mountaineering is for the birds

I used to be a mountaineer.

Now I just watch movies about mountains.


I watched this one last night.

Now, I’ve never climbed anything even remotely close to a peak in the Himalaya, but I have been on top of a lot of mountains.

Until I spent my honeymoon at 20,000 feet, I dreamed of big mountains, in big ranges; after carrying a 90 pound pack to that altitude, I wasn’t so sure.

But everyone was doing it.

I had friends on Denali (one friend’s body is still up there), friends on Aconcagua, and friends on Everest.

Most of them weighed more than 115 pounds. I, on the other hand, did not.

A mountaineering expedition is exciting; you are consciously choosing to suffer just to feel like King of the Hill for a couple of minutes. I can only imagine what it would feel like to stand on top of Everest and have the whole world at your feet.

It’s the possibility of that feeling that keeps our feet moving uphill, carving out steps in the ice, bracing against ground blizzards, trying not to lose footing.

At 3:00 am, skirting around a house-sized crevasse in Bolivia, I said, “I’m not having fun.”

My friend laughed, “Oh no, it’s not fun until you get home.”

Back then, I could wrap my head around that, I lived by the old adage, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I could drag my sorry ass all over the hills.

I made a living dragging other people’s sorry asses all over the hills.

And I loved it.

So last night when I sat down with my popcorn and remote, I fully expected to feel a pang of nostalgia, even a pull of longing.

I figured that at the very least, when I saw everyone in their ultra fluffy down suits that I would crave one more chance to run around with an ice axe and crampons.

But to be really honest, while I was waiting for the wistfulness to kick in, there was an onscreen moment when the climbers got blasted in the face with blowing ice and I thought,

I don’t miss it one fucking bit.

Not even a tiny little eensy teensy iota.

I don’t miss the heavy packs and the piles of equipment and the cold and the snow and the burning sun and not being able to breathe and struggling to take one step and the immense amount of time that it takes to do absolutely anything and the headache and not being able to sleep and getting up at 12:30 am to stumble around in the pitch black knowing that one small misstep could kill you…

Did I mention the cold?

And the dark?

And the monstrous packs?

And I was actually having this reaction long before the shit hit the fan in the story.

When the deadly storm began, I sunk as far into my recliner as I could possibly get, pulled my electric blanket up to my chin and thanked the good lord above for giving me the sense to put those days behind me.





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