A story about unrequited love - Mount Washington
Many of the famous climbers I’ve been listening to say mountaineering is very much about learning how to let go when the time comes. You might be very close to the summit after a strenuous push, but you should know when and how to stop and turn back in order to climb another day. Some say that out of the total summit attempts there are more times when they needed to turn back because of exogenous factors - such as weather, than the times when they reached the summit.
Not an easy thing to give up, especially when the reason is outside your control. I’ve practiced at least twice this year. Once on Mount Yale, in Colorado - where we needed to turn back after courageously braking trail through the snow because we reached an unsteady patch of packed snow, ready to avalanche. The second time was on Mont Washington, short of two miles from the top, as above the tree line we got caught in a white out. Luckily the group I was climbing with outsmarted me and decided to go back. With the benefit of hindsight, they were right because the Mountain was kind of furious that weekend, with the wind speed touching new record highs over the last fifty years.
I enjoyed every step of the climb and I learnt how important is to be prepared when the weather turns rough because everything has the potential to go awry. I also learnt that there are no shortcuts – the climb could last for hours and hours and you need to be sure you have enough water that won’t freeze, snacks that will maintain your energy at an acceptable level, the right clothing on to keep you warm and good gloves and balaclavas. Even if you can withstand cold hands for few minutes you need to bear in mind that’s not sustainable for hours. It seems I underestimated the importance of having everything you need handy and avoiding as much as possible taking your gloves off, but because the climb was not long, I didn’t paid too high of a price for my negligence. I also learned about the french technique for climbing ice/steep snow slopes, as introduced by Chouinard in 1978. As a complete nerd, I took great joy in reading later about the duck foot, the flat foot/cross step and the hybrid technique. Compared to Colorado training, the path was way narrower and steeper when climbing Mount Washington so these techniques really came in handy.
Same as Mount Yale, Mount Washington made it to my bucket list.