Wednesday, July 27, 2011

College Entrance Exam - Mt Yale

Mount Yale
July 26th, 2011


I never thought that I would be taking another college entrance exam again.  But this week found me trying to get into the University of Sawatch Range at the Collegiate Peak campus, so I had to  to take the entrance exam; Mt Yale.  A 3:30 a.m. wakeup alarm had Jon C and I to the trailhead and on our way by 4:06 a.m.  I am not sure that I was looking forward to the hike up to the summit.  For some reason I had it in my mind that this trail  would entail a long, upwards trudge.  Fortunately this turned out not to be the case.

The trail began climbing right off the bat.  While consistently uphill to tree line, there was never any long steep sections.  The trail was well laid out, so not to make it too strenuous, or maybe this was just my perception from hiking in the dark.  With not being able to see more than 20 feet ahead of you, it is hard to get a good view of how steep a section of trail actually is.  Trick the eyes, you trick the mind into believing it's not all that bad.

The creek crossing at mile 1 was not too bad.  The log bridge was wide enough to feel stable on, even with the logs slickened by spray from the creek (a series on notches hacked into the logs with a hatchet would greatly improve the footing).  Shortly after the creek crossing, we ran into another party that was worried that they had missed the Mt Yale turn-off.  We told them we had not seen it either, so we all hiked on together keeping our eyes wide open.  Not 30 yards later we came to the sign, clear as day.  Opps!

The hike up to tree line was longer than we thought it would be, and tree line was higher than I would have expected (~12,000').  Just after breaking out of the trees we had the first of a group of folks with Rocky Mountain Youth Corp pass us.  Their pack boards were loaded up with straw to help rehab part of the trail that had been rerouted around.  They are doing a great job, as I had to look hard on the way down (because I could not find it on the way up) to see where the new section branched off from the old section.  It is a seamless reroute.  Great job guys!

My first good look up at the saddle, below the class II ridge to the summit, had me suddenly feeling very sluggish.  My first thought was that the hike up to the saddle was going to be a real bear.  From a distance it looks very steep, but as a I got closer to the actual start of this section it actually did not look too bad. 

As I started up this section I kept my eyes open on the skyline to the southwest (behind me) as the sky was already filling with clouds.  They did not look like storm clouds, but I was still a little worried that they might cause some problems.  I would hate to have to retake this entrance exam after making it this far.  I was also watching the ridge of the saddle above me and could see clouds rapidly flowing over it.  As I climbed higher to the ridge Jon and I separated due to different paces.  By the time I made the saddle ridge the clouds we upon me and I had to make a decision to wait for Jon or push on into the rocks towards the false summit.  Looking around it seemed like the clouds would only be getting worse so I pushed on.  I worked my way up towards the false summit, only stopping for a quick breath or two.  I lost the main trail, and ended up working towards the summit from the back (north) side of the ride.  This turned out to be a good choice as the ridge was keeping most of the wind off me.

By the time I hit the summi,t at 8:30a.m., visibility was down to 20 -30 feet.  The views I hoped to get of the other 14ers in the area were not to be this day.  I was joined by another hiker on the summit and we both looked for the summit register and geo marker, to make sure we were actually on the true summit and not still on the false summit.  We took the ridge as far to the east as we thought was safe to verify that we were on the actual summit.  He said that this was his 35th summit.  What a nice number.  Only number 12 for me today.  We snapped a couple summit shots of each other before he headed down.

I settled in to get some quick video footage, and was joined by Jon.  He said he got a second wind as soon as he hit the class II section.   I was glad to see that he made it up.  I would have hated to see him not make the summit.  We took a couple of quick summit shots together, before heading down.  We moved as quickly as we safely could in the clouds and slick rocks and headed down the opposite side (correct side) that I had come up.  Once we got back down to the saddle I relaxed a little, but still worked at moving back down to tree line as quickly as possible.  We passed about 20 people still working their way towards the summit.  If I had been in their position (location) I am not sure that I would have continued onwards to the summit.

After 6 hours without much of any real breaks, we finally sat down and relaxed once we were back into the trees.  By this time I was feeling tired and my knees were  aching.  We relaxed under a break in the clouds, and wished those still above us safe climbing.  As one guys that we met on our way down said, "I hope you don't read about me ,tomorrow." Well I guess you made it up and down safely my friend.  The remainder of the hike back to the trailhead was uneventful.

With the light of day we got a better perspective of the steepness of the trail.  Not overwhelmingly steep, but a constant gain in elevation.  We arrived back at the trail head at 12:05 p.m.  Eight hours round trip, not to bad I guess.

Today was the best I felt on a 14er all season long.  I never felt like I had to stop before I collapsed.  I do not know if this was due to the trail, conditioning, divine intervention, bur whatever it was I'll take it.  While hiking today I decided that my goal for next year would be to try to finish all of the Collegiate Peaks, and as many other of the Sawatch Peak as I can.   This was a nice warm up for our trip to the Chicago Basin next week.  Looking forward to this trip and the challenges that will come with it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mt Elbert

Mt Elbert
July 7th, 2011

If I ever write a book about my 14er adventures I am going to title it "There aint no such thing as an easy 14er."  Even though Mt Elbert is the highest point in Colorado and the second highest in the continental U.S., it is touted as being a relatively easy 14er.  With about 4,400 feet of elevation gain in just over 4 miles I am not sure I totally agree with the easy part.  Sure the trail is well maintained and marked and hard to get lost on but it is ALL uphill.  I would guess that less than 1/3 mile of the trail is downhill or flat on the way up.  For 2 days afterwards I felt all that uphill in my legs.  It felt like I had spent four hours on a stair climber.

The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. as I wanted to be up and down before the afternoon storms.  Left the trail head (10,020') at 4:20 a.m.  I would have gotten an earlier start but I had dreams during the night that I was in grizzly country, (I just got back from Yellowstone National Park a few days ago) and did not want to hike in the dark with grizzlies around.  Once I got my head around the fact that I was out of grizzly country, I hit the trail after a quick breakfast of Powerbar and banana.

The first part of the trail, up to the actual creek crossing had a small creek running through it.  Not so much water that I couldn't avoid it.  Fortunately once I got to the actual creek crossing there was a log bridge 10 feet upstream of the crossing, as there would have been no way to cross the creek without getting soaked.  After the crossing on the bridge the trail began to climb.

In my opinion hiking in the dark is great.  I always feel stronger at night.  Your vision is reduced to the small arc of light coming off your head.  With such a relatively short distance you cannot judge the actual steepness of a slope, so the mental game doesn't start and the body stays strong.

There is a small downhill section before the Mt Elbert trail breaks off from the Colorado trail/Continental Divide trail.  Once on the Mt Elbert trail, it begins a continual climb up to the summit.  At points along the trail it widens enough to get drive a truck through.  Dawn broke about 35 minutes before I broke out of tree line.

Looming ahead of m, from treeline, was what looked liked the summit.  However, I knew it was only the first of several false summits along the way to the true summit.  The false summit starts with a gentle rise before kicking steeply upwards.  I passed a group of 10 -15 teenagers and their chaperones coming down from the summit.  They had left at 1 a.m. and made the summit in time for sun-up.  It must have been a sight to behold.  Shortly after passing this group I managed to lose the main trail and headed directly towards the top on the first false summit.  I figured I was a little off route when the class I hike turned into a class II scramble.  Nothing too difficult, but definitely not the relatively flat, rock free trail I had been on so far.  Once I made the top of the first false my relief was quickly crushed as I saw false summit number to.  It looked as large and steep as the first one.   If you had not read the trail description beforehand this second false summit might kill you, it nearly mentally killed me.  The second false summit ended up not being as steep as the first and I made decent work of it. 

Once on top I saw two hikers about 50 yards to the south along a slim ridge taking pictures of each other, so I figured it had to be the summit. Just as I approached the summit, the 2 other hikers were leaving and I had the summit to myself.  Took a couple of summit shots, then got a bright idea.

I knew I could not be the highest person in the continental U.S, as Mt Whitney in California rises to 14,505, but I figured there was already a mass of people on its summit.  However, I had the second highest summit to myself, so I figured why not be the highest naked person in the continental U.S..  After a quick glance around to make sure I was still alone I dropped all clothes except for shoes and my hat and took a true victory summit photo.

From the summit, 2 other hikers pointed out La Plata peak to the south.  Mount Massive was clearly visible next door to the north.  After a quick 20 minutes of top I began to head down.  Just after leaving the summit I ran into a mother and baby marmot.  This was the first time I have seen I young marmot.  A little farther down the trial I almost stepped on another brave and bold marmot who did not move until I was almost on it.

 I started running into the rest of the days hiker as I started down the false summits.  I am always amazed at how unprepared some people come into the wilds.  Jeans- check.  16 oz water bottle- check.  Let's hike.  God must love stupid people because he seems to look out for them in the wild.  Just below the base of the first false summit I came across 2 packs left alone on the side of the trail.  I really wanted to leave a note that said "Thanks for the lunch!  All my love, Bob the Marmot".  At the time it seemed really funny.  Guess it had been a long day so far.  Passed the last hikers on their way up about 10:15 or so.  Gym bag backpacks on their backs, and not much more.  Hope they were right with God.

 The hike down was uneventful.  I did get to see the scenery that I missed on the way up due to darkness.  Mostly a conifer forest below tree-line.  Not much in the way of Aspens.  Made it back to the trailhead in just under 3 hours; taking an hour off of my ascent time.(left trail head 4:20 a.m., summit 8:20. stared down 8:40, back at trail head 11:36).

 Success on my first solo 14er.  I am not sure what my future for solos will be.  I liked moving at my own pace and not holding anyone up.  But at the same time I do not have anyone setting the pace besides myself.  Karen doesn't like me to solo, just in case something goes wrong.  Plus I miss the companionship and sharing the success with someone else.  Hopefully the future solos will be minimized.

Time to start planning for the next peak.  Until then,

 All my love,

Bob the Marmot