Friday, October 19, 2012

Potosi Mountain, or What Not to Do While in the Mountains!

I had a meeting in the morning, and decided to take the afternoon off and go climb Mt. Potosi.  There was nothing about this climb that suggested that it would be exceptionally difficult.  An easy afternoon, I thought.  There are two approaches, one up a long, steep dirt maintenance road, and the other an off trail bushwhack.  I chose the bushwhack route.  Having done a rough measurement of the route on some topographic map software, it looked to be just under six miles round trip (it turned out to be eight miles).  Wrong on every count.  The route started off on a very steep slope filled with loose rock, looser dirt and pine needles, and a set of treacherous cliffs off to my left.  Those cliffs were to come back and beat me up pretty badly later in the trip.  The brush was relentless, and there were few ways around it anywhere, so I began to pick up some hefty scratches on my arms and legs.  I finally made the ridge line pictured below.  From here I could see the peak off in the distance.  What I couldn't see was the excruciating terrain between here and the summit.  The brush and loose rock continued and there were three sub peaks on the way to the main one, along with two third class down climbs.  I thought the steep bump ahead of me was the summit, and I went all the way to the top only to find that the true summit was still out ahead of me, so I had to descend back down, again over third class rock to the last saddle, and begin the lengthy trek to the real summit.  It was getting late, as I'd been barely able to average over a mile an hour (I was expecting to do a two plus mile an hour average).

View from second saddle looking back towards some of the cliff faces I had avoided on the way up.

Finally the summit.  Note the long shadows.  It was 4:30 p.m.

Telecommunication towers on the summit.

A quick view of the Red Rock escarpment (Las Vegas is off to the right), then I began scurrying back down the mountain.

Late afternoon smog in the desert.

A silver tipped agave.  Note how low the sun is off to the left.

This is where things started to go bad.  At the time this picture was taken, sunset was about ten or fifteen minutes away.  My GPS showed the spot where I hit the ridge was still a distance away.  It began to get dark, and it got dark rapidly.  The problem with missing the point where I hit the ridge was that if I didn't go far enough, I'd hit the series of cliffs on the descent.  They'd be tough to do in daylight, and absolutely treacherous in the dark.  I started the final descent a bit too early and came to the edge of a precipice.  I back tracked a bit and began traversing towards what I hoped would be my track back down (I had the map feature on my GPS turned on).  It got too dark to see very far ahead and I stopped for a moment to pull out my recently purchased head lamp.  It was worthless.  I thrashed my way further down the slope, and finally started digging through my pack looking for my flash light.  That helped some, but I still could only see a few feet ahead of me.  I hit more cliffs.  I was able to down climb them by holding the flashlight in my mouth while I used both hands and feet to climb down.  As soon as I got down one, there would be another one.  It was very slow going.  Finally, I came to what was a 4th class down climb.  I began edging my way down, but lost footing and fell about five feet.  Fortunately, I landed in pine needles and although I was scraped up and split my lip with the flashlight, I was otherwise uninjured.  I continued on, knowing that I still had over a mile left to go, and several hundred feet to descend.  I reached out for the GPS that had been attached to my sternum strap, and it was gone.  Damn!  It must have been knocked loose in the fall.  I turned around to go back, but I realized I'd never find it in the dark (did I mention how dark it was?  Black.)  So I ruefully turned back and headed on down.  I'd made it over the worst and finally came out on the road long after eight o'clock.  I found my car (it was about a hundred yards from where I came out of the bush).  Lesson?  Don't ever underestimate a mountain.  Even the most benign mountain has teeth.  This one chewed me up pretty good.


  1. Looks like it would have been an amazing hike if you just had left earlier. Glad you came out ok! Is that a suitcase perched between the rocks in the third photo?

    1. On many peaks in the area, the sign in register is kept in an ammunition box, as they are weather proof.

  2. not to be harsh, 'cause i don't mean it that way, but the mountain didn't chew you up. you chewed yourself. the lesson is the same, though. there will always be eventualities that we don't expect, and for which we must be prepared, at minimum mentally. so glad you got home safe.

  3. and i forgot to say, the photos are wonderful.


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