ANATOMY OF AN ALPINIST

1) head: hair receding from the stress of bivys, clear line where skin polished from wool meets sun burn and wind bite, eyes hollow from lack of sleep, tongue yellow from too little vitamins, lips permenantly cracked

2) shoulders: hunched forward, rounded and uneven from big loads, cheap flights, sleeping upright and tendinitis. strange muscle groups rarely seen outside lumberjacks and concreters.

3) scars: various. usually from a lifestyle alternative to climbing. often badly healed. size preferable to number. optimally positioned for discreet attention.

4) beard: tipping point between cultivating an image and simply not shaving. what sets alpinists apart from boulderers. pros and cons of face protection, zips catching, ice collecting and Jeff Lowe style.

5) body fat: small paunch from overloading on carbohydrates, otherwise everything else the homo-erotic dream. a fine balance of carrying enough fuel and feeling cold. what looks cool in the mirror becomes a curse after 4 weeks yomping in the cold.

6) veins: the signature of pushing consistently against gravity then holding tight in terror. the conduits that pump oxygen starved blood to frightened muscle and burned out brains.

7) fingers: raked, chipped, numbed, burned and bludgeoned daily. held together with medical tape, the naked puppets in constant conversation. make friends with your hands as they literally hold your life and are mirrors of your sanity. when your fingers mutiny the show is over.

8 ) ass: the primate barometer for how grim a trip is. how it holds up an overloaded harness, insulates from cold rock and tolerates the randomness of alpine bowels is the indicator of things going further than planned.

9) legs: lack of nerves makes them the silent engines of alpinism. abused, groaning and tortured, good alpine legs are worthy of a lifetimes work. scrawny, sculptured, wriggly veined and bizarrely muscled, the hidden arsenal of mountain capacity. love them and they will love you back.

10) knees: as Vonnegut said – be kind to them because you will miss them when theyre gone. too complex to fix, best to make them strong.

11) feet: ideally warm, soft and smelling of tanned leather. the fear of feeling them lost to the cold has no parallel. aliens far from the brain, they go first and the body follows and need to be trustworthy. slight damage becomes amplified fast so invest in them. good boots are better than a good surgeon.

12) toes: the mountaineers diamonds. the more you have the better. going home with a full set is the sign you got it right. spend money on your toes because you need them, evolution’s parsimony deemed ten the minimum. once damaged the door is open and the heroism of tissue damage soon becomes the pettiness of constant maintenance. introduce them to your fingers to keep them warm. 20 happy digits are better company in a nasty bivy than 20 friends.