Social Climber

flatirons 0819
The Flatirons, not as seen from NCAR.

I found some of my climbing books yesterday while packing, which of course made me think of . . . weddings. (You’ll see. It turns out there’s a direct correlation.)

I don’t know that I love weddings a lot, although they can be fun. (However, I’ve been to several where we spend altogether too much time discussing how the bride should leave her father as the head of the household and cleave unto her husband as the new head of the household — really, any time spent discussing that is altogether too much time.)

Twice in my life, though, I must have loved weddings so much that I went to two in a single day.

The second time this happened, I was scheduled to go to one wedding, which was the one I didn’t get to. Kara’s mom was getting married on the far side of Monarch Pass, an all-day excursion, but early that morning Lynn mainlined her insulin and started crashing big-time.

Now, I don’t know how it goes with others when they take too much insulin, but Lynn becomes obbb-sti-nate. In fact, I once had the emergency room suggest I call the cops if I couldn’t get Lynn there on my own. And on this morning, which was back in her bakery days, she was adamant: her wedding cakes were going where they belonged, even if she really couldn’t string two sentences together.

I went down to the Firebrand, open early, and carbo-loaded her a plate, and then realized I was going to have to drive her, because she’d taken on two weddings at the complete opposite ends of the valley.

Technically, we didn’t go to the wedding in Mt. Crested Butte, just dropped the cake off at the wedding garden, so perhaps it doesn’t count. Then we went to Lake City, 60 miles south of Gunnison and 90-some south of Mt. Crested Butte (I would have done far less driving had I just gone to Trish’s wedding as planned). There the cake was for — ready? — my sister’s brother-in-law, so we crashed the reception. (Lynn was done with her diabetic crashing by then, but very drawn out and tired — can’t imagine why.) A good time was had by all.

The first time I went to two weddings in one day I went to the actual ceremonies. I was invited to the first wedding, for Charlie Lorimer and a woman I’ve now completely forgotten (sad to say, after the huge amount of money spent on that wedding, the marriage didn’t last). The second wedding, I invited myself along when my stepfather skipped Charlie’s reception (formal sit-down dinner for half the world’s population) to go to a Quaker-style wedding for a friend of his from college.

Charlie’s wedding, which had to have cost tens of thousands of dollars, took place in a very ornate church in downtown Denver and featured 10 each bridesmaids and groomsmen, all in formalwear. Guests then waited for well over an hour outside the church while pictures were taken inside before the couple came out and got into a horse-drawn carriage. In my mind, it would have worked better had they come out immediately out, ridden in the carriage around the block and then taken photos while the rest of us went on our way to prepare for the formal reception.

Or drive to Boulder for the second wedding, where the groom’s father worked at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), thus the site of the wedding and reception. While an office complex might not sound like the most glamorous wedding venue, the reception took place in a glassed-in area with a magnificent view of Boulder’s Flatirons rock formations. Finger food was served, and I figure the entire thing probably set the couple back perhaps $500. It was definitely a day for contrasts.

But also — you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? — a day for mountain climbing, or at least reading about it. The groom’s brother turned out to be David Roberts, an author. He doesn’t write novels, but if you’ve read major national magazines you may have read his work, and he’s written several books, many of them on climbing. So I met Mr. Roberts (two Mr. Robertses, actually, since I also met the groom), and decided after the fact that perhaps I ought to read something he’d written.

I went to my local library (which will make Nancy, Librarian to the Stars, happy), and they had one book on the shelves by David Roberts. I believe it was called Deborah, which is hardly an exciting or dramatic title. But the book itself turned out to be both exciting and dramatic, and started me on an entire genre I still enjoy: reading, safely tucked into my armchair, about the hazardous exploits of those who climb mountains.

I have zero desire to do any climbing of my own, not since childhood when I nearly beaned Terri kicking a rock loose as I scrambled up a hillside near Creede, and I notice when we read about climbers there’s always a footnote that if the climber didn’t die on the mountain we’re reading about, he or she likely expired on some other mountain (although as far as I know, David Roberts is still with us — he did experience his first death when a friend fell from those same Boulder Flatirons as the two of them were climbing together in high school).

There is something, though, about reading about these men and women who test themselves in the most elemental fashion. Some mountains, like the Eiger in Switzerland, are within view of civilization (making it easier to watch people fall to their death), and some are in remote parts of the world. (Touching the Void takes place in the Andes, literal days from the remotest outpost of civilization.)

And my fascination all started with Deborah, which turns out to be a mountain in Alaska that Mr. Roberts set out to climb with a friend.

There wasn’t a single thing he wrote about that recommended I follow in his footsteps. First, although they were climbing in the summer, they got stuck in a two-man tent halfway up for two weeks, trapped by a blizzard. (That’s a litmus test I still use: who do you think you could spend two weeks in a small tent in a blizzard with and not kill?)

Then they pushed on, climbing a projection that turned out to be nothing more than snow and ice, no mountain underneath, which could have collapsed at any moment. Eventually they reached the top, and made it safely down, but they were still days away from returning to their car. Some river had swollen badly, probably from all the new snow, and their original ford was no longer fordable. And then — this is the part that sticks with me the most, because it’s the closest I come to living their adventure — they were attacked by mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes were so bad that the climbers had to cinch themselves into their sleeping bags so that only their noses poked out — and in the morning their noses were completely swollen from the excessive bites.

Doesn’t this make you want to climb mountains?

Apparently, none of this deterred David Roberts. I haven’t read any of his other books, I don’t think, although he has one about the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans might be the correct term these days) that’s on my list of books I’ll never get to but want to read. But I run across his by-line in places like National Geographic, and in a climbing magazine I once picked up at the Firebrand (where I read about his high-school friend), and it makes me think back to the day I opted to go to two weddings.

Sometimes the wedding relationship doesn’t last, but sometimes, even if you’re just a guest, you find yourself standing the test of time. Like me and books where other people do the climbing.

You knew this was coming, right?

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