The Summit Siren Song:
The Summit Siren Song:
I have been spending tons of time on Facebook over the last few months trying to attract attention to our company website in the hope of securing potential business clients. One common theme that I have been witnessing is photographs of people I know (and some that I don’t) standing triumphant on the summit of a 14,000 foot mountain wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, a long sleeve jumper (sweater) and a small 30 liter (if they are lucky) rucksack (backpack). Now of course, I am the first person to give them an “atta boy” but a bigger part of me wants to slap them in the face. Having spent many years as a mountaineer, mountaineering guide and a medic on mountain rescue teams, one thing is very obvious to me. These people have absolutely no idea what the mountains and mountain weather is capable of. I believe that the accessibility to these big mountains and their trailheads here in Colorado leads people into a false sense of security, coupled ironically with Facebook photographs of people standing triumphant on their summits in shorts and t-shirt.
There have been times in the past where I have been guiding groups of people in the Colorado mountain ranges and we have been thrashed with 50 mile per hour winds and 10 inches of snow in the middle of June and the kicker being, the day started out at 60 degrees with bluebell skies.
Unfortunately, I have had to carry the unprepared few off the mountains either on a stretcher or in a body bag. The greatest tragedy being that most accidents/deaths were preventable. People way too often underestimate the mountains or worse still overestimate their capability. Let me put this into simple context. An ankle sprain near the summit of a 14, 000 foot mountain (which is a relatively easy thing to get) could quite easily put you in a position whereby an “overnighter” is forced upon you due to the severity of pain in your lower limb and/or the speed of your descent back to the trailhead has ground to a snail’s pace. Would you be prepared for that potential outcome? Did you pack enough water or water purification equipment? Do you have a first aid kit to strap or splint your ankle (or somebody else’s for that matter)? Do you have enough clothing to keep you warm when the sun disappears? Did you pack a headtorch not only for light but for signaling? What if the weather turns south and it starts thrashing down with rain? Do you have waterproofs to keep you dry? What if you find yourself in a whiteout and the snow has covered the trail you are following? Would you know how to locate your position and safely find your way back to your vehicle? What if the batteries on your GPS just died? Hypothermia is one of the biggest killers in mountainous environments. When you are wet, heat is stripped from the body 25 times faster than air so it doesn’t take long for your core temperature to start heading in the wrong direction. Your fine motor skills start to wain and you are going to be in for a really long night. Hopefully mountain rescue will come and get you before the dawn but there are never any guarantees – never! Once you step foot into the hills you must have the mindset that one is ultimately responsible for one’s own safety. If the shit hits the fan you only have yourself and the people in your party to rely on. Only by adopting this mindset will you increase your chances of survival if and when you find yourself in the middle of a shit sandwich.
Don’t go into the mountains unprepared. You should always play the “what if” game and plan appropriately. I am a firm believer in speed of movement in mountainous terrain as it lends itself to spending less time in the danger zone. I always try to reduce the weight of my pack and climbing gear, but I never forgo the fundamentals that will help me out in one of those “what if” scenarios. What I want you to understand is I have spent the last 20 years (the first 10 of which were more like an apprenteship) honing my skills, my fitness and my knowledge. This in turn allows me the luxury and has provided me with the knowledge to pick and choose my equipment appropriately. Have I been a part of some “epics”(a term used in mountaineering circles where there are hours upon hours of pucker factor) – absolutely – but I was lucky to have survived them, although it wasn’t all down to luck. A big percentage of my success can be placed on my knowledge base at the time. If you have not served such an apprenteship and you are looking to challenge yourself on more technical or remote routes, or whether you are considering hiking your first 14‘er then you should seek the advice and knowledge of people who have been there and lived it. Reading about it in a book or online is simply no substitute for the knowledge that experienced people can provide. Since the invention of the internet many people now claim they are subject matter experts on a wide range of topics. Trust me, watching a few video clips of “how to” on you tube is a sure way to get yourself killed in the mountains. Experience in this area is forged by hardship, failure, success, time served, the knowledge of those that have gone before you… and any other adjective you want to insert here.
As Edward Abbey would say:
“While you can. While it’s still here. Get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; you will outlive the bastards.”
My addendum to Edward’s mantra is this: “you will outlive them if you have the proper training and proper equipment prior to the start of your journey.” If not, I wish you luck – you are going to need it.
If you are interested in learning more about our mountaineering/rock climbing/rappelling courses and our unique team building events that will properly prepare you to climb a 14’er and a host of other cool things then please contact us at: