September 2, 2011 1 Comment
My scrambling season hasn’t been very productive, so my brother, Carlo, and I set out to conquer the north peak of Mt. Kidd (2958m). It’s nowhere near the technicality of Mt. Smuts, but with a vertical elevation gain of 1350m, an estimated completion time of 6-9 hours and a rating of ‘moderate’, it’s not a mountain to take lightly.
Carlo and I set out early enough to allow for some extra time past the 9 hour outer limit of the estimated trip time. We had a photocopy of the guidebook entry, a trip report from a reputable climber and a topographic map.
I’ve quoted Moltke before, and his adage describes this trip well: our plan didn’t survive first contact with the mountain. Shortly after starting up the bowl, we veered right into a gully to avoid what looked like an exposed bit of trail. We wasted a over an hour slogging up (and down) a steep scree-filled gully in the hottest part of day. When we resumed the trail we wanted to avoid, we saw that it wasn’t that bad and continued onward, albeit tired and having consuming a good portion of our supplies to recover from the unnecessary fatigue.
Feeling guilty for making the call to go up the gully, I let Carlo lead the remainder of the trip. Aside from some steep bits and some hands-on scrambling (see the video), there were no major difficulties that we encountered. Still, I had this nagging feeling, based on trip reports I had read and pictures I’ve seen, that we were off-route. We were also becoming more aware of our fatigue, so we decided that we would turn back at 3:00PM, regardless of our progress.
Mother Nature sent us into retreat before Father Time could. At 2:30PM, clouds moved in. I knew there would be rain either on Tuesday or Wednesday, so I didn’t know whether to call nature’s bluff. What I did know is that we were on a new mountain, there were no other people on the trail, we were tired, our supplies were running low and we weren’t even sure that we were on the right route. I also knew that scrambling, especially on the slabby terrain we were on, was very dangerous in wet conditions. We decided not to chance it, and we started back. By my estimate, we were around 300 vertical metres short of the summit.
As luck would have it, we weren’t in cell phone range at that point either, though we discovered that after we had decided to retreat. (Besides, proceeding only on the basis that a helicopter can easily be called in is nothing short of irresponsible.)
We made a speedy descent and only stopped to send a message of our retreat and to finish the last of our food and water when we reached the approach trail. It never did rain until the next day, but the clouds lingered around and forest fire smoke continued to blow into the area, making it difficult to breathe. When we finally got back to the car, we had taken the entire 9 hours that Kane gives as an outer limit of an estimated trip duration.
It rained the next day, so we cut our trip short and headed back to Calgary. Upon our return, I immediately looked up trip reports and route photos. Sure enough, we went off-route and angled toward the summit prematurely. Like the first time we went off route, we should have continued to move towards the ‘back’ (west) of the mountain because the guide clearly showed that we would eventually need to backtrack towards the front of the mountain (to the east) once we hit the summit ridge. Instead–as you can see from the picture below–we were directly south of the summit. Even if we had trudged on, we likely would not have been able to summit anyway, given that, the terrain we were on was definitely more technical than a slog up a scree field. While I think more seasoned scramblers and climbers would have been able to surmount the cliff bands that lay ahead (and walk off the usual route), Carlo and I aren’t at that point yet.
Notwithstanding my disappointment with not summiting and getting lost twice, I was satisfied with the trip. We encountered some unique terrain with some good bits of hands-on scrambling. Both Carlo and I were surprised by the ease that we handled the more technical sections, which were not really ‘technical’ in the technical sense of the term, but were still more technical than what we were accustomed too.
Most importantly, I’m proud that we didn’t take any unnecessary or irresponsible risks. Untempered ‘summit fever’ impairs judgement and can lead otherwise sensible and capable individuals into trouble. Not only did we turn back when the weather appeared to worsen, we also set a ‘drop-dead time’ for our retreat. Our failure today ensures that we would have another time to succeed. Until then, Mt. Kidd, north, goes on the do-over list.