Eh, I think I’m good with the hunting stuff for a while. Unless they veer off that topic I will wait for the next one.
Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, author, and television personality. He currently hosts MeatEater, available on the Sportsman Channel and Netflix, as well as the MeatEater podcast. His new book The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival is available on December 1. @MeatEater
Tomorrow begins the final week countdown of Rogan on Youtube.
Still, Keith and I continued doing expeditions and often ice climbed together. On January 2, 2009, we were on the fifth pitch of an icefall in north Wyoming. I was belaying him from a small alcove in the ice. He was cheerfully climbing 15 feet below me when we heard a deafening roar. A section of ice above us had cut loose. Seconds later tons of ice crashed down. Keith was killed, his neck broken by the impact.
There was no reason why I lived and Keith died. We’d taken the safety precautions. He didn’t do anything wrong, and I didn’t do anything to save myself. There was no moral, aside from the inescapable truth that mountains are dangerous, and occasionally inflict horror and sorrow on those who dare to climb them.
On the first day trekking in the jungle Hilaree was almost struck by a snake. She saw it coiled on the trail at the last moment and leaped over it. Poised to strike, the serpent’s flat head floated side to side, its black tongue squirting in and out. We all kept our distance except Cory, who knelt down and began snapping photos. “White-lipped pit viper,” he declared.
It was one of a dozen snakes toxinologist Zoltan Takacs had warned us about before we came to Myanmar. If one of us were bitten, the venom could cause bleeding from the nose, eyes, gums, and rectum and could be fatal. We carried two antivenoms, one for vipers, the other for cobras and kraits, but Takacs had warned us that relying on antivenom in the jungle was dicey.
Far less dangerous were the leeches. They would drop down onto our necks as we pushed through wet branches or suck onto our feet and legs during stream crossings. All day we’d pluck their blood-engorged bodies off our skin, leaving bites that didn’t fully heal for weeks.
And then there were the spiders. We continually pushed through cobwebs the size of fishing nets. Some held spiders baring fangs so large they were visible from a few feet away.
The Rawang were not immune to the vagaries of the jungle. In one village a distraught mother brought a screaming child to us, her tiny body swollen from infected bites. Hilaree and Emily smeared antibiotic cream on her arms, legs, and face. When I asked what would become of the child, a tribal elder told me, “Everyone here either gets better on their own or dies.”
Hkakabo’s west ridge is a two-mile-long saw blade—a series of stone towers separated by sharp cols of snow. Unlike on some mountains, where you can shoot right up to the summit, we have been climbing up and down the jagged ridgeline the whole way—up a tooth of rock, rappelling down the backside, balancing across a bridge of snow, then up the next craggy pinnacle. We try to identify a potential route, but the spiked ridge weaves like a serpent’s tail so we can’t see all the obstacles. We do, however, spot a notch that looks like the best location to bivouac for the night. We pack up and start moving, trying to stay on the sunny side of the ridge.
It takes us four hours to reach the notch. We are so fatigued that we can barely stomp out a tent platform. Our faces are rimed with ice from breathing so hard. While trying to shove the poles into our tent, the wind lifts it like a kite. We throw in our packs, guy it down, and pile inside.
We knew this night was going to be misery. At camp 3 we could see that the ridge became technical and treacherous. So we ruthlessly cut the weight of our packs, bringing only bare essentials, hoping it would be enough to get us to the top and back down. We left our winter sleeping bags and carried only the thin overbag shells. We have one stove, one fuel bottle, one pot, one spoon, two instant pasta meals, and the three of us are crammed into a two-person tent.
Sitting knee-to-knee, our backs pressed against the tent, we set our stove on our boots and nearly asphyxiate ourselves boiling water from snow. One person holds the stove, another the pot. We are wearing everything we have. Only our headlamps and runny noses stick out from beneath the hoods of our parkas. Renan says little, which is normal. But even Cory is quiet.
We have been sleeping with each other for weeks, like poor brothers in one bed. We know each other’s secrets. I know Renan is dealing with the betrayal of a friend. I know Cory’s struggling to stay married and be a world-traveling photographer. They know I’m haunted by memories of my dead friends, that this mountain is my white whale. My thoughts drift to how close we are to our goal and our team’s ugly fight and the toll it’s taken on my friendship with Hilaree.
That night, at camp 3, Renan and Cory both privately expressed concerns about climbing any farther with the entire team. We spent the next day in our tents acclimatizing, and there was no way around the painful conversation. In his soft-spoken way, Renan noted that the climbing was going to get more dangerous. It was also pointed out that three people moving fast had the best chance of summiting in the brief time we had left. Emily readily agreed that she was in over her head. But Hilaree was deeply offended and insisted that she should go for the summit. I explained it was an issue of safety for the whole team, but Hilaree was wounded. “I’m going to say one thing,” she said, her voice welling with emotion as she left the tent, “[Expletive] you, Mark, for the vote of confidence.”
Nothing is more damning in the mountains than hubris, yet hubris is fundamental to climbing mountains. All serious mountaineers possess big egos. You cannot take on the risks and constant suffering of big mountains without one. We may talk like Buddhists, but don’t be fooled, we’re actually narcissists—driven, single-minded, masochistic narcissists. Nearly all of us, on some mountain at some time, have defied logic and refused to turn around, as Hilaree was doing now. Some of us have been lucky enough to survive those misguided moments. This may sound harsh, but I’m at a season in my climbing career where openness and honesty trump polite silence, even with my friends.
We were all weary, light-headed from the thin air, and fearful of what lay ahead, and the conversations over the next hours devolved into shouting, accusations, and recriminations. Eventually, Cory couldn’t stand the rancor and said Hilaree could take his place on the summit team. Renan and I were concerned but reluctantly agreed to the new plan.
December 1st is upon us guys. Spotify has been pretty unreliable for me so far when I tried to watch the podcast over there. I hope they improve the experience and give us an audio-only option.