Sunday, 12 September 2010

Hiking together

Together we discussed and gravely considered the relative merits of side compression straps, spindrift collars, crampon patches, load transfer differentials, air-flow channels, webbing loops, and something called the occipital cutout ratio. We went through that with every item. Even an aluminum set offered considerations of weight, compactness, thermal dynamics, and general utility that could occupy a mind for hours. In between there was lots of discussion about hiking generally, mostly to do with hazards like rockfalls, bear encounters, stove explosions, and snakebites, which he described with a certain misty-eyed fondness before coming back to the topic at hand.
With everything, he talked a lot about weight. It seemed to me a trifle over fastidious to choose one sleeping bag over another because it weighed three ounces less, but as equipment piled up around us I began to appreciate how ounces accumulate into pounds. I hadn't expected to buy so much--I already owned hiking boots, a Swiss army knife, and a plastic map pouch that you wear around your neck on a piece of string, so I had felt I was pretty well there--but the more I talked to Dave the more I realized that I was shopping for an expedition.
The two big shocks were how expensive everything was--each time Dave dodged into the storeroom or went off to confirm a denier rating, I stole looks at price tags and was invariably appalled--and how every piece of equipment appeared to require some further piece of equipment. If you bought a sleeping bag, then you needed a stuff sack for it. The stuff sack cost $29. I found this an increasingly difficult concept to warm to.
When, after much solemn consideration, I settled on a backpack--a very expensive Gregory, top-of-the-range, no-point-in-stinting-here sort of thing--he said, "Now what kind of straps do you want with that?"
"I beg your pardon?" I said, and recognized at once that I was on the brink of a dangerous condition known as retail burnout. No more now would I blithely say, "Better give me half a dozen of those, Dave. Oh, and I'll take eight of these--what the heck, make it a dozen. You only live once, eh?" The mound of provisions that a minute ago had looked so pleasingly abundant and exciting--all new! all mine!--suddenly seemed burdensome and extravagant.