Homies on Hayes — Failure And Success

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 7, 2015      
Anton, Jordan and Riley head up.

Anton, Jordan and Riley head up.

Without failure there is no success. One exists solely because of the other and the measuring stick for each is the distance from the other. The mountains have a funny way of pointing things like that out.

Yesterday while the buttress sat shrouded in clouds an avalanche poured down a serac riddled face to the right of our intended route. It was bigger than normal but we didn’t give it much thought as avalanches had been calving off the seracs since we arrived. As the clouds cleared later in the day they revealed a big crown sitting above the seracs. Immediately our plan to tromp up the banana shaped couloir to the left of the crown was called into question.

The message the 6 foot crown was sending was clear: Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow. Better luck next time. We changed our plans and set our alarm clock back a few more hours in hope of milking the moderate north facing power runs to the east of camp.

Oh well, such is life. For the time being Hayes is out and we are alive (and plan to stay that way. Luckly there are plenty of other moderate options around camp we are planning to explore.

May 2

With a new measuring stick for success, we headed east up the glacier towards an unnamed peak that looked more like Peru than Alaska. Slowly gaining elevation we wove in and out of crevasses with pink wands bobbing over our heads. Zigging and zagging upwards toward our last hope for safe access to the upper mountain, the east ridge of the south buttress came into view. On our map it appeared to be a steep, glaciated, well defined ridge that if it was smooth could allow us to skirt the avalanche problem. As it came into view it was clear that we were completely done with Hayes. It was steep, glaciated, and well defined but was broken with a checkboard of holes and ice shelves. We settled on a rolling north facing shot that extended upwards about 2000ft.

Jordan jumped in front and began breaking trail in perfect boot-top powder. It was classic Alaskan velvet, the stuff you pray for when you plunk down thousands of dollars in Valdez for a jet-a fueled bender. Jordan and Riley cruised ahead trying to burn off the pent up calories from a dry winter and a few days on the road. Anton and I followed slowly, frequently stopping to take in our surroundings. Surface hoar sparkled on top of the snow and light clouds from the south drifted in and out.

“This is going to be pretty good huh?”

“Yeah, I haven’t skied powder in months. This is going to be awesome.”

And it was. We reached the ridgeline and transitioned with most of the eastern Alaska range below us. We pushed off and dove headfirst into the boot top snow. The snow didn’t make a sound as Anton, Riley, Jordan and I headed back towards camp. We on the other hand were not so peaceful. We hooted and hollered while we ate vertical and before I knew it we were back on the glacier and headed for home grinning from ear to ear. That’s as successful as I could ever hope to be.

Crown on the buttress. Don't forget to adjust for the AK scale. That thing is about 6 feet.

Crown on the buttress. Don’t forget to adjust for the AK scale. That thing is about 6 feet.

Anton in the velvet.

Anton in the velvet.

Success? Yup.

Success? Yup.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


16 Responses to “Homies on Hayes — Failure And Success”

  1. Mike Marolt May 7th, 2015 12:20 pm

    Hey, Messner had 27 expeditions to 8000 meter peaks with a 40% success rate. He explains in his latest, when you go pure, your success is dictated by what you can actually do, so a summit is not part of the definition of success. He goes on to explain how he has been described as overly ambitious in his adventures, but the reality is the biggest success was learning how to fail by the normal definition. Not making the summit of Annapurna the first time left that door open to later achieve success. It was not about ambition, but through failing, learning how to ultimately appreciate the small percentages of summits. IE without missing some summits, making others would be utterly meaningless…. Think about it. For ski mountaineering in the ultimate peaks of AK, the Andes, and Himalaya, the ultimate and most difficult objectives, what routes were to Messner, carrying the ski gear is to ski mountaineers. It’s a limiting factor, but when you achieve success, you not only learn what you are capable of, but the contrast makes the effort, summit or not, worth it. In other words, failing to obtain a summit can make you a loser, or it can fuel your passion to go back for more, in which case failing is the key ingredient for ultimate success. As in baseball, if you are hitting .400, in these major peaks, you are kicking ass. haha. Based on what I have seen out of you guys the past couple years, you are out in front of the league.

  2. Jim May 7th, 2015 12:39 pm

    What altitude was basecamp? Thanks.

  3. Aaron May 7th, 2015 12:47 pm

    Basecamp was around 6200′ Jim.

    Thanks for the kind words Mike.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 May 7th, 2015 2:05 pm

    Failure indeed defines success. If it was easy…. We so appreciate you guys making good decisions. Too many times over past years the messages of the mountains have been ignored, with tragic consequences. Lou

  5. See May 7th, 2015 10:52 pm

    I thought this piece by Mike M. put the widespread notion of what constitutes “success”— getting your picture taken at the summit— in perspective, and also raised a lot of other important issues.


  6. Kevin May 8th, 2015 7:38 am

    Awesome writing Aaron. Glad you all are back and you got to explore such a beautiful place.

    I’m currently reading a book called ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ and in it is research about how the journey and progress towards goals ultimately provides much more pleasure, satisfaction and happiness than the actual attainment of the goal. The pleasure of actually getting what you want is much more fleeting and just brings about feelings of “what next?”

    Bottom line: you guys are big time successes at this game! Keep doing it right homies!

  7. Dillon May 9th, 2015 4:03 am

    Conditions look great. You guys should throw caution to the wind and go for the summit.

  8. Aaron May 9th, 2015 10:19 pm

    Dillon, Pushing my luck and “throwing caution to the wind” in conditions that are unstable has never has been and never will be part of an expedition that I am a part of. Its only skiing and although I can accept knowing death is possible and that I am not infallible in the mountains, I am not willing to take an unneeded risk for skiing just because the snow looks good and the sky is blue. Its just not worth it for me.

    With that said, where the “unneeded risk” line is drawn is a personal topic for you and your ski buddies.

    Hope that helps you understand my thought process.

  9. jw7 May 10th, 2015 8:37 am

    The mountains don’t go anywhere. There is no need to rush them when they are not ready. Aaron has a great view of what it takes to make skiing big mountains a life long event. It’s not about one big run, and done. It’s about achieving a long life of skiing moderately big runs under the right conditions, that is where the skill in ski mountaineering comes in.

  10. Patrick May 10th, 2015 9:07 pm

    Right Aaron, enjoy slopes when they’re safe and conditions are favourable. Shucks, if you can’t climb/ski a particular on a given day up there, there’s oodles of wonderful options at hand. Just being up there is wonderful.
    One doesn’t need to feel compelled to bag peaks or lines, at least some of us feel that way. Life’s good when your in an area like that . Enjoy, count your blessings, bask in the wildness of the place.
    Things could be way more mundane; you could be working in an office in downtown Denver or Cleveland or something.

  11. Lou Dawson 2 May 11th, 2015 1:29 am

    Good discussion you guys, keep it up.

    A few things have helped me cope over the years with motivation and goals. One of the biggest was realizing that life as an alpinist is a series of phases, and even at the most aggressive phase each participant has their personal goals and motivations, most importantly that some may choose a career of extreme skiing as a mission of passion and perhaps way of making a living, but it’s not for everyone and it’s also fairly risky.

    I truly believe the (lamestream?) media is doing a disservice to our population as a whole by the constant barrage of content that makes it appear that to have fun or value from skiing it has to be done on steep terrain and even with a level of violence (tomahawking, failed “sluff management,” broken necks and on and on.).

    Such is not the case in real life. Traveling in ski touring oriented countries such as Austria and Norway has really helped me see this, but it’s a style and lesson one can glean in North America as well just by paying attention to what really makes you happy in the mountains, as well as what gets the smiles from your friends, loved ones, and people you meet along the way.

    If your calling is the steeps and hardcore alpinism, then it is, but it’s a great big world with lots of options.

    As for Anton and the guys, as well as Louie’s trip, I really enjoyed seeing that they could all have adventure and fun while making decisions on the conservative side as to goals. As far as I know, none of these guys are trying to get their name on cereal boxes, they’re just having adventure with their friends, with a little WildSnow media spice thrown in so a free jacket comes their way once in a while and they can have some fun sharing their adventures with writing and photography.


  12. Lou Dawson 2 May 11th, 2015 1:34 am

    Good stuff from Mike re Messner, by the way. Super important to realize there will not be a 100% success rate for you initial goals. I know quite a few other alpinists who have multiple expeditions on their resume, and it’s sometimes surprising how many trips were basically a turn-around and go home, sometimes after lengthy stays in tents or snow caves, sometimes with a degree of misery. Some of the stories I’ve heard are nearly unbelievable, such as Mount St. Elias snow caves that ended up with 50 foot tunnel entrances, that sort of thing. Lou

  13. ptor May 11th, 2015 4:50 am

    Well said Mike! It’s the shadows that give contrast and meaning to things. We live in a dimension of polarity. It would suck to be happy all the time too! Many all too often fail to enjoy just being alive and having the chance to try fulfilling a dream. And then try again! Goal orientation vs. experience orientation???

  14. swissiphic May 11th, 2015 10:40 am

    @Ptor; Sure do like that concept of ‘experience orientation’. After patiently waiting for the stars to align for numerous ski descents over the course of a 25 year ski touring career one thing learned is ‘every line has its time…on its time line, not mine’. It’s been rewarding to learn to take it all in stride and learn to enjoy the wonders of the outdoor experience as a holistic endeavor with the odd ‘icing on the cake’ big line when the stars eventually do align. Much respect.

  15. Mike Endres June 17th, 2015 7:41 pm

    To paraphrase/plagiarize an old rock-climbing adage; Life’s too short to climb bad rock (substitute ski bad snow).

  16. Lou Dawson 2 June 17th, 2015 7:50 pm

    Glad you guys are still on this post. Appreciate Aaron and his crew for sharing. Lou

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version