Making mistakes on Princeton

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Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby scootmanjones » Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:51 am

I consider myself a slightly seasoned rookie when it comes to hiking the big mountains in Colorado. I have climbed 21 14ers but most of them are of the easy or moderate variety. I was feeling pretty good about myself after having hiked the NW ridge of Mt. Lindsay at the end of September after a snow storm. My climbing partners, Jake and Anna, and I headed to Mt. Princeton on December 2nd along with Sasha, Jake's dog. All three of us are at about the same ability, but our hiking speeds vary. Anna is the fastest going up, then me, then Jake. Jake is the fastest going down, then Anna, then me. As a result we usually get very strung out along a route. Princeton was no different. Anna made the summit first and I followed about 20 minutes later. We waited at the summit for 20 minutes before realizing that Jake had decided not to summit because of the rough going on his dog. Anna and I started our decent. Jake saw us and started to hike back towards the saddle. Anna and I made it to where the old trail faintly connects with the ridgeline and Anna says, "Let's take the short-cut. We will meet Jake where the old trail hits the new trail." MISTAKE #1: Taking a short-cut. MISTAKE #2: Taking a short-cut without telling everyone in your party you are taking a short-cut. As the de facto "leader" of the group should have overruled Anna, but I didn't. MISTAKE #3: While working my way down the endless boulder field, I stumble, take a fall and slide about 10 feet. I definitely should have really jacked myself up (broken wrist, scraped up face, concussion) but I only bruised my hip. Looking back I think I was moving too quickly trying to keep up with Anna. Anna and I hike over to where the old trail connects to the new trail. No sign of Jake. We can see the entire trail up to the saddle and back along the north face for a great distance. No Jake. Is he still on the saddle or further down the mountain? Let's call him. MISTAKE #4: Jake left his cell phone in the car. Anna and I decide that Jake is probably further down the mountain since he is such a quick descender. We start hiking down. You can guess what happens. Jake is waiting for us at the saddle and then starts freaking out because we have not returned from the summit. He walks back and forth along the summit ridge before deciding that he might see Anna's pink coat way, way down the trail. He starts to hike down after us but realizes he doesn't have the route directions. The route directions are in my pocket and he was relying on me to lead the way. Luckily the Princeton trail is straight forward. Anna and I hike back to the road and to within a mile of our car. By this time I'm convinced that Jake is behind us but I'm not 100% certain. I decide to wait for Jake on the road and ask Anna to hike down to the car. I ask Anna to call me when she gets to the car. Fifteen minutes after she leaves my cell phone goes completely dead. MISTAKE #5: Go hiking with a Blackberry. I start hiking towards the car as soon as my phone dies. Jake catches me at the radio towers and is completely relieved to see me. Anna is disturbed that my cell phone isn't working and starts walking up the trail again. We all meet up and hike back down to the car. We all feel good to see other but can't shake the feeling that we made a cascade of stupid mistakes. The lessons learned are self-explanatory but I would be interested in getting your feedback.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby aliciaf » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:17 pm

You've said it all already. Don't split up unless there can be at least 2 people together in each group. Everyone should have a route description and map. And never change your plans without telling the rest of the group. If this had been a more difficult route to navigate or higher than Class 2, this could have ended very badly. Thankful everyone is alright.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby GeezerClimber » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:18 pm

I have one rule for climbing with other people. We ALWAYS stay within sight of each other. Usually this means someone will have to be slower than their ability. I've been on both ends of the spectrum speed wise. Fortunately, I have a group of three or four partners who agree with me. Besides, if you have to slow down, that gives you more time to enjoy the scenery or poke around off trail. It can be more enjoyable.


PS: Cell phones will use up power much faster if they are searching for a signal. I have learned to keep them off until actually needed.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby jdorje » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:22 pm

Not directly related to your mistakes, but I recently picked up a pair of FRS radios. About $25 per radio for a higher-end model, these have more reliable batteries and reception than cell phones when communicating with members of your party on the same mountain. Each one is a fair bit heavier than a cell phone though.


EDIT: if you do go the cell phone route, use text messages rather than voice calls. A voice call requires both sides to have their phone on and have reception at the same time, while a text message will be stored until the recipient gets reception. Turning off wireless and 3g will *greatly* extend your battery life; or just go full airplane mode or turn the whole thing off (as others have suggested).
Last edited by jdorje on Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby peter303 » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:26 pm

Cant assume cellphone coverage. Especially when you are lower down and ridges and trees block the signal.
Also your batteries may have discharged. Also there may be some electronic/battery failures are very cold winter windchills.

Princeton may be the exception because (1) there is a tower half way up and (2) it is in sightline to major town.
Last edited by peter303 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby Jim Davies » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:09 pm

Never leave the slower, inexperienced people behind. Bad partnering. It's good that you all got out OK, but I didn't see "keep the group together" in your lessons, and it should be #1.
Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it's great when you stop. -- Chris Darwin
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby DanielL » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:50 pm

Jim Davies wrote:Never leave the slower, inexperienced people behind. Bad partnering. It's good that you all got out OK, but I didn't see "keep the group together" in your lessons, and it should be #1.

+1. I climbed Princeton a few weeks ago with three partners, and we split up into twos on the way down because a few of us wanted to climb Tigger Peak. It didn't seem like any problem at the time, and nothing actually went wrong, but we wished we had better communication with the other group, though we all met up before long. As a general rule, the speed of our group is the same as the speed of the slowest hiker in the group, and if we split up, no one is alone, no one hikes off the trail, and if possible each group can communicate with the other. For the most part, I don't hike with more than 3-4 partners, especially on more technical routes where it's much more important to stay together as a group. That said, I've been there and done that, and you've gained valuable experience which is essential for more difficult climbing.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby BobbyFinn » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:05 pm

I don't usually put radios in my pack, but I will when I think they might be necessary/helpful. Two radios are always in my gear box, but they seldom get put in our packs. I recently went on a hike where the possibility of splitting up was raised in the planning phase of the hike - So we brought the radios.

It turns out that we did split up - about 10 minutes after we decided to not split up. I and another person got ahead of Kate and the 4th person in our group and we didn't know the split had happened until we turned around to see where our other partners were. We didn't see them so we waited. After wondering what was going on for a few minutes, I got out the radio and found out the plan change. The radios helped us communicate so both parties knew where the other was.

Shelling out ~$50 - $80 for a good set of radios is much better than incurring the uncertainty/fear/annoyance of getting separated and not knowing what your partners are doing.

It sounds like you had a great learning experience. Thanks for sharing.

"Mind what you have learned. Save you it can." - Yoda
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby giarcd » Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:32 pm

You have got great information from these friends 'grasshopper' and learned a valuable lesson!!!---what a wonderful site =D> I'm proud to be among these folks.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby TomPierce » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:00 pm

Good advice above. My buddies and I have a practice that in winter or tougher conditions we never get out of eyesight of each other, and as the weather closes in the distance should shrink between people. I also have a rule that I ask others to follow: If you come to a junction in the trail, don't take it until the last person in the team is aware of what path has been chose, i.e. full stop at trail junctions (unless you're on one of the super highway trails where the path is obvious). Seems to work for me and my buddies.
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby Crusty » Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:50 pm

Interesting and informative debut thread. Crusty thinks it needs an alliterative title to add some pizzazz. May I suggest "Cognitive Confusion in the Collegiates"?
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Re: Making mistakes on Princeton

Postby KentonB » Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:01 pm

Glad things worked out in the end! We had a similar experience on Princeton years ago but with a slightly worse outcome. About 5 min from the summit, a cloud bank moved in causing the temperature to drop. One member of our 3-person group was exhausted and cold and wanted to turn back. He decided to head back with another group who were descending. Me and my other partner summitted, then heard lightning and took the "shortcut" you described... only to see the other group coming out of the cloud bank in the distance... without our friend! Turns out he fell behind them, got lost in the fog and went down the right-side of the ridgeline... down 2000 feet of scree where he cliffed out at Agnes Vaille falls! Meanwhile, it started raining and he was soaking wet... with no more food, water or rain gear.

Long story short, Chaffee County Search & Rescue folks are awesome and found him right away... though it ended up being the longest "day hike" of my life.

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