When the body of George Leigh Mallory was found in 1999 just a few hundred meters below the summit of Everest, it was, 75 years after his final collapse, in a remarkable state of preservation. The mountain would not let him live, but neither would it let him go. The brutal elements that flay living mountaineers seem not to have touched him. His finely muscled back, exposed to the sky, was alabaster white. His hands, still clutching the scree, were extended as if beseeching the summit pinnacle. Together they make the perfect Romantic tableau: the lover in perpetual pursuit; the beloved object always within reach, forever unattainable, unmoved by his frozen desire.
Which brings me to Goretex. Because Goretex, and gear generally, are never far from a hiker’s mind. Even as I imagined the soul of Mallory lifting from its grave of rag and bone to finish the route, I could not help but wonder: would he have made it if he were wearing my Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero Down Parka with welded baffles and Velcro cuffs? Perhaps Mallory’s most romantic (read: crazy) idea was that he could manage the earth’s “third pole” in clothing better suited to his native heath. The Shetland cardie! The tweed greatcoat! Worst of all -- the woolen stockings knitted by his wife! As any English major knows, a head stuffed with Tennyson will get you only so far in this life. Sure, the modern stuff is pricey. But unless you want to spend the fall and winter indoors, head down to the bank, take out a second mortgage, and buy yourself some Goretex. It will make a dent in your credit card as if you’d bought a Versace gown, a fact you must suppress as you push through thorny thickets swaddled in the stuff. But with the right gear, you’ll be free to explore trails in bad weather, when they see only the hardiest hikers. For those unaccustomed to hiking in the rain, I suggest starting with the carriage roads at Minnewaska State Park. It’s the place we head to when it’s absolutely pouring out. At any other time, the park teams with people. Even a short break in an otherwise rainy day will bring out the hordes, including mountain bikers who make you jump out of the way. But when the rain is unrelenting, you can still have a fine hike in an arena of astonishing beauty. From the depths of your Marmot Destination Jacket with DriClime lined collar and chin guard, you can peer out at dramatic ledges and dwarf pines shrouded in mist. The Castle Point/Hamilton Point Loop is easy and wide enough so that you don’t have to walk through wet brush. Mallory may sniff. But at 10 miles, it’s still a challenging workout. And you may even live to tell about it.