Jun 04 2015
When my climbing buddy Kyle, his fingers protected only by a sodden ragg wool mitt, lifted the steaming pot of oatmeal from the roaring 111B, his reaction wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a Three Stooges comedy. But it was no laughing matter, especially when he flung the pot from his grasp and sent scalding oatmeal spraying around our campsite.
Our group had spent the night high up in a mountain valley in Washington state, almost within strolling distance of the Canadian border. The day before had been a long one. We’d made our way cautiously across a glacier, climbed a peak, and then descending by glissading down a snowfield. The snow had been firm when we set out in the chill morning air, but the afternoon sun softened it and made it sloppy, and those of us who’d failed to cover their ragg mittens with waterproof shells soon found that the thick wool had soaked through. And it was still wet when the sun woke us the following day.
But Kyle had no spare mittens in his pack, and wet wool was better than bare fingers in the frosty alpine air. It was his turn to make breakfast. And when the time came to lift the pot off the stove, he grabbed it without a second thought. His mittens were thick, weren’t they? He’d grabbed hot pots with them many times. No problem.
This time was different, however. Before, his mittens had been dry. Today they were soaking wet, and the 111B’s blowtorch burner had done its job. The pot was hot — very, very hot. The stage had now been set. Events unfolded with a tragic inevitability. Kyle’s mittened hand closed on the pot’s rolled rim. A plume of steam enfolded it, instantly parboiling his fingers. And his screams — to borrow one of John Steinbeck’s memorable lines — were enough to “make the welkin ring.” Kyle hurled the pot from his hand like a discus. It flew across the meadow, trailing filaments of piping‑hot oatmeal in its wake.
Luckily, no one stood (or squatted) in its path. And though the oatmeal was a lost cause, the pot — a sturdy four‑liter Sigg — suffered only a few minor dents. Still, there were plenty of grumbles under the cook tarp, and Kyle, who had dashed off to thrust his scalded fingers into a nearby drift of dirty snow, received precious little sympathy from any of us on his return. He was painfully reminded of his folly for days afterward, too, every time it was his turn to belay.
The discerning reader may now be wondering why Kyle didn’t use a pot grip. And the answer is simple: We didn’t have one. We did bring one, but it had gone AWOL at an earlier campsite, and none of us was prepared to pack up and go home on account of a missing pot grip. Anyway, we were doing fine with our thick wool mittens. Until it was Kyle’s turn to cook breakfast, that is. Then he got a valuable lesson, one of the first things learned by novice cooks in busy kitchens: “Side towels” make acceptable pot grips — but only when they’re dry. A wet towel (or a sodden mitten) offers no more protection from a hot pot than a square of wet bumwad. It’s not a lesson likely to be forgot.
Nor have I forgotten it. Years have passed since Kyle’s Three Stooges moment, but it came to mind just the other day, when I needed to get a grip… Read more…
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