I'm tired, my quads are sore and I want to ride my bike."In such dire straits, even the most upstanding individuals have been known to raid the first-aid kit as a last resort. But mountain storms have a way of outlasting an emergency supply of Percodan or codeine, and a claustrophobic, smelly nylon envelope is not the best place to experience the hell of narcotic withdrawal.
There is a thin line, however, between mere wretchedness and thrilling, action-packed agony. In 1967, the first party to climb in Alaska's Revelation Mountains, finding themselves stormed in for more than forty of their fifty-two days in the range, managed to stay on the right side of that line almost continuously. Matt Hale recalls coming back to their base camp near the end of the expedition soaked to the skin after a futile, multi-day sortie to collect butterfly specimens, only to encounter a week of horizontal rain and sleet. Driven by gale-force winds right through the walls of his tent, the rain showered the interior of the shelter with a fine, continuous, thirty-four degree spray that chilled bodies to the bone and reduced sleeping bags to sodden wads of feather and nylon.
Hale, on the verge of going hypothermic, figured out that the driest way to sleep was to remove all his wet clothing, wedge himself as best he could into his clammy but somewhat waterproof backpack (trying to ignore the fact that it was awash with the remnants of soggy Fig Newtons), pull a rain parka on over that, and only then slither into his wringing-wet sleeping bag. "Night after night," he remembers, "I'd have this delirious, half-conscious dream that I'd be hiking down the glacier and come upon a warm, dry cabin. Just as I'd start to open the door I would always wake up, shivering uncontrollably, wet and sticky with Fig Newton crumbs." Although the trials of that week in the tent covered a broad spectrum of miseries, Hale is quick to emphasize that "boredom was not a problem."
Indeed, twenty-some years after the expedition, Hale speaks of the ordeal with great affection; the guy would return to the Revelations -heinous weather and all - in an instant were the opportunity to arise. As the eminent nineteenth-century aplinist, Sir Francis Younghusband, observed, "It is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly...that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again."
- Jon Krakauer