If you push yourself towards your limits, you will experience failure. Without failure, there’s very little to learn. As an engineer, a lot of what I learned in school was failure analysis, from fatigue limits in metal to modes of vibration failure. Failure drives us to become better. This winter I experienced failures I have not had to deal with in the past. However, it has reinforced my opinions about how I need to face failure on trips, and how to use it to lead myself to success in the next trip. I also made an important discovery about skiing, with more on that later.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have failed at three 14er attempts during the calendar winter this year. Two of those failures were truly hard to accept. One was just before New Year’s trying a route on Handies Peak that has almost no information out there other than it can be avalanche prone. The other failure was on Quandary, which is considered one of the easier Colorado 14ers to do in winter and was due to my partner hitting a mental wall. The third failure was on a half-hearted attempt on Blanca peak and Ellingwood point, where we didn’t go much further than Lake Como due to dense fog. Even if we had kept going and gained the summit, there would have been nothing to see except clouds, so it would have been a pointless ascent in my opinion.
Friday the 15th was my birthday, and was a beautiful day in the mountains, so I decided to give the route on Handies Peak another go. The snow had stabilized a bit, and with the freeze/thaw cycles going on at lower elevations, there was very little post holing on the way up. With the frozen surface layer, we barely needed snowshoes on the way up, and I ended up climbing almost the entire route without crampons.
Previously in December, we were post holing in deep fluffy powder the entire way, with no trail or even another set of footprints to follow up. My climbing partner Steve and I made a great effort, and turned around at 13,400 with less than a mile to the summit. However, we were facing strong winds blowing against us, and dwindling sunlight in the short winter days. We both made the tough decision to turn back, knowing that it just wasn’t our day. We ended up reaching the road just before twilight ended, and it was completely dark when we made it back to the car.
On my second attempt, I knew what need to happen differently. I knew the route first hand and I knew how long each section took on the first attempt. I also knew that if I ran into bad weather or bad snow, or some sort of injury/sickness/etc. while on the mountain, that turning back again was always an option. The mountain will always be there, and it’s not growing or shrinking. On my second attempt, the wind picked up in the same spot near 13,000 feet, and snow was a little deeper above treeline, and much denser at all elevations. This time I brought a different partner, Jim, who was also a strong climber like Steve. The climb was fun, and the summit was rewarding. It was a great birthday present to myself.
The experience reminded me that bailing off the route the first time might have been a hard decision with regret later, it was the right decision, and that I was able to find success on the next try. If I had pushed myself to summit back in December, who knows if something would have happened trying to descend the entire route in the dark. For weekend warriors like myself, I need to understand that enjoying myself is goal number one, and that if I don’t succeed the first time, then I will just have to enjoy myself on another trip to reach that goal again.
On top of the success of getting another summit, i found out that my Zion article was published the same day. Please read it and let me know what you think. I am writing another article for Trailgroove too 🙂
For the bit about skiing, I made a video while hiking back to the car
Yes, I fail at skiing in mountaineering boots. The extra weight of my backpack didn’t help either.