DH is home. His long-planned, eagerly anticipated trip to the Alps is over. Due to poor weather conditions, he was not able to ski the Haute Route across the mountains or climb the Matterhorn. He was disappointed but philosophical. “That’s mountaineering.”
Being of a more volatile temperament myself, I am always impressed by his calm acceptance of what he can’t change. Nevertheless I am grateful to have him safely home.
Not long before his party arrived in Chamonix, France, to start the Haute Route, a guide — a vastly experienced, paid guide, leading a group — skied into a hidden crevasse and died. Soon after his party left Zermatt, Switzerland, four skiers were swept away and killed in an avalanche.
I always live in dread while DH is off on these trips. I understand that accidents can happen anywhere. Last summer an experienced local man climbed a local rock face DH has scaled hundreds of times; on successfully reaching the top, the man untied his rope, tripped, and fell off the cliff to his death. One of DH’s pals died climbing ten years ago when his anchor failed. However, as DH points out, one of his oldest and dearest climbing friends died hit by a drunk driver while turning into a 7-11 to buy a quart of milk.
DH is as safe a climber as you can find. He is methodical and cautious, not a hot-shot or a peak-bagger. He reads mountaineering literature obsessively, so before he attempts a route it is likely he has memorized the detailed history of every attempt on it since 1800.
Still, I worry. I worry when he goes out with crampons and ropes at home, and I worry more when he’s halfway across the world. The jagged snowy peaks that enthrall him, to me look like cold predatory fangs. Nothing but danger. Living with a mountaineer and his library all around me for almost thirty years, I know that a regular feature of this “sport” is death.
It’s hard for me to understand the appeal, but then I’ve always thought “sport” was a misnomer. For some it’s a calling. For DH I think the passion for big mountains is wrapped up in love of wilderness, a connection to his youth and strength, a masculine desire to test himself against physical and mental odds. Two hundred years ago he would have been an explorer with Lewis and Clark. I can just see him, snug in a bedroll at the edge of a campfire, chin on fist, writing careful notes with quill and ink by firelight.
I was sad for DH that he wasn’t able to fulfill his alpine dreams this year. But the email I was happiest to receive was the one titled HEADING HOME, with the enclosed snapshot from his last day, at 11,000 feet.