We'd both wanted to do it. We lay there on the ground, shivering in the night air as much from fear as the cold.
"I wish I had more body fat," moaned Susan, "I wish I had more body fat ".
Could be worse, I replied, at least its not raining.
Susan -- my climbing partner -- a wealthy, blond haired, blue eyed, 50 year old mother of 3 with the face of a 30 year old and the body of a gal a decade younger, didn't normally profess a desire for zaftig proportions, but tonight was different. The sky had turned from a deep periwinkle to blackness so vast and impenetrable that angels quaked with trepidation. Clouds were forming, gray and wispy, like the hair in an old mans ear.
Eighteen hours earlier we had been scrambling over the talus at the base of New Hampshires Cannon Cliff. The sun rising behind us rendered the eastern horizon a backdrop of vermilion and canary. We used both hands and feet to pick our way over the boulders, slick with a patina of frost and ranging in size from microwave oven to sport utility vehicle. The approach was tedious and the anxiety level was rising. We were alone. If something went wrong rescue was many painful hours away.
Time passed and we reached base of our quarry: Moby Grape -- a thousand foot alpine classic on perfect East Coast granite. I led the first pitch, a 180 foot splitter crack the width of a grapefruit; hand and fist jams serving to keep a climber on the rock. Thin, delicate climbing shoes -- perfect for smearing on Gunks Conglomerate -- were ill-suited to jamming granite cracks. To minimize my agony I moved quickly, placing sparse protection. Anchoring at the top of the pitch, I brought Susan up.
We swapped gear and, being the stronger climber, she led the next and remaining 7 pitches. Through the Triangle Roof, the Finger of Fate (a massive, detached sharks fin hanging precariously from the cliff face), several pitches of face and chimney climbing and onto the summit. Topping out, we sat at the cliff edge, silent, staring into the gloaming; relaxed; torpid.
As Apollo's chariot clocked out for the day, the wind screamed over the ridge-line. I was wearing a Capaline pullover, and thin nylon pants. Susan, a tad better prepared, was clad in a windproof shell and pants. Shivering from the cold, we coiled the ropes and changed our shoes. It was a moonless night and even with our headlamps it was as dark and black as a lawyers soul.
"Walk North along the cliff edge to an old helicopter pad," I shouted over the wind, reading the instructions for the descent, "then turn east, past some impenetrable brush and gain the descent trail.
We picked our way along the top of the cliff, being careful not to walk off the edge. Often during times of mortal stress, the mind wanders; mine to my honeymoon. My wife and I spent the early days of our marriage hiking through the Swiss Alps with an irascible Scottish guide named Jimmy. At every nook, cranny and overhang Jimmy would growl: "Aye, thars a good bivy".
Following the directions (which turned out to be wrong), Susan and I passed each of the landmarks and continued toward what we thought was the descent trail, passing a deep gouge along the way. Dead ending at the cliffs edge we shined our headlamps into the void, revealing a void. The wind was a hard slap in the face. We were dressed for mid-August, but with conditions more like mid-October we were quickly becoming hypothermic.
"We have to get some shelter or we're completely stuffed," I shouted.
Like Obi Wan of the Highlands, Jimmy's voice echoed in my head: "Thars a good bivy," he whispered.
"We're staying here; we bivy" I shouted over the wind, pointing to the grave-like trench we'd passed earlier.
We carefully stacked the ropes to provide insulation from the cold ground, crawled inside large, plastic mattress bags I carry for situations such as this (Aye, thars a good Boy Scout) and bedded down for the night. Despite her affluence (including a shoe closet so vast the boxes require their own mug shots), Susans tripe was as solid as the granite upon which we laid. She calmly phoned Damian, her butler, and instructed him not to expect us for dinner.
We both slept fitfully. The combination of cold night air and our warm bodies caused condensation to form on the inside of the bags, rendering us as cold and dank as a witches kiss. One or the other of us would awaken when the body part radiating toward the sky would become cold. We'd turn, then fall back to sleep. The wind howled above us but we were as safe and snug as could be under the circumstances
I was deep in the velvet womb of slumber when I was awakened by a cold fluid dripping on my face. I opened my eyes and water was pouring off the side of the trench and onto my head.
"Susan," I said, voice shaking, "it's raining"
"Oh God," she replied, "We are so