Thursday, September 12, 2019

Apache Peak, Mount George, and Iroquois aka The Bicuspid Traverse.

Though I like my work schedule, having three weekdays off isn't the best for meeting up with and seeing friends who also enjoy being outside, but have more traditional weekends.  It's an occasional pleasure to see them, though it often means them or me taking a day off to meet up.
We got lucky on Labor Day- I happened to have off because it's Monday, one of my normal days off, and most normal people have off for the holiday.  The weather looked great, if anything a little warm for this time of year.
After throwing a few suggestions back and forth, we decided on taking the east ledges route of Apache Peak to the summit, then follow the west ridge to the curiously white person named Mount George, and finally Iroquois.  
I'd join with prolific peak baggers Dave Johnson and Mike Offerman for a day that absolutely promised fun and adventure!
The first adventure was meeting up.  I met Mike at the Walmart in Longmont and we carpooled from there.  I suggested that we meet with Dave at the pullout right before the Brainard pay station, unfortunately neither of them had been to the area in awhile, and didn't know this lot even existed.
We could get intermittent cell service, and tried to text Dave, but they didn't go through of course.  So we went down Brainard Lake Road and found him before heading back to the parking and switching cars as Dave has a pass.  Phew!  Lesson learned to either be more clear in the first place or maybe just give a GPS point.
We made it to a pretty full Long Lake TH, got our stuff ready, and started up.
Early morning.
We passed a number of people, though most were pretty close to the trail head.  The only one we passed a little higher up was a lady who was hiking to Isabelle Glacier.  She asked how far it was, and though all of us had been there before, it had been awhile, and I guess distance is an abstract thing really.
Dave told her half a mile, but soon enough it became pretty apparent that it was longer than that.  It became our joke for the rest of the day that it was only half a mile to anything.
She caught us later when we stopped for a break.  Dave apologized, and she asked if the small snowfield near us was the glacier.  We said no.  She asked if it looked alot different, and we said no, just larger.  It sounded like that was enough for her; she took some photos and seemed to indicate she was satisfied with seeing only this small snow field left over from the harsh winter.
Our route was finally coming into view.  As on my last time up Apache, everything ahead looked hard, and I'd thought our ascent route was somewhere to the north of the peak.  I was mistaken, the east ledges are actually south of the summit.  There are alot of small moraines there, and Dave and I enjoying coming up with farcical names for them: "The Neverending Moraine" "Rick Moraine-us".  Mike was a little ahead of us, probably sick of our chatter!
Dave and myself crossing a low snowfield, no traction needed.  Photo by Mike Offerman.
On the ledges.  Photo by Mike Offerman.
The route really wasn't bad at all, I guess just barely third class in places, with some easy slab climbing.  Most of the difficulty was really annoyance- the loose talus and scree to the top.
Nearing the summit of Apache Peak, 13441 feet.
Shoshoni Peak is the closest but lower point, Mount Audubon is higher but farther away.  Lots of looseish rock.
We got to the summit soon after this was taken.  Great views abound in every direction. We signed into the register, had a quick snack, and the onwards!
The descent off the summit was more of the same rocky stuff for a few hundred feet before the real fun begins.  We were doing part of a known route, but one that isn't often repeated.  We didn't know how the route finding would be, or exactly what the terrain would be like.
The initial descent.
Looking over to the eventual goal, hard to really pick out amongst all the other rocky stuff.
Per the map, it's only a mile from Apache to Iroquois.  But it's a long mile.  We generally stayed up pretty high on the ridge, which may not have been the most efficient route, but it was certainly very fun, with great scrambling.
Mike going around a corner.
Atop and around Fair Glacier.  Photo by Dave Johnson, who kept saying how crazy Mike was.
Dave in a compromising position himself.
We got past Mount George, the curiously white person named summit in Indian Peaks, and then doubled back to get to the top.  Mike went around to the south side, Dave started around to the north side, and I shrugged and went directly up the face in front of me.  It looked like there were enough hand and footholds to just go for it and it worked!
I walked over to the summit, and was disappointed to see the broken glass register.  All the work to get to this unranked peak, and I couldn't even let anyone know I was there!
Another look revealed a smaller register.  The paper inside had been there for over twenty years, and even counting the three of us that day, averaged less than one sign in per year during that time.  Pretty cool!
Dave planking on the summit. 
Mike near the top.
The down climb off Mount George.  Fourth class I guess?  Photo by Dave.
We continued northwestish from here, with more fun and engaging route finding and scrambling.
Descending toward Iroquois.  Photo by Mike Offerman.
Mike took this one as well-great to see the colors of fall popping.
With all the moisture this year, the tundra has stayed a pretty vibrant green for much longer than normal.  Ironically, I told myself that I'd take a photo of this on the way back.
We took a short snack break here, with Iroquois (the point to the left of Dave) not far off in the distance. 
Another view, Hopi on the left, Iroquois on the right.
Dave getting close to Iroquois.  Photo by Mike Offerman.
Lost Tribe Lakes and my finger.
Dave and Mike got going from the break a little bit quicker than me.  We commented on how great the day was several times.  If anything, it was almost too warm though the predicted wind never really came to fruition.
I was on some of the easiest non trail terrain of the day, walking about fifty feet behind them, when I fell.  I've slipped/tripped/had something move under my feet and fallen plenty of times out there.  The most it's ever cost me has been some skin and blood, maybe a broken section of hiking pole.
I'm not even sure how I fell.  It was so quick.  I was just walking along on large talus, and all of the sudden in the air.  I think I fell to my right first, bumped something, and then went left.  The thing I landed on was slightly lower than my feet, so I fell from slightly greater than standing height.
I put my hands up of course.  My left palm impacted a rock and I heard a sickening crack come from it.  I felt immediate and intense pain, and saw a small but obvious deformity at my left wrist.  The bone wasn't protruding fortunately, but my first thought:
"It definitely didn't look like that this morning."
I'd never broken a bone before, but knew immediately that was what happened.  I got up, holding everything in place with my right hand, and called to the guys ahead.  They came back and had me sit right away, then lay back when I said my ears were ringing so intensely I could barely hear them.  I don't think I hit my head, or anything else really, just a few scrapes here and there.
We were able to get my pack off, and get my emergency kit out.  I took a Naproxin right away, then used the little bit of tape I had to affix some of Dave's spare clothing in the hopes it would help provide some support.
We sat and discussed what to do.  I immediately appealed to them to both go to the summit while I waited.  We were that close after all.  Dave said he thought I shouldn't be alone, but I said I could use the emergency whistle and had a line of sight to them for most of the time they'd be gone.  Frankly, I didn't want to wait for them to go one at a time.  I was already counting the minutes until I'd be back home.
We thought about dropping down to Lost Tribe Lakes, and then the Arapaho Pass Trail, and take that to Monarch Lake.  Of course from there it's close to three hours back to my house, and we didn't have a vehicle there or anyone to call really, so that plan didn't really work.
"Don't you still want to do Iroquois?" Dave asked.
I think I answered with an expletive.  We were so close... and I'd have to come all the way back... more expletives... "Let's go, come back here, and evaluate." 
We left our packs to lighten the load, though I brought my Inreach just in case.  Thus, I likely earned the dubious title of the first person to break a bone enroute to Iroquois, still summit, and then hike all the way back out.
Mike on top (by Dave).
Dave on top (by Mike).
Me on top (by Dave)?
Hell no, I didn't even try.  I just touched the top from standing and called it good.
Mike got out one of his hiking poles for me, with the idea that it would give me more balance.  I definitely didn't want to fall again!
We slowly made our way back to our packs.  We sat again and talked about what to do.  I had serious doubts in my ability to go back the way we'd come- some of it was hard enough with two hands on the way out.  But we all agreed that from where we were that going back on a known route was the best way out.
We stayed down off the ridge, largely finding easier terrain there, though still with a few third class cruxes.  Even more fun one handed!
Headed back through the business.  Photo by Dave.
Mike generally stayed in front, finding the easiest possible route through for me, while Dave stayed behind me, carrying my pack in his, and just making sure I was okay.  I was so fortunate to have them with me, as this would've all been much more difficult if I had been alone.
Mike looking back at us.
In some places where I did need a fourth point of contact, I'd use my left elbow.  I guess it worked.  It felt like it took forever, but we eventually got back close to Apache.  I was so looking forward to the easier movement of the trail, but first we'd need to go back down the loose scree and stuff we'd come up that morning.
That was some of the worst- of course the tendency is to flail ones arms when a foot slips (which happened more than once).  That simple act was extremely painful.  I butt slid some of the looser stuff, afraid of falling.  But we got down, finally getting back to the trail around 430 pm, about 4:15 after the fall and break.
It felt better if I kept my arm down, so I did.  I was feeling ok I guess- dehydrated as I definitely didn't drink enough, but the pain was at a dull roar.  It was nice to be on actual trail and feel like we were making good time.
I love dogs as much as the next person, and probably more than most people, but the few people we encountered with off leash dogs (though it is well signed at all trail heads that they have to be on leash, and dogs are required to be on leash in any wilderness area) were of maximum annoyance.  Not that the dogs were "bad", but I was really tempted to kick the one who stopped in the middle of the already narrow trail, and didn't move.  I guess the owner thought that was endearing; I was ready to drown that fucker in the creek (maybe just the broken arm speaking).  If one had jumped on me, I would've yelled at someone like I've never yelled at someone before.
Put and keep your dogs on a leash while in Indian Peaks Wilderness area, where they are required to be on a leash as signed.
We got to Long Lake, which felt extra long, and the tape around my wrist fell off.  I would've taken it off soon enough anyway, but ugh.  Looking at my arm with an extra bend where its supposed to be straight, plus the swelling... looked a little bit ugly.
We got back to the trail head at 6:16, nearly 7 hours after the fall.  It felt like forever.  We got back to Mike's truck, and he got me back to Walmart.  My car is manual, but fortunately it was my left hand only that was unusable.
I headed back to my house first.  I wanted to let my dogs out quickly, though I had a friend come by that afternoon, they'd been alone for quite awhile by now.  I also did some quick research-urgent care is really more appropriate for this type of injury, but they were all either closed already, or about to close.  So I headed to the local ER.
I had to sit for awhile- I know better than most what can happen there, and though I was in pain, I did not have a life threatening emergency.  So I got checked in, got vitals taken, eventually got a few xrays shot, and waited patiently.
The guy in the "room" next to me was not waiting patiently, and had already requested and been given Morphine (!) because... he broke his pinky!  I didn't want narcotics there, as I had to drive myself home, but come on.  I know everyone has different pain thresholds, but it was rather entertaining to know I'd hiked out 7 hours, and then driven another 1.5 to get here, and got to enjoy the sights of my mangled arm while he complained about how it was taking too long and how his pinky hurt.
I called my wife, who was inconveniently out of town, to let her know what happened.  My first ever broken bone at 38, and my first real out there accident.
I broke the Radius.
Even though I got there after the guy I was next to, and got xrayed and the results from after he did, patience paid off.  He kept pushing his button and not so subtly hinting to the hospital staff that answered his call that he felt like he was there for too long.  As he was doing that (again), someone came in, splinted me, gave me a prescription, and sent me on my way.
I made an appointment the next day with a Orthopedic Surgeon.  I saw them a few days later and they were able to get the break set and splinted in a bigger splint to limit mobility. My follow up is tomorrow, and as long as everything has stayed in place, surgery will not be needed.
Yep, I'm definitely all right.
I've been thinking alot about this day.  It's disappointing in alot of ways- the race I spent most of the year training for was in less than two weeks from the day this happened.  At first, I still had designs on going, but I effectively can't use my left hand at all, and while I think I could deal with the pain, lugging around this huge splint wouldn't work.  Oh well, it'll be there next year.
I hope once I'm in a real cast it's lighter and thinner, so I can still get out and enjoy some of the fall hiking season.
But people die up there.  Though it's a stupid fall, it would've been alot worse with a much more serious injury if I'd fallen in any of the harder stuff.  Though it was painful, I was able to ultimately get out under my own power, though not without assistance from Mike and Dave.  I was lucky to be with two people who have alot of outdoor experience, and who were able to get me out safely.  I can never thank you guys enough.
So what went wrong, or is there anything I/we could've done better?  Some accidents are preventable, some happen due to an obvious error on the part of the victim, and some just happen.  I think mine falls into the last category.
I don't know that I could've done anything to prevent the fall.  I am no stranger to the terrain we were on when it happened, and know how to move there.  Maybe if I'd been using my poles, they would've provided more balance or I might have gotten the left one under me as I started to fall and caught myself, who knows.
I should've been carrying more tape- that might've made a difference in comfort or support.  The amount I usually go with is enough for blisters and the like, but definitely not enough for a more serious injury.
I think sitting and discussing what to do was the correct way to go.  My first thought was to use my Inreach to call for help, but for where we were, it probably would've taken as long for someone to get to us as it did for us to get out.  It was pretty windy, so I'm not sure if a helicopter would've been able to fly; nor did I really need one (though it would've made that hard terrain on the way back ALOT easier!).
On the map, I've included our possible routes out, plus range rings at quarter mile increments.  The route we took was to the closest trail in our area, with Crater Lake being just slightly farther away, though much more difficult to get to.  In hindsight, Dave also suggested that we should've went down and then up and east to the Fourth of July Trail.  But in looking at the map, I'm sure we went the best way.  Plus, that trail head would still have left us at least thirty minutes from the cars at Brainard Lake.
So on a day when something went majorly wrong, alot of things went right.  It sucks to skip the race, but a fall at 12500 feet could've been alot worse.  If I ever do get to ride in a helicopter, I hope it's under my terms, and because I want to, not because I need to.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The Bicuspid Traverse (Dave's name):
Apache Peak, 13441 feet (via East Ledges): 5.7 miles, 2941 foot gain.  Third class.  Moderate+.
Mount George, 12876 feet: 6.9 miles, 2376 foot gain.  Fourth class.  Strenuous-.
Iroquois, 12799 feet: 8.1 miles, 2299 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
As a whole, this day covered 15.67 miles with 5008 feet of elevation gain in up to fourth class terrain.  Extensive route finding is needed.  Strenuous.

No comments:

Post a Comment