Thursday, July 8, 2010

Revisting PQ 2002: CP1 to CP2

I have been itching to get back up to an area that we visited in 2002. We were doing Primal Quest and it was the first time we had done any sort of real mountaineering. We reached Checkpoint 1 OK (other than getting a bit of shock over the scale of the map vs. the landscape around us). But we had major issues with the ridges and scree on the way to CP2, and I eventually convinced the team to take a long way around (a really long way, considering the huge drop in elevation and re-climb) to avoid getting stuck in the mountains at night. I'm still a bit miffed that the race started at 3 pm so we had to figure this stuff out as it was getting dark. But now I really just wanted to figure out what we could have done differently.

So we parked at Red Mountain Pass and hiked up a trail to Porphyry Basin and the area between CP1 and CP2 to see what we could see.

A beautiful lake at the top of the trail:

A low cloud over Silverton that made it seem like it might be a dreary day when we awoke - at least until we drove up a short ways and found sunshine, yay!

OK, let's start the story at checkpoint 1. Now, this is a rather long, detailed tale that might only interest Kip and Jason (our teammates for the race) and anyone else that did PQ that year. So you might skip this post otherwise - fair warning :)

Here is CP1 as viewed from a nearby notch in a ridge - nice and flat, a beautiful spot for the volunteers. Including the one who basically told us to "just get going" when we asked how the ridge was. I can't reasonably blame the guy for our own failure to stop and think, but his directive did have an impact on our lack of decision making.

Well anyway, CP1 was in this saddle:

Looking west toward Wasatch Saddle from where we had come at the start of the race. Also the site of a traverse from the top of Oscar's to the drop down to Telluride in the Hardrock race (below the peak in the middle, I believe). During PQ 2002, we refilled water from one of these lakes on the way to CP1:

Looking south toward beautiful Columbine Lake. I don't recall noticing it during the race. I guess I had been a little anxious about the off-trail stuff already.

Here is the view of the ridge. We made one big mistake right off the bat when we took off up the ridge on the left without really considering any other options. On the other hand, it was an easy start, climbing up an easy ridge. A better choice would have been to stay low and aim for one of the notches between the pointy rocks (there must be a name for those) at the low point to the right.

A closer look at the lower part of the ridge, with a couple options for climbing scree to get to the top. John and I did this while we were up there this time - not really easy for me, but with assistance I made it OK. And nothing is very high in that area, just a bit of loose rock to deal with.

Looking back from the other side of the ridge. From the lower part of the ridge, a small drop down some scree would have put us easily into this basin. Instead, we downclimbed from the highpoint on the right - that route looks scary to me even with some experience with this stuff. No wonder I was freaked out during the race. That tactical error made it very difficult for me to think rationally about what I was seeing ahead of me.

John looking down from the notch we climbed through - hi John!

The view to the north, including the beautiful Blue Lake. I liked it so much, especially the trail that led down and around from there, that I started lobbying to head down to it when I saw it in PQ.

John making use of his trash compactor bag "sled":

Here was our view during the race toward the northeast where we needed to go - I was really not happy about the scree, the ridgelines, the needles that seemed to be impassible, etc etc:

A closer look at the next (easy) ridge. John believes we made it to here during the race (I seem to have blocked that memory). This ridge leads up to a split - the main ridge heads left, while a side spur goes to the right for a short ways. My teammates seemed to think we should try to continue following the ridgeline, or at worse drop down the other side.

Without any idea what was over there, I was mostly concerned about getting stuck in the dark and having to camp for the night. So we headed down to the lake, started down a trail, lost the trail, lost track of John, found John and the trail, continued down, went way around, and eventually made it up to CP2. At least we weren't the last team to arrive there. But not by much...

Here is a look at the easy ridge from the other side - notice the notch at the upper right corner of the picture. I'm guessing that would have stopped us from trying to follow the ridge up to the intersection:

On the other hand, there is currently a beautiful little trail leading down the scree slope to the next basin. You can see the rocky spur across the photo, ending not too far away:

Hard to see, but John is waving at the top of the ridge - hi John!

In the basin, pointing back at the easy ridge we would have come over if we had continued on instead of going down during the race:

Amazing rock formations and scree slopes:

OK, so let's pause for a moment and reflect on our first error in going over the peak vs. over the ridge. Go back further to start over again at CP1 and consider this view to the east:

That is another spur, similar in size and length to the one in the previous photos. It extends southeast from the main ridge, several hundred meters before petering out on a grassy slope. On the map it looked possible to get around it without any scree-walking whatsoever. We went there to find out.

Along the way we found an old house - cool!

Easy walking...

Very quickly we were around the spur and over to the next basin. Just like that. 20 minutes that would have saved us many hours. But then I might not have learned so much :)

Here is the short drop down a rocky slope into the next basin, with the easy ridge at the back:

So one way or another (with various levels of difficulty), let's say we had made it into the second basin. Here is the view toward the next spur:

Again, it looks like an easy walk to get around it. John also believes we could have (if necessary) climbed over a notch on this spur, but we didn't try it while we were there this time:

Yep, an easy walk cross-country and on various animal trails. We were timing it, and we think we would have had plenty of daylight to work with if we had gone around both spurs to the east side.

Looking back at the second spur from the north - possible drops down scree slopes, but why would you want to if you could just go around?

The main ridge continued on, looking here like it is passable. It's just turning into a higher, steeper drop down to this basin:

But wait - at the end of the ridge is a section called "Three Needles" - hmm, I have a pretty good idea that I will never in my life be caught traversing anything with the word "Needles" in it, daylight or not!

Here's me, quite excited to be on solid ground and having figured out where we SHOULD have gone during the race:

A sentry at the top of the third and final spur that we went around (this time on an actual trail instead of just on animal paths):

Heading up toward Black Bear Pass, site of checkpoint 2:

We made it from CP1 to CP2 in one hour, 25 minutes. Oh my heck, that sure would have been nice during the race!

We also saw a trail/road heading around Trico Peak, which we also climbed up and over during the race - another tactical error but at least not as bad, as we were heading in the right direction toward Imogene Pass instead of over Ajax Peak toward CP3 at Tomboy. I still fully support our decision NOT to climb the trail to Ajax. At least we did something right!

Fun day, excellent learning, and great experience for me!
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