Why We Climb: An Inside Look at the World of Mountaineering

In light of the recent tragedies on Mt. Everest and Mt. Rainier, IndefinitelyWild is going to give you an inside look at the world of mountaineering in this series, "Why We Climb."

Why We Climb Stories:http://indefinitelywild.gizmodo.com/what-it-takes-...

The series will pose the titular question and explore the human passion, motivation, and psyche required to conquer Mother Nature's magnificent mountains. Along the way, we'll go one-on-one with esteemed climbers, industry leaders, and innovators of mountaineering equipment and apparel. Additionally, we're going to bring you gear reviews, how-tos and, yes, climb some mountains ourselves.

My own foray into this vertical life came after a family tragedy. My uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring. A week before my cousin's wedding at the end of June, my uncle passed away. The wedding continued and my cousin got married at a lodge just outside of Yosemite. Immediately after the wedding, my best friend and I drove into the park and embarked on our first ever backpacking trip — throwing ourselves into the wild.

Why We Climb: An Inside Look at the World of Mountaineering

An evening of reflection during my first time in the mountains.

On the second night, we camped on a ridge at 9,500' — the highest ground I had ever stood on. Across from us was a range of mountains — still covered in snow in July. I could not avert my eyes. I had spent my entire childhood staring at those same mountains from my uncle's dairy ranch in the central valley, but that night was the first time I got to see them up close.

Why We Climb: An Inside Look at the World of Mountaineering

Trekking past Columbine Lake at Mineral King, with Black Rock Pass in the background.

My next backpacking trip to Sequoia took me higher, but it wasn't high enough. I didn't want to just see the mountains. I wanted to climb them. So in March, I took a five day winter mountaineering course with The American Alpine Institute. During the course we learned a ton of skills necessary for mountaineering while snow camping in the shadow of 14,505' Mt. Whitney — the highest peak in the contiguous United States. On the fourth day we summitted her, via the Mountaineer's Route.

Why We Climb: An Inside Look at the World of Mountaineering

My AAI guide Ian, preparing to belay our team as we descended from Whitney's summit.

The AAI course marked my first big step into an even bigger world — a world that is simultaneously small. The world of mountaineering.

Photos: Chris Brinlee Jr

IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.