When it comes to winter adventuring there are many important skills required to stay safe.
You need to be able to read a forecast. You have to be prepared for winter, off-trail navigation. You need to understand avalanches. You need to know how your body will respond to hours in the cold.
But most of all, you need to know when to call it quits.
This winter has been epic in the Pacific Northwest. Lots of snow. Lots and lots of it, actually. So much that trails that are usually clear or at least well trenched are still buried. That means the avalanche conditions have persisted into late Winter and easy trips aren't so easy.
Our intention was to go to Mason Lake. This is just a halfway point on a longer trip during a normal year, but with the amount of snow we've had this year it turned into a serious undertaking.
There was snow from the alternate trailhead. The creeks were running high due to the daytime melt, but it was refreezing most nights making the snow crusty, rotten, and heavy. We opted for the old, old trail to bypass an avalanche slope, but found our route would cut across the top of the slope beyond what we had seen from below.
It had taken an hour and a half to this point. Our destination was just over the next ridge, but we decided it was time to turn for home. It wasn't because we were tired (we were) or the avalanche danger was too high (it was), but rather because we knew there wasn't much to be gained by pushing on. There was no reason to take the risk.
I've exhibited this kind of good decision making on a few other times, but the two most meaningful were both on Mt. Hood. We aborted on our first attempt when we learned of dangerous climbing conditions just below the summit. Going up through the Pearly Gates might just wind us up at the real Pearly Gates. My second attempt ended just feet shy of the true summit due to unpredictable winds and a really narrow ridge. Totally not worth learning to fly for a few more feet.
So it wasn't the first time I'd made a good call in the mountains, but each one is worth celebrating. It's hard to turn back whether it's the highest point in Oregon or just a familiar lake. What makes it easier is remembering this:
Nothing today is so epic it's worth all your epic tomorrows.
Try it. It works. It puts everything in perspective. Heck. Maybe I'll even put it on a t-shirt.