Flattop Mountain P750
Hermosa Peak P1K

Sep 4, 2019

With: Steve Sywyk
Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profiles: 1 2


Eric, Steve & I had convened in Telluride, CO for what has become a yearly event since 2015. I picked Steve up from the Tellride Airport around the same time Eric was arriving by car from Albuquerque, NM, around 6p. We enjoyed a late Thai dinner in town and made plans for an easy day to give Steve a chance to acclimate. 12,000-foot Flattop seemed to fit the bill nicely, about 4mi roundtrip with only 1,000ft of gain. It wasn't until we added a bonus peak that things began to go sour.

Flattop Mountain

We left Telluride in the morning shortly after 6a and spent more than an hour driving south on SR145 and then up the rocky 4WD Bolam Pass road. Following a John Kirk track from LoJ, we drove about five miles up from the highway and parked two miles southeast of the summit in an open meadow area. The cross-country hike to Flattop is really quite pleasant, through forest and meadow with minor ups and downs along the way, and some use trail (from cattle?) even. We went at a very leisurely pace, which generally meant I was hiking out in front and would pause to wait for the other two before they lost sight of me. They hadn't seen each other in about six months, so there was much catching up to do. We got to the flat summit (big surprise there, eh?) in an hour and a quarter, finding the views pretty decent. Of particular note was the Wilson Group to the northwest that was lit up with sunshine even while dark clouds brooded over it. With the weather pattern changing to chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, we kept an eye on its development, but were happy to find that we were treated to mostly sunny skies where we hiked all day. There was a register in a glass jar left by Mike and Julia Garratt in 2018. We signed it, lazed around the summit for a while and eventually started back. The return was a little quicker, though still took us an hour.

Hermosa Peak

Hermosa Peak was actually closer to where we parked than was Flattop and made for the obvious bonus peak though a bit more work, as it is almost 500ft higher. It looked like it might make for quite a talus slog as well, quite different than our casual hike through the woods and meadows. My concern was mostly for Steve who had last year started off too ambitiously and ended up hurting his back for weeks afterwards. I expressed this concern to him beforehand, suggesting he should start off easy and bring a book to read if we did a bonus peak. There was plenty of beer, chips and salsa in a cooler to keep him happy while Eric and I went off for more adventure. So I took the time again to express my concern before we made any efforts towards it. Steve appreciated that I don't like playing "mother" and acknowledged the concerns I had. Still, he said he felt pretty good, had no headache and wanted to do more. I asked if he would be ok letting me decide when he would turn back and he readily agreed. And with that, we piled back into the jeep for another 1.5mi of driving to a closer starting point near the Colorado Trail.

Our TH at the end of a spur road is very close to the popular Colorado Trail. As it heads south, the trail passes within 1/3mi of Hermosa Peak on its northwest side, not too far from our starting point. I was eyeing a steep route up the NW side, a mostly talus route that passes through a chute that breaks through the cliffs on that side. When I consulted with Eric, he indicated that he'd prefer the easier route which was goes up the SW Ridge. So we hiked about 3/4mi along the trail before it was time to head to a saddle on the SW side of Hermosa. From all indications that we had, we expected a steep talus climb and it was here I thought Steve would be best served by not continuing. So I turned to him and said, "You've got a choice. You can go back to the car now, or you can continue on the trail for a while and then turn back, but we're going to leave the trail and head up here." Steve protested modestly, suggesting maybe he could go up with us part of the way. This of course would lead to him going all the way, so I refused. He backed down and said he'd hike along the trail for a while, then.

Eric and I went up through the trees, keeping to the edge of the forest below and the talus slopes above as we did an ascending traverse to the right, aiming for the saddle below the SW Ridge of Hermosa Peak. It was fairly easy travel and we were happy to find that the better footing on the grass slopes continued almost all the way up to the saddle, eventually becoming a somewhat loose talus slope, much as I expected. There was a semblence of a use trail, however, that got better once we reached the saddle and turned left to follow the ridge. The ridge made for an excellent route, with a very short class 3 bulge near the beginning that had Eric a bit nervous. We got through this, endured a bit of steep, loose dirt slopes above that (not really dangerous, though), and then a nice, scenic hike along the easier upper portion of the ridge that took us all of about 20min from the saddle. A register found here dated only to the previous summer, but it was quite busy, perhaps because of its proximity to the Colorado Trail. We hung about the summit for a short while, discussing the many summits within our view and even picking out what looked like a much easier additional bonus peak we could do with Steve when we hooked back up. We went down via the same route, Eric doing well in reversing the class 3 moves through the bulge. As we were descending the slopes west of the saddle, I thought I heard a human voice several times, though the wind was making it difficult to hear. I couldn't distinguish the sounds from the buzzing of the bees that seemed to be following us and thought my mind was simply playing tricks on me. As we neared the trees lower down, I was suddenly struck by a faint calling of "Eric!" sounding somewhat labored and painful. I turned to Eric who'd heard it too, and we quickly surmised it was coming from the south.

In that direction was a whole lot of loose, crappy talus that makes up the northwest slopes of Pt. 12,180ft, a lower sub-summit of Hermosa on the other side of the saddle to the southwest. As we moved over in that direction, Steve's cries were more distinct and it was clear that he was in a good deal of pain. We found him lying in the rocks about 100yds from our path, shouting out in agony at semi-random intervals. The First Responder in me wanted to first evaluate his injuries, then come up with a plan for getting him to medical help. Steve wasn't in a position to be very helpful with this, at least at first. Despite his pain, he wanted to describe how the accident happened, where it happened, and all sorts of potentially interesting information, but little that would be immediately helpful. I interrupted him at one point, only to have him tell me, "Please let me finish!" after which he continued with his rambling. From outward appearance, he had cuts to his face and was bleeding some from his nose. I guessed that he had hit his head and was probably suffering a concussion which might explain his ramblings. Then again, it might not - Steve likes to talk and has never been at a loss for words to spill out of his piehole. His arms were held in close to his body and seemed to be the source of his pain when he would cry out periodically, as though they were spasming to cause a very sharp pain. His ramblings, however, were keeping me from getting a better assessment. After another minute I interrupted him a second time, this time more forcefully to let him know I needed to take over. He seemed to get it, quieting down now, except for the recurring pains that caused him to shout out.

Within a few minutes I had gathered that he felt his feet were fine and it was his hands that were the cause of the pain. This was good, because we could probably do a self-rescue rather than having to call 911 for SAR. He had us take off his gloves (he had put his jacket and gloves on himself immediately after the accident, exactly why we weren't sure, but he may have been feeling cold). I think his ramblings were more from shock than a concussion as he began to be more lucid as time went on, not exactly all together, but at least making sense and able to follow directions. His hands looked a bit twisted when we took the gloves off and I thought maybe one of his thumbs was dislocated or broken, but this turned out to not be the case - it was the pain that was causing him to hold his hands in this contorted way. He had surprisingly few obvious wounds for the amount of pain he seemed to be suffering. As for the accident, it seems he was walking down the talus and somehow fell forward and landed on his face. His hands may have been used to brace the fall, but those had no obvious injuries, yet they seemed to be the focus of most of the pain.

I decided it would probably be best if we could get Steve back to the jeep ourselves and he seemed confident that he could walk himself down the talus. Eric was pretty quiet for most of this, letting me do most of the interacting with Steve, and keeping to the side. Eric was happy to carry Steve's pack down but seemed unwilling or unable to help me guide Steve down the mountain once we got him standing. I wanted us to stand on each side of him, one under each arm, in case he might lose his balance. Eric thought this was terribly unsafe, afraid that Steve would take us down with him. Steve's a big guy, after all. I tried to explain that we might not be able to hold him up, but we could at least help make any fall less serious. After Steve stood up, I found myself alone at his side, Eric keeping a distance despite my calls for him to help me. For his part, Steve was able to walk better than I had expected - his ramblings had died down and he was able to talk more clearly as we did some minor slipping and sliding as we made our way off the talus slope. In about five minutes we were on the easier grass slopes and Steve had us stop so we could remove his jacket, hat and gloves as he was overheating now. His humor was beginning to return, too, as he asked me to get out his phone for him. He sat there fumbling with it for a few seconds before asking sheepishly if I would take a photo of him with it. Mine was returning too, and though it might have been a bit too soon, I had to comment, "You know, that place where we found you didn't look at all like the trail." This was lost on Steve until Eric commented that it was a dig at him for not sticking to the trail. Steve tried to explain how he had at first been innocently drawn to some snow where he wrote a note to his wife, then thought maybe he should climb some talus to "get practice" for the following days. The next thing he knew he had climbed up to the top of Pt. 12,180ft and watched Eric and I finish the ascent of Hermosa Peak. Following directions is not one of his strong points, it seems.

We got him back to the trail and then a slow walk back along it to the trailhead where we'd started. Eric kept his distance even on the trail. It seemed clear that it wasn't really fear of getting squashed by Steve, but rather just wanting to distance himself from the emergency altogether. When we got back to the jeep I thought it best that we should get him to the emergency room, but Steve had other ideas. He was concerned they were going to want to cut his clothes off him and wanted to change into something easier to remove, like shorts. It became a somewhat comical scene as Eric and I watched him change his clothes with his non-functioning hands, periodically pausing to grimace in pain before continuing with his task. It was a long bumpy ride on the drive back down to the pavement, almost an hour all told, during which Steve's pains were a regular but no longer frightening (to Eric and I) experience. We eventually got him to the Telluride Medical Center around 2:30p. You might think a small town clinic wouldn't be the best place to seek care, but the doctors here see all manner of skiing, mountain biking and mountain-related accidents, far more than the typical big city hospital. They cleaned him up and concluded that he'd probably whipped his spine during the fall, pinching the nerves that go to his hands and arms. They recommended he go to Grand Junction for an MRI where they can better assess whether there's any serious damage. It's a two and half hour drive between Telluride and Grand Junction, however. We could have driven him, but since he's well-insured, he opted for the ambulance ride which would save Eric and I some trouble. Points to Steve for that choice. We packed a bag for him before he left, figuring he'd probably want to get on a plane to go home, possibly see more doctors, and recuperate. I could always bring the rest of his gear and clothes home with me in the jeep when I returned in 7-10 days. So much for a relaxing first day in Telluride...

Eric and I went to dinner that evening and concluded it was probably the last we'd see of Steve this trip. To my great surprise, I was awakened from a dead sleep when he came back to the hotel around 3a. Seems the doctors in Grand Junction said there was no serious damage and he'd heal with time. They gave him a brace for the arm that had swelled and caused the most pain, and then discharged him. A $170 Lyft ride got him back to Telluride. He figured he might as well hang out in Telluride with us for the rest of the week while he heals up some. That way it won't scare his wife so much when she next sees him. He still hadn't told her about the accident and maybe was hoping he wouldn't have to...


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