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You Gotta Get Your Feet Wet! (4 of 7)
Life with Peter series
August 5, 2001
The veteran guides at the tourist park in the Alps say they have seen it happen time and time again. The day almost always begins the same way.
A few dozen tourists sign up for a day of mountain climbing. The brochure promises a never to be forgotten experience. The hike will take about eight hours total—up and back with a lunch break at a midway station complete with restrooms. It will be rugged but do-able for anyone in reasonably good condition. Parts are steep, but most of the trail will be gentle switchbacks. Experienced guides, wide paths, and guardrails at needed points guarantee a safe return. That is what the brochure says.
By the nine o'clock departure time about two dozen hearty climbers are on hand. The half dozen guides distribute the gear—water bottles, backpacks with lunch, sunscreen, and plenty of first aid kits. The group starts at a rather casual pace. Some of the younger hikers encourage the guides to go a bit faster. There is lots of talking and joking. Some even try to start up a song or two. By the beginning of the second hour, the mood changes with the terrain. The incline is steeper. Breathing in the thinning air becomes harder. There is less talk. All attempts at singing have stopped. No one calls for the guides to pick up the pace.
Into the third hour, everyone's legs, except for the best conditioned, are starting to ache from the uphill trek. Finally, the group rounds a bend in the trail. A beautiful mountain vista opens before their eyes. But the most beautiful site is the midway station nestled at the edge of an alpine meadow. A few in the group almost run the last dozen yards or so to the benches. Backpacks are tossed aside. Water bottles are opened with gusto and lines form for the ladies' restroom. It is always this way the guides say. But the real story is yet to take place.
After a leisurely lunch, the head guide gathers the group for a pep talk before they head out for the rest of the climb. "You've done well," he tells them. "I know it's been tough for some of you but you held in there and you stayed together. That's good. We should make the summit in less than two hours. I guarantee you have never seen anything like it all day. It makes the whole climb worth the effort. The next hour or so of the climb is the toughest part. But if you keep together like you did this morning, it shouldn't be any problem. But tour policy requires me to tell you that if anyone wants to, you can stop here. Any one who thinks he can't go on, can wait here for the rest of us. You will have plenty of shade and water. The trip back down from the summit takes a lot less time than the climb so we should be back in less than three hours."
After the brief speech, most of the climbers energetically shake their heads and insist that there is no way they are going to stop. B ...
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