20 Meditations on 58 Summits
New Years Day seemed an apt window of opportunity to either post it or relegate it to the recycle bin (as a retrospective).
By nature, I am more of a ‘tick list-er’ than a ‘peak bagger’. I never expected I would be motivated enough to hike some of the ‘domed talus humps’ that round out the list of Colorado’s tallest 58 peaks. But like many who start with a few, I caught the bug and was soon blocking out any available weekend to do things like hump it up remote San Luis peak in the snow and shelling out an insane $100 for the right to access the domed talus hump named Mt. Culebra on the New Mexico border. As with any adventure project, there were many unexpected surprises along the way, both good and bad. But first:
Snowmass Mountain: Sept 11th 2010.
We attempted Snowmass again in the Fall of 2009 via the S-Ridge on the other side of the mountain. We slept too late and were slowed down by 6” of fresh snow in the dense talus of the West Face. By the time we reached the ridge we realized we would be head-lamping down a nasty talus slope in the dark if we wanted to press on for the summit. Achievable, but not fun in the slightest bit. We bailed.
So Snowmass became our “58th Colorado 14er” at the end of the road and due to two failed previous attempts. On our 3rd trip we hiked with Scott Thompson and Rod Amerkhanov (who brought their own cigarettes and liquor to boot), and tried to catch the Snowmass wilderness at the height of the Fall colors. We were a little early. On the hike in the Aspen leaves were mostly green. It was cold at night, and the following day many of the Aspen had turned to gold. The hike was beautiful, straight-forward, a good length, and towards the end of “the list” K2 and I were ready to get the damned 14er project wrapped up so we could move on to other climbs, no longer so preoccupied with style points when it came to route selection.
The Ensuing Meditations: (on the 58 Summits of the Colorado mountains over 14,000’):
1. If I ever climb Mount Princeton again in the summer, it will be too soon. The mountain is truly a talus crap pile...although the wild flowers are lovely in July.
2. If your aim is technical mountaineering excellence, avoid the list. It is an odd day when you need to get your rope out.
3. The three greatest predictors of summit success are weather, stamina, and the quality of your climbing partners--almost all adverse conditions can be overcome. Sometime it’s just not worth it. And great parters are in synch with you every step of the way.
4. Somewhere between the halfway point and the summit on every challenging climb there is a “mental crux”: a moment where the individual or the group is starting to get tired, and doubts enough to turn back without a summit. Try to identify this moment yourself on your next long difficult long climb and remember it is just that. Once past, the summit is near inevitable.
5. Easy summit hikes with good people can be more fun than testing yourself at the limits of your ability. (Decalibron, 4th of July 2009)
6. Hot tempers and malfunctioning gear can wreck a long-standing climbing friendship for life. (Crestone Peak 2007)
7. If you find a mate willing to climb Mount Columbia more than once in the same year, you’ve found a keeper—someone with a stronger than normal ability to slog through just about any tedium for hours, yours or otherwise.
8. The easiest things to lose track of are headlamps and sunglasses. The easiest things to leave behind are trekking poles. The worst thing to forget is toilet paper. The worst things to lose are car keys.
9. The most intimidating 3rd and 4th class terrain falls away when you break them down piece by piece. Once things become 5th class, routes that initially appear easy can quickly become more difficult than expected.
10. Winter travel is approximately two times slower than summer travel, much colder, much more physically demanding, and it’s easy to get lost. When it’s 5 below zero, it’s hard to hear your alarm go off through the sleeping bag, hard to slog through the steps, hard to carry the freight, hard to eat another bite of oatmeal…and hard to care... But the pictures usually turn out pretty cool.
11. Cascade Volcanoes, including Mount Rainier, are not significantly easier or harder than most Colorado 14ers when the weather cooperates. They’ve just got those crevasse things you get to rope up for.
12. You never climb a mountain with the same person twice. See point #6.
13. The more you climb with a person the more you necessarily become comfortable talking with them about farts and poop. Burping is allowed, too.
14. Thin air is addictive. The more I climb at altitude the more I realize I’m not in it totally for the view, or the exercise, or the company. Often, it’s for the air. And I find myself judging a climb based on how strong my air felt.
15. If a mountain is not challenging enough, climb it with your 10-year-old daughter. It will prepare you for future negotiations with disgruntled Sherpas or Balti.
16. Favorite mountaineering quote: “The truth that remains from all of this is that the best way to make large gains in fitness is to do the least fun, least glamorous, most boring kind of training: Long-Slow-Distance. –Steve House.
I learned the truth in this running out of gas on easy Sunshine Peak Feb 2008. Ice climbing is not a fair substitute for long-slow-distance.
17. A climber driving from central Denver to each of the 58 14ers and back drives around 10,369 miles (give or take a few depending on snow closures and road conditions) consumes roughly 500 gallons of gas and spend roughly $1500 on transportation costs. I dream that in an aging, populated, climate challenged, live-for-time-not-stuff world, we will find increasing admiration in those who scale Colorado’s 58 14,000 foot mountains without a carbon footprint.
18. What Colorado’s highest mountains lack in prominence, development, spire measure, vertical drop, and relative global altitude they give back with a 12 month climbing season, immeasurable variety, and stunning access and affordability. There are places you want to visit and places where it is better to live.
19. Possibly the greatest strengths of any mountaineer are stamina, stubbornness, a progressive insensitivity to fear, and a very selective memory.
20. When I do not push myself regularly, frequently, addictively, I decline. That is why there will be a 72nd, and an 84th, and a 100th mountain. Higher. Steeper. More technical. More frightening. More rope. More axes. More crampon work. AND more 14,000 foot Frisbees. More summit lawn chairs. More summit books. More summit beer. More summit friends. Starting with the Sharktooth in RMNP, followed by the 3.5 hour trek to the summit of Mt. Sneffels on a clear summer day (with fly swatter!). A keg still weighs less than my typical back pack.
Wishing everyone a faster, lighter, more technical 2011.