Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Forest. December 30, 2003
Unfortunately we are getting off to another late start. My team consists of three of my closest friends. John Pleasant, a pioneer in the 70s, is one of those old school, "I prefer passive over active gear" kind of guys. He was my original instructor years ago and has now become more of a mentor. We call him "crazy old man" for obvious reasons. Kevin Murray is the third member of our team. Kevin, like me, is a college student and heads to the mountains whenever he can. The last member in our party is Kevin's younger brother Daniel and though he may be youngest of the four, he always seems to supercede our expectations. At the Ranger Station snow has already accumulated up to a foot in a few hours. The way things are going, we don't plan to get very far today. I notice the sun has just dropped under the mountains as I close the trunk of the car. Not long ago I managed to drive my moms four door sedan into a ditch. Such situations always seem to add to the already building tension. I guess the snow here is slicker than in Oklahoma.
At last I am surrounded by Wilderness. Here nothing is convenient. Society and human desire has established a lazy mans environment. Through the help of zip locks, drive thru, and decaf coffee we have created a life of comfort and convenience. But not here! Here we are exposed to the wild.
"Guys need a place where nothing is fabricated, modular, non fat, franchised, online, scheduled, or microwavable. "
I always try to keep my distance from the group. I enjoy the feeling of isolation or maybe just the sense of calmness. In these moments I find it easy to collect my thoughts and recapture my Zen for life. As I weave through Goblin Forest my eyes begin to play tricks on me. Rather than turn on my head lamp I allow my vision to adjust to the reflection of the moon on the snow. We carve our way through the forest in search of a decent camping spot. On the way through we pass two southern boys snuggled together in a Colman tent. We all knew they wouldn't make it the whole night. After digging a suitable area for the tent, we begin to get comfortable in our new home. No better feeling than a warm bag at this time. Some how, we always con John into doing all the cooking and he complains about it the whole meal. No one will have any trouble slipping into a deep sleep tonight. So far all is well in wilderness.
December 31, 2003
For those of you who are unfamiliar with mountaineering and have never camped in zero degree weather, there is nothing worse than trying to take a poop. Especially when your so-called friends refuse to let you do so in peace. In the morning we all move slowly but packing only takes an hour. Nevertheless we get another late start and it is at this time when I find myself becoming frustrated. Rather than act on my emotions, I continue to pack up conveying one of those fake and highly sarcastic smiles. The fools never catch on. I take the lead today. Set the pace that I like. I love Sunny beach. It is here that we decide to break for a few snacks. John has brought an entire bag of wheat thins. Not sure what to think about that. Our packs seem heavier than they usually do, mainly because John is so old school when it comes to equipment. He is the only climber that refuses to use wire gate carabineers. And for that very reason we have to carry those ridiculous BD ovules that everyone has come to hate.
The trees are getting smaller until finally we are hiking through nothing but shrubs and stumps. The wind is beginning to pick up. It is here that I decide to throw on my shell. Kevin and John have gone a ways ahead of Daniel and me. We enjoy this time together. The hike to Jim's Grove is difficult. My thoughts seem to get blown away as the wind scraps the side of my face. The snow stings as it is pelted into my eyes. Not far ahead I see that John and Kevin have sought shelter behind a boulder. I direct Daniel in the same direction. "Damn it's windy", Kevin screams at me. Rather than respond I just turn and look up at the diamond. I have been in this position before. We better get going john says. As much as I long for rest, my feet are beginning to freeze. The original plan was to camp in the Boulder field. Unfortunately things have never gone as planned. Why should they? John sees a clearing in the boulders near the base of Lady Washington. "There" he shouts. I acknowledge where he points but propose to him that we go all the way to the Boulder Field. John firmly disagrees with my opinion and I respect his decision. Erecting the tent is near impossible. As the wind rushes down the mountain it catches the tent and pulls it from us. The ground is frozen and rocks are embedded throughout the soil making it near impossible to stake the tent. It has been nearly an hour but we finally finish. Inside we huddle together. The sound of the wind pounding the tent sends chills down my spine. Bad Sign! Its only 2:30pm and we are hoping the storm will pass in a few hours so we can continue on our journey.
Rather than pass the storm has grown stronger. Our hopes for making it to the Boulder Field are lost. Outside is a ground blizzard. The wind whips the tent all directions. It rushes underneath us and at times picks us up. The temperature is well below zero now. We boil hot water for out nalgens and throw them in our bags. For a little while I almost feel warm. Daniel has gone out for snow. I hope he didn't get blow away. If he did I call dibbs on his M&Ms.
I'm Hungry for a steak! Ramen Noodles just don't seem to hit the spot anymore. I'm beginning to think we are going to be up here as long as we thought, so I have decided to eat my other sneakers bar. I am sure I will soon regret this.
January 1, 2003 12:00 am
This has to be the worst New Years Eve ever. Rather than letting up, the storm continues to grow even more and the temperature drops, as does my enthusiasm towards this mountain. What is worse is that I have to pee. After I buddle up and maneuver my way out of the tent the wind again hits me with the force of a truck. What is normally a simple task seems to take an enormous amount of skill. In order to successfully do so I have to time this whole thing perfectly. Unfortunately I failed. Just as I began to relieve myself, a fierce gust of wind swept across the tundra. In this very moment I threw my back to the wind in hope of escaping what I fear. Just as I began to think I had outsmarted the wind, the whirling spindrift sends my highly distasteful urine back into my face. Can it get any worse than this?
3:00 am The tent strains with the force of the wind and the weight of the snow. We have been debating whose turn it is to get snow. Kevin challenged me to a farkle. I throw rock and he throws paper. I'm convinced he cheated.
Outside the wind roars and tosses me around like a rag doll. My perception is hindered and I know only a few wrongs steps and I could find myself lost. In my mind I am alone, although my friends are only a few feet from me. I am stuck somewhere between heaven and Hell but surely this is not Earth. Walking around the side of the tent I notice our guidelines flapping in the wind. The storm violently presses down on our shelter. I Begin to wonder just how much longer it can hold. I call to Kevin to come out and assist me. I explain to him the problem and the consequences the current situation pose. As we attempt to re secure the tent, we discover that it is of no use. Our stakes break as we hammer them back in. I blame the cold for our newfound misfortune and begin to run through new ideas. Searching for loose rocks under such conditions seems impossible. It's been 30 minutes now and I have lost sight of Kevin. I know for a fact that I am between him and the tent and for that very reason I become scared, not for myself, but for him. I blink my headlamp numerous times. Nothing. I contemplate whether to return to the tent or go out in search of him and risk my secure position. I wait a few more minutes. Finally off in the distance I see what I hope is Kevin's Lamp. It doesn't take long for me to realize it is him. "How many rocks you get?" he casually asks me. "Two, but there really good ones". Back at the Mothership the wind has begun to takes it toll on our borrowed tent. Tying the rocks down is near impossible, so I thoughtlessly remove my mitts. With winds up to 130mph and a temperature of negative 40 it dint take long for the pain to sink in. It was like needles penetrating my flesh and shredding it into thousands of pieces. The environment was scarce and uneasy. The mountain roared as the clouds circled around us. Above, I could hear the snow shifting sending an avalanche of powder barreling down to base of the mountain. As quickly as the snow cover the ground is was blown away with the mighty winds.
"Safe? Who said anything about safe? `Course he isn't safe. But he's good!"
4:00 a.m. The tent is taking a beating like I had never experienced. The guidelines are clearly gone. Our hope of the storm passing is also gone along with the thought of summating. In response to the cold my headlamp has quit working along with both stoves. We no longer have a source heath and no way to cook. The condensation from our breath has been collecting over the top of the tent. As it freezes it snows back down on top of us. My mind is beginning to play tricks on me. I have grown delirious. Daniel is talking to me but I can't understand what he is saying. I nod and pretend that I agree with whatever he has just told me. For the first time I am actually wondering if I will survive the mountain. I'm starting to understand why most of the earth is not safe but it's good. As the wind pounds I can hear the polls bending. The shape is beginning to mold to whatever the wind desires. I attempt to brace the structure with my body but it serves as no use. For some sick and twisted reason I am actually enjoying this. John orders us to hold down the side of the tent and then proceeds to shout out a few more things. Before I can even begin to look he has gone back into his bag and fallen asleep. There is something wrong with this picture.
The wind continues but is not as steady as it was throughout the night. Acknowledging that this may be our only window to move, we decide to escape from our current position. We had hoped to continue our pursuit of the mountain but the rest of the route was technical and we had no shelter to retreat to.
The hike down was enjoyable. We passed several hikers who had supposedly spoken with the ranger. "You must be those boys from Oklahoma,” they would all say. We proudly responded and were obligated to tell each of them of the conditions that we were forced to endure though out the night.
In the words of Mark Wilford, "The Himalayas are a great place to train for Longs Peak."
"As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life - so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls."