Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Royal Flush

I had heard about Royal Flush a couple months ago browsing the mountain project for climbing near Frisco. It's a unique climb for Colorado since it is a 1500ft, 8 pitch, 5.9 sport route - the longest sport route in Colorado. It looked like a ton of fun for a sport climber like myself who is itching to get on something long.

Our first attempt was on Saturday, but since the weather forecast didn't look ideal we decided to just wait for Sunday. So we headed to a nearby single pitch crag called the White Wall and then spent the day attempting to watch the USA Pro Challenge, visiting Dillon Dam brewery, and eating.

Wake up call was at 5:15 on Sunday. We took down our tent and headed over to the parking lot. After a quick breakfast of leftover pizza we headed to the base of the route. The weather was beautiful albeit quite cold, so we bundled up in our Melanzana hoodies and started our climb.

The first pitch was pretty easy, even in approach shoes, but I soon realized why people said that you should be comfortable running it out on easy rock. There was lots of space between bolts which could mean a long lead fall, but it kept us on our toes. At first the runouts were nerve racking for me, but it wasn't long before I just accepted them and expected them.

The first three pitches passed by without much to mention. The climbing was typically no harder than 5.7 and the rock was good quality. There was a 100 meter walk to the left and we soon found pitch 4. We took a short break here among all the trees before starting up again. Supposedly there is a 5.10 variation straight up and a 5.7 out to the right, so Shelby went in search for the 5.7 variation. She ended up having to climb runout 5.9 until she was able to get back on the main route. That was definitely interesting.

At the top of pitch 4 we had a pretty long hike up through a talus field to the base of the headwall, which would contain steeper and more difficult pitches with more spectacular views and exposure.

 The beautiful view of Dillon Lake from the talus field.

We were excited to get to climb the headwall in the background

Shelby took the lead again on the opening pitch of the headwall. She climbed up the apron, a beautiful low angle slab up to the prominent dihedral where she crossed to the left and started out the steep climbing for the day. The delicate slab climbing was a ton of fun and it was exciting to change modes in the middle of the climb to the jug haul up the steep face. This was one of the best pitches of the climb and I was glad we did it instead of the harder variation.

Next up was a 5.9 pitch that started out with a fun layback and then traversed a bit over to a tight dihedral. Getting into this dihedral was the crux for me, but probably because I didn't climb it well. I was attempting to mantel onto a tiny ledge while being cramped in a tight featureless dihedral. I had most of my weight on my right hand for way too long and I was afraid that I would fall. Somehow I made it up on my feet and continued, but my right wrist was sore for the rest of the climb. To finish off the pitch there was a pretty fun and pretty tricky roof to a nice wide ledge where I could take my shoes off and sit down for a while. While I belayed Shelby from this ledge I was just giddy. Being in the middle of the steep headwall with so much exposure was just amazing.

Still inside the hoodie on pitch 6. Cold day!

We had one more pitch of real climbing and it was a great finale to the climb. Several blocky roof-like moves brought us up to a tree with an ammo box full of several volumes of summit registers. We could see two groups of climbers below us on the headwall alone and it was really cool to see how far we had climbed. We signed the register and climbed the remaining 3rd class gully to the lower summit of Mount Royal. This was the first time we could bask in the sun all day and it felt great. We took some summit photos and started the long hike down.

The hike down took around an hour and it was somewhat miserable. The step trail was hard on our knees, but nothing could damper our spirits. Back at the parking lot we sat on Shelby's tailgate and enjoyed a couple IPAs together. A good celebration after a great day of climbing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Estes Park with Friends

This weekend Shelby and I made a trip to the Allenspark/Estes Park area for some time camping, hiking, and climbing with our friends Zach and Hilary. We ended up retreating to out tents from the rain a couple times, the hiking wasn't what we were expecting, and the climbing a bit humbling but all in all it was a wonderful time spent with good friends outside.

We've become used to going to less popular camping areas so we showed up around 9:00 to find that all the campgrounds were full. Thankfully a drunk old man named Chip offered us a spot next to his trailer for us to set up out tents. After an hour of shooting the breeze with Chip we hit the hay.

After a lazy start to the morning, we found a new campsite and headed over to the Brainard Lakes area for a hike. Again forgetting about the business of this part of the state, we showed up and they didn't let us passed the toll booth since there were no parking spots ahead. Instead of waiting around, we opted for a walk up the rough dirt road to Left Hand Reservoir. 

The walk up the road was pleasant and easy. At the top we were rewarded with good views and did a little exploring around the lake. We saw moose poop but sadly saw no moose. We need to get up to Alaska sometime soon!

Back at our campground, we were soon tent bound because of a storm passing through. A few card games, a short snooze, and a beer later we emerged from our shelters an went on a stroll around Lily Lake next to where we'd be climbing the next day.

After a delicious dinner of steak fajitas, we were tent bound once more and had a vicious game of Indian rat slap or whatever that game is called. This time a stream flowed beneath our tent and we were very thankful for the good waterproofing. Eventually we were able to leave the tent and spend the rest of the evening around the campfire.

The next day we headed back to the Lily Lake area for some climbing at a crag called Jurassic Park. The pictures I had seen made this crag look absolutely gorgeous and it definitely was.

We started out on Coloradoddity (5.6) which was a fun long slab with a gorgeous backdrop of Longs, Meeker, and Lily Lake. Next up was a 5.8 that was really pretty weird but somewhat fun. The crux is an odd traverse the right that forces you to skip easy rock that would follow the natural line up the rock. Kind of a weird route, but Shelby crushed it!

Our next climb would be the route that ends up on the cover photo for every guidebook in the area: Edge of Time (5.9).

(The photo we saw before coming)

We waited patiently for about 45 minutes to get on this climb. It gets 3.5 out of 4 stars and after climbing it, I think that rating is more for the beautiful formation than for the excellent climbing. Getting to the first bolt is challenging but doable. The crux is between the first and second bolts so a ground fall is entirely possible. I stood there balancing on a large edge with okay hands for a while worried about the next moves. The hands were bad, the feet were bad, and a fall would be scary here. I eventually made the first crux move and found a good finger lock which Shelby later called a jug. It wasn't enough of a jug for me when my foot slipped. I clung to the finger crack for just a second with my weight flying outward. My wonderful girlfriend made the smart, quick decision to take in the rope by moving several steps back which could have saved me from hitting the ground when my hands came off and I took a long fall onto the first bolt. I dangled there for a second scared from my fall and sore from banging my ankle and scraping my wrists and then was lowered to the ground. Spooked from my fall, I was reluctant to try again, but I felt okay so I didn't have a good excuse not to try again. This time I got the crux moves, locked my fingers in the crack and pulled up onto lower angle rock where I thankfully found my second bolt. The rest of the route was runout which normally would have been thrilling, but I was still nervous from my fall so it ended up being a bit scary for me.

We finished off our climbing day with another fun climb: Middle Toe (5.9). This was a great climb. It was long and sustained. Still being nervous, I got a bit scared at a couple points but it was certainly an enjoyable climb with a great view at the top.

I left the crag somewhat humbled for getting so scared on a couple 5.9s. I love the challenges that climbing presents, but they inevitably bring out my own insecurities and remind me that I am a very finite being.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pacific and Atlantic Peaks

Due to a slight shift in recreational interests as well as general business of life, I’m finally getting around to my first highish altitude hike of the year. Shelby rode in the Courage Classic fundraiser ride for Denver Children’s Hospital on Saturday, so I found myself in the mountains with nothing to do. I only had so much time since I wanted to get back to meet Shelby at the finish line, so that limited my options to hikes nearby the Copper area. Luckily there are all kinds of great hikes within 10 minutes! My route would start out at Mayflower Gulch, I would climb the 3rd class west ridge of Pacific Peak and then hike over to Atlantic Peak before coming back to my car along Atlantic’s more mellow west ridge.

The hike started out with a mile walk along a road that leads to the Boston Mine ruins. The standard way to do this hike is to go all the way to the end of the road and then head north to a gully between Atlantic and Mayflower Hill. But that added at least a half mile of backtracking, so I went off trail and took a shortcut across the gulch to get to the gully shown in orange above. My feet got soaked since it was boggy, but the shortcut worked pretty well. Eventually I found a faint trail that went up the gully towards the basin area where the scrambling would start.

Two men in their 50s/60s were hiking behind me and eventually caught up to me at the base of Pacific’s west ridge. They happened to be doing the same ridge as me so we talked about the route a bit and I let them go ahead of me before heading up.
Sitting at the base of the route I was reminded of how alive I feel when I am in the mountains with a big (to me) route ahead of me. The ridge looked menacing. It was steep, loose, and chaotic looking. It was going to be a challenge, but one that I was excited to figure out.

I put on my helmet and started hiking. Following the men 100 feet ahead of me I stayed to the edge of the gullies we went up or on top of a ridge crest to stay out of the way of rock fall. The route was quite loose for most of the way up. I was always looking for more solid sections that I could climb up favoring exposed ridges to crumbly scree gullies. Solid is relative of course.

Eventually we made it to the top and spent 15 minutes enjoying the summit. From here, it was a descent to the saddle between Pacific and Atlantic and then a class 2 hike up Atlantic.

Atlantic Peak from the summit of Pacific Peak
It was nice to not have to worry too much about loose rock, but the hike over to Atlantic wasn’t anything too special. I did start getting really tired part way up Atlantic though. I had to start my habit of walking 50 steps and taking a quick break before continuing. I made it to the top and the clouds were starting to form.

I munched down most of my remaining food and then started down the west ridge of Atlantic. The ridge was actually pretty cool going down. It was boulder hopping all the way down and the ridge started out narrow and widened as I went down. I would be a pretty enjoyable hike up.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very enjoyable hike down for me because I tweaked my knee at some point near the top. So I walked with a slight limp all the way down. I got quite tired on the way down so you can imagine my sheer joy when I found a perfect snow field that I could glissade down to save 200 feet of down hiking.

At this point I got back onto an actual trail, which was very nice. I decided I would head to the Boston Mine ruins since I figured the trail would be better in that direction than my short cut. Eventually the trail disappeared and I found myself bushwacking for a quarter mile through very thick willows anyway! Luckily I was rewarded with a wonderful view of the Boston Mine ruins with the treacherous Atlantic-Fletcher traverse in the background.

The hike finished off with a mile and a half walk down the road to my car. I was completely exhausted at this point and annoyed by my knee. But I was ecstatic to have spent a day alone in the mountains on a challenging route.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Backpacking the Grand Canyon

For as long as I can remember, my dad has dreamed about backpacking the Grand Canyon. Last year, I decided that enough was enough and suggested that we do it this spring.

I was feeling really antsy on Friday to get out of the office and get out to Arizona. Some time away sounded wonderful. So we arrived in Vegas on Saturday, picked up a few things in town and then headed out to Red Rock Canyon, just west of Vegas, to camp for the night. We were fortunate enough to get an overflow spot to camp since it was the weekend in the middle of prime rock climbing season.

After setting up camp we went out on a little hike to go scope out a climb that I'd like to climb someday. It was a nice hike. Very pretty views of the canyon with lots of Joshua trees and cactuses around us. The walk was mostly flat, so it made for a good warm up hike to help dad acclimatize to higher elevations. We stopped at the foot of the mountains and talked about my new obsession, that is climbing. After a bit of a rest we turned around and headed back to the car to make for a good 5 mile hike.

That night at the campground it was pretty windy and chilly. Luckily, we were able to start a fire after dinner and sipped some hot chocolate for a while and enjoyed the luxury of camping chairs, thanks to Shelby!

The next day we made a casual start and checked out a church in Vegas before picking up a few last things and leaving town. The drive to the Grand Canyon was mostly uneventful, although we did take some time to check out the Hoover Dam and I contemplated the entertainment value of having a bouncy ball that I could throw down the dam. And alas, I forgot to ask my dad what the fish said when it ran into a wall. Dam. We also got really confused about what time it was in Arizona.

Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon village we found our campsite at the Mather Campground and spent another evening enjoying the luxuries of car camping. We opted to make an early start in the morning, so we were off to bed around 8:00. The 5:00 wake up call was to become the standard for the next several days in order to avoid the heat.

We woke up easily in anticipation for our hike and caught the bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It wasn't the best start to our hike because I forgot my hiking boots at our campground - I was wearing trail running shoes - and I broke my trekking pole cams while tightening them. I got my kinks worked out and we headed down the trail figuring it would be a good test on how well trail runners work for backpacking!

The hike down to the river ended up being the hardest part of the trip. We walked along a ridge for about a third of the way down. It was very pretty and the view seemed to change every time we went around a corner. On the second third of the descent, the slope eased off a bit and we had a chance to stop at an outhouse where the Tonto Trail runs into South Kaibab. After a nice long break, we continued our trek and were soon greeted with our first view of the Colorado River. It was at this point that the hike just dragged on and on. The river seemed so close, but it took quite a while to get there.

Eventually we made it down to the river and shuffled into camp to grab a spot. We found a good site and took a nice nap in the shade. It was 85 degrees at the bottom of the canyon, so it was nice to get in the shade and take it easy. This was probably my favorite part of the backpacking trip, just relaxing in the little oasis with all the cottonwood trees, the cool stream, and the deer wandering around camp.

The next morning we made our usual early start and headed uphill towards Indian Garden. About a half mile down the trail I realized that I forgot my sunglasses, which would not have been a good thing to lose with how sunny it was! So I made a little extra trip back to the campground without my backpack to retrieve the sunglasses and caught up with Dad up the trail a ways. It wasn't long before we started seeing people jogging down the trail. I was very inspired by all the runners attempting to run down to the river and back in a day. I would love to attempt such a thing if I was in good enough shape.

We had hiked a few hours and came up to a sign that I thought said 3 miles to Indian Garden. Still a while to go. And 0.3 miles later we came to a sign that said Indian Garden Campground. What a pleasant little error in my reading. We spent the rest of the day defending our stuff from squirrels, napping, and eating at the campground. While we were eating dinner there was a crazy incident involving yelling and lots of nasty words and people thinking that they are entitled to the many amenities that the Grand Canyon corridor trails provide. It was crazy to see such a big dispute that far away from roads.

The next morning we left our campground and began what we thought would be a hard day. It had more elevation gain than the previous day, so we anticipated the possibility of stopping on the trail in the middle of the day to avoid the heat. This was not necessary since we were both in better shape than we realized, so we made it back to the top of the canyon relatively quickly after pacing ourselves well up the long climb.

It was a great sense of satisfaction to top out on the rim. We took one more look at the beautiful canyon and ran for the showers since we were beginning to stink. After spending another night at the Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon, we made our way to Zion National Park in Utah. The park was absolutely beautiful with probably the biggest rock walls I've ever stood next to.

We found a free campsite on BLM land and enjoyed our last night camping. The next day we took a short day hike up Angel's Landing, which involved countless switchbacks on a paved trail and then a ton of really fun scrambling along an exposed ridge. The trail has become so popular that they have chains to hold onto for the exposed section. The ease of access to this ridge scramble has let to many deaths over the years. Not because it is a particularly dangerous trail, but because people who wouldn't normally feel comfortable on such a hike attempt it because of how easily it is accessed and because of the chains that give a false sense of safety.

Anyways, we drove back to Vegas, lived it up for a night (we had tacos and went to bed), and in the morning we came back home.

It was a wonderful trip with lots of really good scenery, fun hiking, and lots of quality time and discussion with my great dad.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sangre de Cristo Trip: Crestone Peak

I was sitting in our hotel room in my long underwear texting my friend, feeling defeated. We had been turned back from the Crestones by a bad hailstorm and we were discouraged enough that there was mention of leaving the range all together. Our plan for the rest of the peaks was to backpack into the basin and then climb the nearby peaks. But we were turned off from backpacking since all our gear was soaked and we had to waste a day drying it out. The thought of leaving the range all-together to cherry pick some easy peaks elsewhere just sounded depressing. We came to the Sangres to climb the Sangres. It's an amazing range and it would be a shame to leave after only 2 summits. So we decided to drive around the range and make an attempt on Kit Carson, Challenger, and Crestone Peak.

At the Willow Lakes trail head (TH for Kit Carson/Challenger), we parked our jeep and spread out all our gear in the sun to give it a chance to dry out. It wasn't long before most of it was completely dry and we just had the day to relax at the campsite. We sat out a one hour long storm in the afternoon inside the Jeep. Throughout the day, hikers came down the trail to head home and I made a point of talking to as many of them as I could. Kit Carson and Challenger are right next to the Crestones, so the area experienced the same storm that we did the evening before. One man got stuck above treeline in a cave at 11,800 while his wife waited for him in their tent below, but they spoke of it like it was nothing. The next lady tried to cross the creek and almost fell in but was caught by a man on the other side. One couple made it across one of the two stream crossings, but had to stay the night, hoping the next stream crossing went down enough to be safe. Two old men told us about how incredibly scary the stream crossing was since it was white water directly above a cliff. They met a couple climbers who were climbing the Prow, a class 5 route up Kit Carson, and were stuck on the wall, exposed to the elements for the 30 minute hail storm. Finally, a couple forest rangers returned and showed us pictures of the stream crossing. All the rocks and logs that they had personally placed there were completely washed out and the creek was raging. Seeing the pictures, there was no way I would even consider trying to cross that stream, so we decided that we wouldn't attempt Kit Carson/Challenger for at least another day. We decided to attempt Crestone Peak via Cottonwood Creek the next morning.

None of us knew very much about this route up the peak. We had a short description about the approach in our Roach guide book, but none of us had studied the route like we had all the other routes in our plan. So I took a horrible photo of our map and we woke up at 1:30 for a 2:00 start time.

A completely useless iPhone photo of our map

The approach was tough. With our early start, we would be walking in the dark for a good 3.5 hours, which made the poorly maintained trail very difficult to follow. We lost it several times throughout the morning, but always found it again, since we at least knew that the trail followed Cottonwood Creek for the majority of the time. Eventually, the trail veers left and climbs up towards the basin area below the needle and peak. There were a couple sections where we had to climb up some steep, featureless slabs, knowing that it wasn't going to be very fun to descend. The sun started to rise as we approached treeline, but even in the sunlight, we had trouble finding our route. Standing in a talus field, we looked all around us and saw cairns in all directions. To continue in the direction we were already going looked like a dead end at a large waterfall and cliff. So we followed a cairn that cut to the left up a steep hill. We continued passed the cairn and climbed up a steep, grassy gully. The cairns disappeared and we figured that we must have gone the wrong direction. We could see very far, so we just chose our own route to the base of Crestone Peak's red gully through boulder fields and grassy slopes. 

About 5 hours into our hike we were finally at the base of the actual climb. The red gully seemed to go on forever above us. From here it would be a 2,000 ft class 3 climb up to a saddle about 100 ft from the summit. The view was daunting to say the least.

The red gully

So on came our helmets and we packed our trekking poles for the climb. The gully was relentless. We were gaining elevation fast because it was so steep, but it was very tiring. It was really just a long slog up a gully with the same view the entire time. There was water flowing down the gully most of the way up so there was a lot of wet rock to avoid. A few times, Tony and I chose some more difficult lines to avoid the slippery rocks in the middle of the gully.

But the climb went on and on and I was ready to be at the top. Richard ran out of water about 2/3 of the way up so we stopped at the stream flowing down the gully and filtered some water for him.

Towards the end of the gully we could see all the way to the sand dunes and the Blanca group.

Finally we made it to the top and enjoyed some time on the most spectacular summit I had ever been on. It was a shame I was so tired and that clouds were starting to form. Otherwise I would have enjoyed sitting on the summit more. 

Remember how we were hoping to climb Kit Carson and Challenger? Well, we took a look to the north to see how much hail hadn't melted yet and sure enough the Kit Carson Avenue (the long diagonal white line near the top) was piled full of hail. The Avenue is a wide ledge that must be followed from the Challenger summit on the left in order to keep the climb up Kit Carson class 3. Combining the danger of the hail-filled ledge and our fatigue from this difficult hike we were on, we decided to not try to climb the peaks the next day.

The climb down from the peak was long and frustrating. The gully was quite loose and we kept on triggering small rock slides. One small rock hit my head, which thankfully had a helmet on it. The clouds seemed like they got thicker and thicker. About halfway down we met a man who was climbing up. He had left his pack at the base of the gully and was carrying nothing. Not even a water bottle or a rain jacket. Crazy man. 

Right when we reached the bottom of the gully it started sprinkling. And then it started raining. And then we heard thunder right when we were reaching some trees. On the descent, we actually found the correct route that we should have taken up and it really wasn't any better than the route we chose. There was a ton of bushwacking through wet bushes and at one point, we had to shimmy down a steep and slippery class 4 chimney next to the waterfall. I didn't blame us for thinking the waterfall was a dead end on the way up. It was a sketchy down climb. With all the bushwacking, Richard eventually blew up. I could hear him struggling to get through a bush and then he just screamed out in anger. The rest of the hike out, he barely said a word except to complain about this horribly maintained trail that we had to hike. He was having a rough day and apologized to us later that evening.

The hike out was mostly uneventful and the trail was much easier to follow than it was in the dark that morning. It was raining for about an hour, so the steep slabs that we had to climb up were terrifying to go down. If we lost our footing, we would slide about 100 feet down the slab and while it wouldn't be fatal, it would be very painful and bloody.

It took forever, but we finally made it to the bottom and all three of us wanted nothing but a burger and beer. So we drove out of town to this place that we saw had a big sign saying, "Burgers and Beer Here." Sadly the place was closed so we drove back to the town of Crestone to find another restaurant. A man at the grocery store pointed us towards the only restaurant in town where we went and enjoyed some pizza, burgers, and beers. It was a nice way to unwind and observe the interesting Crestonian hippies that congregated at the restaurant. Exhausted, we all slept well that night. 

This was definitely the most difficult hike of our trip. It was something like 13 miles with 6,000 ft of elevation gain. Definitely long enough to have done as an overnight trip, but it felt like a big accomplishment to do it in one big push. The fast and light alpine style, I guess. I would like to come back to the Crestones someday, camp at South Colony Lakes and then attempt the traverse between the peak and the needle. And maybe someday in the not too distant future I'll get to climb the 5.7 Ellingwood Arete up the needle. These are some truly spectacular mountains.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sangre de Cristo Trip: Humboldt Peak

I was really excited to spend a night or two out at South Colony Lakes. From the pictures I had seen, it looked like an amazing place with a beautiful view of one of the most picturesque peaks in Colorado - Crestone Needle. It was going to be nice to just spend some time away from the roads and just relax in the wilderness.

We left early this morning, around 4AM. It was going to be a long walk up to the lakes and we would be carrying our big backpacks with all our camping gear. Little did I know, my partners were planning on taking everything but the kitchen sink for this short, 2 night backpacking trip. Their packs weighed over 50 lbs, and I was carrying less than 25lbs, still falling into the "heavyweight" category according to ultralight hikers. The hike up south colony road was painfully slow. Eventually, we got to the old trailhead where a small trail cuts north to the lakes and the sun was starting to rise. We hiked through the woods as the trees started to thin and finally got our first good view of Crestone Needle.

Soon we arrived at the lower south colony lake and looked around for a campsite. Being Labor Day, many of the camping spots were full, but we were able to find a good one sheltered by short pine trees, close to the creek where we could collect water. We didn't eat a proper breakfast that morning so we set up our tents and spent some time cooking oatmeal. Enough lollygagging around, we decided to head on up Humboldt before any storms came in.

The classic Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle

The climb up Humboldt was much harder than I expected, mostly because I've started a bad habit of not paying attention to route descriptions for "easy" hikes. The hike starts out with a bunch of switchbacks up to the saddle below Humboldt. I was expecting this to be the only hard part and the rest to be really easy. But it was actually the other way around. From the saddle to the top, it was a bunch of tiring boulder hopping up a steep slope.

Slowly but surely we made progress. I could tell that Richard was starting to acclimatize. He still said that he felt very tired, but he was climbing noticeably faster than yesterday. The hike itself wasn't anything to write home about, but the views certainly were with the Crestones in full view.

We made it to the summit and as usual, we only spent about 15 minutes there and made our way down to avoid storms. We saw a young couple taking two corgi dogs up the mountain and it looked like a horrible idea with all the boulder hopping. It wasn't long until we looked back and saw that they gave up because of the dogs' slow pace and headed back down. We made it back to our campsite and began our day of lounging around.

While we were lounging at camp an older man told us that his water filter was clogged asked if he could borrow ours. So I went down to the creek with him to help him fill up. I got down to the creek and realized that I forgot the bladder for my filter, so I left the filter with the man and jogged back to camp to get the bladder. At this point, it was starting to rain and by the time I got back to camp, it started to pour. I had no interest in going out in the rain to get my filter back, figuring the man would return it. So I just hunkered under a pine tree to wait out the storm. Tony found a tree nearby to stand under and Richard went into his tent. We figured the storm wouldn't last too long, but it wasn't stopping. The older man, soaking wet, came up to our camp to return my filter. I had some dirty water in my bladder, so we sat under the trees and chatted for a few minutes while the water filtered into his Nalgenes. He thanked us and ran over to his site just 100 feet from ours.

The storm didn't get any better. It started hailing and the lightning was getting closer. We were staying relatively dry under the trees, but the hail was able to get through the branches and there was really no place we could stand without getting pelted. We started to notice that a stream was starting to form and it was flowing under our tents. Tony and I tried to dig some quick trenches to get the water to go around the tent, but the hail just got worse and we gave up, just praying that the tent stayed waterproof and didn't let our down bags get soaked. We felt horrible for choosing such bad places for the tents. My dad had always taught me to not set up a tent where water would flow, but over the years I had grown lax and just chose the nice flat spot.

The storm had been going for 30 minutes at this point, with 15 minutes of rain and 15 minutes of hail, and I was starting to shiver. I was wearing a rain jacket with a t-shirt and hiking pants. There were no signs that it was going to stop anytime soon, so I opened up my pack to get my puffy jacket, hat, and gloves and I put them on under my rain jacket. This helped a lot, but I was still cold. The hail was piling up and Tony and I decided we would try to get into the tent to stay warm. When we opened to tent and Tony jumped in, it was floating on 2 inches of water and it just didn't seem like it would be very helpful for us to sit in there. So we continued waiting under the trees. The hail finally stopped after coming down for 30 minutes. The rain continued coming down, but seemed to be relenting a bit. At this point all 3 of us were cold and most of our gear was wet. The hail had piled up to about 3 inches. If we stayed there for the night, we would be cold and wet and none of us really felt like having a miserable night, so we decided to head back to the Jeep, which would take 3 hours. We packed up all our heavy soaked gear and headed out. It was a long, tiring walk, but we made it just as it was getting dark. We threw in the towel for the day and decided to stay in a hotel where we enjoyed a nice shower.

I was really disappointed and upset with myself for not choosing a better camping spot. It we had chosen a higher spot to put our tents, we probably could have comfortably stayed the night and had a chance to attempt the Crestones the next day. That night at the hotel we were talking about what we wanted to do for the rest of the week. It seemed that our plans for the week were toast. We were a bit turned off from backpacking and unfortunately the other hikes we had planned would include at least one night of backpacking. We almost decided to leave the Sangres and do some day hikes in the other ranges, but that would have been really disappointing to have driven all the way down there only to hike 2 14ers. So we decided to just spend a day drying out and drive to the other side of the range and then attempt to do two really long day hikes up Kit Carson/Challenger and up Crestone peak from the west side.

The two lakes in the hail piles where our tents were

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sangre de Cristo Trip 2013: Mt. Lindsey

My checklist was checked and my backpack was packed. I spent the morning drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to music. Before I knew it, two men were walking down my stairs and greeted me. I wondered, who are these two white guys coming down my stairs and how do they know me? It took a few seconds, but I realized that they were Tony and Richard, my two climbing partners for a week in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It was time to go, so we hopped in Richard's rental Jeep Grand Cherokee and started our drive south. I had met Tony the week before on a hike to Mt. of the Holy Cross, but I had only gotten to know Richard via Facebook stalking. So the conversation had its gaps, but we all had enough to talk about and were comfortable enough with each other.

After a long highway and a long rough dirt road, we made it to our campsite for the night at the Mt. Lindsey trailhead. We camped at the trailhead and had a beautiful view of the Iron Nipple.

The plan was to get a 5:00 start the next morning, so we gathered water from the creek, ate our dinner, and headed to bed early. These alpine starts suit me pretty well because I'm usually so excited for an upcoming climb that I can't sleep anyway. I can't say I'm too crazy about walking in the dark though.

Walking in the dark the next morning proved to be challenging. The trail to Mt. Lindsey had social trails that diverged then converged and it was very easy for us to get lost while navigating in the dark. As we approached treeline the sun rose and we got to see the beautiful views once again.

We walked through this beautiful valley above the trees with a great view of Blanca Peak and climbed to a saddle that connects Mt. Lindsey to Iron Nipple. From here we could finally see our route. There are two options. The first is to climb a loose scree gulley up the face that supposedly stays class 2 and the other option is a class 3 climb up the ridge on solid rock with a short easy class 4 section near the top. I was eager to try out a class 4 route for the first time, so I had already convinced my partners to do the ridge. I would say that it was the safer option. There was some exposure, but much less chance of a rock fall compared to the north face.

Mt. Lindsey's northwest ridge and north face from the saddle

At the saddle we all put our helmets on and packed our trekking poles. The ridge looked foreboding and Tony would later tell me that the scariest part of the route for him was standing here at the saddle, looking at the route. It wasn't long before it was evident that we were going to need to do a good bit of route finding to stay on route. I took the lead and kept us high on the ridge for the majority of the climb. It was a lot of really fun class 3 scrambling with a bit of exposure and, of course, really good views.

We were getting close to the crux of the route and I stayed close to the ridge crest. I saw 2 climbers ahead of us who had descended to the base of a narrow gulley that leads to the crux. I thought they had stayed too low and got themselves into a difficult climb. But it was only a minute later when I cliffed out and could not stay on the ridge any longer. So we backtracked 100 ft and traversed the ridge lower down across a pretty sketchy exposed section to get the the base of the crux gulley. The crux was a lot of fun. It took some careful climbing and time to find holds, but we all made it up. The crux was actually easier than I expected, but I must have given my climbing partners the wrong impression about the climb. Richard was pretty shaken by the exposure and told me that he didn't plan on climbing any more class 4. Tony, however was a bit surprised by the difficulty of the climb but later told me that it was one of the most fun routes he had ever climbed. It was the same for me. Right up there with Kelso Ridge.

We were nearly at the top and it was just a tiring hike to the summit. We only spent about 15 minutes at the top because clouds were starting to form. Again, we had the option of the two routes to descend, but we opted for the north face gulley to avoid the very steep sections on the ridge. The gulley was less loose than I expected. We were able to stay to the side, which had somewhat solid rock. Still, we saw several people heading up the gulley without any helmets and deemed them to be crazy for not using helmets on the loose rock.

The walk back to camp was pretty nice. I'm always pretty tired after climbing a 14er, but relative to some of the very long days I had earlier this summer, I felt great. The hike was 8 miles and 3500ft of elevation gain. We went really slow because this was Richard's first day at high altitude after flying in from South Carolina. Probably not the best idea to get him killed on his first day. The slow pace made for a good warm up hike for me and left me excited for the rest of the climbs.

That night we drove up the road a ways to South Colony Lakes trailhead and set up our tents for the night. We had another early start in the morning, so we didn't sit around the campfire for too long.