“If you’d live to be a grey-haired wonder. Keep the nose out of the blue!”
-line from the Air Force song
Perhaps a strange introduction to a hiking piece but living to be a gray haired wonder means a combination of experience, health, luck and wisdom. I started flying in 1982 in the military.
One of the things we learn is to pay attention to “red flags”, those little nigglers that tickle the periphery and beg to be investigated.
This concept is also important in outdoors endeavors and brings to mind a couple of instances where I did not carry over my diligence in flying and apply the same process with dealing with red flags in backpacking or climbing.
In the year 2000 a buddy and I headed up to Glacier Peak.This was a last minute change as we had originally planned on climbing Mt. Baker, but I had a book with a description of the route so surely that would be enough.
We headed out on a trail we had hiked previously. In obtaining our permits the ranger told us there were a number of other parties climbing the same route. Before we left the car we read through the route description declared ourselves “done edumicated”, as Jethro would say. We knew from the description that we were to intersect the PCT and continue .5 miles to the climbers path so we took the left to the PCT for the shortcut.
Next morning we were up early and made good progress on the glacier, that guide book made this ascent to be a class lower but we chalked it up to our wimpiness and climbed using all those techniques with French names. When we finally topped out we were on a gendarme that looked almost directly across to the summit.
However, the scramble we would need to do to get over there didn’t fill us with confidence and we decided to call it a day and descend back to camp. There we ran into someone hiking with a wolf dog so we struck up a conversation. When we described our day he looked at us like his blue eyed wolf dog and pulled out a map. We had climbed the wrong glacier, the next one over. We had made everything fit our expectations, cramming the square peg into the round hole. We had not paid attention to the red flags.
Last year I returned to Glacier Peak with my daughter to do a 50 mile loop. We had a map, but no GPS. On the last day we set out and noted old signs like “Kennedy Hot Springs” with a sharpie note that said “no longer there.”
We thought we had to turn left but it seemed much longer than it should have. We finally made our way down to the 3 river junction. We eventually found a log suitable for crossing and I spent some time trying to find the trail in the forest above.
Finally I came across the trail, and we schwacked our way across eroded sections until we left that area behind. We wondered when the trail was going to turn back in the direction we thought we should be going. Alarm bells were going off and confusion ran high. We made a decision on the direction we should go and came to a creek crossing.
I looked at the skinny log used for crossing the creek and said to my daughter, “Hey, does that log look familiar?” I had failed once again to explore the red flags and investigate until we knew exactly where we were.
As we head into this season perhaps remind yourself to listen to those little warning bells and not blow them off. Investigate what is making you feel slightly uncomfortable until you are satisfied. And last but not least, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Be safe out there and become a gray-haired wonder!
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