“Well, it could be worse,” the first climber said to the second one, as the last of the evening light faded around them while they tried to get comfortable on the narrow, sloping ledge 500 feet above the valley floor. “It could be snowing.”
“Yeah,” the second climber said. “It could be worse than that, though. It could be raining.”
“Indeed,” the first climber said. “Rain would be worse than snow. And, if it were raining, we could have thunder and lightning, and that would be way worse.”
“It could be worse,” the second climber said. “We could have run out of daylight at that hanging belay a couple pitches back.”
“Sure, sure,” the second climber said. “That would not have been very comfortable. Even worse than that, we could have been attacked by a swarm of Africanized bees.”
“Very unlikely,” the first climber said.
“But theoretically possible,” The second climber said.
“You know what would be way worse than this?” asked the first climber.
“Besides sitting here with no food, no water, no lights, no sleeping bag, not enough layers, three more pitches of climbing to the top, and sitting through nine hours on a tiny, sloping ledge, until it gets light out again?” the second climber asked.
“Yes,” said the first climber.
“What would be way worse?” asked the second climber.
“If, instead of climbing with you, I was climbing with that guy Gary from the climbing gym,” said the first climber. “That would be way worse.”
“The guy who always talks about himself, and every time you try to speak, interrupts you with a new story about himself, name-dropping hard routes he has allegedly climbed?” asked the second climber.
“Yeah, that guy,” said the first climber. “For the next nine hours.”
“Yes, that would be much worse,” said the second climber. “I wasn’t really expecting that. When you asked what would be worse, I really thought you were going to say ‘lava streaming down the face above us, instantly incinerating everything in its path.’”
“Gary is pretty bad, though,” said the first climber.
“He is,” said the second climber. “Not quite as bad as lava, though.”
“Indeed, lava would definitely kill us,” said the first climber. “Bivvying with Gary … I mean, it’s not quite as bad as instantaneous death by incineration. But pretty close.”
“Right, right,” said the second climber. “What about Gary, but then a few minutes before the sun came up, lava?”
“That is definitely a worst-case scenario,” said the first climber. The two climbers sat for a minute, zipping up their jackets, pulling hands inside cuffs in a futile attempt to conserve warmth.
“It could be worse than that, though,” said the second climber. “Rain, then snow, with Gary here, then Africanized bees, then lava just before sunrise.”
“Maybe relentless mosquitoes for a couple hours before the rain?”
“Oh yeah, mosquitoes,” the second climber said. “Like Wind River Range mosquitoes.”
“Alaska mosquitoes,” said the first climber.
A light breeze blew up the wall beneath them. A few raindrops peppered their arms and legs, a few seconds apart at first, but then in increasingly quick intervals.
“Think this’ll turn to snow?” asked the first climber.
“Maybe,” said the second climber. They looked up to the clouds. They shifted their weight, each trying to get as comfortable as possible, the coils of rope beneath them providing a faint cushion and insulation against the rock.
“Also,” the second climber said, “We could both have socioeconomic circumstances preventing us from partaking in adventure pursuits like rock climbing, in which we intentionally expose ourselves to physical risks and environmental elements that are beyond our control, in an attempt to achieve self-actualization.”
“True,” the first climber said. “Good talk.”