The subject line caught your attention? Good! This post is about the 1% of my climbs that didn’t reach the summit. I’ve been planning this post, with this title, for years. A failure on Mt. Jordan in 2015 delayed it by 99 summits. I finally got to the 99% success rate, so here are the failures, in chronological order:
Middle Teton, WY (12,804), 9-21-87. Middle Teton was only my eighth peak, so I was pretty green. I tried to find my way up a class-3 route, and got horribly off route. Impending darkness and rock that wasn’t class 3 anymore forced me to turn back at around 12,400. I came back two days later, found the right route, and made the summit.
Twining Peak, CO (13,711), 9-12-88. I was in Colorado ticking off 14ers when a snowstorm rolled in. Twining Peak looked trivial, so I took a chance in the storm. I turned around at about 13,400, soaking wet and unable to see which way was up. It really was trivial a year later in good weather.
Mt. Rainier, WA (14,410), 7-01-89. My wife and I were on our first guided trip, and the weather was terrible. We got 2-3 feet of snow the night before the summit attempt. She wisely stayed in the hut while the diehards pretended to have a chance of summiting. The guides turned us around at about 11,000 due to slow progress and avalanche danger. We were back six weeks later, and I reached the summit in a horrible fog.
Courte-Echelle AKA Bat Pinnacle, CA (13,320+) 6-20-93. We made it to about 12,000 when a lightning storm chased us down. That was a long time ago, and that’s all I can remember. We returned later that year and used a rope to protect the summit block.
Checkered Demon, CA (13,112) 11-15-93. I decided to try my new bivy sack near the base of Checkered Demon at about 11,700. The weather was a bit worse than expected, and I spent the night trying to keep the foot of falling snow out of and off of the bivy sack. I packed up and left with my tail between my legs as soon as it got light the next morning. My four other attempts on Checkered Demon were successful.
Olancha Peak, CA (12,123) 2-20-94. Another weather-related fiasco. I set up the tent at around 9,000 in the snow. I wasn’t expecting perfect weather, but two feet of snow was wasn’t part of the plan. The next morning, I headed for the summit on skis. I gave up at around 9,600 after a couple of hours of flailing in heavy, knee-deep snow. I came back in April with my wife and we easily reached the summit under much better conditions.
Denali, AK (20,320) 5-28-94. This was going to be the biggest climb of my life. I picked the best guide service and spent six days training with their most experienced guide to improve my skills. Then they had to cancel the trip, and I settled for another guide service. We made it to 18,360 on the West Rib route when we had to turn around because two of the clients and one of the guides couldn’t handle the altitude. I was back a year later with the original guide service, and everybody made it. There is a detailed double trip report here
Split Mountain, CA (14,042+) 5-21-95. My partner and I had planned to climb the NE Couloir. We were a little slow on the approach, and the snow had warmed up and become dangerously soft. By the time we gave up on the couloir, it was too late to slog up the standard route, so we headed down. My other six attempts on Split Mountain, including a solo trip up the couloir, were successful.
Mt. Shasta, CA (14,162) 12-10-95. It was December, but there wasn’t much snow in Avalanche Gulch yet. I was hoping for a straightforward trip, but the clouds rolled in, bringing the visibility to almost nothing. I continued up, hoping it would clear, but it didn’t. I eventually bailed at around 11,400. This was the first of four times that Mt. Shasta kicked my butt. The other 34 attempts were successful.
Mt. Williamson, CA (14,370+) 12-28-95. George Creek has a terrible reputation, so I had checked out the lower portion several months earlier. Yes, it WAS terrible, but I figured it would be better than Shepherd Pass in winter. I got a late start, and conditions were awful. There was just enough snow to make travel difficult in bare boots, and just little enough snow to ensure getting my snowshoes tangled in the brush with every step. I thrashed around all day and set up camp at only 9,500. On day two, I headed for the summit and thrashed my way to 11,200 sometime after 2:00 PM. The best-case scenario that I could imagine was making the summit and then staggering back to camp at 9:00 or 10:00 PM. The worst-case scenario was much worse. I conceded defeat, thrashed my way back to camp, and hiked out the next day. My other six attempts on Williamson, including a February trip over Shepherd Pass, were successful.
Mt. Morrison, CA (12,277) 6-08-96. I had climbed Mt. Morrison back in 1994, and I wanted to try a class-3 couloir I had heard about. I foolishly thought the obvious couloir to the right of the north face must be it, and headed for it on 6-2-96. I soon found myself looking up the “Death Couloir,” which was steep, technical ice, not the easy class 3 I expected. Having only a single mountaineering axe, I abandoned the couloir and traversed left until I could climb up the easier east slopes to the summit. The summit register had several entries touting the spectacular climbing in the Death Couloir. I just HAD to climb it. I came back six days later armed with two technical tools. Unfortunately, all the ice had come crashing down, leaving a couloir full of wet, rotten rock. I didn’t want to do the east slopes again, so I just went home. From what I hear, the Death Couloir is only rarely in shape for climbing, and I never got around to trying it again.
Mt. Shasta, CA (14,162) 1-19-97. I headed up Casaval Ridge, my favorite route on Shasta, using skis and climbing skins. Just when I was about to switch to crampons at 8,700, I slipped, fell, and slid quite a ways down the hard snow. My progress had been slow, and the wind was really whipping, so I turned back. As I was driving home, I stopped and timed how long it took the clouds to blow across the summit area. When I got home, I estimated the distance from a map, and then figured that the wind on the summit was about 85 MPH. I was glad I had turned back.
Mt. Humphreys, CA (13,986) 3-15-98. On the first day, I parked just past Aspendell and skied up to North Lake and over Piute Pass. I camped in the snow somewhere between Piute Pass and Humphreys. I went for the summit the next morning. I got to about 13,700 and lost my nerve soloing class 4 rock with snow and ice all over it. At least I didn’t make the evening news. Seven other trips to Humphreys were successful.
Mt. Shasta, CA (14,162) 3-28-99. I was climbing up Casaval Ridge with a fit, young, 5.12 sport climber who was also a coworker. It was hard to teach him anything about mountaineering, since he was sure that he already knew it all. The day started with him refusing to budge when the alarm went off. I had to stand around in the cold waiting for him before we could start up. After a half hour of hiking in the moonlight, he asked whether I thought he would need his sunglasses. Another long wait in the cold while he went back for them. We made decent time until his hands started getting cold. We finally bailed at 13,100. This is why I usually climb alone.
Middle Palisade, CA (14,012) 9-28-02. I knew the weather was marginal for a dayhike, but it turned out worse than expected. I turned back at around 12,000 due to several inches of new snow and very poor visibility. Six other trips to Middle Palisade were successful.
Mt. Shasta, CA (14,162) 5-18-03. This is the most embarrassing trip on this list, not because of what happened, but because I can’t remember what happened. I have a record of attempting Shasta and turning around at 10,300, but I didn’t record the route or anything about what went wrong. It was probably weather on Casaval Ridge or Avalanche Gulch, but who knows?
Mt. Jordan, CA (13,320+) 7-18-15. Just when I had 12+ years without a failure, Jordan came along. I was supposed to go with a buddy and his wife, but they had to cancel. I had exchanged a couple of PMs with “patacap,” a young kid from Southern California. I just had a good feeling about him, so I invited this total stranger to go with me on Jordan. He turned out to be a great guy and a really strong climber. He could run circles around me and felt no need to rub it in.
We planned a three-day trip, but the forecast was for marginal weather on the second day and terrible weather on the third day. We shortened the trip to two days. The plan was to tag the summit on the first day and hike out the second day. On the first day, we hiked from Roads End to East Lake, set up camp, and headed for the summit. As we climbed up from the west, the weather deteriorated. There was thunder and rain. We continued up, hoping the weather would improve. When it didn’t, we turned around at about 13,000. We made it back to camp at 9:30 PM and hiked out the next day in the rain. The “Rough Fire” closed Kings Canyon for the rest of the year. Patacap and I climbed Jordan via Shepherd Pass ten weeks later.