Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton
June 20th, 2012


After a day off to recover from our meeting with the queen of Colorado 14ers, we decided to go see if we could meet up with the Prince.  While lounging and resting at Mount Princeton Hot Spring's pools the day before, we were able to stare up at our objective of the day, Mount Princeton, 14,197'.  The springs had done their job and relaxed Karen's knees and legs, from the Mt Massive hike, so she agreed to give it a shot.

With the X-terra doing a great job getting us to the upper Mt Massive trailhead, I decided to give it another go and drove up to the radio towers on Mt Princeton.  This also would take six miles off of our roundtrip distance.  The drive up to the radio towers was an adventure in itself.  The road is not wide at all!  I think it was about 5-6 feet wider than our car; less if you ask Karen.  She was white knuckled the entire drive up to the towers.  I think there are still fingernail marks in the dashboard.  While the road was narrow it was in good shape and relatively smooth.  Luckily we did not encounter any other vehicles coming down the road as we were going up.  I am not sure how we would have managed to pass each other, as there was only one or two good spots to pull over to let each other pass.

We headed upwards right around 7 a.m.  From the radio towers the trail climbs the road up through several sets of long switchbacks to 11,800'.  The road made for a nice warm-up, which let us work out the last our aches.  We had a black FJ pass us on the road as we worked our way up.  They said they had spent the night in the Chalet  near the top of Point 13,971, and left for the summit at 4:30 a.m.  I did not know that there was any type of shelter up there, might be worth looking into if we ever return.

The turn off the road to the trail was not as well  marked as  I thought it would be.  It looked like the cairn had fallen over and the stone steps broken down.  Must have been a rough winter up here, or we headed up the wrong trail.  And of course with the low snow year the second choice was the correct one.  We left the road about 30 yards to early, but did not fully realize this until we came down later in the day.  The correct turn off is every well marked, with a great cairn and steps.  So if the trail does not looked well maintained keep going up the road a little until you see the correct turn off.
Keep going. This is not the correct turn off!

Once off the road the trail climbs to a small ridge, before turning west and entering the rocks. The trail traverses westward below Point 13,300 through a continuous talus field.  The trail was much easier to follow than on Massive.  About a third of the way through the traverse, Karen decided she had enough.  She just got to a point where she did not feel comfortable.  Looking back now, I wish I would have stayed with her a little longer because I think I would have been able to help her get passed the section that was scaring her (it was not scary, just a loose section of dirt/scree mix).  As Karen turned back towards the ridge I continued on.

The trail through this section never felt steep.  The rocky terrain kept it interesting as I had to watch my footing.  I think I got off trail a few times, as I found myself moving up, down and over large boulders, that I did not notice on the way back later in the day.  The trail finally began to climb once it hit the "new" rerouted section up to the ridge between Point 13,300 and Princeton.  The wind, which had been minimal up to this point, was blowing good over the saddle .  Strong enough that I had to stow my hat to keep from losing it.

I broke the climb up to the summit from this point  into 3 sections: cliff band, bump, summit.  I have always found that smaller goals, make the overall progress go much quicker on 14ers.  I managed to lose the main trail on the way up to the cliffs and ended up climbing farther to the east than the actual trail.  Before I knew it I was standing just above the cliffs, looking upwards to the "bump".  I ended up combining sections two and three into one push. 

About half way up, off route again, I came to a plaque memorializing a women who had been killed by lightening on that very spot in 1995.  It was a humbling reminder of the risk we take when we enter the high country to play our games.  I carried her memory up to the summit with me and hoped she was watching out for me on this day.

I reached the summit at 10:14; my usual 1000 feet per hour pace still in tack.  Once again I found myself alone on a peak.  It has been so nice to be able to experience the summits this year with no crowds, and almost no other people around.  Shortly after arriving the winds picked up.   At one point I was able to lean into them and stay standing up right.  The wind actually knocked over my camcorder and tripod.  I ate a quick bite and headed down, because I did not want Karen to have to wait too long for me.

Heading to the western edge of the summit for one last picture, I noticed a large group coming up from a different route than I had ascended (probably from the grouse Creek trailhead).  I tried to get off quicker now, so that they could have the same solitary summit experience that I had.  I passed a lady and her dog (Aussie) on my way down before hitting the ridge again.  She had started from the lower trailhead, just as we drove through this morning.  She was making good time!  I also passed a group of three "older" gentlemen just before dropping off the ridge again.  They asked, with a smile, if they were "on the right path to Mount Yale?"

The hike back to the ridge above the road went without a hitch.  I actually managed to stay on the correct trail the entire way.  I was surprised to arrive back at the lower ridge and see Karen still there.  I had told her to head back to the car and I would meet her there.  Apparently she decided to hike further up the ridge and investigate the Chalet and surrounding area.  It was nice to be able to walk the remainder of the way back to the car with her.  We made it back by 2:30; just over six hours for the round trip. 

Once back to the car, we still had the three miles down the 4WD road to contend with.  White- knuckled and slowly we made our way back down (more of Karen's nail marks in the dashboard) to the main road.  We made a quick stop back at the hot springs to wash off the dust, and try out the water slide that we missed the day before, before we headed home.

I felt really good the entire day.  I should have eaten better, as I only had one pack of cliff blocks the entire day.  I got away with one there.  This was probably the easiest 14er I have done so far, but very enjoyable. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mt Massive

Mt. Massive

June 28th, 2012

Doubt -to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.

"If doubt is challenging you and you do not act, doubts will grow. Challenge the doubts with action and you will grow. Doubt and action are incompatible."

~ John Kanary ~

"If you doubt you can accomplish something, then you can't accomplish it. You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through."

~ Rosalyn Carter ~

Rising from the Arkansas Valley, Mt Massive is only exceeded in height by its neighbor to the south, Mt Elbert.  If Elbert is the king of the Rockies, then Massive must surely be its queen.  With my parents in town for a week, Karen and I were able to escape together for a few days to ourselves.  We set our sights on hiking two 14ers with rest day at Mount Princeton Hot Springs in between.  When planning for this trip I put a question out on on which route to take up Mt Massive:  the longer (13.5 miles) standard route, or the shorter (8 miles) but steeper S.W. Slopes.  While I got plenty of responses, I think it was the fact that I was being lazy, and did not want to hike farther than I had to, that lead us up the S.W. Slopes.  As a bonus I would get to try the X-terra on a good 4WD rode.

The road up to the North Half Moon trailhead did not turn out to be all that bad.  It was only the last half mile that I actually needed the 4WD for.   I really wanted to try the creek crossing just past the trailhead, but luckily Karen is smarter and wiser than me, and vetoed that idea.   We set up camp in the field just to the east of the trailhead, and had the place to ourselves.  We turned in early in anticipation of a 5 a.m. wake-up.

 I slept restlessly, tossing and turning throughout the night.   I think the climb was weighing on my mind.  I was not sure that I was up to the steepness of the climb.  This approach to the summit gains 3950' in four miles.  Doubt was beginning to set in. 

With the first mile being relatively flat it meant we were in store for a lot of elevation gain in a short amount of time.  The first mile and a quarter roughly parallels Half Moon Creek, which was flowing  strong for as low of a snow pack that we had this past winter. We took our time through this section, using it as a warm up.  We were passed by another couple who had left five minutes behind us.  40 minutes later I began to question if we had missed the trail turn off, when we passed two  backpackers coming down from Half Moon Lakes, who told us we were almost there.  The turn off was well signed and had a large cairn, so I doubt there was any way we could of missed it.

Once on the summit trail, the climbing began and kept up all the way to the summit.  Where the trail crossed through boulders, we had to keep a sharp eye open so we did not lose the trail, as all the rocks blended together.  Karen did a great job of keeping us on track.  While the trail did climb the entire time, it never felt too steep.  At no time did we feel like we were going to topple over from exhaustion.  However, as we climbed up doubt continued to seep into my mind.

Doubt, of if I could make it up.  Doubt, of why I was doing this.  Was my goal of completing  all 54 "official 14ers" worthwhile?  Was I enjoying this, or was I just checking another one off?  There is only one way to get rid of doubt.  And that is to keep pushing through, which is what I did.  One step at a time! 

My favorite part of the climb was the traverse to the summit after we crossed over the saddle between South Massive and Massive itself.  The east slopes of massive was laid out before our eyes.  All four of Massive's peaks above 14,000' on were laid out in front of our eyes..  As we made our way across to the summit, the couple that passed us in the morning were working their way back across it.  We ran into another couple, who quickly left, at the summit.  Once they were gone we had the summit to ourselves for 30 minutes, until we decided to head back down.


The only disappointment was that someone had left a Frisbee on the summit. While their intention was good (it was a gift for whomever found it), I looked at it as trash, which someone would have to remove (which I did). I am sure the group of "youngsters" that came up after us would have really enjoyed the find, but I could not help but thinking it as defacing the peak somehow. "Take only photographs, leave only footprints".

While prepping for this climb I had read comments about the white marmots on Massive. I began to think these were in the realm of snipe hunts. So you can imagine my surprise when Karen actually spotted one, sunning on a rock right next to another brown marmot. They do exists!! I have the picture and video to prove it.
The hike down was a little more challenging than we had imagined. Stepping down through the boulders, beat our knees up pretty bad, even with the use of trekking poles. We were both happy to get back down to the flats.

 Once back down to the trailhead I dropped my pack and headed to the creek to soak my feet.  The water was bone chillingly cold, but it did help sooth my tired feet.  I could not bring myself to soak any of the dust off the rest of my body.

I felt stronger on today's climb, than I did on La Plata two weeks ago.  Hopefully I will continue to gain strength of each 14er.  I love to be able to do one of these one day and say "that was easy".  Until then, I'll just keep taking it - One step at a time,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

La Plata

La Plata Peak
June 4th, 2012


The opening day of my 14er season had to be put off a week, due to bad weather being called for the La Plata area last week.  Pushing back our attempt on La Plata a week, found one of our trio on vacation, so it was just Doug H and I that headed up late Sunday night.  We did have a new member of our 14er crew, my new X Terra.  Only a week "old" and she is on her first road trip.

 An early wake-up had us on the trail just before 6 a.m.  A short quarter mile hike down the road and we turned onto the trail, and headed to the South Lake Creek crossing.  The creek was raging as we walked over the bridge.  Ten yards upstream of the bridge the creek feel over a 20 foot drop .  The spray from the falls bounced up to the top of the gorge walls.  Awed by the power of the falls we continued left on the trail, once over the bridge.  Now if I would have been paying more attention, I would have realized that the trail description said to go right once over the bridge. The left trail followed the creek eastward.  Coming to the second creek (La Plata Gulch Creek) crossing we did not see the bridge described in the trail description  and had to walk upstream a little ways to find a place to cross safely.  About 50 yards after crossing the creek  we started to question if we were on the right trail.  Doug pulled out the map and saw that we should be heading upstream into La Plata Gulch, rather than continuing eastward.  We backtracked to the creek crossing and found branches  placed across the trail were we would have crossed the creek at lower water levels.  I guess we were not the first group to make this same mistake.  We bush wacked upstream along the eastern side of the creek for a hundred yards or so and found the bridge we should of crossed over the creek on.

At this point the trail started to climb steeply.  "Someone" had done a great job of creating a series of steps out of logs.  It must have taken some serious work to do this quality of job, but we greatly appreciated their hard work.    Above the steps the trail continued to climb on a great trail, eventually leveling out into a high valley.  The trail stayed on the east side of the creek as it worked its way up the valley.  We passed four backpackers who were on their way down after an overnight.  Chatting with them we learned that they had not attempted to summit the peak.  About half way up the valley the trail turns eastward  and enters into the steep switchback section.

For almost a half mile the trail climbs steeply through a series of quick switchbacks.  Throughout this section I kept my head down and kept putting one foot in front on the other.  One step at a time; the only way to make it up.  It was not until later in the day on the way down,  that once again I actually realized how steep this section actually was.  Once topping  out on this section the trail traversed southward, working its way up to La Plata's northwest ridge.  We took a quick beak at the 6 foot square boulder, before heading up the final section up to the N.W. ridge.  At this point we crossed over a couple of remaining snowfields.  A one point I post holed crotch deep.  All but one of these could have been avoided.  But where would the adventure be in going around them?
Looking down the

The trail up the N.W. ridge was good until we reached the boulders.  Once there we managed to lose the trail, in some snow patches,  and ended up doing some class II boulder hopping as we slowly continued upwards.  We were passed by a trail runner, clad only in shirt and shoes, who quickly left us in his wake.  I think is was ultra-runner Anton Krupicka  (Bad Ass!!!).  He was on his way back down while we were still over 1/4 mile from the summit. 

We made the summit at 10:45, almost 5 hours after leaving the trailhead.  The weather had been perfect on the way up.  Only cool enough that you noticed the temp. when you stopped for more than a minute to rest.  We had the summit to ourselves, and lounged about for 30 minutes or so.  We could easily identify  Mt Belford and Oxford, Missouri Mountain and Huron Peak to the south; Mt Elbert and Mt Massive to the North.  I am sure there are many other peaks that were visible but we did not recognize them for sure.  To the north-west there is a red mountain that we noticed from the summit of Huron last year as well.  Anyone know what it is?  Both the summit register and the USGS marker were missing.  However, some dumbass did write "Darrell O was here 6/3/23" in sharpie on one of the rocks on the summit wind block.  Some people have no sense of respect of nature or others experience of it.  Besides this, the entire trail was incredibly clean; very little trash.  Thanks to all of you doing your part to keep the area clean.

Upper section of N.W. Ridge, just below the bolders
The way off the summit and down the N.W. ridge was once again slow going.  We managed to lose the trail AGAIN, an  ended up doing some boulder hopping.  Wherever we found the trail it was in great shape.  By the time I was off the boulder section both legs were shaking , and I was looking forward to flushing them out on some flatter ground and getting rid of the shakes.  

Below the N.W. ridge we ran into a couple who were still on their way up around 1:30 p.m. when we passed them.  As we chatted with them  dark clouds we begin to roll over La Plata's summit from the south.  I think they decided to just make it up to the start of the ridge and turn around.

The remainder of the way down was uneventful and we arrived back at the trailhead at 3:05 p.m. Nine hours round trip.  Not as fast as I would like, but not too bad for opening day.  Overall I felt  good.  I did not notice any effects of the altitude except moving slow.  I still need to work on my food.  The cashews I had at the summit did not set well in my stomach on the way down.  However, the shots blocks seemed to keep my energy level up, so they are coming along on future trips.  Until next time... See Ya!!