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412 Hikers Code - Turn Back 2011-06-06

lamb;s Slide and Broadway

Lamb's Slide and Broadway

You are responsible for yourself, turn back (Hike Safe)


After taking a few years off, I returned to the mountains with a friend from Tennessee. We were going to climb the Mountaineers Route on Longs Peak. Carrying lots of gear for the mixed snow and rock climb, we slowly made our way up the trail. We were out of shape and not acclimated. Hurting from inside and out we continued.

By the time we finally got to the climb we were worn out. Donning our crampons, we began to climb the famous Lamb's Slide. The brick hard ice was quite a workout. About half way up the slope I dropped my ice axe and ice gear. I watched as it slid way below my partner. Borrowing one of his axes we continued slowly creeping up the snow.

We were moving so slowly, I realized we would never reach the summit if we didn't do something different. Rock lined the left side of the gully. We moved across the snow to the rock scrambling. I thought we would have moved faster up the rock but our lungs were bursting from the lack of oxygen. Finally, near the same altitude as the large ledge that bisects Longs East Face, Broadway, we traversed back across the wide gully.

Once on the ledge, we took a break. My partner was looking absolutely exhausted. I was dead tired too but I was still trying to encourage him to keep going. It was obvious that we were not going to reach the summit that day. In fact with the speed we were moving we might have needed another week to complete the route! Reluctantly, we turned back.

Looking back at the climb, it is easy to see our mistakes. We had summit fever and would have overlooked any signs of trouble. Sure, we were moving slowly, but we might catch our second wind. Sure, it was getting late, but we had headlights. Sure, we needed water, but we could find some somewhere. Every omen was overlooked and even rationalized away by positive thinking.

After turning around we were still very late returning to the trailhead. We knew we had made the right decision but it was hard to accept the fact that we did not succeed in climbing the peak. My partner and I are still friends and we have been on trips together almost every year since, and that was over twenty years ago!

Through the years and many successes and failures I have had lots of practice at turning back or not.

A few turning back tips ...

With experience it is easier to make decisions. Putting in the miles gives you the experience.

In a group always make group decisions. Get everyone's point of view.

Always be mindful of the weather and your location. Approaching bad weather changes lots of plans.

Monitor the health and wellness of everyone in the group.

Unless you are skilled at off trail navigation, stay on the trail.

Don't follow a GPS without knowing where it is taking you.

Even on a trail or road, if things don't seem right consult the map. I have walked right past a trail junction before only to find the mistake at the next creek.

Do research. Know what to expect and what the route is supposed to be like.

Prepare an itinerary of the trip, include estimated times to waypoints of the route.

Shortcuts are hardly ever shorter.

If things do not seem right, they probably are not. It might be time to put it in reverse.

If the route is harder than expected, rethink the route, look for options, or turn back.

If you are unsure where you are, turn back if possible and return to your last known location.

Be even more conservative when traveling alone.

Happy I am not afraid to turn back trails


Hikers Code - Trailhead

Hikers Code - Knowledge

Hikers Code - Gear

Hikers Code - Leave Your Plans

Hikers Code - Stay Together

Hikers Code - Turn Back

Hikers Code - Emergencies

Hikers Code - Sharing


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