Alpine Spankings

I decided that the first day of summer would be the perfect time to launch my new blog. But then I tackled a long hike instead and my pager went off and tangled me up in a SAR mission. So the third day of summer will have to do instead.

I’m caught, as usual, between a trailhead and a time crunch, because tomorrow we’re heading out into the Beartooth Mountains. We’re going for a second attempt on Whitetail Peak — a mountain that thoroughly spanked us several years ago. Last time, we made our attempt in July, hoping for a technical ice-climb, and we got ice alright, but not the kind we wanted. Much of the route was melted out and it turned into a rockfall bowling alley as we climbed.

We ended up bailing — a series of frightening rappels — and right at the bottom, a rock slammed into my back. It was big enough to knock me down and break the skin through several layers of clothes. Bill thought it had killed me.

It hadn’t, of course, and I managed to stagger to camp, bruised and half-blind from a fine glaze of sand in my eyes. I was shocked that the mountain had almost taken me down. I couldn’t shake that feeling I’d had when I saw the rock coming and knew I couldn’t dodge it. Those are the moments that change you in tangible ways, that leave you a scar of fear, or a twist of gratitude.

Still, we had to admit defeat and it was certainly bitter. We’d carried in way too much gear for the route, not knowing what we were up against, and our aching shoulders and hips were all we took home. It was a long hike out.


So tomorrow we’re heading in again, with smaller packs and a better sense of the mountain. The forecast looks good and I believe the snow is stable.

But I might be wrong. The mountain might kick us off again, with or without a rock to the back of the shoulder. We might come back feeling small and stupid, having to tell our friends we failed again.

But that’s okay. For one thing, they’re pretty well used to our epic failures and, for another, it’s the failures that make the best memories. The mountains that are easily climbed are not the ones we remember–it’s the ones we have to go back for that tell our story. Remember that time? With a nod and a grin and a shiver.


You haven’t really failed till you stop trying, right? That’s what we tell ourselves. This time we’ll be fitter and braver and smarter. OK, probably not too much braver, but maybe a little bit smarter?

Wish us luck!


2 thoughts on “Alpine Spankings

  1. Forrest

    Good luck on your climb! I hope you’re feeling the warm glow of success when you read this comment. Based on what you wrote, I think you should take some time to read a book called Glorious Failures, published by The Mountaineers Press.

    Thank you for volunteering with Search and Rescue.



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