Welcome to SP!  -
Failure on Denali - How to measure success in climbing?
Article

Failure on Denali - How to measure success in climbing?

  Featured on the Front Page
Failure on Denali - How to measure success in climbing?

Page Type: Article

Object Title: Failure on Denali - How to measure success in climbing?

Activities: Mountaineering

 

Page By: ibndalight

Created/Edited: Jul 27, 2007 / Jul 28, 2007

Object ID: 317027

Hits: 6562 

Page Score: 89.01%  - 28 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

I was climbing with my team between camps 1 and 2 on Mount McKinley. When I took the next step, suddenly my foot went straight down. It was like a trap door opened up underneath me. My body followed and I realized I had punched through a snow bridge into a crevasse. I felt my snow shoe become caught in between the two walls of the crevasse and the weight of my pack caused me to fall sideways. Instantly, I felt pain shoot through my knee. With my foot immobile, I twisted my knee in the process. I had only fallen about 6 feet but it felt like a lot more. It really didn’t matter. My climb was done; the pain in my knee stopped me. My teammates helped me out of the crevasse and I tried to walk off the pain. I figured we had rest days coming up and it should feel better then. Until then, I just had to keep pounding away at the mountain. I failed to reach the summit of Denali and was flown off a few days later.
 

The Route to 14,000 Feet on Denali
 

Yeah, you heard me right. I failed on Denali. More accurately, I failed to reach the summit of Denali. This is true. It was a tough pill to swallow when I had to make the decision to go back down after arriving at 14,000 feet. While I believe this was the right thing to do, it didn’t make it any easier. The thought at the front of my mind, as I sat alone in the Talkeetna motel that night, was “how I am going to define success in mountain climbing?” I believe that no summit is worth your life. We must be responsible to our friends and family by coming back alive. But the person who turns back on a mountain still gets the same response when telling the story to others. “Oh, you didn’t make it to the top.” They can’t understand the journey, the spectacular views, the years of preparation, the self reflection that you make while pushing through the pain of a heavy load and seemingly unending terrain.
 
Just Below Windy Corner
 

Which brings me back to my first question, “how do I measure success in climbing?” Is it really a successful climb if you lose a finger to frostbite or how about if you make it to the top but require a rescue team or helicopter team to bring you down? While in my motel room safely back in Talkeetna, I pondered all these questions. Not making it to the summit had never even entered my mind, let alone not making it to high camp. I wondered how, in mountain climbing, I was going to define success. What yardstick will I use to determine if I truly succeeded in my endeavor? While I sat there with a lump in my throat, the answer came to me.
 
Camp 3 views on Denali
 

Which brings me back to my first question, “how do I measure success in climbing?” Is it really a successful climb if you lose a finger to frostbite or how about if you make it to the top but require a rescue team or helicopter team to bring you down? While in my motel room safely back in Talkeetna, I pondered all these questions. Not making it to the summit had never even entered my mind, let alone not making it to high camp. I wondered how, in mountain climbing, I was going to define success. What yardstick will I use to determine if I truly succeeded in my endeavor? While I sat there with a lump in my throat, the answer came to me.
 
One Shot Pass Flight to Base Camp
 






1. Did I do my best with the hand I was dealt (i.e. weather, route conditions, partners)?
2. Did I not take any foolish risks?
3. Did I return with all my fingers and toes?
4. Did I return home to my loved ones?
5. Did I have fun and experience the challenge I set out to achieve?
6. Did I not step over or ignore another climber in need but gave help as I was able?





Although these are far short of original, they are really the responsible mountain climber’s creed. We can’t compare ourselves to others’ accomplishments and expect safety on the mountain. We must look objectively at the risks and dangers in front of us and make wise choices, regardless of our desires for the summit.
 
First Views of Denali
 

Further Details of my trip are avalible in my trip report.

Images

Mount McKinley (Denali)

Comments


[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 1-12 of 12    

Nigel LewisWell done

Nigel Lewis

Hasn't voted

Nice way to see it. I keep reminding people, we do this because it's fun. We enjoy it.
We can't conquer mountains as they will be there long after we've turned to dust. The best we can do is compete against ourselves and get back to tell the tale.

N
Posted Jul 27, 2007 10:46 pm

artgGood choice

artg

Hasn't voted

Enjoyed reading the trip report. You made the right decision. Success in climbing is not always measured by reaching the summit.
Posted Jul 30, 2007 1:37 pm

SusanMThe Experience

SusanM

Voted 10/10

is what is valuable, not the actual summit. I've done high summits and turned back at 13,000 feet and less on others. If it doesn't feel right don't do it. You would have only ended up miserable.
Posted Jul 30, 2007 10:37 pm

Brad MarshallGood Decision

Brad Marshall

Voted 10/10

And good question. Too bad about your knee. I can certainly understand your disappointment over ending a major climb. I've turned back 1,000' from the top of Aconcagua and 400' from the top of Rainier. In terms of success I guess that is for each of us to decide. I don't consider reaching the summit as being successful but I only developed that viewpoint reading many books and reports from other climbers. To me having fun on the climb, sharing the adventure with friends and returning with all my fingers and toes would be a success. The summit is a bonus.
Posted Jul 31, 2007 12:21 pm

Andrew McKenzieCan't be quantified...

Andrew McKenzie

Hasn't voted

I did enjoy your article, but I don't agree with the way you approach the subject. You list specific questions, metrics that with the correct combination of answers will equal success. Success is so subjective and different to each individual that the answer lies only in your own heart. The question "Did you summit?", only answers if you summited, it doesn't measure success. The fact that you get the same response from others "Oh you didn't make it to the top" is a pity. Other climbers understand, and non-climbers never will. Then again, most non-climbers don't even understand why we climb, let alone how to measure success. The truth is that you made a great decision to not continue, you'll live to climb another day, and if you go back to Denali statistics say that you will summit. Now heal up and get back out there!
Posted Aug 2, 2007 12:04 pm

mrbynumClimbing stories and non climbers

mrbynum

Hasn't voted

I like the points being made. It seems to me when conversing with non climbers they base their judgments on what they understand. Most people understand the concept of 'top' and most understand 'dead'. What they seem to miss is that as someone tries to reach the 'top', they're trying their damnedest not to end up 'dead'. This is largely why I don't discuss climbing with non climbers. Instead I just tell my adventure story and hope I entertained them. I suppose I could define success by how good of a story I bring back.
Posted Aug 2, 2007 5:03 pm

Jerry SGood read

Jerry S

Voted 9/10

Good job on Denali also. There are many climbers that never make it as far as you did and I am sure you have good tales to tell of your journey up to the knee thing.
Posted Aug 3, 2007 10:26 am

mrdIt's nice to be on the top

Hasn't voted

Yes, summit is not the most important (it's only a potential target, a direction), the whole experience is. As mrbynum points out "[we]'re trying [our] damnedest not to end up 'dead'." As long as I come back alive and intact I call it a successful climb, regardless of the events. However, the longer I climb the events are tougher and more frequent...
Posted Aug 3, 2007 7:23 pm

mow10Like one of my partners says,

mow10

Hasn't voted

"OK, we made it back to the car, we're all alive, successful climbing trip!"
Posted Aug 4, 2007 1:07 am

kilimanjaro1Success

kilimanjaro1

Voted 10/10

If making the summit were a given every climb there would be no challenge, and it would not be as fun. As an old pilot the saying is "There are old pilots and bold pilots but not old bold pilots." The same applies to mountaineering.

When I fail I no longer concern myself what others might think or say, but rather console myself with this quote from Teddy Roosevelt: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Congratulations on your climb!
Posted Aug 6, 2007 11:45 am

AJonesBoy do I ever agree

AJones

Hasn't voted

I like your list - it's about the experience not the peak. If we were successul all time, what fun would that be.
Posted Nov 24, 2007 1:03 pm

ezaAgreed, sure

eza

Voted 10/10

It's not only about the summit... It's about the experience, the trip itself, enjoying (or not!) the company of the climbing partners, it's simply about life in the open country. The summit is just the small sweet chocolate that tops the whole cake. I had my own experience some years ago on Kilimanjaro, when we had to turn back in our summit bid, and never considered it a failure. We all walked down the mountain, happy and healthy. That was my success
Posted Mar 6, 2009 10:11 am

Viewing: 1-12 of 12