The only time when you need to accept failure is when you see it as such. On a snowy May morning, I attempted the snow-covered summit of Mount Lindsey at 14,042’, and couldn’t summit as intended. I had an experienced team with me, the weather was perfect, we were properly equipped, and all of us had the strong desire to succeed. After slowly making our way across the ice-covered ridge, we stopped at the crux. Snow covered and slick, we weren’t able to plan our path up, and, more importantly, down. What stopped us? Our gut saying “not this time kids.” Even though we were so eager to bag that first 14er of 2017 —- we were so close to the top-— there’s a time to acknowledge there will always be another chance, that the summit will always be there.

My advice, climb with a team compiled of people who listen to each other and don’t be afraid to say “not today” for summiting or otherwise. This was my first time turning back on a 14er, and I wouldn’t count it as a failure in the least bit.

1

Crampons cut into a sheet of ice under our feet as we deviate slightly above the snow-covered trail to keep ourselves out of seemingly bottomless drifts of snow and the chill waters of the river rushing somewhere below us.

2

Our snow-covered basin stays in sight once we get above the large grove of towering pines surrounding us for the majority of the hike so far. Staying away from a particularly slippery slope to our right and close to the rocky outcropping above us, Mike, Luke, and Josh dig into the trail as snowshoes weigh down our packs and trekking poles provide the extra needed balance.

3

Morning's first light reaches toward us like fingers over the jagged ridgeline, illuminating our way and warming our bodies. Michael sips on some water as he eyes our route. The way is icy and steep, and we all need a moment to breathe before a final push to the ridgeline.

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Snow covered and arduous, this section of the trail calls for the buckling of snowshoes around our boots. The pockets of powder kick up behind our steps as we slowly climb along the rocky trail.

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Lungs gasp for air and leg muscles ache as we push through a final segment to the ridgeline. From the top, our summit is not too far, but a class 3 section covered in ice and snow with exposure that could lead to injury or death looms before us. Before pushing on, we give our bodies a moment to relax and absorb the sun's glow.

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At around 13,750', we land below a false summit just around 250' below the true summit (not pictured). To continue on the trail, we had to down climb and cross a cornice, an overhanging mass of snow, which could result in a possible slide. We are so close to our summit, so near the victory of our sore muscles, and the reason for our 4 am alarm clock. And yet, was it worth it? We looked at each other, and we called it. Not today. Someday, but not today.

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The way down was a mix of feelings. Disappointment? Yes. But also a strange sense of accomplishment; of distant yearning and knowing our limits. No one seems to applaud playing it safe, but here we were, laughing and joking down the mountain, stoked by the fire that nature ignites within you and proud of ourselves for telling Mount Lindsey we will be back.

8

I’ve returned to summit Mount Lindsey. It’s later in the year, the snow has melted and left vibrant vegetation in its wake. I’m back to the place that conquered me, and I’m both excited and nervous. Our alpine start means well above the treeline by sunrise. A delicate light covers the endless valley, and we stand in awe as nature covers her daily painting in picturesque hues.

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The basin feels different this time. The snow is gone, revealing the mountain faces and rocky gullies that were covered the first time I was here. But it’s not that, there’s something in the air. Maybe the determination we felt, as two of our party turned around on Lindsey the first time. We make our way along the mountainside, the views opening up to the mountain tops around us.

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Helmets on, we climb into the early morning sun as we slowly near our summit. An easier class 3, Mount Lindsey is a fun scramble with some exposure. It’s important to move with purpose, watch for loose rocks, and stay mindful of yourself as well as other climbers on the mountain.

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Putting his scrambling skills to use, Chad makes his way up the crux of the class 3 section. Now, just past the point where we made the call to turn around last time, I can almost feel the summit. It’s close, but we keep our eye on the distant clouds slowly making their way toward us. We want the summit bad, but not bad enough to get caught in one of the infamous 14er thunderstorms.

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Grinning from ear to ear, we walk a wavering ridgeline to the summit of Mount Lindsey. I take a breath of triumph as goosebumps from pure stoke spread across my skin. As clouds begin to swirl around us, we only have a short time at 14,000’, but that doesn’t make this moment any less sweet.

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For the few moments we were able to soak in our success, we laughed about stories of the day and sipped on summit beers. Slowly though, we fell silent and watched as our views slowly gave way to the cloud bank.

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With the weather at our backs starting to move quickly, we want to hit the crux before the encroaching precipitation drenches our trail, making it slick and (more) dangerous. The clouds seem gentle and wispy, but we don’t want to chance it. Afternoon thunderstorms are common at this elevation, and although we have allotted ourselves a safe time cushion to get below the treeline before the predicted storms are supposed to hit, no one wants to get wet today.

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Before tiny balls of hail began to rain down on us, the clouds slowly eat away at the rocky contours of the mountain until it disappears from view. We marvel as the clouds slowly begin to envelop us, making us quicken our step and lessen our stops down the mountain.

All photos are the author’s.

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