“Cold makes us more Creative” – Krzysztof  Wielicki

Ice Warriors, National Geographic, Jan 2008

In the process of writing my book “Simplifying Survival” I have been doing some research, and with winter coming I am focused on cold weather living and survival.  So I got in a file box of articles and stories I had saved for future reference, and the future is now for one particular story in the National Geographic. I had marked a story, “Ice Warriors,” as one of interest. Rereading it again now I see things I had not noted back then. We are never standing in the same place twice in our lives, this we cannot do, for experience changes us, it moves us, it alters our perspective. I have found myself so many times reading a book or article again and then later again, each time improving my harvest of information.

Krzysztof Wielicki is one of the worlds most successful Himalayan climbers. According to the article he was the fifth person in the world to summit all fourteen of the 8000 meter (~26,000 feet) peaks and was with first climbers to summit Everest in the winter, a very tough feat, such that in past 30 years since he did it, only 7 others have. He made the top of two others in winter as well, of which one, Lhotse,  he did solo. He was also the first man to summit an 8000 meter peak in one day, Broad Peak, up and back in 22 continuous hours. He is an incredible man with unbelievable achievements, check it out and see (link at end of blog).  So why do I tell all this about Wielicki? Because he teaches us some important things, knowledge we can use in our own lives. You see we all have our own Everest’s, we have our own solo climbs, we each have our own winters with the accompanying biting cold to get through.

At the head of this blog I quoted something striking Wielicki said, “Cold makes us more creative.”  So when you go outside in the winter how do you look at the snow and the cold? Do you see it as a roadblock? Does something in you tell you to go back inside and wait for spring? When I contemplate his statement, what I understand is that cold is a positive thing, since as he says, it “makes us more creative.” In other words cold teaches us to be better, it challenges us. Cold is something we cannot change, we must adapt to survive, and that makes us try new things, it forces us to improve.

Since he retired from climbing himself, Wielicki tries to inspire other Polish climbers as he talks about, “the joy of positive suffering – because if something is easy, you will not enjoy it, really.” Positive suffering, are you kidding me? It seems like an oxymoron. Another of the Poles, Jerzy Kukuczka, is described as a “psychological rhinoceros,” unequaled in his ability to suffer. His accomplishments are also astounding.

So do we need to suffer? Surely we do in some way if we want if we want to learn and grow. Certainly I know my challenge is to learn to be comfortable in winter, in the icy hurricane winds and blinding snow. Something else I know is that some of the memories that are most deeply ingrained in my mind are the times of struggling through harsh conditions.

There are many stories I could tell, but let me mention now some feelings of one experience. It was not in the fabled Himalaya, nothing says it has to be, it just needs to be a challenge to you. I was doing some minimalist camping, getting wet and and then icy, and without proper protective gear. As I sat leaned against a tree for hours, the freezing rain soon soaked my clothes, and the little blanket I was testing. I decided to try laying down covering myself the best I could. I was battling to keep my body from hypothermia, having studied it for decades I was all too aware of the symptoms of its onslaught. I lay still getting a degree of stability, then I would start shivering uncontrollably, I told myself, “don’t stop it, let it warm me.”  After about 10 minutes the shivering would stop, my body having warmed enough for it to cease. In about 15 or 20 minutes it would happen again, and for hours this continued. I was trying to monitor my condition, “are the periods between shivering staying about the same or getting shorter?”  As long as they weren’t coming on more frequently, I figured I was cold, but stable.

It’s amazing in these types of experiments how aware I became of everything in my body, and how I could learn to effectively monitor my condition.  I’m challenged to find a way to catch 15 minutes of sleep before the chill awakens, and learning to love the brief moments of sleep. There is a certain enjoyment as the minutes and hours tick by, the realization that I am maintaining myself, that I will make it till morning when the test is over and a fire can be kindled. Indeed there is a pleasure when it’s all over, realizing what I learned, and while drinking a cup of hot chocolate, knowing it was a successful night.

If a person really wants to be prepared he must subject himself to some discomfort, he must challenge the cold to become more creative. The learning comes from the test.

For Wilderness Innovation I’m Perry Peacock and I am “Simplifying Survival.”

Link to Weilicki’s acheivements: Everest News

Story about Wielicki and the Poles: Ice Warriors, by Mark Jenkins, National Geographic Magazine January 2008

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