Posts Tagged ‘French Mountain’

The Casco Fiasco

February 5, 2010


On October 12, 2002, Mark Muto and I attempted Casco (13908′), Frasco BM (13876′) and French (13940′) via the Casco-French Mountain Ridge Traverse.  We succeeded in summiting on Casco and Frasco BM but had to retreat just 300 feet below the French Mountain summit.  We hiked a total of 11 miles and gained approximately 4,400 feet in 14 hours.

The hours lost route-finding in the snow ate too deeply into the season-shortened day-light, forcing us to not only miss out on French, but also to hike back to camp in the dark for 1.5 hours on icy trails with only our wits and the fading yellow light of a single dying headlamp to guide us.

Our plan was too aggressive, given the poor conditions.  And I made a rash decision that cost me the French Mountain summit.

The Story

On a rare bonus trip, Mark returned to Colorado from Chicago after only 3 months for more mountain abuse (earlier that year we did the 14ers:  Sunshine, Redcloud & Handies).  I wanted to bag more 14ers, but eventually chose French Mountain due to proximity, knowledge about trail access, and sweet revenge (see explanation below).

How I failed to climb French Mountain on my first attempt

Failed Attempt #1 on French Mountain.

During Labor Day weekend in 2001, my wife and I set out to climb French Mountain.  Using a Dawson’s 14er guidebook info for Elbert & Massive, I pieced together a driving and hiking route for French Mountain. This poor base of information combined with missing signs and early morning thinking to mislead me into driving to the North Halfmoon Trailhead instead of stopping at the South Halfmoon Trailhead.

Despite the features not quite matching what I expected, they were close enough to allow me to believe I was in the right place (e.g., larger peak off to the SE, trail running SW following a creek, a mine at the end of the road) until it was too late. While I suspected I was not in the right place, it was not until I reached the summit of ‘Ol Unnamed 400’ short of the proper altitude that I knew for certain that I had screwed up.

I was angry at myself for not being more careful, and I vowed to atone for that error.

With Roach’s new (2001) 13er book in hand, I was able to quickly identify all the high 13er peaks in the area, and my desire to be efficient in collecting all the high 13ers led me to expand the day’s peak bagging goals. I broadened the plan to also include summiting on the Casco and Frasco BM on a traverse of the Casco-French ridge. But I should have been more focused on needs of the entire team.

Mark was a knowledgeable, but lightly experienced mountain climber; he was not in a position to know what set of goals/plans were possible & safe for him. He counted on me, as the more experienced climber, to pick a good & safe route.  In the past, when Mark couldn’t finish due to illness or exhaustion, the “out and back” route plan allowed for him to simply wait for me to return.  But on a “lollipop” route (stem with a loop on the end) with no escape routes, he HAD to finish the loop part of the route or retreat back to the start of the loop on his own if we were to separate.

It was a bad plan, especially in light of the variable conditions of the post-summer.

Leader Rule

In groups with unequal levels of experience, the most experienced person leads the group and is responsible for the safety of everyone in the group.

Day 1

I picked up Mark at DIA at 3pm on Friday, October 11 and we set off toward Leadville.  We arrived at the Halfmoon campground around 5:30pm. Using Roach’s 13ers guidebook and a bit of deductive reasoning led us to the Halfmoon Creek Trailhead. The mileages didn’t seem to work and the signage was a bit different; but with my past (painful) experience in the area, we worked it out.

The creek water level was low enough for us to drive across the creek.  We made camp 100 feet up the road on a nice flat area with ample parking.  With just enough daylight to finish, we set up camp, prepared and ate dinner, and packed for the morning’s activities.  Once in the tent, Mark and I played a few hands of gin (5-0 for Joe) and then turned in for the inevitable terrible night’s sleep.

Day 2

Alarms buzzing at 5:45am, we crawled out into the cold darkness.  I asked Mark to save me a little hot water to warm my stomach as a chaser to my food bar.  After a cup of hot water (did I say “a little”?) and a ½ liter of nearly frozen water, I was as ready as I was going to be and we set off toward the Iron Mike Mine. It was approximately 6:40pm.

We set a fairly brisk pace up South Halfmoon road.  I am always surprised how fast Mark can hike during the initial hours of our adventures, since he lives at a 500 foot elevation and, as usual, had only 12 hours to acclimate; but, there would be a price to pay later.  The road slides up between the north ridges of French and Elbert (only 2 miles apart), but darkness and trees limited the views.  We arrived at the end of the driveable road (1/4 mile from the Iron Mike Mine ruins) at 8am, and could see that there was a lot more snow than we hoped. But at least the weather of the day, while cold, was perfectly clear and windless; Project French Mountain was a go!

The normal route (what Roach calls the “Francisco Classic”) begins

  1. North to the saddle (“Friscol”) below the South slopes of French Mountain, summits on French and returns to the saddle
  2. Traverses WSW to Frasco BM, where it turns SW toward “Fiascol” (the saddle between Frasco and Casco)(descent possible below Frasco BM)
  3. Follow the ridge south to Casco staying on or near the ridge line (no descent options)
  4. From Casco, turn SE and again follow the ridge to a descent via the NE slopes
  5. Complete the circle with a hike back to the road

But given the snow conditions and Mark’s probable level of fitness, I didn’t think this was the way for us to go. The standard route felt risky due to limited escape options on the 2nd half of the ridge traverse.   Although I was late to being thoughtful, I reasoned it would be smarter to reverse the route and do the part with available escape option last, which would coincide with the time of day we’d need options for retreat due to darkness or exhaustion.

Our route sequence. Each numbered step corresponds to the description below.

Step 1

We turned south to mount the Casco ridge.  Since we could not tell where the “NE Slopes” route was beneath the snow, we just headed straight up the slope.

The new snow was soft and deep enough to cause miserable hiking over unseen, loose scree.  We stumbled over the increasingly steep terrain and climbed to the ridge with far more difficulty that expected.  But Mark was continuing to move well; he even beat me to the ridge.

Step 2

Once on the ridge, we turned toward Casco.  The hike up to the Casco summit was fairly easy as the snow was mostly clear of that part of the ridge (there was sharp contrast between the snow covered northerly facing slopes and the nearly snow-less southerly facing slopes).  Arriving at the summit around noon, we stopped for lunch and a view.

From our rock bench, we could see La Plata to the south so clearly that we reminisced about a trip on La Plata a few years back.  One that day, the very deep and soft snow made for an exhausting effort just to reach the peak.  Mark made it to just below the north ridge when he began a vomiting and limb-jerking fit that cost him the summit.  We could see the precise spot on the ridge where he waited for Brian, Larry and me to return down the ridge.  He tells me on every visit how he wants to go back to La Plata and erase that defeat.

The memory of that experience reminded me to mentioned to Mark that if we had any doubt about finishing the traverse, we should retreat now; there would be no escape for many hours otherwise.  He wouldn’t hear of it.

Step 3

As we started down toward Frasco BM, the generally northern facing ridge was as bad as I feared.  Since the ridge is the only option, we hesitated only momentarily. And, almost as quickly, we were stopped.  Sixty feet from the summit, we could not find a good line down the ridge.

We hunted around for cairns (none) or routes below the ridge (none).  I told Mark that I would proceed ahead to try to force my way down the ridge.  I started carefully (and slowly) working my way down over icy rock and into a snow-filled, narrow gully.  A slip on this sequence of moves meant an 800′ tumble into the basin; I moved as carefully as a barefoot person escaping the kitchen after breaking a glass.  Once in the gully, I scooted down on my butt for 25 feet to a steep 5-foot drop, over which I executed a controlled fall to reach the bottom.  It led to a flat area and good terrain for a good ways ahead.

I called back to Mark that the route worked, but required his full attention; he followed and we had just spent 30 minutes to gain 150 feet. And, at that point, I didn’t think we could go back safely anymore; my exact thought was , “We cannot go back now; if we have to retreat we’re screwed.”

And then, after only another 100 feet, we were stopped again.  The icy conditions on the ridge proper made for a slip-n-slide to death.  We checked out every option twice and concluded that we had no choice but to descend down the east side of the ridge to skirt the dangerous section. We donned our crampons and traversed the steep east slope for 100 feet.  The snow was unconsolidated, but we were able to feel around with our feet to find rock holds under the snow. With axes nearly useless in 6 inches of loose snow over loose rock, we used our hands to dig beneath the snow for holds.

This process got us to another good part of the ridge where could make good time with hand-free hiking.  After a couple hundred feet of good ground, the ridge sloped downward dramatically toward what appeared to be a drop-off.  My heart sank.

Step 4

With the pattern of increasingly dangerous terrain and conditions, I couldn’t imagine how we could work our way down the ridge this time.  And since daylight was running short, I felt a strong urgency to just do something…so I made a rash decision.  Rather than go as far as I could to see what was really possible, I just decided to assume it wouldn’t go and instead just work down one of the western rock & snow gullies and find a way over to the west side of the Fiasco Col (“Fiascol”).  I knew it would be a significant detour that would certainly eat up most of the remaining daylight, but I was at least certain that it would work; I wouldn’t waste any time gathering information and thinking about what to do.

It was a poor decision born of stress.  I should have gathered the easily available information that would have made a better decision possible. I should have gone as far as possible along the ridge to be sure we really needed a dramatically different course of action.

Jumping to Conclusions Fallacy

“Dicto Simpliciter” (jumping to conclusions) is an inductive reasoning fallacy defined by making sweeping statements or not bothering to gather sufficient data to validate conclusions.

The long detour involved a down climb of several hundred feet through steep, loose rock and snow, a traverse of several hundred feet and a re-climb (via snow and rock) to the top of Fiasco Col, which we reached around 4pm.  The ridge might have been even harder, but I didn’t bother to find out before committing to an irreversible and time-consuming course of action. It took us 4 hours to travel 0.3 miles from the summit of Casco to the top of Fiasco Col.

Step 5

Looking back to toward Casco Peak and Fiascol

After regaining the ridge at the top of Fiascol, we stopped for a rest and to finish the rest of our water. I also took a moment to look up at the ridge line we just avoided.  With our crampons and axes, we could have descended in about 30 minutes. But thinking about past mistakes was a task for later.

We were still in harm’s way, and the daylight was running out.  We needed to summit Frasco-Benchmark since it was on the way to the only safe retreat route, and, if it was possible, I still wanted to bag French.

I was still feeling good, and was in fact fairly energized by the need to move quickly. Unfortunately, Mark was running out of steam.

Mark announced that he wasn’t sure he could continue; after a brief pause, I mentioned that we had to get to Frasco BM to get to a safe descent.  I also reminded him that we only had a couple hours of light left and our headlamps were stashed by the road.  Mark dug deep and we started up the ridge toward Frasco BM.

There was little snow on this part of the climb, but we still had to pick our way through the rocks and around the towers along the ridge.  To save time and Mark’s energy, I moved ahead to find the best path, signalling to Mark which way to go.  This process allowed us to make decent time reaching the Frasco BM summit and access to the Frascol escape route.  My plan at this point was to let Mark descend the route below Frasco BM while I continued over to French before joining Mark at the Iron Mike Mine.

Step 6

From the summit of Frasco BM, I thought the escape route looked too steep for a tired climber to descend safely.  I told Mark that I thought continuing along the ridge would be better for him.  I was thinking that the remaining bit of ridge was an easy hike, and, if we moved fast enough, I could still bag French before dark.

But he insisted with the plan to descend immediately; I suppose he was feeling worse than he looked. Before he started down, I bargained with him by saying we’d stay together on the easy terrain to reach Friscol which would be a safe descent. At this point, I really was expecting the remaining traverse to be easy (I had spied it from Casco’s ridge).  And I continued to hold a faint hope for having time to run up & down French before dark.

He paused and asked me how I knew the terrain was easy.  I said I viewed it earlier in the day and that I would confirm it.  I climbed the tower blocking our view of the ridge and could see that I was wrong.  The remaining ridge was a rocky and snowy scramble involving a fair amount of route finding and the occasional hard move – not an easy walk.  I felt my opportunity to bag French Mountain disappear like a hamburger left within reach of a Basset hound named Bella.

For some reason, Mark stilled agreed to go with me; and we moved together toward Friscol & French Mountain.  In a comical sort of way, it was a tortoise race: the sun crept toward the horizon while we slowly worked over the ridge.  We reached Friscol at 6pm; with a 6:30pm sunset, we had only minutes of daylight remaining.

Nearing the end of our traverse, a view back toward Casco Peak. Our route is marked in red.

Step 7

I looked up the 300 feet to the French summit in frustration, but knew I had no choice.  We used the tongues of snow in the col to glissade most of the way to the basin.  Glissading in October is a pleasant surprise, but the low temperature and late hour left the snow a bit rough on the pants.  The day’s “butt work” left holes in my britches.  After a fair bit of postholing to get through the basin, we reached the road and our stashed gear & water at 7pm, eleven hours after we left it.

The water had been blessed by the Sun during the day, and it was still fairly warm.  It tasted like liquid gold (read:  good).  All that was left was for us to make it back to camp.

Step 8

After a short break, we set off down the road to the feeble glow of a 3/8’s waxing moon and dying embers of the sun. As we neared the trees we could no longer see our footing, so we stopped to pull out our headlamps, only to find that mine was DOA and Mark’s was dying.

What a day!

Lightless, I was a slave to Mark’s weak headlamp, which bobbed around like it was attached to a bobblehead doll.  And shortly after, watching Mark sit on the ground suddenly and then performing my own twisting-and-jerking-like-a-bee-swarm-victim dance to avoid the same fate, I came to understand that the trail was icy.

After a bit of learning, we discovered how to spot ice in dim light; it was my best performance of the day.

Another 1.5 hours and it was over. Tired as we were, we still needed to change into dry clothing, prepare and consume food and water, and pack for the morning drive to the airport.  We completed our duties by 9:30pm and turned in to enjoy being warm and still and, on occasion, being unconscious.

Day 3

Sunday morning was a cold 15 degrees.  We packed and cleaned and blew on frozen fingers before finally heading into Leadville for some breakfast.  It was a quiet crowd and, by comparison to Mark and I, a clean one.  My first priority was the bathroom, as I had not enjoyed one for the last 48 hours.  Winding my way through the crowded restaurant, I found the door and went in.  It was so quiet, it felt like I was at the back of the church during a moment of prayer.  It was the crux of the trip.

A few hours later, Mark and I made our dutiful visit to the downtown Denver REI shop, and then on to the airport. I always get a chuckle thinking of Mark getting on a packed plane, him sans shower for 2-3 days.  It’s gotta be funny to see.

Sure, it was a fiasco, but another adventure was in the books.  We bagged Casco & Frasco BM, but I failed to bag French Mountain once again. Yet, I learned an important lesson from the mistake I made of “jumping to the conclusion” to leave the ridge; I should have collected more information before committing to an irreversible course of action.  I also learned new respect for the responsibilities of a trip leader.

And regarding French Mountain, I swore I wouldn’t fail again; and while it took 3 more years, when I got my 3rd chance, I didn’t fail (see 3rd Times a Charm).  But truth be told, I did nearly fail again due to a continuing tendency to try to pack too much into a trip.

Casco - French Traverse Attempt Data

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3rd Time’s a Charm: French Mt (& Mt. Ok)

December 7, 2008


It was time for Chicago Mark’s annual mountain adventure, and this time Brian was available to join us.  This time, we decided to pick off a couple of high 13ers in the Sawatch Mountains:  Mt. Oklahoma and French Mountain.

French Mountain had eluded me twice before, so I considered this a grudge match.

In 2001, Susan (my wife) and I climbed the wrong mountain (unnamed 13,400) by starting from the wrong TH (we drove past the Halfmoon TH to the North Halfmoon TH, and then hiked South with French on our left instead of right).  We only realized our mistake after we ran out of mountain and sat down to figure out why.

In 2003, Mark and I attempted to climb the French-Frasco-Casco circ, but failing light kept us from finishing French; we completed Casco & Frasco and were standing at the top of the Frascol, 400 feet from the French summit when we abandoned the attempt so we could minimize the hiking on an icy road in the dark.   And I still nearly broke my neck & skull several times on the hike out.

This time I was not leaving the area without leaving my footprints on the French summit.

We decided to camp near the two trailheads to facilitate bagging both in a weekend.   I picked up Mark at DIA at 12:30pm on Friday, June 17, 2005; we headed to REI in Denver to resupply Mark and then to the Halfmoon Campground and beyond.  At 5pm, we had the place to ourselves and took 30 minutes to select a prime campsite approximately 100 yards from the North Halfmoon Trailhead.  Brian showed up at about 11pm after a failed attempt to leave work early.

At this point, I should go ahead and accept blame for any climbing logistics difficulties.  I decided that we’d do Oklahoma first to allow for route finding errors that we could not survive on Sunday, when Mark had to be at DIA at 3:30pm.  Since we knew the way to French (see failed attempt #2 above) and Oklahoma had a difficult bushwhacking section, I still claim the sequencing was correct.  However, I’ll admit to bringing too little brainpower to the consideration of difficulties in a 10-mile, 3700 ft ascent of a high 13er plus a 100-mile drive to DIA by 3:30pm.  Most would agree.

On Saturday, we got up early and started hiking right at 6am north toward Mt. Oklahoma.  The scuttlebutt about Mt. Oklahoma was that the route was off-trail and hard to find.  During my climb planning, I was able to identify on the map 3 signs that would allow us to know when we should leave the main trail and begin bushwhacking West toward Mt. Oklahoma:

(1) when the southern most Massive peak was due East,

(2) when we hit a creek after not crossing a creek for 0.5 miles, and

(3) when we were at 11,600 ft.

While these clues were devilishly difficult to identify on site, I still claim that these were good clues and they probably helped us find a good cutoff by heightening our attention level at about the right time.  Others may disagree.

At approximately 11,600 we left the trail heading west (I’d describe the point as the first place where you could imagine starting to bushwhack once you were at approx. 11,600).  We crossed two tributary creeks (one via log walk, the other via rock hop) and climbed to the top of the tree-covered ridge, heading approximately west-northwest.  We were far enough south to avoid dropping down into the drainage, as some route descriptions indicate, and simply followed the ridge to tree line, and then into the basin beneath Oklahoma.  In the basin, we had a short walk over soft snow to the most moderate couloir available to mount the summit slopes.  The elvin-like among our party and another party on the climb seemed to be able to hike & climb on top of the snow much of the way to the summit, while the heavier of the group climbed in it.  It took a considerable effort to swim up the couloir, and then to slog up the soft summit slope in snowshoes.  If it was an hour later in the day, I would have drowned.

After a lengthy respite on the summit, we started down at 11:30am with high hopes for a fun ride.  Anticipating soft snow, I brought my old rain pants (what they call “death pants” – no friction while glissading) just in case.  They worked wonders.  I was able to glissade from the summit to the couloir and then down to the basin with only a few aiming steps.  A great ride.

Route drawn in red; actual snow coverage was much greater

Route drawn in red; photo taken a few weeks after climb which had much greater snow coverage

We retraced our steps as best as we could back to the main trail.  About halfway down we lost our old trail and ended up about 100 yards further up the main trail than where we left it.  All in, I’d say the higher route was preferable.

We hiked the remaining 2 miles back to camp in rapid fashion, arriving at approx. 2pm.

We spent the next 4 hours drying gear in the hot sun and discussing the plans for Sunday.  It was during this time that it became clear that we had a long climb ahead of us on a shortened day.  Mark had to be at DIA by 3:30pm, which meant we needed to be back at the car by noon.  After close inspection of the map, we determined that French would be comparable to Oklahoma, but possibly longer: 10 miles on road vs. 8 on trail/in bush and similar elevation gain.  Since Oklahoma took 8 hours we scheduled 9 hours and set the alarm for 2am, planning on a quick camp breakdown and relocation to the Halfmoon trailhead for a 3am start.  Yikes!

We turned in at 7pm after dinner for what would prove to be a largely successful attempt to get a good “night before” sleep of about 6 hours.

The alarm rang out right at 2am, and we were in a blind scramble to dress, undo camp and pack the cars.  Our pre-packing the night before proved useful and we left the camp area on schedule, and drove ½ mile East on FS 110 to the turnoff to Iron Mike Mine.  We started hiking right at 3am.

It was a very dark early morning, as the nearly full moon had set some time before.  Mark and I made our way via flashlight to the creek and were first to make the log crossing; the water was high enough to make our “straddle” approach a mildly wet one.  This was the safest way to go, given that the water was rough enough to look deadly in a fall.  We then turned to watch Brian do his promised walk across the log.  He had announced his intentions to do so during dinner the previous day.  As we watched, I said to Mark, “I don’t know what we’ll do if he falls…we’ll never find him!”  Mark agreed.  But after a moment’s consideration, Brian proved once again that smart guys can make smart decisions and decided to do the “straddle” crossing due to the wet conditions.

We were in a hurry; I went as fast as I could to ensure we had enough time to finish the climb.  Each of us seemed to be able to maintain a fast pace, despite a decent effort the day before.  After 1 mile, we came to the second washed out bridge, which we crossed via a set of narrow logs placed across.  I did the “crab walk” on all fours, putting my feet on the largest log and my hands on the highest (by 3 inches) log.  This worked without incident.  Once across I turned to watch Brian attempt to make up for his “lack of courage” on the previous log crossing by doing a no-hands, ski-pole assisted walk.  He made it ½ way before nearly slipping off into the darkness and waterfall below.  He somehow made it across without dying or, even worse, losing a ski pole.

We continued on for another 2.5 miles to just below the Iron Mike Mine.  At 5am, we were still on schedule.  At this point, the snow patches were becoming snowfields, and so I decided to change out of my running shoes into my boots and gaiters.  Brian waited a bit before heading out to avoid freezing.  A few minutes later, Mark came up and indicated he was feeling sick and was going to sit this one out.

After crossing the final wide creek, Brian followed the line (slope) of least resistance and made a broad sweep around to the right to the far side of the Iron Mike Mine area; I took a shortcut through the willows and caught up with him near the foot of Frascol (col beneath the saddle between French & Frasco Benchmark).

Joe's route in red; actual conditions was mostly snow covered

Joe's route in red; photo taken in late Summer, while climb conditions were mostly snow covered

Brian skinned up while I took a grassy/rocky strip between Frascol and French.  When I was at the top of the grass/rock strip at about 6:15am, I decided I didn’t want to stop to put on my crampons.  I had been maintaining a great pace and wanted to keep going.  I decided I would leave the couloir, by moving to the right, and kick steps to reach the steep, rocky slopes of French Mountain that I could climb instead of the snow.  I also like that the new route would allow me to cut the corner once again.  I had, in fact, considered this approach earlier but rejected it as senselessly risky; now I was convinced it was a path to victory.

The further I moved up the snow slope toward the rocks, the steeper the terrain got.  Too late, I was thinking that it would have been useful to have my ice axe instead of my hiking poles in case I slipped down the snow.  This made me work even harder to kick secure steps, the effort for which was exhausting me.  I finally made it to the rocks only to find the terrain was wet grass with imbedded, loose rocks…and it was very steep.  I could see that the angle would ease up about 200 feet up and so I kept move higher, testing every foothold before using it.

I finally reached a more moderate angle slope at about 7:00am, the time I had set as my summit goal and would certainly have achieved had I taken the normal route.  I was also sick to my stomach; the stress/adrenalin/effort had conspired to make me nauseated.   After a long rest, I started upward again.  I made slow progress in 40 foot stages that were comprised of:  25 steps of feeling great, 5 of steps feeling very tired, and a 3-5 minute rest while I tried not to vomit.   I eventually found Brian frozen and complaining on the summit at 7:30am.  All would agree he had a point, but I was not sympathetic.

Brian decided to head over to bag Frasco Benchmark while I finished my second breakfast (I had bagged that peak on my previous attempt on French).  After a few minutes, I hiked down to Frascol and did the most painful glissade since my last glissade down Frascol two year before; the snow was frozen with painful ridges.  As I slide down the slope, I tried to lean my full body weight on my axe point and lift my butt from the surface, but succeeded only in surviving the rapid descent.  I then backtracked across the willows to the road where I met up with Brian again.  He skied ahead to find Mark while I postholed along at a comfortable pace.  We reached Mark about 8:30am and began the long hike home.

Mark was grousing about the evils of “powerbars” which is what he calls all energy/food bars (in this case it was a Balance Bar).  Rather than blame me for an excessive pace (for a low-lander), he generously blamed his food.  I knew better, but accepted his generosity.

The approx. 11% road grade was very good for both uphill and downhill hiking so the road disappeared rather quickly.  When we reached the last log crossing about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, we knew we had done well.  Mark and I once again did the “straddle” while Brian promised the reclamation of his pride.

Once I was across, I dumped my pack and worked my way down river a bit so I could react if necessary.  Then I watched Brian “The Lost Wallenda” approach the log with his skis in his hands perpendicular to the log as a balancing aid.  He walked gracefully for 3 steps and then paused, skies dipping left and then right.  Then, suddenly, he bolted, running across the log slowly leaning further and further to the left.  At the last moment, he leapt toward shore, landing in the shallows, safe with only wet boots.    We all thought he had done well, even if a bit ungracefully.

Mark and I said our farewells to Brian and headed toward civilization.  The drive out to DIA was interminable but Mark was able to gain enough extra time at the airport that he could take steps to avoid stinking out the other passengers on the 2-hour flight to Chicago.  Whether he did or not, I never found out.


  • Mixed skill level group
  • Arbitrarily short timeframe


How we got lucky:

  • Weather was good both days
  • Nothing happened to less experienced partner left behind
  • Dangerous route selection didn’t result in injury or death
  • Foolish river crossings didn’t result in injury or death

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