Abort the Summit Hard Choices and Deep Consequences On Huntington Ravine.

I have been climbing and hiking for a little over a year now. My adventures have taken me across the northeast and I am ready for the future. I have been forced on more than one occasion to make the decision to turn around, to decide that I need to abort the summit. Thankfully up until a few days ago my choice to abort the summit has always been due to potential danger. I have been forced to decide to leave because I know that I will most likely get hurt. Up until my recent climb on Mt Washington I have never been in a life-threatening situation. Not to mention the fact that I only had my own life to worry about. Sadly though my track record changed on Wednesday. When poor conditions, an injury, as well as a precarious position forced me to “abort the summit.”

To explain why I was forced to make this choice I first need to describe the trip I was on. After a recent camping trip was aborted my friend Jon and I decided to climb Mt Washington. Jon and I had been on several hikes together however this was his first trip on a big mountain, and his first trip in the White Mountains. Knowing that my partner was comfortable with heights and in moderate physical condition we decided to climb Huntington Ravine. I have climbed multiple routes on Mt Washington Huntington Ravine has continuously eluded me. I have begun to believe that Mother Nature is against my conquering of the headwall. With high spirits I provided my friend with the proper gear, we filled my car with snacks and drove the three hundred miles to Pinkham Notch. Due to wonderful Massachusetts’s traffic conditions we arrived at 10:00pm. We responsibly filled out the hiking register discussed the conditions on Huntington Ravine and set out for Hermit Lake.

Our hike up to the camp went well until Mount Washington decided to dump a few thousand gallons of water on us. We set up our tent in the rain and overall we faired well we were not going to cry over wet socks. Preparing for the hike the next day we discussed the route and ate three servings of jambalaya each. We woke up around 10:00am well rested and ready to tackle the route. After notifying the caretaker of our plans and hiking to the headwall we admired the climb ahead of us. Climbing to the top of a large boulder the climbing of which resulted in me breaking one of my trusty trekking poles, we snapped various photos of the beautiful remote Huntington Ravine bowl. We also studied the distant headwall the most difficult portion of the hike.

This is a photo of the boulder field and a distant shot of the headwall.

This is a photo of the boulder field and a distant shot of the headwall.


We had been told repeatedly that the slab could not be down climbed. We went into this climb understanding that a rainstorm while climbing on the slab could well be fatal. However we had been told that it was going to rain at four o’clock we had two and a half hours to complete the forty-five minute climb. With high spirits we ate a few cliff bars and set out to conquer the boulder field.

For someone with very little climbing experience Jon did very well. I had to help him through a few difficult sections but he followed directions well. We booted our way through the field and quickly arrived at the slab. After a few climbers deviated to the left of the slab we followed, this however was a mistake. One of the climbers asked me to help him down after he found his route was too treacherous. After guiding the intrepid climber down I decided to follow the marked trail and began to climb up a crack.

After climbing for a few minutes I turned and Jon stated that he was stuck. My cheerful mood quickly shifted. The other climber asked if I needed help I told him we would be fine and he continued on with his hiking companion up the slab. I found a spot to rest and I tried to coax Jon towards a few decent footholds. However not to Jon’s own error he struggled to find the holds. I tried to keep him calm I never told him until later that I was terrified. He was stuck thirty feet up the slab above a cliff face, a fall would have been perilous. I knew Jon was scared and his fear was by no means aiding in his ability to find a proper route. The already touchy situation was only exacerbated when Jon said “is that rain?” The moment I felt a rain drop hit my arm our simple adventure became all too “real.” Jon asked me if I wanted to turn around I had to think quickly. I knew that I could quickly reach the top Jon would have taken longer. However I knew that a climb down would have been just as perilous. If we climb up in the rain it would be very easy to fall, if we climb down we faced the same fate. However I then thought about the extent of our possible injuries. If we slipped high on the slab the fall may well be fatal. However if we slipped down climbing we would most likely only fall around twenty to thirty feet. Although our injuries would have been severe I decided that I would take a broken femur over a cracked spine. Jon asked again what I wanted to do. Reluctantly I shouted, “We are going down.”

Jon was still stuck on the wall. In order to get to him I left my pack on the slab, chalked up, and climbed over to Jon. Guiding him slowly through a few tricky moves and an eventual controlled slide he arrived safely in the boulder field. I then climbed up the slab grabbed my pack and rejoined my friend in the boulder field. I shook Jon’s hand and told him he did well. With relaxed minds we began the climb through the boulder field. Our climb through the field would not be as easy as I had originally planned. The rain soaked the rocks turning the field of boulders into a dangerous passageway. With a certain level of fear we climbed through the field.

While traversing the boulder field Jon stated that he had an awful muscle cramp in his quads. I told Jon that he needs to dig deep and power through it. Although we were warm at the time no human being should spend a great deal of time soaked in forty-degree weather. At first Jon did very well powering through the cramp, sadly though the cramps soon enveloped all of his leg muscles. I told Jon that we need to get down to a dry rock so he can rest and wait for the cramps to pass. He was scared and in a great deal of pain, however he knew that he had no choice. With a great deal of coaxing he powered through the cramps.

We largely escaped with only a few bruises and a jammed wrist on my part. It was at the end of the field that any joy from this hike was removed from Jon’s mind. I was several feet ahead around the side of a boulder when I heard a loud scream followed by “help, help, help me!” With a certain expletive presented at my life I ran back expecting to see my friend laying on the ground with a broke leg or arm. However when I came around the corner I saw Jon standing dazed, wiping blood off his face, and flicking his teeth with his tongue. I asked him what happened. He said that fell face first into a boulder, he was very confused and I feared that he had a concussion. However he said that he only hit his jaw, I told him the cut to his lip was superficial the piece of tooth in his mouth was not on the other hand. He said that he could feel a crack I told him not to worry about it. Fearing that future pain would slow his progress I forced Jon to take a triple does of Advil hoping the drug would help to diminish the future pain. Jon turned to me and said, “Can we go home?” I turned to Jon and said, “of course we are going home.” I gave Jon my sole trekking pole and we started the long walk back to Hermit Lake. After a walk that seemed to go on forever and several tricky stream crossings we arrived at the caretakers hut. I explained the situation to him he did what he could, and provided Jon with an ice pack. The caretaker told Jon that he was very lucky. He said that the majority of the injuries in Huntington Ravine are very severe. Jon jokingly stated, “You should have seen the boulder.”

After checking in we packed up camp I tried to take some of the weight out of Jon’s pack and we began our descent towards Pinkham Notch. The hike down turned our knees into a fine powder happily though we covered the rough two and a half miles quickly and arrived at my car. With slightly broken spirits we signed the hikers register stating that we had left the mountain and began the long drive back to Connecticut. Jon was understandably frustrated, however he knew that in the grand scheme of things he was very lucky. He knew all too well that The White Mountains should never be trifled with. There are many people who have ventured into their grasp that would have been grateful to only lose a front tooth.

I have almost always hiked and climbed alone in my short career. When I make the choice whether or not to turn around I generally only need to consider my own life. If I had been alone I probably would have chosen to continue climbing, confident that I could have easily climbed up the wet slab. However for the first time I was forced to consider the fate of someone else, the fate of someone I have known for the majority of my life. I knew that if I had chosen to continue on and Jon had been hurt as a result of my decision I would likely never forgive myself. This fact is what forced me to make my reluctant call.

It is rare that a hike is ever “full on,” or “real.” In this case our journey was all too real. I am always prepared for many possible scenarios yet our well-prepared party still lost a bit more than our egos on Mt Washington. It amazes me how unprepared climbers are in both physical and mental fitness as well as equipment. You truly need to know what you are doing in the mountains in any season! I can only speculate that many parties in the same situation may have suffered a grimmer fate both in the past as well as the future. The moral of the story is that you need to be prepared to make the call to abort the summit. The mountain will always be there its life will never end. The lives of your friends as well as your own depend on your choice as to whether or not you want to continue with your climb. So when the time comes you need to be prepared to abort the summit.

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A Poem About Death and Life In The Mountains

This is a poem I was forced to write for one of my English courses, I am not a poet by any means and poetry is not a literary method I enjoy. However I am proud of this poem and I would like to share it with you.

A Place To Live and A Place To Die

You have never caught a football

You struggle to finish an algebra problem.

You questioned your future in the world

Do you have a talent?

Yes,

You found a few giants.

They demand respect

And only accept the best

Cold, dangerous, angry giants

You are not afraid

You have learned to call them home.

The fear makes them solitary

You embrace the fear

You’re doing something

Most people will never do

The cold bites you

Stabs you like a steely knife

Buried in two feet of snow

Small on a beautiful giant

You are not powerful here.

You found something in the giants

You can’t catch a football but

You found a home.

Learning To Live In The Moment

You should always think about the future, however you should avoid worrying about the future. If the future is always at the forefront of your mind when do you think about the present, do you ever take the time to enjoy an experience, or appreciate the world around you? The answer most likely is no. We spend so much time overanalyzing and methodically plotting all of our decisions that we rarely ever enjoy the present. As a society we receive more joy from knowing that we might have some joy in the future, rather than enjoying our current experiences. For those of you who do not know, my favorite climber is Ueli Steck. The Swiss alpinist known for his daring alpine speed climbs in Europe, and in the Himalayas. I was watching a TV program Explorers that profiled Ueli’s famous speed ascents in the Alps. After climbing The Matterhorn he made a comment about living in the moment. Ueli said that when you are in a dangerous situation and all of your focus is on every action you make in the present, you are living in the moment.

Ueli’s comment perfectly sums up the way that I am trying to live my life. I try to do things that block out the stresses of life, my worries for the future, or problems I might be having socially. If you can block out everything that brings you pain, then you can find peace. To put things in perspective picture what I am about to tell you. You are going on a long run through the woods, the weather is nice, the temperature is mild, and you feel great. However you are running on a steep, rocky trail in the woods. In that moment what are you worried about? You are worried about your feet, where they are, how fast they are moving, and where they are going to be. When you are focusing on your run especially a technical run, you do not have time to think about anything else. You are extremely focused because you know that one slip is likely going to result in a twisted ankle. Now granted there is very little danger in this situation, you are very focused. If you are focused on something and that challenge is constantly shifting then you are living in the moment. Now this is a stressful situation but it is good stress. In moments like this you are happy. Not to mention your happiness is coming from something real, something you just did. Your joy is not coming from something that might happen in the future. Moments like this are the key to life.

As some of you may know last week my Grandfather died, he died peacefully but his passing came very quickly, without a great deal of warning. When he died after a very long night at my Grandmothers I woke up at one in the afternoon. I immediately packed a small running pack and hit a trail near my house. Prior to my run I was a ball of depressing stress, yet the run eased my pain. That long run in the woods on an unfamiliar trail distracted me and forced me to live in the present.

So what I am I getting at? I am trying to say that you should live in the moment, worry about your future, make good life choices but you should never harp on the future. Make a plan, decide how you will complete it, and then go out and enjoy the world. After all if you are unhappy in the present will you be happy in the future?

 “When you get to the summit and you push the watch, first you try to breath a little bit and get some oxygen in your lungs. When I saw this time I was like, ‘ah, that’s not possible.’ Yeah… that was a good moment.” 

~ Ueli Steck

Why I Love the Cold

Hi everyone I apologize for not posting anything, I have been dealing with an ongoing family crisis, and college has been a time sponge. So lets look forward to longer articles until then I hope you enjoy this one.

Everyone has a season that they like. Some of us like warm, tropical climates where it is hot in the morning and rains for half an hour in the afternoon. Now look I love being warm and I certainly love being comfortable. The one feeling I absolutely hate is the feeling of being hot.

Me taking a photo in the Florida Keys!

Me taking a photo in the Florida Keys!

As I have always said there is no such thing as cold weather just a poorly dressed person. If you walk out of your house in twenty-degree weather wearing only a hoodie, any extended periods of time exposed to the elements will quickly become unpleasant. On the other hand if you head into the mountains in sub zero temperatures and you are dressed properly you will be smiling.

So why do I like the cold? Simple the cold encourages physical activity and more importantly as I have always said, the cold makes things interesting. I am an adrenaline junkie but not in the traditional sense. I like dangerous environment not dangerous activities. I like the idea that when I am on a mountain face mother nature can decide at any time that I am not welcome within her mountains. If you take the danger out of alpinism you have every other sport. I enjoy the unknown of adventure, the feeling that I am not in control. I do not get the same feeling riding on a motorcycle without a helmet. Cold weather can be dangerous and it keeps you on your toes. Simple mistakes can be catastrophic and every task becomes more complicated. This added stress keeps my mind off the stresses in my life, on how my lungs and legs feel trudging up hill. All of my sense and thoughts are taken by the need to stay warm. Like a small child craving attention from his mother, the cold keeps calling me forcing me to stay on my toes. Cold also thins out the herds of hikers on the trail. People like hiking in warm weather, your pack is lighter, you can sit down without adding a layer, and warm weather makes life easier.

Mount Alander Copake New York August 2014 my pack on the warm summit.

Mount Alander Copake New York August 2014 my pack on the warm summit.

That is not what I am looking for when I step out onto the trail, if I were looking for an easy sport I would not pick climbing. I want a challenge; I want to do something that the rest of society is not wiling to do.

Alpinists want a challenge and warm weather climbing on moderate terrain can be a walk in the park. However if you drop sub zero temperatures into the mix, you have a completely new element. The cold will make you suffer and it will make your life difficult. Cold weather can present one of the greatest challenges to anyone who likes to get out on the trail. So with that I leave you a simple message, embrace the cold, remember the cold will always make a man out of you, or if you are a woman one tough lady.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” ~ Ranulph Fiennes

The Friendliest People You Will Meet On A Hike

Our world has never been more connected than it is today. Yet somehow in this interconnected social world we barely interact with one another outside of the digital world. Now look I am not going to go on some rant about the pitfalls of social media or texting culture, or the way people interact over YouTube. This article is discussing the friendliest people that I have met, that group being hikers and climbers.

intrepidhikers

The group of hikers you see of in the distance a few hundred yards away from the summit of Mount Washington. I had never met before but they welcomed me into their group and we descended the mountain together.

I have been hiking consistently for a few years now and whether I am climbing a mountain in New Hampshire, or walking along a ravine in Northern Connecticut, if I see someone they almost always say hello. Which is a beautiful thing when you are out alone. Sure it might break the solitude of the experience but it does remind me that I am not the only one out hiking. It does however leave a question. Why are hikers and climbers so friendly?

I really do not know! Climbing is a sport and it has a great deal of competition yet the competitors treat each other like friends. I wrestled in High School for three years and sure we may have shook the hand of our opponent but the things we said afterwards were generally far from polite. This trait at least in my experience does not pertain to climbers. For example last year Alex Honnold, and Tommy Caldwell completed the first traverse of Fitz Roy in Patagonia. Alex and Tommy are amazing rock climbers but neither are grizzled alpinists.

Tommy (left) Alex (right)

Tommy (left) Alex (right)


In fact Alex is the first person to have ever won the Piolets d’Or without ever having lead a pitch of ice. Just before they started their epic climb Tommy noticed that Alex had brought the wrong type of crampons. His crampons would only attach to mountaineering boots; he was wearing Gore-Tex tennis shoes. So their already dangerous climb had the added threat of Alex losing his crampons mid climb. However as they climbed they knew that two famous alpine climbers from Patagonia were already attempting the same challenge. One of the climbers Rolo Garibotti a climber who literally wrote the book on Patagonia alpine climbing was feeling sick and they decided to descend mid route. On their descent they met up with Alex and Tommy. Rolo knew that Alex had the wrong crampons and in an amazing show of kindness he gave Alex the crampons he needed to complete the route. Rolo’s party was forced to abort their quest and he decided to give Alex the tools he needed to complete the climb. Which was an amazing show of kindness and benevolence from an amazing climber. How often do you see the New York Yankees handing a baseball bat to the hitter for the Boston Red Sox?

It is acts of kindness like the one demonstrated by Rolo on Fit Roy that truly describe the hiking and climbing community. We are friends within the mountains and we care about one another. I never feel strange asking someone how far away I am from the summit, or how his or her trip went. That confidence does not carry over to my journeys along a Boston Subway.

We are a community and we treat each other well because we know that we are all just trying to have a good time. We are all trying to be amongst friends, away from the world, away from the stress of every day life, and all of its challenges. This is what I have found in my experience at least. Your mileage may vary. So as always remember go out, explore treat your world with respect, and say hello to the people you meet on the trail.

 

The famous Fitz Roy skyline.

The famous Fitz Roy skyline.

“There is something about building up a comradeship – that I still believe is the greatest of all feats – and sharing in the dangers with your company of peers. It’s the intense effort, the giving of everything you’ve got. It’s really a very pleasant sensation.”
– Edmund Hillary

Climbing Is a lifestyle Not Just A Sport

Climbing is a sport there is no debating that, however any climber will tell you that climbing dominates their life. You can be really into photography and still have time for many other hobbies. However a climber who wants to improve and put up fantastic routes needs to devote a great deal of time to climbing.

Waking up after a cold sleepless night at Hermit Lake

Waking up after a cold sleepless night at Hermit Lake


A few hours ago I was standing half way up a closed black diamond ski slope with a twenty pound pack in pouring spring rain. I was training for my upcoming hikes in the summer and I realized how much time I actually devote to climbing.Training wise I workout around five to ten hours per week. Which at the moment is made up mostly of running and strength training. Soon that number will grow to around ten to fifteen when I return to the climbing gym. Which I have put on hold to allow my tibial tendon to heal. Beyond the physical time I devote to climbing I also work on this blog, read other blogs, books about the subject, and of course climbing documentaries. I came to the realization that my life is climbing.

Why is my life climbing? Simple climbing is such a time consuming sport and such a physically demanding activity that is time requirements border on employment. And you know what? I am perfectly happy with that. I am perfectly happy with the fact that my futon is covered in climbing gear my pellet stove is surrounded with drying climbing equipment, and I have spent well over two thousand dollars on equipment this year because climbing makes me happy.

Crampons I bought for my Mt Lafayette climb.

Crampons I bought for my Mt Lafayette climb.


Climbing teaches you about life. When you are post holing through knee-deep snow, mile after mile, in the freezing cold you learn a lot about yourself. You learn about your physical and mental ability to deal with pain. Which can help you through many aspects of your life. Whether you are working a double in a restaurant kitchen, or staring at a textbook for six hours. The lessons you learn in the mountains will carry you through life.

Climbers also seek out certain things in life, whether that is adventure, or friendship. We are searching for something when we go out in the mountains. Personally I am trying to do things that people are either unlikely to do or something that someone has never done. Which is why I want to complete first ascents, and set new routes on unclimbed mountain faces.

Planning my route for Tuckermans Ravine

Planning my route for Tuckermans Ravine


The media often portrays climbers as extreme athletes, or climbing as an extreme sport but are we seeking danger? I like the adrenaline rush of the unknowns and the possibility that everything I planned could go wrong. However I am not seeking death or danger. I am seeking a sense of self-fulfillment something I only find on the side of a mountain. It’s the impact that climbing has on my daily life and routine, which shows me that climbing is a lifestyle not just a sport. So the moral of todays philosophical life pondering article, is get out and go climb.

Why do we travel to remote locations? We do it to be alone amongst friends and to find ourselves in a land without man. 

– George Mallory

Finding New Mountains To Climb Away From The World

A short day hike in a neighboring town with my parents.

A short day hike in a neighboring town with my parents.

I am a climber as many of you know and I mainly climb in the various mountains throughout New England. As my skills improve and I climb more I am setting my sights higher in elevation. However as I start to look at more complicated and physically challenging mountains like Mount Rainier in Washington. I also notice the fact that in the grand scheme of things I will not be making history. I want to do something interesting something that very few people have ever done.

So I hopped on Google earth and I started to look at various mountains throughout North America. I looked at mountains in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana but they still had the same problem. They are just boring will I climb fourteen thousand foot mountains in the West? Absolutely in fact I will hopefully be climbing Mount Elbert the tallest mountain in Colorado and second highest in the lower forty-eight next year. Still though I decided to look north into Canada and I found exactly what I was looking for.

I found the Torngat mountain range. Torngats Mountains, in 2015?

A series of mountains below six thousand feet in the Labrador Peninsula at the northern tip of Newfoundland and Labrador located in Eastern Quebec. Mount Caubvick a small tree less alpine summit with a final elevation of 5,420 feet. Yet this mountain looks fairly easy to climb it is rarely ever climbed, and many of the expeditions to climb the mountain have ended in tragedy. This caught my interest and I have made a promise to myself to climb this mountain before I am twenty-three. Why twenty-three? I don’t know it just worked as a potential time frame and I will still have a fairly open life to adventure. Either way this mountain seems so isolated, without trails far from civilization only accessible by bush plane or boat, it is screaming out at me.

This mountain fills all of my criteria for a proper adventure. However I am still asking myself why the mountain has so few summits and expeditions.

Me trying to get up and climb a mountain in my tent.

Me trying to get up and climb a mountain in my tent.


When I came to the realization that people avoid the mountain due to the fact that it is geographically small. All of the 8000-meter peaks in the world have been climbed and the only mountains left are either extremely remote or very technical located near the more popular mountains. After all who would climb K7 if you could climb K2? I mean K2 is the second highest mountain in the world and when you add in the logistics of climbing any mountain in that region K2 looks like a better investment. So the only mountains left are smaller and remote far away from climbing praise. That is what draws me to the Torngat Mountains.

We also lean towards climbing the bigger mountains because on the surface they appear to be the most demanding challenge. However climbers know that Everest is not a difficult mountain to climb technically speaking. So all of the big mountains have been climbed, climbers who want to make a name for themselves need to move on to smaller less popular mountains. Which is where the Torngat mountains come to play.

Overall the mountain is not overly technical. The most common route which follows along a ridge similar to the knife-edge on Mount Katahdin in Maine. The route in the summer is class three climbing for the majority of the route with some portions that push into class four. However an experienced climber without a rope can tackle them. Altitude is not a problem on the climb the summit is less than a mile above sea level. Although the elevation gained is fairly technical throughout the entire climb. The difficulty in climbing the mountain comes from the weather, and the remoteness of the climb. The park in the winter is filled with polar bears that should give you a good idea what you are going to deal with climate wise.

The other issue is actually getting to the base of the mountain. You can reach the base of the mountain in two ways. You can charter a boat from one of the various Inuit villages in the area. Or you can charter a twin otter plane and land on one of the various glaciers surrounding the peak.

Bush planes preparing to take off.

Bush planes preparing to take off.


Both are time consuming, complicated to plan, and both will punch a large hole in your wallet. Either way if the mountain was easy to reach it would be a very popular destination.

So if you are trying to distinguish yourself from the hundreds of climbers who summit Mount Rainier and Everest every year, you should start looking towards the virgin peaks of the frozen north. So for those who are truly seeking a real adventure in a place that has barely been touched start looking north you will find what you are looking for.

Stone ring-Stecker River-Torngat Mtns NP-2005_09_06-IMG_2298-S_Stone