Mistakes from this weekend

TL;DR: Bad decisions led to bailing on gear in the dark; a lack of good decisions and good planning led to skiing through some sketchy-ish terrain that should have been “closed;” and a lack of planning led to a big swing on an ill-advised rappel and a bunch of wasted time.

I made a few mistakes this weekend. Let’s start on Friday:


After driving in to work (an hour commute), I made at least one embarrassingly obvious mistake at work. I ended up asking two colleagues to pretend I’d never done something because it was so silly. No big deal.

Friday night, I went to a concert with some friends and stayed out later than intended.


On Saturday, we slept in. It was supposed to be a “day off” where we just lounged around the house.

In the early afternoon, the weather got really nice, so I asked my Wife if she wanted to go climb with me. She didn’t, so I called a friend. While I was waiting for his answer, I almost changed my mind like 5 times. I went back and forth on whether I wanted to climb or not. We ended up climbing.

We met at the trainhead of a local trad climbing spot and hiked to the base of an easy climb we’ve done before. “I just want to get a rep in since the weather is nice and I haven’t climbed outside in January yet” I said. We looked at the route we knew well. “But we’ve done it before - how about something new? This one should be easy…”

We elected to attempt a higher-grade two-pitch climb instead of the one we initially had targeted. I don’t know all the reasons why we did that, but I definitely said “YOLO” at one point, so…

The climb. I started up the route and quickly got stuck. I lowered and my partner climbed on (stronger climber than me). He’s not super familiar with placing trad gear, but he did anyway. He built an anchor. I quizzed him about his placements, and they seemed fine, so I lowered him and then top-roped up to the point of the anchor. Two of the three pieces were great, and the other one was okay (slightly undercammed purple cam). That was ALREADY a bad series of decisions - we should have just quit and done the other route. I climbed on and built an anchor that I was happy with, but when I went to bring up my partner, I realized I didn’t have any of my usual odds and ends - lockers, friction hitch, personal anchor - all not on my harness. I used my last locker and brought him up ANYWAY, thinking all that stuff was in my bag (which he carried up).

It wasn’t in my bag. Some other lockers and slings would have to suffice, because we were going for the summit (even though it was now starting to get dark out). I mentioned the diminishing light, but we didn’t do anything about it. We transferred gear around, and up I went on round 2.

I quickly got pumped, gripped, and stuck. I fell on a poorly placed hex and it scared me. I dropped a cam alllll the way to the ground. I got my breathing under control and tried one more time, but I wasn’t going any farther. I constructed a hasty anchor with two tricams and the so-so hex (hey, it had held my fall so how bad could it be?) and lowered to the first real anchor. It was now post-sunset but not full dark, though it was close.

My partner put on a headlamp and sent for it (again, what were we thinking?). I realized only after he’d gotten to my makeshift anchor that I was not going to trust any placements he made in the dark (and neither should he) so we finally decided to call it.

I lowered him to me and we rigged for a rappel. He went first since I didn’t have any of my stuff - that way he’d be able to give me a fireman’s belay from the ground. While we were setting up, I unclipped from the anchor completely to transition to a personal anchor (just a sling) instead of first adding the sling then removing the clove. “It’ll be faster” I thought “and it’s dark.” I didn’t fall, but if I had I would have decked. Just another in a series of hasty decisions.

When we finally got down, I hunted in the scree for my cam. I found it in a bush after just a few minutes - so that was nice.

Lessons learned from this one:

  • if you’re not committed to the activity, don’t do it
  • know when to quit/be willing to pivot
  • stay on belay


Ski day. We were going to do a simple/local hill with zero avalanche hazard. When we got to the trailhead, it was crowded. We decided “hey, let’s go the back way around.” We’d been that way, and it’s equally mellow, so no harm there.

Once we got around, we thought “hey let’s tag that other mountain instead - it should be fine!” (That, based on a map I looked at a year ago and I didn’t remember any scary terrain.)

As we headed up, I said to myself “this seems a little steep” so I got out an inclinometer. It was only 26 or 27 degrees, so not too steep. We continued on in that fashion, checking the steepness here and there. We enjoyed the summit and rode down.

Later at home, I plotted the course in CalTopo and realized that we skinned through some little chunks of 30+ degree terrain on an aspect/elevation with an active problem in our area. If we had planned it right, we would have closed that terrain and avoided it. Again, no harm done, but some lessons came out of this one too:

  • make a plan, and stick to it
  • or if a pivot is necessary, stick to only the few local trails we know 100%
  • if something looks steep, it is - go the long way around and don’t be afraid to turn back.

Adding insult to injury, the “summit” we tagged was false. We didn’t even summit for real.


Long weekend. I decided to try to retrieve my tricams and hex from Saturday. Without so much as a glance at the route, I marched up the hill to the back and built a solid anchor at the summit.

I got myself on rappel, tested my rig, and went over the edge. As I went down, I thought to myself “it feels like I should be farther over to the right” so I kept nudging myself over that way as I descended. I even hooked my rope behind a rock “horn” of sorts to try to direct it.

As I kept going down and right, I didn’t really take heed of the potential swing should my rope come out from behind the “horn.”

It did. First one side, then the other. I swung, and it was scary. Fortunately, no harm done. I rappelled the rest of the way to the ground quickly.

I hiked back up (a pain in the butt) to my anchor and stood there, trying to decide whether to move the anchor over and try again. My Wife helped me realize I should probably call it, so I did.

We went to a mountaineering/outdoor shop and bought a new tricam and a new hex. My penance for my weekend of questionable decision making.

Lessons from this one:

  • look before you rap
  • don’t go too far sideways on a rap, because big swings suck


I don’t know if I could have seen this all coming, but I know one thing for sure: none of this was planned well. Since I started this blog, I’ve done a lot of great adventures that I planned carefully and had very little to write about. Here we are. I guess the big lesson from the whole weekend is “plan better.”

1356 Words

2023-01-18 17:00 -0700