Don’t panic. I can promise you Action! Adventure! Derring-do! The stories in Snowblind are mountaineering adventure tales in the vein of Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson, but with modern characters and climbs. For reasons beyond me, stories with satisfying narrative arcs have become taboo in certain literary circles. I think stories should be gripping, and I’ve yet to meet the reader who genuinely feels otherwise.
Oh, so Snowblind is really just written for mountain climbers.
Hmm. Not to take the analogy too far, but that’s kind of like saying Jack London only wrote for an audience of gold miners, or that Melville wrote for whalers. To me, one of the strangest things about modern fiction is that no one writes the adventure tale anymore. What gives? Some of the best American stories (Moby Dick, Huck Finn) are adventure tales, but now it’s a lost art form.
Hey, have you read Into Thin Air?
Yes, yes, I have. When the most famous American mountaineering book is about tourists stuck in a traffic jam on Mt. Everest, we should probably move on. There are better climbing stories.
Fatal Mountaineer, by Robert Roper. Kiss or Kill, by Mark Twight. Beyond the Mountain, by Steve House. Oh, and I hear there’s this cool new book called Snowblind.
I’ve read a few of the Snowblind stories now, and some of them are really dark. What’s up with that?
To paraphrase one of my characters: they’re nowhere near as dark as the universe. I think there’s a contradiction that a lot of climbers wrestle with: mountains are both beautiful and deadly, and the two can’t be disentangled. My previous two books, my nonfiction, were obsessed with the aesthetics of wilderness. Now I have this book to balance out the equation. It’s about compulsions and consequences.
Are the stories based on your own climbs?
No, they’re genuine fiction. Some of them started from seeds of experience, and some of those seeds came out of my own climbs. But by the time I was done with each story it bore minimal resemblance to the fragment it started from.
Can you give an example of a seed?
Sure. The Three Brothers is the gigantic cliff to the right of El Capitan, and most climbers ignore it because the rock isn’t as good as the rest of Yosemite. Years ago, my wife and I climbed an obscure route on the Lower Brother. We found the climb in an old guidebook, and it seemed like no one had been there for thirty years or more—one pitch had a long section of dirt-hummock crimping. We got to the top, which is a knife-edge ridge hanging in the midst of a huge, complicated, expanse of granite. We were supposed to follow a gully to a descent ledge, but instead of one gully there were eight of them, and we didn’t know which to choose. Feeling completely lost, we looked along the ridgeline in time to see a brown, furry, bear’s butt disappearing up ahead. Without a word, we started running along the knife-edge after the bear. Later we talked and found that we’d both jumped to the same conclusion: the bear had to know more about where we were than we did. The bear trundled down a gully, kicking up dust and knocking over rocks, and we kept following it. Our descent ledge appeared, and at that moment, the bear vanished in the other direction and we never saw it again. We’re two super-rational people, and what were we supposed to make of a climbing bear who magically appeared in the vastness of one of Yosemite’s biggest cliffs, and then disappeared as soon as it dropped us where we needed to go?
I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t tell you which story has a bear in it. But when you find the bear you’ll see what I mean about how much distance grew between the stories and their seeds.
So are you some kind of crazed adrenaline junkie who I should keep away from my kids?
I wouldn’t let your kids go anywhere near me. I write. I climb. I have a philosophy degree. I’d be a terrible influence. My four-year-old is in serious trouble.
DANIEL ARNOLD is the author of the nonfiction books From Salt to Summit and Early Days in the Range of Light. His debut collection of short stories, Snowblind: Stories of Alpine Obsession, is now on-sale from Counterpoint Press. Arnold’s work has appeared in Rock and Ice, The Mountain Gazette, and elsewhere. He lives in Sonora, California with his wife and son.