Rob's Blog Archive

July 24,  2019

My Top Ten Outdoor Screw-Ups










One of the things I plan to do on this blog is post essays on special topics, and then ask, "anybody else?"  Here's my first:  My top ten outdoor screw-ups.  Actually, I'm only listing one.  Rest assured,  there are many more.  Please post only screw-ups that have nothing worse than sprains.  We're going for funny, not gruesome.

With that, here's my top outdoor screw-up:

I was visiting Palm Springs for my aunt Rusty's seventieth birthday.  It was March of 1998.  The party was going to be on Saturday night.  Except for that, I was free to do what I wanted.

Palm Springs in March gave me two areas to visit, Joshua Tree for some rock-climbing and Mt. San Jacinto for some skiing.  I visited Joshua Tree on Friday and Sunday.  I set aside Saturday for skiing.  My  goal was to ski from the top of the Palm Springs Tram to the top of Mt. San Jacinto.  It would be a push, but workable if conditions were good.

Friday, I focused on bouldering---hard climbing where a fall doesn't matter.   There's no shortage of places in Joshua Tree for this.  Afterwards, I headed to the resort at which we were having the celebrations.  At that time, my nephew, niece, and cousin were all between the ages of four and six.   We spent nearly an hour chasing each other around before I got tired.  Off to bed.

I  started early enough on Saturday, but a line had me on a later tram than I had wanted.  Still, I was on my skis moving up the trail by 11:30 AM.  The trail to the peak passed two camping areas .  It was a sidewalk between the tram and Round Valley, and well packed, though not rock hard, between there and  Tamarack Valley.  

I was skiing with the same gear I had used on the Sierra Nevada High Route the year before---heavy Nordic gear with cable bindings and plastic boots.  Between the tram and the summit, it was all uphill, so I had climbing skins on the skis as well.  

After Tamarack, I saw no clear trail.  It had started snowing.  Actually, conditions were still pretty good.  You can't walk on spring snow in California without skis, but skiing on it was no more difficult than skiing on a groomed trail, and the snow that had just fallen was light and thin---maybe a little slower than old snow, but mostly just fun.  I had to route find, but that just meant heading uphill in more or less the right direction.

The main thing that would keep me from making the summit was wanting to be absolutely certain I made the last tram down.  I might have spent an uncomfortable night if I missed it, but I was sure somebody in one of the buildings near the tram, including a Ranger Station, would have let me crash indoors.  The issue was missing the big celebration for my aunt.   Put simply, my father would have killed me and he would have had my mother's blessing.  Actually, a quick death would have been better than dealing with the tirade that my mom would have continued until she died.  Missing the last tram wasn't an option.

I continued skiing up until about 4:00 PM.  Between the fresh snow that had started to get thicker and wanting to avoid death, I decided to turn around.   This gave me three hours to get back to the tram.  

The skiing looked great---half a foot of dry powder on a good base.  I was at about 10,000'.  That meant there was going to be a 1,700' descent to the tram.  
I stopped, swigged some water, ate a snack, then took the skis off to pull the skins.   I was on a slope, but it wasn't steep and I didn't pay much attention to how I laid my skis down.   I had pulled the skins off both skis, and attached my first.  As I went to put on the second ski, I gave it a very slight nudge.  That was enough.  With the falling snow, I could see my ski for the first 20 or 30 yards after it slid away.  Then it disappeared.

It took me just a minute to realize I had one choice----make my way down with just one ski.   I tried to follow the track the recalcitrant ski had made.  Maybe I saw it, but probably not.  After about half an hour, I gave up and just started humping back.  Suborning my father's filicide wasn't on my bucket list.

The fresh snow meant two things.  The first was I wasn't going to find the ski.  The second was  I could more or less ski with two poles, one ski, and one boot.   I got to Round Valley just over an hour before the last tram left.  There, the trail was packed by foot traffic and I didn't need skis.   One ski was workable, but not as fast as walking.  I threw the one ski on my pack and started.  I knew I would make it.  Still, I didn't relax until I  was in the terminal waiting to get on the tram.

The party that night was a blast.  Friday night, I had spent close to an hour chasing kids around.  That night, I didn't have quite as much energy.  Dinner, cake, and to bed.  And for the record, I didn't say a word. 

Audio:     My Top Ten Outdoor Screw-Ups

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