Colonel Bob Turn-Around

I’ve been working with Paul K. to become a hike leader. This means assisting him and then doing a mentored lead on several hikes.

A few months ago, Paul scheduled a conditioner hike up to Colonel Bob Peak. Plans changed due to conditions so we didn’t make it. This would be a second attempt that I would co-lead, and with a break in the weather, it seemed perfect.

Our group assembled in Olympia bright and early and carpooled out to Pete’s Creek Trailhead which would take us up to Colonel Bob.

The hike started out smoothly with lots of sunshine and camaraderie! We paused to let folks put on microspikes and then again for snowshoes as we rose in elevation, enjoying the early spring views as we went.

When we reached a clear, snow covered hillside, the obvious trail disappeared. As this was a hike and not a scramble, we were supposed to stay on trail. Comparing observations and looking at the GPS route, we finally set off towards the other side of the hill on what we believed to be the trail. I stayed in the back of the group to sweep.

I began noticing concerning features in the snow, all of them ringing bells from various avalanche trainings. Several of the hikers made passing remarks about signs they were seeing as well. Red flags began to appear in my mind. I hurried to catch up with the group where they were paused to discuss the trail. I looked at the slope they were standing beside and gasped. They were standing beside obvious avalanche runout, some snow chunks bigger than any of us. The hill above them had obviously slid several times.

“Can everybody move to the side, please?” It was more of a command than a question. As the group stepped over, I outlined my concerns and we had a quick discussion about our next move. Some opinions were that we were this far and could easily be in the tree-line shortly and continue on. Others were that if conditions were bad here, they would probably be bad further up. In the end, caution won out and we decided to turn around and haul a$$ off the hillside.

As soon as we were off the slope, I called for a break and talked to Paul about the situation. We then had a group debrief about what had happened on the hill, the decision making, and how everyone was feeling about the choice to turn around. Consensus was that there was disappointment in not achieving the summit, but also a lot of relief. There was also interest in how the group made the decision and how we were all able to contribute. Overall everyone seemed satisfied that we had made the right decision. After our snack/rest, we began the trek out.

As we neared the Trailhead, our decision was validated by the weather. It began to rain hard through the trees and we made good time getting out of the woods and back to our vehicles.

The day concluded with a detour to Aberdeen for burgers and beers. The drive back to Olympia was full of fun conversations and stories about other tough decisions and turn-arounds.

As we parted ways, Paul and I debriefed the hike and agreed that we had made the right call. We also agreed that we would return to try again–after all, the third time is the charm!

To follow our trail:

Colonel Bob’s Peak

Northwest Avalanche Center

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