Category Archives: Hiking

Mt Crosby (12, 449)

My last two summit attempts verged on being truly epic failures. The first one (Shepard) involved six hours of bushwhacking–in the deadfall and regrowth of an old pine forest that burned down in 1996. That didn’t go well. The second (Carter) was going great, till seven hundred feet below the summit, when we found a trio of hefty grizzlies hanging out between us and our objective.

Right now bears are up in the talus, eating the cutworm moths, and the chances of running into one are good. Crosby is pretty close to Carter, in an area known for its dense bear population, but Kristie and I decided to give it a go.

Kristie on Greybull Pass

Kristie on Greybull Pass with her head in the clouds

The trailhead for the Brown Basin trail is at the parking area for a crazy old ghost town named Kirwin. In days of yore, the town was home to over 200 people: wealth-seekers come to mine its silver and gold. In 1907 a vicious winter killed some unfortunate residents; the rest packed up and escaped when they could and the town has been abandoned ever since. The scars they left on the land are sadly quite visible.

The hike up from Kirwin to Greybull Pass is easy, though the trail is braided and disappears at random. We lost it a few times, but it didn’t really matter as the terrain is easy to navigate. We kept a keen eye on the ridges, watching for bears, but all we ever saw were a few old tracks.

Kristie coming up the summit ridge

Kristie on the summit ridge, just a speck of blue in the rugged landscape

Looking down into Brown Basin from the summit

Looking back down into Brown Basin from the summit

Our hero shot!

Our hero shot!

Getting to the summit involves an elevation gain of about 3300 feet. After reaching Greybull Pass, we hiked up Crosby on intermittent game trails. The terrain looks rough but it’s not too bad–as long as you’re braced to deal with a few false summits!

Kristie surveying the view

Kristie surveying the view

We enjoyed amazing views all the way back down

We enjoyed amazing views all the way back down

The hike down was spent enjoying the views and picking out new peaks to bag — Brown Basin is ringed with beautiful mountains. Cascade, Spar, Chief and Bald Mountains are all over 12,000 feet and Mt Sniffel needs to be climbed because of its beauty. I’m guessing the road will shut down soon as winter creeps into the hills, but next spring I’ll be back in search of some summits!

looking down over Sniffel and Spar and I few I haven't identified.

looking down over Sniffel and Spar and a few I haven’t identified.

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Taming the Giant: A Saga in the Absarokas

The summits I love are the ones that leave me bleeding — easy summits drift swiftly out of memory. Sleeping Giant didn’t tear (much) skin, but it turned me back four times before it yielded its summit. That alone made it a mountain worth remembering.

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I first scouted Sleepy G back in Feb ’13 — a foolish run at the ridge with dogs and no snowshoes. We gained about a thousand feet before hip-deep snow presented us with our limits. We tried to trick the dogs into breaking trail (by throwing sticks for them) but after a few tries, they said they were having none of it.

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I went back home and looked at the maps and decided that we’d been on the wrong ridge anyway. I decided to wait for better conditions but now Sleepy G had thrown out its challenge and the thought of it lodged in the back of my mind like a splinter.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

In September ’13, my friend Jarren and I made it to the summit of nearby Monument Mountain. I got a look at the Giant from there and saw there was no way to tackle it from the east. Sleeping Giant’s summit cliffs are the crumbling breccia typical of this area — volcanic choss that breaks off in your hands. I figured this would add some problems and I was right.

In October ’13, I went up with Jarren and another friend, Kristie, to take a run at the mountain from the west. We decided to go up Mormon Creek, mostly because of the pack trail in this drainage. We also felt that, by going this way, we could cut out some of what we feared would be a knife-edge ridge.

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The drawback of the Mormon Creek approach is that it adds a couple of miles and for most of those miles you’re stuck in the trees with no view. Sadly for us, the distance and trail-breaking proved to be too much and we turned around a thousand feet from the summit.

looking up at Sleeping Giant's cliffs from Mormon Creek

looking up at Sleeping Giant’s cliffs from Mormon Creek

So now I really had a bee in my bonnet and got cranky at the thought of having to wait till next year. Later that month, I made it up Hoyt Peak in Yellowstone and stood there staring at Sleepy G in the distance. It looked mean but doable. My climbing partner, Ed, was with me and he liked the look of it too, so I talked him into going up in December. He was moving away at the end of the month, so this was our last hurrah and the summit, if we got it, would have some extra meaning.

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

A blizzard rolled in on the day of our attempt but we were in the mood for some suffering and chose to ignore it. We zipped up our jackets and tackled the ridge west of Libby Creek.

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The conditions on this attempt gave new depth to the meaning of sufferfest. Brutal trail-breaking, 60 mph winds, blowing snow and temperatures down in the teens. I triggered an avalanche high on the ridge and the fracture line was inches away from my snowshoes. We finally decided things were way too dangerous and headed down in frozen-fingered defeat. (miss you, Ed!)

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I waited all winter and most of spring for the snow to melt. Finally the mountain was open again, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to give it a try. Then, in July, my friend Michelle agreed to go up, as long as I didn’t insist on tagging the summit. We called it a scouting trip, to check out summer conditions on the ridge above Libby.

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The ridge was a different world in July — rich with flowers and gentle sunlight and — lo!– we found an intermittent elk trail.

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We got up a couple thousand feet and the face looked good but the sky was getting stormy. I had my eyes on what I thought was the summit (turns out it wasn’t) and it wouldn’t have taken much to stampede me up there. But we headed down.

Not the summit

Not the summit

Even though that didn’t technically count as a summit attempt, it left me feeling hungry for the mountain. I invited another friend and fellow peak-bagger, Tim, to give it a try with me and he said he was in and ready for some excitement. We set a date in August and hoped for good weather.

At the end of August, the day before my birthday, Tim and I went up to take a shot at it. The weather was awful when I left the house — big black storm clouds hanging down into the North Fork. I had checked the radar and it looked like it would pass so we drove up anyway.

When we got to our starting point, just west of Crossed Sabres ranch, the storm had given way to blue skies. T-Storms were forecast for late afternoon so I promised myself not to stop for too many pictures.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

We went up the ridge, enjoying spectacular views, and headed up the big face beneath the plateau. It went much better without deep snow to wallow in. We worked our way through a series of minor cliff bands and finally emerged above the face. There we consulted map, phone and GPS because it turned out the summit was not at all where I’d thought it was. We spent a few minutes getting things sorted out.

looking south across the plateau

looking south across the plateau

After figuring out that the the cliffs to our east did NOT lead to the summit, we hiked through a short stretch of timber and gained the plateau.

looking back down on the plateau

looking back down on the plateau

We hiked up and across the plateau and after a half mile or so, the summit revealed itself. There was the knife-edge ridge I’d been dreading — a true knife edge formed of rotten, unstable breccia. At that point, Tim declined to go further, which I respected, so I went on to see how far I could push by myself.

section of ridge

section of ridge

Maybe I pushed a little more than I should have, but the summit was so close and just too hard to give up. I took my time and moved with great care and in the end I managed to get away with it.

on the summit

on the summit

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking NW from the summit -- Sunlight Peak in the distance

looking NW from the summit — Sunlight Peak in the distance

I didn’t linger long on the summit — just savored that thrill of success and took a few pictures. It’s not the biggest peak around, or even the prettiest, but boy it felt good to stand up there on top of it! The sky, which had been building a threat, cleared up as I descended and we hiked down with no sign at all of those afternoon t-storms.

INTERESTED IN BAGGING THIS PEAK?
I recommend the ridge west of Libby Creek — beautiful views and minimal up and down. The overall elevation gain is about 4800 feet and the round-trip mileage is 10-11 miles. Start anywhere between the Wayfarer’s Chapel and the Crossed Sabres ranch and find the easiest way up onto the ridge. The ridge will take you to the base of the big face seen below.

Route

The face looks rough but it’s not too bad — take time to glass it and look for a break in the cliffs. With some careful route-finding, you’ll find your way through them and come out onto a huge grass plateau. Head straight up (north-ish) and across the plateau for about half a mile and at that point you should get a glimpse of the summit.

I will say that the ridge to the summit is true 3rd class, maybe 4th class if you don’t watch where you’re going. The consequences of falling would be serious. The breccia is extremely loose and rotten and can break out under your hands and feet without warning. If you’ve never dealt with rotten rock, this isn’t the place to start.

Having said that, you can choose not to do the traverse and still end up within 100 vertical feet of the summit. For lots of people, that’ll be close enough. You still get tons of fantastic views, a memorable hike and a very excellent workout.

The other option is to approach the summit via Mormon Creek. Follow the pack trail as far as it goes, then head cross-country past the headwaters of the creek. You’ll hike north past the summit. Tackle the ridge wherever it seems most accessible — you’ll have to gain about 1500 feet. From the crest of the ridge, traverse back south toward the summit. This way leaves you with less of a knife-edge to deal with but you’ll still find some sketchy sections near the top. Round-trip mileage this way is 15+ miles.

Lonesome Mountain (11, 409)

I first glimpsed Lonesome Mountain on a hike of Beartooth Butte and was instantly smitten by the distinctively shaped summit.

My first sighting of Lonesome (looming in the background). Photo by Kathy Lichtendahl

My first view of Lonesome (looming in the background) in 2013. Photo by Kathy Lichtendahl

A year later, I returned with two adventurous friends to climb it. We braved bogs, creek crossings and some truly world-class mosquitoes to make our way up to the rocky 3rd class summit cap. Some easy 3rd classing led to the summit and rewarded us with sweeping spectacular views. What a great day!

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There were still snow patches here and there.

There were still snow patches here and there.

Fun on the rocks!

Enthusiastic partners are always a good thing!

Starting up the talus beneath the summit cap

Working up the talus beneath the summit cap

Summit Joy!

Summit Joy!

Interested In Doing This Hike?
We started at Beartooth Lake campgound and followed the trail northwest (along Beartooth Creek) for 2.5 miles before leaving it to go cross-country for another 3 miles to the summit. Lonesome Mountain is visible well before this point, so you just head toward it, picking the path of least resistance. There are lakes scattered throughout this area and you might have to walk around some of them. Lonesome Lake lies at the base of its namesake peak and we skirted it on the right. The last few hundred feet to the summit are easy 3rd class scrambling on big granite boulders. This approach takes you to the south face, which is the easiest.

We made a loop out of this hike and returned to the trailhead by bushwhacking down past Becker Lake and picking up the Beauty Lake trail. It was just under 6 miles to get out this way. We later learned there was a trail around the east side of Becker Lake (it’s not on NAD27 maps). Using it would have made things a lot easier!

The net elevation gain from trailhead to summit was just under 2500 feet. However, there were lots of ups and downs on this hike and I think our total elevation gain was much higher.

Other options are to start from Island Lake (longer but I hear it’s less boggy) or from the Clay Butte Lookout.

Lonesome Lake is visible in the picture. There are many options, but skirting it on the east side worked for us.

Lonesome Lake is visible in the picture. There are many options, but skirting it on the east side worked for us.

Hiking the Morrison Jeep Trail

This year, my old friend Springer and I decided to hike from Pahaska Teepee (near the East gate of Yellowstone) to the headwaters of the North Fork River in Silvertip Basin and then up and over into Sunlight Basin. But a heavy snow year plus unseasonable temperatures conspired to make July creek crossings unusually dangerous. After scouting the final (scary) creek crossing on our intended route, we decided to switch gears and do the Morrison Jeep Trail instead.

Since Springer was coming directly from sea level and we were starting at around 10,000 feet, we agreed to take a leisurely pace and simply enjoy the journey. We ended up taking four days to hike the trail, but it could definitely be done in three. On the first day, we shuttled a car, then drove up to the trailhead on the Beartooth Highway. We hiked about 5 miles in and camped at Sawtooth Lake. The terrain forced us to camp right on top of the lake, which was full of trout.

First camp

First camp


The second day, we woke up late, sat around drinking coffee for way too long, then started the 1000 foot ascent onto Dillworth Bench. We’d seen snow patches on the bench from the Chief Joseph Highway and planned to use those for water. The concern was that the trail would be dry from the bench all the way back down to the Clark’s Fork.
view of Sawtooth Mountain

view of Sawtooth Mountain


Thanks to the unusual conditions, we found plenty of running water high on the bench and so decided to keep hiking instead of camping there. The views were majestic and the wildflowers were abundant.
TopOfBench
We hiked six or seven miles, descended from the bench and found a pretty meadow to camp in, not far from a creek. After pitching our tents, we crossed the meadow to go cook dinner on the edge and walked right past a gigantic pile of fresh bear scat. We kept our eyes peeled as bear-thirty rolled around. A rain storm finally drove us into our tents. That night something chewed a couple of holes in my food bag (which was well hung in the trees on the edge of the meadow). Luckily it gave up before actually reaching my food.

Camp 2
The next morning, we woke up to stormy skies and a bit of rain. We packed up and followed the trail into deep timber.
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From then on, the terrain alternated between pretty forests and beautiful open meadows. The views of Sunlight Basin were spectacular.
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Thunderstorms came and went all day and we hiked through steady rain for a while.
HighMeadows
I was hoping we could camp up high, but we eventually ran out of water. The creeks lower down were all dried up, so we had no choice but to descend all the way to the Clark’s Fork river.

WalkingDown
The switchbacks down were steeper than I expected and very loose and rocky. We both got a pretty good quad workout as we descended.

Me at the top of the second set of switchbacks

Me at the top of the second set of switchbacks


Looking down at the mighty Clark's Fork

Looking down at the mighty Clark’s Fork


Halfway down, I almost stepped on this baby rattlesnake. He was coiled up in the middle of the trail, just like a grown-up rattlesnake, ready to strike and darting his tiny head at me. It was a good thing I saw him because baby rattlesnakes are actually more dangerous than their parents.
Baby rattlesnake

Baby rattlesnake


After ten miles of hiking, we made it down to the river. At that point, we were only four miles from the car, but we decided to camp there anyway. Our feet were sore from the pounding on the switchbacks and we’d been looking forward to another night in our tents.
Looking down the Clark's Fork canyon at river level

Looking down the Clark’s Fork canyon at river level


The next day we hiked out before it got too hot. We crossed paths with a black bear and were glad we’d hung our food on the one available tree the night before. We had to go back up to the Beartooth Highway to retrieve the other car, so we detoured to Cooke City and pigged out at the Beartooth Cafe, which has come to be my go-to restaurant for post-adventure pig-outs in this area. The smoked trout alone is worth any extra drive.

Overall, this was a beautiful and very easy hike: roughly 25-26 miles and about a thousand feet of elevation gain if you start on the Beartooth Highway side. You could start on the Clark side, at lower elevation, but it’s a long haul up to Dillworth Bench from there. This hike is best before July 15th, when the road opens to jeeps and ATVs. Doing it the second week of July, we had the entire trail to ourselves. I’m not sure there’d be any water on the bench in normal years, though you might find small lingering snow patches.

My favorite new piece of gear on this hike was my Marmot Pulsar Tent
which I’ll review thoroughly in a separate post.

Whitetail Peak: Stormy Success

Whitetail

Earlier this week, we headed into the Beartooths, armed with a perfect weather forecast and some sexy new gear. Our objective: the north face couloir on Whitetail Peak, a mountain that sent us whimpering back home last time we tried it. The route is the big obvious couloir in the picture above.

We left late, but made good time in, despite the heavily drifted trail that eventually became impossible to follow. Much post-holing ensued, followed by a short but insistent rain storm and we picked a camp near Sundance Pass in time to dodge a succession of many more rains.

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We left the tent at 3 a.m. on summit day, picking our way toward the couloir in the dark. Rotten snow and unstable boulder fields gave us an early morning workout, accompanied by the clang of ice-axe on rock and the steady background noise of heavy breathing. By dawn we were close to the couloir, but sunrise revealed a black and yellow horizon. What happened to the forecast for clear skies and afternoon thunderstorms?

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After much debate, we decided to wait and see (a climbing technique used often in times of duress). We continued forward as the storm rolled blackly toward us. A flash of lightning declared the moment of truth–and the burst of thunder was 8 seconds behind it. I threw the pack cover over my pack and we hunched down to wait out the ensuing rain. It was over in 5 minutes and a clean blue sky opened up. This matched the prevailing weather pattern we’d been observing: frequent small rainstorms lasting 5-10 minutes, followed by periods of partly cloudy skies. We decided to continue.

Heading up the couloir

Heading up the couloir

The snow in the couloir was fabulous and we chose not to rope up. It steepened from about 40 degrees at the bottom to 51 degrees higher up, where a fall would likely have been impossible to self-arrest. As the Queen of Cowards, I would not have continued unroped had the snow not been in such excellent condition. We were kicking deep, solid steps and getting stonker axe plunges. But unfortunately our blue sky disappeared. From inside the couloir, we could no longer see the approaching weather, so we found out about the blizzard when it descended.

Blizzard descending

Blizzard descending

At that point, there wasn’t much to be gained from retreating, so we continued upward with many grim thoughts about NOAA. Visibility was pretty low, but all we needed to see was the snow in front of us. And the cornice above. Bypassing the cornice involved a short stretch of 60-70 degree snow, which was exciting.

Bill bypassing the cornice

Bill bypassing the cornice

And the top-out was even more exciting, as I pretty much had to back-step on the cornice, fling one leg over and yell for Bill to grab me if I fell.

Me about to climb past the cornice.

Me about to climb past the cornice.

After climbing out of the couloir, we met the full force of the storm: 60 mph winds and near white-out conditions. And we were still faced with finding our way down an unknown and rather nasty ridge, to locate the trail over Sundance Pass about a mile and a half away.

Our hero shot at the top

Our hero shot at the top

The first part of the ridge was a series of ugly boulder fields: wet granite now coated with an inch of slippery snow. The older, deep snow between the boulders was rotten and treacherous and we picked our way down very carefully, with visions of spiral fractures dancing in our heads. Navigation was tricky with the very low visibility.

High on the ridge

High on the ridge

creeping down the  ridge

creeping down the ridge

We got down eventually and found the trail and the whiteout lifted, but Whitetail wasn’t finished with us. Almost as soon as our boots hit the trail, the snow/hail turned into drenching, sideways rain. We raced for the tent as fast as we could, even jumping off the trail in the end for some high-speed glissades. But even our top-notch, much-trusted gear couldn’t save us from a downpour of that magnitude. Anything not in a dry-bag was thoroughly soaked.

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Luckily for us, the storm eventually ended and the sun (sort of) came out. We dried our clothes, had a good dinner and went to bed, exhausted. We made good time out the next day, despite the endless post-holing and a painful detour through boulders and deadfall to avoid two big moose grazing on the trail. We arrived at the car happy and hungry and only slightly damp, and not sure if we’d tangle with the Beartooths again in June.


GEAR I LOVED

I had several pieces of new gear that I tried on this trip and a couple of them really stood out.

OUTDOOR RESEARCH WOMEN’S CIRQUE PANTS

First, I was extremely pleased with my Outdoor Research Women’s Cirque Pants which stood up to some serious abuse. They kept me dry through two small rainstorms, a prolonged wet blizzard, lots of postholing and several wet glissades. I’m wearing these pants in all the pictures above.

The integrated gaiters worked better than I expected, though I did finally back them up with real gaiters (for postholing). The fabric breathes extremely well and I stayed reasonably cool on the hike in (60 degrees/partly sunny at the lower elevations). I was able to open the ankle zips and roll the pants up to my knees and they stayed put there. They did fail in the final drenching rainstorm, but I wouldn’t expect any softshell to stand up to that amount of rain. And the plus was that they went from wringing wet to dry in just a couple of hours.

The stretchy fabric and articulated knees allowed me to scramble over boulders and fling my leg over a bulky cornice with ease.

One especially nice feature of these pants is that the waistband is adjustable via velcro tabs, so you can ensure a good fit. I was able to fit my Capilene 4 thermal underwear beneath them and forget I was wearing it.

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The only real drawback to these pants is that they’re heavy at 19 ounces and include an unnecessary crampon patch that adds weight. Any time I’m wearing crampons, I’m also wearing real gaiters so I find a patch on my pants to be unnecessary. The belt loops are also thicker and bulkier than they need to be. I was afraid they’d bunch up under my pack and maybe cause chafing, but in the end they didn’t.

These pants do seem to run slightly big. At 5’7″ and 125 lbs (give or take, ahem), with an athletic build, I fit comfortably into the size Small with some minor cinching of the velcro when I wasn’t wearing thermals.


TETON SPORTS HIKER 3700 Ultralight Backpack

Pack
This 60 L pack was actually loaned to me by a friend, who happens to be an ambassador for Teton Sports. I’m a hard sell when it comes to backpacks and I’ve been pretty loyal to Black Diamond packs for several years. However, my current 60 liter is nearing the end of its life so I decided to give this pack a try when my friend offered to lend it to me.

The first thing I noticed was how nicely this pack loaded up. I took it on a training hike and was very pleased with how well it carried. At 4lbs, it’s only 3 ounces heavier than my 60 L Black Diamond, but the extra weight goes into extremely strategic padding in the shoulder straps and hip-belt, which allowed me to carry 40 lbs without bruising my hips or collarbones (an ongoing problem for me).

The torso length is adjustable (16″ to 21.5″), which meant I got a very custom fit. The lumbar support is excellent and I love the “wrapped” feeling of the cushy split dual wishbone hipbelt. There are lots of pockets, sleeping pad straps and two ice-axe loops. I easily carried a full load of backpacking gear, plus a snow picket, avalanche shovel and ice axe all attached to the outside of the pack. To climb the route, I used the compression straps to cinch the pack down as skinny as it would go–it carried my load tightly and never shifted or got in my way.

For such a light pack, it really has a lot of features, including a built-in rainfly, which I used repeatedly on this trip. With most packs, you’re forced to drop another $30-$40 on a rain-fly and the after-market ones may or may not fit. And, while there are lighter packs available, they’re usually so stripped down as to be annoying (no pockets) and uncomfortable (skimpy padding). To me, 4lbs is a fantastic weight for a full-featured, comfortable pack like this.

Perhaps the best part of this pack is the amazing price! At only $90 on Amazon, it blows most other packs of this size and quality out of the water. For comparison, my current 60 L retails for $229 (though I bought it on sale for about $170). Now that’s a good deal!

NITPICKS
The only thing I could really ask for with this pack would be the ability to pull another inch of slack out of the hip-belt. Also, the fabric is not very water-resistant, but I can fix that with a coating of Kiwi Camp Dry. Other than that, this is a truly well-designed and comfortable backpack that I would recommend to anybody.


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.

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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.

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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.

WhitetailApproach

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!