- Eric Kampmann
A Mere Mortal
No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes
by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
In the mid-1990s, I decided to learn about winter mountaineering. I enrolled in a class sponsored by a credible climbing school and, at the appointed time, traveled to northern New Hampshire and the White Mountains to join other like-minded neophytes for a four-day adventure of survival in the rough, rocky, and frozen terrain of the Franconia Range.
My assembled group of ten was pretty diverse; it was made up of young and old people of varying levels of experience. There was one guy, though, who stood out from the rest of us. Bill was about thirty-five years old, tall, good looking with a mop of flowing blond hair. He exuded the confidence of an athletic natural, a born star who instantly intimidated the rest of us by his very demeanor.
Furthermore, Bill was adorned with every piece of up-to-the-minute name-brand equipment you could buy. He was loaded with stuff from Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Asolo, and much more. It was as if Bill had climbed out of the pages of Backpacker Magazine. He appeared to be everything a first-class mountaineer should be.
As we went through the usual gear check the night before setting out, Bill recounted tales of mountain adventures from times past, and we listened as he talked the talk. I would have felt completely intimidated if I had not remembered that sometimes giants were pigmies in disguise and that the only place to truly assess talent is out on the cold mountain.
On day one, we set out on a practice climb to a location just above the tree line. We used our crampons and ice axes, but the climb was easy because we were not loaded down with overnight packs. Everyone kept pace for about an hour, but then Bill began to fall behind. He would pause to rest every so often, complaining about a previous leg injury. By the time we returned to our base camp, Bill announced he was finished, and he packed up all that gear to leave the rest of us to think about the often strange disconnect between appearance and reality. Bill seemed like a genuine Master of the Universe; he seemed to have it all, but in the end, he proved to be a mere mortal just like the rest of us.