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Feeding the Rat



Mallory merely confused the issue when he answered, “because it’s there.”

So writes Al Alvarez in the climbing book Feeding the Rat. “Feeding the rat” is

“the need to get out, to test yourself, to flush out the system, and, above all, to have some fun.”

In other words: I bloody loved this book! That’s a better answer to “why” than I’ve ever heard.

I’d like to share a couple of paragraphs.

Every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. It does you a power of good. I think it’s because there’s always a question mark about how you would perform. You have an idea of yourself and it can be quite a shock when you don’t come up to your own expectations. If you just tootle along you can think you’re a pretty slick bloke until things go wrong and you find you’re nothing like what you imagined yourself to be. But if you deliberately put yourself in difficult situations, then you get a pretty good idea of how you are going. That’s why I like feeding the rat. It’s a sort of annual check-up on myself. The rat is you, really. It’s the other you, and it’s being fed by the you that you think you are. And they are often very different people. But when they come close to each other, that’s smashing, that is. Then the rat’s had a good meal and you come away feeling terrific. It’s a fairly rare thing, but you have to keep feeding the brute, just for your own peace of mind. And even if you did blow it, at least there wouldn’t be that great unknown. But to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are capable of, I can’t think of anything sadder than that.

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  1. I love your blog Alastair, quite often you hit the nail one the head and do so with such a great writing style.
    I encourage everyone to take Alastairs advice. Last year I climbed a mountain in Peru. At the time I was very fit and thought I’d breeze up the mountain. I’m a keen runner and walker and was in the shape of my life. I looked at the group I was walking with and felt I’d be the strongest in the group.
    However, when I got above 4000m, altitude sickness hit me and I got very sick. Huge migraine and low oxygen sapping my energy made every single step an Herculean effort. I managed the climb in the end, probably out of sheer subborness more then good judgment but I came away from the trip realising that I have limits. As much as I love mountains, and by God I do LOVE them, I suck at coping with altitude. I climbed the equivilant of Mount Blanc over those few days and always wanted the climb the real Mount Blanc but now I’m scared to do it. Sometimes feeding the rat, can make you scared of the rat. I’m stubborn enough to try again but now I do so with a keen sense of my boundaries and less cockiness.



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