A REAL Adventure
On Saturday last week, my ski partner Daniel and I got turned around on our Longs Peak summit attempt. We woke up at 4:00 am at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead hoping to be skiing off the summit by noon. Less than a mile into our 8-mile approach, we were route-finding and breaking trail. The conditions were less than ideal with an inch of breakable crust on top of about 9 inches of unconsolidated storm slab. At 11:00 am we were looking at the base of Kepplinger’s Couloir with hip-deep sugar snow in the couloir. Looking at a potential summit by 2:00 pm, for a ski descent of unknown stability, on a day with considerable avalanche risk above tree line we decided that Spring Couloir skiing was still a few weeks out. We ripped skins and skied back to the trailhead.
During the ski out, my mind was in overdrive. I was stuck contemplating all of the sunk costs that I had expended to get this project off the ground.
Several holes had appeared in the plan and I was mental triage mode. I was so absorbed in this process that I was kitted up and applying a healthy amount of chamois butter before I realized I had not even made up my mind to continue or not. After talking with Daniel, for the 20th time, I decided that to continue without reanalyzing the plan would mean willfully ignoring the warning signs. Emotions aside, I decided that Denver was the right move.
Between the historic avalanche cycles, bomb cyclone blizzards, and an exceptional snowy season there were plenty of warning signs in play. But I cannot solely lay the blame on the season’s unusual conditions. I realized in that short trip up to Longs was that I was putting myself very close to the invisible line separating being self-sufficient and being a victim. Being unable to find a suitable and available partner for the entire trip, I had resorted to meetups. This allowed me to bring less on the bike but meant the meetups were my lifeline. A small mistake or missed meetup would mean a satellite text for pickup or supplies and additional delays. With the two-week delay I had implemented, due to Avalanche risk, the schedule was already tight. Unless every resupply and meetup went perfectly there was no way I would be able to complete the project.
After all of the second guessing and would have, could have, should have, thoughts, I kept coming back to the goal of the project.
Why did I want to do this in the first place? The entire point of the trip was to challenge myself to do a local self-powered adventure. To have fun and do what I love to do without getting in a car or jumping on a plane. When I came back to that realization, the switch flipped from negative energy to positive and I started to pick up the pieces. With support from friends and a few planning sessions, I decided to split up the Tour de 14ers into several smaller self-powered trips, focusing on skiing the hardest of the 14ers.
During the last week, while I was working through everything, I recounted part of a book I had read before the trip.
“If things don’t go according to the plan, revising such a robust model may be difficult. In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important; the plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan. But we must be able to let go of the plan, too.” ― Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
Through this attempt, I learned that this project is completely possible. A two-person self-supported and self-powered trip in an average snow season has the potential to be successful.