Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Into the Steep


2008 Picutre of our Route - More snow this year
The 2011-12 winter has been slow to come into full force.  While this is bad for the ski resorts, it is  good for summiting 14ers;  not the I have ticked off any winter ascents.  But the trip report section of is  full of people getting  up numerous summits.  Little Bear, one of the toughest 14ers in Colorado has seen numerous ascents over the past several weeks.  With the relatively stable snowpack, Doug and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park to try a snow route that we had spotted a couple of winters ago.

Bear Lake parking lot was relatively empty when we arrived around 9:30. Only a few souls out on this MLK holiday Monday.  Our plan was to snowshoe past Nymph and Dream Lake up to Emerald Lake.  Though we used snowshoes on the way up, it was more an exercise in winter travel than of  actual need, as the trail was well packed down. 

As we approached Emerald Lake, Hallet Peak could been seen above the frozen lake's surface, trying to emerge from behind clouds.  The big snow route up in this area is the Dragon's Tail Couloir, however, this was not our destination for today, but hopefully sometime in the future.  Our route lead out of the SW corner of Emerald Lake, following a couloir that topped out on Hallet's SE ridge. 

Learning from Mount Sherman last year, I actually rented crampons for this attempt and brought along the new ice axe.  After some instructions from Doug on using the crampons and a little self rescue practice with the  axe, we headed up into the steep.  The route started out gentle, with minimum amount of snow.  As we headed higher the snow became deeper which made for better footing with the crampons.  Soon we were having to plunge the handle of the axes into the snow to make upwards progress. Plunge, step, step.... Plunge, step, step.... Plunge, step, step....

The crux of the route was a 30 yard section, with only a light covering of snow, over lose talus.  We could not plunge our axes in to get a good support while we stepped up.  Every step had the talus moving beneath our feet.  We ended up using the axe's head to dry tool behind the larger rocks.  Even with this we were afraid to put too much weight onto the axe, in case the rocks they were wedged behind, broke out of their icy hold, leaving  us tumbling backwards down the couloir.  Once past this section, we traversed right into deeper snow and made good progress upward.  I tried to avoid looking down below us, as the pitch had steepened to 45 degrees or so.  Looking down only lead  to second guessing my decision to tackle this climb.

The final section of the climb moves into a narrow gully and kicks back a little more steeply.  By this time Doug had climbed about 25 yards above me, and was ready to enter into the final 30 yards.  Up to this point the weather had been on our side. Today was the first time, on a winter hike, that I have come over Dream Lake and not been pushed around by a strong wind.  The overcast skies kept us from overheating despite our constant movement.  Just before he entered  the final section to the top, as strong wind blew across the surface, covering us in snow and dropping visibility to 15 yards for a short period of time.  With my nerves beginning to fray, and the energy draining from legs I told Doug I was done.  Perhaps if I would have been up next to Doug I would have chosen to push on to the top, but I decided to listen to my body and mind and head down, with Doug following.

Going down seemed to be slower than going up.  The wind had blown over our steps higher up, so with each step down I had to once again kick new steps to stand in.  Much easier to kick steps going up than down.  The crux section was definitely slower going on the way down.  The talus seemed looser, and there were less obvious rocks to dry tool in.  Below the crux we took a more easterly route back to the lake.  I gracefully slide down on my butt over the lower angled talus.  Doug got a great glissade in on the final drop to the lake.  Being beat, and not all the sure on my glissading ability I trudged down all but the last 15 yards of this section.

The hike back to the car went fairly fast.  We left the crampons on, to make quicker progress over the lakes.  Even though I was beat I, I kept telling myself that I could make it, and to stop whining in my mind!  I can't wait to try some snow again.  Unfortunately the week since we did this climb has brought snow to the high country and high avi danger.  My future plans may have to wait until the more stable spring snow.

Until next time... "watch your top knot!"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Welcome 2012!!!

Happy New Year!  The start of the new year has me thinking about this summer's summit attempts.  It is shaping up to be a great summer. My plan for 2012 is to try to finish off the Sawatch Range.  Nine more summits are awaiting me there. 

From the research I have been doing so far it looks like there are some beautiful approaches to these summits.  I am looking at 2- 3 overnight trips to try to get in 2 sets of  two-for-one summit attempts (Harvard/Columbia & Shavano/Tabeguache).  The other overnighter I really want to try in the Halo Ridge route on Mt of the Holy Cross; spending the night in the shelter on the way to the summit.

2012 14ers Wish List
Mt Massive 14,421'
Mt Harvard 14,420'
Mt Columbia 14,073'
La Plata Peak 14,336'
Mt Antero 14,269'
Mt Princeton 14,197'
Mt Shavano 14,229'
Tabeguache Peak 14,155'
Mt of the Holy Cross 14,005'

I would also like to try to get in Chicago Basin this year, since the rain flooded out last year's attempt.  This will probably depend on the rest of this winter's snow and when we can safely get into this area.  So far it has been a low snow year, with most of the resorts (at least in "northern" Colorado) reporting only real snow in the high 20 inch range.  Hard to believe after last year's massive snow amounts. 

What is bad for the skiing and the rafting seasons, may make for a good 14er season for me, if the light snows allow me to get into the high country earlier this year.  So dear readers (you know who you 2 are), check out the list, and pick out the ones you just can't wait to attempt, and come join me.


 Over this past fall I have picked up some new gear for this summer.  First off was a pair of Micospikes that I found on Craigslist.  I just used these for the first time this past week, and they are my new favorite piece of gear.  I feel so solid on the trail with these attached to my feet. I highly recommend these for anyone heading out on icy trails. 

I also pick up a 65 cm Black Diamond Raven ice axe with slider leash.  I figured now that I have extensive experience using one (see my post on Mount Sherman for more details) that I should purchase my own.  Picked it up at REI, when they had the 20% off membership coupon.

After the trip to the Belford Group last summer I decided I needed a new, warmer sleeping bag.  I bought a Marmot Sawtooth 15° down (650 fill) sleeping bag from Sierra trading Post.  It was another screaming deal; it was on sale then I had a 30% off coupon on top of the sale price.  I think I picked it up for just over $100 (msrp $260ish).  I am hoping the 15°, is not to warm for summer, but since I sleep cold I figured it was worth it.  If it is too hot I can always use it as a quilt.

My last purchase (so far) is a new camera.  After the battery door failed/broke on my Nikon CoolPix L22 (same place on 2 different cameras), and Nikon wanted $79 to fix it (10 dollars less than a new, updated model)  I decided it was time for something new and a little more rugged.  I swore I was not going to get another Nikon, because I was not happy with the outcome of the battery door, but after looking at my options I decided to go with the Nikon CoolPix AW100.   It is waterproof to 30 feet and drop/shockproof up to five feet.  It also records video in HD (1080 dpi).  I just got it today so I have not had time to play with it yet, I'll give you all a review of it once I get it out in the field.  My hope is that it will replace my video camera, and I will only have to take one camera on trips rather than 2.  Once again I got a screaming deal from B & H photo.  MSRP is $379, B & H had it on sale for $259, then I got another $20  off as a first time buyer with "Bill Me Later".  I would have liked to have bought it locally at Jax, but it was too good of a deal to pass up.


So now it is time to start working on the logistics for this summer.  A project to keep me from going stir crazy, until I can get boots onto the mountains.  Until next time, take it "one step at a time!"