This is a picture of me sitting at the top of The Grand Teton, elevation 13,770 feet. It was taken on July 4, 2013. Do I look happy? Not so much. In fact, it’s really not the best picture, right? What it reflects, though, is what was going through my mind: okay, so I made it up. But how the hell am I going to make it back down?
I’m not entirely sure why I decided to climb that mountain. I’d been coming to the Tetons every summer since 2010 for a writer’s conference, and there it had loomed, beautiful and jagged and so high it always felt like we barely made it over it in the airplane that brought me there. Maybe it was to fulfil my latent Everest fantasies. Maybe it was because I was about to turn 40. Maybe, it was, as George Mallory famously said, because it was there.
I wasn’t foolish enough to climb it on my own. I did it the right way, I thought. I trained as best I could at home, then spent a weak hiking at elevation in Nevada, then did a three-day training course with an excellent guide company to learn how to climb in snow and acquire basic rock-climbing skills. But when I set off on the first of a two-day trip to the top, I was already worked. My thirty-nine year old body was tired. And I couldn’t keep the idea that a hiker had just died a few days before, on this very same hike, out of my mind.
But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I had a great guide who kept me going. Sleeping at the lower saddle—Wyoming off one side, Idaho off the other—was an amazing experience. Then we rose at 3 A.M. in the cold dark, to climb what looked like nothing, but would take another terrifying 7 hours to get to the top of. Along the way I injured my arm. My legs shook in fear. Passages from Into Thin Air beat through my brain. And so, when I got to the top. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t whoop and holler like my fellow hikers. Instead I stared at the kid who’d climbed up in broken tennis shoes, and I thought about going down.
I just wanted to get down.
Eight hours later, I was almost out of the dangerous rocky section on the descent. It would be hours after that till we were out completely, but I’d be safe in a few minutes. Then I slipped and fell, jarring the arm I’d already hurt. And then, for the first time that day, I cried. I cried because I’d made it. I cried because it hurt. I cried because I never should’ve been on the mountain at all.
Am I happy now, almost a year later, that I did it? On some level, yes. After all, it’s given me something to write about. Because as writer’s we often lead our own version of Mallory’s statement: we do things so we can write about them.
* * *
Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.
Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, HIDDEN explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.