The only one's who never make a mistake are those who never try anything new. Albert EinsteinSomething that wasn't made perfectly clear to our convivial covey of Hiker Babes was one itsy-bitsy (and likely significant) detail: Bobbie and Mark hadn't actually and completely scouted Bimetallist Trail to where it joins the Weehawken Pack Trail.
On a day forecasted to be fully sunny and mild, Hiker Babes Ruthie, Bridget and Jen answered the "call of the wild" and joined us on a somewhat ambitious back country trek...the only conspicuous absentee being the fast and furious, Michelle (finally, I get a break from speed-hiking).
It was an early start, unusual for our sleepy head gang of geezers. A hint crispness hung in the air, the kind that portends an impending change of seasons.
We dropped my truck about 4 miles up Camp Bird Road at the Weehawken Trailhead. It would serve as the "pick up" vehicle (should we be successful) for a one-way hike deep within the Mount Sneffels wilderness.
Another couple miles drive landed us at the Yankee Boy Basin Road which we followed another mile till we were nosing onto an obscure and brushy four-wheel-drive road that dead-ended at the Bimetallist Trailhead.
Being mostly "geezers," it made good sense to save a couple thousand feet of elevation gain by making this first attempt a top-down hike...a misnomer as there would still be plenty of uphill to grind out.
It didn't take long to break from shade into full sun. With not a single cloud in the sky we huffed and puffed our way up, hoping for a second wind.
The trail to Bimetallist Mine is "unmaintained," thus it comes-and-goes willy-nillie and leaves the unfamiliar hiker wandering more off course than on. Above the mine it gets worse, as it turns into an old seldom used "pack trail." But, having scouted it a couple of days earlier, Bobbie and I had a feel for which direction to go when the trail petered out.
We pushed up, up, up...shedding layers of clothes and warming to the task of gaining our first objective: "The Ridge."
As we crested "The Ridge" there was a collective gasp among our group...partially due to elevation, but mostly due to the astonishing views.
|Bobbie and Ruthie gain first peek from The Ridge.|
When asked where to now? I pointed down and said, Way down there...into the basin.
Just follow Bobbie and watch your step.
|Ruthie negotiates a loose, marbly trail with steep drop-offs |
|Almost down to the basin...|
I "assumed" that the big blocky mountain behind the Hiker Babes in the above photo was Potosi...which, according to our scouting trips, meant we had only to follow the basin down the Weehawken drainage till we picked up the pack trail, where another three thousand feet of descent would land us at Weehawken's Trailhead and a waiting pickup vehicle. Onward!
|Headed down into the wrong basin and drainage. |
But it all felt a little too simple and too easy.
It never occurred to me that, while similarly shaped, Potosi is 13,700 feet in elevation—a near 14'er—not to mention at least three times broader than what laid above us.
Add to that, if "The Ridge" elevation was 12,000 feet, I should have known that the connecting mountain was at best 13,000 feet...and nowhere close to measuring up to the high and mighty Potosi.
But it was shaped like Potosi, it looked like Potosi, so it became Potosi (Assume = "ass/u/me"). And this, is where our big back country adventure begins to fall apart.
In our anemic defense, Bobbie and I did scout to within sight of Potosi's unmistakeable 13,700 foot summit-block, from the pack trail above Weehawken.
From an above-timberline vantage point, I made the reasonable assessment that connecting the trails would be relatively straight forward.
Still, just to be sure, I did another Google Earth fly over after our recon trip and was able to stumble across bits and pieces of what I hoped was come-and-go pack/game trails that would suffice. Satisfied, I stamped it "a long day, but doable."
Another factor that contributed to my confusion on the mountain appears in the photo below. Note the gray spired portion of the on the right...
|Familiar Hoo Doos...|
While the hoo doos explains my confidence that this was the correct basin and drainage, it doesn't excuse my assertion that, "Hey, we hiked right under those hoo doos cross canyon." I said.
Down we go, aiming for the hoo doos, searching for the pack trail that got us there.
|The Bottom of the Basin|
|Jen and Bridget, taking in the majesty before following me down into the wrong drainage...|
|Hiker Babes looking for the "Pack Trail" under the hoo doos.|
About then, Jen pulls out her phone. It has a hiking app I've never heard of. She even found and downloaded a map that showed the Pack Trail. (What? My Gaia app showed nothing of the pack trail).
We compared the topo lines on our apps. Close inspection revealed that the "you are here" position indicator on Jens phone showed us to be descending the wrong drainage...one entire basin over from the right one: Weehawken!
After failing to find the "pack trail" and being cliffed out again and again, I had to admit that, even though our route looked identical to the drainage Bobbie and I had hiked up a few days ago, it obviously must not be the same one.
We turned around and began the long slog back up into the basin overlooked by the mountain I thought was Potosi, but now questioned.
|The "Faux Potosi" basin|
|The Faux Potosi Mountain blocks the view of the real thing. We must ascend that ridge to the right, which will put is under Potosi and in Weehawken's drainage.|
|Air Casting Jen's broken leg. Note one of the rescue team members hold Jen's hand.|
|On a trail so narrow, on a mountain side so steep, this was the only way to get Jen down. A helicopter was called but it was tied up with 3 other rescues in our area alone.|
|A good start, but still a long way down to the valley below.|
'Every single one of us could need them'
By Mike Wiggins, from The Ouray County Plaindealer
Jen Norvell has been hiking since she was 5 years old. She grew up in the Catskills and lived in the Adirondacks. The retired U.S. Army officer once ran a program that took juvenile delinquents into the backcountry. She knows wilderness first aid. “I’m not the one who needs to get rescued,” she said. “I never thought I’d be in a situation where I couldn’t take care of myself.” That changed in a split second last week when the 49-year-old Ouray woman slipped and tumbled off a high mountain trail while hiking with a group of friends. She’s grateful for the GPS tracking device she had with her — and even more thankful for the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team members who answered when she pressed the SOS button. The rescue of Norvell, the owner of Mountain Dog Arts, was part of a hectic Labor Day weekend for the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. It began with a call early on the morning of Sept. 3 for a hunter who had developed a form of acute mountain sickness at the base of Cimarron Ridge about seven miles east of Ridgway Reservoir. Two ground teams were deployed, but fellow hunters were able to move the man into a meadow to be picked up by a medical helicopter, according to Ouray Mountain Rescue Capt. Tim Pasek. It continued later that afternoon when a hiker sustained a foot injury along the Blue Lakes Trail and was flown out by a medical helicopter. And it ended with another call in the Blue Lakes area early Sunday morning, when multiple people reported hearing rockfall but didn’t actually see anybody get caught in it, Pasek said. A ground team was sent up to the Mount Sneffels trail head on the Yankee Boy side of the mountain to investigate, and a fixed-wing aircraft from Olathe Spray Service flew over Mount Sneffels looking for any sign of anybody in distress but didn’t find anything, Pasek said. The second call among those four came from Norvell, who was hiking with four friends — Mark and Bobbie Johnson, Ruthie Westfall and Bridget Schoo — the afternoon of Sept. 3. The group had been wandering around Senator Gulch that day and was trying to connect the Bimetallist Mine Trail with the Weehawken Trail. Around 2 p.m., at an elevation just below 12,000 feet, they decided to head home for the day when the dirt and rocks on the narrow, unmaintained pack trail gave way underneath Norvell's foot, sending her head over heels three or four times down a steep slope. She came to rest 30 to 40 feet later face down in a stand of pine trees. Without those trees, she figures she might have fallen another 300 feet. The pain was immediate and searing. The fall broke a bone and damaged nerves in her lower right leg. Any movement, any touch felt like “a thousand knives” jabbing into her leg. One of her friends was only able to get a weak cellphone signal, so she pressed the SOS button on her GPS device that communicates directly with Ouray Mountain Rescue. Rescuers got to her before two of her friends made it to the trail head. “They literally ran,” she said of the rescuers. “They were fantastic.” Rescuers secured her in a litter and hoisted her back onto the trail. Two crew members used chainsaws to clear downed timber. The group then made the long, precipitous descent down the trail to a waiting ambulance, which Norvell was loaded into around 9:30 p.m. Everything about the rescuers impressed Norvell — from their professionalism and skills to the way they communicated with one another. “There was absolute, 100 percent trust in whoever was near me,” she said. She spent the night of Sept. 3 in Montrose Memorial Hospital and was released the next morning with a crutch to help her get around. Doctors have told her the broken bone will heal on its own. It’s rare for Norvell to hike with others — often her only companion is her 8-year-old border collie, Sunday. This day, she was hiking with the only people she hikes with. Without them — and without her GPS tracking device — it could have been several days before anyone found her. Most of all, she’s thankful for the swift response of Ouray Mountain Rescue. To show her gratitude, she plans to make at least 100 pine-scented candles — a nod to the smell that accompanied her on her tumble — with the group’s logo on them. The candles should be available for sale next month. All the proceeds will go to Ouray Mountain Rescue. “Anybody in this town who hikes or mountain bikes, it can happen to you,” she said. “You might need these guys. Every single one of us could need them.”
My Letter to the Editor:
Dear Editor: On Thursday, Sept. 3, a group of four “gal” friends and I embarked on a backcountry hike on an unmaintained, come-and-go pack trail. While returning, one of the gals (Jen) took a fall on a steep, narrow section of the trail and suffered a broken leg. We needed help. Fortunately, Jen had a “SPOT” emergency device that called in our GPS coordinates to the Ouray Mountain Rescue team dispatch. At just under 12,000 feet elevation, on an obscure, unmaintained pack trail, I wondered how long before (and even if) help would find us. I sent two of our group (Bobbie and Bridget) down to the trailhead in order to facilitate OMR finding our trailhead and route, well hidden off the Yankee Boy Basin road above Camp Bird Mine. To our relief, lead members of the OMR were already arriving and on the way up as Bobbie and Bridget reached the trailhead. Around 2 hours after Jen’s fall, OMR team member, Jeff Skoloda, reached the scene of Jen’s fall. Since the trail was “come-andgo” at best, Jeff had the presence of mind to mark the route with ribbon on his way up, which greatly accelerated the response for remaining team members. One by one, OMR team members began arriving, including Doctor Patrick Brighton, who tended to Jen’s injuries while awaiting a portable litter (stretcher). Once the litter arrived, the team made safe and swift work of securing Jen into position and hoisting her back up on the trail. She was fitted with an inflatable cast to stabilize the broken leg for the long trip down on a narrow and precipitous trail. Finally, after dark around 9:30 PM, Jen was loaded into an ambulance. Our hiker group was extremely impressed with the swift and skillful response of OMR team members. For all who contributed to Jen’s rescue ... from the dispatcher, to all the people on radios who helped coordinate response, to the crew with chainsaws who cleared deadfall and branches ... we can’t say thank you enough for your training, time, effort, dedication, and kindness. Further thanks for specific responders to Jen’s rescue include: Jeff Skoloda, Dr. Patrick Brighton, Nate Disser, Xander Bianchi, Justin Hofmann, Grant Kleeves, Dan Hughes, Clint Estes, Tim Pasek, Mark Iuppenlatz, Kim Mitchel, Jenny Hart, Annie Quathamer, Blaine Eischied, Patricia Eischied, Don Fehd, Matt and Lindsey Hepp, Dolgio Nergui, Andrew Smyser, Lance Johnson, Bill Dwelley, Ruth Stewart, Sam Rushing. Mark and Bobbie Johnson, Ouray, Colorado