(Last Updated On: July 3, 2012)
After turning around on Grand Teton last week, I’ve alternated between patting myself on the back for making a good call and kicking myself in the butt for bailing. In retrospect, we probably could have summited. But does that mean we should have?
It’s a fine line between “giving it your best shot” or “pushing your limits” or whatever other cliche you can think of and, well, disaster. The other side of the coin is another cliche- “The mountain will still be there” (Unless one tried to ski Mt St Helens in early May of 1980, and was hoping to give it another go in June, of course). Let’s go back to the Grand for a moment. Bill Briggs’ first descent was completed with a solo, thigh-deep slush ascent of the upper East face. Anyone with a passing knowledge of wet slides could argue that thigh-deep slush is a no-go. Of course Briggs did go, so we have a hero with a landmark first descent. But what if the slope had gone, would we just look at Bill Briggs as a cautionary tale in the history of ski mountaineering?
I’m not trying to “Monday morning quarterback” Briggs’ decision. I simply want to make the point that the line between success and failure gets very sharp as one gets to the upper end of things. People don’t push themselves, or the sport, or even simply knock off classic lines without some amount of risk entering the equation. Doubt will always creep into your mind, so when is the reason for turning around just an excuse that placates your fears?
Sometimes you’ve simply got to be bold if you’ve got big dreams. This is of course true not just in ski mountaineering, but in life as well. But as Kenny Rogers’ famously said, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Well said, Kenny. How do you know? Experience and gut instinct, I guess. Which can still lead to giving up too early, or pushing it too far. Both lead to an unpleasant feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. Tough game to play, given the consequences. Palliative care workers say the terminally ill regret the things they didn’t do more than the things they did do. I’m not sure if that totally applies here, but I’ll throw it out there as food for thought anyway.
I would LOVE to hear from our readers on this one. One thing I hope to see more of here at 14erskiers is the great dialogue among our readership that other websites get. So please, if you have any thoughts on this, let’s hear them.