Saturday, January 9, 2010

Catskills Bail

Snowshoe fail.

Bailing sucks. It sucks less when your heart's not in it, when carrying on would be dangerous, or when it's easy to try a route again later. It sucks more when you've anticipated a trip for a long time, when the cause for bailing could have been easily avoided, or when it's difficult to try the route again. Either way, it can lead to a cascade of disappointment, self doubt, rationalization, and (if part of a group) finger pointing.

All things considered, my bail in the Catskills earlier this week could have been worse, but it still sucked. On the upside, I met couple cool guys, caught two cheesy serial killer books-on-tape during 16 hours of driving, and got home early to prepare for the coming semester of school. On the downside, I had sketched and planned the aborted route months in advance, there were 16 hours of driving, and the coming semester will preclude another try for some time.

What was remarkable about this trip wasn't that we didn't finish it. It was a challenging route in challenging conditions: 47 miles with 19,000 ft of elevation gain, a third off trail, over three days; temperatures in the single digits, snow approaching three feet deep, increasing wind with elevation. What was remarkable was how precipitously it unraveled during our first morning. Within three hours of waking up, we had each decided to call it quits. In retrospect, it is clear that seeds of trouble were sown the night before.

The planned route: a traverse joining the Burroughs and Devil's Path ranges.

The plan for the evening of January 5th was for Chris and me to leave one car at the end of route, meet Jon at the beginning, and for the three of us to hike in a mile or two so we could get an early start on the morning of the 6th. Chris and I arrived first, with Jon joining us after having to wait for someone to pull his car out of a ditch. As we made our final preparations, we noticed two things: 1) Jon had a really, really small pack and 2) One of the snowshoes I had rented from REI was missing the cotter pin that connects the foot bed to the body of the shoe. Jon explained that he had lent out some of his better gear to his sister, but that he thought he'd still be fine. I rigged up a fix for the snowshoe with a ring from my key chain, and kicked myself for ignoring the rudimentary step of checking all my equipment before leaving for a long trip.

We hiked in about a mile, and the night was cold but uneventful. Jon left us shortly after we packed up camp, explaining that his minimal gear was, indeed, not warm enough. Chris and I started the trek, but would soon join him.

Trip Autopsy Report


TOB (time of bail): 6:59 AM
Immediate Cause: The cold.
Underlying Cause: Lent out warmer gear.


TOB: 8:18 AM
Immediate Cause: Deep snow, steep terrain.
Underlying Cause: The same. Deeper snow, steeper terrain lay ahead.


TOB: 8:51 AM
Immediate Cause: Broken snowshoe, apprehension of continuing solo
Underlying Cause: Didn't check rental equipment, planned route with long off-trail sections.

As we started the climb up Peekamoose Mountain, the first peak of the trip, I noticed that Chris was falling behind. It started with trouble keeping his snowshoes' heel straps from sliding off. After temporarily fixing the problem, he soon confessed that the climb was tiring and that he wasn't feeling too good. We agreed to make it to the top of Peekamoose, and then decide the future of the trip. But as we continued, he apologetically said he was throwing in the towel, given the fact that the terrain would only get more difficult and the snow would only get deeper. Shortly thereafter, the keyring fix for my snowshoe gave way.

The only view of the trip. Enticing enough, I think, to lure me back.

Given our miserable state, Chris set up behind a few rocks to heat water for coffee and hot chocolate. I swapped in a new keyring and gingerly proceeded to at least this first summit. Before leaving, I told Chris I'd be back to walk out with him. Even if I could borrow the good snowshoes and his stove, I was apprehensive about solo off-trail navigation in unfamiliar woods given the conditions. As I proceeded, the wind picked up, the snow deepened, and the consistently spaced hardwoods gave way to denser brush and evergreens. I found a single view and gazed out over the vista of snow and bare wood. It was a strange feeling, like saying goodbye to a friend you just met.

I returned to Chris's kitchen and profusely thanked him for sharing his hot water. As we walked out, my shoe's new fix also broke as did the remaining pin. I strapped the snowshoe's detached body to my pack and carried on, with a snowshoe on one foot and a foot bed with crampon on the other. I dropped Chris off at his car and bid him farewell.

As I drove back home, I went through the range of bail reactions: the disappointment, the self doubt, the rationalization, and (hopefully not too much) finger pointing. In all reality, my single mistake of neglecting to check my snowshoes before leaving would have derailed the trip for me even if everything else had gone as planned. I enjoyed meeting and hiking with both Jon and Chris. I will be back to try the route again.


  1. Okay so I like your new header, but still I think you over analyze a bit much. Mostly, I am writing this to ask how you get the Gallery feature on your blog. I looked through all the Blogger Gadgets and didn't see it. It would be useful for me since I tend to over do the photos sometimes.

  2. Oh, I see. Criticize and then ask for help. :)
    I use a program (gadget, widget, whosywhat's it?) called Lightbox. Or maybe it's one of the clones. Here's the website for the version I use: One problem: you can't have both it and the followers widget running on your page. Apparently it messes with how "followers" does its popping up thingy. I've read that a version called Lytebox may work with it, but I didn't like its appearance as much.