In mountaineering, there is a phenomenon known as ‘Summit Fever’ in which the heightened anticipation of summiting out weighs all reasoning. It is a step into the Twilight Zone where one’s critical faculties take a leave of absence and reckless decision making begins. The boiling frog story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to perceive significant changes that occur gradually – the premise is that if a frog is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, the animal will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
In Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air, he describes climbers so intoxicated by the drive to get to the summit that the common sense of survival gets discarded even when exhaustion, dehydration and bad weather becomes overwhelmingly evident – not to mention the absence of fellow climbers who have met their death.
Summit fever is not only limited to the tallest peaks in the world but can be found anywhere the human spirit is challenged- including the Sahara Desert.
It has been called the toughest footrace on earth, The Marathon des Sables. Competitors have described the event as running on the surface of the sun. The race is held each year in Morocco over six-days covering 254 km which is the equivalent to six regular marathons. Competitors must carry all personal belongings and food for the entire event in their backpacks. Water, tents and medical support are supplied by the race organizers. During the 1994 race, Carabinieri (Italian police officer) Mauro Properi lost his way during a sand storm. Not wishing to endure a long drawn out death of dehydration, Mauro attempted to commit suicide in an abandoned mosque by cutting his wrists. The attempt failed – lack of water had caused Mauro’s blood to congeal the wound before the blood could escape his emaciated body. Nine days later he was found by a nomadic family and taken to an Algerian military camp. Mauro was nearly 200 miles off route.
Whether in the mountains, oceans or deserts for many adventurers the ultimate goal is to finish – at any cost.
” I think that if you see me crawling I might be in trouble, but until then I think I’m okay.” Triathlete Felicia Wilkerson, competitor # 378, Marathon des Sables.