Grit only one of life’s ingredients

Reaching the summit: The best option may not always be the one that brings the glory.

Reaching the summit: The best option may not always be the one that brings the glory.

Let’s pick up the story where I left off last week high on Mt Fuji: “At 4.30, we were at about 3700 metres. The going was treacherous on big slippery rocks. We needed to hike less than 200 metres to the summit, but we were progressing very slowly, the rain was increasing, the temperature was dropping, and darkness was approaching.

“We would need about 90 minutes to summit. It would be pitch black by then.

“I started climbing down to where my partner was and told her: ‘We can make it to the summit, but we won't make it down alive it we do. We will either die of hypothermia or miss a switchback in the dark and fall to our death.

“My partner said that if she started down, it was possible that one of the sleeping huts down the mountain a ways might have a place for us to stay until morning. Then she said that her hands were numb from the cold. 

“Go up or go down -- what would you do?”

After 30 minutes, we reached a sleeping hut. I asked if it had room for us. If the answer was no, I feared that we might not survive.

It was a tough decision, but I knew that numb hands were a preliminary to frostbite and finger loss. We started down, progressing very slowly on the slippery rocks.

The rain began hitting my eyeglasses, making it hard to see in the fog and looming darkness. I slipped on wet rubble and fell hard on a knee. I stayed down several seconds to calm myself. I got up and moved on. As the temperature dropped, I started shivering. We had to gain shelter and get out of our wet clothes. Soon.

After 30 minutes, we reached a sleeping hut. I asked if it had room for us. If the answer was no, I feared that we might not survive. A woman said she could fit us in, barely. The cost, which had to be paid in cash, was high. I asked if we could buy dry clothes. Yes, but that cost was also high. We did not have enough cash to get a place and the clothes. We chose the place. A nice employee then gave us new clothes for free. 

We changed into the dry clothes. My partner needed help because she could not use her hands.

Then we got into the sleeping quarters. Eighty people, shoulder to shoulder. Almost all of them had climbed part-way up that day and planned to rise early and summit the next day at about daybreak. Our single-day attempt was a rarity. 

I knew I would not be able to sleep with so many people in the room, so I just rested. Two men snored like bulls snorting. Another man sounded like a boar. Noises and lights came from all sides.

At about 2am, many individuals rose to start their climb to the summit. They had head torches. 

I rose at 6am. I felt imbued with grit and thought about trying again to summit. But our gloves, socks, and shoes were still soaking wet. Putting on those sopping wet socks was unpleasant.

We headed down. The going was easy in some places and treacherous in others. We moved slowly, slipping here and there on the wet rocks.

Rain came. I saw many individuals slip and a few fall. Also, a few people walked down backward, probably to avoid toe pain.

By the time I approached the bottom of Mt Fuji, I had planted my walking stick thousands of times going up and down the mountain. I could never guess how many falls it prevented.

At the bottom, I gave my stick to a young woman who was heading up. I told her she would find it helpful.

I felt glad to be alive. My partner ended up keeping all her fingers, but she had sore toes for weeks.

My mountain adventure showed me that grit can be valuable. However, it is most valuable when combined with prudence and with the help of others.

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