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.

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

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. https://www.flickr.com/photos/danphilips/14665884902/in/photolist-okYuCw-qbugfd-oiYYUY-bGJFdk-c5jFHf-drXBt2-drXLA7-c4FKZQ-c4FFBj-c4FG2G-drXNeQ-9E4V3g-dt2oxd-c4FFqh-c4FJhA-c4FDuU-drXBZ2-dt2QVW-dt2ozm-dt2gdk-c4FQEh-c5jLeL-c5jJF9-drXKCn-c4FFjC-c4FDSW-c4FE3N-c4FJc1-dt2yS9-dt2xvs-dt2wtJ-dt2E3g-dt2P5y-dt2EXe-dt2EDZ-drXLvQ-c4FQS9-dt2oPU-dt2gFg-dt2nzo-dt2fLM-dt1Vof-dt2pVk-dt2mHF-dt2GFZ-dt2mLV-dt2Cad-dt2BX5-dt2G8a-dt2EvR

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

The Will To Climb

We have all had that feeling. The feeling of defeat, the feeling that your body can no longer take the punishment, your nerves are telling you it is time to quit. Whether you are running a marathon, on the crux of a 5.11 pitch, or several miles into a brutal hike, we have all felt like giving up. Sometimes we do give in to what our body is telling us. However many of us have found something deep inside ourselves that keeps you moving. My high school wrestling coach would call that mental toughness. Or your ability to tell your body through your mind that you can push yourself farther than your body believes to be possible.

Physical toughness is paramount in the mountains it will carry you to the summit and it will help keep you safe. Mental toughness will also help you to the summit but it serves a more important purpose. Mental toughness helps you survive in the mountains when everything has gone wrong.

When things go wrong in the mountains they really go wrong.

Mt Alander during a February Noreaster

Mt Alander during a February Noreaster

Mental toughness allows you to push on with a heavy pack in pounding winds with sub zero temperatures, even though your back and legs are telling you to sit down because you know if you sit down you will die. Your body can be in pain but it does not understand that rest means death. Your mind however, your conscience knows that rest is lethal. It is here that we truly see mental toughness come in to play.

So what do I mean when I say the will to climb? The will to climb is the ability when you are alone to say to yourself “ I can keep going, I will not stop, I will not rest, I am going to keep going.” In a life or death situation the majority of people who are still in control of their faculties can summon the courage to continue, or in other words the will to climb. The world’s greatest athletes can summon the will to climb or develop a high level of mental toughness in all of their endeavors.

We all can develop a high level of mental toughness it just takes the ability to embrace the suck. I love that term it describes my view towards life. When conditions blatantly suck you can either stay miserable or you can embrace it and conquer the hell you are in.

Mt Washington In A Cloud

Mt Washington In A Cloud

If you can do this, if you embrace the suck you will enjoy more of what life has to offer and maybe when things go wrong, you will walk away in one piece. So my message is very simple. Attack life it is going to kill you anyways. So embrace the suck and learn to rule your body through your mind.

Spring Is Coming and The Rocks Are Calling

Well the winter climbing season in New England is slowly drawing to a close.

Cave climbing in my local gym.

Cave climbing in my local gym.

Yes you will still be able to ice climb in Maine and New Hampshire for another month or two but for me my winter climbing season is over. I started a new job just before my last trip and I will most likely be working weekends. Which puts an end to any short one-mountain trips in the White Mountains. Spring break is almost over and my next multi day trip will likely be in the warm month of May. So it is time for me to say fair well to winter and embrace the warmer side of mountaineering the warmer side being rock climbing or more likely in my case bouldering.

Now granted Connecticut is not exactly a global hub for bouldering, it is however a sport I have easy access to. Which is a very good thing for reasons I will now explain.

I have always loved being outside in the woods. As a kid my Friends and I would run all over the woods surrounding my house, building shelters, lighting fires, “rappelling down cliffs” (cliffs in quotations), and exploring off the beaten track always close to home. This was fun however I always knew that I wanted something, lets say more adventurous.

Last year I was living in a very dark place, I was alone, very sad, deeply unhealthy, sitting in a dorm room in a college I am happy to say I no longer attend. I was busy procrastinating on an English final that would in the end cause me to fail the course, looking at YouTube videos. When I came across a video of two alpinists free soloing Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington. I was very interested the climb looked amazing and for a very lonely, depressed, broke student, their adventure was amazing. So my bored brain did a little research on the big mountain a few hundred miles north of me and I was quickly hooked. I knew that I wanted to climb Mt Washington.

So I spent the next few months reading and watching video on climbing. I even went out on a few small hikes but my sights on a winter climb were set very high. However as time went on my skills improved, along with my knowledge and I climbed Mount Washington in August a few days after my birthday.

Standing on the summit August 2014

Standing on the summit August 2014

Now I know the climb was fairly easy and any amateur could do it. Either way I was very proud of myself and standing on the summit was one of the greatest moments of my life. However now that I have climbed a few peaks in the East in the winter I have set my sights on more challenging routes and higher mountains in the West. So what is the problem?

The problem is that bigger mountains and more difficult routes are difficult to attempt on your own. I am comfortable with a fairly high level of exposure but I will never free solo anything over a class four. So I need to find a climbing partner. The only problem is my childhood friends are not exactly climbers. They are great companions on a boat or car camping trip, they are not however mountaineers. I need to find a climbing partner.

That is where my local climbing gym comes in. My hope is that if I climb in the gym and become a regular. Maybe ill meet someone who wants to climb on real rock and maybe venture off into the high alpine environments for a real adventure. So as the snow pack slowly melts away into the ground and the boulders dry ill find a climbing partner somewhere on the road.