“We pushed forward about
30 yards at a clip. Then caught our breath! Hammered another
30 yards! Stopped to breathe! Always, we looked up to the prize
at 13,000 feet. Don’t let me kid you; it takes guts, gumption
and hard core determination to slog up a mountain peak—especially in
winter. Could we die? Sure, we could meet our maker.
But heck, living full-out until we die is more fun. Is it cold?
Sure, but we layer up.” Journal entry, 3/22/12 FW
Under a rising sun and blue sky, we turned into the Crane parking lot
at the head of the 10th Mountain Hut trailhead just down from 10,400
foot Tennessee Pass in the Colorado Rockies. Around us, lodge
pole pines grew thick to the west of us. Eastward, aspirin white
snows covered the valley, which featured a frozen river meandering southward.
Beyond it, enormous mountains pierced the sky. A brisk wind greeted
us upon opening the car doors.
“Yow! It’s a tad chilly,” said Al.
“No kidding,” I said. “It may be worth it to add some layers.”
“Looks like Steve and Eric started out on another trailhead,” Al said,
talking about our friends that would meet us for this hut trip. “We’ll
bump into them at the cabin.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said as I hauled my 45 pound pack out of the
car. “Let me get these skins slapped onto my skis and I’m ready
“I’ve got my snow shoes laced up,” Al said. “This pack seems to get
heavier every year we take this hut trip.”
“You gotta stop bringing two pounds of cookies and five pounds of chips
and salsa,” I said.
“Yeah, right!” Al said, smiling. “Let’s get moving.”
We hiked up the road about a half mile to where an arrow pointed toward
a mountain meadow filled with seven feet of snow. Pines surrounded
us and grew thicker as the mountain sloped upward.
“Let’s do it,” Al said. “Hey, look up above you.”
“I’ll be darned,” I said. “A stellar jay looking for a handout.”
We stepped into our gear and headed up the mountain. Not far into
the woods, a squirrel jumped from branch to branch while he chattered
at us like a repeating record. He didn’t like us invading his
My friend John Muir said, “How many hearts with warm red blood in them
are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are
shining? A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us,
but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own
affairs as we are about ours.”
We pushed past the chattering squirrel with our eyes searching for the
blue markers that denoted the trail. While we carry compasses
and topographical maps, it’s nice to see the blue diamonds showing us
that we are on the right path. Within a half mile, we reached
a frozen lake. We crossed it as the sun blazed overhead.
As Al pushed ahead, I noted the deep forest around us. I reveled
in the silence, the quiet of the snow and the slight breeze rustling
through the evergreens. Something about that “sound” that calms my soul
and uplifts my spirit. I love leaving the car behind, the pavement
and the cacophony of civilization. It’s been said that the Great
Spirit, as the Indians referred to Him, created snow to fall softly
on the ground to give a blanket for all creatures to find solace from
winter winds. Above it, nature’s motions illustrate the circulation
of life, of spirit and of energy pulsing throughout the wilderness.
As the slope pitched steeper, I noticed my breath quicken and my heart
beat faster. I felt the clean mountain air coursing through my
lungs. A mountaineering trip lets a man’s body know it’s alive.
I think Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable
ability of humanity to elevate itself by conscious endeavor.”
As we drew deeper into the wilderness, we undoubtedly elevated ourselves
as we climbed from 8,500 to 9,000 feet and upward still.
The trail led us through hard packed snow. Soon, we reached a
bridge over a frozen stream. On the bridge, the snow rose over
four feet deep. Other backcountry skiers had packed it down.
“Let’s take a picture,” Al said.
After the shot from the “Shutter bug of the Rockies”, we began climbing
hard up a steep grade. My breath drew deep drafts of life-giving
oxygen into my heaving lungs. It’s moments like this that I am
grateful for my existence, for my body and for my ability to ambulate
through this world. I am thankful for the slowness and exertion.
We slogged upward until we hit a ridge that snaked through the trees.
Unexpectedly, it dropped down into a depression, but quickly regained
itself. We worked our way through an aspen grove with more squirrels
chattering at us. Above, a hawk soared across the treetops on his morning
We stopped for a rest in a quiet glen. Unshouldering the packs
gave a sudden relief from the weight on our bodies. A long swig of water
quenched our thirst and slicing up an apple gave us renewed energy.
Thoreau said, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air; drink
the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of
each. Let them be your only diet, drink and botanical medicines. Be
blown on by all the winds. Open all your pores and bathe in all the
tides of nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Al.
“Let me hoist this torture chamber back onto my shoulders,” I said,
“and let’s get going. I figure we can reach the cabin before nightfall.”
Once again, the trail climbed steadily upward. We followed it through
a tunnel of pine trees. My skis swished over the ice crystals
and Al’s snowshoes crunched down on the white carpet with every step.
As we climbed, high mountain peaks jumped up in front of us. The
pines thinned with the altitude as we crossed over 10,000 feet and on
to 11, 000 feet. Big open glades featured burned-out trunks from
long ago. Ahead, 13,209 foot Homestake Peak made its presence
known. It cut like a giant shark’s tooth into a cobalt sky.
Two more hours later brought us into wide open fields of glistening
“Another mile should get us to the cabin,” Al said.
“We’re standing inside a huge mountain basin,” I said. “That big old
13er can’t wait to see us standing at the top tomorrow.”
“I’m ready for some hot chocolate and a nice fire,” said Al.
“Let’s do it, dude,” I said.
Late in the afternoon, the heavy packs took their toll on our bodies.
We felt the fatigue of pushing into the high country.
After rounding a stand of lodge pole pines, we saw the cabin set up
against the mountains at 11,200 feet. We punched over the
snowy land until we reached the cabin. Amazingly, it stood empty.
We pulled our gear off and unloaded the packs from our shoulders. We
unlocked the door and entered.
The cabin featured a full kitchen with dishes, glassware and silverware
on plentiful shelves. A 100 year old cook stove stood in the middle
of the kitchen. Two picnic tables made up the dining area. At
the far end, a black stove with plenty of wood awaited. Upstairs, sleeping
area for 18 people in wooden bunks. One could watch the stars
while falling asleep as windows surrounded the entire upstairs.
On the walls downstairs, pictures of 10thMountain soldiers in full ski
gear. Around the entire cabin downstairs, huge 4’X 4’ windows.
A huge deck out front featured log benches for watching sunsets and
stars. Out back, two outhouses.
“Home for the next two days,” Al said.
“I’m cooking up some water for hot chocolate,” I said. “It looks
like Steve and Eric are still on their way.”
We lounged around the cabin. Several gray jays perched on the
railings around the deck expecting possible handouts. West of
us, out the big bay window, we saw Homestake Peak rising into the blue
“It’s going to be a great climb tomorrow,” Al said. “I hope the
weather and temps are as good as today’s.”
Within an hour, we watched Steve and Eric emerge from the woods on the
high side of the mountain.
“Dudes,” I said. “Glad to see you.”
“Great trip up,” Eric said. “Nice to finally get to this cabin. I’m
tired of pulling this sled all day.”
“I like your idea of pulling a plastic sled rather than humping a heavy
backpack,” Al said.
They unpacked and made themselves comfortable. We fired up the
main stove and warmed the place. Eric, ever the baker, brought
his own cheesecake protected in a plastic container. Steve, a
college instructor, fire fighter and engineer who had traveled to Antarctica,
also enjoyed culinary talents of a top flight chef.
“I have never turned down a good dinner,” he said. “Food is the
foundation of happiness.”
“Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said that God made beer so men could be
happy?” I said. “Maybe you are the 21st century answer to Ben’s
“Why not?” said Steve.
That night, the fire burned brightly as we sat in a horseshoe circle
around the fire place. Outside, without any moon, the stars twinkled
against an ink black sky. A quick stepping out onto the deck allowed
us to see major constellations such as Orion, the Big Dipper, Andromeda
and Aries. Saturn twinkled and we think we saw Jupiter taking
its spot in the night sky. Without any light pollution from cities,
the night sky became very personal.
At the same time, it becomes so vast, it defies a person’s imagination.
As I stood on the deck looking, I felt a profound energy at being able
to see the universe before my eyes. Further, for this brief spark
of time, I am a living entity in this vastness. I am a part of
the march of humanity. I will continue to squeeze every
drop of living from my time on this planet.
My friend Jack London said, “I would rather be ashes than dust. I would
rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry
rot. I would rather be a superb meteor; every atom in magnificent glow—than
a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to
live, not merely exist. I shall use my time.”
Looking up at the dark outline of the great mountain before us, I knew
that tomorrow would bring challenge and triumph of summiting a peak
in the dead of winter. We turned in early knowing that we needed
our energies to climb the 13er before our eyes.
Morning breaks quietly in the high country. First, the night sky surrenders
to a glowing horizon punctuated by mountain peaks. The first light of
the sun brightens the snow peaks from the tips until it moves down the
flanks. Soon, the sun touches the tips of the trees and finally,
the grand finale of light spreads its rays across the entire landscape.
“Good morning,” said Eric.
“Mornin’” Al and I said.
We ate breakfast. Because of cutting a large blister in his heel
on the way up, Steve decided the pain would be unbearable trying to
climb Homestake Peak.
“I’ve got to opt out today,” he said. “I don’t need to make this blister
A half hour later, Eric, Al and I slapped on our skis and snow shoes
along with our light day packs. We cut northward toward the mountain
range and veered west toward Slide Lake in a large basin that carried
us toward the south end of the mountain. The journey carried us
for nearly two miles along the flanks of the mountain chain. At tree
line, we pushed across 10 foot deep snow pack.
“There’s the starting point beyond that canyon,” I said. “Let’s keep
high on the ridge so we don’t lose altitude.”
“Here, let me get a couple of shots of you guys,” Al said.
From that point, we made our way to the south side of the mountain where
it began a slow and steep climb to the summit. We cut switchbacks
up the steep grade. From there, the wind freshened to 20 miles
per hour. Ahead, we saw nothing but white windblown snow and ice.
If I could describe what I saw before us, we stood at the bottom of
a giant slide leading upward with a blue outline of the sky on the top
and both sides. But in this case, we couldn’t walk around and
step up the ladder of the slide. We must climb up the slide to the very
top which was probably two miles to the summit. Along the way,
all manner of winter obstacles faced us. The wind strengthened.
As we climbed, we also faced less and less oxygen in the air at high
We pushed forward about 30 yards at a clip. Then caught our breath!
Hammer another 30 yards! Stop to breathe! Always, we looked up
to the prize at 13,000 feet. Don’t let me kid you, it takes
guts, gumption and hard core determination to slog up a mountain peak—especially
in winter. Could we die? Sure, we could meet our maker.
But heck, living full out until I die is more fun. Is it cold?
Sure, but we layer up.
To my right, Eric pushed upward. To my left, Al continued his
quest. I followed them. Suddenly, I found Eric and Al to
my left as we slogged ever higher onto the mountain. But as they
pushed forward, the canyon below dropped four to five thousand feet.
As that happened, another jagged monster snow-covered mountain rose
up behind them on the other side of the canyon.
“Hey you guys,” I yelled. “Let me get a shot of you. That mountain back
drop is incredible!”
They stood still for the shot. Mind-bogglingly beautiful!
What I am seeing at this moment can only be seen on the nature channel.
I am seeing mountain majesty just like the folks who climb Mount Everest.
It doesn’t even seem like a smaller scale when a person climbs to these
heights. I am a mountaineer with no comparisons.
Onward we pushed up that colossal mountain. The sun burned over
head. The sky dazzled with its brilliant blue. The higher
we skied, the more intense the mountains grew—like a line of sharks
teeth ripping at the sky all around us. I don’t know what Al and
Eric were feeling, but I felt a sense of inner awe at what the universe
provided me that moment.
At the same time, I sucked huge lung-fulls of air into my body.
I needed to keep every muscle oxygenated in order to keep pushing.
I skied up close to Eric.
“Man,” he said. “This is an enormous pile of amazing sights.”
“You got that right, dude,” I said.
As we drew nearer to the summit, more and more large rocks cut dark
spots into the vast snowfields before us. We continued our 30
yards of slogging, then resting for several minutes, then forward again
with dogged determination. After another hour, we reached a false
summit. Beyond it, the true summit awaited another 300 meters
ahead. Icy winds pulled at our bodies.
At 200 meters from the top, I encountered so much rock that I pulled
my skis and stuck them into the snow. Al pushed on with his snowshoes.
Eric cut further north along a ridge and found a path where he continued
skiing. I carried my poles and pushed further up the mountain
as I hopped from rock to rock. Within 100 meters of the summit,
Eric pulled his skis and locked them to his backpack.
He intended to ski off the peak.
At mid day, Al reached the summit. I followed. Eric arrived
several minutes later. We high fived and whooped it up for a few minutes.
Eric jumped into a handstand. Not bad at 13,209 feet on a freezing winter
day at the top of an icy peak in the middle of the Colorado Rockies.
We took pictures of ourselves. We spun around to see outrageous
mountain ranges all around us. The Gore Range, Mount Holy Cross,
Never Summer Range, the Collegiate Range and Mount Elbert at 14,455
As we stood at the top, the wind blew, the sun smiled at us, but the
cold started to creep into our bodies because we were no longer climbing.
“Time to get off this peak,” Al said.
“I hate coming down off a peak when it took so much to get up here,”
I said. “But, I don’t want to turn into an icicle, either.”
To reach the top of a mountain, my mind soars with bliss. I can’t
help my ear to ear grin. The moment elevates me into such a joyous
mental state. Sharing it with my friends makes it a celebration of life,
of spirit and fellowship.
Moments later, Eric locked on his skis and jumped over the edge.
He made four quick cuts on the crusty, icy, hard packed snow.
To his left, a cliff dropped at least a thousand feet. One missed turn
and he would become a tumbling tumble weed down an icy couloir.
Al stepped over the edge and made his way down. I plugged in my ski
poles to brace myself for the descent from rock to rock, rock to snow,
snow to rock and downward until I reached my skis.
Finally, I picked up my skis and slapped my boots into the bindings.
I carefully worked my way over the hard pack. Once again,
I looked west to see the scenery change as I descended. With each
minute, I made my way from 13,000 to 12,500 to 12,000 and kept descending.
As I worked my way through the snow and rock, I saw where some of the
tundra melted through to the surface of the snow. As the snow melted
from the extreme sunshine, it formed an ice glaze that clung to the
rocks and blanketed over the tundra like an icy spider web.
Exceedingly interesting and a visual delight as the sun played off the
Nearly to the bottom, we stopped to eat lunch. Al caught up with
me and we sat down on some big rocks to enjoy oranges, peanuts, energy
bars and swig on some water. After 20 minutes, we finished our
lunch on that high altitude table with a view unlike any most folks
could ever dream of from their own kitchen.
I jumped back onto my skis and made my way down a couloir. At
the bottom, I saw Eric making a run toward me. He made some great cuts
and got caught up in his own powder blasts from the skis. Finally,
at the bottom, he crashed in front of me. He fried his thighs!
Al left his perch and made his way slowly down the side of the mountain.
Later, we connected for the trek back to the cabin.
While I chose to circle back the way we came, Eric and Al dropped into
the valley. Later, they climbed back up.
About an hour later, we reached base camp at 11,200 where Steve greeted
us. We pulled off our gear and stepped in front of the fire place.
Al curled up in the corner and Eric dozed near a window. I wrote
about our high altitude adventure. As you read these paragraphs,
I hope I got it right. I hope you felt the climb and the triumph at
the top. I hope you enjoyed the journey with us.
In the evening, Steve cooked up some fabulous chicken steaks with rice
and vegetables. We sat at the table with wide grins and all sorts
of stories. After stuffing ourselves, Eric brought out the “piece de
resistance” with his homemade cheese cake. Steve offered a bowl
of hot blue berries for a topping. Each of us enjoyed two pieces
of cheese cake.
Let me tell you, I savored every single delicious, scrumptious, mouth-watering
bite. I let each fork full melt on my tongue and allowed the blue
berries to soothe my taste buds and run down the back of my throat like
a summer stream full of enchanting sensations.
“Bless you for this incredible cheese cake Baker Eric,” I said.
“Same for me,” said Al.
That night, we washed a lot of dishes. Ironically, no other back country
skiers arrived, which left the entire cabin to just four men.
We read books about 10th Mountain soldiers, shared stories and stoked
the fire. Outside, the sun set and the night sky once again featured
We hit the bunks early with tired bodies ready for some recuperation
at high altitude. Before I fell asleep near the window, a shooting
star ripped across the night sky. It seemed to place a dramatic exclamation
point to a most amazing day.
Next morning, we awoke with the sunrise. It lit up the high peaks and
spread its glowing charms across the high country. After breakfast,
we washed more dishes, cleaned up the bunk room and brought in more
wood. We filled the water pot with more snow and loaded our backpacks.
Steve and Eric decided to stay for a few more hours.
“Dudes!” I said. “Thanks for a great time. Heal that heel,
Thanks for the cheese cake Eric. Let’s do this again.”
“You can count on it,” said Steve. “We loved every minute of it.”
We stepped outside into a brisk morning. With the sun shining,
it felt like a day at the beach. “Snow beach!”
We shouldered our packs, just like the 10th Mountain soldiers. We buckled
into our skis and snow shoes, just like the 10th Mountain soldiers.
We headed into a world of white at high altitude, just like the 10 Mountain
soldiers. We thanked them for their service to America.
As we headed down from the high altitude on our way back to civilization,
we smiled at each other. My friend Al and I enjoyed an exceptional
I am reminded of sage words by Henry David Thoreau, “We need the tonic
of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and
meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering
sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest,
and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.”
How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty
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Praise for the book:
“Frosty Wooldridge is one remarkably passionate individual. I’m glad
he’s a friend that allows me to participate in some of his tamer adventures.
In How to Live a Life of Adventure, he raises the lid on a treasure
trove of fascinating challenging experiences. You will be inspired by
the retelling of his adventures and guided by his bountiful advice.
He shares what he’s learned after undertaking a cornucopia of challenges
around the world. If you choose to follow the advice contained in his
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Bob Johannes, Chrysler Corporation executive
“After reading the first 20 chapters, I was ready to go out and tackle
a grizzly bear, wrestle a sea lion and climb Mount Everest.
Wooldridge takes you where you want to go! Not only does he inspire
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around his little finger with some of the most amazing tales on the
planet. While I loved the educational aspects of the book, I couldn’t
stop reading the adventures between every chapter. If I could live a
tenth of his life, I’m signing up today. I loved how thorough
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Keith and Linda Bruett