Chicago Peak P300
Tomboy Peak P300

Mon, Sep 9, 2019

With: Eric Smith
Steve Sywyk
Ingrid Dockersmith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Today was our last full day in Telluride before heading home, one the weather gods prepared for us with blue skies in all directions. Ingrid had not been to Imogene Pass between Telluride and Ouray, and I hadn't yet climbed a trio of peaks on the north side of the pass, so we piled in the jeep at the more reasonable hour of 7a and headed up Tomboy Rd to the pass. It would be nearly 8:20a before we reached the pass, a not unwelcome time since the temperature was 39F outside with a strong wind blowing west to east over the ridgeline. Chicago Peak lies about 0.8mi north of the pass, with the other two peaks further still, so it was to Chicago we headed first along the 13,000-foot ridgeline extending from the pass. Ingrid was a bit timid on the talus slopes that characterize portions of the ridge, and Steve was still nursing a half-functioning hand, so it seemed prudent to keep those two in the middle. I let Eric lead us along the ridge and took up the back position myself.

It would take us a bit over an hour to make our way along the ridge to Chicago's summit. Much of the ridge was easy walking with good footing, but we had two sections of talus traversing that slowed us considerably. Steve had some trouble with his handicapped hand, but we had no serious slips in the loose talus. I was particularly nervous because this was not unlike the loose talus slopes that had caused Steve's accident earlier in the week. At the summit we took a break and signed the CMC register that we found there, many entries since it was placed in 2011. It took less than a minute before I was looking at the next two summits - Jutting off from the main ridge to the west, Tomboy appeared to be class 2 but United States Mtn looked to be another story. It was at the end of a spur ridgeline curving east, overlooking Richmond Basin on the Ouray side of the crest. Most of this was class 1-2, but there was a jagged portion where the ridge narrowed that looked like it might be trouble. That would be the last peak to investigate.

When Steve had reached the summit of Chicago, he announced, "I'm done," just the sort of self-limiting mechanism I was looking for him to learn. I pulled the jeep fob out of my pocket and handed it to him, figuring he could go back when he was ready and start on the picnic lunch we'd brought along. Eric was interested in another peak so we started talking about Tomboy. It looked to be straightforward, but hardly pleasant, but we really needed to get closer to it so we could get a better idea. Steve decided to tag along with us on the ridge, another 0.4mi north of Chicago Peak. When we got to the likely launching point off the ridge to Tomboy, I took a hard look at the route and concluded it probably wouldn't be safe for Steve with his compromised hand. I had seen his use of his half-arm earlier and thought he was a bit sketchy in a few places. I went over to where Steve was getting a drink and resting and told him I didn't think it was safe for him. He thanked me but said nothing more. Eric came over to ask me how I thought Ingrid would do. I had watched her as well on the way to Chicago, and though she seemed unsure in places, her moves were slow and deliberate, and in my view, safer than what I'd seen from Steve. I told him I thought she would be fine.

It wasn't until we were ready to head off to Tomboy that I recalled what Steve had said back in the beginning - "I'll take everyone's input, but I'll decide what I'm going to do today." Steve packed up his stuff, shouldered his daypack and said, "I'm ready," as we were about to head off. Eric looked at him and said, "Are you sure?" to which Steve replied "Yes." I thought about this for a few seconds and concluded that Steve had learned absolutely nothing from his accident. For a second time, he was rejecting the best advice he could expect to get for the situation, in favor of his own limited judgement. He could not be trusted to make sound judgements on difficult terrain, in my mind, and I did not want to see another accident because I'd been afraid to speak out. I raised my hand in objection and said, "Ok, I'm sorry but I'm going to have to object. Steve shouldn't be going to Tomboy, there's just too much loose terrain to cover." Unsurprisingly, Steve wasn't happy about this. He backed off, but then said something along the lines of, "Next time, tell me this up front so I can bring a book." Well, I didn't know up front what he'd be capable of, or what amount of difficulties would make me protest, so I thought this was more of a red herring that he was using to say he was angry with me. Eric and him started to discuss the book thing further to which I said, "Ok, I'm going to Tomboy now because I'm done with this conversation." I headed off down the talus slope for about a hundred yards, then sat down to wait for Eric and Ingrid who I knew would be behind shortly. I would talk to Steve later about it, but it probably wouldn't have been productive to continue as we were.

Most of the time when I'm climbing/hiking/scrambling with others in the mountains I consider them competent mountaineers that can make their own decisions and I'm loathe to do anthing in the way of leadership other than do the route-finding. The Sierra Challenge is based on this premise and everyone is pretty much free to do whatever they like. I've only had a few experiences of leading novices in the mountains and I'll admit I don't like it one bit. Steve and Eric have been a bit different, since they are very old friends from well before I began mountaineering. I feel a good deal of responsibility for their safety and want to ensure they get back in one piece in addition to just having fun. So I have a need for them to respect my judgement on dangerous terrain and take the few pieces of advice I dole out seriously. Eric seems far better with this arrangement than Steve, thus our butting heads. My inclination at this point is to never go into the mountains with Steve again if there are real dangers. Time will tell.

I apologized to the others when they caught up and together we continued down to a saddle with Tomboy. The talus was unusually loose here and extra caution was certainly warranted. At the saddle there were small planks of wood like surveying stakes lying about the ground, some old and weather, others looking quite new. To no particular purpose, I gathered these up while I was waiting for the others to join me. The East Ridge of Tomboy had looked like it might be more solid than the path we took to the saddle, but in fact it seemed like more of the same. This was looking far more like the High Sierra than the Colorado I was used to, loose rock everywhere. We spent about 45min making our way from the initial ridgeline to Tomboy via the saddle. There was a tiny register dating back a few years found at the summit with decent views overlooking the ruins of the Tomboy Mine to the south and Middle Basin to the northwest. We took another 45min to return to the ridge at which point I let Eric and Ingrid start back towards Chicago while I went off to investigate United States Mtn.

This last peak turned out to make for a very pleasant walk on solid, easy ground until the last quarter mile. It was here that the ridge narrows considerably and grows quite rugged in short order. I got to a gap that looked like it might go at sketchy class 4, but there was another gap just beyond that I could not adequately judge. Beyond that, the going gets easy again and a simple class 2 walk to the summit. After contemplating this for a few minutes, I decided I hadn't really done my homework to see if others had used this ridgeline. I didn't want to make sketchy moves to get past the first gap only to find the second even harder, so I decided this one could wait for another time. I had seen other ways to reach the summit from lower Imogene Basin that probably involved loose, crappy chutes, but they were probably safer ways to do it. I returned back the way I'd come, going over Chicago Peak before catching up with Eric and Ingrid in one of the loose talus traverse sections. They were a little unsure about the route they were taking, but after checking the GPSr track, I assured them it was the same route we'd used on the way out. After another 30min or so, we got back to Imogene Pass and the jeep around 1:30p, finding Steve half asleep inside.

Eric went off with Ingrid to climb Telluride Peak on the south side of the pass. They initially thought it was Pt. 13,365ft, just above the pass, but after about 20min when they were almost on top, Eric checked his peakbagger app to realize it was another 30-40min further. Ingrid commented later that had she known she would have nixed it from the start. Really, I think it was Eric's way to avoid the tensions he expected when we reconnected with Steve. On our side, Steve and I had a long talk to discuss each other's disappointments on how things played out. Steve felt better afterwards, saying he appreciated "having his feelings validated," but I can't say that I was much moved. His impulsiveness in dangerous situations can frankly scare me. I'm not too excited about having to tell his wife someday how an unnecessary death evolved from a more benign situation. There was some level of trust lost back on the day of the accident when he specifically went against instructions, even after giving me his word that he would follow them. I told him all of this in our discussion, but I didn't get the feeling he took it seriously enough to modify his behavior. Maybe it will have more of an impact when he sees it in writing...


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