The silver linings of failure

There are silver linings in those clouds.

One of the challenges of living in the middle of the country is that my opportunities to go to the places I love – namely, the mountains – are far fewer than I’d like. I envy my friends in western states where mountain adventures can be had in the span of a day trip, or maybe a few hours by car for multi-day outings.

For me, it’s planned weeks and months in advance, saving up money, getting time off from work approved, and all the logistical challenges that come with it. Being from a lower elevation doesn’t help my cause when I get there. In any case, I have to make the most of things when I finally get away.

And I guess that’s what irks me about my last trip, that it ended a mere 800 vertical feet from a lone summit on what was otherwise a perfect day in the mountains. The weather, the route conditions, pretty much objective variable out there, was in my favor. And yet I got stopped short because the one thing I didn’t do – prepare well enough physically – bit me in the ass.

A return trip this year was out. Too many car repair bills, not enough cash flow. Middle class ain’t what it used to be. So this failure gets to stick in my craw for a while, maybe as much as a year.

I suppose there are plenty of adventures to be had close to home. But summer in the Southern Plains is not that inviting. Blazing hot temps, high humidity and plenty of bugs. There’s no cool of the alpine air to which I can escape, no splashing in an ocean nearby. Just hundreds of miles of baking earth in the Sun Belt.

I got home a little ticked off. It was great to see friends and family, and really, any time in the mountains is worthwhile, even if it’s hard, uncomfortable, or ultimately leads to less than what was planned. I spent four hours driving from my campsite to civilization, and another 10 hours from Denver to home. Plenty of time to think about the whole mess.

And therein lies the silver lining. I knew my conditioning wasn’t up to snuff. I could do something about that. So as soon as I got back, I got to work. And worked harder. More miles on the road. Bigger effort in the gym. Getting outside in the heat and tackling it head-on. I sucked on the trail, so I was going to make myself pay for it now so I wouldn’t suck later.

In about two weeks, I’ll be starting a training cycle for fall races. Looking back on the last few weeks, and the improvements I’ve already seen, I may just enter that 12-week cycle better prepared than I have in years. Which means come November, I might not suck at all.

So there it is. Failing to plan begets failure in execution. But failure in execution can be a great motivator for the tasks to come.

Bob Doucette

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Not quite ready for prime time: Stopped short on Colorado’s Mount Lindsey

Not a bad view, folks.

Humility is a good thing to have. It’s also a hard thing to receive. Receiving it, by definition, means being humbled. And that’s not a fun process.

I came into the summer doing what I usually do with the hopes of getting into the Rockies to see some new peaks. In the past, I’ve had various levels of conditioning – sometimes excellent, sometimes not so great. If I have a weakness, it’s that there are times when I try to see how little I can do and still get my butt up these things.

I took that a little too far this time. Sure, I lifted a bunch. I ran a little. I did other bits of “conditioning.” And then I drove myself to Colorado to climb Mount Lindsey, a peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range that has a fun route up its northwest ridge.

My hiking buddy for the day, Laura. Strong lungs and legs on this gal.

Some things that went right: I had another one of those meet-a-partner-at-the-trailhead moments. Laura is a Colorado gal who had roughly the same kind of experience as me, and as it turned out, she was a great partner. Knowledgeable about the high country, great conversationalist, and overall a pleasant person to be around. She was also remarkably patient. Girl’s got Colorado lungs, you see, and she could have dusted me at any time but didn’t.

We had a perfect weather day, too. No storms forecast until evening, warm temps, light breezes. Given the mileage (8.5 miles), the gain (3,500 feet) and the route difficulty (Class 3-4  on the crux wall), this was a mountain well within my wheelhouse. That is, if I was in shape.

Normally I can find a rhythm between 10,000-12,000 feet. It’s not a fast rhythm, but it eats mileage just the same. Once I get past 12,000 feet, I slow down considerably, but by then I can usually chew up the rest of a route in decent enough time.

Not so this time. The night before, I didn’t sleep. Not even a bit of dozing. I tossed and turned for seven hours at camp. Not exactly a good omen. Once we got going, I handled the easy portions of the trial just fine. But the route up Lindsey includes some steep sections in the trees, easier hiking in a basin below its summit ridge, and then steeper switchbacks going up to 13,000 feet.

I was struggling right off the bat, maybe like I never have before. Poor Laura was having to stop and wait on me every couple of minutes or so, even when we were below 11,000 feet. By the time we hit 13,000 feet, I was getting a little dizzy and was pretty much zapped. We struck up a conversation with a couple of dudes who’d come up behind us, and they were going to do the same route we planned. At that point, I suggested to Laura that she continue up with them and I’d call it a day. I’m sure I could have topped out, but I feared that I’d have nothing left for the downclimb, and that’s just not safe. This way, Laura could get her summit and I could take a slow walk down to contemplate my failure.

This is where I had to stop, below the crux wall at 13,200 feet. Behold the scene of failure.

I’ve been turned around before. Lindsey is the fourth mountain I’ve attempted and turned back short of the summit. But the other three times there were reasons that were either beyond my control (weather and route conditions) or something understandable (pooping out after having done three peaks the previous two days). In this case, the fault was entirely my own. I didn’t prepare myself for the task, and I got my butt whooped accordingly. I deserved what I got.

That’s not to say it was a total loss. The scenery was, again, drop-dead gorgeous. I met some cool people. I got a heck of a workout. But no summit. And that’s too bad. It’s rare that everything lines up so well for success, but you find yourself unable to seal the deal. This one’s going to stick in my craw for awhile.

Anyway, here are some pics of what is one of the more scenic mountain scenes I’ve laid eyes on. Maybe next summer I’ll come back, and have the fitness to get it done.

Blanca Peak showing off over this broad meadow.

Going up!

A bluebird day, folks. Shame I couldn’t make the most of it, but the scenery was grand.

Looking down at all the vert I ate. Heartburn ensued.

Rugged stuff. Lots of rugged stuff.

Looking down the west slope basin from 13,000 feet.

Blanca Peak (left) and Ellingwood Point.

A scenic creek close to the trailhead that included an interesting crossing.

Laura looks ahead toward the summit.

Until next time, folks.

Bob Doucette

Happy first birthday, ‘Outsider’

I was hiking with my friend Bill on a hot July morning when we got to talking about the book I wrote. He’d already read it – he was actually in it – and gave me the kind of cool feedback you really dig as a writer. It was a fun way to keep the conversation going that morning as we put in a few miles on some of my favorite local trails.

Altitude wasn’t the issue, obviously. Bill was used to hiking at 12,000 feet and up, and nothing goes much higher than 800 feet in Tulsa. But he’d been kind enough to surprise me by showing up for an informal launch party the night before, so I figured I owed him a hike before he flew back to Denver.

“Hot,” was his main observation. Colorado gets heat. But not Southern Plains heat.

As far as the book? He noted how its title, “Outsider,” was appropriate to me. I’d orbited Colorado’s 14er hiking community for years but wasn’t really quite part of it. At least not in the way that Coloradoans are. The same could also be said for the local trail running community, one I don’t get to interact with nearly as much as I’d like because I work nights and they all have normal gigs that allow for plenty of night time, early morning and weekend get-togethers. So I orbit that group, too.

Not that I realized it. It took someone looking at that book, and at me, to point it out. As it turns out, there was a layer to “Outsider” that even I wasn’t aware of.

That’s the kind of thing writers live for, to see how something we create affects others, to see how readers interpret it, relate to it, and maybe even get moved by it. As of this week, I’m one year removed from when “Outsider” was published. You dream in your head it was like a countdown to a rocket launch, or some other big deal, but it was just a click of a button on my computer and presto! People could order it without the slightest bit of ceremony.

When a book comes out, I imagine a lot of writers fantasize about hitting that New York Times best-sellers list. Maybe getting interviewed on the Today show, or get chosen by Oprah’s book club. You dream about launching this new, big thing that will finally give you the freedom to do what you love for the rest of your life, and live out the rags-to-riches tale of J.K. Rowling. I know I did. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. It didn’t for me.

I told people I had three goals. First, break even. Even self-publishing has costs, and if you really care about your work, you’re going to invest in it. My hope in this regard was to at least recoup my costs. Second was to make enough money to fix my car. Years of deferred maintenance had piled up, and the price tag to cover this multitude of sins wasn’t small.

So far, check and check.

Third, I really wanted to make enough to get an adventure-worthy rig that could take me to the backcountry places I love. It would be nice to not always be the guy bumming rides from people with high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. I haven’t made that goal yet.

But those weren’t really my aims. And I knew better than to pin my hopes on becoming the next big name in the publishing world. What I really wanted to do was write something honest, something I could be proud of, and something that would affect people in a positive way. I hoped to communicate the way the outdoors has blessed me and describe how wonderful the people I’ve met and traveled with really are.

“Outsider” is about all those things, and more. It’s about family. About grief. And God. It’s about being lost, but finding yourself in the midst of wilderness, both physical and metaphorical. It’s about finding healing in those wild, difficult and beautiful places. That’s what I hoped to communicate, anyway.

On that note, feedback was more valuable than the money. My friend Matt brought a bunch of his California friends to town late last summer, and one of his buds had read it. She wanted to talk to me about it, particularly about the chapter on my oldest brother Mike. Reviews posted online were gratifying. And just this week, a friend of mine texted this: “Your book struck a deep chord in me.” These conversations, reviews and other messages help me believe that maybe I don’t suck after all.

That might sound a little sappy, but here’s the reality of writing a book: It’s a lot like anything else someone builds from scratch. You write a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. You string those chapters together. You edit. Revise. Tweak. Edit again. And again. And again. Eventually, you check the last box, call it good, and send it to market, the same way a carpenter might take simple boards and end up with a fantastic piece of furniture, or a custom bike builder would take sheet metal, a frame, a motor and scores of parts and fashion a road-worthy machine. A lot of time, effort and love goes into that kind of work, and that’s what makes it meaningful. The hope is that the effort and meaning you place in that comes through with satisfied buyers.

And this is the point where I have to offer some gratitude. A good number of you all plunked down a few bucks to buy a copy of “Outsider,” and for that I’m hugely grateful. You invested in the thing that took me a few years to build. My sister and parents became a pro bono marketing machine, so there are a bunch of copies of the book floating around in Texas right now. And more of you helped the cause by word-of-mouth via social media and in person with your friends and family. It really does take a village.

So what now? Well, there’s always something on the fire. A few interviews done here, a few more to get there. A chapter written. I guess I need a little more time in the shop.

If you haven’t read ‘Outsider’ and would like a copy, you can order it here.

Bob Doucette

An Ohio man needed rescue on Mount Washington, and he may get billed for it. But should he?

Mount Washington, N.H. (Wikipedia/Danielc192 photo)

If there is one seemingly unsolvable quandary in the outdoors, it’s whether people who are rescued should be billed by their rescuers.

There are a lot of threads to this narrative. First, search and rescue costs can be expensive – even with volunteers doing most of the work, it costs money to reach remote locations and sometimes fly helicopters to find and extricate distressed hikers and climbers. Many of these rescues happen in rural counties that are strapped for cash as it is. In some cases, they’ll get help from military units (flight time for helicopter rescues goes down as training for the crews involved), but a lot of times you’re also involving county personnel like sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and EMTs who get paid to be out there. Someone must foot the bill at some point.

Federal workers get wrapped up in it, too. As do their resources. They often work alongside state and county rescuers, mostly because the bulk of these rescues are taking place on public lands, and most of those are federally owned.

Some search and rescue efforts that stretch into days, involving air and ground crews, can run up a serious tab.

Another subplot: Those in need of rescue are often at fault for their own predicament. That sounds harsh, but usually it’s true. Dehydrated hikers in the Grand Canyon often underestimate the heat and don’t bring enough water. Alpine hikers and climbers misjudge the terrain, the weather and sometimes their own capabilities in environments that are inherently challenging. Gear junkies sometimes place too much trust in electronic devices that fail when signals are lost, or batteries go dead. Those with emergency locator beacons are, at times, bolder than they’d normally be, either taking greater chances or, in some cases, activating their locators when they are simply tired of the effort.

Given the greater numbers of people who are heading into the backcountry, the costs of rescues are piling up.

This has pushed some states to enact policies that would make rescued parties liable for the costs of their salvation. New Hampshire is one of those states, and a recent story by The Associated Press highlighted one such instance where an overwhelmed hiker might end up getting billed for the trouble.

The hiker, 80-year-old James Clark, was ascending Mount Washington with two of his grandsons when he told them to go on to the summit without him. The younger men did so, then took a different route down, the AP reported. Clark didn’t meet them back at the trailhead, and that’s when search and rescue was called.

“Clark was found Friday immobile in the fetal position with signs of hypothermia hours after telling his two grandsons to go on without him. Clark was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and released Saturday,” the AP reported.

Mount Washington and the surrounding peaks can be tricky. Already, two other people died in the area within a week of Clark’s rescue. The mountain is known for having some of the worst weather on the planet. Rescuers said Clark wasn’t dressed for the potential weather extremes seen on the peak, which can be summery and warm at the base and full-on winter conditions on the summit, often with little warning.

That alleged lack of preparation is what might end up being the reason Clark gets socked with the tab.

I’ve got mixed feeling about this. Part of me thinks people should be held accountable for the bad decisions they make. Plenty of information exists, available at your fingertips, that can guide your preparations for the outdoors. Choosing not to be informed is just that: a choice. And in most areas of life, bad choices have consequences. Maybe some of those consequences should hit folks in the wallet. Perhaps a financial incentive would make people more self-reliant, more prepared, and safer.

But my thinking gets turned around when human nature comes into play. It goes something like this:

A hiker gets lost. Or injured. Or something else happens that makes that person think, “I’m in some trouble here.” But before activating that beacon or pulling out the phone for a 911 call, the hiker pauses.

This is gonna cost me. A lot. Maybe I can tough it out.

And then the hiker gets deeper in trouble, maybe irrecoverably.

That’s the fear I’ve heard expressed on forums by people who are part of the search and rescue community. They worry that folks will choose saving money over their own lives when they get in trouble, and that leads to more search and recovery missions instead of search and rescue. Crews will still take risks in recovery missions; they differ in that the ending of a recovery mission is always a mournful one.

As I’ve thought about this, the prospect of saving lives outweighs the irritation I feel about people being dumb. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people pushing the button on their SPOT device because their feet are tired. I want people to be responsible. But I don’t want people dying in the bush because they were afraid of a five-figure bill coming in the mail.

Will New Hampshire authorities charge Mr. Clark for his rescue? It sounds like they might. But should they? I’d hate to think they’ll be pulling more bodies off Mount Washington because financial considerations won out when a call for help should have been made.

Bob Doucette

There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ 14er

About 13,000 feet on Quandary Peak’s east ridge. While this is considered one of the easier Colorado 14ers, it still presents plenty of challenges that are not easy.

Something I see posted in outdoor forums and social media sites is a question about the Colorado 14ers, or more specifically, about which peaks are the “easy” 14ers.

A lot of times, the people asking this question are just like I was many years ago when I wanted to follow in my big brother’s footsteps by seeking summits on Colorado’s highest peaks. There was no sense trying to bag the tough ones too early, at least not for someone with no experience in the high country. That was my thinking, anyway.

I’ve got a few under my belt now. Not a ton, but past the noob stage. Here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to: For most people, there is no such thing as an easy 14er.

I’ll explain why in a minute. First, a disclaimer. As of this writing, I have 32 summits of 13,000 feet or more under my belt. Twenty-two of them are 14ers, and throw in a couple of repeats, that’s 24 successful ascents of peaks of 14,000 feet or more. I’ve done some more advanced routes, but plenty of harder ones still await. The hardest peak I’ve done was Mount Eolus, ranked by 14ers.com as the 12th hardest of the 58 Colorado 14ers. So my range of experience is somewhat limited.

That said, I’ve seen a range of difficulty that backs up my claim. My reasoning…

Mount Bierstadt (right) and the Sawtooth Ridge.

Even if you’re in shape, elevation is the great equalizer. You say you’re a runner? A cyclist? A crossfitter? Well, I’ve got news for you. A well-marked and maintained trail on the gentler slopes of “beginner” peaks will still take you past 12,000 feet above sea level, and that’s when it gets tough. I’ve found myself counting steps and taking a breather on walk-up peaks, confirming that even on the shorter, less-steep and easier routes, it’s still damn hard work, even for the fit. Blame that thin air.

Huron Peak.

Elevation has other fun surprises, too. You’re going to burn a lot of energy going up that hill, but don’t be surprised if your appetite is nil. You’ll need to force down calories, but your digestive system may want none of it. Thin air will make you breathe harder, and with each exhale, you’ll lose small bits of moisture. You’ll sweat. When added to the dryness of the climate, dehydration settles in fast. The effects of these maladies, plus the general susceptibility some people have to high elevations, can bring on altitude sickness. Elevation doesn’t know you’re on a beginner hike. It’ll throw these obstacles at you regardless.

Me, with the Hilltop Mine and Mount Sherman’s summit in the background. (Jordan Doucette photo)

Beginner peaks have been known to kill. Weather and terrain can be brutally fickle on the 14ers, regardless of season. A gentle summer slope can be a killer in winter or spring if the snowpack is unsettled and avalanche-prone. Lightning strikes are deadly. And being exposed to the elements when the cold comes through and catches you unaware is an easy way to get hypothermia. Seemingly healthy people have keeled over from heart attacks on straightforward walk-up mountains like Quandary Peak.

Slogging up Mount Yale, about 12,500 feet.

Remoteness of most of the 14ers provides added challenges. Even the most accessible mountains are, in some ways, remote depending on where you are on the peak. If something goes wrong (injury, illness, getting lost) near the summit, it could be hours or even days before rescuers can reach you. That makes planning an added challenge, and places pressure on you that don’t exist on lower elevation hikes.

Me on Mount Shavano’s summit, my second ever 14er.

One last thing: Don’t let these admonitions lead you to believe that ordinary folks can’t find their way to high summit views. Plenty of Average Janes and Joes not only top out on the easier 14ers, but actually climb them all. And that’s the great allure, that hiking and climbing mountains can transform otherwise ordinary lives into ones that are more adventurous. But it’s wise to respect the peaks – regardless of their perceived difficulty – and remember that a 14er ascent is no walk in the park.

Some helpful links…

14er fitness

14er gear

Picking your first 14er

Doing your first 14er ascent

Bob Doucette

Another look at training, performance and being ready to climb mountains

The high country can be fun if you’re physically ready for it.

I’m in a group on Facebook that deals with strength and fitness, and the administrator of that group asked me to post something there about what I do for conditioning in terms of being in what I call “mountain shape.”

This is an evolving thing for me, but over the years I’ve found some things that have worked well, and others not as much. Anyway, I figured I’d share that here, just in case some of you were looking at ideas for getting ready for hikes and climbs in the mountains, particularly when the altitude is high. Keep in mind, this is a post for a group that is focused on people focused on strength training, so it’s going to have a bias toward that and away from endurance athletics. That said, I think these ideas are fairly universal for people wanting to perform better at altitude. Have a read, and feel free to chime in with a few of your own ideas.

***

I’m a big fan of Ed Viesturs, the first American to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. He’s a beast on the hill. His primary ways of getting in shape: He runs 8 miles a pop, and he guides on Mount Rainier. That’s what got me into running.

BUT… as we all know, a lot of steady-state cardio can have negatives. Especially if you’re trying to build muscle. Steady state has its place. Lifting coach Tony Gentilcore wrote an entire post about its benefits in developing capillary density, aerobic capacity, etc. (he’s a legit lifter, too; can pull 600+ on the deadlift). But the body adapts to endless steady state cardio over time, and its benefits diminish. Meanwhile, lots of weekly mileage running can start to eat away muscle and sap strength. Metabolic changes can also occur, making it harder to maintain leanness over time. So what’s the middle ground? Some ideas:

You can get your run on without having to run tons of miles. Intervals, negative splits and sprints will get you in shape.

Intervals: You can do this in a number of ways. I like doing 8 repetitions of 400-meter runs. I push these hard, take a 90-second break, then do the next one a little faster. You can vary distances, too. 200-meter intervals at faster speeds can get a lot of work done. If you’re a real sadist, 800-meter intervals. If you can get to the point where you’re doing 8×800 or 10×800, you’re gonna be one tough mutha when it comes to stamina.

Sprints: 40- to 50-meter sprints are awesome. A hard sprint workout will not only get that conditioning benefit, but it will also enhance overall power and athleticism. That said, if you’re not used to doing sprints, ease into these at first. Someone who isn’t used to doing sprints, then shows up at the track and goes all out is asking for an injury. Do your homework, start conservatively, then work up to it. Sprinting is a skill. Check out this link for more.

Negative splits: A “split” is a term used to describe the time you run a specific length of a run. So on a 3-mile run, you could have three “splits” of a mile apiece. A negative split describes when a runner runs each split faster than the one before. This is a TOUGH workout. How I do it: I jog the first mile, easy pace. Second mile, I run at a goal “race pace.” Conversation at this pace would be difficult, as in short, infrequent sentences. On the last mile, I speed up again at a “suicide” pace. It’s not a sprint, but it’s fast enough that finishing that last mile at that speed is not guaranteed. You might want to ralph when it’s over. Great builder of VO max/mental toughness.

Take your fitness outside the gym to get in mountain shape. Go hike. Go climb. (Brady Lee photo)

As for conditioning specific to the mountains, I’d suggest three things. First, you gotta hike. Hike hills. Carry a loaded pack. Spend a few hours out there. Second, you gotta climb. If you’re going to tackle a mountain that’s not a walk-up, you need to put your body through the movements you’ll use on the peak. Find a local crag, go to a climbing gym, etc. It’s practice. Lastly, become friends with the stairmaster. Yeah, it’s an inside-the-gym machine, but it works all the muscles used in going uphill. Try increasing your speed as you go to mimic the increased aerobic demand of elevation gain.

Don’t forget to lift!

And as always, keep lifting. Your lifts should be based on the four basic movements: Squat, hip-hinge, press and pull. All of these are useful on the peaks, in building strength, and in everyday life.

How it looks for me: I lift Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. For conditioning, I do the stairmaster on Monday; short tempo run (steady state, race pace) Tuesday; longer run OR hill run OR negative split run on Wednesdays (this will be a high-demand conditioning day); stairmaster or HIIT on Thursday; medium-length tempo run Fridays. Saturday is an outdoors day. So I’ll go hike, climb, or do a long bike ride. I keep Saturdays open and fun, but fun with a purpose. Sundays I chill.

So there you have it. Again, if you’ve got your own ideas, let’s hear about it in the comments. And for more on this topic, check out this post.

Bob Doucette

Life outside: My favorite photos from 2018

I know most people do posts like this before the year ends, but hey, I was busy. So it’s mid-January and now I’m finally getting to it.

Getting outside allows you to see some incredible sights. So what you have here is a collection of cool scenes that stuck with me. Let’s get to it.

CAMPSITE SUNRISE

A lakeside sunrise in the Wichita Mountains.

I took this shortly after crawling out of my tent on a cool January morning in the Wichita Mountains. Our campsite was right next to this lake. There’s nothing quite like the sun setting the sky on fire the first thing in the morning.

THOSE CLOUDS

Sunset Peak, Wichita Mountains.

The cloud cover made the light a little flat, but the clouds themselves fanning out over the south summit of Sunset Peak in the Wichita Mountains caught my eye. The scenery is never boring here.

LATE SUN, THICK GREENERY

Hi Chi Trail, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa.

I made a point last year to hike more, even if just locally. As the sun gets close to setting, you hit this magic hour when it pierces the woods and lights up the forest with a warmer glow than what you usually see when the sun is high and blasting you with Southern Plains heat.

THE CRESTONES

Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak, as seen from the upper slopes of Humboldt Peak, Colo.

I had a hard time picking just one photo from last summer’s trip to South Colony Lakes. This one sums up the rugged beauty of the Crestones, two of the giants of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I hope to go back soon.

AGAIN WITH THE MAGIC HOUR

Hiking the Mountain Trail, Robbers Cave State Park, Okla.

Oklahoma is a Southern Plains state, and most people see it as an expanse of prairie. That’s true in a lot of the state, but in southeastern Oklahoma are the Ouachita Mountains, an ancient swath of high, rolling hills covered in broadleaf and pine forests that stretch deep into western Arkansas. Coming back down the Mountain Trail at Robbers Cave State Park, the lowering sun cast light and long shadows through the pines. The Ouachitas were showing off.

ONE WORD: RUGGED

Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, Wichita Mountains, as seen from Mount Mitchell.

We’re ending it here where we started: Deep inside the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma. We’d climbed to the top of Mount Mitchell and sought an easier route down. While scrambling down the mountain’s east ridge, I stopped to take in this view. The image encapsulates what may be the most rugged terrain in the state.

So there ya have it. What’s in store for 2019? We’ll see. Hopefully it’s at least as good as this.

Bob Doucette