• Otilia

Requited love: Mount Quandary. Beyond pain there is more pain, but in the end there is happiness

Part two: The Beast

Above the trees…. breathtaking views unfold in front of my eyes…half is white and half gray blue…I am focusing on my steps thinking that I will be able to admire the view on my way back. Even though it is a strenuous climb, the wind makes me feel chilly and we both stop to put an extra layer on. But everything is all right because the sun is about to rise behind me and it won’t take long until its rays will caress my back and bring back the blood to my extremities. Hmm, it seems I got this wrong as it gets colder and windier second by second…

There is a small ridge in front of us, and even if I am freezing cold, I am thinking there is no need to put my puffy on as we will be on the summit soon. Noticing my shivering, Jon tells me in a low voice: “put your puffy on, we still have a long way to go”. Hmm, for some reason I thought we were very close to the summit. Despite the crazy wind threatening to steal my mitts, I take my pack off and get another layer on. After few more minutes, even if the wind covers every sound, I hear Jon saying: “Your nose is getting white, cover it!” Not sure what he means, but I am afraid of frostbite and even if covering my mouth and my nose with a buff always made breathing more difficult, Beck Weathers’ imagine pops up in my mind, and still half reluctantly, I cover my nose. After few more minutes - or few gusts of wind as this is the true metric for time up here, I hear Jon talking to me again “Pull the left side of your hood to block the wind, like this” and he shows me how he tries to protect half of his face. As I barely have any energy for moving my legs I am wondering if i should try or not to hold the hood like a shield while fighting this wild wind. On top of the ridge but surprise, another towering one in front of us. Jon says - “we only have this easy ridge to go up on and we’ll be on the summit”.

The wind and the cold are draining all the energy out of my body. It is hard to understand if I am climbing or it is just a bad dream. Every gust of wind ruthlessly scratches my face: it is not the wind, it is a tiger jumping on my face and scratching my skin with all its claws. This is not like the other climbs. The sun is up but I can’t feel its protective warmth…. the wind is the one who rules up here. As never before, Jon is far far away. It is feels like climbing on a treadmill because even if I am executing the usual movements, I am stuck in one spot. The advice from Steve Johnson’s “New alpinism” comes into my mind: yes, I need water so I stop and fight the wind to get a sip…the water bottle is not where it should be and taking my gloves off makes everything more unbearable. One, two, three, ten…I am counting the steps to keep the rhythm. Because both the distance and the blizzard I can’t see Jon anymore. All by myself…and stuck wading through knee-high snow. Maybe an energy gel could help? Stopping again and trying to push the sticky sweet gel into my mouth. Maybe not such a good idea? Choking on it as the wind pushes me almost from one side of the ridge to the other. Maybe water? My hands are already so cold that I can’t feel them. Somehow, I manage to get myself together and climb again, one step at a time, because there is no other way. My mind is completely blank. As Brock Bastian put it, pain is our shortcut to mindfulness.

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