Sleeping on a Glacier – Tom Gaffney
A gorgeous, windless night. The absence of light pollution allows me a wondrous view of the stars. The midsummer twilight is finally subsiding; daylight is a recent memory as I look down the icy expanse. Here I lay in my bivy sack: warm, comfortable, tired, and worried.
My mind wanders. I will be home soon. Visions of glaciers, feet up on the couch, feeling satisfied. Exultations that a summit brings. Affection and beer on the front porch. Worried about home, worried about the morning.
I really am pushing it. She is right that there has just been too much going on, too much time away. I wonder what conditions will be like in the morning. Hopefully the only freeze is in household relations.
Visions gone, eyes closed. I need to sleep now. We get up at 12:30, coffee, power bars, rope up, and go. Sit up again, turn on the headlamp – check the boots, the rope, the stove, the pot. All is fine, nothing moving, silence in the camp, a quiet breeze follows the slope. Click the headlamp off.
On the side of a mountain, on the train home, sitting in the living room: never really sure how I feel. Not in control, not floating down a river. I am always thinking of somewhere else, never of where I am.
Stop thinking. Need to sleep.
The important thing is rhythm. Keep moving. Steady, not too fast, not too slow, one foot in front of the other. Watch your immediate path. No use in looking to the top right now. Watch the angle of the slope. Make sure your feet are set.
“How are you feeling?” Molly asks.
“Nervous in the belly. But I am doing alright. I think my headlamp is dying.”
“Really wish you had checked those batteries. We should be alright though.”
I am glad Molly is here. She has been very patient with my scattered self. I know I have not been home much lately and there are other things we should be tending to. But you spend so little time really enjoying yourself. Shouldn’t that be more important? Where does that stand in the scheme of things?
One foot after the other, my crampons bite into the snow. Maintaining tension in the rope: keep space between members of the rope team. My belly rumbles, my headlamp dims and I feel a touch warmer than I would like. But I am doing alright.
“If you can keep moving we should take a break up ahead, on the rocky ridge at the top of this next rise. What do you think?”
“Sounds good. How are you feeling?”
“Excellent. I feel like dancing. It is a beautiful morning, going to be a great day. And we’re out here together. Isn’t that great? We should do more things together.”
“Agreed. This is the best place to be early on a Sunday. Though I would not quite call it morning yet.”
“Not exactly the best place. But it is pretty good. This is all so easy. But it’s also kind of selfish, don’t you think? We could be doing so much more.?”
“What – now? What else would we be doing now? It’s the middle of the night. How could we be making better use of this time?”
“No silly – in general. Gear, weekends, pals. All to get to the top of a pile of rock. And take risks doing it. Why bother? We could be home working on the house, working on our lives. Instead, you spend everything you have on this silly stuff.”
“What? Really? I thought you liked the fact that I climb, that you thought it was interesting. What should we be working on?”
“How about growing up? We are not getting any younger. If you don’t watch, life will get away from you. Here we are. Let’s take a break.”
We had reached the ridge. My stomach was really bothering me now. And even though one could see the sun beginning to rise on the other side of the mountain I was worried about my fading headlamp, which was still a necessity.
Molly dropped her pack, and started chatting with another party we had been trailing closely behind. I was feeling crappier and she seemed to be feeling great. She has been telling me that I never involve her in this, but she never wants to go. And here she is kicking my ass. Not too surprising. I am always telling her she is plenty strong to do this kind of stuff if she wants to. But she never seems to want to – until this morning.
I look over and see she’s dropped her pack and is talking to the gents from the other party. They have even offered her a cigarette and a beer. Up here? Really? She’s even ditched her jacket. We’re standing at 9,000 feet in the middle of the night and she’s flirting with these guys. It’s hard to take.
“Aren’t you going to freeze without the jacket? And a cigarette – really? I would have thought we could save the celebration for the top and the sunrise?”
She laughs. “Whatever, ass dragger. You are the one having problems keeping up.” The other group laughs and laughs.
“Yeah, my stomach does not feel right. I’m going to duck around these rocks. I’ll be right back.”
Shaking my head, I step behind some rocks. Feeling nauseous and weak. Why is she treating me like this? I bend over and try to throw up. But it just isn’t happening. And then my headlamp dies. Great. Just great. The day is moving from one of great potential, to humbling and insulting, to now just terror.
I find my way back around the rocks. And no one is there. I know the headlamp is dead, but they should be right here. There is no gear, no sound but the breeze. No Molly, no pack. No other group. Just me and my dead headlamp and my rotten stomach. A surge of adrenalin, heart beating extremely loud and fast.
Alone in what should be a beautiful place. Terrified. What am I going to do? The wind seems to be picking up – sounds like a small jet.
“Stephen! Stephen! Let’s go!”
Bright light in my face. Awake. Lying in my cocoon. They group is up and the stove is going. Coffee on the way.
“Let’s go man. Don’t start the day slow. Time to start moving.”
I reach for my headlamp. It clicks on and shines.
Time to get moving.