Rob's Blog Archive

January 15, 2012

In Search of the Perfect Storm










One of the books I read early in my climbing career was Reinhold Messner’s “The Seventh Grade.”    Boldness, skill, and imagination made Messner the preeminent climber in the world from the late sixties through 1986 when he became the first person to climb all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks.   Reading his book seemed like a good idea for an aspiring climber. 

In “The Seventh Grade,” he talked about doing the Philippe-Flamm route in the Alps.  The route was one of the most technically difficult in Europe at that time under good conditions.  Messner did the first solo assent in a torrential rain storm---rain only slightly warmer than the snow and hail from which it came.  And this was ten years before Gore-Tex was invented.  Rain meant getting soaked from sweat, the rain itself, or both.  Screw being like Mike, I wanted to be like Reinhold. 

One of the things he said he did was take cold showers to harden his body and mind.  He said these had been invaluable on the Philippe-Flamm.  There actually wasn’t a lot I could do like Reinhold, but I could take cold showers.  Okay, I whined, much to my housemates’ amusement, but I kept my body under the cold water even if I was expressing myself regarding my discomfort.  Of course, after I found myself just as cold on a ski trip as I would have been without the ‘training,’ the cold showers went out the window.

Another notion I got from a number of climbing books, including Messner’s, was to go looking for bad weather.  After all, that was what made great climbers great.  For this too, I learned the lesson that you don’t have to look for bad weather, it will find you, something particularly true in the Cascades where I was climbing at the time.  This is not to say that I didn’t derive a certain satisfaction from dealing with bad weather when it did find me, I did.  I still do.

 I was pulled from the 2009 Iditarod right before severe storms hit the trail.  I had a healthy dog team, wanted to continue, and was pulled without any warning for going too slow. 

After the race, one of the questions I was frequently asked was wasn’t I happy I didn’t have to go out into that storm?  No, I am still a climber.  I should add that pointing this out to my inquisitors generally satisfies them.

 But it isn’t just the satisfaction of coping with weather when errors have consequences that attracts me.  During the winter, if there’s a wind blowing, I’m going to want to go out into it.  Cold weather too.  And real weather is a lot more fun than a cold shower.

So last night, snowing and blowing, that’s what I did.  Actually, that’s what I tried to do.  Unfortunately, by the time I finished my dog chores, the wind had let up.  It was still snowing moderately hard and right around 20 F as I took my evening constitutional, but there was only a breeze to hint at the wind that had been blowing an hour earlier.  Happily, the snow hadn’t seen a car or pedestrian as I tracked through it.  Maybe not a storm, but the pleasure of living in a rural area in winter was there.

I’m looking at the forecast for the coming week and there’s snow predicted for every day.  At least where I live, there usually isn’t much wind.  But I am keeping my hopes up that a perfect storm will pass through.  If it does, you’ll know where to find me.

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