Is Minus 50 Really That Cold? Two Women Aimed To Find Out.

·2 min read

This article originally appeared on Climbing

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Seven days in, we had a routine. One of us would scrape frost from the inside walls of the tent, and then light the stove to melt snow, while the other dragged our sleeping bags outside to dry. But this morning on Mount Steele, deep in the Saint Elias Mountains of the Yukon--and an obstacle on the approach to our objective, Mount Lucania, Canada's third highest peak--the wind had pounded our tent so hard it blasted frost onto our faces. When I stood outside, the gusts nearly bowled me off my feet. Spindrift hit my face like a thousand needles. I braced and looked east to the first hints of light. Around us, the wind had sculpted sastrugi snow into sharp anvil shapes. I crawled back inside.

Pascale and I were quiet. We were stalling, reluctant to gear up for the 1,000 feet of blue ice and rotten snow above, terrain that would require calculated steps and considered decision-making. A false assessment would have consequences.

The climb over Steele to Mount Lucania had been significantly steeper than we'd expected. Instead of moving quickly and simul-climbing, we would need to pitch out the steep ice above us. In -50deg F temps with wind chill, could we manage it?

"A warrior says she'll do it. Her intention is to give her best effort, but she doesn't put a limit on that effort. She knows she is not perfect, and she may not make it ... For her, doing the climb essentially means engaging the process; the outcome is less important."

I had jotted this quote from Arno Ilgner's The Rock Warrior's Way in my notebook before Pascale and I flew out of Silver City, 45 minutes north of Haines Junction in southwest Yukon. I read it aloud as I tightened my boots. Pascale listened and shared that she wasn't sure she could lead here. If I wasn't up for it, we might have to turn around. I was willing to lead, but I feared my hands would get so cold I'd lose dexterity, fall, rip the belay, and send us both tumbling thousands of feet.

We talked through it, feeling a renewed sense of commitment to the effort.

As we cinched our hip belts and tied in, the winds calmed. It was as if the mountain had noticed our determination. My friend Tim Patterson, of Zuc'min Guides and a member of the Salish Peoples of British Columbia, once told me that when we move through land, we become a part of each other's stories. In that moment, it felt like Lucania was inviting us to be a part of hers.

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