Thursday, August 6, 2009

Staying on the Ground

As climbers, my husband and I started our collection of disaster literature many years ago with the classic "Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson. This is the tale of two climbers. One fell into a crevasse and the other had to cut the rope and leave him alone on the mountain. This almost always ends poorly but this tale is one of survival. We later expanded our repertoire to include sea disasters and epic tales. The best of that genre is the story of The Endurance and Ernest Shackleton's voyage to the Antarctic. Their ship was trapped and crushed on the frozen ocean and all the men survived...a feat that sailors still discuss today, nearly 100 years later. Read Alfred Lansing's version, if you can find it.

My husband and I each have found ourselves in situations that required making the right decisions to survive. His usually occurred on multi-pitch climbs in the mountains and I must say, he is pretty calm under adverse situations 800 feet up. Mine have occurred on back-country treks, usually in winter on skis. I have a particular bull-headedness that allows me to dance right into trouble.....usually starting with the phrase "We are starting to lose light so let's push hard for the next hour."

So we survived, separately, found each other and started a different adventure-kids. Now, I think of Sir Edmund Hillary's wife as he left her and his family to summit Everest. The real heroes in these stories were the women who managed everything back home while their husbands were following the age old desire to conquer the mountains, the sea, and ultimately, themselves. Fast forward to 1995 when Alison Hargreaves, an accomplished British mountaineer and mother of two small children, died while descending a climb on K2 (arguably a more difficult climb than Everest, which she had summited without oxygen). There has been much written about her decision as a mother to continue to summit mountains. There has been much less written about fathers and their decision to continue to climb.

I love the epic tales of the high mountains and the tumultuous seas. I think the partners of these adventurers have an equally compelling tale to tell. One of Hargreaves favorite quotes was the Tibetan saying "It is better to have lived one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep." Each day, we get to define what it means to be a tiger, especially when we are the ones staying on the ground.

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