Being a techie, I once came across this hilarious post on StackOVerflow: What is the best comment in the source code you have ever encountered?

In the similar bar of questions, which one or many a people may find off-topic (or not a real question) thing, I'd like to ask: What is the best mountaineering quote that you have ever read?

P.S.: Answer can be a community wiki to be fair.

MOD NOTE: this is a special case list question. Polls and list questions are generally discouraged and will be closed outright. There is some precedent for this one and I see its use, but SE really is not designed for "infinite list of X" questions.

  • 3
    You'll notice that Stack Overflow question is from 2008, the very early days of SO, and is now closed. This type of question is no longer encouraged on the SE network, because it's not an answerable question, it's a discussion for the sake of discussion. This type of conversation is better suited to Chat. – nhinkle Nov 5 '14 at 23:55
  • 3
    @Everything: Makes sense. I got into some serious mountaineering when I was 17 and I think the credit goes to the mountaineering books that I read just out of curiosity. Some of the quotes inspired me a lot, some incidences (written in books) drew me mad about mountains. This was where I began.. – WedaPashi Nov 6 '14 at 6:56
  • 2
    What is the precedent that makes this question allowed? The existence of another closed question? (for the record, I'm for allowing all such questions everywhere, but also for consistently enforcing the rules, rather than making exceptions for questions the mods happen to like). – RomanSt Nov 9 '14 at 16:34
  • 3
    romkyns - there was precedence from other sites, and of course you can see it did get quite a bit of interest from community members here. Mods have not made an exception in terms of allowing it to remain open - we let the community decide that (and as you can see it is now closed) - all we did was hold off on rapid closing, as requested by the community. You can see from the comments above, and chat, that the mods weren't really in favour of the question! – Rory Alsop Nov 10 '14 at 9:25
  • 2
    I stand with @RoryAlsop - while personally I enjoy the quotes listed here - this type of question tends to lead to others asked in a similar fashion with the OPs stating "There is precedence." Hence we have to be strict from the get go to keep quality standards high. Rory's point about the community closing vs. the diamonds is quite valid. – studiohack Nov 10 '14 at 19:02

20 Answers 20


It's a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory. - Ed Viesturs

and of course,

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves - Sir Edmund Hillary


"I wanted to achieve something essential in life, something that is not measured by money or position in society... The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve. They are my cathedrals, the houses of my religion... In the mountains I attempt to understand my life. They are the way I practice my religion. In the mountains I celebrate creation, on each journey I am reborn."

-Anatoli Boukreev


My absolute favorite:

“There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men"

--Maurice Herzog


Notwithstanding Mallory's classic, there is Sir Edmund Hillary's response when it was suggested Mallory may have reached the summit:

I’m rather inclined to think, personally, that maybe it’s quite important, the getting down.

Or more fully:

If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I’m rather inclined to think, personally, that maybe it’s quite important, the getting down. And the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.


In my opinion, there is only one! When asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” George Mallory replied:

Because it's there...

Or more fully:

Because it's there... Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man's desire to conquer the universe.


My two favorite John Muir quotes:

One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.


I never saw a discontented tree.


Both are from Wolfgang Güllich - he is known for climbing first 8b (5.13d), 8b+ (5.14a), 8c (5.14b) and 9a (5.14d). By the way, he is the inventor of the Campus Board:

If climbing is an art, then creativity is its main component.


A man doesn't go to drink coffee after climbing, coffee is integral part of the climbing.

Wolfgang Güllich

  • 1
    Great climber. Had no idea he was a coffeeholic though. – Wills Nov 6 '14 at 22:22

"Great things are done when Men & Mountains meet. This is not Done by Jostling in the Street." - William Blake, "Great Things Are Done" (c. 1807-1809), line 1.

"A few hours' mountain climbing make of a rogue and a saint two fairly equal creatures. Tiredness is the shortest path to equality and fraternity — and sleep finally adds to them liberty." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (1996), p. 373 (translation by R. J. Hollingdale)

"Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous." - Reinhold Messner, All Fourteen 8,000ers

This without a doubt is my most favorite:

"Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb" - Greg Child.


The repetition of the really great alpine routes seemed to us much more interesting than discovering obscure little climbs in remote corners. Like ugly girls, many of the ridges and faces which preserved their virginity until comparatively recently did so more from lack of attraction than from intrinsic difficulty.

Lionel Terray in "Conquistadors of the Useless" (the book title itself is a great quote)

Ich will nicht schwer klettern. Ich will leicht klettern. Also schon schwer, nur dass es eben leicht aussieht.

I translate this to:

I don't want to climb difficult. I want to climb easy. Well, difficult but it should look easy.

Bernd Arnold

Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No... and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction... fulfilled a destiny... To struggle and to understand - never this last without the other; such is the law...


People ask me, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.

both from George Mallory in "Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings of George Mallory"


"The mountains are calling and I must go."

-- John Muir, the naturalist who had in great influence on the preservation of e.g. Yosemite and Sequoia National Park

The quote may be rather commonly used, but I still like it very much. It can, for example, be found on a large sign at the city limits of the town of Mammoth Lakes.


throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.

-Muir on planning a trip

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.



Not really mountaineering but certainly outdoorsmanship:

About (not by him) the famous Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton

enter image description here

For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.

A quote after he'd spent 2 years on the sea ice in the antarctic, including a journey of 720 nautical miles in an open 10 man rowing boat across one of the worlds most dangerous oceans:

enter image description here

Of the 30 men that were marooned with him, all survived and only one one man suffered severe frost bite. He was pretty bad ass.

  • 1
    Always been fond of Shackleton's story - His diary of the experience is quite the read (Titled "South" for those interested). He said "By endurance we conquer." – studiohack Nov 10 '14 at 1:22
  • 1
    I've not read that one but i have read Endurance which is a great read – user2766 Nov 10 '14 at 10:08

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought 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.”

-- Edward Whymper, in Scrambles Amongst the Alps.

  • My full respect and adoration. His competition with Carrel is a fascinating moment in alpine history. The quote is wonderful! – Wills Nov 8 '14 at 13:40

Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.

Ed Hillary

  • This one sounds crazy! Could you add some context and precedent? – WedaPashi Nov 10 '14 at 6:19
  • @WedaPashi Sir Edmund Percival Hillary climbed a Mountain by the name of Everest. Upon catching up with an old friend afterwards he said the quote above. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Hillary – dibs Nov 10 '14 at 20:16
  • My fav one +1 :) – user2766 Nov 18 '14 at 9:30

I use this for my outdoor activities in general, and not just mountaineering. Not sure who said it first, the quote is attributed to many.

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty >> and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally >> worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- WOW-- What a Ride!"


Neither of these are directly related to the sport of mountaineering (more general outdoor passion) but both amazing people who paved the way for many of our mountaineering pursuits...

A true conversationalist is a man who knows that the world is not given to him by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

— John James Audubon

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

— John Muir


But I shall go down from this airy space, this swift white peace, this stinging exultation, And time will close about me, and my soul stir to the rhythm of the daily round. Yet, having known, life will not press so close, and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me, For once I stood In the white windy presence of eternity.

Eunice Tietjens

Other times, climbing throws you into the heart of your own life, which is the only thing that really matters. To know what this book has really been about - because technique, like professionalism, is only a means to an end - get up early on a sunny Saturday morning at the beginning of May. Walk down the Manifold Valley to the bottom of Beeston Tor. A jackdaw circles out from the rock. On the steep, deteriorating terraces below, white thorn blossom is massing on the bare black branches. Everything is coming out of the thermal lag of winter. Stand there with the sunshine beginning to warm your back, listen for the noises of the valley as it wakes up - a woodpecker that sounds like a toy gun, a footstep in the dry river bed. Think of all the things you have had to do in the week so that you can be here now. Then slowly reach out and touch the rock with the flat of your hand. Let it lead your eye upwards. There, you’re alive again.

Ron Fawcett 1987

The cold fresh mornings, when the mist is creeping from the grey hills and the vigour of dawn is in the blood, the warm sun-steeped spaces at noonday, the purple dusk when the veld becomes a kind of land east of the sun and west of the moon, full of fairy lights and misterious shadows, the bitter night when the southern constellations blaze in the profound sky, - he who has once seen them must carry the memory for ever. It is such things, and not hunger and thirst and weariness, which remain in a man’s mind. For the lover of nature and wild things ... it is little wonder if, after these, home and ambition and a comfortable life seem degrees of the infinitely small. And the others, who are only brief visitors, will carry away unforgettable pictures to tantalise them at work and put them out of all patience with an indoor world - the bivouac under the stars on the high veld, or some secret glen of the Wood Bush, or the long lines of hill which huddle behind Lyndenburg into the sunset.

John Buchan. The African Colony. 1903.

The climbers run, jumping over puddles on the way to their one-star hotels. They know that the beds and mattresses that they are heading for are probably older than themselves. But in such places one can really dream, especially if it's raining outside. Then one can dream the old climber's dream of the french girls, that are too young and too pretty, and the great climbs that are too high and too difficult.

What would have become of Georg Winkler, had he returned from the Weißhorn? When his plan to climb with Prof. Eugen Guido Lammer had come true? Nobody knows. What we do know is that in a letter to Lammer he wrote: and not seldom I find myself staring, with no thoughts, at a good book until I wake up out of a dream of ropes, crampons, fog and rock walls.

At this point the excitement and beauty of the moment have reached 100%. More is not possible, but can only change to the excitement and beauty of rock climbing.

Hermann Magerer climbing to the start of the Badile north ridge in the Bregalia.

"It's so difficult to accept nothingness... You would like to know how things really are beyond life, be sure it's not all a big joke, but, as big as it may be, how can a joke survive for millenia? Look how beautiful the stars in the coal black sky are, those little twinkling gems, those little fantastic worlds. You've got Creation before your eyes, here, on this same mountain that's taking your life and you can't hate, not even now. And what if truth is really here, amongst these pyramids of granite?" 9.10.2007

Rene Desmaison, died 28.9.2007: From his book "342 Hours on the Grandes Jorasses"

I built my house near the village, but don't hear the horses and wagons. How is this at all possible? If your heart has parted from the world, then you are at peace with yourself. At the east fence I pick Chrysanthemum, watch the mountains in the south. The fresh air in the evening, when birds are flying to nest. In all these things is a deep meaning, which however I can't put it into words.

From a drinking song from T’ao Ch’ien 365- 427 AD.

Two things are needed for happiness: an intact countryside, and a good climbing partner.

... every bit of unspoilt nature which is left, every bit of park, every bit of earth still spare, should be declared a wilderness area as a blueprint of what life was originally intended to be, to remind us. A Walk with a White Bushman.

Laurents van der Post.

The immense longing not just to protect, but to rehabilitate the Earth. A Walk with a White Bushman.

Laurents van der Post.

If the great beasts are gone, man will surely die of a great loneliness of spirit.

Chief Seattle of the Neg Percé 1884.

Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in a magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."

Jack London Dedicated to the crew of the Columbia

When talking about Rock Climbing, people would often say: "You must have a Death-wish." I explained it was really a "Life-wish" and while that is accurate I never felt it conveyed enough - so here is my answer: What's occurring is a conscious act of craziness. What you are seeing is pinpoint focus combined with mad abandon in such a way as to cause spectres of death and the exaltations of life collide at some kind of crossroad. The sparks that fly from that collision are like little shards of God. If you can hold them in your mind for more than 5 seconds, you can understand everything that ever was, or will be.

Jerry Dodgen.


Speaking about reaching the summit of Nanda Devi after the first ascent in 1936:

"I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it". Bill Tilman


"When you get to the summit and you push the watch, first you try to breath a little bit and get some oxygen in your lungs. When I saw this time I was like, 'Ah, that's not possible.' Yeah...that was a good moment." - Ueli Steck

  • Wow! This one is great! – WedaPashi Nov 19 '14 at 14:51

I came to win, came as I always do, in order to justify who I am and what I have become; now I don't even know what that is. The rot inside me, the cancer of desire, feels unbearable, now it knows it won't be sated. There's a malignant discontent in there, and without a climb there will be no peace. When - if - I pass over to normal life I know I will drag this feeling with me.

It's not dying that is the problem, he said. 'Climbing is like a lover, and your wife knows this. Whenever you are together, no matter how much you love your family, your thoughts are only of your lover, of climbing.

Both from Andy Kirkpatrick.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.