Finding the Beauty in Failure

General, Travel

Elevation: 10,600ft / 3,200m

Standing just below the summit of Mt Hood in Oregon, we are looking up at the climbers making the final approach. This is one of my favorite pictures. This is a picture of me not summitting Mt. Hood in Oregon.

We had been training for the whole season. Mt Hood is an excellent training hike for other higher, glaciated climbs in the area. We drove up from Seattle and arrived at the trail-head at 10pm. Then we slept in the car. We woke up at 2am. It was very very windy and quite cold. We started going up at about 3am. Alpine start. My body was cold. I was very exhausted and sleepy. And every part of my being told me to get back in the car, turn on the heat and sleep till sunrise. But the right thing is often larger than us.

So ice axe in hand, crampons on our shoes, we commenced climbing on the icy incline. It was steep. A very perfect mountain in many ways. If I was asked to draw a mountain when I was 3, this is what I would have drawn. Straight inclined edges. Ending with a nice tip on the top.

At 5:30am we paused for a bit. The light was beginning to break over the horizon. It was beautiful. Surreal.

We continued climbing, and we finally reached this spot. 4,400ft / 1,300m of climbing on full deep snow.

This was just below the bergschrund. It was dangerous to continue. It was too icy. And too busy. Too many people. One slip by you or someone else and you could go tumbling down the gully.

To continue we’d have to rope up. We didn’t have time. We had to get back down in time to meet some friends for brunch at noon in Portland. And we had absolutely no cellular network. So we couldn’t get in touch and let them know we would be late. So we decided to turn around.

We had failed at our original goal of summitting. But we got the gift of extra time to enjoy this spot. It was awesome. You could smell the sulphur mixed with the icy alpine air. It’s an active volcano. And that’s when I took this photograph using my 70-200mm lens.

Coming back down was fun. And we made it to brunch on time. We were exhausted. And had built up an appetite. And the food tasted delicious.

We sometimes focus so much on the end goal, we forget to notice all the gifts we receive along the way. Almost never is a failure a dead-end. It always opens an opportunity for something else. If we can adapt, adjust our goals, then we may end up turning failures into cherished successes.

I am glad I didn’t summit Mt Hood that day. I was able to shoot one of my favorite pictures as a result. The mountain still stands. And I’m still alive.

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Turn around at Mt Baker summit

General

We attempted a late season climb of Mt Baker in Washington state. We were not experience enough to be just a two-person rope team – so that was kinda stupid. But we were quite risk averse in other ways. When we realized that the sun was beating quite hard and the snow bridges were beginning to melt, we decided it wasn’t safe to continue upwards. Given 80% of mountaineering accidents happen on the way down, we didn’t want to push our luck. Two other parties continued ascending and they did summit and also came back down safely. Different risk appetite, and luck.

Alpine Climbing Equipment

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Alpine Climbing Equipment

When going out into the backcountry, one has to be prepared for all kinds of weather. The goal is to read the weather and understand the conditions in advance and avoid running into a bad weather window to begin with. But it’s all a probability and everything helps in making sure you stay safe. Here’s the climbing gear between two climbers:

Starting from the bottom is the insulation pads to protect from the cold snow on which you sleep. The crampons attach to the climbing boots and provide traction in icy terrain. The helmets are a must to protect from rock-fall caused by other climbers or melting snow. These boots have a 3’4th shank of metal in the sole which is very useful for kicking steps in the snow and for getting strong levarage when trying to step on 1” ledges on rocks.

The best way to carry water in the cold, freezing conditions is these wide mouth ones. Easy to put fresh snow into as you sip from it. At night it also doubles up as a warm water bottle that you slip into your sleeping bag. The rope here is not the actual climbing rope we used – the purpose of rope in alpine climbing is also for traversing on glaciers and rescuing from crevasses. The ice-axe is the hiking stick, gives you support when going up, helps you arrest a fall when you slip, can be used as a quick belay, as a deadweight anchor etc. The gaiters are worn on the boots to prevent any snow from creeping into the feet. Climbing harness, carabiners, rescue pulley

Sleeping bags, down summit jacket, extra fleece layer – when in doubt, throw in an extra layer. Gloves, hats, mittens, redundancy is very useful. If you lose a glove, and that’s all you have, you will eventually lose your hand or have to turn around. Tent, tent poles and tent snow stakes. All 3. If you forget one, you are screwed. We learned it a very very hard way.

We carry a fancy GPS, but also carry old school compass and maps. Sophisticated technology is more likely to fail. Redundancy, and proficiency helps.

Glacier glasses. When you are exposed to bright snow for 16hours, your eyes get fried. It can take a day or two to be able to use them again. Glacier glasses are a must. They prevent light from entering from anywhere. On that note, you have to protect even the inside of your nostrils from the sun. Anything exposed to light will get sunburned and it’s painful.

Pickets to create quick anchors when you end up in tricky spots or to rescue someone. A quick showel to create a platform for the tent, or to dig out a teammate from an avalanche (can’t really joke about this).

Stove, firestarter, fuel. Duct tape. Be safe.

Understanding weather forecast trends for alpine climbing

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We were planning on climbing Mt Rainier this weekend and then decided not to. Here’s why.

Hidden in the small text changes between the forecast right now (left) and the forecast earlier this morning (right) is the information that the conditions are slightly worse than they initially thought. For optimal climbing conditions – you wanna catch a positive trend in forecasting, not a negative trend. So we’ll likely delay our summit attempt to a later window.

The concerning detail is that 2 days ago it was supposed to be sunny on Sunday. Last night they predicted thunderstorms on Sunday. This afternoon they are predicting snow showers on Sunday. Even though each prediction is a “slight” chance, cumulatively it points to a larger negative trend that makes it smarter to avoid from a mountaineering risk analysis perspective.

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