Family Fun From The Inside...OUT!
We did our first real winter mountain climb in January of 2010. Some time before, Chris and I watched YouTube videos someone posted about a winter climb of Algonquin Peak, the first high peak we had ever done. I told Chris “this WILL be us some day!!” It looked wonderful and scary. Perfect. ;0)
The following winter we decided to give Winter climbing a try. We chose Wright Peak, one we had not done yet, right at Algonquin’s shoulder. It was a gorgeous day and we constantly commented about how nice this was, and how at around 20-ish degrees, we were snow shoeing with jackets, hats and gloves off. No boulders and roots to trip us up or tire our legs out, no bugs. Not COLD! EASIER than summer climbing! Just 100% awesome. Frozen waterfalls. Crystallized moisture in the air, giving the sunlight extra sparkle as it slanted through a beautiful forest of birch trees.
When we got above treeline, it was an entirely different kind of awesome.
A few photos from the beautiful climb…
As mentioned, when we got above treeline, it was an entirely different kind of awesome. We made a couple of mistakes – we didn’t change from snow shoes to spikes. The winds were about 50 or 60 MPH sustained, we guessed, with constant, brute force gusts that knocked us around. The snow shoes were like sails. We couldn’t hear each other even if we yelled at close range. We tried another route to the summit, off the blazed path (we now know to NEVER to do that, it is not only dangerous, it can kill very rare and delicate alpine vegetation, even in Winter), thinking it would shelter us a little from the wind. It didn’t. Mistake #2.
The open summit was coated in about an inch or two of ice. I was behind Chris, and with every step he took, I got a face full of ice shards. I managed to call to him to stop so I could put my goggles on. In the stress of the moment, I rushed to do this and I knew the hat and goggles were not secure but we got moving. We pressed on a little more, the true summit was only a couple hundred more feet.
I fell and started sliding down the ice. Thankfully, there was a cairn not far ahead that I caught with my foot to stop the slide. My hat continued on with the wind, and I could see it about 20 feet away caught on a treetop that peeked up over a pretty serious drop.
That was close. Now I was losing it! I started hyperventilating and shaking. That wind was SO LOUD I couldn’t think. We were miles from help and luckily I wasn’t hurt, but I was afraid to get up.
I had no choice but to figure this out. I thought “Panic keeps you here.” I just sat for a minute, in my safe place, tuned out the chaos around me, and started deep breathing to regain calm and focus. All good. With the panic gone I started thinking about what I had to do to get up and get off the summit.
I gave Chris, about 50 feet away, a thumbs up so he knew I was ok and he would stay put. I pointed to my hat, flapping violently in the wind on that treetop and laughed. I saw my path…it was not far to safety, really, it only felt like we had been on the summit forever. I got up SO carefully, making sure the crampons in those snowshoes and the points on my trekking poles dug in. I crouched as much as I could to minimize the beating I was taking from the wind and took very slow, deliberate steps. We got off the mountain, back into the beautiful day that awaited below treeline.
This rates up there with my favorite mountain adventures.
We have climbed that mountain more than any other I think, winter and summer. Some days we make it to the top. Some days, the mountain reminds us that no matter how prepared we are or how hard we try to make it work, there are forces we cannot control. On those days, we just have to say ‘not today’ and walk away.
A Wilderness Life Lesson…
Panic keeps you where you are. The few who are willing to push through fear and hardship are rewarded with the rarest joys and wonders life has to offer. A beautiful day awaits, not far away, if you keep your head and know your path.
Oh…and when you know it’s going to get really ugly, always wear yer spikes. 🙂
A video from another summit attempt in equally crazy weather – what am I doing? Trying to get myself together enough to press on toward the summit. It never happened, this was as far as we got once again! This is only maybe a few hundred feet from the true summit.
Some photos from the two times we actually stood on the summit – of the maybe six times we have tried! Totally worth it, winter or summer!!
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