Companions in Misery

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

Nov 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

THE STORM ATTACKS out of nowhere. Mike and I don't know where we are on the mountain. We don't know we're on Windy Corner, the worst possible place to be in a storm. We dig in immediately, hacking a shallow shelf in the steep slope, hastily surrounding it with blocks of snow and throwing up our laughable A-frame pup tent. We use our ice axes to stake down the fly, but it flaps as violently as a trapped bird.

We tie the two plastic sleds to the ice axes—and there they snap horizontally in the wind like red flags—then fill the tent with everything else and dive inside. We have frostnip on our hands, fingers, and faces. We clamp our hands under our armpits and put our bare feet against each other's bellies. When our hands warm up we press them against the patches of frozen white flesh on each other's faces. After all body parts are thawed, we rewarm our mittens inside our parkas, plug them on, and take up our stations at either end of the tent. Fearing that the wind is going to tear the tent right off of us, like a tornado lifts away the roof of a house, we hang on to the poles.

We hold down the tent all night. Telling every dirty joke we know. Telling stories, usually about each other, that to us are so funny we double over in laughter.


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