Pen, Paper and a Mountainside: Expedition Diaries from Mt. Logan


 

One of the interior pages of John Evans' journal from Hummingbird Ridge. In it, he wrote, "We decided for me to carry up Dick's pack and for him to haul up mine on the rope.... After 30 feet of hauling, Dick called that the pack was right below a big loose block and that I should drop down on the rope trailing from the pack to get out of the fall line. This I did, and sure enough a block of around 300 lbs. came hurtling directly over where I'd been anchored." [Photo] John Evans

To Share or Not to Share?

Whether a climber is writing simply to document facts and memories or unload emotional angst after the necessity for stoicism is over, there remains a question of how and when this content is shared. If climbers like Glidden are learning important lessons—lessons worthy of a journal entry—might they not have something important for others to learn as well?

Ultimately, we know what we know about expeditions to Mt. Logan, and other mountains, because of what climbers have shared publicly. But where do their journals fit in?

The climbers' responded to this question with a broad spectrum of emphatic personal thoughts. Evans actually sent Alpinist his 1965 Hummingbird Ridge journal in its entirety to use for the Mountain Profile. He also brought this journal to a reunion with his mates from the Hummingbird Ridge expedition and shared it with them.

House, on the other hand, doesn't see his journals as for anyone but himself. "I'm the only person who has ever read my journals," he said, "and I expect that I will be the only one to ever read my journals." House goes as far as to say that he may burn them all before he dies.

As we know, Evans, who handed over his journal to Alpinist, keeps journals that are mostly documentation of hard facts and do not include much information of a personal nature. House is the exact opposite, rarely writing about the day-to-day, instead choosing to explore his thoughts.

Glidden, who falls somewhere in between on the spectrum, commented on how, while his journals are for himself only, he would sometimes read the day's events to climbing mates "if it wasn't too personal about them." What we find here, then, is that factual information is often easier to share than personal introspection.

Even though journal contents may be deeply private, a few climbers revealed that the lessons and stories within them are still widely shared. Both House and Glidden said that they would often use material from their journals when writing for other publications. The same can be said for countless other climbers. Many lean on the writing they did while on expedition to help them remember details when detailing more thorough accounts, whether for articles or books. We have a good example in A.H. MacCarthy, who was able to provide as elaborate an account of the Logan expedition as he did because of the time he spent journaling on the mountain.

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Jones pointed out that sharing climbing stories also leads to another valuable outcome. He said that telling stories is a means of communicating limits, like a difficult grade or embarking on a first ascent, and how to persevere. "We are all capable of doing and experiencing vastly more than most people will ever experience," he explained. "It was not that long ago when '5.9' was the ultimate in technical rock climbing difficulty and there was great reticence to step out from this artificial limitation."

Remembering, Reliving and Forgetting

When a journal isn't playing storyteller, what is it doing? Down the road, what purpose do the journals serve for their authors?

All four climbers have used their journals to recall specific details. "Naturally, we forget a lot of our past, the good and the bad parts," Glidden said. Evans said that he has used them if he was "doing a reprieve or a repeat," in which case he would share his journals with the rest of the people planning the trip. House also uses them to keep his facts straight. "At times I need to know how long it took us to get to do something, such as climb to the top of the southwest face of King Peak," he recalled. "I just don't keep all those times and factoids in my head." And Jones found his early records of new routes or first ascents to be very helpful when it came time to write his two Selkirks-based mountaineering guidebooks.

Having a way to remember the facts is important to everyone who journals, even those who write for purely personal reasons. "The journals, as original sources, are the ultimate resources for that kind of information," House said. He explained that his journals allow his to step back in time. "What I like about re-reading my journals isn't the subjects I chose—it's the ability they have to transport me back to that person I was at the time I wrote the entry," he said. "I can read the entries from when I was 25 and be that 25-year-old again; slipping right into it like a worn pair of socks."

Glidden said that the entries he wrote at age 47 revealed that he identified a lot with Ernest Shackleton, the famed Antarctic explorer. But that is not who he would identify with now at age 74. "What youthful energy I had then," he remarked. Climbers like House and Glidden, who kept a more personal account of their thoughts and feelings while on an expedition, have gained incredible insight about their former selves through their journals.

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Comments
JoJo

Bravo Meghan! You ask insightful questions and give us an eloquent insight into a here-to-fore rarely discussed corner of the mountaineering experience. — Joe Josephson

2010-06-23 11:55:16
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