Embracing the Cold

I spent the better part of a decade trying to make winters tolerable for Emily.  She was ALWAYS cold.

I bought her a down jacket… she found it nice and toasty – in JULY!

I bought her gloves with a built in battery-heater… but there was a recall (apparently they burned people… I’m glad she never used them).

A -5 degree sleeping bag… perfect for a summer snooze.

Truth be told, even I don’t like being cold. You’d think that, as an ice climber, I’d love the cold. And I do, to a point, but there’s very little more miserable than standing below an ice climb belaying your partner while you’re anchored in one place, completely exposed to snow and wind. You can wear all the clothes you own, but you’ll never feel warm. The only way to warm up is to move, and you can’t. You’re going to suffer… you just have to embrace the cold.


I think it’s ice climbing that taught me to really embrace the cold.

Embracing the Cold

Embracing the cold in single digit temperatures on Mt. Willard

Sure, in climbing the suffering is optional, perhaps even intentional. Today we went out in single degree temperatures. On Sunday we walked out from climbing on Mt. Willard with a temperature of 6 degrees and 25+ mph winds. We chose to climb on those days, but once you’re roped up and your partner is climbing, there is no escape. There are little tricks to alleviate the cold like stamping your feet, swinging your arms, or heat packs in your gloves, but these are only a temporary reprieve from the pain. You’re going to suffer… you just have to embrace the cold.

One of the most common statements made to me over the past two years has been “I don’t know how you do it.” When I hear this, I kind of laugh a bit to myself and fight back the biting, sarcastic version of myself that just wants to say something like “you don’t get a fucking choice.” This would be unfair though, both to the person I am talking to, and to myself.  There is a choice, or rather there was a whole series of choices.  Those choices weren’t hard though. Most people maybe wouldn’t have thought twice had I made different choices, but I don’t think I could have lived with myself making any other choices. However hard it was, the sun was always going to rise the next day. I knew I’d suffer, but I wasn’t going to fight it, I’d have to embrace it.


Emily often wondered why people would congratulate her for having beat cancer the first time. She didn’t feel like it was an option: “My doctors did all the work… I just showed up and got poisoned.” This isn’t necessarily a fair assessment, since getting poisoned was not a passive endeavor. Emily tackled it head-on, even if she felt like it was the cancer that was tackling her. Treatment seemed mandatory, but really it wasn’t. Ultimately she decided it was worth the suffering to share her life with the people she loved.

Some things are worth suffering for

Some things are worth suffering for

Climbing, running, working out, and hanging with friends… these are life’s equivalent to swinging my arms or stamping my feet at a long belay. They are momentary reprieves from the pain, but they don’t change anything. I know I am going to suffer, but I will just have to embrace the cold.



  1. Been enjoying your writing man! Keep it up!….and this post reminds me of one of my favorite mantras ….”It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” – Also, I’ll text you tomorrow, but wondering whether you’re around at all next week?

  2. Been really enjoying your writing! Keep it up! Also….this post had me thinking of one of my favorite mantras: “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” Talk soon man.

  3. One of my favorite mantras as well, Cam. Unfortunately, much of the more serious stuff in life is type 3 fun: “Not fun at all, not even in retrospect.”

    Check out http://kellycordes.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-fun-scale/ for some more reading on the fun scale!

  4. Thanks for writing, Pat.

  5. Reblogged this on Taking the Sharp End and commented:

    I was going to write something new about the next few days, but why reinvent the wheel? What held true in January is still true today. Election day 2012 was horrible, and I’m not looking forward to Election day 2013, but if nothing else over the past few years, I’ve gotten good at embracing the cold, and I’ve even figured out a few tricks for staying warm.

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