Turn Back


A few summers ago, I joined two experienced mountaineering friends on a climb of BC's Mount Waddington.

We quickly found the conditions to be hotter than average for the time of year. Every day was warmer and the mountain glaciers started to melt and avalanche around us as we climbed.

On the plus side, our solar stills worked quickly and efficiently to fill our water bottles.

After hours of post-holing up to our knees while swimming up a headwall of soft snow it was decided that our best option was to wait until early morning (and frozen ground) to make our way up toward the peak.

While keeping our eyes and ears on the hills around us.

First long look at the summit!

On the morning of our summit attempt, we gathered ourselves and moved upwards by light of the moon and headlamp...

I came to know that being at altitude surrounded by rock and ice and no one else but your companions, a few ice worms, and the occasional high flying birds was a new kind of freedom. It was a world I had few encounters with until now.

When the sun hit, we crossed a section of high exposure where a drop without an arrest could mean a thousand foot tumble. Though we were sure we could safely get up it, we questioned the stability of the snow when we would be descending in late morning sun.

So we listened to wisdom rather than ego.

And sometimes wisdom says that giving up is the right answer.

So we gave up. About 400 feet shy of our summit we took a selfie, breathed deeply in the morning sun, and began our descent back to camp, making peace with our expedition.

As the temperatures warmed even more, and smoke from Siberian fires across the Bering Sea filled the air, we changed our habits. We slept less, traveled earlier in the morning and tried not to worry about the unusual heat threatening to continue to change the glacial geography under our feet (and our route off the mountain!)

When we got down to the glacial flats - and out of harm's way of any avalanche danger - we celebrated with a pancake lunch and unlimited avalanche viewing while we awaited our helicopter pickup.

And reflected on the decision to turn back, and on our unreached objective.

<Mount Waddington>

Feeling beat down by the sun in this highly reflective environment, and sleep deprived to a new level, I made a selfie to remember the moment.

And it was over...6 days after it had begun.

~~~ more adventures/misadventures: instagram @wilderphoto

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