Thursday, August 27, 2015

Evanston: packed; two movies about K2; SOUTHERN MAIL

        Everything that I am taking with me back to GANNET has arrived except for a small through deck block, so I packed my duffle bag on Tuesday.  There is always a question about how to fit the various odd shapes together.  Everything fits, including the carbon fiber pod.
        I am taking some expensive and some delicate equipment this time.  Another tiller pilot.  A Raymarine Tacktick wind instrument system.  A replacement Solar Boost 2000e charge controller.  The carbon fiber pod.  The contents of the bag are worth about $3000.
        Everything is packed very well right now.  Bubble wrapped.  Taped.  All inside a summer weight sleeping bag lining the duffle bag.  But I expect, and fear, that TSA will see those odd shapes on x-ray, open, inspect and not leave things nearly as secure as they found them.  It has happened before.  Sigh.


        I expect that all musicians think their own instrument is the most difficult to play.  Empathy is the rarest of human qualities and few possess the ability to see the world through any eyes but their own.
        I thought this while watching two documentaries on Netflix about climbing K2, K2: Siren of the Himalayas and The Summit.  
        K2 is the second highest mountain on the planet, but climbers consider it far more challenging than Everest.  More than 4,000 people have climbed Everest.  Only a few more than 300 K2 and about 10% of them died on the way down.
        Two quotes from Siren:

        “Eliminate the danger (from climbing) and it is just like any other sport.”

        “No where else are you more alone.”

          I don’t know that I consider my sailing a sport.  It is much more than that.  A way of life.  Perhaps life itself.  The dangers are as real as those in climbing, and the possible consequences of failure the same.  With GANNET I am making a first ascent.
         I am quite certain that I am more alone at sea than climbers who in fact are not alone at all, but surrounded by team members and support crew and in almost constant communication, even at the summit where some make satellite phone calls home.
        That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the films.  I did.  There is beauty, a few impressive men and women, and something to be learned about human nature.
        K2:  Siren of the Himalayas follows a 2009 expedition, which was on the 100th anniversary of the first attempt to climb the mountain.  Interesting footage of the 1909 effort is woven into the film.  It is impressive that with the equipment available at the time the early Italians got as far as they did.
        Of the climbers on this team, to me the most admirable is the Austrian woman, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who climbs without supplemental oxygen.  In the film she says to one of the other climbers, “I’d rather go back down than put on a mask.”
        Two of the other climbers are journeymen.  Another is from Great Britain who was the youngest ever to do something, I think climb Everest.  I am not often impressed by “youngest”, and I wasn’t by this one, who found it all too much and gave up.
        In THE SUMMIT use of oxygen is taken for granted by most and perhaps all the climbers.  Most of the advance work is fixing ropes and having Sherpas tote oxygen tanks to points along the route.
        THE SUMMIT chronicles the deaths of eleven climbers in a few days during the 2008 season.
        Because the climbing season is short in the Himalayas, teams from more than a half dozen different countries comprising more than seventy climbers were all trying to go up at the same time.  Late July was considered optimum, but the weather was too severe, so they were delayed into August.  A break in the weather comes and they all head up together, or rather in single file, with long periods for some waiting in line at a place accurately named The Bottleneck.  People slip, ice falls, most who make it the summit do so too late in the day.  There is some beautiful footage of the triangular shadow of K2 stretching into China.  That they were seeing that sunset shadow was a fatal mistake.
        One man who did not see it was a solo Basque climber who left the plodding herd behind and was the first on top and passed the others on his way back down.  I don’t know if he used oxygen or not.  I expect not.  But in any case, an impressive man.
        Another impressive man was a Sherpa climber extensively interviewed in the film.  Intelligent and experienced, he spent more than sixty hours in what is known as “the death zone” trying to rescue others.
        Most do not come out so well in the film.
        When the tent of a Serbian climber disintegrated one night in strong winds at a high camp, another climber said he would not have given him shelter in his tent.  “I would have told him to start back down immediately.  To take him in would have ruined my chance to summit.”  To start down at night in that storm would have been fatal.
        I like to think that we are in this together.  But obviously only some of us are.  I don’t possess whatever qualities are required to let someone else die for my ambition.  Obviously I was never meant to be a general.

        Yesterday I watched SIEGFRIED, the third opera in Wagner’s RING, did all my exercises, and read Saint-Exupéry’s first novel, SOUTHERN MAIL, published in 1929.  I have read it before, but long ago, and it is even better than I remembered.
        SOUTHERN MAIL is similar in some ways to NIGHT FLIGHT, but starting from the other end of the route, south from France, rather than north from Argentina.
        This is a very short book.  120 pages in the edition I have.  It is not available in Kindle, so I bought a used hard cover via Amazon for $0.01.
        Sandwiched between flying at the beginning and the end of the novel is an off duty love affair in Paris.  Saint-Exupéry writes beautifully of the pilot being alone, plying his trade, using his strength and skill to transit a world unknown to most; and of the initial sense of not belonging when he returns to what is thought of as normal life.
        I remember going into a drugstore in San Diego after I completed the EGREGIOUS voyage and seeing the same woman behind the cash register I had seen there a year before, and I thought:  all the time I was out there, struggling for my life in distant oceans, morning after morning you were here.
       One scene that I thought was in SOUTHERN MAIL 

wasn’t.  It must be in Saint-Exupéry’s WIND, SAND AND STARS, which I’ll reread soon.