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July 24, 2016

Alone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm an extrovert.  That said, my general ineptitude socially meant that, as a kid, I spent a lot of time alone.  That was anything from hanging out in the upper branches of eucalyptus trees as they swayed in the daily sea breeze to tromping through nearby ravines to biking to the tidal pools in Bluff Cove.  Since then, I've learned some etiquette, though I'm sure I still screw up more than I'd like. 

While my alone time was always there, it wasn't until graduate school that I had any serious solo adventures.  I had camped and done a couple of day hikes, but that was it.  While in graduate school, I started climbing by myself.  Inspired by "The Seventh Grade" by Reinhold Messner, regarded by  many as the greatest mountaineer of all time, I went off and did fourth and easy fifth class climbs, solo.  I've never stopped.

Not long after graduate school, I started having adventures other than climbing alone.  While living in Silicon Valley, most of my ski trips were by myself.  Some were to areas where I'd do lift assisted Telemark skiing.  Many included overnight backcountry trips. Once I got Dawn and Tenaya,  I did backountry skijoring and mushing trips with them, too. 

One of the big reasons I enjoyed doing adventures by myself was I could set out whenever I pleased.  Any trip with somebody else requires some coordination of schedules.  Even what I did along the trail was set by  my own whim.  If I felt like taking a nap, I did.  Finally, there's the satisfaction in the absolute certainty that I, alone, was responsible for any success or failure. 

What's been interesting is seeing just how foreign that is to most people I know.  With my reading about Colin Fletcher's long hikes alone, solo adventures have always been on my radar.  Messner, starting with his solo climbs of the hardest routes in the Alps and continuing with his solo assent of Everest via a new route and during the monsoon, showed me that anything can be done alone. 

Which never kept me from climbing or skiing or hiking or mushing with friends.  I enjoy sharing experiences either by recounting them as exchanged stories or by doing them together.  It was great relaxing in camp the day after doing a long route, the East Ridge of Wolf's Head Peak in the Cirque of the Towers, and watching another party on it the next day.  Eric and I probably took a little too much pleasure in the fact that we made it to the summit relatively easily and the party we were watching had to spend the night on the mountain.  And, along with the bond of a rope, it allows me to do much more technically difficult climbs.  Arguably, the hardest leading I've ever done was on the Owens Spalding route on Grand Teton.  Under normal circumstances, I would have found those leads to be trivial.  However, when I did them, the rock shone from a thin layer of ice, verglass.  I did multiple leads wearing crampons on what is called, "mixed climbing."   The key to my being able to do this was that I could "sew it up."  My protection was perfect.  If I did fall, it was going to be less than eight feet, short for a leader fall.  Without a climbing partner belaying me, I would have turned around. 

This past winter, I set out to skijor the Iditarod Trail.  Prior to the trip, I knew that I'd have a lot of time to myself on the stretch between Takotna and Ruby.  There were Iditarod checkpoints at Ophir and Cripple, and I'd be seeing mushers as well as Iditarod personnel moving up and down the trail, but my nights would be by myself for nearly a week.  One of the big reasons I decided not to bring a satellite phone along was I thought it would disrupt the solitude I was looking forward to, particularly on that stretch.  I was also looking forward to spending time in Ruby, as well as the other villages along the way and meeting the people there.  My trip was about seeing the trail and meeting the people along it. 

I learned to enjoy very much being alone.  And I do enjoy others' company.   At its heart, adventure is about learning about ourselves.  For me, that's both while I'm alone and while I'm with others.  And, of course, it's also when I'm with my dogs.

  

   
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