The night was long and restless. He was cold inside his sleeping bag even though the three of them had worked so hard to make things cozy. And then, there was the wind. It blasted the tent relentlessly, and he was worried about getting blown off the ridge. What would that be like, he tried to imagine? There was no actual sleep. But there was a sort of vigilant grogginess. While his body was mostly still, his mind actively raced in a frenzy of hyperactive speculation. He was uncomfortable, and the situation was damn near depressing. But thankfully, he wasn’t outside climbing toward the summit- yet. That would happen soon enough.
There are three well-known peaks in the Alaska Range—Denali, Foraker, and Hunter. At 14,195 feet, Hunter is the smallest of the three but is considered one of the most technically difficult 14er’s (14,000-foot mountains) to climb in the world. And reaching its summit was our goal for the particular trip this story is about, at least until lousy weather got in our way. We were a group of 13, which included me and several other Outpost Wilderness Adventure leaders along with two other non-OWA guides.
It was Christmas break of my sophomore year in high school when Jake and I took off from Denton. We were geared up and driving his parent’s VW Camper-van (with their permission) bound for Mexico with a stop in Douglas, Arizona en route. The plan was to meet up in Douglas with an older/more mature person, whom I knew from the summer camp where I had worked the previous summer. The three of us would travel from there on down to Guaymas, Mexico, where we’d camp, have some quality beach time, and experience a bunch of “neat adventure stuff.” (Note- years later, and as a father, I’m not sure how we got our parents to agree to the plan. Although I do remember it being a good thing that we were going to be under the supervision of someone older). In the van, there was scuba gear packed away under one of the seats in cardboard boxes, places to sleep, and we must have had some food.
“You’re not lost if you don’t care where you are,” or something to that effect is a famous quote. I repeated it several times to myself as we kept walking into the thick fog, headed toward the summit of Chiefs Head, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. I was bringing up the rear of a group of ten, mostly teenage backpackers. Typically, I was confident about wherever Mike was leading us. But in this instance, one of his Colorado Mountain School guides, Dennis, was at the back of the line with me and kept muttering about how we were going up the wrong mountain, which caused me to be a tad bit skeptical of our route.
Deep in the heart of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, there’s a place that we called Golden Lake. No marked or named trails go there, and if you look on a map or search a guide book for information about it, you’ll find nothing. While there is a lake there, it has another name. It sits in a glacial cirque, or basin, along with two others at the top of an obscure drainage that leads down to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The main lake of the three is full of Golden Trout. Thus, the name.
I could tell the story from my first Alps trip about the Swiss barmaid hovering around outside of my tent late one night asking for my tentmate, Matt. Or the one about Matt and I racing our Swiss guides back down from the top of the Argentine Miroir (a famous rock climb) to a nearby café where our group was waiting. Both occurred amid an adventure trip that the two of us were leading. It was made up of people of varying ages, including teenagers, a doctor who was even older than me, and my non-alpinism-experienced wife, Lori.
I’ll leave the details of those two events up to the reader’s imagination and, instead, tell the one about Lori, Doctor Bob, and Big Chris crossing a glacier.
Climbing on the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, 1985.
At an elevation of 22,841 feet, Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres. As South America’s tallest peak, it’s also one of the Seven Summits (highest point on each continent). Via most of the routes normally followed, it’s a mostly non-technical undertaking, although it is big. It’s sheer size, location, and the persistent presence of a cold, wet, and snowy wind known as the Viento Blanco have led to a variety of medical problems for climbers throughout the years. This particular expedition occurred in February 1985.
I now concede the fact that it was undoubtedly the five candy bars I ate in celebration of successfully getting across the avalanche debris field that caused the distress. I should’ve known better, but for a variety of reasons, it’d seemed like a good thing to do at the time. At least, I reasoned once back at home, the whole thing had taught me a good lesson.
A group of backpackers attempts to climb Lizard Head and learns the true meaning of climbing.
Lizard Head is a big peak just to the north and east of the well- known, long, and breathtakingly majestic line of mountains, ridges, and spires in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, known as the Cirque of the Towers. On one particular Outpost Wilderness Adventure trip, we backpacked with two groups of 7, via different routes up to Bear Lake. The lake sits just on the east side of Lizard Head and was the location for our backcountry base camp. Once there, we set up two close but separate camps, each located between the lake and the mountain. The plan was to use each as a base for exploring and adventuring in the area. Since it was during the Fourth of July holiday, we knew that there’d be a lot of people in the general area, but that few would venture into that particular neck of the woods. And, as a special Fourth of July treat, we brought along freeze-dried hamburger patties, a cutting-edge item back in the ’80s.