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.