Friday, September 21, 2007

Three Points of Contact

My love of mountains began when I was a kid.  There was a hill in our backyard, and I had a pair of skis.  Up and down, up and down I went, until I got older and graduated to the big hill on the golf course. Up and down again until I found Vermont and lift served skiing at Stowe and then at MAD RIVER GLEN.  Mad River became like home to me as it has done to so many.  It’s about mountains and the whole ethos of mountain life:  independence, reliability, planned risk-taking , and the glory of being alive on this fabulous spinning orb.
800pxtuckermanravineskiing_2I spread out to Mt. Washington and Tuckerman’s Ravine.  Again, you have to climb to ski.  It’s not a picnic, and it can be very dangerous:  falling ice, horrendous winds, avalanches, bergschrunds, whiteouts. It’s in New England, not far from Boston, and people often don’t think these kinds of conditions are there.  But they are. You are lucky if you find mountaineers who will share some of their knowledge with you.  I did.
Never go faster than your slowest person; plan; retreat if necessary.
In college I got to the alps and a mountaineering school in Switzerland in the small village of Rosenlaui in the Bernese Oberland. Towering mountains, glaciers ( now a lot of them are greatly diminished due to global warming) and European climbers.  Our guide was a Swiss named Fritz Imja and to this day his kind instruction, advice, and friendship have been a constant gift.  I’ll save some of the stories for another time, but here is one.
Thunersee.jpgThere were eight of us, two three person ropes and one two person rope.  We were on a nearly vertical face. I was in the middle of a three man rope.  Fritz was the last man on the rope.  I froze, clinging to the face like moss.  I couldn’t move.
Fritz said, “It’s OK, rest.  Then lean back, let your feet take hold on the rock.  Always three points of contact, two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand.  You’ll be fine.  It’s a great day.”
And I was.


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