We started at 3:45 a.m. and had now been hiking and climbing for over 11 hours. Our objective was to traverse the northernmost 10 peaks of Colorado’s Tenmile Range in a single push. Ten summits, all over 12,000 feet, across 16 miles.
Now, at the top of Peak 9, having climbed a total of 7,200 vertical feet, we were faced with a choice. My partner had been experiencing clear signs of altitude sickness for over an hour. Worsening headache, nausea – almost to the point of vomiting, and a steady and rapid decrease in performance.
I looked up. One peak to go. The highest summit of the day with the second greatest elevation gain.
There was no decision.
“We’re going down, my friend.”
He protested of course. All of us do. So close to the goal after coming so far and giving so much. He was committed. But there was no doubt in my mind. The one, rock-solid rule when a person has altitude sickness is to descend. Period.
Were we committed? Whenever I do an outdoor adventure the second objective is to complete the adventure. The first objective – always – is to return safe and unharmed. Mission accomplished.
Always, always, be clear on your objectives and the priority of those objectives.