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Well, we finally got the boffo interior B.C. thunderstorm I’ve been waiting months for. You don’t get good ones like this on coast very often, and this one didn’t disappoint. Buckets of rain, strong winds and plenty of lightning and thunder. Classic.

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Five minutes after leaving the car, I knew we’d spend an entire day swashbuckling through weird terrain with huge packs only to not ski what we came here to ski. Four hours later, I was 75% sure we’d ski the hell out of it. Eight hours later, I was already thinking about what I’d order at A&W on the way home after we bailed.

This continued until we did, eventually, make the decision not to attempt the North Couloir of Dunn Peak.

It started in September when Christina scrambled the peak, which is about two hours north of Kamloops, B.C. I was in Seattle at the time and scanned Google Earth to get an idea of what she was up to.

Within five seconds, I spotted an alluring strip of white plummeting about 2,000 vertical feet from the small col between the west and main peaks. I haven’t shut up about since.

“Holy shit. What is THAT? I need to ski it.”
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The peak’s south aspect is visible from a couple vantages around Kamloops, particularly from the top of Sun Peaks resort. It’s the biggest thing you can see from around town, reminding you during your daily trail run or mountain bike ride that there’s something bigger and wilder you should be doing.

The couloir appears to be the only viable ski line from the summit of the peak, so I was surprised to find almost zero information about it online. Maybe Canadians are more circumspect, or maybe a full-day approach for 2,000 feet of skiing in a province where big, wild lines aren’t rare is enough to turn attention elsewhere.

The lack of internet spray just made the trip that much more attractive.

The chess match of creating a route entirely from scratch was large part of that attraction. Could I finagle a snowmobile ride within striking distance of it? If not, then what would be that perfect time when the roads are melted high enough to make the approach reasonable? And which approach? The couloir is as steep as 60 degrees and north-facing, so what would be the optimal weather set-up?

While on the actual trip, the real-world version of this (left or right over the ridge? Is that a cliff?) is what made not skiing the objective far less painful.

Months of Google Earth dreaming, plying people for information (mostly leading nowhere) culminated in mid-May with the decision to just bloody do it.

I was prepared to do it solo, but a bit of cajoling and logic by Christina led me to Simon, who had posted a video of skiing slopes in the vicinity last summer. At least he’d been there before and skied.

Fortunately, he was more than game, so we set out.

We got a leisurely 7 a.m. start from Kamloops, driving to the burg of Little Fort. A slightly unnerving one-vehicle ferry – really a wooden platform sitting on top of a couple skiffs attached to a wire across the North Thompson River – took us across the river to the dirt road leading past Dunn Lake.
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Past Dunn Lake, a decent logging road delivered us about 11K to 5,000 feet and consistent snow.

Skins and packs on, I took about 10 steps on the road up Baldy Mountain before deciding we were hosed. I expectedly stepped onto the snow expecting a couple inches of soft snow on top of harder, consolidated stuff. Instead, it was like stepping into a mud pit: Two-feet deep and syrupy.

Climbing or skiing very steep terrain in this type of snow is, at best, horrifyingly slow as you sink up to your hips in snow that then grabs your feet at that depth and refused to let go. At worst, it’s dangerous as you can sink into hidden moats around rocks or set up wet avalanches that deliver you onto waiting rocks.

Damn it.

This was a big surprising given that the previous Sunday, Christina and I had done a quick recon on the route and found nicely consolidated snow.

We took a nice break at a lookout at Baldy (about 7,300 feet), a hantavirus petri dish/smokeshack structure bolted to the rocks by the local snowmobile club.
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Simon, a videographer, set up some time-lapse shots and did the first of several running interviews of me for a mini-documentary he was planning about the trip. I compliantly blathered, my mood buoyed by the views east.

From Baldy, we sussed out an approach to our camp spot on Moonscape Mountain. The view from Baldy of the Dunn Protected Area (inspiring name, eh?) is remarkable. There’s little hint from any other vantage of just how much craggy, dramatic alpine terrain there is in this zone. Couloirs, big faces, craggy cliffs, tundra and big alp slopes are everywhere. Spending a week camped out in the heart of the zone would be a very worthy endeavor.

“Maybe we will pull this off,” I thought, basing my assessment on nothing more than positive thinking.

We settled on heading basically due east to Moonscape. Three turns in, Simon got tripped up by a glop hole and went down slightly hard; easy to do when you’re carrying a 50-pound pack on a telemark rig. Added to the ski spelunking that happened on the ascent, this didn’t augur well for getting big.

I knew we were hosed.

After Simon hockey-taped a broken pole, we descended the first of three drainages. The descent started mellow, but quickly steepened to the kind of benchy, pillow-studded terrain common to the Monashees. Needless to say, five-foot drops with overnight alpine packs into deep molasses isn’t laughs.

The rest of the approach was a bit of a grind until things opened up on Moonscape’s western gentle western slope, offering up a front-row seat to the area’s alpine features.

The route finding kept things interesting – in a good way. The terrain between Baldy and Moonscape has three modest ridge-then-drainage cycles; ups-and-downs.

It meant a lot of transitioning and discussion, usually a welcome respite from either hot, slow skinning or quad-busting syrup skiing.
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About seven hours after leaving the car, we happily dropped our packs and set up camp.
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A series of thunder-squalls interspersed with shafts of pastel sun made for dramatic evening light … and a mostly sleepless night.
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Thanks to an overly-optimistic interpretation of the forecast, I had brought only a bivy sack (imagine a sleeping bag made of Gore-Tex with no insulation) and a poncho/tarp hybrid that is good at neither. The wind pressed the west tarp into my mid-section all night, like a sack of wet potatoes. Not the stuff sweet dreams are made of.

The weather made it pretty clear that the couloir wasn’t going to happen. The clouds would prevent an overnight freeze, needed to solidify the snowpack for safe climbing. Without a freeze, the top two to three feet of the snowpack was certain to slide off with our first ski turns. Taking a 2,000-foot ride into the rock cleaver dividing the lower couloir didn’t sound appetizing.

We “slept” in until about 8:30 – mostly tossing and turning and hoping the ambient light was from the moon – and made our way to the ridge just west of the couloir. It was a sunny, very warm day better suited for beaches than couloirs.

The first kicks at the snow revealed the obvious: No overnight freeze. We’re toast.
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The mellow skin to the ridge was glorious: open tundra with front-row view of Dunn’s West face, wild couloirs to the south, and precarious cornices on the north side of Moonscape.

There were also moments when the snow felt like it firmed up a little. Maybe a miracle?

The couloir came into view and was even better in person than it had been on a computer screen. Smooth, consistent, steep and perfectly white; no rockfall. Its lure was undeniable.
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We also found an easy ramp providing access to the north basin that holds the couloir from the ridge. The left side of the lower couloir, climber’s left of the cleaver, looked like the best choice. The right side is much steeper thanks to a nasty-looking windlip.

At the col, there’s a large boulder. To the right, there was a cornice, not something you’d want to climb under. To the left, it’s steep, but passable to the summit ridge.

Everything about the route came together except the snow.

“We’re good wrapping it here, right?” Simon asked.

“Yeah. Fuck. Yeah,” I replied.
No, I’m totally cool with bailing…

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We reversed turned around, packed up camp and gritted out the skin back to the truck. There had been a shocking amount of snow melt in a day. Places we skinned up less than a day before were now completely bare or had the snowy path cut in two by runoff.

Despite being denied the prize, the views, exertion, sun and spending time in a new, wild place made the effort well worthwhile.

As the truck came into view, I was 100% sure I’d be getting onion rings with my burger.

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It was probably three hours into the second day of a four-day loop through some remote canyons north of the Colorado River in Arizona when I realized I wasn’t doing the one thing that led me to the trip in the first place: taking pictures.

I also wasn’t torturing the group with horrifying ’80s pop music earworms, betting I could hit far-off objects with rocks, reviving journalism, critiquing song lyrics (Steve Miller should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity), planning ski trips, creating a true third American political party or any other of the diversions in which I indulge while participating in the various outdoor sports I enjoy.

Like a driver in a snowstorm suddenly realizing they’ve been white-knuckling the steering wheel for so long their forearms are on fire, I was so entirely focused on not killing or maiming myself 45 miles from help that it wasn’t until half-way through lunch that it occurred to me that I was bleeding. In many places.

“You’ll get your canyon legs now!” said my brother’s friend, Mike, when I made reference to a particularly expressive gouge on my right shin.

Shit.

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I was with my brother, his girlfriend and Mike – all experienced canyoneers – on this 25-mile trip through Hades Knoll, Tuckup and Rocky Point canyons, which are roughly (very roughly, given the condition of the roads) 60 miles south of the small town of Fredonia, AZ, in Grand Canyon National Park.

A couple years of seeing my brother’s Facebook photos of canyon trips in the Southwest had me intrigued: Alien landscapes of incredible lighting, geologic fireworks of all kinds, the jaw-dropping rappels.

After three months of nothing but trail running and backpacking, I was also so desperate to do something different that my brother could have suggested downhill mountain unicycling and I’d have been game.

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Canyoneering, or “canyoning” in the non-American portions of Earth, is simply the act of traveling through a canyon using technical skills and equipment. Anything less is just hiking, the same as the difference between hiking and mountaineering.

The technical aspect on this trip was rappelling: setting up an anchor (usually a loop of flat material called webbing) on a rock or tree and then sliding down the rope to get past drops that are too steep to climb down and too tall to jump off.

It depends on taste and preference, but “good” canyons tend to be those with aesthetic narrows, big rappels, route-finding puzzles, and hopefully all three.

—–

In those first hours of the second day (the first was straightforward hiking, livened by kicking a couple low-lying cactus, which you shouldn’t do) descending Hades Knoll Canyon, I had done the top three sketchiest downclimbs of my life and multiple awkward rappels that sent me pinballing off rock walls, kicking at boulders and flopping like a drunk into smoothed bowls of cold water.

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I felt like I had been thrown into an industrial washing machine along with sharpened boulders.

The overwhelming mileage was put in on smooth gravel or low-key boulder hopping as the canyon narrowed in descent. But the majority of the time was spent on downclimbs directly over large boulders choking the width of the canyon, skirting said boulders, or rappelling.

This either creates a comforting rhythm of intense focus and recovery or something that feels like L.A. traffic, depending on your outlook.

Having spent the summer – or, more accurately, 20 years – moving as quickly as possible in the mountains at all times, I began firmly in the latter camp but grew in appreciation for the former as the trip went on.

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A handful of rappels and downclimbs later, we reached the confluence of Hades Knoll and Tuckup Canyons, where we made our second camp in a spectacular amphitheater of sheer red walls and domed ceilings carved by ancient rivers.

As we descended Hades Knoll, the width and colors of the canyon walls pulsed like vertical waves. Four-foot wide, red slots followed by dirty white half-hourglasses many feet across, and everything in between, which is what camp looked like.

Sleep came easily under the stars with a warm wind providing the white noise.

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Day three began with a couple miles of easy hiking north up Tuckup Canyon to eventually access Rocky Point Canyon, much shorter than the other two, from the top.

A brief hike up a gentle breach in the canyon wall, a little annoying contouring, and it was time to put on the wetsuits and get to work. It seems a little strange to need a wetsuit in an area known for being a blast furnace, but in the near-permanent twilight of deep canyons, the water and wind stay surprisingly cold.

It felt like a ski tour: a bit of slogging and a bit of thrashing about to get to a fun descent.

This canyon required a handful of rappels, including two very aesthetic drops down long, smooth porcelain-colored slabs.

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Rappelling off a simple rock climb requires really nothing more than the courage to walk backward down a slope where a fall would likely leave you with very few intact bones.

Rappelling in a canyon is that, but with rock slicked by water and sometimes moss, into water or knee-deep mud.

And you only get that fun after thrashing around on your hands, knees, elbows, shins, forearms and shoulders in order to get into position to actually rappel.

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This is because rather than clean, L-shaped cliffs, these rappels began in jumbles of boulders that finally gave way to slabs. My shins and the insides of my forearms just below the elbows where absolutely covered in bruises and cuts by the end.

“The start is a little awkward,” struck immediate fear in my heart.

—–

And handful of rappels later, we exited Rocky Point Canyon, packed up camp and headed south to the Colorado River, a route guarded by still more sketchy downclimbing and a few swims through neck-deep pools.

Thankfully, that price was well worth admission to the Colorado. You hear the river long before you see it, and when you abruptly exit the canyon everything seems to go from hard to soft. You walk out onto a silky sand beaches that go on forever. The air feels warmer, being about 3,000 feet lower than the trailhead. Some rafters tossed us beers that were immediately torn open, which helped.

We spent the night eating and drinking with a large crew of well-supplied rafters from Oregon with blessedly outstanding taste in beer, setting up another perfect night under the stars.

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We’d need every bit of that rest for the 10-mile trudge up Tuckup Canyon to the car.

A quick way to rid yourself of a light hangover, I discovered, is to just roll right out of the sleeping bag and do an unroped 5.5 climbing move or two above 30 feet of exposure with a full overnight pack.

(Two photos by my brother)

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The adrenaline soak clears the cobwebs like a delete button. Chase it with a tightrope traverse of foot-wide ledge above about a 60-foot drop just to make sure you’ve got the thing licked.

The rest of the ascent was the now familiar cycle in reverse: dodgy climbs and boulder hopping between stretches that were city-park smooth. All the while, you’re braced by the waving walls of the canyon and it’s changing moods: dark reds warmed by the angled sun to harsh, ultra-contrasted white made almost monochrome by the direct light.

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There’s a intense sense of something approaching trespass in this landscape. Everything is entirely dominated by the bludgeon of rushing water, but there’s none to be seen except at the Colorado. It’s like being in a river’s tomb.

Along with gaping at the scenery, a large petroglyph, Shaman’s Gallery, provided a welcome excuse to break from the march for a moment.

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Several miles of plain hiking above the canyon and we were back on the horrendous road to dinner and a hotel. The 10-plus miles in the canyon was as draining as 20 on smooth mountain trail.

—–

The next morning, the damage was catalogued:

  • Bruises and cuts pretty much everywhere from the elbows down on my arms.
  • Same from mid-thigh to my ankles on my legs.
  • Below the ankle: planet-sized blisters.
  • Backpack, which had made it through almost four months of backpacking and scrambling with nothing more than sun bleaching and stains, ripped in three places.
  • Broken water filter.

But, as usual the damage was completely proportional to my contentedness. I’d earned a couple days on the couch, seen a completely different landscape in challenging wilderness, got a bunch of experience that will cross over to ski mountaineering and saw my brother in his element.

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I live by four seasons, except mine are dictated by snow and not astronomy.

Tease season (Usually late September until mid-December): This is when I alternate between bull-rushing the first faint hints of snow to ski grass, rocks and glacial ice, leaving my skis looking like they’ve been lapped by a road grader, and telling people I enjoy trail running in 45-degree rain with a straight face. Like Radiohead’s recent work, there are a few nice moments you feel almost obligated to like, but in reality it mostly sucks.

Winter (Dec.-May 5): Defined by the opening and closing days of my local ski area, Alpental, winter always comes too late and ends too soon. No one needs to ask what you’re doing this weekend, only where. It ends with Cinqo de Mayo, which is the Fat Tuesday of winter around here: an atavistic embrace of everything skiing, fermented and grilled.

Volcano or touring season (May-mid July): The roads accessing the higher routes begin to melt, the snow has thickened and become less avalanche prone on steeper slopes and the sun has returned. It’s Eden here in the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of vertical feet of dream skiing to the car and your flip flops and cooler EVERY WEEKEND (saliva on keyboard).

Trail Running/Backpacking season (August and September): The snow that’s hanging around usually resembles a jackhammered  sidewalk by this time, so the trail shoes and tent come out. Sure, you can ski during this time, but you can also mow your lawn with nail clippers. This season is like a family visit: It’s incredibly cool for a short period of time (“Man, this is great, we should do this more!”), but then you wake up one morning and realize you need to get the hell out or you’re going to kill someone.

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This past Sunday, Brandon and I went up to Heliotrope Ridge on Mt. Baker’s northwest flank to get tease season fully launched. After missing the apparently excellent September tease while goofing off in Arizona, I’d have skied on a thick frost.

Thankfully, that spectacle was averted thanks to a foot or so of new snow above about 4,500 feet.

The play in tease season is to get onto permanent snow or glaciers where it only takes about six inches to cover up the old junk. There are also some meadows or grassy slopes that don’t need much coverage to be skiable.

The downside of this is that these places tend to reside at higher elevations on featureless slopes. This being the Pacific Northwet, there’s also a very strong chance that poor weather will leave you with visibility akin to having a sheet over your head.

Therefore, a typical tease season run is blindly hurtling down barely-covered rocks and snow that might as well be rocks. Getting back uninjured is the goal.

So when big patches of sun began appearing on the drive north from Seattle, it felt like a cruel joke.

“We should have run around Green Lake today.”

Ascending toward the trailhead on Glacier Creek Road, the snow began to pile up, and the sun remained.

There was barely enough snow to skin from the 3,650-foot trailhead, but we did anyway, stomping around dirt, blown-down trees and open streams that caked slush on our skins to annoying effect.

About three miles and 1,500 vertical feet later, the snow got deeper and the views better. While there would be plenty of rock-dodging, we’d at least have visibility on our side.

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We’d not have solitude, however, as Heliotrope is among the most popular early season spots. This was mostly fine (save the couple times people decided to fully lie down on the skin track) as there was plenty of space to find fresh tracks.

After a couple hours of skinning, we reached the 6,200 ridge crest and ripped the skins. The view of Baker and its surrounding features was incredible. An ocean of cotton candy clouds heaved and rolled just below our sun hole while ghostly branch-like clouds clawed at the main peak, beaten back by wind only to return again.

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Turning downhill to ski for the first time since mid-June, my longest gap in several years, I took a couple tentative turns off the ridge … then took another maybe eight definitely not tentative turns and was down entirely too fast. It’s very likely there was some screaming.

The snow was a smooth eight or so inches of slightly wind-packed powder that begged you to go faster. Perfect.

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In those eight turns, everything else in the world vanished. Mountainous areas are often described as vast, and spatially that’s often true. But when I’m skiing or running in them, no matter how remote or grand, I’m blanketed with a sense of completeness and comfort that feels close and almost small, as if everything I want is in easy reach.

What was immediately within reach was another lap, which we quickly burned through before doing battle with the barely covered middle slopes. This is not the place to bring new skis.

We soon switched to boots and quickly hiked back to the car as the setting sun sprayed orange pink over western slopes.

The requisite beatdowns are sure to come before winter arrives, but a tease this good is as good a way to start things off as I could ask for.

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Like many wannabe mountainpeople from the Northeastern U.S., the “high school” years in my learning process – the period where you flail about trying everything for the first time – took place almost entirely on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

It was there that I was first almost struck by lightning, danced with hypothermia, hitchhiked after getting lost, got cozy with an avalanche, and passed out and puked from exhaustion. Those last two follow the high school metaphor quite well.

Yes, after all that, I was hooked for life. It was where trail running, backcountry skiing and mountaineering got in my blood, never to leave.

The grey giant
The Rockpile, or George or various other less regal nicknames, is 6,288 feet of worn, grey rock punctuated by a series of variably dramatic ravines, that are sometimes called “gulfs” for some reason.

By Western standards, it’s pretty droll affair: a drooping, gentle giant shorn of it’s sharper edges by ancient glaciers.

For those of you in Seattle, it’s bit like Granite Mountain off I-90, but with trails of rounded river rock, legendarily awful weather and a road to the top terminating in a bland restaurant, gift shop (“This car climbed Mt. Washington”) and weather station.

It isn’t even among the top 10 tallest peaks east of the Mississippi (they’re all in the South and Mid-Atlantic). But, it is the tallest peak in the Northeast, and, as we all know from watching or reading ANY national news outlet, anything that happens in the Northeast is far more important than anything anywhere else.

That said, Mt. Washington is more alpine (big areas above treeline) than the more southerly peaks and its fearsome weather provides a sexy sheen of danger.

A terrible idea gone good
Prior to 1999, my mountain experience consisted entirely of riding lifts up them and then skiing down.

My college friends and I would heap scorn on the outing club geeks when they’d invite us on trips.

“Dude, I can get high right here. Inside. Where it’s warm and there are Doritos.”

Completely out of the blue, I suggested to my girlfriend at the time that we try to hike Mt. Washington. Her shock was understandable. She had been doing this stuff her whole life, while I maxed out on the outdoors with a bit of road running, lying on the beach, playing whiffleball and the rare use of a grill.

To this day, I don’t know how the wild-card synapses in my brain coalesced around this idea, but many of the best things in life are random occurrences so powerful that they feel like fate.

As is my habit, I prepared for the attempt by doing basically nothing other than daydreaming about bragging to my friends that I had bagged the peak. No map, no research, not enough food or water, head-to-toe cotton – though the “co-ed naked skiing” t-shirt was a deft touch.

“Screw it. I’ll just figure it out when we get there.” will be on my headstone.

Tux!
The most popular trail to the summit is the 4.2-mile Tuckerman Ravine trail, and that was the call, as it was the shortest drive and had “Tuckerman” in the name.

Tuckerman Ravine – usually shortened to Tuckerman’s or Tux – is the best-known feature on the mountain, in large part because some of the best backcountry skiing in the east is there. It’s synonymous with “extreme skiing” to most people in the region, though most of the routes are well short of extreme, or even difficult.

(An aside: “Tux” on a warm spring day is one of the best shitshows in all of outdoor sports, and the hole you feel in your life is because you haven’t been: Naked guys with mullets in rear-entry boots. Blow-up doll as toboggan. Sunburns so severe they turn instantly to cancer. People rag-dolling down 800 vertical feet into rocks, and then being heckled. It’s fantastic.)

After 2.4 dull miles of hiking on annoyingly-rounded river rock from the parking lot, you finally clear the forest and are bashed in the face by the drama of Tuckerman Ravine, as well as the realization that you have to somehow get up it.

It’s basically a rocky half-bowl. A bowl being something that’s easy to picture sliding down.

I dropped myself on the deck the ranger station and pounded water and what little food I had, torched and shamed by an approach on which small children and the elderly blew past with regularity after the first mile or so.

To be sure, my girlfriend was having no such difficulty, which predictably served to goad me into action.

Sadly, that motivation lasted about 20 minutes. Maybe halfway up the bowl, and nowhere close to the summit, I waited a couple minutes so no one else was around and then quit.

“I can’t do it. No gas in tank.”

The spot where I stopped held a vertiginous view across the ravine that I’ve never forgotten. Something about being above the trees, clinging to the side of an alpine bowl was exotic and dramatic enough to light a spark. The embarrassment of getting dropped by the extreme ends of the age curve brought the flame.

Those dual motivations – it’s beautiful, and I need to kick your ass while I’m in the neighborhood – have never ebbed.

It’s the latter that gets me in trouble, or frostnip, or a concussion.

Ice fighting
My first successful summit of Mt. Washington is a good, and really the inaugural, example.

Following that first failure, I picked up some more appropriate clothing, but did absolutely nothing else to prepare other than tell everyone short of random people on the street that I was climbing the mountain that weekend.

Vanity would have to carry the day.

That first trip was a crystalline summer day. This one served up more typical Rockpile weather: dense, cold fog that became a treacherous ice haze above the ravine.

Somehow, the lack of visibility was comforting. Not able to see how far I’d come or had to go, I kept my head down and powered on, passing my past stopping point on the north wall of the ravine.

At the crest of the ravine, the slope flattens dramatically, allowing for easier sighs of relief. It was, however a cruel tease: what felt like Easy Street for 10 minutes became a death march among angular boulders increasingly covered in a slick of ice painted on by the fog.

The next couple hours – that’s right, it took that long to go less than two miles – were round after round of excuses battling motivations:
“All this to see nothing but a fog bank and giftshop? Idiot.”
“It’s not like you’re gonna die, you coward. Old people do this. OLD.”
“Wait, are those icicles on your eyelashes?”
“You really want to go back and tell everyone you flamed out AGAIN?”
“You could just lie and say you did it. There’s a good pub in North Conway.”

The ice fog was so intense near the top that it would form a creme brûlée crust on any flat part of clothing that would peel and shatter gently when I moved that part of my body.

By the time I reached the summit, I was a shambling, exhausted wreck. I collapsed onto a cafeteria seat and buried my head in my arms nearly sleeping for a while before I had the energy to eat and drink.
The summit complex is a blessing and curse: It’s hard to feel like much of a badass when you’re seated next to fanny-packed Québécois tourists after walking past the smokers at the front door. On the other hand, you can get a Gatorade and hot dog.

What goes up must suck to come down
After about 30 minutes of mental triage and trail mix, it began to occur to me that I had to get back down. Strangely, this came as a bit of a shock.

The realization was devastating. The thought of walking 10 feet to the bathroom inspired nausea, never mind miles of death fog and leg-eating boulders.

I assessed options:
-There’s no way they’d let me sleep like a bum in the restaurant overnight.
-Begging someone for a ride down the auto road was plausible, but too shameful.
-Paying $50 for a ride on the commercial van service seemed like a winner, but they didn’t take credit cards.

So I started walking. Perhaps I was pulling from a reservoir of energy I didn’t know I had or just too toasted to care, but the trip down, while long, went relatively smoothly.

In goes the hook
In a cycle that now repeats itself perhaps twice a week, but first presented here, I went from pledging to never hike again, to conceding I’d need a couple days off to planning to come back the following weekend and shave a half-hour off my time within 24 hours.

For the next couple years, I returned to Mt. Washington every day I could swing the 3-hour drive from Maine. Getting up before dawn to get back in time for dinner plans or well after dark as fall arrived.

Soon, I was trying to best my previous times by running sections, taking longer routes, climbing in the snow, ice and cold of winter and then skiing in the ravine.

Many dangerous mistakes, close calls and unforgettable days later, I still think about Mt. Washington frequently. When red flags go off in my head about incoming weather, an avalanche slope or a route-finding decision, the memory that triggers them is likely either from the Rockpile or Mt. Rainier.

My mother gave me a framed topo map of the mountain not long after this obsession started. I unpacked it the other day as part of a move, and it felt like a birth certificate.

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Take your time, my friend. In fact, go against every instinct you have and set the alarm a little early, because there’s nothing but the crippling hangover, Tang, “Danish,” sign-in process and creeping narcolepsy after you shut off that unlimited hot water.

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With a day to kill between canyon trips, I walked about what passes for a downtown in Phoenix. For an area dominated by regional (not actual) headquarters for various financial and government institutions and conventioneers, I suppose the results are inevitable. I wish I had had the courage to get a shoot of someone wearing a tradeshow name tag lanyard, but instead here are a couple frames.

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