Everyone living in, or near, the mountains reads the headlines about lost climbers, hikers, and adventurers. These reports constitute a very small percentage of people who actually engage in these activities. Yet the risk is real. As soon as you step into the wilderness you become dependent on your own knowledge, gear, and decisions. Three times in the past month, my climbing friend and I have used these tools to stay safe in situations that could have turned ugly. Failure in any of these areas can be catastrophic. However, failure to reach your original trip goal can equal safety.
The first event was a trip on Mt. Hood to climb the Sandy Glacier Headwall. The weather went from rain, to a mix of rain and ice, to sort of rain/ice/snow with high winds. The forecast did not call for this. We laughed and left. The second event was a training tip on Mt. Hood to test our gear before a winter attempt at summiting Mt. Jefferson. The forecast was for very high winds so we decided to make camp just 700 feet above Timberline lodge. This decision proved wise as conditions were terrible, but our gear weathered the storm, and morning skiing was a blast.
Finally, we coordinated a four day weekend, along with permission from our ladies to attempt Mt. Jefferson. Our packs were heavy with lots of food, fuel, and technical climbing gear. The ground was covered in about 2 feet of fresh powder, making travel slow, but beautiful. However the route we chose was horrible. We were drenched from sweat and snow. The steepness and awkwardness of the climb was horribly draining, and no end was in sight. We stopped to assess our situation. With a cold night looming, we chose to abort the mission. Had we stayed, we had enough gear to remain safe, but we would not have been in good strength, had dry gear, or had access to the Mountain in the morning. Thirteen miles later, we were back at our car, humbled, exhausted, but safe.
Gear failure is not an option. That’s why we shop the US Outdoor Store. A few items we recently purchased for these trips proved invaluable. For outer layers, my Arcteryx Stinger Bibs and Patagonia M-10 Jacket can tolerate the most abusive environments possible. The Bibs, are super durable, waterproof, and can vent up the entire side of each leg. The Patagonia M-10 coat is the lightest three layer mountaineering coat on the market. It has one huge zipper on each side for full venting. These vents double as huge pockets for backup gloves, and skins. Another piece of gear that was essential for our safety was the MSR Reactor Stove and 2.5 Liter Pot. This stove worked on our practice trip with super high winds just outside our tent door. It is the most efficient stove in the world, making every ounce of fuel you carry maximized. The amount of sweating sometimes required when traveling big country will require lots of re-hydration. Having a reliable, efficient stove is a must if you need to melt snow to rehydrate. The final piece of gear I was grateful for was my North Face Prism Optimus Down Jacket. Whether we were taking a break, or enjoying camp, this coat promised warmth. It unzips from the bottom if you must sit and belay. It has a primaloft hoody so it will keep you warm even if your head gets wet from sweat or rain.
The mountains never give themselves up easily. Failure with decisions, gear, or knowledge can lead to serious trouble. Trouble in the Mountains grows exponentially with every mistake. We did not accomplish our intended outcomes on any of these trips. However, we did accomplish our goals of staying safe, having fun, and enjoying the mountain. Make sure you have the right knowledge and gear. Then, make smart decisions with them. Do this, and you will enjoy a lifetime of safe outdoor adventuring.
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