Mountaineering Lesson

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series Issue II: Fall 2009

by Ralph Gray

Going up a mountain? You start by deciding you’d rather stay in bed – until the sun, squirts into your tired eyes, shredding your formerly protective darkness. You start a debate: stay in bed?…..but what to tell friends who expect photographic proof of conquered heights?……..and besides, there’s all that money spent….. Come to the window: sweet is the Alpine air. Come on already!

Now you’re in the breakfast room gulping down coffee and croissants with lots of butter and jam. Then you fold fistfuls of ham and cheese into a crisp, halved roll and stuff it into your rucksack. Hubba hubba! Grab your hiking poles and presto! you’re on your way. Glorious Eger, Monch and Jungfrau eye you: will he or won’t he dare? He won’t – he’s a mere hiker, not an Alpinist. So you go to the station and take the little train to a gentler, yet photogenic mountain. Lesson #1: “recognize your level of ineptitude”.

Off the train you go and up the slope. Lesson #2: to get up the slope lift one foot, set it down; then the other. Keep repeating. And be sure to breathe. Stop occasionally to look down. “Gee, after nearly an hour I’ve climbed only 300 feet.” But 2 hours later it’ll be “Wow! Look at that!” – You ask a passing hiker to snap you, posing you at a really impressive spot.

Next, the terrain gets tricky. Icy molten glacier water cascades over what is supposed to be your trail. Down below, where you wish you were, it had been marked “for beginners”. For beginners a proper little bridge in this proper little land should be here….. somewhere. Maybe you have forgotten: Swiss watchmakers craft neither trails nor signs. Silently you scream” I can’t, I simply can’t!”

Are you allowed to turn back? Lesson 3: Talk tough: “C’mon, be a MAN!”

You edge along the icy cascade – slippery, muddy and treacherous. Oh oh, those rocks in the water – I’ll fall! Maybe, but Lesson 3 again. So you hop onto the first rock, of course almost falling off; then more smoothly hop onto the next. See? Now the last hop: up a bit onto the embankment. Your rucksack’s weight suddenly shifts, and just as you are about to join the icy cascade God sends you a branch to seize. (Lesson 4: Stay on the right side of God.)

AAH, but where is my trail? Not a marker in sight. Below, where the going was easy, markers were everywhere. – Lesson 5: Don’t panic! Breathe. Listen for voices. Maybe they’ll orient you but all you hear is your silent scream of alarm. Lesson 6: distract yourself – try yodeling.

Final lesson – trust:
a.) your lucky star
b.) your intuition and ingenuity
c.) your innkeeper. If you’re not back by 21:00 hours he’ll alert the mountain police. Until they arrive keep dry, keep warm, and keep the faith.

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