- strong and powerful
  • Remote- distant

The author writes that whenever he thinks about having climbed Everest, he can't help but think about another significant summit, which is of the mind and not any easier to climb. It is not any less difficult. After climbing Everest, returning, and recovering from the physical exhaustion, he began to question why he had climbed the highest peak. It was difficult to understand why the achievement had such a lasting impact on his imagination, even though it had passed. He was aware that the experience would grow old with each passing day. He wasn't sure if the memory would stay with him or fade away gradually at the moment.

All these thoughts led me to question myself as to why people climb mountains. It is not easy to answer the question. The simplest answer would be, as others have said, “Because it is there.” It presents great difficulties. Man takes delight in overcoming obstacles. The obstacles in climbing a mountain are physical. A climb to a summit means endurance, persistence and will power. The demonstration of these physical qualities is no doubt exhilarating, as it was for me also.

  • Endurance- tolerance
  • Persistence- the fact of continuing in a course of action in spite of difficulty
  • Exhilarating- very exciting

All of the thoughts that came to the author's mind made him wonder why people climb mountains. It is not so simple to answer in the simplest way possible, "Because it is there." Climbing a mountain presents significant challenges, and we all know that overcoming these challenges brings climbers great joy. These physical obstacles in climbing a mountain include tolerance, will power, and determination to keep going. On the other hand, the exhibition of these physical qualities and one's awareness of them is thrilling, as was the case for the author.

I have a more personal answer to the question. From my childhood I have been attracted by mountains. I had been miserable, lost, when away from mountains, in the plains. Mountains are nature at its best. Their beauty and majesty pose a great challenge, and like many, I believe that mountains are a means of communion with God.

  • Majesty- magnificence or great beauty
  • Communion- the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level

The author appears to have a more personal answer to why he wanted to climb mountains. Mountains had always attracted him since he was a child. When he was away from the mountains, he felt lost and unhappy in the plains. Mountains, he believes, are nature at its finest. Although the author and many others believe that mountains provide a platform for sharing personal thoughts and feelings directly with God, their magnificence and beauty pose a significant challenge.

Once having granted this, the question remains: Why Everest? Because it is the highest, the mightiest and has defied many previous attempts. It takes the last ounce of one’s energy. It is a brutal struggle with rock and ice. Once taken up, it cannot be given up halfway even when one’s life is at stake. The passage back is as difficult as the passage onwards. And then, when the summit is climbed, there is the exhilaration, the joy of having done something, the sense of a battle fought and won. There is a feeling of victory and of happiness. Glimpsing a peak in the distance, I get transported to another world. I experience a change within myself which can only be called mystical. By its beauty, aloofness, might, ruggedness, and the difficulties encountered on the way, the peak draws me to it — as Everest did. It is a challenge that is difficult to resist.

  • Defied- frustrated; resisted
  • Brutal- unpleasant or harsh
  • Glimpsing- catch or get a sight of
  • Mystical- inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery, awe and fascination (other-worldy)
  • Aloofness- distant
  • Ruggedness- roughly irregular, heavy or hard in outline or form

After having to learn why people climb mountains, the question "Why Everest?" remains. Probably because it is the highest point in the world and has resisted numerous attempts by people to climb it. It takes every bit of energy in one's body to reach the summit of Everest. It's a difficult battle against ice and massive rocks. Once you've accepted this difficult challenge, there's no turning back, even if your life is on the line, because the passage backwards presents the same difficulties and challenges as the passage forwards. When one finally reaches the summit after overcoming all of these obstacles, one feels a sense of accomplishment, excitement, joy, victory, and happiness. There is a sense of having fought and won a battle. Looking at another peak, the author says, transported him to another world. He went through a change that can only be described as mystical. The author was attracted to the peak by its greatness, beauty, serenity, and the difficulties it presents on the way. He describes the challenge as "difficult to resist."

Looking back I find that I have not yet fully explained why I climbed Everest. It is like answering a question why you breathe. Why do you help your neighbour? Why do you want to do good acts? There is no final answer possible. And then there is the fact that Everest is not just a physical climb. The man who has been to the mountain-top becomes conscious in a special manner of his own smallness in this large universe.

When the author looks back, he realises that he has yet to reveal why he actually climbed Everest. He compares it to asking why one breathes, why one helps a neighbour, or why one does a good deed. There is no way to find an answer to these questions. He also mentions that climbing Everest is more than just a physical challenge; it changes the person in such a way that he realises how insignificant he and his problems are in this infinite universe.

The physical conquest of a mountain is only one part of the achievement. There is more to it than that. It is followed by a sense of fulfilment. There is the satisfaction of a deep urge to rise above one’s surroundings. It is the eternal love for adventure in man. The experience is not merely physical. It is emotional. It is spiritual.

  • Conquest- conquering

Overcoming physical obstacles is only one aspect of success. There's a lot more to it, such as a sense of accomplishment and a satisfying desire to rise above one's current circumstances. It is a person's insatiable desire for adventure. As a result, the experience is not only physical, but also emotional and spiritual.

Consider a typical climb, towards the summit on the last heights. You are sharing a rope with another climber. You firm in. He cuts the steps in the hard ice. Then he belays and you inch your way up. The climb is grim. You strain every nerve as you take every step. Famous climbers have left records of the help given by others. They have also recorded how they needed just that help. Else they might have given up. Breathing is difficult. You curse yourself for having let yourself in for this. You wonder why you ever undertook the ascent. There are moments when you feel like going back. It would be sheer relief to go down, instead of up. But almost at once you snap out of that mood. There is something in you that does not let you give up the struggle. And you go on. Your companion keeps up with you. Just another fifty feet. Or a hundred, maybe. You ask yourself: Is there no end? You look at your companion and he looks at you. You draw inspiration from each other. And then, without first being aware of it, you are at the summit.

  • Firm in- make yourself firm
  • Belays- fixes a rope
  • Grim- harsh
  • Ascent- climb

He begins assessing an usual climb to a summit where you share the rope with another climber. He moves ahead as he carves the hard ice with his feet, only to further tighten the rope to help you inch your way up. It's a difficult climb that tests every nerve as you take each step forward. He mentions how some famous climbers have been recorded as having taken help from others and how it was the only thing they needed at the time to move forward. They would have given up otherwise. Breathing is extremely difficult at such high altitudes and low temperatures. It's so difficult that you curse yourself for signing up for it and begin to wonder why you did it in the first place. It forces you to give up, and the thought of going back looks appealing at the time. Then you're out of that mood almost immediately. You have a feeling in yourself that won't let you give up, so you keep going. Your companion is always by your side. As you climb, you get the impression that there is no end in sight. You and your companion look at each other for motivation, and then, without even realising it at first, you are at the summit.

Looking round from the summit you tell yourself that it was worthwhile. Other silvery peaks appear through the clouds. If you are lucky the sun may be on them. The surrounding peaks look like a jewelled necklace around the neck of your summit. Below, you see vast valleys sloping into the distance. It is an ennobling, enriching experience to just look down from the summit of a mountain. You bow down and make your obeisance to whichever God you worship

  • Ennobling- give someone a noble rank or title
  • Obeisance- deferential respect

When you reach the summit and look around, you tell yourself that the struggle and hardships were worthwhile. Other peaks can be seen through the clouds, and if you're lucky, there may be sunlight on them. The nearby peaks represent a "jewelled necklace" around the neck of your summit. Looking down, you can see the vast valleys in the distance. Looking down from a mountain's peak is an honourable and enhancing experience. You bow down and pay your respects to whichever God you worship from the top of a mountain.

I left on Everest a picture of Guru Nanak. Rawat left a picture of Goddess Durga. Phu Dorji left a relic of the Buddha. Edmund Hillary had buried a cross under a cairn (a heap of rocks and stones) in the snow. These are not symbols of conquest but of reverence. The experience of having climbed to the summit changes you completely

  • Relic- artefact
  • Reverence- deep respect for someone or something

The author left a picture of Guru Nanak Dev on Everest, while his fellow climbers Rawat and Phu Dorji left pictures and relics of Goddess Durga and Buddha, respectively. Edmund Hilary built a cross in the snow beneath a pile of rocks. He stated that these are not symbols of achievement, but rather of respect and admiration. This is because the experience of reaching the summit completely changes you.

There is another summit. It is within yourself. It is in your own mind. Each man carries within himself his own mountain peak. He must climb it to reach to a fuller knowledge of himself. It is fearful and unscalable. It cannot be climbed by anyone else. You yourself have to do it. The physical act of climbing to the summit of a mountain outside is akin to the act of climbing the mountain within. The effects of both the climbs are the same. Whether the mountain you climb is physical or emotional and spiritual, the climb will certainly change you. It teaches you much about the world and about yourself.

  • Akin- similar

He speaks of another summit, the summit of one's own mind. He goes on to explain how each person's mind contains a mountain peak that must be climbed in order to achieve complete self-awareness. It is terrifying and unmeasurable. Furthermore, no one else can climb it except you. He goes on to explain how physically climbing a mountain is similar to climbing the one within. The effects of both climbs are same. It completely changes you, regardless of whether the climb is physical, emotional, or spiritual. It teaches you a lot about the world around you as well as the world within you.

I venture to think that my experience as an Everester has provided me with the inspiration to face life’s ordeals resolutely. Climbing the mountain was a worthwhile experience. The conquest of the internal summit is equally worthwhile. The internal summits are, perhaps, higher than Everest.

  • Ordeals- painful experiences
  • Resolutely- with determination or firmness

The author thinks that his experiences as a "Everester" have given him the strength and inspiration to face life's difficult experiences with determination and firmness. Climbing Everest was a worthwhile experience, and conquering the summit within is equally so. Furthermore, internal summits are higher than Everest's physical summit.

                           About the Author

Major Hari Pal Singh Ahluwalia (born November 6, 1936) is a retired Indian Army officer, author, and mountaineer from India. Throughout his career, he has made contributions to adventure, sports, the environment, disability, and social work. He is one of six Indian men and the twenty-first man in history to have climbed Mount Everest. On 29 May, 12 years to the day from the first ascent of Mount Everest the fourth and last summit with H. C. S. Rawat, Phu Dorjee Sherpa Ahluwalia made the summit.  This was the first time three climbers stood on the summit together.

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