Monday, March 7, 2011
Tom Birdseye, author of STORM MOUNTAIN, offers us the mountain climbing story that inspired the book
A CLIMBER’S MIND
By Tom Birdseye
May, 1997: The storm roared over the ridge and down onto us fast and menacing, like a dragon's claw. One moment we were approaching the summit of Mt. Hood under blue skies in a light breeze, the next we were hammered by near gale-force winds. Snow pelted our jackets, grew thick, then thicker still. We stumbled onto the highest point in Oregon, where on a clear day you could see over 100 miles, and found the line between ground and air fuzzing, fading, then vanishing altogether -- a whiteout. Imagine the inside of a ping-pong ball. Disorientation is a given. Vertigo a threat. Thankfully, we had marked our route with thin bamboo wands sporting bright orange survey flags, and were able to follow them back down to safety.
Several years later, I hiked the 41-mile Timberline Trail that circles Mt. Hood with a group of climbing buddies. Halfway around, gazing up at yet another stunning view of the iconic peak, it suddenly occurred to me that although I loved mountains and scaling them, I had, in fact, never written anything with a climbing focus. What was with that? Why not combine two of my passions -- writing and the alpine realm? It was a head-slapping moment, and in it a book idea was born. By the time I got back to the car, my mind was buzzing with ideas, including the main characters being caught in a whiteout. Still, it took months of creative incubation and playing with possibilities before the story really began to jell. Initial drafts pointed out the need for more research (aka adventures). Which, I admit, was a blast. Additional versions led to many changes, both large and small. And more attempts. And more again. Until, at times it seemed as if I'd never finish.
The key to finally completing the novel came, fittingly, by adapting a climber's mind: "Don't obsess on the distant summit," I told myself. "Just the next step. And the step after that. And the step after that. Keep plodding persistently away and eventually you'll look up and there will be no more up to scale!" Word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene I kept at it, until I reached the writer's summit -- THE END. Once again safely back down from those airy heights, I humbly offer up an alpine adventure to you -- STORM MOUNTAIN.