THE TRAGEDY OF the Mt. Hood climbing expedition entails two irresistible calls of the wild. One is rare. The other is, fortunately for all of us, pretty common.
The three men who scaled the Oregon mountain felt an urge shared by a small number of outdoors lovers: a pull to pit themselves and their fitness, willpower and logistical savvy against harsh natural elements. Mountain climbing, especially when it involves winter's treacheries, is perhaps the original extreme sport, its sizable risks offset for enthusiasts by that moment when they're literally on top of the mountain.
This time, events -- which look like a combination of injury and unexpected weather -- gave the risks the upper hand. These were experienced mountaineers who may have miscalculated but who certainly understood the dangers and had decided those were worth the challenge and thrill of the climb. It might seem pointless to people who prefer the security of two feet planted on what at least seems to be solid ground (how foolhardy are we to live in earthquake country?), but we all make our own meaning of life.
Calamities like this inevitably lead people to say: Fine, but what about the risk (and expense) of sending search teams up the mountain? Isn't the climbers' sad ending their own responsibility?