One guide’s thoughts on why we need to suffer

By Ethan Moorhead

rainy backpackingThere is no question a guide is asked more than “is it gonna rain today?” It is generally asked sheepishly by someone poking one eye out of a rainfly and dreading the worst. I always answer “it rains every day in Alaska.” My jovial attitude and lack of concern about the weather is mostly met with confusion and whispered prayers that the whole trip will be nothing but sunshine. But the truth is, deep down I really want it to get cold, wet and miserable on all of my trips. Not the whole time – I’m no masochist – but at least one good afternoon or full day of whatever mother nature can muster up.

“Why hope for miserable weather?” you might ask…

There are a few reasons why these bad weather days are so important to any trip. The first is that suffering engenders a community in a group of hikers–often who have never met before this trip–that sunny days just can’t provide. When we hunker in the cook tent and start to warm our hands on mug after mug of tea, slowly we all start to smile and laugh at the fact we chose to do this! Slowly the stories of other trips where everything went wrong will come out, and by the end of the night we barely remember how nasty the day’s bushwhack was.

Those memories about rainy trips, lost gear, or poor planning are the other reason I pray for some gnarly weather on my trips. You need some amount of lousiness to drive the memory into your brain. I can’t tell you much about my perfect trips, apart from where we slept. My camera has some good pictures of clear skies, and I may recall vaguely how fun it was, but that is nothing compared to my perfect memory of everything that has gone wrong. I promise you, when you sit at the bar and listen to folks swapping tales of their last trips, every single one will be about the parts that were miserable. The days you remember and talk about are often the ones you hate in the moment.

And it is not just about bragging rights – in retrospect, you will come to think those miserable days were actually the most fun! When you are warm and dry, and the pressures of your trip are gone, you will forget the discomforts of bad weather. However, the sense of accomplishment and the stories you bring back will paint those days as invaluable and some of your best memories in the outdoors.

I don’t wish for bad trips for myself or anybody reading this. I don’t plan them based on likely rain storms and I like a clear night full of stars as much as the next guy. But I do hope that on your next trip out into the wild, something pushes you out of your comfort zone and into your spare layers. I hope at least once you have to consider “how am I gonna make this work?” Because when you get back to town, I want to hear all about it.

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