Moses and all the other things we did and didn’t do

Alison Osius
Alison Osius
Staff Photo |

Twenty-five years ago, three friends and I climbed the 600-foot desert tower Moses, in a remote Utah canyon, only to find, on the wind-scoured summit, a solitary pack. Mystified, we brought it home, advertised for the owner and ultimately left it in the Aspen Times building, where two of us worked. Later, a then Aspen Times reporter, Tim, stumbled upon the full old Karrimor, and this year, upon hearing that the building was to be demolished, he returned to retrieve the pack. Increasingly curious, he dumped it out, found a camera, and had the film developed.

Chance led Tim back to me, I sent out an e-blast from Rock and Ice magazine, where I work, and further chance led us to the original owner. That story is on the Rock and Ice website, but since then a small sideline has emerged.

In my e-blast article I mentioned first hearing of Moses as a college freshman in rural Vermont. Dave, a junior whom I’d shyly interviewed for a Middlebury College newspaper story on climbing, ascended the tower over Spring Break. And bivied on top. Or so I, last week, recalled. And wrote.

When I sent the e-blast article to my old Midd friends, Dave replied that he’d never climbed Moses. He’d attempted it, though. Our friend Will piped up, detailing their endeavor. But there was a timing problem: it had occurred the year before I arrived on campus.

While I stuttered, my mirthful college roommate Rin chimed in: “I am fairly certain this is the first time that Alison’s memory has ever failed her. I have been the unwilling beneficiary of many of her memories, usually incidents from my past that I am trying to forget, and hoping that others will.

“These days,” she added, “my memory power is spent trying to figure out if I have already worked out, fed the dogs, fed the kids, taken a shower sometime in the last week, etc. Amazingly, the answer is always yes, at least that’s how I remember it, although I have also noticed that my fitness level is a bit diminished, and the dogs a little skinnier.”

I asked Dave: “Whaaa? I remember you showing me something you’d written about sleeping on a tower. About looking up in the sky and trying to figure out the stars and what was between the stars.” I can still see his handwriting on the yellow pad. I think. “Was it … a different tower?”

I mused upon how, with the passage of decades, I had credited him. My father, upon his death, was noted in the newspaper as chief of urology at Anne Arundel General Hospital, in Annapolis, Maryland. He wasn’t chief of urology at AAGH, though. He was chief of urology at North Arundel Hospital, many miles away, where he spent a minority of his practice. After a sailboat regatta was named for him, annual news reports then always identified my father as chief of urology at Anne Arundel. That information, gleaned from old files, thus passed into being, sort of. I like to think he’d be amused.

“Dave,” I said, illuminated, “now you have climbed Moses. I’ll just keep saying it!”

Meanwhile, Will offered that he’d completely forgotten one of two winter camping trips to the wilds of Mount Katahdin, in Maine, until a friend presented photo evidence.

Dave and I figured out that the outdoor bivy I’d referred to may have been his on Washington Column in Yosemite, a trip he did take when I was a freshman — though Dave still claims to doubt he could see any stars around the “butt” of his friend Richard, in a hammock above.

Will remembered how many hours — 40 — in Richard’s Jeep it took to drive from Midd to Moses, with 60 hours to Yosemite the year after. The string of emails extended with many acute recollections. Dave described a stunning planisphere view from atop El Cap Tower, on El Capitan, and his strange certainty of having seen that exact aspect before, though it took years to realize where: in a photo in an instructional book.

He asked us, “Why can I remember so many clear details from decades ago, and I can’t remember what our family did for spring break last year?” His own answer relates to any adventure: “It really does seem [to be] the intensity of our experiences.”

— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Saturday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at

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