Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bagging The Big Island

Looking back Mauna Loa from the slopes of Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea - highest point in Hawaii
“What? You’re going to Hawaii? But there ain’t no mountains there!”

Oh, but your well-meaning co-worker is wrong. There is peak-bagging to be had in Hawaii. All you need to do is make a conscious decision to avoid the crowds, traffic jams, and skyscrapers of the other islands and turn your attention to the Big Island of Hawaii. There you will find not one, but two 4000 meter peaks (I say that because it sounds better than 13,000’) for your climbing enjoyment. And you still get to go to Hawaii. Mai Tai’s, tropical waterfalls/sightseeing and luau’s and all the other Hawaiian staples can still be on your agenda for the cost of only a couple of days out of your relaxation schedule.  A pretty sweet deal for those who collect summits and may also want to do an actual vacation for once.

There is no question the Big Island of Hawaii has a lot to see. Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is an excellent starting point, with many hikes and sights to witness. The eastern side sees a lot of rain and therefore has an abundance of beautiful waterfalls, while the leeward side is more dry and has the usual tourist trap beaches and bars. But the Big Island also lacks the masses of people and their humanly excesses (cars, murders, etc) of the other islands, making it a paradise among paradises. We came to this place in June of 2014, to hike her volcanoes and to vacation.

We decided to start our volcano hikes with Mauna Loa, the second highest on the island at 4169 meters (13,679’). I was bit worried about the road we would take to the trailhead, both the Saddle Road and the observatory road. From the guidebooks we had, both recent editions, these roads sounded somewhat intimidating. Well, my worry was for nothing. The Saddle Road, Highway 200, is now the Daniel K Inouye Highway and was the best road we traveled on in the whole Big Island. The Observatory Road was also in better condition than advertised, but it is still 19 miles long and one lane. However, it was newly paved, and there remains only about one mile of dirt that lies well below where the observatory sits. (I was told by a tech I met on Mauna Kea that the reason for this was that the dust kicked up interfered with the delicate instruments of the observatories.) The only trouble we had was that our rental Jeep was surely not tuned for higher altitudes. As we gained up towards the 11,000’ starting point, our transportation lost more power and struggled mightily to make it up the next hills in front of us.

At the beginning of the Mauna Loa trail, right after leaving the dirt road beginning
Finally, we made it to the small parking lot just below the observatory and got ready. We were the only car in the lot, at 8:30am on a Sunday. The trail starts out following a road as it dips down to the west. Immediately, the scenery is bare and desolate - lava fields, some of it looking pretty recent too.

We had read that the trail was about 12.5 miles round-trip, one of the reasons we had chosen Mauna Loa as our first objective. Also, the fact that the elevation gain was not quite as severe as on Mauna Kea. (We would soon learn the caveat to that elevation fact) So it did not surprise us at all when we saw the turn-off sign that indicated we were six miles away. All was going well and we were making good time. Although the terrain is indistinctive, the trail is marked well by cairns, or as the Hawaiians call them, ahu’s. Some of these were several feet tall and could be seen from a very long distance.

Hiking up Mauna Loa
The slope of Mauna Loa is so slight, you really can’t tell what you’re hiking to - unlike most peaks where you have a definitive top of the mountain to point to and say “We’re going there.” If one were to get lost or disoriented, say in a fog or at night, on Mauna Loa, the lack of distinctive features of the hike seems like it could be overwhelming. Thankfully, we had a good clear day and it was still early, as we hiked up and over some increasingly jumbled new-looking lava flows. At 2.3 miles in, we came across two extra-large ahu’s that marked the location of a big lava tube. Pretty interesting stuff.

Lava tubes at 2.3 miles
Way out there in the middle of these lava flows, we finally spied something that looked so foreign and out of place - a wood sign. It pointed the way for the trail, as it joins up again with that 4-Wheel drive road. (I’m assuming the road is used by researchers and probably off-limits to the general public. This lead uphill (slowly) to another wood sign, and a trail that stretched through a sandy area. The sand was like a breath of fresh air after a couple of hours of hopping from lava rock to lava rock. Soon we saw another sign that announced our entrance into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. No Park Ranger stationed here? Go figure.

Hitting sandy slopes just after entering Hawaii Volcanoes Park
The sandy trail held up for quite some time and was a bit easier to follow and worn than the sometimes pick your own trail of the lower ahu portion (although this section still has ahu’s here and there, I’ll assume to help with navigation in the aforementioned times of diminished sight.) This lead almost up to the crater rim itself, although right near the end we were back to lava-hopping.

At the crater rim, but still a long ways off
We reached  the rim and the fork in the road. To the right, a sign marks the distance to the summit - 2.5 miles. The way to the east - the left - goes down to the Mauna Loa cabin, on the “long trail” to get to Mauna Loa’s summit. Apparently this trail starts down near the main part of the park (near where Kilauea and all the attractions are) and takes 3-4 days to hike. While this seems like a supercharged hike, we weren’t about to spend 50% of our Hawaiian vacation hiking one mountain. Seems like a pretty hardy route for those who choose it though.

Hiking up the barren landscape

So we looked to the right, and up to a distant point we assumed was the summit. The trail curls around this side of the massive crater before continuing up to that point. We even had to hop up over some “lava crevasses” which were about 3 feet wide and looked really, really deep. Peering into one we even got a glimpse of some tropical Hawaii snow! The wind up here was pretty constant and cold, and you wouldn’t even know you were in Hawaii.
Some of the cool sights on Mauna Loa

I did start to feel a bit of AMS, to be honest. Of course, we were staying right at the beach, and had just drove up here from literally sea level. And that elevation gain part? Well, round trip on Mauna Loa involves about 6 miles (round trip) of travel over 13,000’. Mauna Loa is not a steep mountain by any means, but it certainly is high. Although a bit annoying, it was not enough to turn me around so we pressed on, thinking that the summit must be the high indistinct point ahead of us.

Are we on Mars????
As we neared closer we could see all kinds of scientific looking equipment scattered around. Mauna Loa is an active volcano, and it’s last big eruption was just 30 years ago. We felt like we were on Mars, the place is just so void of any sign of life and then there are these science things placed around that look like they came from outer-space. But as we neared the “top point” we had been eyeing for the last hour or so, our hearts sank.

"I hope that's the summit!"
False summits….

Mauna Loa has got lots of them. I lost count, maybe from the slight headache I had, mostly from a growing feeling of just wanting to be on the top so it could be over. It was certainly getting to be a long slog, and well past the advertised mileage. The finally we spied a high point on the crater rim where there could possibly be no higher - I turned on the GPS just to confirm it anyway- and yes, we had finally reached the summit, itself marked by a large ahu with some offerings to the Gods tucked into it from hikers past. Our mileage marker - we use a Garmin Forerunner - logged in the distance to the summit at 6.8 miles - a 13.6 round trip, more than a mile longer than the advertised distance.

From the summit - The massive crater of Mauna Loa can only truly be captured by a panorama photo
We did our normal summit routines - taking photos, signing the summit register. We found no one had signed the register since June 4 - 11 days before. Apparently, Mauna Loa does not get a lot of hiker traffic, and since we hadn’t seen another human soul all day it didn’t exactly come as a surprise. We also did our usual postings to Facebook and Twitter. There was a fairly good 3G signal up there, good enough for slow internet even. Although if you waked ten feet in the other direction you might be reduced to No Service. Very spotty but quite good enough, especially since I would learn something I did not know about Spot.

I have a Spot 2, and my little hobby I like doing is using it at summits. It posts a little map to my FB or Twitter. So there on Mauna Loa I fired it up and made a post. But checking on my phone a few minutes later, nothing showed up. I let it run through its full cycle, something I hardly ever do just to see if it was maybe just a temporary glitch. Still no post. Later, on our descent it dawned on me what the problem was - and I had just enough signal to confirm it by doing an internet search on it. Spot Messengers Do Not Work in Hawaii. If you have one and you plan to do this hike, just leave it at home.

On the way down we did come across another couple heading up. It was quite a shock - we hadn’t seen anyone all day. We came across them about 45 minutes into our descent, which I would put them at least one hour from the summit. And the time was getting short. We had summit just around 1:00pm - but had spent at least 45 minutes on the summit. So these folks we figured to be at least 2 hours behind us assuming they spent any amount of time enjoying the top at all. Very dangerously close to returning in the darkness. I really wonder how they fared.

We arrived back at the parking lot just about 4:30 - a full day of hiking indeed. Sure enough, some yahoo was idling his car in the parking lot waiting to ask us questions about the hike. This is very frowned upon, apparently the fumes from idle vehicles can interfere with the delicate instruments of the observatory. Nevertheless, we told him of our adventures and luckily he moved on down the hill. We were glad we had stashed some Pepsi’s in the cheap cooler we had left in the Jeep, as we were far away from any convenience stores. One hill down, one left to go.

Telescopes near the Mauna Kea summit

It’s a bit easier to get up early in Hawaii. Time there is 3 hours different from our usual Pacific time, so waking up at say 5am was really no big deal. For Mauna Kea, we left the place we were staying at 6am and by 7:15 we were at the Visitors Center. By 7:30 we had left our registration slip (it’s free) and were on our way.

From the visitor center, we walked up the road about  500 feet or so to the trailhead. (We could park the car at the visitor’s center.) The trail is loose, sandy, ash and the first 2 miles are steep kitty litter. Very steep.  Some sections were around 35 degrees or so, and the fact that the surface of the trail is loose, cindery ash surely doesn’t help. It doesn’t switchback either, it just goes mostly straight up.

The sandy, loose beginning slope
Now Mauna Kea at least has something its neighbor to the south Mauna Loa, does not have - actual plant life! We even saw a few birds. The morning was cool as the clouds seem to be gathering somewhat below us, but we were focused on what was ahead of us up the mountain. No other hikers were on the trail this day, and glancing over at the road to our right there was not much sign of activity as well. Just a few trucks with official looking symbols on the sides, techs and engineers on their way up to the observatories that sit atop the mountain.

The upper part of the trail
The long trail to the summit

Eventually, the trail did relent a bit, and we settled into a good hiking rhythm. The scenery, however, took a bit of a turn to the ordinary for us, although truly out-of-place one would think in a tropical paradise. Although dominated by the typical volcanic debris we were so used to from our home mountain of Mt Shasta, we also noticed many rocks atypical of just an island volcano.
Rocks consistent with terminal moraines and  glacial till caught our eyes. Honestly, it did feel a little boring. It felt a bit like hiking up Misery Hill (without snow) only we could catch a glimpse of the summit cinder cone and knew it was still far away. The clouds were continuing to gather below us, obstructing any island views hikers on other days might enjoy.

Lake Waiau
Another oddity, Lake Waiau, was a short side-trip. There isn’t much amazing about this tiny lake, except for its existence in the first place. We rounded a corner and caught our first glimpses of some of the massive summit telescopes.  After resuming the trail for about a half a mile after this, we finally ran out of trail and hit the pavement of the road for the final summit push.

We quickly walked up the big single switchback and avoided a couple of gasoline climbers including a tour guide van - and endured their quizzical looks that seemed to say “Why are you folks hiking when there is a perfectly good road here to drive?” At last we spotted the true summit hill which was actually an aesthetically pleasing final walk-up. It took us five hours to reach this point. After some time on the summit taking photos, and our requisite social media postings (the cell/data signal was hit and miss the whole way. I literally could go from No Service to 5-bars of LTE in just a couple of steps.) The views of the giant star-gazers all lined up together is something to behold. The clouds that had been coalescing below us, now all but guaranteed our descent would be a foggy - and likely wet - one when we should choose to head that way. My wife had a blister that needed care, so we sat on the side of the road and took care of it as a few trucks passed slowly by.

The final hill to the summit (no road, thankfully)
A friendly Hawaiian walked over from his Chevy Tahoe and started conversation, asking us where our transportation was (I happily pointed down at our feet). A very talkative and informative guy who I would later learn worked as an engineer at many of the observatories here, he was taking a couple of friends on a quick tour that day, and as soon as they returned from their short hike from this parking lot to the summit, he let us know if we wanted he would be happy to give us a ride down. Without qualms, we accepted his offer. As this was our last big hike of  the vacation, we were ready to start enjoying Hawaii. It was a good thing we did too, as on the drive down the rain started and the fog moved in thick. I was more than a little impressed with his driving skills in these conditions, I’m not sure someone who wasn’t more familiar with the road could have navigated it as well. We made it down to the Visitors Center, got some souvenirs, and by 4:30 we were back in Kona sipping Mai Tai’s.

Mauna Kea Summit - Aloha!
Yes, there are mountains in Hawaii. Very enjoyable and hikable mountains too. Plus, when you finish with your hikes, you're still um... you're still in Hawaii!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cairn Boxes... Get Your Cairn Boxes!

With great anticipation, I awaited my first Cairn box. Cairn is a subscription service ($25/month) outdoor minded people can subscribe to for a package of new samplings of products. http://www.getcairn.com/ It’s honestly quite a bit like getting a Christmas present. Not the “5-speed with a bow on it” type present, but more that mystery present Santa brought you that wasn’t even on your list. I knew there had to be good stuff on the inside. Exactly what? I would soon find out….

The Cairn box arrived. My eyes immediately went to a similar product of one I had actually just purchased a week earlier - the Light My Fire Spork’n Case. The spork I had just purchased at REI was just that - a spork and nothing else. But this is an ingenious little idea - a case for the spork. This is a great idea. Sporks are a great product, but they get damaged loose in a pack sometimes. I know one climber who has gone through 3 of them in just a year. The case is a convenient, relatively lightweight protection for your Spork. I will use this product.

The next thing I settled on was the light. Ok, this product I’m a little ambivalent towards. It’s the LuminAID light that is completely water-proof and floats. I’m not sure what I would ever need a light that floats for. Although, from investigation, this is the most expensive sample included in the box (coming in at a whopping $20 value… almost the value of the entire box!) Perhaps other users would appreciate this product more… For me, it wasn’t worth this much,  but I am impressed by the fact it’s included in this box, making the value of the $25 subscription price instantly viable.

Now  I turned to the next biggest product, a cup of backpacker-type food Oatmeal. It looks good - peanut butter and strawberry oatmeal. The package seems light and convenient. I’ll take it with me on my next overnight adventure for sure and give it a go. But that’s kind of what Cairn is all about - give it a try. Maybe I will like it… maybe not. But I will never know until I try, and now I have a chance to experiment with it.

Same thing with the next thing I bring up…. the powdered peanut butter PB2. I haven’t done a lot of long haul overnight trips...but they are most definitely on the list. (Like you haven’t thought about doing the JMT sometime soon?) So this is definitely an intriguing product I also am looking forward to testing. The Cairn box gives you a lot for such a small price. We can always use these insights into possible delicious alternatives.

The last product included is a bottle of Kiss My Face Castile Soap. It is without a doubt that I will use this product. Camp soap is a never-ending battle to find what works best. Will it be my choice in the future? I don’t know. I do like that this soap is biodegradable and earth-friendly. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

And in the end, that’s the great thing about Cairn Boxes. The testing out aspect. We all feel ourselves a little bit of gear reviewers - if you’ve read this far you know you’re one of us. And to test different stuff makes us feel a little bit privileged - at least a bit more than whether that chocolate chip Cliff bar they gave you at REI was good or not. Cairn is a good value, whether you like all the products or not. Every month they send you something new - and it's like Christmas all over again! A good idea that any outdoor person should seriously consider signing up for.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

On Turning Around

Mt McLoughlin, Oregon

The howl of the wind ripped through the treetops above us, as we hadn’t quite reached treeline yet, even though it was almost 11:30 in the morning. We were on Mt. McLoughlin, one of my favorite, underrated late fall/winter/spring climbs located in what would be Northern Jefferson, but technically still Southern Oregon. It had been hard work to get up here. Unlike the easy summer trail, climbing McLoughlin in snow means attacking the ridge in a series of steep steppes, all of which were covered today with a somewhat slushy snowpack. We followed up the footsteps of some descending climbers who were probably there a day or two earlier. In several spots, they had postholed down a few feet in the soft snow, and I even spied one posthole that resembled more of a crevasse - it must have been 6 feet deep. We avoided these pitfalls by donning our snowshoes - our trusty old Denali Ascents, which made the climbing easier, but also meant that our trekking poles remained out and our axes stayed in our packs.

I break down the McLoughlin climb this way. There is the approach, through the thick Oregon forest. I’ve heard others describe this as a sparse forest. I’m not sure what forest they are walking through, but the forest to the southeast of McLaughlin is far from sparse. It’s a chaotic mess of fallen trees and limbs. We were lucky to have the trailblazers’ tracks to follow, as they more or less followed the summer trail (in spots it was visible through the patchy snow of this less than normal winter’s snowcover). After that, the ridge has 3 distinct levels - these all with ample snow coverage. I call them the Lower Ridge, the Middle Ridge, and then the Upper Ridge which all leads up to the Summit Bump. That’s just the way I break it down in my head, I’ve no idea what the actual names, if there are any, of the features of the mountain are.

We were just about to top out on the Middle Ridge, the same area where the treeline peters out. Above this it would be all exposed climbing in the wind, and I could tell already that maybe today would not be the day to summit. We’d already climbed this mountain a couple of times in similar but less windy conditions. As far as lists go, we had already checked off this box on the “Cascade Volcanoes”, we didn’t need to go up there, this was just a training day for bigger things to come later in the season. It was also close to our home, within a 3 hour drive or so. Heck, if we really felt like it, we could come up here again next weekend. All these thoughts were already going through my head.

That was when the wind blast struck. The huge gust barrelled down towards us. I looked up just in time to see a small chunk of ice hurtling at me, and did my best “matrix-move” to get out of its way. My wife behind me let out a small scream split seconds later as the charging current of air hit her. We both stopped our ascent for a moment, me to assess my wife’s condition and my wife to catch her breathe and calm her heartbeat down.

Looking back at her, I could now more clearly tell our predicament. We were on a slope at roughly I’d say a 35-40 degree angle. Had my wife or I fallen, it was a clear unobstructed line to about 500’ below - far enough to gain considerable speed and likely would terminate by withstanding at least a minor, if not major, injury. It definitely wasn’t a good spot to be hit by a rogue wind gust. With one last push, we did our best to hurry up and get off the slope to a semi-protected area underneath a patch of trees.

We have been climbing together for as long as we've been climbing. So we really didn't have to say anything, we both knew the climb was over. The risks in continuing far outweighed any benefits we would have to continuing. We both felt like what we had climbed so far had been a good workout, which was all we were really looking for. We had summited this mountain twice before. To continue on would mean a late finish, possibly after dark, and the weather was worsening, with no tree protection from the wind from this point forward. Slam dunk- we were done.

But it's not always so clear cut or so simple. A couple of years ago we were on Mt Hood. It was late in the season, for Hood, early July. The week before the overnight temps were freezing, but now the freezing level was well above 14,000’ on an 11,000’+ mountain. But it was our first try, and we were stoked to give it a shot anyway. I drove from our house, somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 miles. Instead of getting a hotel for only a few hours stay, we decided to sleep in our 4Runner in the parking lot. This turned out to be a terrible mistake. There were not one but two weddings going on at the Timberline Lodge. I ended up with maybe one hour worth of sleep. But we still wanted to climb!

Me, looking up dejectedly from the Hogsback, Mt Hood 2012
The climb was going swimmingly at first. We made good progress and dodged many of the snowcats bringing the cheaters err… guided climbers up. Just as daylight was hitting we reached the famed Hogsback. There we encountered the guided groups… turning back. Conditions were sloppy, slushy and unsafe. Rocks tumbled unprovoked down the Pearly Gates and the Old Chute/Mazamas route looked more unstable than a Slurpy on the beach in August. My wife seemed resigned (rightfully so) that this would be our highpoint of the day.

But I couldn’t get myself to accept it! I wanted to climb on. I felt strong, good and ready to get up there. Continuing would have meant putting myself into an extremely dangerous position. There was literally no one climbing above the Hogsback. I searched the crowd for just one group that might continue, one group who I could point to and say “Well, they’re going for it, so that must mean I can too.” There was a group of guys who climbed up (roped) to the ‘schrund. I thought they might give it a shot. But it didn’t happen. After all the hardship we had put ourselves through, it seemed a huge blow to turn around here, so close from the summit. After some time, I had no concept of minutes, the reality of the situation took hold. We took some photos for future reference and descended. As defeated as I felt, it was still the right call, I knew. If only we had tried the climb a week earlier.

When we first started climbing it was easier, because we learned to climb many times by going on guided climbs. It was always the guide’s decision who continued and who turned around. When you’re at that stage of your growth as a climber, it’s like Mountaineering For Dummies. All the important and critical decisions are made for you, and frankly that’s the best because I know me personally, I had no idea what trouble I could get myself into by pushing limits too far.

As you gain experience though, ultimately you climb on your own and the decisions about turning around are all on you. It’s natural to second-guess a mountain guide who turns you back. But once you have hit that point of autonomy in your climbing, it’s not as easy to say you made a mistake. You have to take a hard look at what you’re doing and be as honest with yourself as you possibly can. And yes, sometimes you may push too far, especially in the beginning. In those cases, it also helps to be a little lucky.

One such occasion happened to me in one of my earliest Shasta climbs. I had summitted Shasta a couple of times, but I was still very new to the mountain. We had only moved to the area about a year before. We had some out-of-town guests we were climbing with, one of whom was a very friendly guy named Tony from Australia. He was touring around the US, and was very happy to be climbing Mt. Shasta, and getting over 4000 meters for the first time in his life. But as it is so often with out-of-town climbing guests, fickle Shasta decided to let the nasty weather dominate the weekend they showed up. High winds and the chance of precipitation were in the forecast, but of course we had to climb anyway, they had schedules to keep.

Camped at Helen Lake, we woke up per usual at 2am, but the winds were roaring like a freight train. Deciding to stall for a while, we dozed off hoping the weather might change a little for the better with time. At 4am, things did seem to calm down, but not enough for my wife, who decided she would not be climbing into these questionable conditions. Our other friend agreed. But Tony really wanted to press on and so I agreed I would climb as well. For the first few hours, it looked like we had made a solid decision. Progress was made up the Avalanche Gulch route as we made our way up through the Red Banks and beheld Misery Hill.

That’s when things went south. While the wind was no longer a factor, Misery Hill and all points above were wrapped in a thick blanket of cloud. I could see some climbers up ahead, and I kind of thought that I knew the way (having climbed it a whole two times before) so we kept going. About half way up Misery Hill things got worse. The snow started falling on us, chunky wet flakes and quickly we were laughing about having icicle beards. But it didn’t let up. The wind soon resumed it’s battery and coupled with the snow to make a truly tenuous situation become damn scary. Only at this time did we make the decision to turn around.

But it was far too late. We were too high and the conditions were very bad. Had we turned back before ascending any up Misery Hill, we would have been able to just retrace our steps in our descent. But now, our steps were gone. Obliterated from the hillsides by a sea of white, wind and wet. We struggled to find landmarks to gain a handle on our position. I thought I knew where I was a couple of times - I had no idea where I was. We came across a group of other climbers who were struggling with the same predicament. One guy was saying how he had a gps and knew the Red Banks were this direction. I felt like he was completely off. It didn’t seem right. Tony and I made a decision that some other rocks we could spy looked more like the correct direction. We walked on.

We walked off the wrong side of the mountain…

I started to get an inkling we were in the wrong place. Nothing looked familiar. The skies below cleared enough and we could see tents and a camp below us. But it didn’t feel right (later I figured out we were looking at folks camped on East side routes). The snow started getting steeper and steeper too. Suddenly I shouted to Tony that this simply couldn’t be the way. We were almost falling, I was having trouble keeping my crampons to stay on my boots (because I was a bit inexperienced at strapping them up) and I was just getting damn scared. We agreed to retreat up and get back to where we were before, the wind and clouds having died off enough that we could go back up there and re-asses.

This time we figured out our mistake. We could see now new climbers, who had waited in camp even longer than us, making their way up around the Thumb area and being a feature I recognized we now were back on route for a descent. (Many of the climbers coming up would stop there as well, the winds were back and forth between being slightly bearable, and being hurricane force.) That’s when I spotted the GPS guy.

When you ascend the Gulch route by the Thumb, there is the upper extent of the Konwikiton glacier directly to the western slope right there. Climbers navigate on a ridge between the end of the Red Banks and this glacier where some years there is a distinct bergschrund that forms at this location to be avoided. GPS guy had walked right down that glacier and was now perched on a little outcropping of rocks. All by himself, who seemed confused which way to go. We had almost gotten into huge trouble walking on the upper Hotlum (I know these names now, back then it was just “Mt Shasta” to me). He needed rescue in a big way, or we were going to watch someone fall to their death. I was exhausted, but luckily Tony was still strong and risked life and limb to walk out onto this top area of the glacier untethered and retrieve GPS guy. At the end of the day, we all walked out together, living to climb another day.

But I never will forget that lesson. Maybe some people can read about close calls and steer clear of dangerous situations their entire careers, but some of us are a bit hard-headed and can only be scared straight by coming face to face with the consequences of a bad decision. That for sure was not the last close call I’ve had, and I’m just as certain that in the future I will have close calls again. But I do know that these experiences all put together give me more and more knowledge of how far I can, and more importantly how far I cannot, push my own limits.

If we turned around every time there was a little bad weather, or every time the wind picked up a bit, I would probably never get to at least half of the summits I’ve seen. These are mountains, and weather and objective hazards go hand in hand when we seek out these lofty, lonely places that we worship and strive to reach out to and share in their tidings. As the old quote goes, there are old climbers, and there are bold climbers, but there are no old and bold climbers. Well, I  think we all want to get as close as we can to being both old and bold. In the end though, it’s much more important for me to (one day) just be an old climber.