When citizens set out to climb a mountain like the Rifleberg, they must prepare to encounter weather: banshee winds, gloom in thick blankets, snowfall down the napes of shivering necks, rime forming shapes off noses like whiskey bottles. That is why America’s most jaded author entered the Brew in Bivy outfitting shoppe before leaving on his expedition to that peerless peak in 1875.
The jovial proprietor’s pipe rose up from the corner of his mouth when he spoke so that one eye would squint in the smoke rings. Twain, intent on besting the ravages of storm that haunt the flanks of the Rifleberg, handed him the following list of essentials:
- Ten cases spun wool
- Five balls horsehair
- One repair sheep, live
- One cotton gin
- Twenty greatcoats, halved
- Two dozen derby hats
- Three riding crops
- Thirty ice axes
- Fourteen sheared stove legs
- Twelve spools manilla hemp
- 1/4 square mile canvas.
The proprietor was impressed at this list of material for the Rifleberg. Ah! but something was missing.
“Yi, quite a paraphenilia, laddie. But let me show you some of our Goretex garmets.”
“No, laddie, Goretex. It’s waterproof fabric that is laminated to the inside of a sturdy material such as cordura nylon. That way abrasion to the shell of a jacket won’t effect the performance of Goretex.”
“Why did he die in Texas?”
“Yi? Here, this lightweight shell that compresses well uses taffeta Goretex; this mountain weight shell uses taslon Goretex.”
“Gads! I’ll have spun wool, horsehair, and a cotton gin for the manufacture of whatever materials I shall need.”
“Yi, but this one shell will suit you for all kinds of conditions that you will encounter both during the approach and on the mountain. With a layering of the proper clothing underneath, Goretex is versatile over a wide range of climates.”
“What shell game do you put before me, proprietor?”
“Yi, not just shells. Goretex works well on sleeping bags to keep you dry when your breath and condensation freezes on the outside layer of the bag. When used as the top section of a biizy sack, or on a single person tent, it removes condensation on the inside. It’s breathable, laddie.”
“Breathes? Proprietor, you succumb to a mental illness before me.”
“Yi? But this shell also helps keep you warm when you put it on against the banshee winds. And with these Goretex bib overalls or Goretex pants, you’ve a full weather suit to repell the gloom of the Rifleberg. With the shell fitted long, below the hips, and close around the face, wrists and waist, you’ll stay the snow from your body. With the pants coming up above the waist, but down low enough to tuck into gaitors; and with these full zippers for putting bibbs or pants on over boots, your kipper for anything. Notice the reinforcement over knees and bum.”
“You flatter me, proprietor. But has this garment no drawbacks?”
“Yi. Sometimes Goretex can’t wick away moisture fast enough. But it dries quickly when wet. Second, its breathability diminishes as it becomes soiled. Thus a gentle wash in mild detergents to hang dry ensures continued performance. goretex is expensive but lonqlastinq. Lastly seams must be sealed on nearly everything whether made of Goretex or not.”
“Proprietor, what shall I do with this concoction of cloth once I have defiled the Rifleberg and return to America to visit the Adirondacks? Shall I catch insects in it and study their desire to dine on me?”
“Yi, it will keep noseeums away. But Goretex, laddie, was designed to ward off high moisture inside and outside of the shell. For moving fast and steady in prolonged wet conditions, this material is kipper. Bicyclists and runners will even agree.”
“I shall wear these garments on the Rifleberg and during the celebration of its ascent,. lest I should drown in the downpour of a spilled whiskey sour.”
Mark Twain wrote several books about his travels in Europe. A Tramping Abroad (1878) included a parody of climbing as it was then practiced in the Swiss Alps. The Matterhorn had been ascended for the first time only thirteen years before. Edward Whymper’s account of the climb so fascinated our Mississippi author that he wrote his own mountaineering tale. The previous article was inspired by Twain’s hilarious expedition to the fictional Riffleberg.