From climbing snow-capped peaks across the world to testing his nerves at public speaking events, mountaineer Conrad Anker’s philosophy is to keep scaring himself.
“If you’re not scared at least once a week, maybe once a month or once a year, you’re not living life,” he said Tuesday at the Western Governors’ Association conference in Whitefish. “To get that moment where the outcome is uncertain and you don’t know what’s going on, that propels you on.”
Anker, along with pollster Frank Luntz and actor Jeff Bridges, appeared as a keynote speaker at the conference at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center earlier this week.
A resident of Bozeman, Anker spoke about his appreciation for Montana and shared stories of his experiences as a world-class mountaineer.
“I love the West, I love what it stands for, the values that we have and the permanence of it all,” he said.
Anker’s resume includes three summits of Mount Everest, an ascent of the east face of Vinson Massif in Antarctica, a first ascent on the “Shark’s Fin” on Meru Peak in India and the discovery of early Everest explorer George Mallory’s frozen body. He’s also a published author and the team leader for the North Face climbing team.
Speaking to the 10 governors in attendance, Anker noted that many of the things necessary for a successful collaboration between Western states, like communication and teamwork, are realized in climbing as well.
“The beauty of this is that it’s all about teamwork, collaboration, communication, trust and being there with your partner,” he said. “The leader fixes the rope and calls down to the climbing partners, ‘Come on up.’ And when you put someone on belay ... your life is literally in their hands. That sort of fundamental way for humans to interact with each other I think is a great way to see things.”
During his speech, Anker flipped through photos from many of his adventures across the globe. With idyllic mountain ranges setting the scene behind different images of him roped up on various rock faces, Anker reminded the audience that most of the experience is far from luxurious. The struggle, however, is the most valuable part, he said.
“Most of what climbing is, it’s really not that glorious. It’s miserable, you’re freezing, it’s snowing, you’re up in the Alaska range,” he said. “But it’s this hardship that we put ourselves in, there’s something that comes of it, that adds to who I am and who we are as a culture and a people.”
“It’s good to go out and challenge yourself,” he added. “Someone might think it’s a very frivolous pursuit, obviously we’re not curing cancer, we’re not even curing the common cold, but there’s this drive that humans have to explore and to see what’s over the horizon.”