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Pen, Paper and a Mountainside: Expedition Diaries from Mt. Logan
Colonel Foster treats the frostbitten fingers and toes of A.H. MacCarthy and H.F. Lambart after their summit push. Frostbitten fingers make for very poor writing conditions. [Photo] 1925 Canadian Alpine Journal, courtesy The Alpine Club of Canada
Documenting the Facts
The answers our climbers gave to the question of "why" landed in one of two broad camps: journaling to document facts or journaling to process the experience in a personal way.
Much of what we know about each of the climbs on Mt. Logan comes from information originally recorded as a journal entry. Sometimes these entries became references for more detailed depictions in other publications. As John Evans put it, "the journals can contribute to telling the story later."
David Jones distinguishes his more fact-based journals from more reflective journaling by calling them logs, which he kept for some 45 years. "With few exceptions, my [logs] are focused on [recording] the facts, events, times, elevations, food, fuel consumed - in short information that I might use at some future date," Jones explained. His logs are extensive and keep a record of every climb he has made, including 250 first ascents and over 600 total routes, he said.
Jock Glidden operates similarly to Jones. Glidden said he often used a notebook to keep track of information, such as expenses, critical addresses and phone numbers, equipment, food lists and medical kit contents.
For Evans, his journals really just serve the purpose of keeping a record of the facts. "In most of my journals, they are not full of great, brilliant insights," he said. "Mostly it is the day-to-day doing, but nothing very inspirational." House, on the other hand, doesn't write for the purpose of details, but rather to reflect on his own thoughts and experiences.
A Friend on the Mountain
House observed: "I think many of us feel a universally human need to download and share our experiences." His journals may include some facts and figures to remember later, but for the most part they serve to "organize and process the daily internal dialogue." While climbing partners can help us to "download" our thoughts and feelings, he said, there are times when nothing is more comforting than pen and paper.
He noted that his densest journals are the ones he wrote when on solo expeditions:
"When traveling and climbing with great mates, that naturally happens back at camp, or even in the bivy; that fresh, excited recounting of the day's special moments, often characterized by overloud voices, hand gestures and amazed laughter at what we got ourselves into—and out of. Those conversations are so charged, so immediate, and so intimate, that I feel like I'm truly re-living the moment. Some of those moments are steeped in ecstasy, some in pain. But they're so vivid right then.
"When I'm alone, I don't have that outlet. There is no one to tell the stories to. But the energy is the same. The feeling at these times is that I just can't write fast enough. On some expeditions I tried taking a miniature voice recorder and speaking into it. (That didn't work for some reason; I was held back by some self-consciousness.) So, I journal, scribing those raw, immediate emotional memories onto paper."
In the front flap of John Evans' journal from the 1965 Hummingbird Ridge expedition, which he called "a record of events and personal impressions," he listed the names of his expedition mates. [Photo] John Evans
House forgot to bring his journal to Logan. But that didn't stop him from writing. He scribbled five or six entries on scrap paper instead. The entries primarily recorded the angst he and Joe Josephson went through deciding when to make their attempt on King Peak. "Sometimes, when the conversations are good, I journal less," he said, alluding to the fact that, for the most part, his company provided the outlet he needed on that particular ascent.
A journal, then, can be a confidant, listener and a friend who comforts. Jock Glidden, who is also a professional philosopher and, in his words, "trained to be reflective," found his journal to be "a reflective instrument" that allowed him to consolidate his thoughts. Journaling helped him to prepare for the future, which was the case on Logan when his co-leader, Frank Sarnquist, injured his back early on in the expedition, leaving the burden of leadership solely to Glidden. The important lessons he learned began to congeal as he spent the time to write.