Companions in Misery

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

Outside

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TWIGHT AND I SUMMITED, but not with each other.

We'd met two eager lads from Dartmouth, Bart and Fred. They were the same age as I was when I first came to McKinley. They too had dreams of doing the Cassin (and two weeks later would nobly fulfill them) but, like everyone else at Camp 14,200 at that time, they were bent on the West Butt.

Whenever Bart and Fred were around, Twight seemed transformed. He became animated and voluble; he even smiled. Nothing close to the guy I'd been climbing with. Fred, in particular, was star-struck. He'd read Twight's recent mountaineering manifesto and was thrilled to meet the guru in person. Twight responded warmly.

One morning we set out for the summit as a foursome. But at 17,000, Bart started slowing down. He was clearly suffering from inadequate acclimatization, couldn't catch his breath, and thus couldn't keep up. Fred, far out ahead with Twight, saw that Bart and I had taken up together, talking and moving steadily. Twight and Fred went from 14,200 to the 20,320-foot summit and down in ten hours; Bart and I, discussing family and fathers along the way, did it in eleven. Twight had a cup of hot soup waiting for us when we got back to camp. Everybody was happy. It was minus 37 the morning we set out and minus 39 that night.

On the summit, lumpy clouds had rolled in, making the highest mountain in North America appear to be just another nondescript bump of white. I was thinking about Mike. About all the expeditions we did together. About friendship. About how, as a young man, I knew, instinctively, that it was the partnership, not the peak, that mattered.


 

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