Tuesday, December 2


Is it human nature or a sickness, to want to be challenged, to want to attempt things you aren't sure you can do? Is it a product of our easy life in modern society, where dinner is now in the fridge, not a uncertain hunt for wild game? I suppose I can't answer those types of questions easily but that unknown factor is certainly what drives my passion.

This past weekend I stood at 13,600 feet on Mt.Elbert. I looked a few hundred feet below me and saw a friend wave their poles at me, the other two no longer even in sight though the blowing snow. I knew instantly what they wanted, probably what 99.9% of the population would want in those conditions. It had been so peaceful below treeline, ha. And I'm sure I sighed in resignation, so close to the summit, probably 30 or less minutes if I ran. But I choose to come with a group, a safety net or convenient excuse maybe, but also a commitment worth honoring. Go as a group, stay a group. The cold wind was blowing consistently above 40mph with frequent gusts around 70mph. Snow was blowing all around me and I couldn't even stand up at times without my poles. I saw the others get blown to the ground a few times. But I was warm, strong and moving fast even above 13,000 feet. My gear was perfect and despite carrying a heavy training backpack the hike felt like nothing. Before I relented and ran down the mountain I turned to face the wind head on. It felt good to raise my arms and scream into it's endless power. It felt powerful to stand there taking it full on with no problem, my gear and fitness dialed perfectly through experience, from prior failure.

So what next? Further and higher? Yes that is good but it primarily tests my endurance which I know is there. It also tests a genetic predisposition to higher altitudes which at some unknown level may shut me down. So if not more then what? Technical challenge and commitment I guess.

Some people probably don't understand the desire to keep increasing the difficulty. They ask, fairly I suppose, where does it end? Does it end when you die on something so difficult you can't complete it? I guess that's possible, I don't really fear death, but I definitely don't seek it out. I am grateful to be alive. I love my wife and my family and my doggie and each trip I desire to come back to them safe and sound.

Not long ago I made a solo day trip to attempt Solo Flight, the 4th class route on Lone Eagle peak deep within the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Lone Eagle is the peak pictured above. I left pre dawn and hiked fast. More than 5 miles in, coming down the west side of Pawnee Pass I faced deep unbroken snow in the dark. I hurried on mile after mile to the base of my climb. When I got there, I made a stupid mistake and didn't read my notes. I hiked up verglass covered 3rd class rock and grassy slopes until my gut told me the view ahead seemed wrong. I stopped and read my notes, quickly realizing I could not see Triangle Lake and was on the very wrong side of the mountain. By the time I safely descended back to Crater Lake, I was out of time. Sure it was still early but there was no way I was going to get up and down Lone Eagle by my turn around time. So I tucked tail, ate some food and hiked out. I did get to enjoy a beautiful peaceful lunch sitting on the shore of Lake Isabelle and a beautiful wilderness area all day. Is a 23 mile and 6000+ foot day a failure or a spark that keeps passion burning bright? I'm pretty sure it's the latter and I must follow wherever it leads me.

12/2 Training:
Hike 4 miles with Turbo, 40lbs pack and supersuitboots
Ride 18 miles, SS w/ tall gearing
Climbing gym 3 hours (onsight all =<5.10's, onsight one 5.11, worked/floundered on a few other 5.11's)

Good Stoke:
Canada's The Wild Thing goes free at M7 WI5 depending on your definition of mixed being free


Marni said...

You = strong.

Jill said...

Awesome post, Chris.

And interesting to read about your experiences with the cold mountain wind. My experience was at 3,000 feet, not 13,000, and I was out in the brunt of it for a much shorter period of time (about 45 minutes). No ground blizzards, either, because there wasn't any powder left on the ice. But, wow. Nature can humble lowly humans in an instant. Bring us to our knees, figureatively and literally.

I love how you came away with "more challenge." I came away with "frigid wind is scary." But teaching myself to stay with it, that's what makes me feel strong.