Tough Day on the Arapaho Traverse

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For a classic alpine scramble with a minimal approach, the North-South Arapaho Peak traverse is hard to beat. I habr done this enjoyable route several times over the years, and when it was suggested by Jordan Holquist, an up-and-coming leader in training in the Boulder Group, as a trip to satisfy a trip leader requirement for his requirements to become a CMC trip leader, I readily agreed. He had done the route a few years back himself, which was a good trip leader practice to follow.  I was game, we set a date, and got the trip posted on the state website for June 18, 2016. The available four tickets filled in no time; the trip needed to be kept small due to the semi-technical nature of the route. I knew each of the participants — Chris Marotta, Neil Purrett and Chris Bamat — and each were well experienced for this trip. This was also a co-lead for Chris Bamat, who had also completed the Leadership Seminar and the Wilderness First Aid course offered through the CMC earlier this year.

Though rated of only moderate difficulty in Dave Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles, and in Gary Roach’s Colorado Indian Peaks, there are several Class 3 sections (and one I would call Class 4), so some rock climbing experience is almost a required skill. And due to presence of snow on the route at this time in the season, we took ice axes and even microspikes; of course, helmets were a must as well. Otherwise the 8.3 miles roundtrip length, and 3,600 foot elevation gain, does require a certain effort and level of conditioning; still, this is likely the most popular scramble in the Indian Peaks, so one must expect to encounter others on the route. Finally, the weather must be good, due to the prolonged exposure above tree line. To our delight, the forecast for Saturday, was perfect, with zero chance of precipitaion. We met in Boulder at 6AM, and carpooled up to the Fourth of July road to the Arapaho Pass trailhead. I was pleased to see that there were available parking spots at the upper parking lot at that time of the morning, though most of the camping spots in the surrounding Buckingham campground seemed full.

streamcrossing

Photo: Neil Purrett

 

Still chilly enough to nip at your ears and fingers when we started around 7:30AM, we quickly made our way in the morning light. Fortunately, there no ice at the stream crossings across the trail, which were gushing at the maximum during the spring runoff.

 

 

 

 

Due to the snow cover, staying on the exact trail became problematic as we neared the old mine sight, where the main branch of the South Arapaho Peak trail takes off from the Arapaho Pass trail; but we tried our best, and basically it was easy to see where the trail needed to do:

The next stage of the route is the long slog up to the saddle on ridge line, visible in the photo to the right, and then beginning the ascent up the ridge to South Arapaho Peak. At this point in the trip, it was apparent to me, as trip leader, that I needed to hand over leadership of the trip to Jordan, because I was hiking too slow due to a persistent cold I’d had for the past few weeks.  We met as a group about , where I explained this and handed over a radio to Jordan around 830am, , agreeing to stay in touch at an agreed time of 11am, with a turnaround time of 1pm. (In other words, if the the team had not reached North Arapaho Peak by that time, Jordan would direct the team to turn around and head back, in order to return to the trailhead by a safe time.) With that, the rest of the group took off ahead of me, but I felt I had done my part to remain responsible for the safety of the group due to the radio contact. I had used these radios ( Cobra CXR725) for some time, and was confident in their ability to operate in the alpine environment.

Reaching treeline below South Arapaho...Skywalker Couloir visible to the left.

Reaching treeline below South Arapaho…Skywalker Couloir visible to the left.

 

Now that the team took off ahead of me, I proceeded at my own pace…which was definitely slower. When I received the scheduled radio call at 11am, Jordan reported the team was just short of the summit of South Arapaho Peak, but going strong.  I acknowledged, but reported I was not going to make the South Arapaho Peak. I was feeling a strong sense of “lassitude from the altitude”, meaning I was feeling a loss of will, both physically and mentally, to continue upward. In hindsight, I believe my cold symptoms created an increased vulnerability to the effects of altitude. I had not experienced this before this day, but believe that is what was happening.

 

Not long after receiving the 11am radio report, I decided I should not continue upwards, which was about half way up South Arapaho Peak. I snapped a selfie to document my high point:

By now, 10am, I had earliier turned over leadership of the trip to my co-leader Jordan Holquist because I still had a cold, and was moving slow; at this point they were far ahead. This was near my high point on S Arapaho, near 12,700. But I was feeling the "lassitude from the altitude", and turned around. Fortunately, I had a pair of radios, and gave one to Jordan. Chris Marotta also had a radio, tuned to our channel. These worked quite well despite the alpine environment, and were key to coordinating during a mishap on the return leg of the trip.

My high point, near 12,700

Having turned over leadership to Jordan, and due to my weakened condition, I had to trust to the established protocol. It was a relief to turn back, and return to the saddle to rest.

I found a sheltered windbreak, rested a while, then continued down the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the team was making good progress towards North Arapaho Peak:

steepsnow

 

 

snowarete

 

 

 

steeprock

 

 

 

 

 

rockclimbing

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy this sequence of photos, taken by team member Neil Purrett.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, I had headed back to the trailhead, assuming all was well. My main concern had been the weather, but now that that had proven not to be a concern on this day, I thought we were in the clear for a safe return.

That was until I received an unexpected radio call from Jordan around 3pm, when I was within a mile of returning to the trailhead, “Rick, we’ve had an accident…”

To my alarm, Jordan went on to relate that Neil Purrett had experienced a severe tumble in a boulderfield during the return from North Arapaho to South Arapaho, due to a large rock he was standing on dislodged. This had resulted in a somersaulting fall, wherein Neil suffered a significant injury to his left hand. The exact extent of his injuries were unknown, but the obvious injury was severe, possibly broken bones in his left hand. But the wound had been cleaned and first aid applied. Most significant, was the news was that Neil was ambulatory, and able to continue on back on the return trip, albeit with some pain in his left hand. On this day alone, having this pair of radios, capable of communicating over an elevation change of a couple of thosand feet and over a mile in horizontal distance.

Furthermore, Jordan informed me that due to Neil’s injury, the team would be delayed returning to the trailhead. I continued on to the trailhead, and judging the time interval involved, concluded that a  “beverage refreshment run” back into Nederland could be easily accommodated. So I informed Jordan via another radio call of this, and made the trip out and back with time to spare.

When the team finally made it back to the trailhead, I was glad that Neil was still in good spirits despite his obvious painful injury.

Poor Neil! He got banged up but kept going...kudos to the team for making it back without me.

Poor Neil! He got banged up but kept going…kudos to the team for making it back without me.

The rest of the group were all well, and I was proud that the team had really pulled together, and used their training to support their injured partner, and make it back on their own. It was a good example of the benefits of the leadership training that the CMC provides.

The team made it back around 5:30, and Neil was in good spirits, despite the pain of his injury.

The team made it back around 5:30, and Neil was in good spirits, despite the pain of his injury.

 

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