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.

Pacific-Atlantic Traverse.png

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.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Summer of Hiking

All last winter I was itching to do some hiking and I resolved that this summer would be the summer of hiking. Originally my goals were to start climbing class 3 and to do Long's Peak, Kelso Ridge, and The Sawtooth by the end of the summer. Class 3 climbing means that you need to use your hands to climb, but it is easy enough that you can go down the slope with your body facing outward. The only 14er routes I had done previously were class 2, which is just difficult walking, so class 3 seemed a bit intimidating to me.

I started out the summer with a climb up Kelso Ridge with my coworker and his friends. It was the funnest 14er route I had ever climbed. There were 3 or 4 sections that required careful climbing and a few spots with a ton of exposure. The exposure was exhilarating and the climbing was fun. I immediately knew that I wanted to do more climbing like this. This kind of climbing is so much more engaging for me. You actually have to use your brain to carefully make hand and foot placements and to keep yourself from freaking out with a hundred foot drop on either side.

The infamous Kelso Ridge knife-edge

Fun exposure on Kelso Ridge

Summer was speeding by before I knew it and I hadn't come up with any vacation plans. This couldn't stand. Last summer involved lots of knitting, reading, and bike riding around Denver. I wasn't going to let that happen again, so I started thinking about a trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. These mountains are absolutely beautiful and have lots of  challenging routes, the kinds of class 3 routes I was now hooked on. I would have been okay doing this trip alone, but I knew I'd have people bugging me about how dangerous solo hiking is, so I took a look on 14ers.com to see if I could find some climbing partners. Sure enough, a guy from South Carolina posted on the website looking to do a similar trip to what I had planned. A few emails later I was committed to climbing with him and another Coloradan guy for a trip to the Sangres at the beginning of September. 

The trip looked daunting. We planned on climbing 8 14ers in 5 days of climbing, which meant lots of miles and lots of vertical feet to gain. I wasn't in shape for this, so I immediately started training. Cycling was cut down to a minimum with only 1 ride a week and instead I started running and hiking more, with a goal of climbing a 14er almost every weekend.

Over all my time training I summited 11 14ers, hiked a total of 92 miles and 41,000 ft of elevation gain. By far the most hiking I've ever done in a summer! It was good for me to have a goal to train for. I am not someone who is very good about exercising for the sake of exercising. The running was tolerable and all the hikes were a lot of fun. My two favorites were a traverse of the Gray's-Torreys valley (Steven's Gulch) and a Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans combo.

The Steven's Gulch traverse made for a long day. It was 9.2 miles with 6,000 ft of elevation gain, so I started early at 4:15 and was hiking for over 9 hours. The majority of the hike was just a walk, but I had the pleasure of climbing Kelso Ridge again, which was plenty of fun. Towards the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted and found myself stopping frequently to rest. I had summited 5 peaks that day already, and near the end of the traverse I was able to see this view.

Steven's Gulch

Just being able to look at the entire route from the day gave me a great sense of satisfaction even though my body was completely beat. I plotted out the route in Google Earth afterward and I couldn't help but be giddy at how aesthetically pleasing the route was. I had never done a big valley traverse like this before, but I thought it was wonderful because you get to spend a ton of time above treeline on fun ridges and return back to your car by the end of the day.

Steven's Gulch Traverse Route

Earlier in the summer I did the Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans combo, which also made for a long day, but a great sense of satisfaction afterward. I went up Bierstadt via the standard West Slope route and it was raining the whole time, even with a 5:43 start time. By the time I got to the top, my gloves were quite wet and the summit was sitting inside a cloud. There were two small groups of climbers at the top and we spent 20 minutes talking about the dangerous conditions on the Sawtooth that connects Bierstadt and Evans. The rocks were slippery and the visibility was poor. I was tired of waiting for the others to decide and I was confident that this route was well within my abilities as long as I was careful. So I said goodbye to the two teams of climbers, put on my helmet and headed to the ridge by myself. It was only about 20 minutes before visibility cleared up and the rocks were never all that slippery. The traverse across the Sawtooth was quite fun with only one tricky climbing section. The rest of the hike was just a long slog. It felt like it took forever for me to get to the summit of Evans because I never looked at the route description enough to realize that it is actually quite far to the summit from the Sawtooth. But I eventually got there and spent 15 minutes with everyone that drove up there on the road. On the descent back to Guanella Pass the sun finally came out, just in time for me to walk through the muddy valley back to my car. I was exhausted after 10.25 miles and 3500 ft of hiking, but happy that I decided to make it a long day instead of turning around at the top of Bierstadt.

The Sawtooth Ridge

These were just two of the many hikes I did this summer. I discovered two fun hikes near Denver called Mt. Morrison and Goat Mountain. They're steep climbs with a little bit of class 3 and very little foot traffic. Bear Mountain in Boulder is a really fun and easy way to get tired without driving very far. The Decalibron is a hike that combines 4 14ers and I was glad I did it because it's a really easy way to get 4 summits without walking very far. The Mt. of the Holy Cross was probably the most scenic hike I did while training. We took the Halo Ridge route and it made for lots of boulder hopping and a very long day and we were absolutely exhausted by the end of it. Missouri was a disappointing hike for me because I had high aspirations of combining it with Belford and Oxford, but was thwarted by the weather and my exhaustion, so I only summitted Missouri.  Here are the stats for my training hikes:
Route Date Miles Elevation Gain
Mt. Morrison 6/7/2013 3.6 2000
Goat Mountain 6/8/2013 6.4 1980
Decalibron 7/6/2013 7.25 3700
Kelso Ridge 7/13/2013 6.75 3100
Mt. Morrison 7/21/2013 3.6 2000
Goat Mountain 7/24/2013 6.4 1980
Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans 7/27/2013 10.25 3900
Mt. Morrison 7/30/2013 3.6 2000
Bear Mountain 8/4/2013 5.9 2941
Tour de Steven's Gulch 8/10/2013 9.2 6000
Mt of the Holy Cross 8/17/2013 15 5210
Mt. Morrison 8/20/2013 3.6 2000
Missouri 8/24/2013 10.5 4500
Totals 92.05 41311

After all this training, my trip to the Sangres was just around the corner. I felt like I was capable of tackling our hardest day in the Sangre's, but I really didn't know if I could do strenuous hikes every day for a week. I just spent the week resting and hoped I wouldn't be in the worst shape of the 3 of us.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Feeling Small

I turn on my headlamp and start to walk. All that I have is a map and a small cone of light in front of me to find my way. I can barely see the silhouette of the mountains nearby and it is faint because there is no moon. It is easy enough to get lost in the trees when it is light, but the only light I have today is powered by two AAA batteries.

I walk around a chained gate and follow an old road that was probably once used for a mine. My map is telling me that my route starts at the end of the road, so my first goal is to follow the road to its end. Soon I come to a creek that flows across the road. It's only a few inches deep, so I decide that I can just walk across in my boots. I get halfway across and realize that the road is not on the other side. I look downstream and upstream and I'm not sure what happened to the road. No more than a quarter mile into my hike I've already lost my one landmark. Hopefully I can find the road again if I can get back on dry ground so I start to hike into the trees. The mental picture of my map reminds me that the road does not head straight uphill, but to the right some, so I choose to turn to the right and there the road is, just 50 feet away. This would all be so much easier if I could actually see where I was going.

On the road, I'm not lost anymore. I pass through an opening in the trees and I can hear the trickling of a stream just before my boot splashes into it. Soon I come to the end of the road. The end of the road should lead me to a gully with ridges on both sides and sure enough I can hear the stream again, which tells me that there is a gully for the water to flow down. I can just make out the silhouette of a ridge on the right side of the gully. Everything tells me that this is my ridge, but I'm hesitant to make a big route decision with such limited visibility. But I make my decision and head up the ridge.

This is a very steep, sharp ridge and I'm impressed that these trees can live on such a steep hill. Step by step my legs burn and slowly but surely the trees start to thin. I am finally above the treeline. The sky opens up and I can see the Milky Way again. It is relieving to be away from the trees. A dark forest is one of the scarier places to be walking alone.

This ridge does not relent. It's so steep. I stop frequently to give my legs a break and sometimes I turn off my headlamp to look at the stars. They are so far away. It's so dark my peripheral vision can't distinguish between the ground and the sky. I feel myself falling and put my foot out to catch my fall.

It is quite the feeling to be here, alone, above the treeline, off the trail, and in the dark. I've never felt so small. What little light there is draws my attention to big things. Silhouettes of grand mountains far away and light from giant stars that has been traveling for years just to get to my eyes. In the distance I can see a light from a climber's headlamp on Gray's peak -- Just a tiny speck of light beneath the stars on a vast mountain face.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?