[From an old blog ca: 2009]
I could tell you that I summitted Mt Si with 2 guys I barely know. I could tell you they were a Boeing engineer and a radiologist. I could tell you they were both older than me. That’d all be true. But they were also an Aussie and an Irishman. These are 2 of my favorite accents to listen to, so when I realized that they’d be my companions for this most-of-a-day trip, I was thrilled to listen to the curly words, be they interesting in content or not.
I had met the Aussie before, as he and I each have a 3 year old at the same preschool. Slight in build, and mild in manner, he was the catalyst for this trip. The Irishman was new to me, but quickly grew on me like an old friend, as he had the manner (to a tee) of Stephen, the Irishman from Braveheart. With a boisterous, growly voice that carried the length of the trail, I listened, grin on my face, and couldn’t help but want to hear, “Ireland, its moi oiland!” leave his lips. He looked akin to Alfred E Newman, from the Mad magazine cover, complete with large outstretched ears and wrinkled forehead. He lives in my town, and even knows the owner of my favorite Irish pub.
Mostly he rattled on and on about how his engineering days were through and he needed to find something else. And how he was the 3rd youngest of seven in an Irish Catholic family. Also how he has lived all over the world, and didn’t now, but had had girlfriends, and, “aint shoor I’m deh merrien tayp”. The Aussie got words in edgewise, when the Irishman had to stop for breath, being that he had 55 pounds on his back, several on his belly, and had only quit smoking a year or two ago.
When it was the Aussie’s turn to talk, he gave tips on climbing and mountaineering that he had learned in his recent classes, the Irishman following behind in the steps, uttering “roight, roight, got it.” Most of the rest of the conversation focused on “the trip”. Not the one we were on, but the one they were both signed up for. They are training to summit Mt McKinley, in Denali National Park in May. Onward for an hour, up switchbacks, with Denali this and Denali that. Bits about food, tents, snow, pulling 100 pound sleds, hypothermia, 20 days without showers, and their favorite, the carrying of “the buckets” up and down the 21,000 ft mountain. Seems Alaska’s national parks are going eco-friendly and requiring everything (and I mean everything) that is carried, consumed or expelled on the mountain be brought back down to the base. Lovely for guy-banter. They had a small spat about who was going to carry who’s shit up and down the mountain in May, then resumed the other Denali-this, Denali-that talk. I learned too much about crampons, pitons, jumars, ice axes, crevasse rescue, base camps, rope chains and harnesses. All interesting, but perhaps TMI to make me ever want to do that myself. Perhaps not.
I interjected only occasionally, so as not to ruin the foreign cadence that my ears were so loving, but managed to ask several questions and answer some too. About 3 miles up, the Aussie, after noting several times that, “Erika, you must be bored for our rate with these packs” asked, in jest, if I wanted to carry his 55 pound pack for entertainment. To his surprise, I took him up on it and got to tread across snow and a couple switchbacks with the weight (and a very nice pack, I might add). I need to practice more, though I managed to keep a quicker pace than they did for the one-and-a-half switchbacks that I carried it.
At the summit, the Irishman was transformed from growly and weathered into a schoolboy, due to the antics of the camp robbers. I put several nuts on his hand and listened to his amazement and wide-eyed giggling as each bird took turns landing on his hand and selecting a snack. I sat and dropped my pack in the snow. At least 3 feet of it. Snow was falling heavily and the best view was one down to the nearest row of trees. The guys both immediately opened their packs and emptied jugs and jugs of water which was the weight they had carried up. Empty jugs re-packed, less than 10 minutes later, we turned and headed for the “cah-pahk”, or parking lot, for those of you who don’t speak “international”.
I learned about climbing pace, lactic acid and how to get the most out of a hike like Mt Si. I learned a lot about these two guys that I didn’t really know before. And I learned that even on a wet and snowy day in April, I can really enjoy a climb, if I have the right company.