I’ve been told that I’m “gloriously unprepared”. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I know what people are getting at…
It’s winter 2000, late December or so, vacation in UP Michigan (for those who don’t know, UP Mich ranks up there with Buffalo as most miserably cold and snowy). Somehow I end up in the hills, in the woods, in the snow. I decide I’m gonna see if I can find my own way home…to where I’m staying. Kiss the girlfriend goodbye, she walks back to the car, I take the “scenic route”. Ok, so I’ve never been here before, but I’ve got a sweatshirt, a wool cap, and a lot of nerve – it’s 10 degrees out, but I’ll be moving. Besides, it’s only like 5 miles back to the house…and I wanna check out the frozen waterfalls.
…5 minutes flat and I’m lost.
…1 hour flat and I’m more lost…and the sun’s sinking. Teeth chattering, I head down a steep embankment, bypass a few cliffs, trip and stumble a few yards into a drift, and lo! I’m at a road at the bottom of a hill. No big deal. The rest is easy…
“What’s everybody so upset about, baby? I told you I’d be okay…and I am.”
(reminder to Self: bring warmer clothes, and a map…or at least get directions on how to get home!)
Summer, maybe early Fall, 2001. Death Valley NP – a cool thing up north there called Ubehebe Crater. For those unfamiliar with DVNP, a temp of 134 degrees was recorded there once. In other words, it’s hot. Anyway, from the top of the crater you get a really fantastic view down into the crater itself. It’s really aesthetic, and well, tempting. Looks to be about a 5 minute skip down to the bottom from where you park your car at the top…I’ll just leave the water and stuff in the car.
Well, I was wrong about the 5 minute thing…it was only about 2 minutes cuz all that nice scree allows you to surf down there lightning quick!
After admiring the cracked earth at the bottom of the beautiful crater, I looked back up in awe at the towering rim another 5 minutes’ cruise back up. Did I say 5 minutes? Shit, I can jog back up there faster than that!
…Fast forward 2 minutes…
A guy is passing out on the inner slope of the crater rim, he sees black spots in front of his eyes, and he’s fading quick. Eventually he collapses, but not after yelling out for help with a parched voice. Some dumb foreigner (who’s dumb in this scenario?) atop the rim hears and waves, says to himself “Ha Ha, funny, stupid American and his joking around…”
No, I’m serious. I’m effin’ dying here.
Making a long story quick, the foreigner, some German guy, sees a vulture circling overhead and B-lines down to me with a jug of water…nurses me back to life, and carries, uh, escorts me back to the top.
So now it’s Spring 02, and I’ve just gotten the hell out of Florida and moved out west. One of my first conquests is the east face of Mt. Wilson out at Red Rock. There’s a wide ledge 2/3 of the way up the face known as “Sherwood Forest”. I like trees, so I thought it might be a nice place to visit.
Now, I didn’t do any trad, and my climbing skills, particularly back then, were not quite stellar. I give it a shot anyway. So I free solo, and by “solo” I mean no one’s with me – at all –, this face.
I get about, I dunno, half way up to the ledge before I fall about 15-20 feet, crack my head on a rock or a tree or something, and lay there wondering if I’m dead or not. I’m not. Fortunately, I was wearing my trusty plastic construction helmet! I get up and give it another go. 100 feet later I realize that I’m being ridiculous and crawl back down.
(To do: …purchase an actual “climbing” helmet, a walkie talkie – plenty of climbers around if I needed help if only I could contact them somehow - …and learn how to climb better)
Man. A couple years ago, while still a relative newbie to the outdoor desert lifestyle, I hear that the deep sandstone canyons of Red Rock come alive with thousands of waterfalls during a good rain.
Checking the weather one day, I head out to one of the canyons to see for myself. As the clouds converge and it starts sprinkling, I work my way good and deep in the canyon so as to really and truly experience the majesty of the falls! And were they spectacular!
…8 hours later, after clinging for my life to manzanita brush growing out of the canyon walls with a suddenly-materialized river raging below and next to me, avoiding ridiculous, massive cascades, somehow down-climbing many of them, relying on fingers full of lichen to anchor me while traversing over slick sandstone, weathering out hypothermia underneath a huge boulder, and then pressing on to the mouth of the canyon for fear of death from the chill, I find my way the hell out of there. This is what insanity’s like. Next time, I’ll bring knowledge with me.
Up in the White Mountains of Cali, there’s a little peak called Mt. Barcroft. It’s a nothing sort of boring peak on the way to White Mountain Peak. I’d already done White Mountain and a bunch of 12ers in the range but I wanted to go back and tag Barcroft with the girlfriend.
It’s a couple hundred miles’ drive from my place…it’ll be fun. We drive up in my little Corolla, 100-some thousand miles on it, pretty good shape for a well-journeyed 4x4…Okay, maybe not a 4x4, but I drive it like one!
We’re at 12000 feet on a dirt road when the temp gauge shoots to red, steam starts pouring out from under the hood. I flip a quick U and coast 20 miles or something down the mountain til I roll to a stop out in some desert valley. Can’t dial for help (even if there was reception)…because I don’t have a cell phone.
I walk for a couple miles til I find a friggin’ house…they lemme use their – satellite phone – to call for a tow from no-man’s land back to Vegas.
Ever had to pay an $844 tow bill? I have.
(reminder: get a cell phone, and maybe a new car)
…and then there was the Middle Pal near-epic during summer 04. But I’m not taking full responsibility for that mess…
I’ve always had a really good memory. For this reason, it’s not necessarily necessary for me to actually WRITE DOWN directions to trailheads and/or route descriptions. So when I decided to do New York Mountain a few months ago, I didn’t bother to do more than glimpse at a description of the starting point and set out for the hill. Why should I do more? No reason for it.
New York Mountain is a really short hike (something like 4 miles roundtrip – 1500 gain) and I’m a moderate-to-fast mover.
…4 hours…and I’m still not at the top. What the…? Impossible.
Oh wait, there’s the summit! Just a few more 5.6 moves (isn’t this a class 3 route?) and I’ll be there.
…okay, maybe not! I get to the “summit” and see that there’s a higher point 1/3 mile away over rough ground. Ugh.
That little lapse in judgment cost me the summit. Sun was getting low, so I had to go back later and do it again…by the right route!
(Would you believe that, on my second try, I neglected to bring or even look at a description, yet again? – took some minor trespassing, some creative bridge-building, and the soulful words of a local to get me headed in the right direction – and then, Success!)
Climbing in the Cascades is a tad different from the Sierra. In case you haven’t heard, it tends to be wetter. Every time I’ve climbed in the Cascades, I’ve lined my pack with plastic garbage bags so that the contents stay dry if/when it rains. Every time.
Well…until this last time.
Trust me when I say that a wet tent and wet down bag and jacket are no fun to spend the night in during virtually full conditions in Rainier National Park…in March. Even benevolent Pinnacle Peak can rear an ugly head.
Conditions were similar to this. Just warm enough down low to rain and soak our stuff on the way up to camp…and cold enough to snow in camp and freeze us all night (and the next day) long. My partner commented that these were possibly the worst (and least pleasant) conditions he’d ever climbed in! Yikes! Pretty high on my list, too.
A couple of weeks ago, now this is no biggie, but me and Dean and Mike get together to hike up Hayford Peak, a nice desert peak to the north of Vegas.
It’s spring, ya know, and Vegas has really nice weather, so I wonder why these guys show up with Gore Tex and balaclavas and whatnot. Hey, whatever suits em…I’m ready to go!
It’s freezing, literally, at the trailhead and we have another 4100 vertical to go. Frickin’ Joshua trees are covered in rime and I’m wearing shorts! (Not the first time I’ve pulled this type of stunt)
…7 hours and 15 minutes later, Mike and I are standing on the summit…but not until after I mooch some rain pants and a wool cap off of Dean and a pair of cotton sweatpants off of Mike…anything’ll do!
That’s all I’m saying…
Anyway, I’m looking for partners…anyone wanna go for a climb?
No, I think I would hike with Dean or Mike, I am too much of a sissy la la to be in some of the situations you describe, of course having said that, the odds spread out over how many peaks and hikes you must have done in you life, its not that bad..LOL
For all people with less outdoor skills than you possess. I got the same feeling reading this as I did reading 'Over the Edge: Life and Death in the Grand Canyon' and 'Off the Wall: Life and Death in Yosemite'. It makes me more careful for the next time.
I enjoyed reading your report... confession. As Steve mentions above, anyone who has been in the mountains half as much as you has certainly had their fair share of mishaps. I think it's honorable that you fess up to some of your past errors in judgment in such an unassuming manner.
Thanks Bryan. That was kinda the idea of putting this together a few years back - to share my learning experiences and hopefully remind people how easily things can go wrong. I've gotten lucky more than my fair share of times.
By the way, I ordered one of those groovy 'Globalize This' t-shirts the other day. I intend to get a photo of myself wearing it on my next Zion conquest!