Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pikes Peak
September 7th, 2013


The second time turned out to be the charm for Pikes.  With good weather predicted for the weekend I decided on Thursday to down to Colorado Springs and giving biking up Pikes a second try.  Once again all the regulars were busy, so it would be a solo trip again.

I left home at 4 a.m. for the two and a half hours drive to.  As I pulled out of the driveway the skies
still held the night’s stars, but not a cloud in sight. My spirits were high, and my doubts were nonexistent as I headed south. Looking at the Pike Peaks Highway website before the trip it looked like there was one section of road that still was not paved. I was not sure if it was still that way, but it was a good enough reason to bring the mountain bike instead of the road bike. It sounded like a good enough reason, though the real reason was due to the lower gearing on the mountain bike.

Once down to the start of the highway I had to wait at the gate for an hour for the road to open.  By the time it did open at 7:30 a.m., there was a long line of cars and motorcycles.  It looked like it was going to be a busy day on the road.  There were two extra events going on, on the road today: a downhill skateboard race and filming for the movie Fast and Furious 7.  Because of these events I was not sure where I would be able to park my car before beginning my ride. My hope was able to be able to make it up to the old ski area parking at 10,600’.  I figured that this would give me about an 8 mile ride with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I was able to work my way up to the ski area parking and found a parking spot between a bunch of cranes they were using for filming. After getting geared up the movie site organizer helped me shuttle my car a little lower down the road to the Halfway Picnic Area, then back up to my bike so that my vehicle would be out of their way for the day.  I figured I would not mind the extra mile and a half on the way down, but I really did not want to add it to the start of my day, so I was grateful for the ride back to the ski area parking area.

As I planned this trip, I was worried if I would feel like I cheated by biking up rather than hiking, however, this was soon put to rest. The first two miles of the ride felt the steepest of the day. I am not sure if it actually is, or if it was just due to not being warmed up yet. Either way by the end of the first mile I was starting to doubt if I was going to be able to make the summit.  My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest, quickly followed by both lungs. I guess when attempting to ride to the summit of a 14er, one should get on a bike at least once or twice in the months prior to the attempt.  Eventually my body settled down, and I began to steadily move upwards, one peddle stroke at a time. 

About 2 miles from the summit, my legs were begging for a break and I ended up walking my bike  for 100 yards or so before I sat down for a 10 minute break. This section of road was not especially steep; it was just that my legs were beat.  I did manage to get about a ½ to ¾ mile downhill section which gave my legs a reprieve before the final push up to the summit.

Despite the traffic at the gate this morning, very few cars passed me as I worked my towards the summit. I did not see any other cyclist until about ½ mile from the summit, when I was passed by 3 others bikers in two groups. Coming around the final turn into the summit parking lot was a surreal experience. Suddenly the alpine environment gives way, and you find yourself in the middle of a zoo, in the form of a large, filled parking lot.

I worked my way over to the summit sign for a picture, which is actually below the true summit, but only 10 yards for the gift shop. Gift shop? That is right! It’s the only 14er summit with a gift shop.  I just had to go in. Turns out the sell the same crap here at 14,000’ as they do down at 7.000’.  Guess I did not need to take the long ride after all.  Who knew?

I worked my way up and over to the true summit for my actual summit picture.  The hardest part of this was scrambling over the rocks in my cycling shoes.  After a short lunch break, I decided it was time to head down, so that I could avoid the thunderstorms that were starting to build.  My hope was that the ride down was going to be pure joy.  Only one small uphill, and 10 miles of downhill before #28 was in the bag.  Three hours of hard uphill work, and now 30 or so minutes of easy downhill. 

The reality of downhill biking quickly set in as I left the summit.  I worried about the disc pads glazing up on my disc brakes as I had to continually check my speed to stay in control.  I ended up switching between my front and back breaks, with the hope of keeping either of them from overheating to the point of failure. Every time I started to pick up some good speed I had to break to avoid flying off a hairpin turn.

Just past the ski area parking lot, where I began the day, I stopped on a bend in the road to watch the downhill skateboard race for 45 minutes or so. Those guys are nuts! They were coming down the same steep slope as me, without any breaks. The only way to check their speed was to skid out the backend of their boards.  I flinched every time one of them approached the hay bales that I was standing behind on the curve. A few of the riders did not make the corner and were thankful for the bales to stop them from sliding down the drop off on the sign of the road.

Another quick15 minutes of downhill had me back down to the Xterra.  Number 28 into the book and most likely my last 14er of the season.  2013 will go down as the year of the solos.  This was not my intent when I planned my year, as I enjoy the company of others on these outings, but it was the way things worked out.  Going solo did help build my confidence in myself.  This is something that I will need next summer as I attempt to solo the John Muir Trail and summit Mt Whitney.  Because of this trip I do not know how many, if any, 14ers I will be able to get in next summer.  Maybe with a light snowfall this winter I will be able to get in a couple as training for the JMT.  At least the altitude on the JMT should not be a major issue after tackling the 14ers the last couple of summers. 

Until next season…. HIKE ON!
Complete Trip Photos Here

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks

14,034’   -    14,001’
August 15th, 2013


After finishing Handies Peak on the 14th, I drove down to the Grizzly Creek trailhead to be ready to attempt Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks the next day. I spent most of the day lying around the Xterra reading and trying to nap a little.  As I laid around doubt once again began to seep into my mind.  Many of same thoughts that had been running thought my mind the night prior to Hanides came back.  I did not have enough 14ers or big days under my belt this season to leave me doubt free. So as the hours of waiting slowly passed, I tried to push my doubts deeper inside of me.  I meet BookMark from Ohio as he made his way back to the trailhead from a successful solo summit of both peaks.  Talking to him about his summits helped to build my confidence. 

When my alarm went off just after 4:30 a.m. I felt the best I had in several weeks.  I hoped that this was a good sign, even though the doubts were still swirling around in my mind.  I was headed up the trail within 30 minutes. Forgetting my regular pack was coming back to haunt me.  As I headed up in the cold my main head lamp would not stay on. The small spare that I kept in the car would have to light my way until dawn broke.  The trail climbed steadily for the first mile and a half through forest.  With each step I felt my doubts and fears being pushed further and further out of my mind, and I began to truly enjoy the experience.

At a mile and a half the trail begins to turn to the northeast as it contours along the side of Silver Creek before hooking around the backside of Redcloud Peak.  The sound of the creek was joined by its beauty as dawn began to chase away the night.  As I climbed higher into the basin at the head of  I watched the sun slowly climb down its east face, snapping away a dozen pictures of it progress.  It was not until I reached the saddle between Redcloud and Peak 16,561’ that I realized that I had only been seeing the false summit far below Redcloud’s true summit.  With the disappointment I continued on one step at a time.  The trail up to   These social trails were badly eroding in many places so I stayed on the main trail, to honor the hard work of those who put in the work to make these great trails.
the creek I could see Redcloud’s summit come into view.
the false summits was crisscrossed with many social trails, taking the direct line upwards in place of the switchbacks.

The final push to the summit climbed up a section of serpentine trail and I soon found myself alone on my first summit of the day at 9.a.m.  Aptly named, the summit was covered in a red colored rock. With one more new summit still lying ahead on me today, I only spent a few minutes taking pictures before starting the ridge traverse over to Sunshine Peak. My original plan for the day was to take the standard route up then come down either the NW Ridge or down from Sundog Peak.  However, as I traversed southward to Sunshine I just did not see an easy line that would take me down either of these two routes.

The traverse to Sunshine
The traverse felt easy, after getting my second wind on Redcloud’s summit.  Even the final push up to the summit felt easier that it looked from below.  I was passed by a group of three coming back from Sunshine, who had spent the night at the head of the lower basin, and claimed the first summits of the day.  I made Sunshine’s summit just about an hour after leaving Redcloud’s.  The summit was my own for 20 minutes before I was joined by another solo climber.  Talking with him he had decided to try to reach the basin below and to the west of the summit.  While I really liked the idea of making this into a loop hike, rather than having to reascend Redcloud’s summit, I did not see a good way to get down to the basin, especially by myself. After a good snack I headed back across the traverse to Redcloud.

The challenge with heading back to Redcloud is that you have to regain 500 feet of elevation. The trip back went much slower, and I found myself stopping quite often.  The worst part was when I topped out on what I thought was going to be the summit, only to find that I still had a ways to go, and still more elevation to gain. Finally reaching Redcloud’s summit again, I was surprised to see over 15 people sprawled out recovering from their 1st summit of the day.  Not wanting to be caught in the mass of people, I quickly made my way off of Redcloud.

Basin to the West of Sunshine Peak
The descent back to the trailhead went smoothly.  I did get to see all the spectacular views that were hidden in the darkness of my ascent.  Just under 2 miles from the trailhead I ran into a family that I had seen heading up Sunshine as I was heading down.  They had decided to try the basin descent on the way back.  They said there was a lot of butt sliding to make it down to the basin, but from there it was easy.  Even after talking to them I felt like I had made the right decision for me. If I would have been hiking with someone else I would have gone for it, but solo, it was an easy choice.

Once back to the trailhead I was packed up and on the road within 30 minutes.  Despites my doubts, it had been a good and successful trip, but I was anxious to get home to Karen and Cade.  Now with my summer break almost over, and not many close 14ers left unclimbed, my 2013 14er season may be at a close. After my earlier rained out attempt on Pikes Peak, I really like to try to get back there to close out all the Front Range Summits, except Long’s which I am saving for last.  However, with training for a trail half marathon at the end of September, I am not sure if my schedule will allow me to get away for one more. But isn’t a 14er good training for a trail race??

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 is Underway...Finally

Handies Peak

August 13, 2013

The Project is still alive; just moving a little slow this year.  After a rained out attempt to bike Pikes Peak earlier this season, I finally found a few days to sneak away to try to get in a couple of peaks.  With my usual partners tied up with family or on vacation in Hawaii, I headed down to Lake City, prepared to attempt these peaks on my own.  At least I thought I was prepared and all set as I left the Fort.  However, just before the Copper Mountain exit on I-70 I suddenly realized that I had forgot my pack, with all of my hiking essentials inside, and my hiking poles.

Now what?  I was too far from home to go back and then head out again.  I just past what of been my best chance of finding a pack in Dillon. I figured I would at least go to Leadville and look around for a suitable pack, hopefully without breaking the bank.  Strolling around downtown Leadville I only found one real gear store, but the packs were more money that I wanted to spend.  Maybe Buena Vista? It was only another 30 minutes or so down the road, plus I can easily head home from there if I had no luck. B.V. was the same story as Leadville: one store and way too expensive.  Now I had to make a decision. Push on even longer to Gunnison in the hope of finding a pack, or call it a day and head home. Gunnison is a college right?  They have to have something there.  Just as I left B.V. I remembered that there was a pawn shop at the edge of town.  A quick stop there and I found an L.L. bean school-bag backpack that would do in a pinch. 

The drive from Salida to Gunnison is absolutely beautiful! It was my first time in this part of Colorado, even after living here over 15 years.  I can’t wait to bring the family back down this way.  As I drove onward I started thinking, about what I had in the car to replace my essentials that I left behind.  I knew there was a headlamp in the Xterra, as well as a first aid kit.  I figured I could pick up some 1 liter water bottles at a gas station if nothing else, though I thought I had a few Nalgenes hiding under seats somewhere. I was happy to find out that Gunnison had a Walmart.  Being such a gear head (not a gear snob) I had looked at other Walmarts and noticed that they carry a good selection of hiking backpacks and the Gunnison store had a much larger selection than I had seen in other stores.  After trying on several I decided on one that actually came with a water bottle. Bonus! From no, to 2 packs within 90 minutes.  The climb was on!

I was a little worried about the drive up to Handies, out of Lake City.  I figured that Xterra could handle anything this road threw at it, but I was not as assured about my off-road driving abilities.  As the road climbed and serpentine its way toward American Basin, I hugged the non-drop-off side.  My wife would not have made it up this road!  I only had 1 really sketchy spot before reaching the turn-off to American Basin. I actually got out and walked the road ahead to make sure that I could make it over a small rocky section. As I drove over the rocks I could feel the wheels spin a little before gripping and pushing me forward.  The reported crux of the drive was reported to be once you got off the main road and head into American Basin.  I must say I did not find this section to be any worse than anything I had already driven.  What was a great surprise was how quickly the scenery went from beautiful to spectacular!  This was why I choose the route, even though it is a little short of the 3000’ elevation gain. American Basin’s beauty lived up to everything that it was hyped up to be, and better yet I had it to myself, as I was the only car in the parking lot.  Within 30 minutes I was joined by another car, whose occupants quickly headed up the trailhead for an evening ascent of the peak.

I spent the time before turning in for the evening, cooking dinner and scrounging though the Xterra for supplies to fill my pack. I was happy to be here as I was not sure if this trip was going to come off.  Colorado has had a really wet monsoon season this year, and this area had been getting heavy rains this past week. However, this evening there was not a single cloud in the sky. As I bivied in the back of the Xterra for the night I was optimistic about a blue sky day for tomorrow.

The alarm sounded, once again way to early, at 5 a.m.  Peering out the window, I could see a sky full of stars, and decided to push my luck a little and get a little more sleep before heading out.  Memoires of past storms though, had me out of the sleeping bag and on the trail by 5:30.  It was light enough that I did not need my headlamp, which was good since it did not want to work correctly. I set off at a slow pace.  My legs felt good, but my breathing was labored.
Even though the trail was never overly steep, my mind was full of doubt.  Could I make it on my own? Was my mind in the "game”? Do I want to make it?  At times, as I ascended it was really tough to keep myself motivated.  A great reason to have a partner along. While I did not get noticeably stronger as I climber, I did not get weaker either.  I kept a steady pace all the way to the summit which I reach at 8:15, which was a little ahead of my schedule.

All my doubts disappeared as I set my feet upon the summit.  I had made it all on my own!  Mental toughness often is much more important the physical toughness.  I do not know how one develops mental toughness, other than with experience.  It is not something that can be taught, only earned.  I had the summit to myself for 30 minutes, when I was joined by a couple who had come up from the Grizzly Creek trailhead.

The descent went quickly.  I stopped and sat by Sloan Lake.  While the lake bottom looked sterile, the water was a beautiful aquamarine.  I could have spent all afternoon lakeside, just staring into the water and at the ridge above it, but a few clouds were beginning to move in, and I still had places to go today, so I headed down after a 30 minute break. Shortly after the lake I ran into a group of marmots that paid me very little attention, even as I passed within 2-3 feet of them. There were several young marmots in the group.  This was the first time I had ever seen young marmots, during my mountain ramblings. 
Shortly before reaching the car, a light rain moved in. Not enough to cause me to stop and put on a rain jacket, but enough to make me glad I was not in the group that just passed me on their way up at this late hour. I made it back to the car about 5 hours after beginning my day. This was the easiest 14er that I have done, along with being one of the most scenic.  It was a great one to officially start my season off with.

The drive out of the basin back down to Grizzly Creek trailhead, for Redcloud and Sunshine peaks tomorrow, went much smoother than the drive in, with gravity working in my favor.  There was more traffic than I passed on the way in yesterday, but I did not have any difficulty passing on the narrow roads.  Once to the Grizzly Creek trailhead, I would spend the rest of the day, resting and preparing for tomorrow’s peaks.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year - 2013

Well, we survived the Mayan Apocalypse (I was worried about that one).  2012 was a good year for me.  I was able to meet all of my 14er goals.  Now as 2013 starts I am looking forward to this year’s 14ers.  However this year will produce some new challenges, mainly in terms of logistics.  Having completed all but two of the relatively close 14ers (Long’s Peak (which will be my last 14er) and Pikes Peak) this year’s outings are going to be road trip excursions. I love a good road trip, but finding the time away from home will be tough. My hope is that I can get free for two, 4-day road trips and try to get a couple peaks on each one. Logistically it looks possible.

The key to making this happen and successful will be to make sure that I am in good shape and ready to climb multiple days in a row. Once again my winter training will be a combination of cardio and weights.  My hope this year is that I can turn up the intensity of the cardio sessions.  Earlier this fall I determined that I had been taking it easy during my spin classes for the past year or so.  No wonder my gains have been minimal.  Since that day I have been trying to push myself more during these sessions. Hopefully I will feel the benefit of this come climbing season.

So here is what I have on tap for 2013:
  •  Pikes Peak  - 14,060'
  • Handies Peak - 14,048’
  • Redcloud Peak - 14,034’
  • Sunshine Peak - 14,001’
  • San Luis Peak - 14,014’
  • Uncompahgre Peak - 14,309’
  • Wetterhorn Peak - 14,015’
  • Mt Sneffels - 14,150’

  • Castle Peak - 14,265’

Regardless of whether I get all of these peaks or just one on them, all that will really matter is that I can complete them safely and make it back home to my family safely.  Speaking of family, I am going to try to get my son up his 1st 14er (Mt Bierstadt – I think) this summer.  Even though he is only four I think that if we train, and take it slowly he can do it.  I do not want to be one of those parents you sometimes see on the trail pushing their kid to keep going.  They keep pushing until the child is in tears and hates the outdoors.   I want him to develop his own love of the outdoors.  I see it as my job to introduce him to nature in an enjoyable manner so that he chooses this lifestyle on his own.  My own love of the outdoors comes from the many days and years spent with my grandmother running around the woods that she had roamed as a child. She instilled the love into me, and I want to return the favor to my own son.  As John Muir said “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”


My wish to you all is a happy and safe 2013 in the mountains.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I'm no Angel

Mount of the Holy Cross

September 8th – 9th, 2012
I may not be an angel, but I did earn my halo this trip! I have heard more than once that the Holy Cross Wilderness area is Colorado’s Bermuda Triangle. Several people have gone in for a hike or to climb its peaks never to reappear. Just a spring the body of a man from Chicago was found after going missing in 2010.

With this knowledge I was a little worried about heading up to tackle Holy Cross. My fears were somewhat alleviated by the fact that Doug would be joining me, on this my last plan 14er of the year. Our plan was to do the Halo Ridge Orbital route which goes up to Notch Mountain, across Halo Ridge to the summit, then back to the car via the standard Northridge route.   The highlight of this route was going to be able to spend the night at the Notch Mountain shelter at 13,000’.
When he arrived at the trailhead most of the parking spaces were filled. Doug had to wedge the 4Runner into small pull off just before the entrance to the campground. We tried to pack in as light as possible since we would have to carry everything with us up and over the summit. The shelter eliminated the need for tents or bivies and the stop at Subway in Vail took care of the need for cooking gear.
We headed up the Fall Creek Trail light on water with plans to fill up in about 3 miles. With only about 5 miles to cover to reach a shelter we set an easy pace towards the shelter. With plenty daylight left there was no need to rush; better to save our legs for the long day tomorrow.   The trail was well-defined and easy-to-follow. The elevation gain never too steep for too long.
After two and half miles we left the Fall Creek Trail and headed up to North  Mountain Trail. Just before  leaving tree line we found a small tickle of a stream and filled up on water. This was our last chance to get water until after we had descendent of the summit and reached East Cross Creek tomorrow.  I could feel the extra 6 pounds of water on my back as we took off  again and climbed through  the many switchbacks leading to Notch Mountain Ridge.  There has been much made about these switchbacks (30 plus in all) on all the trip reports.  Many of these reports have made the switchbacks seem like a trudge.  I found them to be pretty good and made the climb up to the ridge much less strenuous. Than a direct attack.
Once we reached the ridge I was surprised that the hut was only a short 200- 300 hundred yards to the south. I thought we're going to have to traverse on the ridge little ways longer before we would reach it. As we investigated the shelter we found we had the place to ourselves which surprised us.  We both thought the place might be crowded with other climbers. The inside of the shelter was very clean; only a few candles stubs remained as signs of previous visitors. I would have liked to see the shelter have a register, but none was to be found.  Perhaps I will have to come back up here sometime bring one.

As the sun began to fall below the horizon behind Holy Cross Mountain, an incredible, soft, warm light fell over the ridge and the hut. On a rock, a little ways in front of the shelter, was a plaque honoring William H. Jackson, who took the first picture of Mount of the Holy Cross in 1873.  This single iconic image served as the inspiration for all the pilgrims who would follow and travel here to gaze upon it.  In fact, it was for these pilgrims that the shelter was built.
The last rays of light found Doug and I tucked into our bags inside the shelter . Just After Dark we heard voices approaching the shelter I called out and invited them to join us.  (in the mountains there is always room at the inn). They were a couple from Denver and I was amazed by the weight the guy carried in: 6 L of water and 2 - 40 ounce BOTTLES(???) of Budweiser for starters. I think they were expecting a bit of a party attitude at the shelter; instead they found us two old guys.
Throughout the night I found myself waking and breathing deeply. I'm not sure what the actual cause was of this was: the fact that we were sleeping at 13,000” (my highest night sleep ever) or just the thought that I was sleeping up high that had me gasping for breath.  Either reason I ended up having a restless night’s sleep.

The morning light was as beautiful and gentle as the previous night's.  We actually slept in a little later than most 14ers as we did not want to start traversing Halo Ridge in the dark.  From the shelter the Halo Ridge route stretched 2 miles, and summated three 13ers on the way to Holy Cross’s summit. Most reports I read said it takes 3 - 4 hours to complete.  We were hoping for less, but I was mentally prepared longer.
The ridge is a beautiful line; knife-edge looking when viewed from the north, with long, steep, vertical drop-offs.   The south side of the ridge reveals it's gentler, but  talus covered side. We summited the first 13er quickly without much effort, shortly after leaving the shelter. To reach the base of the second 13er, the crux of the route, we  had to continue the traversing past two cock cliff bands, or gendarmes as they are  called. The first was passed to the south, below the top of the ridge line.  The second I took much closer to the ridge, which is a little more adventuresome with the steep drop off just a few step to my right.
Doug and I each chose our own path up the second 13er as we each picked our  way through the blocky talus.  Having to stop frequently and choose the way through the next section provided a nice break to my lungs and made the climb not overly strenuous. We made summit number two in about 40 minutes. From here we had a great view of where we had come from and where were going. A short section below the summit brought us to the 6 foot bottlenecked on the ridge. 
The north side of the bottleneck fell away sharply to the basin far below; the south side not so much.  Once past the bottleneck the ridge flattened out for little over a quarter-mile before reaching the base of third 13er.  As I followed the ridgeline towards the summit, I had to work past three false summits before finally reaching the true summit. I think you could actually bypass the first two false summits by continuing to traverse further west on the lower flat section of the ridge, then ascended steeper gully, which looked to lead directly up to the third false summit.  The third summit was a heartbreaker. I would've sworn, as I approached it that it was the real deal; nice and blocky almost turret like.  However the true summit was only another 50 yards or so away.
Approaching the true summit the ridge makes a sharp 90° turn to the below you just disappears beneath your feet. To the west the views open wide to the ranges further in the back of beyond.  The descent off Point13,831' was slow.  Once again we had to pick our way down, through and over more blocky talus.  So far we had not seen any sign of the dreaded mountain spiders that are told to inhabit this area.
This traverse over to the final climb up to Holy Cross’s summit crossed over the head of several couloirs that look like they would be great snow climbs.  Maybe someday!  The final 500 feet of elevation gain was once again on the now familiar blocky talus that we had been encountering all morning.
We reach the summit of just after 11 a.m., four hours and 15 minutes after setting off the shelter this morning. There were three other parties on the summit when we arrived, and three more quickly joined us All of the other groups had come up the standard route.  After 20 so minutes on the summit we began the descent off the Northridge with two other parties. The Northridge was slow going and much longer than I had envisioned. The trail was in good shape and had signs of still being in the process of being worked on.  Based on the current trail conditions I do not see how anyone could get lost.  I think it would've been a real endurance struggle to make it up this ridge originally.
Our pace quicken once we're back on the dirt trail below tree line. We continued to moving until we reached East Cross Creek where we rested and filtered another liter of water, for the rest of the hike out. We talk to you guys had taken our same route but had started at the trailhead at 6 a.m. Damn they are moving fast!
From the creek we had a 1000 foot climb back up to Half Moon Pass. Many complaints have been made of this ascent, but once again I did not find it to be too bad. The steepest section was over within 20 minutes. The descent off the pass to t he trailhead was the quickest of  the day.  We passed several parties heading up during the last 3/4 mile from the trailhead.

The Sawatch Range is finished and I completed my 14ers goals for the year. This was the best trip the year by far, and probably of all my 14ers. It was a great route with fun challenges and immeasurable rewards. What a way to end the season! At least as far as I have planned anyways. See you next season.

Check outt he complete trip photos HERE



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Ivy League Education

Mount Harvard & Mount Columbia
14,420 '     -         14,073'
August 15th, 2012


"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more."  I never thought I would make it into an Ivy League school, let alone graduate from two in the same day.  I must be pretty smart after all!  Well maybe not that smart (or bright?) as I keep chasing after these peaks.  I was hoping to make this trip my last outing down to the Arkansas Valley to climb 14ers.  It is a beautiful area, but I have grown weary of the 3.5 hour drive each way.  With Doug gone climbing Mount Rainer, and Jon not up to the challenge of these two peaks in a day this year, I had to search out a new partner for this outing, as I was informed that I was not allowed to go solo on this one.  Through a series of circumstances I found Dave B, the son of one of my co-workers.  Young and full of energy I worried about being able to keep up with him, even though he had only done 5 14ers previously.

We left Fort Collins, late morning on Tuesday and made it down to the trail head in just under 4 hours, including a stop at Subway so we could pack in dinner rather than worry about carrying a stove and cookware.  We started from the North Cottonwood trailhead at the end of CR 365.  We followed the trail for about 3 miles into Horn Fork Basin where we established camp about 300 yards past the trail coming down from Mount Columbia.  The trail into the basin was in great shape and mostly smooth.  I pushed my usual pace on the way in, as I did not want Dave to think he had be saddle with an old , slow man for a partner.  Better he wait until the second day to find that out.  For the most part the approach trail followed a repeating pattern of climb, flat, climb, flat.  The uphill climbs were never too steep or too long, but still I welcomed the flats sections.  The last 3/4 of a mile or so became studded with baby-head sized rocks once again, slowing my pace down some.  We made the 3 miles to camp in just about 2 hours.  There were 3 or 4 other parties that we saw camped in the basin near us, but we were able to find a private spot for our tent, tucked into a small opening surrounded by trees, just in from of the large rock out cropping that can be seen while coming down from Columbia.

A steady rain began about 3 p.m. and kept us tent bound for an hour, during which I managed to sneak in a little nap, while Dave read.  Subway turned out to be a great choice for dinner; tasty and easy to prepare. With the alarm set for 3:30 a.m. we called it a night early.  Not sure how much sleep I actually got.  It felt like I tossed and turned all night long.  I could feel the temperature drop once the sky cleared, which was good news for our climb in the morning.  I remember looking out the tent window once the alarm sounded to be greeted by a sky full of stars.

We put feet to the trail at ten minutes to four.  Temperatures must have been in the mid 40's as we began out ascent; perfect for hiking.  The first mile of the trail continued working its way up the basin without gaining any significant  elevation.  Even in the dark it was easy to follow.  At the turn off for Bear Lake the trail took on a new personality.   The smooth path gave way to talus, and began to climb.  Several times we had to search for the correct path.  As the night gave away to the gray of dawn I could see Harvard's summit much closer than I imagined.  Dave past me on the way up to the saddle below the final push to the summit, as I was starting to feel the elevation.

The final push  was a lot of fun as we had to work our way over some large boulders to gain the actual summit.  I reached the summit at 6:10 a.m.  I was surprised at how quickly we made the summit.  I had estimated that it would take at least 3 hours, so I was really happy to be ahead of schedule.

I had been very conscious about eating on the way up.   I did not want to have a repeat of my bonking on Shavano and Tabeguache.  I was eating two shot blocks every 30 minutes, which seemed to be doing the trick to keeping me going.  I had a Ritz cheese and cracker packet once on the summit, to try to put some "real" food into me.  After the usual summit pics we began working our way towards Mount Columbia.

The traverse between Harvard and Columbia is about two miles.  Most of the reports that I read said it took people between four to five hours to complete. I'm not that slow am I?  From Harvard's summit we headed eastward along a rocky ridge.  There was no one correct path so we just picked the one that seemed to work for us.  Shortly after we crossed from the south side to the north side of the ridge we passed within four feet of a marmot sunning itself in the early morning light.  He did not seemed to be alarmed by us, and posed for several pictures.
Having studied the traverse pictures from, it felt as if I had been here before as we passed each of the landmarks.  My only surprise was the obstacles were much easier than they had looked from the pictures at home.  Just before the ridge turns sharply southward, we began to look for a way down to the easier lower ground.

Once the ridge turns south it becomes very narrow and steep (cliff-like) on both sides; looked like class III and IV climbing.  I mentioned to Dave that we wanted to drop down before we reached a loose gully. Before dropping down I was forced to stop and relieve myself, but told Dave to go on and I would catch up. By the time I caught up with him, he was already headed down the lose gully I told him we wanted to avoid.  Looking back now, there was a distinct ridge line  marking the start of this gully that we should have picked up on.

We quickly found out why said to avoid this gully.  Everything was really lose.  Each step held the potential for sending rocks tumbling down the gully.  I had to make sure that I was not moving directly above Dave at any time.  At one point a section of rocks that I had just crossed over, slid, sending several hundred pounds of lose rock avalanching downward.  Luckily the mass of rocks only slid about 30 - 40 feet, before coming to rest.  If you do find yourself in this gully the best route is probably along the left-hand edge (as you are heading down), near the walls, as the rock to seemed more solid there.

From the bottom of this gully, we headed southward and started my favorite section of the entire climb.  Dave and I separated as we both worked our way through the large boulder field towards a sloping ramp leading up to a flat section.  We were out of site of each other through most of this section as we each picked our way through the huge boulder.  It was like working your way through a maze of rocks, trying not to get stuck on top of one of the larger ones, with no way off.  At one point I had a washer-sized boulder roll under me just as I was stepping off onto another larger one.  Nothing like a little adrenaline rush to keep me going.  As I reached the bottom of the ramp leading upward I could see Dave already  heading towards the second flat section above us.

Upon reaching the second flat section I could see two summits and no sign of Dave.  I had to pull out my pictures to see which one was Columbia.  To my surprise once again, it was the closer one, though from this location it did not look as tall as the farther summit (Point 13,298).  As I made my way to the saddle between Harvard's ridge and Columbia's summit I was feeling beat.  I was back into picking a goal 20 yards away and trying to get to it before I took a rest.  This made for slow going.  During one breather I caught a glimpse of what I thought was Dave, on his way to the summit.  He had chosen that right summit.  Once I reached the saddle it took me 40 minutes to gain Columbia's summit.  On the way up I passed a group of four, from Fort Collins, heading down and doing our route in reverse.  I did not envy them having to make the long climb back up to Harvard's summit.

I reached Columbia's summit at 10 :40 a.m.  I was happy to see Dave waiting for me on the summit after being out of contact with him for almost an hour.  There were four groups, including us on the summit.  I talked to one guy who actually traversed the entire ridge, while his partner had dropped down like we did.  He said it was faster, but sketchy in places.  The weather was still holding, but there were a few fluffy clouds beginning to build that I wanted to keep my eyes on. 

We dropped down off of Columbia's south ridge, towards Horn Fork Basin, too early on a false trail and ended up having to re-ascend about 250 feet of elevation to regain the correct trail. Once back on the ridge we followed two of the other parties along the ridge to the correct trail leading down.  Ever since Doug told me about his trip to these two peaks last year, I have been dreading the climb down from Columbia.  He described it as a lose, sliding, descent from hell.  So you can imagine my excitement as I started down.  I had built up so much  trepidation of this descent in my mind over the past year that I was disappointed by what actually awaited me.  While I found the descent to be lose, there was enough of the lose rocks that I actually sank in a little with each step getting traction, rather than skidding my way down over them.  I did not set any speed records on the way down, but I never hated it.  There was only one, 200 yard section, close to the bottom, that was really lose, that I slide down with each step.

I arrived back to camp at 12:45.  I was happy with the nine hour round trip time, and more importantly that we have missed any storms.  Once again, an early start paid off.  After packing up camp, we made the three mile hike back to the vehicle in just over two hours.

I am done with the Collegiate Peaks, and only one more left in the Sawatch Range.  One goal reached this year, one more to go. 

Monday, July 23, 2012


Mount Shavano & Mount Tabeguache

14, 229'  &  14,155'

July 23rd, 2012


Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  Blackjack!  As easy as that right?  I wish number 21 would have been that easy.  But the hard fought victory is all the sweeter correct?  Once more down to the Arkansas Valley.   I will be happy to finish off the Sawatch Range, and get to head to another part o the state for a while.  While the views are awe inspiring,  I am just getting tired of the drive.  
Doug joined me on this outing.  Even though he did it last year, he thought it would be a good training hike for his upcoming trip up Mount Rainer.  We bivied the night before just below the trailhead.  Luckily I put my tarp up, as I was woken in the middle of the night by rain falling on it.  Not too hard, but steady. 
With headlamps on we headed out at 4:40 a.m. The clouds from the night before, were gone, and the moonless sky was alive with stars.  The seven-sisters watched our backs as we headed up the trail.  The first quarter mile of the hike follows along the Colorado trail, before branching off to the west towards Shavano' summit.  From this point the trail climbed steadily upwards, on "baby-head" (yep.. just the size you are thinking they are)  rocks for a mile.  Once again the darkness and the limited beam of the headlamp created an isolated hiking experience.  With the trail view limited to the fifteen feet in front of me, the true steepness of the trail failed to register in my mind, though the effort was felt by my body.  From the get-go I had been feeling off.  I am never quick on 14ers, but today I felt even slower.  This sluggishness lasted throughout the day, and would take me to the edge of bonking on the way down.
After the baby-heads. the trail smoothed out, and passes through the blow down section.  Apparently there were fierce windstorms this past winter, which blew down a significant number of trees, both conifers and Aspens.  In the dark and from the trail all we could see was where stumps where the Forest Service had cleared the trail.  It was not until coming down, later in the day, that we saw the full force of the winter storms.  My hats is off to those who preserved and worked their way through the blow downs, and continued to the summit, before the forest service did their great work.  I know I would not of had the fortitude to push through.
Once you break through tree line the trail moves westward, traversing the hillside above the Angel of Shavano.  With the light snow this year, the Angel was now all rock.  Doug and I both agreed that it looked like the Angel would be a great snow route.  The trail gains the saddle below Mt Shavano at 13,380'.  The saddle gave a quick respite as we turned northward for a quarter mile, before climbing again and gaining the final 900 or so feet of elevation to Shavano's summit.  Just before reaching the summit, we were past by another party of two.  I was feeling pretty beat at this point so I did not put on the afterburners to try and beat them up.  One step at a time was all I could manage.

Worried about the possibility of afternoon storms (the weather report called for a 69%  chance of afternoon thunderstorms) we only took a quick break on the summit before heading onward to Mount Tabeguache.  I should have used this break time better, and refueled, but I did not.  I was to pay the price of this later, as I ran out of energy and my stomach turned on me.  We reached the summit at  9:10 a.m.; five hours 20 minutes after leaving the trailhead.
The descent off Shavano's summit was not as steep as I had imagined.  The first section involved some boulder hoping to move along the ridge before descending 600 feet to the saddle between the two peaks.  We started off the summit with the other two climbers, but they quickly left us in their wake.  By the time we reached the saddle they were more than half way up to Tabeguache's summit.  Way to move guys!  From the saddle  Doug lead the way switching between one faint trail to another.  Once again the ascent was not as bad as it looked.  We made it up to the summit. in just under 30 minutes from the saddle, and one hour from Shavano's summit.  After a few quick pictures and a brief break (no food for me once again), we were on our way back down again, as we still had to reascend Shavano to get back to the trailhead (does this count as three 14ers for the day?).  Descending off the summit we made the saddle quickly, and I was actually feeling pretty good.

That good feeling did not last!  As soon as we began to reclimb Shavano my body slowed, and doubt crept into my mind.  It took all I had to keep moving 20 yards at a time.  Which each step I could feel my stomach cringing.  I know that if there would have been anything in it, it would not have stayed down.  While resting at one point, I looked northward to Mount Antero and could see the clouds already building and darkening over it.  Shavano's summit was still cloud free, but we could see them building to the south.  Not wanting to get caught in a storm I moved as quickly as my tired body would allow.  We barely stopped at the summit, before heading down to the southern saddle.
Looking north to Mt Antero
Looking south to Mt Shavano Summit (taken at same time as above)

I lead the way off the saddle back towards tree line. It took a great effort to keep pushing on.  All that was going through my mind was to keep going so we did not get caught above the trees in a storm.  I knew that as soon as we were back beneath the real trees we could relax and take a good break.   Once I felt out of the danger zone, we took a 15 minute break.  I laid back on the ground and tried to get myself back under control. I managed to eat a little bite of peanut butter crackers that Doug had given me the night before.  It helped and I started to feel a little more human.  I continued to take small bites on the cracker as we moved downward to the trailhead.  By the time we reached the trailhead at 2:40ish, I was feeling back to normal;  just tired legs.  We had managed to outrun the storm and avoid all  but a few sprinkles of rain.  Once back on the main roads the  storm let loose and we were treated to a great light show almost all the way back to Denver.
Two more peaks into the record books for me.  Lesson learned on these two:  Eat!, Eat! and Eat some more.  I will have to try to find some better breakfast food for me to start the day off right. I have never been a big breakfast eater, but on 14er days I better learn to be.

Postscript:  I found out from my wife that Doug had called his wife from the summit of Shavano and had her schedule a doctor's appointment for the next day to have his ribs looked at.  He had a mountain bike crash a few days earlier, and was apparently feeling it in his ribs today, though he never let on.  X-rays showed a cracked rib.  Makes me wonder what the heck I was whining about, with my tiredness and stomach.  These old guys can be tough!!  A few (well more than a few) years and I will be there.