Tag Archives: climbing

Climbing At Indian Creek, Utah

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Indian Creek Scenic View

Image: Michael Restivo

The dusty desert roads of Highway 131 meander through a sandstone landscape. Twisting through towering buttes, rusted red spires, and patches of spindly sagebrush and cacti, it comes to a stop in a sand-strewn campsite under the pinnacles of the Six Shooter Towers—the sisterly north and south columns. In the parking lot, Volkswagen minibuses and sprinter vans with half-constructed mountain bikes on the roof are home to a motley crew of climbers and adventurers who call this sprawling arid land home. Welcome to Indian Creek.

Indian Creek is divided by a series of mesas and is split by fissures that herald back to a time when all of Utah and Colorado were under a great ancient ocean. It was originally home of the Anasazi tribe, who left remnants of pottery, mud brick homes, and ornate petroglyphs on the orange walls.

In the 1970s, climbers started migrating to Southeast Utah, following the words of Edward Abbey and seeking an untamed paradise, which had been the playground of an elite few, such as Layton Kor and Eric Bjornstad. There were wild tales of buttresses over a hundred feet off the deck, split down the middle by cracks said to be just wide enough to cam a fingertip. If climbing in Yosemite was described as graceful and elegant, Indian Creek was like going to war. Brutal and often bloodying, it took climbing back to its primal roots.

Rock Climber at Indian Creek

Image: Michael Restivo

In 1976, a group of climbers out of Colorado, including Ed Webster and Earl Wiggins, drove into the Creek with only scarce knowledge of a hand crack they’d seen on a previous trip that was near perfect in symmetry and broken only by a small roof. Armed only with a rack of hexes and rudimentary nuts, Wiggins slotted his hands into the flake, twisted his foot into the crack, and stepped off to change desert climbing forever. In this era, crack climbing was on the obscure and fringe side of climbing. Nobody knew if hexes and nuts would catch the soft, crumbling sandstone if one were to fall. Not wanting to risk finding out the consequences, Wiggins led the first 100-feet of the three pitch route without stopping, gruelingly jamming his hands and using only his weight to find a secure stance where he could place another piece. Placing the anchor, he brought up Webster, and by the end of the day, the two were at the top of the buttress that was originally known as “Luxury Liner,” and then became “Supercrack” (5.10).

Crack Climber at Indian Creek

Image: Michael Restivo

After Webster and Wiggins’ groundbreaking ascent, Indian Creek became a hotbed for desert crack climbing. With the development of spring-loaded cams in the late 70s and early 80s and the publication of Bjornstad’s guidebook, climbers flooded Southeastern Utah looking for first ascents across the canyon.

Climbing at the Creek involves an average route grade of 5.10+ all the way to test pieces of 5.14. From inverted finger cracks to burly off-widths, the style of climbing is muscular and bruising, typically resulting in strands of bloody athletic tape coming off chafed hands. Still, finding rhythm in the chaos results in an elegant ascent following a pattern of precise finger and foot placements. It’s further characterized by the characters who are here all year long—from the snow-covered desert winters to the scorching summer days—and the Burning Man-like annual pilgrimage that’s known as “Creeksgiving” in November.

Like Yosemite, the history of climbing in Indian Creek is much a part of its heritage. It’s the story of counter-cultural rebels who found their way in the desert simply because they had heard of the unclimbed. There are so many cracks and walls across this spectacular landscape that many are still unnamed. There are potential pocket areas still awaiting first ascents. For those who revel in the thrill of long, exposed, scary, and burly climbing, this little corner of the Southwest is calling out.

Climbing St. Sauveur Mountain via Acadia Mountain in Acadia National Park

Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired

View from St. Sauveur Mountain at Acadia Mountain National Park

Image Credit: Katie Levy

This summer, the Pocket Ranger blog featured information around why Maine, also known as “Vacationland,” is worth a visit and why every visit should include a trip to Acadia National Park. Then we covered why hiking one of the park’s scariest trails should also be on your to-do list, if you’re up for the challenge that is. While most of the trails and scenic spots that the oldest national park east of the Mississippi is known for sit on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island, there’s still plenty to see on the western side of the island including St. Sauveur Mountain.

On a trip to Acadia this summer, friends and I spent three days hiking and exploring as much of Mount Desert Island as we could. The first day’s hike took us up Dorr and Cadillac Mountains while we climbed the Beehive and Champlain Mountain on the second day. On the third day, we drove over to the western side of the island to explore a part of the park none of us had seen before.

Getting to the Acadia Mountain Trailhead

Our group spent the weekend at Blackwoods Campground, and to get to the trailhead, we took Route 3 west until it joined route 198, then took Route 102 south to the trailhead parking lot just south of Ikes Point along Echo Lake (44.321759, -68.332956). If you reach Southwest Harbor driving in from the north, you’ve gone too far. Though if you do make it into town, stop at the Quietside Café for ice cream!

Climbing Acadia Mountain

Two hikers at Acadia Mountain before hiking St. Sauveur Mountain.

Image Credit: Katie Levy

After parking in one of the last available parking spots around 10 a.m., we walked back up Route 102 to the start of the Acadia Mountain Trail. All trails in Acadia are blazed blue, which makes keeping track of your progress easy, and clear wooden signs are placed at every junction we found in the park.

As we started up the mountain, the trail steepened almost immediately, which we discovered was normal for trails up peak in Acadia. The trail wound through dense trees, across flat, exposed granite, and up granite faces with strategically placed steps. We climbed from 200 feet above sea level to the summit at 655 feet in approximately 3/4 miles, reaching the summit for stunning views of the Somes Sound, the Narrows, and Valley Cove.

Once you’re at the top, the trail down the eastern side of Acadia mountain drops all the way to sea level in a 1/2 mile; it’s quite steep, and I found myself sitting down to lower my body over rocks along parts of the route. But views of the Somes Sound the entire way down made it well worth the trip.

Climbing St. Sauveur Mountain

Group of people along the path of St. Saveur Mountain.

Image Credit: Katie Levy

At that point, hikers have the option of heading back to the Acadia Mountain trailhead via a service road or picking up the Valley Peak Trail to extend the trip to the top of St. Sauveur Mountain, which is what we did. After dropping all the way down to sea level on the Acadia Mountain Trail, our group had to climb back up over 500 vertical feet along the Valley Peak Trail to reach the top of St. Sauveur Mountain.

Though the mountain’s summit doesn’t offer views to hikers, the entire Valley Peak Trail traverses cliff edges with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. After climbing through thick forest, exposed granite made up most of the rest of the trail to the top. We followed the much tamer, flatter St. Sauveur Mountain Trail back down over rock, beds of pine needles, and through dense stands of trees. The Valley Peak Trail joins the Acadia Mountain Trail after a little more than a mile, bringing hikers back down to Route 103 and the parking lot. Take a look at our entire route and timeline here.

Things to Know Before You Go

Bring some seriously sturdy hiking shoes with good traction. The trails in this article along with the majority of others we took on our trip to Acadia are steep, rocky, and without good traction, you’ll be in trouble quickly without reliable boots. Reconsider taking any of these trails in wet weather as they’ll be slippery. The parking lot at the base of the trail was full at 10 a.m., and we visited well after the high season. Make sure you arrive early, and investigate taking the free Island Explorer bus around Mount Desert Island as much as possible.

Have you been to Acadia National Park? Have you climbed Acadia Mountain or St. Sauveur Mountain? We’d love to hear from you!

Climbing In Eldorado Canyon State Park

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

In the long and colorful history of climbing in Colorado, a singular park just south of Boulder became playground to a legion of American adventurers, led by Layton Kor and Pat Ament. In the 1960s and 1970s, any climber had to make a pilgrimage to Eldorado Canyon, where the explosion of free climbing pushed the limits of human ability on massive, overhanging walls. While the cliffs of Yosemite were falling, climbers in Colorado were pushing the grade in the unexplored canyon all the way up to 5.14.

Kor, a giant of American climbing, first arrived in Eldorado, young and inexperienced. He credited the Canyon as his learning ground, establishing classic routes such as The Yellow Spur (5.9), Calypso (5.6), and The Naked Edge (5.11a/b). In an age where rock climbing was still in its formative years and Yosemite stood as the center of the universe, a ragtag group from Colorado quietly began to establish short, physically grueling routes with little more than homemade carabiners and pitons.

mike restivo 1

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Climbers who came to Eldorado Canyon were set on first ascents that were well ahead of their time, and rivalries quickly grew. When Kor first arrived in the canyon, so did local native Ray Northcutt, already well-known as a pioneer in bouldering. At the head of the canyon, the fortress of stone known as The Bastille was a tempting prize for the new climbers. While Kor and his partner had already established The Bastille Crack (5.7) it was Northcutt, who aimed to push the envelope by establishing an unheard of at-the-time 5.11 in 1959. The short but powerful ascent follows a finger crack to a tiny ledge, followed by a long, awkward move to join the already established 5.7.

Eldo’s reputation as a test site for futuristic, bold, and innovative climbing was growing, and as climbers headed deeper into the canyon, the walls got bigger and protection less reliable. In 1959, Kor established an Eldo classic The Yellow Spur (5.9). In the 1960’s, Yosemite legend Royal Robbins and Pat Ament established the first free ascent, relying only on placed protection. The 5.9 and its sister route, Ruper (5.8) feature long, sustained climbing across a variety of features including aretes, cracks, offwidths, and roofs. Long runout in the last 50-feet and dizzying exposure command a respect for the first ascent under relatively primitive technique.

mike restivo 2

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Into the modern age, Eldorado Canyon continued to be the test center for sustained, hard climbing. In 2006, climber Matt Segal pushed the grade even farther when he established Iron Monkey (5.14) a showpiece of cracks and flakes across an otherwise blank face. Since than, Iron Monkey and sister route China Doll (also 5.14) established as a 5.13 by Bob Horan, have seen ascents by a small handful of elite climbers.

mike restivo 3

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Eldorado Canyon is a place that has seen bold and wild ascents through its long and colorful history. From the rivalries of the 1960s and 1970s, to resort owner Ivy Baldwin, who would walk his high wire from Wind Tower for the amusement of his guests, the park has seen bold figures who have consistently set the bar higher in the annals of American rock climbing.

Make Your Own Trails with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition

Any of our Pocket Ranger® apps can help you find adventure, but you’ll need a rugged rig to get you there. Named Motor Trend’s 2015 Truck of the Year®, we nominate Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition as that perfect ride to get you from humble abode into the great outdoors.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Reach any trailhead with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition. This midsize pick-up comfortably handles the toughest trails thanks to its rugged durability, powerfully efficient 3.6L V6 engine, and Z71 Off-Road Package. No matter the weather, the trail-ready Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac® all-terrain tires keep you moving in all conditions. Best of all that Z71 Off-Road Package guarantees a smooth ride.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Got gear? Whether you’re a hiker, kayaker, hunter or angler, with the Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition there are storage options galore for all of your outdoor gear. GearOn™ moveable cargo tie-down rings and GearOn™ cargo divider in the bed give you many ways to secure your gear. Inside the cab, the large center console provides easy storage options for your gadgets and a nonskid space for charging devices. Armed with rear vision camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and OnStar Advisor, this truck pulls its weight when it comes to you and your family’s safety. Composed of high strength materials and reinforced safety cage, the Chevy Colorado Z71 series frame actually minimizes damage in the event of a collision.

Chevy Colorado Z71 - Trail Boss Edition [Image: www.chevrolet.com]

Image: www.chevrolet.com

Take the internet into the wilderness with you! Turn your Chevy Colorado Z71 into a hot spot with 4G LTE high-speed Wi-Fi connection powered by OnStar. Forgot to download a Pocket Ranger® app before you left the house? Download apps, surf the web, and stream video and music with the cab’s powerful connection that can serve up to seven devices. Four USB ports found in the cabin’s console add to ease of use. The truck’s cabin is also equipped with a top-notch Bose® sound system. Queue up the perfect soundtrack for those nights spent star-gazing from the truck bed.

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Driving along New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is a favorite during peak fall foliage season. [Image: www.motorhomeroadtrip.com]

Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for New Hampshire State Parks and cruise the scenic Kancamagus Highway. While most will be stuck looking at the White Mountains from the hardtop of “the Kanc,” with your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition, you can access numerous trailheads. We recommend hiking Mount Chocorua, a steep climb with commanding views of the Presidential Mountains. Don’t want to leave your Chevy behind? Put the Chevy Colorado Z71 to the test by summiting Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast!

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Alpine Lakes Wilderness [Image: www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/alpine-lakes-wilderness]

Or get lost in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington. Less than 50 miles from Seattle, you can rely on your Chevy Colorado Z71 – Trail Boss Edition to easily transition you from hip, urban sprawl to austere, alpine wilderness. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is home to the glacier-carved North Cascades and part of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail. Some of the best rock-climbing opportunities in the country can be found at Cashmere Crags. Or load up the kayak or canoe and spend the day on one of the 700 mountain lakes and ponds within the area. Download the Pocket Ranger® Official Guide for Washington State Parks for advanced GPS mapping capabilities that will help you navigate your adventure.

Leave No Trace

How do you keep the wilderness wild when millions of outdoor enthusiasts visit state and national parks each year? The Center for Outdoor Ethics created a solution to this problem with their national educational program, Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace program promotes and inspires good ethical practice when in the backcountry. By following these guidelines, you ensure a gratifying and lasting outdoor experience for all.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Like any trip, planning before you arrive at your destination is key.

  • Acquaint yourself with park regulations. You can easily access this information through any of our free Pocket Ranger® apps.
  • Be prepared for extreme weather and emergencies. Pack a first aid kit and a survival kit that includes a flashlight with extra batteries, whistle, multi-tool pocket knife, maps, lighter, fire starters, and iodine tablets.
  • Respect the physical limits of your hiking group by planning a trip that’s compatible with the group’s skill level.
Backpacker in sunlit field [Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com]

Image: sojourningabroad.wordpress.com

  • Careful meal planning and packaging is so important when out in the backcountry. Pack only the food you need to minimize waste while you’re out on the trail.
  • Try to visit the outdoors in small groups. This is especially applicable to backpacking trips. If you are a larger group heading into the wilderness, break off into smaller groups to reduce impact on the environment. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use on the trail.
  • Refrain from marking your trail with paint, cairns or flagging, and instead use a map, compass or your Pocket Ranger® app. In addition to a compass feature, the Pocket Ranger® apps offer users advanced GPS features that can even be used offline!

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Trampling down an area’s vegetation can result in some undesirable results, such as barren areas and soil erosion. Help preserve the environment by following these tips:

  • In wilderness areas of high use, stick to established trails and campsites. Established campsites can come in a few different forms, such as raised wooden platforms, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Walk single-file on trails and try to stick to the center of these trails. This prevents the trail from further eroding the surrounding landscape.
Hikers on a trail in the woods [Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles]

Image: www.tripleblaze.com/blog/2013/07/14/how-to-follow-leave-no-trace-principles

  • However, when camping and hiking through pristine or fragile environments, the opposite is true. Avoid making established trails or campsites by dispersing your impact on the environment. Do not camp or travel in places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Whether in high use or low use areas, always make sure to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. This protects the waterbody and riparian areas (the land near a waterbody) from damage and contamination.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This principle could be the golden rule of the backcountry: Whatever you pack in, you must pack out! This includes all trash, leftover food, toilet paper (both used and unused), and hygiene products.

  • Before leaving a campsite or rest area, check around for any trash or spilled food you may have missed.
  • Solid human waste should be deposited in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep. These catholes must be at least 200 feet from water, campsite and trails. After use, cover and disguise catholes.
Always clean up after yourself when outdoors. [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

Always clean up after yourself! [Image: bartramcanoetrail.blogspot.com/2013/10/people-fish-camp-trash.html]

  • Got dishes? Need a shower? To clean either yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lake, and use only small amounts of biodegradable soap. When finished cleaning or bathing, do not dump this dirty water back into the stream or lake! Doing so would contaminate the natural water source. Instead, strain and then scatter the water at least 200 feet (or 80 to 100 strides) from its source.

4. Leave What You Find

Look, but don’t touch! Preserve the past by leaving natural and historic structures and artifacts as they are. This ensures that other visitors to the area will have the same sense of discovery.

  • Leave rocks, plants, feathers and other natural objects just as you find them.
  • Don’t transport non-native species with you! Non-native species frequently become invasive. These invasive species can critically damage the ecosystem.
  • A good campsite is found, not made. Do not dig trenches or build structures, such as lean-tos, tables or chairs.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

While many believe that a roaring campfire is essential to a great camping trip, fire is not always permitted in backcountry area. Before lighting a fire, always check with park regulations.

  • If fires are allowed, use only established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires. Keep your campfire small and manageable.
  • Hold off on the huge logs! The Center for Outdoor Ethics recommends using sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Can you spot the two campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

Can you spot the campfire faux pas in this photo? [Image: lnt.org/blog/campfire-challenge]

  • Burn all the wood and coals in your campfire to ash and put out the fire completely. Then scatter the cool ashes.
  • As for cooking outdoors, use a lightweight camp stove. A lightweight camp stove (rather than a bulky camp stove) will also be a blessing for your back!

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s certainly exhilarating to come across wildlife when outdoors. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, follow these guidelines for wildlife sightings:

  • Always observe wildlife from a distance. Never approach or follow wildlife.
  • Never feed wildlife! Feeding wildlife can make wild animals dependent on humans, creating opportunities for potentially dangerous encounters.
Black bear takes over picnic at campsite [Image: http://forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

Don’t let your favorite breakfast cereal become theirs. [Image: forum.wakarusa.com/showthread.php?11815-ARTICLE-Black-Bears-Tear-Into-Tents-at-Wakarusa]

  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing food rations and securely.
  • If you bring pets with you, make sure you have control of them at all times. In many places, leashes are required.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

While you may head into the backcountry to be alone in the great outdoors, chances are you may come across a few other outdoor enthusiasts.

  • Respect other visitors to the area. Be courteous and yield to other hikers on the trail.
  • Take breaks and camp away from the trails and other visitors. Avoid making loud noises or speaking in loud voices when in the backcountry. Keeping your voice low not only helps others enjoy their time in the wilderness, but also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
  • If you encounter pack stock in the backcountry, step to the downhill side of the trail.

Any adventure in the outdoors is going to require some quality gear. By taking the Pocket Ranger® State Park Visitor Survey you could win a $350 gift certificate to Backcountry.com!

The Boulder Hat Trick: Three Peaks In One Day

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Panoramic view of mountain range [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Set on the western edge of Boulder, Colorado, the Boulder Range rises above the plains, silhouetting the city behind forested, rocky peaks, rolling foothills, and the city’s iconic Flatirons. The traverse between Mt. Sanitas to the north and South Boulder Peak, the last of the range, spans over 16-miles of rugged trails, steep ascents, and scrambling across pointed ridges. While some are content with bagging one of these peaks and calling it a day, my hiking companion Tony and I decided we wanted to bag three – in less than 12 hours. We would start with Bear Peak, traverse to South Boulder, and then finish on Mt. Sanitas. While we decided to skip the other two peaks, Flagstaff and Green, for the sake of time, the climbs were a stout, calf-testing ascent that saw us walk the northernmost and southernmost edges of the range. This is how we bagged the Boulder Hat Trick.

Bear Peak

Summit in the Boulder Mountain Range [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

We started at 7:30 from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) parking lot, sitting on a hill at the heart of Boulder Mountain Park. Our plan was to combine the NCAR, Table Mesa, and Fern Canyon Trails which would lead us to one of the steeper sides of Bear Peak. The morning was magnificently clear and we only encountered one other party and several trail runners as we exited the forest into a grassy valley just under the pointed summit. Though it was well into spring, the summit still had patches of visible snow.

The path gives way to a vast landscape of hills, troughs, and ridges, leading up to the twin summits of Bear and South Boulder Peaks, connected by a saddle. As soon as we turned into Fern Canyon, a passage surrounded by moss-covered boulders and rocky ledges, the climb became progressively steeper, hiking turned to scrambling, and the trail became uneven and rudimentary. After ascending to the saddle where Rocky Mountain National Park spread before us in the distance, the last quarter-mile bee-lined above the trees in a march that was reminiscent of Washington’s Mailbox Peak. Just before the summit, a low-class-3 scramble had us on hands and feet, clambering up a windy exposed ridge, which lead to the exposed pinnacle. We had bagged peak number one.

South Boulder Peak

Summit at Boulder Mountain Range [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Just behind Bear Peak, South Boulder Peak rises above a charred wilderness, capping the southern side of the Boulder Range. The two peaks connect by half a mile, however South Boulder exceeds it’s sister by just under 100-feet, making it the highest of the five peaks. From Bear, a downward scramble joins the trail, which connects the saddle between the two mountains. With the burned remains of a forest at the start of its regrowth, the saddle becomes a steep uphill across a barely defined trail, blackened branches, and mesmerizing views of the Rockies on one side and the Boulder plains on the other. A swift scramble across a rust-colored ridge arrives at a sharp pinnacle, which overlooks the range all the way to Sanitas. Now midday, we rejoined to Bear, and swiftly descended back to the car. We got peak number two.

Mt. Sanitas

Summit at Boulder Mountain Range [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

While Mt. Sanitas should have been the easiest, our already tired legs made this last peak the physically toughest of the three. An afternoon storm was descending and we had to move fast to beat the rain and bag our last peak of the day. Mt. Sanitas is a family-friendly trail that’s moderately steep in sections, but not as exposed as Bear or South Boulder. The small mountain makes up the northernmost point of the range and has a mesmerizing view over Boulder. The climbing started right away from the trailhead, ascending over rock ledges, spaced wooden beams, and short flat sections that gave way to minor scrambles. Our fatigue was obvious as we fell behind other hikers, but pushed through a final ascent that led to the marker pole at the summit. While others reveled in climbing the easiest peak in the range, we opened our two beers and sat against a rock, too exhausted to sit on the actual ledge, and looked back towards the south. Excluding the time we took for lunch, we had done the three peaks in just over six hours, a time that could see room for a faster finish. We just finished peak number three.

Hiker summits Boulder Range [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

While we’re proud of our hat trick, we still have many more up our sleeves. Next we’re going to try connecting all five in a massive 9-12 hour push which will see us connecting several trails from South Boulder across Flagstaff to Sanitas. Here in Boulder, big adventure is just minutes from my doorstep.

An Ode To Turning Around

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Rocky mountaintop [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

We stood before an icy couloir that divided Mt. Meeker from the Diamond Face of Longs Peak. Behind us, up a desolate, cold valley, the sunrise illuminated the rock in a brilliant gold hue. We huddled with the wind at our back, barely trying to stay on our feet, ice axe in hand and crampons firmly gripped to our boots. In the brief moments of calm between gusts funneling through the couloir, we pondered our chances on the Dreamweaver Route. Our plan was to climb in alpine-style: fast, light, no rope, and relying on our tools and efficient movement to ascend the 60-degree ramp to the summit ridge. As we stared up the face and came to a decision, a blast of spindrift – swirling, icy crystals of snow, had us pulling our hoods over our mouths. I turned to my partner and I said the words that no climber likes to hear:

I don’t think this is a good idea.

Rocky mountain summit with snow [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Alpine climbing is always a gamble and never a certainty. Unlike a day at the crag where you have ample time to relax and take in the view, alpine climbing is about efficiency and constant movement. In the mountains, you’re fighting against the weather, the condition of the snow, the movement of other parties ahead of you, and a variety of factors that are determined to slow down the climb. The best alpinists became that way because they knew when to make the call to turn back from the summit. During the ascent, there’s a constant state of awareness regarding the changing conditions. A bluebird day turns into storm clouds and blasting winds within minutes. The snow softens, becomes too warm, and risks sliding. If you’re within yards of the summit, you know to ask yourself:

I may make it to the top, but do I have the ability to make it back down?

This is the question that should plague every hiker, backcountry skier, climber, or snowshoer. During high-intensity backcountry excursions, self-assessment and condition awareness is crucial. How fast is the party moving? What’s everyone’s condition regarding altitude and overall fitness? How much daylight is left in relation to the summit’s distance? There’s always that desire to be bold, be the superhero, and have that story about beating the odds to make an objective, but at what risk? The mountain is always going to be there and the trail will live for another day. Unwarranted criticism about the decisions that anybody makes in the mountains should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

Yellow tent on rocky mountain summit [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

In 2012, on my first attempt of Mt. Rainier, we got caught in a storm on the upper reaches of the mountain. Despite the stinging cold, blinding snow, and unbearable wind, I was determined to make it to the top. Because of my ego and personal pride, I overlooked my condition and kept forging ahead, putting at risk my life and that of my teammates. The fault in my actions that day was due to the fact that I had under-assessed my own condition and tried to push ahead with all my strength despite being already exhausted on the upper slopes. The next few trips, I learned to treat climbs not as a reach for the summit, but instead to enjoy the beauty and the athleticism behind alpinism as a whole. On subsequent trips, such as getting turned back from Mt. Hood due to the warming weather and soft snow, or a turnaround on Washington’s Forbidden Peak because our timing at the base of the route was way off, I learned to respect these decisions for what they were. Not a representation of what I couldn’t do, but just the luck of the draw. An unfortunate side effect of what we do as climbers.

Sun sets over mountain range in Pacific Northwest [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Every climb is a learning experience. You learn how to read different conditions, how to gauge good movement, and take that into future ascents. During the climb there should never be any kind of doubt or “I don’t know” about the route. Ultimately, the decision of turning around will always be the right one.