When you are navigating this wild place, you are constantly looking for options. Weighing a risk/reward as you work towards your goals.
The human body by nature will always choose the path of the least resistance, because it doesn’t know when your next meal is. Your body is always in conservation mode.
Well it’s 2023 now, and chances are, if you are reading this, you know when your next meal is.
So let’s talk about pushing your limits…
12 years ago I was solo climbing Mt. Torreys in Colorado. It started as a beautiful sunny day, almost zero wind and not a cloud in the sky. Since conditions were so “perfect” I opted to take the Kelso Ridge to the summit.
For those unfamiliar, the Kelso Ridge is a class 3, highly exposed, and dangerous ridge. One of the few in the entire state of Colorado.
There comes a point on that ridge that you reach a large buttress of rock. Easily 80’ of technical climbing on loose, near vertical rock.
I sat at the base of that for a moment. Eating a Snickers and contemplating my actions. If I decided to keep going, there was no turning back once this cliff was ascended. Even with 20 years of mountaineering experience and an avid rock climber, I didn’t have ropes with me. This was free solo. The next 80’ would decide my next 1,500’.
I went for it, and scaled the 80’ section in no longer than two minutes. But now, at the point of no return…
The clouds scraped over the summit, and it started to rain.
There was no choice but forward now. The cliff section had been passed. It was sit and hope for rescue, or the summit.
The hardest part of the Kelso Ridge was a section near the summit called the knife edge. Most people on a good day used ropes to traverse this section. I still had 1,000’ of intense, loose rock climbing in a sleet storm to get to that part.
Pushing forward… Tendons started getting tight on the joints from the freezing wet temperatures. Every ounce of clothing was soaked.
Nearing hypothermia and approaching 14,000’…
Enter the knife edge…
Now snowing, mildly hypothermic, and ill equipped.
There was no way that I was going to be able to cross this. Even with equipment and a team, it would be extremely difficult in the weather conditions. I could not do it. It was my limit.
Now what? Sit and freeze to death? Risk a serious fall attempting to descend? My mind was at a loss. I knew the knife edge was impassable, but descending this ridge while in a storm was also a high probability of failure.
I had a pregnant wife at home… failure was NOT an option.
So I sniffed around a little and found a small ledge on the side of the cliff. I scurried across the ledge on my hands and knees to a near vertical wall of loose scree. The storm now had visibility down to 20’.
Half of my body in the loose wet scree, and the other half grasping at the cliff, I continued to climb.
Eventually I reached the top of this sludge pile onto a more stable ridge. The knife edge was behind me! I pushed on through the blizzard to the summit, where I snapped a photo, then ran down the standard trail to my vehicle.
Moderately hypothermic, I started the car, stripped down, and curled up in the back seat until my body temperature came back.
Here’s the most important part. After getting home I did more research on the ridge and different routes- Every guidebook I read said the same thing:
“There is no way to avoid the knife edge”, “There are no alternate routes”, “Avoiding the knife edge is impossible”….
I am living proof to tell you that there is.
When you are put in a position where there are no options, you will find a way.
Understand that your limits can, and will evolve based on the situation you find yourself in.
Limits are meant to be broken.
Whether you’re ready or not.