Friday, May 24, 2013

What's the Allure of Climbing?

by Anne Gimpel author of Alpine Attraction

It really is a good question if you think about it. After all, you knock yourself out for hours (sometimes days) to stand on the top of something for a few minutes. The trip back down is always hard. For one thing, you're tired. For another, you have gravity pushing on your steps. Over ninety percent of climbing accidents (fatal and otherwise) happen on the way down. So, no matter how tired you are, you have to somehow gin up enough energy to pay close attention. A physician I knew very peripherally died last summer in the Sierras. He made two fatal errors in his decision making (more on that below). The first was he started too late in the day to do a difficult climb. Error number two happened (and, yes, they tend to compound one another) after he made the summit at eight-thirty at night when it was almost dark. Rather than staying on a rather broad summit plateau and sitting out the dark hours, he decided to descend a steep, cliffy route in the dark with predictable results. Your depth perception goes to hell after dark. As a doctor, he should have known that. 
I read a book recently about the bare handful of women (there were five or six) who'd climbed K2 over the years. At the time the book was written, all of them were dead, either on K2 or other difficult peaks. While I didn't know any of these women, I've known several climbers who died in the mountains. I'm not certain quite what differentiates the ones who are still here from the ones who aren't. It isn't always skill. Some very skilled men and women have managed to die in the world's high places. After hours and hours of extreme physical output, people don't think all that clearly, though.
If you're still reading—and you may not be as this type of post isn't everyone's cup of tea—your eyebrows will go up very soon. With my next sentence, actually. The thing which separates climbers who die at home in their beds and those who end up with the mountains as their eternal shrine is luck. It's that simple. Either lady luck smiles on your efforts, or not. Of course, it helps to have a heaping dose of common sense and decide to turn back short of a summit if conditions turn to crap or your physical abilities run into problems.

Which leads to an interesting segue. I have a much more active imagination than my husband in terms of things which could go wrong. There have been lots of places where I've looked at a slope, assessed the conditions, and made, "Gee, I think we ought to turn around," noises. Hubby has looked at me like I'm nuts. Usually, it means we continue. Occasionally, though, I've stuck to my guns and turned around. Of course, then I settle into my sleeping bag in the tent and worry myself sick until he shows back up.

With the rest of this post as a backdrop, I'm not certain you'll believe me when I say there's nothing quite like standing atop a peak. There's an incredible sense of accomplishment. I live in the High Sierra. There are peaks, like Ritter and Banner, I can see from town. I've stood on top of each of them (twice). Memories flood me when I catch a glimpse of them. I'm getting older and slowing down, but I still climb something every season. It's like Kate Wolf said in the song Unfinished Life: The truest paths always lead through mountains.

What challenges you? What feeds your soul? I'd love to know.

Alpine Attraction
By Ann Gimpel

Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
ISBN: 978-1-93176-193-2
Release Date: 5/20/13
Tina made a pact with the devil seven years ago. It’s time to pay the piper—or die.
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Independent to the nth degree, Tina meets everything in her life head-on—except love.

When an almost-forgotten pact with the devil returns to haunt her, Tina knows she has to go back to the Andes to face her doom.

Caught between misgivings and need, she signs on as team doctor for one of Craig’s expeditions. Though he was once the love of her life, she pushed him away years before to keep him safe. Even if he doesn’t love her anymore, there’s still no one she’d rather have by her side in the mountains.

Trapped in a battle of life and death, passion flares, burning hot enough to brand their souls.

About the Author: 

Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains.

It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved.

Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers her solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company.

Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)