Companions in Misery

A cold mountain, a mismatched pair, and a meditation on the strange chemistry of partnership

Nov 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

"BLACKBIRD SINGING in the dead of night..."

"Take these broken wings and learn to fly..."

We're alternating lines, harmonizing on the chorus. In a rare moment of reasonableness, Mike and I have decided that if Chouinard and Ridgeway found the Cassin too risky, we probably would too. We're bound for the West Buttress instead. Hammering up the glacier, we keep the rope taut between us, like a ligament connecting two bones that form one joint. We move at the same pace. We have always moved at the same pace. We can't imagine it otherwise. We have been partners since boyhood.

In high school we double-dated, built snow caves, climbed the local crags. After high school we lit out to see the world. Hitchhiked across north Africa, got arrested in Russia, hopped trains across Europe. When our money ran out we took to sneaking into university cafeterias in Milan, Barcelona, and Paris, where the girls were gorgeous even if they ignored us.

Back in the U.S. it was summers in Yosemite or Joshua Tree or the Tetons, winters ice climbing in the Rockies, arguing ceaselessly about Sartre or sex. When we latched onto the idea of climbing McKinley we were penniless college kids clothed by the Salvation Army. We sold T-shirts for funding and sewed all our own equipment: eccentric, outlandish jackets, homemade backpacks. What we had to buy we bought used. Leather, full-steel shank, 15-pound Frankenstein double-boots. Heavy downhill skis with first-generation Ramer bindings. Salewa ice screws. Miserable, even dangerous, gear. But what we lacked in accoutrements we made up for in a partnership of perfect pitch.


More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!