Crummy Weekend

I posted this on a private friends only forum but thought you guys might be interested.

NOTE FOR THE NON_COLORADANS- scaled telemark skis and external fiber detachable skins let you ski uphill and cross country on the flats.  Skiing through deep powder is the physically hardest thing you can do exercise wise.

My plan for Saturday was to ski over Pawnee Pass, ski down to the Buchanan Pass Trail, go down the pass and out to Camp Dick. ~ 30 miles with the Brainard Lake closure.

I met my friend Tim at 4:30 and we parked one car at each destination and headed out by 6:30. There was approximately 3-12 inches of powder along the route which makes the skinning much harder.

We headed up Pawnee Pass and I made mistake #1, ignore obvious physical issues. I was having problems controlling my breathing and was panting pretty uncontrollably. Now I'm far from an ultra runner or other athlete but I pride myself on being able to make a lot of vertical at elevation in a short period of time. I'm guessing it is winter related because I have had AMS before but never the inability to regain my breath quickly. I figured it was temporary and the day, while cold, was beautiful. I panted my way up and over Pawnee Pass and had a good lunch of hot soup, hard boiled eggs, and sandwiches.

We skied down some beautiful terrain passing by Lone Eagle before contouring up to the Buchannan Pass trail. As we headed up in elevation I noticed my coordination worsening and my breathing becoming labored. At this point I thought "What are the options?" Going back up Pawnee was harder, going out Monarch meant a 10 mile walk on the road, going over the pass meant a crappy climb but a cruiser 11 miles back to the second car so we opted for this.

As we headed up my breathing got worse and I got slower. By the time we reached the pass dark was falling. The going was slow due to my condition and deep powder. It was getting dark and windy. When we reached the pass we realized mistake #2 - neither of us had scoped it out beforehand. It was heavily corniced and completely unsafe to descend by any means. I was too tired due to what I can only gather was a bit of weird AMS to try to ascend and descend via Red Deer, it was dark, cold, windy and I was very freaked out. I was mostly thinking I didn't want my wife to lose her husband to stupidity.

Going down the pass was out, going over Pawnee was too hard for me in my conditions and our last option sucked.

We ended up heading back down the drainage to Cascade Creek Trailhead (some very cool survival skiing with only headlamps) to the Monarch Lake Trailhead.
The problem? There is nothing there (next time I'm breaking into the ranger cabin and hope for judicial leniency).

Mistake #3, leave the cell phones in the car since where we planned to go had no coverage. So at 12 AM we start the walk down the 9.6 mile road (not enough snow to ski). I'm beat, Tim's beat, we've been breaking snow for ~18 hours and it sucked. The hike out proceeded in a complete daze with me hallucinating that I kept seeing cows everywhere starting around 3 AM. We staggered onto HW 34 at 4:30 and fortunately managed to find a kind soul to pick us up. We were freezing (temps around 0 or less) and told this guy we wanted anywhere warm. He drove us to Granby and checked if the fire station would take us, no one answered the door. He then brought us by the Granby medical center where the staff kindly brought us in, gave us soup, pillows, and blankets. I called Jen who came, along with Tim's girlfriend at 7:30 AM. I just got back from picking up the vehicles and taking a bath with epsom salts accompanied by Jameson on the rocks.

22 hours, 40 miles, 5000-6000 vertical feet, hallucinations, the kindness of strangers. It has been an interesting couple of days. We were fortunate to have packed belay parkas, goggles, eat packs, etc. but it sucked. I need to remember to apply what I know about climbing and mountaineering to any activity. It was epic but it could have been worse.

On the positive side the Elk Grand Traverse, with all of the groomed trail, must be easier.

Last edited by Jared Workman on Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jared Workman

Posts: 474
Joined: Thu Jan 03, 2008 4:52 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

I just sent the ladies at the medical center a 70 dollar bunch of flowers.  I don't think I've ever felt like death was a really strong possibility before.  Standing on the divide at 12000 feet with no light, 50 mile an hour sustained winds, 0 degree temps, physically ill and exhausted, and at least 20 miles of hell ahead of us felt as close to hopeless as I have ever been. I've been pretty shaken up for a few days.

In hindsight we were idiots not to break into the ranger cabin and start a fire.  There was no guarantee of a ride or a place to stay.  We were in a very remote area of  Colorado out of tourist season.  I'm normally strong enough to do this stuff more safely but AMS is a bi***.

I need to re-evaluate my decision making skills.

On a positive note I lost 4 lbs.

Thinking abut all of you.