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Tom Frost, The Conscience Keeper

Rupak Bhattacharya | Aug 27 , 2018

The back of our mind is a funny place. If one remains aware of its presence, and alert to its inputs, one may often pre-empt avoidable troubles. But I do not mean the so-called sixth sense or extra-sensory perception. I mean that still, small voice within us which tells us right from wrong, which is the unseen but clearly heard care-taker of values, principles and morals, which upholds our scruples, beliefs and compunctions, which lets us sleep the hard-earned and richly deserved sleep of the just and the honest, even if it were on an exposed rocky bivvy halfway up the nose of El Capitan.

Tom Frost

Photo Courtesy: Royal Robbins archive

I talk about the tireless, but oft un-respected, abstract universal reality of "conscience".

This internal abstraction is always reinforced by external inputs from fables, books, stories and above all by the lives and teachings of unimpeachable personalities.

For a large section of the present generation climbing world, the passing of Tom Frost would have come as a relief, for they, with intent aforethought, ignore this conscience. Now their joy at another statistical "summit" reached will not be adulterated by the sharp twinge from the conscience which asks only about the "climb".

Tom Frost

Photo Courtesy: Gary Regester

For Tom Frost, the "top" was important, possibly very important, but it never took precedence over the paramountcy of the "climb"; of how you made it to the top, because the "right way" was the "only way".

This ethical paradigm, of what climbing should be, left him surprised and not a little upset at the present generation in search of "instant gratification" with little or no accountability. He identified five traits that characterized these summit-seekers: selfishness, entitlement, lack of self-management, mis-education and disrespect.

I am not conversant with the climbing world in the western hemisphere but I dare say the same traits would be entirely appropriate today to describe a fair number of climbers in the Himalayas, whatever their nationality.

Tom Frost's observations are self-evident, and need no further elaboration. Suffice to say that what these climbers do on the mountains, they also do when back on the plains.

And therein lies the tragedy. For as Frost so succinctly said, "how you do anything, is how you do everything".

The legend is no more, but in every re-telling of it the legend lives on even more.

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