Readers Blog

The Lesson

Posted on: June 30, 2008

Today we had a heavy downpour combined with a wild wind. However, I had to have my “expedition”, I had to go far amidst unfairly uneasy conditions. With one leg that doesn’t work, with a crutch in one hand, with an overused aching knee tired of replacing his pair, an equally exhausted elbow and an umbrella. Facing a wind that kept changing direction all the time apparently with the aim of reversing or snatching my umbrella from my hand. With a backpack that was not supposed to get wet for it contained the precious X-ray printouts of my damaged ankle. Almost two miles, an uphill walk. Then I had to take buses, get into the town, see the doctors and get back kangarooing to various distant bus stops.

After a time I realized the umbrella offered not much protection from a horizontal rain. It was rather an impediment. I didn’t throw it away as I would have done it a mere month ago, before my irascible temper triggered an accident to be well-remembered for the rest of my coming years. I just shook the water off and folded the umbrella. I was very proud of myself at this point. Maybe I have finally learnt the lesson of not being upset with THINGS.

The first big lesson gave me a dark blue ring around my right eye when I once got angry with my helmet. I had not fixed it the right way and when I was in the middle of an ice slope it started sliding down my front and pushing down my sunglasses. The sunglasses became foggy from my breath. I couldn’t see any more, but I had no free hands as I was holding myself to an ice axe and an ice hammer. Thank God, I was second in the rope, not leading. However, I was furious of having to blind-climb and by the time I arrived to the top of that small frozen waterfall I was cursing loudly and telling my helmet how I hated it. Nevertheless, it was the ice axe that thought me the lesson when I impatiently tried to get it out from the wall.

Then there was this second lesson. I had to experience a humiliating exclusion from a climbing event and later that day I had an angry impatient jump that ended in a slip and a double fall with a glass bottle in my hand. Now here I am, hardly able to walk, as the summer days approach, miles away from any adventure that involves leaving the asphalted flat grounds. Two miles are normally not a distance for me. But now it takes me 40 minutes to traipse along this street, totally alone, bending against the adverse wind and rain. And another hour on the way back.

Suddenly an urge of gratitude invades me. All those harsh times in the mountains seem to be useful now, when I realise that even if I forgot how to walk, I haven’t yet lost the capacity of ignoring the wind and rain. They somehow don’t bother, although my trousers and shoes are not waterproof and I feel cold wet clothes stuck to my legs. Indeed, why was I so scared when an abundant wet snow drenched us an evening while trying to locate a hut on a nunatak of the Aletsch glacier last summer? Why was it a torturing experience to learn ice climbing amidst small avalanches and snowstorms? These and all the other tree-uprooting, glove-stealing storm experiences have become an asset now when I am so hardly trying to imitate a human walking movement.

When I finally get home and dry myself, I look in a mirror and behind my head I incidentally catch glimpse of a picture on the facing wall. It is a Swiss Alpine peak we climbed almost a year ago. Around three thousand meters it wears a thick white cloud skirt, but above that layer a thousand meters of seemingly virgin brilliant white slope ends in a partly stony suave summit. Perfectly elegant and as calm as the sky when your aircraft reaches its cruising altitude above a landscape that had looked so grim and gloomy when you were still down.

A moment of happiness invades my core: I KNOW how it is up there. The wind splashes tiny ice crystals onto your face. You don’t want to remove your sunglasses, it is so bright. You see dozens of miles away. You see clouds from above. If the wind lifts them, far down the glaciers really look like huge grey wrinkled-backed snow-rivers petrified while streaming down the valleys.

Going for that mountain was a moment’s decision. I was not given more than a few seconds to say whether I would join a team. I had no time to think, to consider whether it was within my abilities and courage. My heart quickly nodded and I surprised myself by loudly saying YES. Nine months later, today I know how much this answer and its consequences changed me.

In the aftermath of that climb the world can no more be the same. It is bigger, wider, bolder, vaster, and I feel as if I have carved a tiny place for myself in its vastness. It holds me even now with this broken leg. It doesn’t hurt to look in the mirror. I touch my painful ankle and keep reading on the alpine style ascent of the Nanga Parbat’s Rupal Face. I remained a dreamer, but a different one. Not that I learned so many things in nine months. True, I learned a bit of meteorology and of avalanche risks, but the real erudition of this escapade is actually a very simple thing: if you want to be happy, let your heart answer the unexpected calls of adventure.