Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bub and Bubba's Turnagainhouse Trot, Part 2 - Making It Happen

The trot began the same way that most of the trips that Bubba and I take, with me lying between my teeth on everything from how long I think it will take (always stated as much less than what I expect to be true), when we should leave (given much earlier than the time I know we'll actually leave), and giving assurances that if he doesn't come he's the wimpiest, laziest, most adventure deficient piece of scum to crawl the face of the earth. Unfortunately, this approach only persuades Bubba to join me about 20% of the time, but now luck was in my favour and he agreed to join me on the trot.

Prepping my bag around 7.45 (I had told Bubba to come by around 7.00), I got a call from him that he was on his way, and by 8.30 he had actually arrived (he lives 10 minutes away) and by around 9.00 we were hiking up the trail out of the Glen Alps parking lot. Bubba, keeping fit to his name, had taken on a strong passion for firearms in the last year, and strapped to his pack in a shoulder holster was a large .454 hand gun- plenty to keep both rock scrambling bears, rabid Dall sheep, and any questioning tourist near Flattop away.

We decided it would be more fun to go up Flattop the "old way" on the loose north aspect instead of the wide stairs that had been installed on the south side, and as we tread along I thought back to all the fun I'd had on this trail as a kid. I also had the opportunity to explain the ambition of the hike to Bubba during this time, and enjoyed the nervous cackle as the reality of the day's adventure set in. Cruising up, we quickly crested Flattop and dropped down the backside so that we could begin heading up Peak 2. The weather was about perfect this day, with a strong overcast covering the whole sky just a few thousand feet above the mountains, and only a slight breeze in the air - just right for pushing fast in the mountains with light layers, and little worry of overheating of freezing.

Peak 2 soon turned into Peak 3, and then we were running down the back side of Flake Top Mtn. to the saddle between it and Ptarmigan Peak. We paused to empty scree out of our shoes, and then head up Ptarmigan Peak at our quickest "endurance" pace. I was also rewarded to see my shoes had been slightly cut open by the scree, and was happy I had decided to wait and purchase a new pair after the trip. On our way up Ptarmigan we managed to find a few trickles to top off our water, though the snow wasn't as thick as I'd remembered it from the year before, and there wasn't much snow or ice left to melt. After Ptarmigan peak it would all be virgin territory to both of us, and as we continued along the ridge leading from it's summit, we began to see the tricky terrain ahead. Now, I should mention here that one of our goals in this trot was to stick to the summit ridge as loyally as possible, but without being to reckless of course. Unfortunately, however, there were a few vertical sections that kept us from being too precise, and led to a constant up and down as we worked our way down a couple hundred feet around an impassable feature before regaining the ridge and continuing on again. We continued along though, cresting Hope Mtn., and then down it's gradual backside to a large saddle.

I have a love for jogging down scree slopes, and so pulled a little ahead of Bubba during this time, and sat down for a quick snack. Taking my camera out I shot a relaxed picture showing my feet with the Suicide peaks in the background - a picture that is now a little funny to look at half a year later when I know what happened to that right foot/ankle just a couple hours later, and along the ridge in the just behind the two Suicide peaks in the image...

Bubba quickly caught up and we continued back up the ridge to where it splits three ways - one way back to where we came from, another to Homicide Peak, and then our route towards North Suicide Peak. I tried to convince Bubba to do a little hour-ish jaunt over to Homicide and back so we could really complete the whole ridge line, but despite my prodding, pushing, name-calling, and general chiding I couldn't convince him to do so. He did offer to stay and wait for me, but it didn't seem wise to split up for a while and let him get cold in the slight breeze while I ran to the side. That, and we were still hoping to make it to Indian in time to stop by the Turnagain House for a big steak dinner, and going to Homicide would fully eliminate that possibility.

Continuing on to North Suicide, the ridge dropped down and took a much more dramatic nature than we had experienced so far, but we continued to scramble along, every once in a while pulling a few 5th class moves, but for most part just having extremely exposed 3rd and 4th class terrain. Then it was up the north ridge of North Suicide, with rants back and forth such as "at least it's not too steap" - "what's too steap?" - "well, at least it's not overhanging" as our legs burned while we tried to power up as fast as we could. At the top of North Suicide I was elated at how far we had already made it, and we sat down to have a few more snacks and laugh our way through the summit log before descending to the col between the North and South Suicide. Our knees were both starting to get a bit sore as we came down North Suicide, but we hurried across the col, and up the loose scree slopes of South Suicide.

On the way up South Suicide, we had a little bit more fun and distraction in trying to chase ptarmigan across the loose scree, but despite our best efforts could never get closer than a foot or two away from actually catching one. It was a fun distraction though from our aching legs at this point. At the top of South Suicide, we didn't loiter for long, as we could now see that the ridge to our last peak, Indianhouse Mtn., was long and the second half looked questionable. Then there was also the fact that our steaks were also calling, and the possibility of making it to them in time looking slimmer.

We cruised down the ridge, knees upset but moving, along mountain goat and dall sheep trails - a few of which that ran off in fright as we came moving steadily down the ridge. Signs of other people being on this ridge gradually faded away, and soon it became apparent that we were probably some of the few to have played on this small section of "difficult" to access ridge line.

About halfway to two-thirds of the way along the ridge to Indianhouse, the ridge became more technical, and even had one prominent point that forced us to climb a few hundred feet back up, and then down, to maintain our policy of "sticking to the ridge". At one point we were forced to down-climb a steep couloir due to a drop along the ridge, wedging ourselves between the snow and rock on the side to keep from sliding down the hard snow face. Then we climbed back up to gain the ridge only 30' horizontally from where we were forced to originally detour, but with a nasty, loose, 30' overhang between us. Water supplies were also low, and I think it was around this point that we managed to get a little water from a puddle on one of the rocks along the ridge.

We continued along, and once again I started to put distance between Bubba and I as I strove to push out ahead and route-find so that we wouldn't both have to constantly detour while doing so. Then I came to the point of the ridge that has defined these last few months. In front, it appeared to drop off about 10-12' to a low point with a funky landing, with an overhanging down-climb on wet, chossy slate being the main option of forward progress. To the left, the ridge dropped off about 400' at an ~85 degree angle to the valley below, with 5.9ish downclimbing involved to down-climb and traverse back to the ridge. To the right, the slope was probably only 65-70 degrees, and much easier, but EXTREMELY loose, crumbly, wet and moss-covered, before angling off for another 400' drop. I looked around at our options, and cursed myself for not bringing any rope, when Bubba came along. I showed him our options, and after he had taken a good look, I decided that "I think I'm just going to jump - it's only about 10 feet"... to only be met with.... silence.

After a long pause, I re-stated "yeah, I think I'm going to jump", while Bubba again started looking around and re-evaluating the options. As he came back over to look at "the jump" I again said" yup, going to jump" at which point I pushed off... to be met by Bubba's concerned voice as I left the ground stating"Realllly?!?"

"O-shit" I thought when I heard this, and realized that the ground was farther away than I initially thought, and going to be very hard (it was rock after all). I had tried to jump as far out as possible from drop in order to catch the rock where it angled back up and limit the total vertical drop, but this also meant that I was going to the surface fully square-on and not be able to deflect any of my kinetic energy into forward movement or a roll. I'd also neglected to take off my small ~10 lb pack, and thus had a little more weight than usual. The padding in my shoes was totally worn out (this was their final trip after all - in fact I had stitched part of them together specifically for this trot), but I kept my feet together and tried to land in as energy-absorbing fashion as I could. Unfortunately a small protrusion in the rock caused my right heel to hit first, and as I hit the ground I felt a shock go up through my ankle as I had never felt in my life.

Rolling over in a bit of agony, and breathing deep I heard Bubba ask if I was alright. I replied "Yeah, I think so" while I thought "Robb, you're a fucking idiot". But, before the thought had even had time to fully process I did my best to ignore the pain, and took my foot in my hand to move the ankle and check for crepitus. Negative - no crepitus. Check-one. I can move it on it's own (ableit painfully). Check two. Stand on it? Holy cow that hurts... but... check three.

Bubba at this point states he is going to do the down-climb, but before he has a chance to maneuver into position I reached in my bag and popped 4-ibuprofen. Then, I did my best to describe to him where he should be able to reach holds (they're impossible to see from above as you start the down-climb, but I could see them from below), while reveling in the few moments that I could stay off my ankle before we had to get moving. Bubba soon finished the 15-20' down-climb ( I say 15', he says 20' - why didn't I also take that option?!?), and came over to check on me, before we started moving again.

At this point I was extremely luck - firstly my foot/ankle hurt like the dickens and threatened to give out reguarly, but at least is was stable enough to walk on. Secondly, we had once again gained the part of the ridge where hands are also needed, allowing me to take some of the weight from my right foot/ankle during our ascent. Thirdly, as if it was gift from God - there was a large branch, perfect for a walking stick, on the ridge... now take in mind that that the nearest trees are about 1000-1500' below and down the valley's on the side, but here was this walking stick, that I can only imagine someone had thrown off the summit some time back to have it land by us below... it was a divine gift, and definitely critical in finishing the trot. Sometimes I just used it for balance, but other times it was more of a crutch as my ankle threatened to fully give out, and that thing made life much much happier in gaining the summit of Indianhouse Mtn..

At the top of Indianhouse we found the summit register, signed it, and realized we were going to have to haul arse if there was any chance of making our steak dinner nearly 5000' below - not easy with me being a half cripple and Bubba's knees starting to throb. I popped a few more vitamin-I, and we set-off gingerly along the ridge line to the descent gulley a few hundred feet beyond. The gully was extremely steep with large scree, and we made our way slowly down it for about 1800' - unable to "scree-ski" as usual due to our physical states. I was happiest when I was able to feet-first crawl or ass-skid down, as this allowed me to keep weight off the painful ankle. Eventually, some way down the south-eastern face we were able to start side-hilling towards the ridge rising up from the highway far below, and to the west. Following Dall Sheep trails along the side hill (saviours for our aching limbs, as they eliminated probably 50% or more of the true side-hilling, which was quite unpleasant on the ankle), we continued for probably another 45 minutes or hour until gaining the ridge above the highway. I had remembered being on with Daniel and my Dad during a hike a few years back, and was extremely happy to be back on familiar terrain. At this point we could hear the cars on the road 2500' below, but we still had a long ways to go, dusk was taking over the sky, and the trail became fainter and fainter as the vegetation thickened - and my memories of the trail faded.

As we approached "brush-line" we lost the trail, and despite our best efforts had to descend substantially through the brush before re-gaining it again, only to lose it during some scrambling a short while later. Eventually though, working our way down the slopes, and into the trees we happened upon a grown-over single-track trail, leading down to the road, where we popped out, elated, and joyful. We gave Bubba's parents a call, and they had already started our way. So we hobbled the extra three-quarters of a mile down the road to the Indian Valley Meats, arriving just as darkness truly descended, ~30-45 minutes past our steak dinner goal unfortunately, but with a total time of only around 13.5 hours, despite my injury. Not bad for about 16 miles and more than 10,000' of climbing according to the GPS and map approximations.

The next couple days were difficult with the ankle, but I figured I'd just pissed off the cartilage and there wasn't much that could be done so ignored it. As a family we went clamming in Ninilchik, and walking around there in xtra-tuff's (commercial fishing rubber boots for you land-lubbers) with Mom and Tara re-tested my pain tolerance, but we actually had a lot of fun. I even tried climbing along the highway with a new climbing buddy (thank goodness no true lead falls then), and did the "Long Climb" on Tahquitz after I came back to school in San Diego, along with some diving and boogie-boarding, before finally deciding something might legitimately be wrong with my ankle and going to to the school clinic. As I waited in the evaluation room after the x-rays (they were skeptical at first since I had no limp, but became concerned as the painful areas all coincided with their "critical spots"), I heard the docs mention about a few breaks in someone's ankle. "Hmm, poor sucker" I thought, as I was sure it couldn't be me since I had never broke anything - to be quickly corrected as they came in and told me my position. End results after some more x-rays and a CT? Small chunk broken off of the anterior aspectof the tibial plefond, crack in the posterior tibia, possible cracks in the calcaneous and fibula (some debate here - so no big deal), and a fracture of the talus. Oops. No big deal really - but being non-weight bearing makes it difficult to go play in the mountains...

1 comment:

Alaska Jack said...

NO POWDER - NO CLIFF HUCK!
And, I have to agree with your thought, you were a hucking idiot :)