The guys called in to give us an update on one of the hardest, yet unsung aspects of climbing a big, cold mountain – sitting tight. They had a bit of a change, as another Mountain Trip team moved up to camp next to them, but all in all, they spent the day trying to turn their brains off, while the snow falls and the winds blow up high.
Non-climbers often have a somewhat romantic ideal of what it is like to “scale the icy flanks of the tallest mountain in North America.” The vision is often associated with being hunched over in the wind, icicles forming on shaggy beards, whist scratching upwards into the maelstrom. I am often asked by relatives and old friends to write a book about climbing these big, cold mountains. I tell them that my book would not be too interesting, as it would read something like, “We awoke to the sound of freight train winds hammering on our tent walls. Clouds of ice crystals wafted through the air from our bated breath as we waited for the next blast. Peering wearily over at my tent mate, we pulled our bags snug to our chins and went back to sleep. When we could stay in our bags no longer (nature calling?), we suited up and committed ourselves to… the warmth of our cook tent, with six stoves blazing and the fog of crystallized coffee vapor obscuring our vision of the climbers seated on foam pads atop benches cut into the snow across the tent. Two similar days later, the weather cleared, we packed up camp, heading up in the warm sun.”
The fact is, weather often dictates when we can move. Being able to just sit tight and wait, without letting the whirlwind of thoughts, doubts, concerns and anxiety deplete your motivation, is one of the hardest skills to master. It requires a zen-like ability to shut off your brain and just be completely in the moment. This skill might be more important than some of the “hard skills,” that are also necessary to be proficient at, in order to climb a huge peak like Denali.
And so… the team is awaiting a change in the weather, which looks like it might be in the future. They have plenty of time, and are in a relatively comfortable place with some new company, so they’re doing well.
Here’s the team: