For the Sake of the Dumb Shit
Do not hike in bad weather
Said the sign.
I don’t think heavy snow counts as bad weather
Said the idiot hikers.
Such was the reason I found myself trudging up a steep rock face in Argentine Patagonia in the middle of a snowstorm.
Because I had come to Patagonia to hike some mountains and see some lagoons and – gawdamnit – that’s what I was going to do. So, when I ran into (metaphorically, not literally. I don’t run in airports. Safety first) two classmates in the Buenos Aires airport also headed to El Chalten, it was thrilling because I had now three people to convince me to ignore important trail signs (the third person is the voice that lives in my head).
So, when hiking up an hour’s worth of snow-covered steps turned into climbing, crawling and sliding up an hour’s worth of snow-covered steps, we kept going. And, when one member of our little squad had to turn back because she was becoming sick and dizzy from the exertion and the blinding white snow, the other two of us nodded solemly at her wisdom and general non-stupidity, and then we kept going. And when groups of other hikers sliding back down the trail urged us to turn around because the path up ahead was only getting worse, we thanked them for their advice, kindly ignored it, and then kept going.
I think a part of us thought that if we just pushed through – if we kept going after everyone else had turned back – that we would be rewarded somehow. That we would reach the top and it would be blissful and we would see the most stunning views of our lives and probably become incredibly enlightened human beings.
But that’s not what happened.
We hiked that hour up those icy stairs for that promised view. And we saw nothing but snow.
There was no magnificent Mt. Fitz Roy in the distance and no glistening lagunas awash with icebergs. There were those things, of course, but the icy wind whipping snow in circles around us made it impossible to see anything but the white base of the mountains ahead and the snow piles all around us.
We reached the top of that trail and we both stopped and looked around for a moment, backs turned against the snow and the biting wind, our faces numb and our hands blood red.
Then we looked at each other, smiled in the way that only two idiot people who know that they’re idiots can smile at each other, and headed back down the mountain. We had realized simultaneously that we had just done something incredibly hard and possibly incredibly dangerous for absolutely no reason and no payoff.
And I think that’s the beauty of it.
Because sometimes you do things because you think you need to prove something to yourself or because you think that doing so will give you some important reward. And it’s ok if you prove nothing to yourself and it’s ok if the reward never comes. You did it to do it and that’s life.
Later, back in the warmth and safety of town, clutching both a coffee and a beer, hair dripping a puddle onto a cafe floor, did I think to myself “Im so glad I did that?“
I thought “Wow, I love coffee and beer.“
I also thought of a hilarious German guy whom I had met in my hostel the day before. I thought of how he had made me cry-laugh with the story of his past three days spent hiking outside of town during this very aptly-named Off Season. How he had camped out by himself in the rain and snow in deserted campgrounds, plowed through bushes that were definitely not on the trail, and been generally scared, cold, and utterly alone for a solid 72 hours.
I thought of how my goofy, sweet German friend could have saved himself three days of misery so easily. When I asked him why he hadn’t come back into town after realizing that all of the campsites were deserted and he was horribly unprepared and underdressed, he told me simply “I don’t know.”
The truth is: he could have turned back into town at any point during those three days. But, he didn’t. He kept himself out there in the dagblame cold, shivering in his sleeping bag, filling his water bottle with hot water to put between his toes. He stayed out there even when the water leaked all over his sleeping bag and feet and made his cold toes now frozen toes. He stayed out there even when he realized he was no longer on a marked trail and was both unsafe and guaranteed to see no million-dollar views. He stayed out there because…well, because he had told himself he would stay out there. Because he had come to Patagonia to stay out there. Because making his way back to town would have meant giving up, and giving up – in his mind – would have meant failure.
He didn’t get anything out of it. He didn’t have deep revelations or discover himself in the dead of night or become an iron man who can never be phased by a physical challenge ever again. He is the same goofy German backpacker hiking around Patagonia. But now he is a goofy German backpacker hiking around Patagonia who has spent three miserable, terrifying nights in the middle of El Nowhere.
He stayed out there. And he knows that he did. I made it up that trail in the snow. And I know that I did. And maybe that’s the only meaning and the only thing that comes of it.
And maybe that’s enough.
Sometimes us humans do dumb shit purely for the sake of doing that dumb shit.
And I think that’s cool.