Grouse Canyon

September 7th 2013

Grouse Canyon Mt Princeton Attempt – Chaffee County, CO – 13, 238 ft (4,035 m)

Sam Adams Boston Lager – Vienna Lager – 4.9% ABV

GPS Track

It was going to happen eventually. I always love pushing myself, but in the back of my mind I always said, ‘Never be afraid or ashamed to turn back. The mountain will always be there.’

Mount Princeton. You can drive up one face of it pretty far and walk up an uninspiring trail with crowds of people. Or, you can try to do something off the beaten path. I chose the later and decided I would go up the backside, up Grouse Canyon.

The trail is faint, the slopes are steeps, and the crowds are almost non existent. My kind of hike. We started off from the trail head before daylight broke, and followed a small trail that ran along the river. Near the start there is a sign that basically says, ‘Yo, this is a hard route, make sure you know your shit before trying it’. Guessing some people have gotten in trouble here before…

Daylight broke and soon it was time to turn off from the river and head up to ridge line. This was about the only time I lost the trail, in a field of vegetation after leaving the river. Wasn’t bad, and didn’t take more than a minute or two to figure it out and be on my way up. The trial continued nicely for quite some time, until it basically faded into a gnarly scree field.

I made the mistake of trying to head straight up it (a mistake I wouldn’t realize until looking down at my route options). It took a while, but eventually the pup and I made it to the ridge. From my readings it sounded like a fairly standard ridge walk/scramble to the peak from there.

While that turned out to be mostly true, the thing I wasn’t prepared for was the exposure on each side. Steep smooth rock on my right, steep loose scree on my left. Not a big deal for me, so we started out.

Well, Izzi got a little excited and would jump over small (2-3ft) ribs as we were going. She usually stayed within 5 feet in front or behind me. I didn’t think a thing of it until she jumped over one in front of me, and when she landed I saw a look of panic in her eyes. I realized that over that rib was just nearly straight rock sloped on the right. She landed on it, and initially tried to climb up it.

But you know cartoons when they put oil slicks down, and their feet just kind of run in place? That is all that happened. After what felt like seconds (but likely was only one), she began to slide down the right side of the ridge (see photo). I sit and watch in horror, knowing there is nothing I can do other than hope she lands somewhere soon, and lands safely.

Luckily, after about 20 vertical feet she lands on a small ledge. I look down and call her name, and hope she moves. She gets up and looks at me, albeit timidly. Ok, I think. She isn’t dead, but I she can’t get back up here, and I can’t easily get down there. She hasn’t moved after about 3 minutes, and I thought to myself, ‘This is it. You are going to have to carry her out because she broke a leg’.

I dropped my bag where I stood and start scrambling down towards her. My route isn’t nearly as direct as hers, but I still tried to get there as fast as possible. Once I get there I love on her a little and let her know things will be OK. She stands up, and looks at me like, ‘Ok dad, I love you and am ready to keep going’. I look at all her legs, and they seem fine. Then just like that, she starts back up towards the way I came down.

THANK GLOB! She was just more startled than hurt. I don’t blame her, it was a nasty fall, and she could have easily snapped a leg had she landed wrong. I follow her back up to where I dropped my pack. She continues going up. I sit for a minute, thinking. We were close. We had already done are hard part. But how many more ribs like that might there be?

No, the mountain will always be there. I decided to stop and head back down just a tad to more open tundra to eat and enjoy my beer. I wasn’t going to take that change that another blind rib might hold another slope like that. I can take my time and really pick my routes. My dog? Not always, when she can’t see over what she is jumping over.  So we enjoy our food and head back down.

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