I need to be sure of what I’m seeking by entering the world of solo alpine climbing.Last night I asked myself why, and could not answer with words.
Entranced by the fact that any mistake meant death, I sunk my ice tools so aggressively that I scarcely noticed blood soaking my mitts, leaving blotches on the ice.
I focused on breathing into my lower abdomen with resistance in the back of my throat, imagining my heart pumping strongly, forcing warm blood to the far reaches of my extremities.
My body did heat up a little, and I maintained the pose for a few hours, but fatigue and the presence of four Russian climbers, properly equipped, huddled together snoring, threw off my concentration.
The sight drove me even deeper into a calm, decisive survival state, and I moved as if in a dream, free soloing through thinning ice and beautifully split alpine granite.
Just under six and a half hours later, at a.m., I awoke on the summit, crying and laughing, screaming “Fitz Roy” over and over. Writhing in and out of the fetal position, exhausted and freezing, I lay cocooned in a tinfoil survival blanket at the Col of Patience, 1,000 feet up Patagonia’s most formidable peak, Cerro Torre.