We All Were Noobs Once

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We All Were Noobs Once

Postby Chicago Transplant » Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:50 am

So in the 14er Pledge thread I made a note that we were all "noobs" once and probably have a silly story to share about our own misadventure and how unprepared we would look to ourselves today. So instead of laughing at the current crop of newbies, I thought it would be fun to laugh at ourselves and show the forum we have all "been there"...

I'll go first.

Gray/Torrreys June 2003.

While I still lived in Chicago, I had been out to RMNP the previous year after a few ski trips and a growing curiosity of what Colorado was like in summer. Longs had caught my eye. I could see it everywhere and even sketched it a couple of times. I made it up Hallett Peak that trip, but Longs lingered. When I got back home I saw Roach's 14ers book in a bookstore in Chicago, in it was Longs, and decided to buy it. Reading about Longs, I was admittedly intimidated by the distance, the vertical, the scrambling, the exposure. I thought I needed something easier if I was going to try one, and having been familiar with Summit County from ski trips, decided Grays and Torreys made the most sense. Since I knew Summit, I also thought Chihuahua Gulch made sense. Since I was a flatlander and it sounded like a lot of work, I also thought an overnight backpack made sense. Since I wanted to maximize daylight, the first day of summer made sense.

I flew in, got the rental, and stayed the night in Denver - taking in a Rockies game. The next morning I did a quick acclimatization hike around Red Rocks and drove the rental 2WD sedan to the bottom of the Chihuahua Gulch road, managing to not bottom out along the way. I got my overnight pack together and started up the road where soon a storm rolled in. I was a noob, I knew nothing of afternoon thunderstorms yet. I thought the forecast was clear? So I hid in some trees for it to pass, and kept on. Soon I had to cross a creek, it was running pretty good and I struggled to find a place to cross, sure enough I slipped and stepped into the torrent flooding one of my boots with cold water. I kept going and eventually found a place to camp. A nice flat spot with a rock I could set up as a kitchen for some dinner. I was near treeline, probably 11k or so.

In the morning, I of course "slept in" and it was probably 7.30 by now, I was getting ready and heard a rustling, I saw a small brown thing and quickly darted back into my tent. Was that a bear?! Oh crap, what do I do?! Soon after, human voices. I cautiously peered out my tent to warn them when their brown Chocolate Lab came checking out my camp, no bear, just a dog. Silly city slicker, I got scared by a dog! No time to waste, pack up the camp and head up the peaks. I of course had to put my cold wet sock (no extra pair, why would I need such a thing?) into my cold wet boot, and packed it up. Yes, all of it. Yes on my back. Why would I leave my tent set up? Someone might steal it!

Laden with my full overnight pack, up the slopes of Grays I went to the crest of the Southwest Ridge. My only companions the pair and their dog several hundred feet above me on the ridge crest. Gasping for breath, generating a headache, and shoulders sore from the weight, I eventually crested the ridge to find a surprising amount of people, and a curious amount of snow. Where had they all come from? Then I saw the class 1 trail on the other side of the mountain, the standard Stevens Gulch route that I of course had ignored. The snow surprised me most though, it was summer after all. We hadn't seen snow in Chicago for at least 2-1/2 months, what was there so much snow up here for? I took some pictures, ate a little food, drank a little water, and headed for Torreys with a small (by todays standards) parade of others doing the combo as well. Torreys summit was noticeably less populated, but even snowier.

Then with full pack descended southwest back into Chihuahua Gulch, really starting to feel the weight and my headache now. To my noob feet, this ridge was terrible and a struggle. Whereas the ridge up Grays felt like a reasonable endeavor, this ridge was loose and not without complications. On more than one occasion I needed my hands to scramble through some tough sections. We don't have talus slogs in Chicago! I thought the route was terrible, loose and clumsy I felt, and worried I would twist or break something in this mess of loose talus. But I struggled my way back down to grass and eventually the road. Oh crap, the stream crossing. Well I don't want to do that again. So I didn't cross. Instead, I talus boulder hopped through a rock glacier on the east side of the creek, now far separated from the road by a series of beaver ponds.

At one point in the talus field I slipped, catching my self on my elbows while my legs slipped deep into the gap between the boulders. I had a flash vision of being stuck here, of breaking a leg or ankle as I squirmed back up, full pack and all, to the safety of the boulder tops. Enough of this, I need to cross. Through the willows, through the beaver ponds. My boots were soaked when I reached the road, my shoulders screaming from the pack weight, my head finally felling a little better though. Back at the car, my nearly 24 hour endeavor ended much the way it began, with the start of a thunderstorm. Seriously, I thought the forecast was clear?

Somehow I enjoyed myself enough to plan future trips, my drive home I had visions of coming back next year for Quandary, or maybe even the Decalibron if I felt strong!! But at that time, a 4 peak day was way over my head, Quandary would be my next trip. I was sure of it, that seemed about the limit of my abilities, especially after getting by butt kicked by Grays and Torreys.

So yes, when I was a noobie I backpacked to do Grays and Torreys because I thought it would be too hard to day trip them, slipped into a creek and soaked my only pair of socks/boots, got scared by a dog because I thought it was a bear, clawed my way down a class 2 talus slope, fell in a crack between boulders, soaked myself again walking through willowy beaver ponds, and had a raging altitude headache almost the whole day. Clearly I had no business being in the mountains and should never have climbed a 14er again :wink:
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby mkrier » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:28 am

5 years ago we carried all the water we needed for our hike of Kit Carson & Challenger in our packs (and even brought extra jugs), while camping by Willow Lake. Who knew water filters existed? #-o

+, girlfriends thin yoga mats for sleeping pads, 3 friends directly from sea level and 1st 14ers, tennis shoes, list goes on. But I had printed off the route description and made everyone get helmets, so we're good right?

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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby skik2000 » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:33 am

I used a Whisperlite stove upside down for the first two trips I went on. Don't know why I didn't do some critical thinking at the time, perhaps I was too stoned. We were in the Smoky Mtns and I asked a group of park rangers what was going on because I saw they had the same stove...He took one look at it with a puzzled look on his face and then started laughing.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby TallGrass » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:45 am

Like a Noob Backdooring Holy Cross? :mrgreen: Still a fav' despite the outcome.

Most have at some experience they can parlay to 14ers like from sports or camping, but there's usually still the fun of progressing through the four stages of (un)conscious (in)competence: don't know what you don't know, know what you don't know, can get through by thinking, can get through without thinking. As they say, the only sign of life is growth.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby Oman » Wed Jan 25, 2017 10:57 am

Before the road was re-done, we backpacked into South Colony Lakes for a small bachelor party. (We were the only ones in the basin.) Knocked off a Partagas Churchill and a bottle of gin with a buddy and woke at 4 a.m. unable to fall back asleep. There was a full moon. What the hell, we figured, let's try Crestone Needle. On the summit the clouds swirled in, and we ended up descending the wrong way off Broken Hand Pass toward Cottonwood Lake. I could defend ourselves by noting this happened before there was GPS (or the Roach book), but more than 20 years later I wore a GPS on my wrist and descended the wrong drainage on a sunny day on Holy Cross because I was sure the electronics were improperly calibrated.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby JQDivide » Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:23 am

Camping up in American Basin in the fall of 1999… two people come down from Handies…
“Where did ya’ll hike?”
“Handies, it’s a 14er.” And they pointed up.
“How long did it take?”
“A couple hours.” And they walked off.
I looked at my friend and we decided to go for it.
Middle of the afternoon on a fall day. We had on jeans, t-shirts and flannel shirts… all cotton.
No water.
No snacks.
We made it past Sloan Lake and the clouds moved in. By the time we were on the switchbacks it was foggy and drizzling rain.
Wet. Cold.
But we had to be close, those other hikers said it only took a couple hours, and we were at least two hours in… moving very slow…
We turned back before finishing the switchbacks. Best decision of the day.
I’ve been back to the basin numerous times since then, with a few summits of Handies and some of the 13ers in the area. There is a learning curve to this mountaineering thing.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby TravelingMatt » Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:26 am

Last edited by TravelingMatt on Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:36 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby 12ersRule » Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:28 am

First peak was Mt Shasta at 16. Went with my dad and my brother who was 2 years younger. We went wearing jeans and sneakers. We managed to make it to the Heart at 11k after some stumbles in the snowfield. We saw a ton of climbers all with crampons and axes. A few of them asked "How did you get here???". After almost making it to the red banks, my dad insisted we turn around. I actually cried (at 16 :shock: ). Somehow we managed to glissade on the sun-cupped snowfield without getting out of control and returned back to the car no worse for wear.....or so we thought.......we got snowblindness that night. I thought I was going blind, as I had never even heard of it before.

A few weeks later, we returned to Shasta a little smarter. We rented crampons and bought sunglasses this time. It went pretty routinely until the Red Banks. My dad made the mistake of letting me lead. I got way out in front and was kicking rocks on those guys like crazy. It was their turn to cry this time. Once we made it out of that shooting gallery, we were home free and actually made the summit and back with no further incidents.

I made many many rookie mistakes spread out over many mountains. It was a very gradual learning process and continues to be for me.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby TravelingMatt » Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:45 am

There's my "fun newbie" story and my "stupid newbie" story.

Fun newbie story is from September 2006. My second trip ever to the San Juans; had around 10 14ers under my belt, all easy ones. Wanted to do Sneffels during peak foliage season. Trouble was an early storm had dumped some two feet of snow.

So I spend a few days photographing and extend my trip to wait for the snow to melt. I buy some special gear for the snow... gaiters. I arrange to extend my trip a day and hole up in Ouray.

The next morning I drive my rented Taurus up Yankee Boy Basin as far as it will go. The pants I'm wearing are worn-out work khakis, all cotton, which at the time was part of my outfit. My boots are the high-tops which I saved for trips to Colorado. The gaiters don't help.

I am the first person to go up Sneffels after the storm, and the snow is belly-button high in paces. Everything below my waist is wet. Took some five hours to summit, but I did make it. The weather up there feels like a typical January day back in Chicago. It is perfectly cloudless though, and spend about an hour on the summit. Throughout the day I shoot two or three rolls of slide film. I blew through seven or eight rolls throughout the whole trip.

I literally run down the two gullies back into the basin, indifferent to the terrain beneath the snow and what the hell I'd do if I hurt myself. I mean there's no one else in the basin and I'm out of phone range. Screw it, I just did Sneffels in "winter".

My stupid newbie story came about a year later, deciding to go for Oxford from the summit of Belford when it was around 11.30 and clouds were quickly gathering. Was still living in flatland and had never done anything with nearly as much elevation in a day, much less at altitude. Hiked back from Oxford completely exhausted while a thunderstorm was above and rain and graupel were showering on me with temps near freezing and 30-mph winds. Somehow I found a place to hide for an hour or so. Spend most of that hour wondering how I was going to die.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby Tornadoman » Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:49 am

First 14er was with my wife and was Mt. Bierstadt in late September 2007. Of course we only had one hiking pack between us, a ridiculously big overnight pack. We threw all our water, food, and several layers for each of us in there, and it had to weigh 40 pounds. Slowly but surely we made our way to the summit with my back killing me (my wife was carrying nothing but a camera, LOL). It must have taken us at least 3 1/2 hours to get up there but we finally made it, and the views were great! It had snowed the night before and there were about 3 or 4 inches of snow from the trailhead all the way to the summit. We had some slipping through the snow on the way up, and the mud on the way down as it was starting to melt out, but overall it wasn't too bad and instantly we were hooked. We were more prepared the next summer and bought smaller packs and cut down significantly on the layers.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby justiner » Wed Jan 25, 2017 12:15 pm

I failed to summit Quandary, and got us lost trying to descend.


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That... wasn't so long ago.
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Re: We All Were Noobs Once

Postby Wish I lived in CO » Wed Jan 25, 2017 12:24 pm

TravelingMatt wrote:My stupid newbie story came about a year later, deciding to go for Oxford from the summit of Belford when it was around 11.30 and clouds were quickly gathering. Was still living in flatland and had never done anything with nearly as much elevation in a day, much less at altitude. Hiked back from Oxford completely exhausted while a thunderstorm was above and rain and graupel were showering on me with temps near freezing and 30-mph winds. Somehow I found a place to hide for an hour or so. Spend most of that hour wondering how I was going to die.

Sounds a lot like an outing of mine only a few years back - so not so much a newbie anymore, but part of the learning experience. Was well aware of afternoon summits and have avoided them. However one thing I had begun to notice is that sometimes yesterdays afternoon rains persist overnight and into the morning, but then clear up around mid to late morning. So I had foregone many summit attempts in the past, only to find it to clear up and be nice later. I decided this time to "outsmart" the weather. It was morning, leftover rain from the day before. Waited a bit, then decided to start up Belford, "expecting" for it to clear up by around treeline. It didn't, but no thunder ... so keep going and it'll clear up soon, right? Got to the summit of Belford and then wanted to "quickly tag" Oxford - it'll only take a few extra minutes, right? By now the conditions were just like Travelling Matt's: 30 mph sustained winds, 30 deg., graupel, fog.

The killer was that I had experimented that year with a light weight rain jacket - wadded up real small in the pack, nice when not using it. I learned that day the difference between water proof and water resistant. Somewhere along the saddle my core was now soaked. However still stubbornly tagged Oxford. I am not a runner whatsoever, but the whole way back to Belford and down the next 500 feet or so I ran, both to get down quicker and also to generate some internal heat. At no point did I think I would not make it, but I knew I had to run.

BTW, I must have stopped where Travelling Matt did - there is big rock when one starts up the Belford side of the saddle. I tried to stop there, it helped with the wind some, but being soaked I knew after a few minutes it was best just to make a break for it.
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