Monday, March 17, 2014


I've become entirely too lax with this whole blog thing.  This post and the one to follow it should suffice to cover everything of note the past few months, and I plan in posting more regularly now that Western States training will be coming on full steam.

First, I got picked up for the Gu Crew for 2014 which is great.  I plan on going back to school in the fall without working, so any help to keep running is endlessly appreciated. Plus, getting a little support from a company definitely makes me feel as though I'm starting to do something right.

The year started with a truly epic road trip.  Epic is a tremendously overused word, but it fits the trip perfectly.  4500 miles in a car in two with two friends, plus another 600 on my own getting to and from Cincinati.  We hit a lot of mountains, a few canyons, and 15 different states.  Most of the trip was spent in Colorado, where we did a lot of vertical in a lot of snow.

I've spent nearly 5 months in Colorado now over the past few years.  Compared to natives, that is not much time but it is enough to provide a certain degree of confidence whenever I decide to go high.  However, no matter how much time one spends in the mountains, the mountains will always provide some new tribulation if you get cocky.

Patrick McGlade had a few days off work surrounding the new year holiday, so he served as our stellar guide for hitting new front range mountains [Rudy had never been to Colorado and Wyatt had only seen one 14er].  After turning down Grays Peak after losing too much of the morning to get down safely, we decided to hit Quandary a couple days later.  We shrugged off a snow forecast for Breckenridge, figuring the storm would hit in the afternoon as they so often do in Colorado.  Starting up the mountain was jovial and pleasant.  We played around and trotted up above treeline. But with about 1500 feet left to the summit, we entered another world.  Where below we enjoyed the sun with jackets unzipped and gloves off, we met an almost immediate shift in conditions that only got worse as we kept climbing.
Enjoying the climb before we reached the storm
Photo by Rudy Rutemiller
The path up Quandary from just above treeline is relatively simple, follow a ridgeline 2 miles until you top out.  With strong gusts of piercing wind and stinging snow, though.  Keeping to the path and avoiding the left edge was an interesting game.  Patrick and Rudy went off ahead as I struggled to keep upright, with Wyatt further behind me. I grunted my way up the mountain however, deeper into hell. Above ~13,500', the conditions were white-out.  The steady wind coming over from the right was enough to keep me braced for support, and the occasional gust was more than enough to blow me back a couple steps.  Step, step, pause, step, step, fall back two feet. Repeat.  At 13,800' I passed a man who knew what he was doing, dressed in a down jumpsuit with poles and mountaineering boots to keep himself upright.  Sometimes, I meet situations in the mountains that warrant laughing at the absurdity of it all--it was too cold for that here.  I kept a buff over my fast as long as I could, but before long that caused my breath to freeze both lenses of my sunglasses.  Pulling down the buff caused it to quickly freeze solid, rendered useless.  After this experience, I believe I know true cold.
Suffering on top of Quandary.  Note that I did not crop this--that white was up there.
Photo by Patrick McGlade
From here, there was only reason I kept pushing upward--Rudy and Patrick were up top and I had no way of saying "Fuck this, I'm turning back," which is all I had been thinking for the past several minutes as I continued grunting upward.  At 14,000 feet Rudy and Patrick came back down, and I thought, "Finally I can quit," but Patrick turned upward toward the summit again with only a few words of exchange and no time to argue.  I followed him.  I am glad I did, since it was only another 2 minutes to the top.  A couple quick photos and we turned downward.  The summit featured about 40 feet of flat, and the wind was so strong that I got blown off my feet mid-stride only a dozen steps from the summit post.  Terrified of worsening conditions, we bolted down the mountain.  Now came a new balancing act: avoid the drop-off to the right and the loose rock below foot. While trying to get blown over by the 60 mph gusts. While you can only see 5-6 feet down the trail.  I lost Patrick within a minute.  I saw him again 400' down the mountain, and I believe he was never more than 15 feet in front of me going down that stretch.  Not long after, we caught Rudy standing with Wyatt still on his way up.  Wyatt made the right call and turn back.

Rolling down the mountain near Wyatt
Not long after, I thought I was comfortable enough on terrain to open up my stride and hopefully get below treeline faster.  Almost immediately, I took what I felt like my worst fall every.  I landed square on on my front, with my forearm between my body and the rocks below.  I started screaming.  It took me nearly a minute to stop just screaming and try to do something.  I broke my wrist in middle school, this felt worse.  I rolled onto my back, hoisted myself to a seated position and tried to assess the damage.  The rock had at the least torn through my shell, which worried me about what lay underneath.  Standing up, I began walking downhill--running was too painful.  By the time we dropped out of the storm, I was able to run; my arm was not broken and I now attribute that pain mostly to the cold.  Again on the descent, we were met with a second world.  We descended out of the white-out storm into clear, sunny snowfields a few hundred feet above treeline.  We advised a few parties to turn back from their summit attempts--one of which did not even have crampons--and feeling safe again, took to playing in the snow.  We glissaded and postholed around on our way back down into the trees before trotting the rest of the way down to the cars.
Snow blowing off the mountain well below the storm.

Fighting the weather up high was the most harrowing experience I have ever had, and I plan to channel that suffering into every new adventure I have for quite some time. I have a new respect for the mountains--a respect that I think can only come with the outcome of underestimation and lucky success.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Cool to hear this story! I'd agree epic is way overused but the story certainly warrants the use.