The Scene: Approximately 2 PM at about 18,500 ft. above Denali’s Orient Express.
The Characters: Me: A 40-ish guy with a wife, kids and mortgage. Partner: Similar, only single and more handsome.
The Setting: After a long, cold morning of ascending the West Rib, the characters face the possibility not summiting. Travel conditions: Knee to crotch-deep snow interlaced with fiendish boulders.
Me (to Self): “Argh! We were cruising. This sucks. Stupid snow. The top’s still a ways off. I think my feet are alright. Should have brought overboots. Why hasn’t he offered to take the lead? Ahhhh! Shit. Up to my crotch again.”
Partner (to Self): “Argh! Postholing. Too slow. We’re not gonna make it for sure. Where’s the top again? I don’t wanna spend a night out up here. Frickin’ sufferfest, for sure. What’s he thinking?”
Me (to Partner, aloud): “Man, the footing….uhhhh!” (Hard breathing) “I’m really whacked. What do you think? You wanna try for a while?”
Partner (to Me, aloud): “No, you’re doing great. I think we should go over there by those smaller boulders. It might be easier. If we can’t, then maybe we should call it.”
Me (to Self): “What? Call it? Call it?” (to Partner, aloud): “OK, I’ll try for another 15 or so. Let’s see. We’re not that far off.”
Partner (to Self): “Holy crap. Not that far off? Is he crazy? Screw it. This place sucks, anyway. 14.2’s a joke. This is a joke. My hands…how are they doing? Are they bad?” (to Partner, aloud): “All right, you’re looking good. Go ahead and check it out.”
Me (to Self while climbing): “Uhhhh. So slow. All that work. My one chance to summit. What a fricking flail.”
Partner (to Self): “Wow, I’m glad I’m not breaking. Unbelievable. I’ll let him go on for a while, and then we’ll bail. The pantywaist. I’ll never hear the end of it.” (to Partner, aloud): “Looking good! Keep it up!”
The Scene: 14.2 basecamp. 6 PM. Both characters are sitting by their tent, unroped.
Me (to Self): “God, he's an idiot. Why didn’t we top out? We should have gotten up at 2, not 4. I’m just so bummed.” (to Partner, aloud) “Sorry. Not happening today.”
Partner (to Self): “What should I say? Be a hard-ass , or not? Do I ever want to want to climb with him again? It was a tough day. Maybe I shouldn’t be too tough on him.” Pause. (to Me, aloud): “It’s cool. Lotta work up there. I should have been more helpful.”
Me (to Self): “At last, some conciliation. About time. Hmmm, do I want to climb with him again?” (to Partner, aloud): “Yeah, we could have done better. Live and learn.”
Partner (to Self) : “ I like this guy. Good man.” (to Me, aloud): “Yeah.” Pause. “Hey, if we ration our food, we could try again tomorrow, what do you say?”
Me (to Partner, aloud and grinning): “You’re on.”