All of us have forgotten something crucial at some point going on a trip, and I’m going to highlight my favorites. Anonymously, kind of, unless someone wants to own their spaciness. Some of these are things I forgot. Some I was just present for. Some were by friends whose stories had me laughing so hard I got a core workout or had to stop climbing and prioritize breathing. Every anecdote here is from very experienced climbers, and everything turned out fine so we’ve been granted permission to learn from their mistakes. And laugh.
Roughly in escalating order of importance and ease of forgetting (debatable):
1. Headlamp(s). On multiple occasions. So often that you develop a reputation, and friends start carrying 2-4 headlamps knowing you will forget one or the one you have will break, resulting in multiple overdue trips like rapping the wrong way down Cutthroat and getting lost in the dark while off route or embarrassing yourself on a SAR mission when the batteries explode covering your headlamp in battery acid and leaving you lampless (gift received months later to take on future missions)
2. Boots for a winter scramble up Ruth Mountain. We’ve already driven like 2hrs out of town and I hear a long sigh followed by an f bomb from the back seat. “What did you forget?” “My boots…” “Well, what are you wearing?” “Um.. chacos. With socks.” He tried on all the spare trail shoes I had in the car, of course none fit. At the trailhead we met another group of climbers, one of whom had men’s trail runners to lend our chaco-bound friend. Not enough to summit but enough to accompany us halfway!
3. A belay device on the Ice Cliffs Glacier route up Stuart. My climbing partner is about to work his way through an overhanging cornice as I slowly say “now um is probably not the best time to tell you I’ll be belaying you off a munter on a carabiner but really you got this you’ll crush it.” He proceeded to crush it. I thought I was going to have to leave the picket he placed there because throwing all my body weight at it wasn’t making it budge. A few hours later we found ourselves bailing off ice screws down the sherpa glacier. With more munter hitches. Sorry rope.
4. Skins. For skis. And one time actually the skis themselves, entirely. You have three options:
1) Drive the 2-3hrs way back to town to retrieve your gear, 2-3hrs back to the trailhead, and get a 1hr nap instead of a night of sleep, pretty much a necessity if it’s the skis you forgot (and a sure sign you are tougher than I am nowadays, because I think at this point I’d just go to bed when I got home)
2) In the case of skins, use ski straps to strap branches to the bottoms of your skis. Reasonable alternatives might be spare clothing, multiple ski straps if you have many, or the microspikes you found buried at the bottom of your pack. The fir/spruce used had directionally appropriate needles but was too voluminous to be practical. A hemlock may have been better. Branches selected from an already dead/soon to be dying tree.
3) A reliable but unpleasant fallback that defeats the point of the trip, boot as far as you can and see how long you (and your partner) can tolerate it. Pros: REALLY good workout, physically and mentally. Cons: Pendulum between amusement and anger, high likelihood of bailing/not meeting your goal, postholing.
5. Sleeping bag on the Ptarmigan Traverse. Well, it was June, and we both had a bivvy, an extra puffy or two, and worst case, a down quilt we could share, and the alternative was driving 5hrs round trip to civilization and then back to the trailhead so uh… we still went. Besides nearly being abducted by aliens, we were fine.
6. Water and gas for the group stove going up Emmons on Rainier. We bartered a fancy locking carabiner for another party’s leftover gas at Camp Schurman, and split 2L of water between the two of us on summit day. “I’ve never felt the altitude like this before” my friend groans “well you’ve probably also never been this massively dehydrated on the way up.” They still crushed it though and no one knew because my friend is freaking superhuman.
8. Car keys on a car-to-different-car-very-far-away-from-the-first-car traverse that has been deemed the Blumberhagadeen Traverse. Imagine being thousands of feet of elevation gain up a class 5 bushwhack postholing through fresh snow many many long miles from the original car and having your climbing partner sheepishly whisper “i left my car key in your car.” I don’t have the coping skills developed to process the ensuing emotions. Full story here with OUTRAGEOUSLY beautiful scenery.
9. Actually starting the gas pump when you put gas in your car. Yes, that’s right, visual confirmation that the nozzle was in the tank, but someone forgot to actually get the gas flowing. My car’s gas gauge is broken, so I rely on the odometer to determine when I need gas. We drove off thinking we had a full tank.
We did not have a full tank. The car sputtered to a halt. The tank was clearly empty. We thought someone siphoned gas out, but nope, turns out we just never filled it. Never got charged for gas, and no gas station is giving away free gas so… In case anyone’s wondering it’s >$500 to get towed to a gas station from WA pass with AAA, or you can coast downhill after some good samaritans get you gas with the spare change you have lying around your car/pack/etc and hope to miraculously average 50% more mpg than usual otherwise you’re about to run out again. Which is what happened. 26mpg in a car that usually gets 18mpg. And then we put 21 gallons of gas into a 20gal tank.
10. An entire pack. This has happened to at least three friends, believe it or not. Skis, skins, boots, poles all present, but picture your stoke stopped in its tracks as you open the trunk of your car at the trailhead and realize your pack is still sitting in your apartment.
Or maybe it’s still sitting in the street in Seattle with your rope, shoes, and harness, and you’re already at Vantage with 5 people and only one set of climbing gear. Don’t worry, the neighbor saw it 6hrs later(!) and took it inside.*
Or the crowning achievement: how about being so nervous about proposing to your girlfriend on top of Rainier that you manage to leave your entire overnight pack, including the ring, at home? And your soon-to-be-fiancee is pissed because you both left work early, you’ve already been sitting in traffic for 3hrs and now you have to turn around, still in traffic, and drive alllll the way home? In traffic? And then all the way back to Rainier, and get a super late start, and now you have lower chances of summitting, and who forgets a whole pack?! Don’t worry, she still said yes!
Honorable mentions to:
- Empty camelbacks where you packed the bladder but didn’t actually fill it with water
- Snacks left in the car, especially the hot pocket that was lost under the driver’s seat and found 2yrs later when the decomp gas made the plastic package start to crackle
- $5 gas station sunglasses because you forgot yours (x20)
- Putting black jeans in your pack instead of black long underwear for a 160mi backpacking trip
- Sunscreen (forgotten, or you know dropped off a 1000ft cliff to be found in 2200 when the glaciers are gone but the spray can is still there)
- Blue bags (easily replaced by used dehydrated meal bags)
- Ski straps (classic)
- A pack that can actually carry skis
- Ski pole(s)
- Dropped/lost keys mid trail, later found by a good samaritan who left them on the car tire w/ a note
*this is a miracle – I’ve left my car locked w/ climbing gear inside it for 15-20min TWICE and it’s been broken into within those 20 minutes and $2k+ of gear evaporated into the abyss of petty theft. Once in a double gated/locked + video monitored garage in Capitol Hill, once in Ballard outside of Second Ascent when we ran in to get snacks.