Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tied in

When you climb a mountain in a whiteout, like I did twice in Iceland, you can't see how far you have to go. You can't see where you came from. Everything else falls away, and what you are left with is the glacier underneath your feet, the person in front of you, and the rope that ties you together.

This is your world, for hours.  You walk in the steps of the person in front of you, and because there's nothing to see, you watch the rope in front of you. You want to watch it anyway, because it could save your life. You don't step on it, ever; the sharp points of your crampons could shred it. If you let too much slack accumulate in front of you, you need to slow down. If the person in front of you falls in a crevasse, the fall will be much longer. If the rope is too taut, you are walking too slowly and you need to speed up. You could be pulled into the crevasse too if the rope is too tight. The rope should kiss the snow. You know it when you see it. This means your rope team is walking in sync, is paying attention.

When you climb as a rope team, you are together yet apart. It's hard to talk much because you are spread out evenly. You're in your own bubble, alone with your thoughts.  If you're also climbing in a whiteout, your world becomes even smaller. You think about all kinds of things: the past, the future, what brought you here. But sooner or later it all comes back to your footsteps, the surface of the glacier, and the rope.

Speed up, slow down. Don't step on it.  Move it to the other side when you change directions. This is your lifeline. Remember this.

When it comes time to untie, you know you've made it. There's no more crevasse danger, and it's just a hike now. You can walk next to each other and talk.  You feel a little closer to your companions now. For hours you moved as one up the mountain, a thin line connecting you together.  The rope is gone, but you remain connected by the memory.


  1. So what mountain did you climb?

    1. We climbed Eyjafallajokull and Hvannadalshnjukur. We tried to climb another lower one but had to turn around due to weather. I'm going to do a post on these mountains soon. I can't pronounce them however.

  2. But you can spell them and none of us can! A very interesting look at mountain climbing in those hear or read about roped climbing but this is a much clearer look at how it is for those on the rope. Glad you all came back down safely and victorious!


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