Last weekend I went on a day hike and almost died of hypothermia. It was epic and frightening and I’ll write about it some time after I get warm again and my metabolism goes back to normal.
I barely knew the two people that I was hiking with that day, and we still barely know each other, but wilderness experiences, especially life-and-death ones, have a way of forming a bond between people that has nothing to do with how well you know each other or what you think of each other in the real world. There’s this understanding that you reach after trusting someone with your life, and this is one of the things I like most about being in the wilderness.
On a mountaineering trip a few years ago, I remember descending an awful steep snowy slope in extremely sketchy conditions and being scared to death. The person closest to me was helping me climb, and I realized that I was literally trusting my life to him. This was a person with whom I had immense personality conflicts, we had gotten in terrible fights, and I just generally disliked him. Being more stable and less scared than I was at that moment, and having ended up next to me in the climbing line, he took my hand, looked me in the eye and reassured me, and helped me with every step until we reached the bottom safely. I wouldn’t have made it off that mountain if it weren’t for him. After that, and a few other instances of watching each other’s backs, we didn’t exactly become friends, but trusting each other with physical safety led to much more emotional safety.
I wish every new social enterprise or relationship was preceded by such a wilderness outing.