Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Great Smell Of Mountaineer.

Wrote this for wurk, but I like it enough to stick it on here as well:
I guess it had to happen eventually, the other day the postie rocked up with a box-full of outdoors-friendly male grooming products called, wait for it, Rockface! I added the exclamation mark by the way, it just felt right. Grrrr... Ruffty tuffty crag-friendly gels, scrubs, balms, shower gels, moisturisers and the rest.

The fantasy...

It smells like, er,  'top notes of green apple, bergamot, mandarin and coriander, middle notes of jasmine, cedar leaf and muguet and a base of precious woods, musk and amber'. So sort of fresh and well, like cosmeticy moisturising, after-shavey sort of things.

But here's the rub – and I don't mean a gently exfoliating scrub containing micro particles for deep cleansing, removing impurities and conditioning the skin – the whole point of being outdoors is not having to wash or worry about how bad you smell.
The great smell of mountaineer features top notes of semi-digested dehydrated food and unburned petrol or paraffin, middle notes of glacier cream and lip balm and a base note of powerful rancid perspiration leavened with fresher sweat, DEET and mouldering baselayer. 

But what makes it special is the unspoken pact that no-one in the group should wash until you're off the hill. Miraculously, stick to this long-established protocol and eau de grimpeur remains completely undetectable – you can share a tiny cramped tent with your mate for, ooh, a week, without the faintest awareness of your mutually dubious aromatic condition – it's God's way of making mountaineering bearable.

The reality :-/

But where it all falls down is when someone breaks the faith, washes and anoints themselves with fresh-smelling unguents. Suddenly not only are your nostrils invaded by, yes, 'top notes of green apple, bergamot, mandarin and coriander, middle notes of jasmine, cedar leaf and muguet and a base of precious woods, musk and amber', but you become instantly and uncomfortably aware of your own personal stench.

The most graphic illustration of this on a big scale was arriving at Lukla en route to Everest Base Camp after starting from Jiri. The Jiri walk-in is a glorious week-long trek through lush cloud forest and up into the foothills and washing facilities are best described as 'basic'.

The result, by the time you reach Lukla, is a satisfying ripeness and only the vaguest memory of the smell of soap and anti-perspirant. Unfortunately arriving at Lukla is like taking part in an overblown chemistry experiment.

And one more gnarly action shot for aromatic luck.

Suddenly the streams of unwashed trekkers from Jiri are mixed in the vast test tube of Nepalese streets and Tea Houses with a torrent of trekkers fresh from Kathmandu and still subtly treated with cosmetics, toiletries and, er, grooming products. The funny thing is that in the petrol-fumed streets of Kathmandu, the smell is virtually undetectable, but transplant the wearer to Lukla and...

Let's just say that I could smell the new arrivals with their clean trekking pants, newly washed armpits and moisturised, exfoliated faces from at least 20 yards away. 

Of course the effect is temporary, two days down the trail and everyone is, once more, a mass of mutually undetectable reeking trekker, but the Lukla experiment tells you one thing – there is no room for male grooming products in the outdoors... 

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