Turning Around: Thoughts

(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.

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Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.  He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing.He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.    He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing. He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

10 thoughts on “Turning Around: Thoughts

  • April 20, 2012 at 8:28 am
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    I agree, there is a really fine line when pushing yourself for a descent for it to become a total success or total catastrophic failure. Everybody has varying degrees of risk they will take on and things they want to achieve in the mountains, but my philosophy is pretty simple. You have to really ask yourself, are you having fun doing it? If it’s a “yes”, i think that is what matters the most to me.

    It’s an endless armchair QB debate on when to turn around and when not to, especially if the person debating wasn’t there to experience what you were experiencing at the time. I’d say you got some nice turns in regardless, so the trip was a success.

  • April 20, 2012 at 8:32 am
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    I pretty much always make the conservative decision these days. Turning around does suck, even if for no other reason than the time and expense in just getting to the mountain, but – as cliched as it is – the mountain *will* still be there. The risk of not coming home to my loved ones isn’t worth the potential “fame” in this tiny community, not to me anyway.

    Too many good, competent people die in the mountains, so I figure someone like myself needs to be particularly careful.

  • April 20, 2012 at 9:35 am
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    Good discussion Frank, and ultimately a good decision on The Grand. I have noticed that as I get older and my daughter gets older, my toleration for risk goes down. I have had a harder time differentiating between having fear on a mountain vs a bad feeling. I think it all comes down to pride. I know when I turn around from objectives my internal discussion goes something like, “Am I being a wuss or am I being wise?” Like someone above said, the most important thing is coming back home to your loved ones, for me at least. But it is crazy how confusing that decision can become when in the moment.

  • April 20, 2012 at 10:50 am
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    We’ve all turned around on something for one reason or another, and no reasonable person can fault you for it. However, the same internal drive that sent you up there in the first place is going to nag you when you decide to turn around. We’ve all been there. I’m glad you’re all safe.

  • April 20, 2012 at 11:50 am
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    “But does that mean we should have?” I think the way you worded the question helps immensely with the answer. In the event of a disaster, the collective grief among family and friends, not to mention risks absorbed by SAR members during a recovery/rescue, trumps the personal satisfaction of getting the summit. On the disaster side you have potential for additional tangible losses, such as additional lives, SAR resources, children growing up without a parent, loved ones suffering from severe depression. However, making the summit really only achieves a personal sense of success. I have a hard time identifying any tangible effects that would supersede those that might result from an accident.

  • April 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm
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    Great comments everyone! I’m not particularly nagged by turning around on the Grand, as it was the right call, but it did get me to thinking about turning around in general, hence this post.

  • April 23, 2012 at 9:23 am
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    When I turn around on a goal I rarely ever go through much emotion. Lots of people think about their kids, family, health insurance, risk vs. reward, etc.

    I just think about if I have enough time, food and water to carry on. If I don’t have enough I turn around. Simple as that 🙂

  • April 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm
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    I rarely give turning around much thought, either. Usually, it’s not much of a choice and the snow or weather or something else makes turning around the obvious choice. It’s those occasions that are right at the borderline that end up being interesting…

  • May 11, 2012 at 11:57 am
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    I’ve turned around twice trying to ski the Grand, and went through the same thing – sure it was a good call, and kind of let down with myself. But given the stakes and the conditions and the fact that the mountain will be there and so will I…it was the right thing to do. Thanks for your write up, and remember – Next Time.

  • May 11, 2012 at 4:55 pm
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    Thanks Bob!

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