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The art of calling it a day - Wright Mountain
posted by John : June 12, 2014


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Spring is trying


I'm now an astonishing one for three on TNAB summit attempts this season. I missed the first couple of trips, but made it out for Mailbox. Of course. Then I started late and couldn't make the summit on Mt. Teneriffe. Now, Wright Mountain turned out to be on the wrong day.

It's not that I got the day wrong and nobody else showed up. It's more that Wright Mountain was scheduled way too early in the season so it was still locked in deep snow from the Snow Lake Divide. Heck, Snow Lake was still mostly frozen.

Even though I didn't summit, or perhaps because I didn't summit, I learned yet more lessons that I'll have to pass along to the kids.

As Treen and I hustled up the trail from the parking lot we barely stopped to admire the waterfalls flush with snowmelt or the fields of trillium and glacier lilies. We only briefly talked to the hikers we passed on the trail.

Lesson 1: Don't be in such a hurry that you miss out on why you're there. Sometimes you need to literally stop and smell the flowers.

At the Snow Lake Divide, where the trail crests the ridge between the South Fork and the Middle Fork drainages, it was snow as far as the eye could see. I'd brought snowshoes and trekking poles and crampons and my ice axe. You never know what you're going to need on an early season trip like this. As I started down toward the lake I started my best ever standing glissade. It was like I was skiing, but without the skis. Of course, it didn't last and I wound up in a sitting glissade the rest of the way down the hill. That way down also included a close encounter with a tree just poking up out of the snow. I have a lovely scrape to remember it by.

Lesson 2: Do glissade whenever you can, but if you're having trouble staying on your feet get better or at least be prepared for the eventual seated glissade.

We crossed the outlet and continued along the shoreline until I spotted someone making their way back. Really? Was someone else so daft as to be out here on a night like this? At least it wasn't raining. (This is where it should have thundered, but didn't.) Then the rain started. Another intrepid TNAB hiker had gone along the lake, but decided to turn back since he was hiking solo. He was smart. I was not. I pressed on with Treen by my side.

Lesson 3: When you're by yourself, don't push your luck.

In reality, I already knew that last lesson. I wasn't really going to try to get up Wright Mountain. I just wanted to go further along the route for a better picture. Unfortunately, when I got there I turned to see more of TNAB close behind. Looks like I wouldn't be turning back any time soon.

Four of us slogged through the wet snow and rain. The summer trail climbs and falls along the shoreline, slowly gaining elevation. This meant we were constantly slipping into little depressions and climbing out of them. It was soon apparent that although we were pushing hard, we were nowhere close to our destination. We stopped under a tree to wring out our gloves and hats before turning for home.

Lesson 4: Don't be a masochist. When it's clear you're only hurting yourself, it's time to throw in the towel.

Back along the lake, up and down and up and down. Treen was loving it, but the rest of us trudged in silence. The true killer was the final climb out of the Snow Lake basin. It's only a few hundred feet, but by that time I was ready to be done. Back at the Divide we found two more TNAB hikers that had apparently learned most of these lessons already. They were having a grand old time just waiting for us before heading down.

Even Treen was wiped out when we got back to the truck. She barely had enough left to hop in and was curled up before we were on the freeway heading down the mountain.

TNAB has taught me a great many lessons over the years, but probably the most important is this. It doesn't matter if you get where you're going as long as you get back. This has morphed into the adventure philosophy I'm teaching the kids. Safety, fun, goals. Since I'm the only one that keeps getting hurt, I think they're better at learning than I am.

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