How do you choose a partner for the mountains? How do you choose a partner for life? Today I can see that, for me, these are not two questions, but one and the same.
My first date with Erin Smart was a trip to ski the south couloir on Colfax Peak, a satellite peak of Mt. Baker. We skied away from the trailhead at ten PM, and reached the summit soon after dawn. The steep descent allowed for no error; we had to trust one another to make good calls, and to provide rescue if we should fall in a crevasse or be injured. This wasn't a symbol for teamwork or trust--it was teamwork, and it was the definition of trust.
Climbing is often presented as this convenient and deep well of metaphor, a parable for our lives back in civilization. But I think that we find the mountains so enriching because they present the world as it truly is: complicated, violent, beautiful. And because we encounter that world as we truly are: small, weak, and full of longing. More and more, I choose partners who reject the rift between our experiences in the mountains and our experiences in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and homes.
My conviction has grown that the real value in alpinism and in wilderness travel of all kinds is not in metaphor at all. We love to draw parallels between the physical challenges of the mountains and the moral, social, and political challenges of our daily lives. In this view, we reduce our time in the mountains to a mere allegory. But climbing a big mountain has intrinsic value, and I don't know any more elegant way to put it: traveling through a beautiful place makes you happy. Like any engaging human work it demands your whole person: balance, communication, strength, endurance, manual dexterity, courage, planning and organization, decision making; it improves you. It's simply a good way to spend time, a fact that is easily lost in the the rush to assign symbolic meaning to a summit.
At the end of September I took my vows with Erin Gabrielle Smart. Anyone who has ever founded a powerful partnership, at home or in the mountains or both, will understand what I mean when I say that I have found someone who will never let me down.
To everyone with whom I have ever shared a rope, thank you for teaching me about partnership. I chose you because I trusted you, and because you inspired me with the trust you placed in me. We will keep doing wonderful things.
To Erin, I choose you because I trust you most of all, and because you, too, love the world as it truly is. We will keep doing wonderful things.