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jonmf76

The most important course is never taught.

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Over the years of slide shows and talks I have given, it has occured to me that the most important course has never been taught. And that is specifically about when to retreat from a climb.

 

Retreating has been made into an embarrassment, when it is actually sound judgement and climbing wisdom in action.

 

 

"Oh, you didn't summit? Too bad your climb was a failure.."

 

 

OK, talk amongst yourselves..

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Phil,

 

Again, you missed the point.

 

I DON'T feel that way, but you go tell anyone in the climbing world that you didn't make the summit of a mountain, and that is the response you will get..

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I disagree. This year, I have only summited about 50% of my alpine climbs (3/6). The first was because I ran into my turn-around time, the second because the rope got stuck and we had to cut it out of the crack, and the third was because we didn't like the look of the last pitch.

 

Yeah, sure I'm a newbie and all, but when I tell people that I retreated, I never get any disrespect from people, nor feel any embarrasment or shame. In fact, I've always found that retreats are generally respected, when well-considered.

 

Likewise, I've never had a parnter try to talk me out of my decision to retreat. Or vice versa.

 

It's unfortunate that the climbers you hang out with don't seem to understanding. You should find new partners.

 

:)

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...you go tell anyone in the climbing world that you didn't make the summit of a mountain, and that is the response you will get..

 

You just hang out with the wrong crowd.

 

Yawn.

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out of 4 attmepts on 3 driffrent mountains this year only made the summit once. Hell I had to trun around on St. Helens twice this year and everyone thinks it is a cake walk. Oh well. I am still here, the mountain is still there (for now anyway), and there is always more time to climb it another day. I think some of the best lessons learned are from turning around and thinking about "what could have happened".

Edited by shortstow

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when to retreat from a climb.

 

I tihnk that it is a true sign of intelligence and desire to climb more routes then the one that you are on. The Climb will always be there so come back for it later.

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This is an excellent topic. I want you all to know that I think it is OK if you have to turn around before you summit. Please, live to climb another day! And if you do, then you have me to thank. Because otherwise you probably would have continued on and died. Think about it.

 

Feel free to buy me a beer for this loving advice.

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As one of the world's most talented and accomplished climbers (I do it for personal exploration, so you won't be reading about me in Rock and Ice), I would advice lesser climbers that it is OK to turn around before summiting. I've never had to, but I have thought deeply about the possibility of failure many, many times as I triumphantly approached the point where ridge meets sky.

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When to bail? Thats a long list!

 

 

For starters imo ..

 

 

~ When youre in over your head (and "down" is an option).

~ When youre too tired.

~ When youre way off-route.

~ When bad weather is moving in.

~ When darkness is approaching.

~ When youre moving to slow with darkness and weather moving in.

~ When someone gets hurt.

~ When you drop or lose some essential gear.

~ When you forgot some essential piece of gear.

~ When you surmise that the terrain will no longer support you.

~ etc... fill in the blanks...

 

(common theme, down as an "option" sometimes though, up or sideways is the safest way to bail)

 

I always tried to look at it like this: FIRST priority is scoping a bail out option; SECOND, the descent route; THIRD the ascent route.

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I could teach a full course on when and how to retreat since I seem to do it so much.

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.......... but you go tell anyone in the climbing world that you didn't make the summit of a mountain, and that is the response you will get..

 

Yesterday I both didn't make the summit of half dome or El Cap, despite thinking of both. Or Lotus Flower Tower either for that matter. I was thinking that I wouldn't summit Lotus Flower Tower cause of bad weather and slimy chimneys though, however - it was sunny in Yosemite so I really have no excuses there.

 

Standing back for the response's you mention.....

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This is a good topic. The rigors of climbing require that you disregard many common warning signs. There's a reason humans have historically avoided mountains. The safest and surest course is to stay at the bottom. But we don't do that. So when do we turn around? Ed Viesteurs was so proud of his decision to turn around close to the summit on one of his 8ks yet he spent an inordinate amount of time justifying that decision and the remedy. I read somewhere that you're not a true mountaineer unless you can get within reach of the summit and turn around early.

 

The appeal of climbing is that it is a very personal experience. It's just you, the mountain and the elements. And the same is true of the decision to turn around. Unless your partner or guide makes the decision. But prior to them making the decision it's all up to you.

 

But I agree with the original post. It's an important aspect of climbing that's not explored adequately.

 

My advice is to calculate a turn around time down low when your brain is getting plenty of oxygen. When you get to that time either turn around or proceed carefully. I don't know. What's the best way to calculte a turn around time?

 

Mike

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My favorite quote (Ed Viestures) is this: "Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory." This has certainly worked for Ed. My Dad used to say "Being a climber is nothing more than someone putting one foot in front of the other. Being a mountaineer is knowing when to stop climbing and get home safely." I have lived (sic) by this.

 

Many years ago on Baker our team leaders decided to turn back. I respected their decision but asked alot of questions as to why. One old guy (I can't remember his name) said "Son, I'm sure you've heard of HAPE, HACE, and other mountain related ailments; right? Well the worst disease you can get on a mountain is summit fever." Understood

 

Jonmf - you're point is well taken. I think you are correct in your assesment of climbing classes. However, I personaly have never felt belittled by anyone for having "failed" to get to the summit; and I would guess I have as many "failures" as I have "summits". I am still here however.

Edited by BirdDog

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Don't forget to include Mr. Whittaker's famous saying that "To summit is optional, to return is mandantory".

 

I know some sayings by other famous climbers but they all contain bad language or references to sexual acts and can't be posted here. :ooo:

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One more bailing tip:

 

If you unilaterally decide that it's time to turn around and your partner grudgingly acquiesces, do NOT continually justify your reasons aloud all the freaking way down.

 

"If you say 'live to summit another day' or 'the mountain will always be there' ONE ... MORE ... TIME ..." :mad:

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I disagree. This year, I have only summited about 50% of my alpine climbs (3/6). The first was because I ran into my turn-around time, the second because the rope got stuck and we had to cut it out of the crack, and the third was because we didn't like the look of the last pitch.

 

Yeah, sure I'm a newbie and all, but when I tell people that I retreated, I never get any disrespect from people, nor feel any embarrasment or shame. In fact, I've always found that retreats are generally respected, when well-considered.

 

Likewise, I've never had a parnter try to talk me out of my decision to retreat. Or vice versa.

 

It's unfortunate that the climbers you hang out with don't seem to understanding. You should find new partners.

 

:)

 

One strategy for achieving a high success rate is pick your weather and pick easy routes....my personal strategy. Then you don't have to feel like a wuss. I'd look at it kinda like skiing....if you don't take falls, you probably aren't skiing hard enough.

 

I think the male ego is a tricky beast, so it's good to discuss your philosophy with partners before leaving the trailhead. It might make it a less stressful/contentious decision on the mountain. I think if you learn on the final dicey pitch that your partner has a summit mandatory attitude, you haven't done a good job of picking/screening your partner.

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One strategy for achieving a high success rate is pick your weather and pick easy routes....my personal strategy. Then you don't have to feel like a wuss. I'd look at it kinda like skiing....if you don't take falls, you probably aren't skiing hard enough.

 

Aren't those two contradictory? Your climbing strategy is basicallly saying always stay well within your limits. Whereas your skiing sentence advocates pushing your limits.

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I remember reading something in the big wall book by John L and John M related to this. I can't quote it but it went something like, people can easily come up with lots of little reasons to bail off a climb when in reality there is no good reason too. It is kind of looking at this topic from another direction but probably just as valid. It is all part of the evaluation process. I have turned around for the wrong reasons more times than I care to admit. Some of my friends called it snail eye. You look up at a big climb, your eyes pop out of your head (like a snails) and you just want to hide in your shell. At times the difficulty lies in figuring out if the reasons to turn around are real or perceived. This is a difficult subject with lots of gray area. Anyone that has been climbing long enough can probably point to climbs where they should have turned back and didn't. We usually call them epics. As for giving someone crap for turning around, that is just lame.

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One strategy for achieving a high success rate is pick your weather and pick easy routes....my personal strategy. Then you don't have to feel like a wuss. I'd look at it kinda like skiing....if you don't take falls, you probably aren't skiing hard enough.

 

Aren't those two contradictory? Your climbing strategy is basicallly saying always stay well within your limits. Whereas your skiing sentence advocates pushing your limits.

 

They are contradictory, and true in my case. I tend to stay within my limits on Alpine climbs due to the risks involved. Marriage has changed my situation a bit over the last couple years (both availability and risk tolerance). I only get so many coupons, so I pick my weekends more wisely than I used to, and the same selectivity that decreases the odds of dying, tends to increase the odds of summiting. The consequences of skiing beyond my limits (at least within area boundaries) are less.

 

If I would have climbed harder this summer, I might have had a lower success rate, but increased my grade more from June/Oct

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