Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winter US Lower 48 Climbing Is Great Preparation for 8000 Meter Mountains

Zero for six. Six times I have tried to hike/climb a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado during the winter, and not a single time have I gotten above 14,000 feet. Those are the worst odds I have on any climbing or running endeavor. For marathons I am zero for three when it comes to breaking 2:30. For Yosemite big walls I am also zero for three, but two of those were solo. For 8000 meter peaks I am zero for two. I'm used to failure, it makes days like the one where I climbed the Casual Route on the Diamond or the time I ran 154 miles in my first 24 hour run worth so much more.

Monday on Quandary
It's just so hard! Four times the weather has been bad, that is very cold and windy. Every time there has been snow, the kind of light snow that requires post-holing among rocks, or skiing, on skis I don't have.  It's the three hours of walking uphill through six inches of snow that really wear on me. Five times I have been alone, and four of those times I didn't see a single other person after the trailhead. Plus, on top of all that, in Colorado, exists the altitude. When my heart is beating 144 simply hiking, you know it's hard work. On top of all that, most of the trailheads are down dirt roads in the summer, that aren't plowed in the winter, and I don't have all wheel drive, or a snowmobile, and sometimes you need both

My Van Was Unable to Even Drive to the Trailhead Tuesday
Wednesday, today as you read, I'm going to try doing Quandary Peak, for the fourth time. The forecast is good, I'm taking the normal route, the East Ridge, unlike the first two winter attempts when I tried the West Ridge. I'll bring my skis too and hopefully get down a little faster. So we'll see.

About a Mile Past the Summer (And 3.5 Past the Winter) Trailhead on Mount Democrat Tuesday
In my limited experience in Pakistan and Nepal, most of the mountaineering takes place on ice. When it snows people usually wait a day or two or three for it to melt. However, the routes typically involve walking on glaciers and permanent ice fields, where the white stuff, is actually low density ice. Sure, there is snow, I even broke trail on Broad Peak one day for about 100 meters after a light snowstorm. To me at least, when it is just rock and ice, that makes the going easier than snow. That being said, I've seen plenty of pictures of deep snow above the shoulder on K2, so certainly not a hard and fast rule. The other side is, the vast majority of people climb 8000 meter mountains via the normal routes in the normal seasons. There were 800 people trying to climb the south side of Everest this year! Even on an unpopular 8000er like Annapurna or Nanga Parbat you can still expect 10-20 people on the route in the normal season. That means on good weather days there are other people to help break trail, a big advantage over these little excursions I have had in Colorado.

Certainly the altitude is not as big of a factor at 4000 meters as it is at 8000, although unacclimated it is still a hurdle. The point being, 8000 meter peaks involve long hard days, and you can get those in Colorado, New Hampshire, and other US lower 48 states in the winter.

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