Saturday, May 9, 2015

Turkey Rocks Crack Climbing

The South Platte area is growing to be one of my favorite places to climb. Away from the business of the climbing areas of Golden and Boulder you can drive through small towns like Deckers and Pine Junction, spotting beautiful granite domes in the distance among lush ponderosa pines as well as burn scars from the 2002 Hayman fire that burnt 216 square miles in the area. The area is just peppered with high quality granite with some of the best slab and crack climbing in the state. Aside from the giant granite domes, there are thousands of small rock outcroppings all over, just begging to be explored.

Shelby's excited to climb some cracks

Last weekend we went down to Turkey Rocks, which is one of the most popular SPlatte areas known for the highest density of crack climbing in Colorado. Cracks in the rock are an essential part of trad climbing. A crack in the rock is often the most natural line up an otherwise featureless rock because it gives you something to hold onto with your hands and feet and more importantly provides a way to place protection in case you fall. Before drilling bolts into the rock became common, a crack was the only way that you could place protection in the rock, aside from the odd rock horn or tree that you could wrap a sling around. So naturally, whenever you want to set off on a climb using traditional protection methods, you are restricted to following crack systems in the rock. You can sometimes find holds on the face and just use a crack for protection but sometimes there are no face holds and your only option is to jam your hands and feet into the crack to move upward. This is called crack climbing.

Pikes Peak in the distance

After a chilly and breezy night, we made some breakfast tacos, drank some coffee, and headed to the crag. First up would be a route called Left Handed Jew, a wonderful 5.8 hand crack. We top-roped this climb last year, so we knew it was probably easy enough for us to lead this year. I started up using the face holds at the bottom of the route as much as I could, but it wasn't long before I had to commit to using only the crack. I placed most of my hand-sized cams on my right side, which turned out to be a bad idea. The route goes up a left-facing corner, so my body was always pushed up against the right side of the corner, making it very difficult to get my gear. The jamming felt solid all the way up the main crack with only one section that bulges out a bit, making it a little difficult. I had been practicing on a 5.9 crack at the gym so this crack felt easy compared to the one at the gym. About 2/3 of the way up you have to traverse over on nice big feet to another crack so you can top out. Once I traversed to the left I stopped and evaluated what my next moves would be. I was able to get a mediocre cam into the crack that I would be entering, so I had some reassurance that I'd be caught if I fell. The crack starts around face-height, so in order to get into the crack you have to jam your hands in the nice hand crack and smear your feet on the mostly featureless face, working your hands up as much as you can until you can get a really high left foot, which you can stand on to get fully into the crack.With a good amount of effort I was able to get up into the crack to an okay stance and placed another piece of gear before I got to a no-hands rest. The last 20 feet of the climb were easy, using a hidden lie-back crack and a very low angle hand crack to get to the top where I set up an anchor on a giant boulder. It felt great to get my first crack climb cleanly and I was excited to clean all the gear and watch Shelby lead it again after me.

Dave leading Left Handed Jew last year

For some reason, we decided to try to climb off-widths for the rest of the day. Off-widths are cracks that are an awkward size that is too big for your hands or fists, but too small to wedge your whole body in it. They are notorious for being painful and difficult. The next climb was a 5.7 and is called Wet Turkey. It starts up some easy hand cracks till you get to a big ledge. From the ledge you can either stem your legs across a huge gap or climb a slightly overhanging hand crack for 10 feet. Since I haven't been able to do the splits since never, I opted for the handcrack. This was pretty strenuous but short. I climbed up a bit higher to a small ledge, which was where the off-width crack started. I foolishly already used my #4 cam, which is used to protect relatively large cracks from 3-4in wide. So the only gear I had that would really be useful was a single #5 cam for 20 feet of the hardest climbing on the route. If I were an off-width master, this wouldn't be a big deal, but for a noob like me, I just hoped I could bump the cam up little by little as I climbed and find some hidden small cracks somewhere. I started climbing up by sticking my whole arm into the crack, bending it at the elbow to bridge the large gap. I shuffled up by bridging my foot from heel to toe across the crack. This was exhausting. I would sometimes find a small face hold that I could use for my hands or feet and I was able to jam half my body into the crack and have a very uncomfortable rest. But the movement was very strenuous. As I moved above my cam I jammed half my body into the crack and attempted to bring the cam up. But of course I had jammed the rope between my body and the rock, so this was very difficult since the rope was connected to the cam. Eventually I got the cam up and above my head, which was exactly when I told Shelby to take and I sat back on the rope, resting on the cam. Exhausted and a bit concerned about the protection situation, I looked around for opportunities to place some of my smaller gear. I found a half inch constricting crack that was perfect for placing a nut (a small trapezoidal piece of aluminum with an attached wire that can be placed in constricting cracks and used for protection). I felt a bit better about bumping the cam up with some extra protection, so I attempted to move up a bit. No go. I couldn't make any progress anymore because the rock was starting to bulge out, making it slightly overhanging and way beyond my skill level. So I decided to try aid climbing for my first time. Aid climbing is where you place gear into a crack and pull on the gear or step onto the gear to move up. This is in contrast to free-climbing, which is when you never pull on or step on gear to move up - you only use your hands and feet on the rock to move up. So I was able to step on a sling attached to the cam and get up into a position where I could climb again. I shuffled up towards the top, crawled through a tunnel into a topless cave where I set up an anchor and belayed Shelby up. We were totally beat after this climb, so we walked down together and took a nice long lunch break before contemplating climbing anything else. 

Taking a break before our last climb of the day

Eventually we worked up the motivation to try one more. After getting beat up by a 5.7, we opted for an easier 5.6 off-width called Sangaphogos (aka Easy Offwidth (I like the name of this one!)). This one was much more pleasant and doable. I may have hung on gear once for a rest, but mostly climbed it cleanly. It was nice to get to practice off-width technique on something that was actually possible for me to climb. I got to the top and brought Shelby up where we decided we were satisfied for the day.

Tired after a hard day of climbing

The next day we visited a different area of Turkey Rocks to climb a 4 pitch 5.7 called Nighttime Madness. Here we would put to test our crack climbing skills that we practiced the day before and get high up on the rock. Shelby was up for taking the lead on the first pitch. So, she started up two parallel cracks, which from the bottom look like a perfect hand crack on the left and a pretty nice finger crack on the left. It bulges out a bit, but the cracks look so nice it couldn't be too hard! Wrong! Shelby got two good pieces in and started up the slightly overhanging part. She stepped up, made a bit of upward progress, then downclimbed and rested on the rope. She tried a few times, but couldn't make it work, so she let me give it a try. I got up to her second piece and started to move up when I realized that the parallel cracks were no good at all! The left one was too big for a fist and the right one was too small and too shallow to jam my fingers in it. The feet were bad and the hands were bad. I told Shelby to take and hung on the rope. It turned out that this was the crux of the entire two pitches that we climbed. Part of what made it tough was that it was so close to the ground. It's ironically nerve wracking to have the hard part so close to the ground because it means that if you fall you could run into the ground due to rope stretch instead of being cleanly caught by the rope. While sitting on the rope I was able to figure out a sequence that would work and grunted up the crux to get to easier climbing. The rest of the pitch wasn't too bad. There was a short traverse to the left, similar to Left Handed Jew and had bad feet with a high crack that you needed to get into. Once I got into the left crack it was pretty easy to get to the top of the pitch. 

The route with the belay locations in yellow

The second pitch was a ton of fun. The first half was an off width crack in a corner. Yesterday's offwidth was miserable, but today there were lots of face holds on the left side, so it made the climbing much more doable. I was able to get my right arm deep in the crack and either bend my elbow to bridge the crack or find hidden holds inside the crack. My right leg was in the crack using a heel-toe cam and the occasional face hold to move up. And my left arm and leg used faceholds almost exclusively. I went up like this for about 25 feet and made it to a good rest. From here it was a somewhat steep hand crack with some faceholds along the way which was tough but a lot of fun. I made it to the top of the second pitch without hanging on gear and I felt great. Shelby got up to the top and we discussed our options for the next pitch. 

As you can see from the above photo, there are tons of cracks on this rock, so it can be difficult to find your way. We had a few options for ways to get up the next pitch so we decided on the easiest option and then looked out at the view. The clouds were starting to get pretty dark, the wind was starting to blow, and the temperature seemed to be dropping. Shelby reminded me that we still had 2 pitches to go and pointed out that if we were going to bail from the climb, now would be the time to do it. We didn't know about any fixed anchors up higher, so once we decided to continue up we would most likely need to climb all the way to the top since we wouldn't have any anchor to rappel off of. This option sounded like it could be miserable if it started raining and getting cold, so we decided to rappel back to the bottom off of a steel cable anchor and then two bolts at the top of a neighboring route to the first pitch. As soon as we set up the rappel it started raining, so we were happy to have made the decision to bail. The two pitches we climbed were a ton of fun and felt like a good accomplishment considering how challenging they were for us.

Rappelling from Nighttime Madness

Despite being defeated by the weather, we were really satisfied with our climb for the day and had a great weekend climbing some beautiful cracks in a wonderful place. The aftermath on our hands and arms wasn't pretty, but the smiles on our faces were wide.

P.S. If you're curious what I'm talking about when I use the words trad climbing, nuts, protection, cams, etc. REI has a decent article explaining it all linked here.

 The aftermath

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Well, I'm a married man now. Shelby and I got married about 4 weeks ago where else but on the top of a mountain in South Carolina. The mountains are where we have had some of our best times together as a couple. So as was probably expected, we chose a place in the mountains for our honeymoon - Leavenworth, WA. Shelby spent a summer as a raft guide nearby Leavenworth so she knew a little about the place. Bavarian town with lots of sausage and beer, surrounded by beautiful mountains with all kinds of outdoors things to do. It regularly ranks in the top 10 for Cutest Tourist Towns and Coolest Outdoor Towns, so what's not to like?

The trip started out with a delicious biscuit sandwich and the purchase of an entire king salmon at Pike's Place Market in Seattle. You can imagine that we ate well this week.

We rented a cabin 20 minutes from Leavenworth. The cabin had everything we could want for a honeymoon week, including antlers.

Our first day in Leavenworth we pretended to be tourists and checked out the nutcracker and lederhosen selection. Shelby had to restrain me so that I wouldn't buy the $200 pair of lederhosen.

The next day, the weather was a bit dreary again, so we went for a casual hike in Icicle Canyon and stumbled upon a beautiful crack climb that Shelby lead a few years ago.

We had much better weather on Wednesday, so we decided to go for a short hike till it warmed up a bit and then go on a climb. The adventure for the day would be the 3 pitch Midway route up Castle Rock in Tumwater Canyon. It was a really cool climb that got you up high above the canyon with some fun climbing. The first pitch went up a steep corner chimney that was super fun and pretty tough to the top of a pinnacle that is detached from the main wall. You get to start the second pitch by stepping across the void onto the main wall, which made for a pretty exciting move. The next pitch went up a crack system then had a fun traverse over to the next crack system. And the final pitch went up more easy cracks then to some easy runout slab to the picturesque summit. The weather was perfect, the climbing was fun and we just had a really great time climbing together and then enjoying a celebration beer afterwards on Logger's Ledge. One of the highlights of the honeymoon for both of us.

 Castle Rock from across the river

Shelby climbing the first pitch 

 Summit selfie

The view
The next day started out with a riveting game of golf on the putting course in Leavenworth. This isn't your typical mini-golf course. It was made entirely of real grass without any of the crazy loop-de-loop nonsense. Just a game of golf with nothing but the putting greens. It was quite fun, but Shelby beat me soundly.

Shelby got an eagle on this hole and subsequently whooped me

Once it warmed up a bit that afternoon we headed to Icicle Canyon again for another multipitch rock climb. This time we'd be climbing a route called R&D up Icicle Buttress and this time the wind decided to harass us the whole day. The climb started with 2 pitches of forgettable slab climbing on licheny rock before the climbing started getting interesting. At this point I knew I didn't want this climb to last forever because of the wind, so I climbed a full rope length pitch up a blocky step, along an easy slab, to the base of a chimney. The anchor here was at a very small ledge in the middle of a relatively steep face, so it wasn't super comfy. Next up was a very short pitch to the top of the chimney, which was pretty fun and easy and I found a nice spot to set up an anchor that was out of the wind finally. Enjoying being out of the wind, but ready to finish the climb I didn't wait long before heading up the next pitch. It had a short but beautiful hand crack that had no face holds, so it was 100% jamming in the crack which was pretty new to me and a lot of fun! The final pitch had an easy traversing undercling crack which led to easy slabs to the top. The descent was pretty annoying because we opted to walk down the back side, which was very loose and steep. We were pretty tired by the time we were done, but overall the climb was still pretty fun thanks to the top few pitches. After the tough climb we treated ourselves to a beer at Icicle Ridge, which was quite satisfying. 

Licheny slab climbing

 A cozy belay at the top of the slabs

Smiles less authentic than yesterday, but still having fun despite the wind

On our last day in Leavenworth we decided to live high class. So, we got massages, which of course was very nice and we went to a "wine tasting" at one of the local wineries (there are a lot of them). I didn't learn much about wine there, but I did learn that I'm pretty content with cheap wine, which is convenient.

And that concludes the honeymoon activities. Now we're back to normal life again, enjoying our new home in Lakewood and enjoying figuring out marriage together.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Jon and Shelby Christmas Letter

2014 started out with a breakfast of pancakes made from scratch with real maple syrup. The only better way to start out the year would have been with biscuits and eggs, but pancakes are good too. Despite the less than perfect start to the year, it has been a very good year.

Shelby on the Four Pass Loop

Many adventures were had in 2014. The first big trip, my dad and I backpacked the Grand Canyon. It was pretty awesome to get down into the canyon. The view from the rim is amazing but to hike all the way to the bottom was spectacular. In the fall Shelby and I did a 26-mile backpacking loop called the Four Pass Loop near Aspen. This was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done with the leaves just starting to change and the wildflowers still blooming below giant red and white peaks. We also spent many a weekend camping and climbing around Colorado, with the highlights being two all-day climbs up Mt. Royal in Frisco and the Sheep Rock formation in the South Platte.

Climbing Mt Royal in Frisco

The first cause for celebration this year was when Shelby graduated from nursing school at UC Denver! It was so good for her to be done and to get out into the work world. First she had to pass the NCLEX, but that proved to be a breeze for her and now you can call her Shelby Salley RN.

But pretty soon you can call her Shelby Banks RN.! What?! Yep, we got engaged! One Sunday afternoon in September, I hiked alone to the top of Mt Zion in Golden and then prayed my rope would be long enough for the rappel to leave some flowers for her. Luckily, the rappel was 100ft long and my rope folded in half is also 100ft long, so that math worked out nicely, and the flowers made it to the ledge where I would propose to her that Tuesday. Despite pressuring her to lead the first pitch, which isn't very fun and she had done before, she said yes! Now we're engaged to be wed in March 2015.

You would have thought it unlikely last summer but the odds were ever in our favor. We met in June of last year. I was itching to learn how to climb and Shelby was willing and able to show me the ropes. Somehow she trusted me to belay her on a climb in Clear Creek Canyon and we started climbing together regularly. Friendship turned into relationship, and before we knew it, we were 1000 feet above that same canyon as the sun was about to set and I got down on one knee. 

Anyways, once Shelby started introducing herself as Shelby Salley RN., she found a job! Now she's working as a nurse at Professional Pediatric Home Care taking care of the kids. It has been a good opportunity to gain some valuable experience working as a nurse.

I've been working as an engineer at ITN Energy Systems for two and a half years now. This year I've had some good variety at work by splitting my time between a water filtration project and a battery project. Both are very interesting and enjoyable projects to be on.

We are excited to get married in March and can’t wait to see what our next year together will hold. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tour de Platte

With plans to camp with friends west of Cheesman Lake, Shelby and I made plans to climb a fun link-up of the main domes of the Sheep Rock massif during the day when everyone else is napping, shooting guns, and playing lawn games. The link-up is sometimes referred to as the Tour de Platte and it enchains any routes up Helen's Dome, Acid Rock, and Velcro Wall. The route goes from the bottom to the top of the formation in the picture above. Relative to our last big climb, Royal Flush, there was relatively little information about this climb and the approach and so it made for a fun adventure with all the route finding. The approach was a beast. Easy hiking for about 20 minutes led us to a giant boulder where we turned left and headed straight up the hill with lots of scrambling and steep hills to ascend. Getting to the base of the climb was the most tiring part of the entire day.

Luckily we were able to get to the base of the first route which was called Fractured Fairy Tales which is a 6 pitch 5.7 route that goes all the way up Helen's dome. If we were going to finish the entire Tour de Platte, it would be a total of 11 pitches which would take a long time. In order to save time, we decided to try to simul-climb the easy climbing on Helen's Dome. Simul-climbing is necessary when the leader climbs far enough that she runs out of rope, but doesn't have an anchor to belay from. When you run out of rope the second climber can fix the rope to himself and begin to climb at the same rate as the leader until she reaches an anchor. This is the fastest way to climb easy terrain since both climbers can move at the same time.

About to start the climb.

We rock paper scissored for the first lead and Shelby took off first leading some pretty easy low angle slabs. At points you could easily stand up on the slab without touching the rock with your hands it was such a low angle. After reaching the first anchors, Shelby started a traverse pitch to the right, hoping to link the first two pitches. She ran out of rope and called for me to simulclimb, so I took off after her. The rope drag became too much for Shelby to continue leading, so she just stopped at a bolt while I caught up with her. From here, the bolts started going up, but disappeared with no bolts anywhere near us. We were dumbfounded. Going straight up where the bolts appeared to be heading looked very difficult. There was a ledge we could take down and to the right that seemed like it might make sense, so I stopped at a bolt and belayed Shelby while she continued down that ledge to find the route. Glancing back at me she started laughing. The anchor was 10 feet below me where I was belaying from the last bolt of the route. Any time we had saved by simul-climbing was eaten up in the time we took to find these anchors which were placed in a very odd location right under out noses. 

We were off to a rough start, but after this the climbing went much more smoothly. We had heard that there were some spots on this route where it was nice to place a bit of protection to reduce the runout, so we brought a small trad rack. I had the pleasure of placing one cam on the next pitch and I belayed Shelby up to the anchors at a very small ledge. I led the next pitch which had a fun little 5.7 roof move. The views started getting better and better the higher we went up. You could see leaves changing on the mountains in the distance.

Shelby at the top of pitch 3

Our route description told us that the next anchor wasn't at a very comfortable spot, but that if you kept climbing another 10 meters you could belay from a comfy ledge using gear for an anchor. Shelby took the lead on this one and she ended up linking all of pitch 5 and 6 with some simul-climbing, practically finishing the route without noticing. Oops!

Shelby leading pitch 5 up the fun arete

Shelby belaying from the top of pitch 6

The last part could have been done easily without a rope, but I dragged the rope along for the ride and clipped one bolt on the way. Later, Shelby climbed to the top of the dome in her Chacos. Yep, pretty easy finish. The view from the top was spectacular. 

The top of Helen's dome with one of the "hot-tubs" on the right.

Funny looking selfie from the top of Helen's with Acid Rock in the background on the right.

Upwards we hiked/scrambled towards Acid Rock. At this point our feet were starting to bother us. Neither of us had brought the right shoe for the job of climbing up so much slab, so we were starting to question whether we would finish the Tour. I wanted to at least try out the next route on Acid Rock, so we found a good rock to hide under to take a 15 minute snack break before continuing. There were boulders everywhere up there. Some were absolutely gigantic and we had to find our way to the base of the next climb by crawling through caves formed by huge boulders leaning on each other. All the scrambling and navigating around obstacles was part of what made this day an adventure for us.

The route I chose up Acid Rock is referred to as "Unknown Between Divine Miss M and Erotic Plants." Shelby decided to just call it Miss M's Erotic Plants.  It's listed as 5.9+, but it felt like at least 5.10a to me, but I admittedly haven't been climbing too much recently and I'm not a slab climbing master, so my rating could be off. We weren't optimistic about finishing all four pitches, so I dragged our second rope so that I would be able to climb as much as possible and still be able to rappel off. The first few bolts were the crux of the first pitch with some pretty thin, slabby moves and then the pitch finished off with easier climbing with lower angles and bigger edges. I headed up the second pitch immediately and it brought me to where the wall steepens. The route goes up between two black water marks that look like car skid marks. As I approached the crux I told Shelby that it was about to get pretty hard. I made the first couple moves and clipped the next bolt. As I started up again I started to get scared and told Shelby that I could fall here. The holds were absolutely tiny and I was afraid that my feet would slip or that the tiny edges would break beneath my fingers. I made it to the next bolt and looked up. This crux was relentless! The angle wasn't about to ease off anytime soon and the wall was smooth all the way up. I had started going up the left skid track, but at one point I was stopped. I would step up into an insecure stance and would find no hands and no feet any higher. I went up and down between this spot and a more secure stance a foot below several times before my feet couldn't take it anymore. My feet were tired of standing on these tiny edges and I wasn't making any progress. I called out to Shelby to take in the rope and I took a rest hanging on the rope. While hanging I looked at the right skid track and saw much better edges that I could use to make some better progress. Soon I started back up and made it to the next bolt, finding that the right skid track was much easier. But the pain in my feet didn't go away. These shoes were not made for this kind of climbing and my toe knuckles were dying for a break. I wouldn't be satisfied stopping where I was, so I determined to just push through the pain and make it to the top where I could take off my shoes. I inched up the slab and got to the last bolt. I stemmed my legs from one skid track to the next and was able to pull out of the steep part. I climbed the remaining easy ground, clipped into the anchor, and ripped off my shoes. Shelby told me that she wasn't going to climb up after me. Her feet were already tired of her shoes and she could see how bad the pain was for me on this pitch, so I contentedly tied my two ropes together and rappelled back to the ground. This climb felt like one of the hardest leads I've done and Shelby later told me that she had never heard me make the noises I made on that climb. When an edge broke under my fingers I made a loud gasping/grunting noise while doing everything I could to stay on the rock. Near the top I was making a pretty bad groaning noise because my feet where hurting so bad.

Despite not finishing the entire Tour de Platte, we started the hike down feeling content. The climb up Fractured Fairytales was very pleasant and the views were amazing. I felt very accomplished to have pushed myself to my limit on Acid Rock and we were looking forward to coming back to this wonderful climbing area again. 

But what made this climb special was that it was our first big climb after getting engaged. We first met climbing and somehow she entrusted her life to me, a complete stranger, allowing me to belay her. Climbing will always be a reminder of the early times of our relationship. I have always had a passion for adventures and I'm so happy to have Shelby to share these adventures with for the rest of our lives. Especially the adventure of marriage which might be one of the most epic adventures ever.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Four Pass Loop

Likely the result of a Sunday evening daydreaming about my next adventure, I somehow stumbled upon a trip report on December 2, 2012 about the Four Pass Loop. I knew nothing about the hike's reputation. I just knew that the trip report had some pretty amazing pictures. It turns out this route is often ranked among America's best backpacking loops and it is known for excellent scenery of big mountains and wildflowers. If you've ever seen a picture of the maroon bells, chances are you are familiar with the view at the start of this hike.

The route starts at Maroon Lake and makes a loop around the Maroon Bells crossing four passes: West Maroon Pass, Frigid Air Pass, Trail Rider Pass, and Buckskin Pass. This makes for a 26 mile-10,000ft elevation gain hike.

Our route with miles marked in red circles and camping spots with yellow triangles. Hiked clockwise.

After an uncomfortable night sleeping in the parking lot in the back of a Subaru, we were ready to get going on Friday morning. The hike started out with a gradual elevation gain as we passed through the valley towards maroon pass.

The hiking was easy for several miles and we passed a few groups on the way. I was ready to give us the "Best Hikers of the Day" award until we made the long, painful slog up the last mile of the pass where we met a man who had already ran 20 miles of the loop that morning. We ended up seeing around 10 of these runners who do the loop in one day. Getting to the top of the pass was quite the challenge for me, but Shelby made it look easy. She's a backpacking machine.

After a short break at the pass, we made our way down the north side of the pass towards Frigid Air Pass. No more than 100 feet down the trail my knee started giving me issues. The same issues it gave me a couple months ago. My knee became a constant concern of mine, but I was able to manage by compensating with my trekking poles.

The wildflowers along the entire route were gorgeous.

The walk over to Frigid Air Pass was easy and pleasant with lots of low angle trail and pretty wildflowers. The final part of the pass was steep but short. At the top we got our first glimpse of Snowmass Mountain as well as a view of the back side of the Maroon Bells.

Fravert Basin and Snowmass Mountain from Frigid Air Pass

Maroon Bells from Frigid Air Pass

We started to see the same people throughout the day and we would end up seeing them throughout the whole trip. There was the 'Group of Four' who seemed to have an identical pace to us, the 'Descenders' who joked to us, "We're really good at going downhill," the 'Gang' who carried a boom-box and enjoyed making loud cuckoo calls, the 'Patriarchs,' our 'Buddies,' 'Speedy McGreedy,' and others. They all began to feel almost like family. The grand parents, the annoying little brothers, the cousin who seems nice but we rarely hear from her, etc.

The descent from Frigid Air Pass was the worst descent of the whole trip. My knee was really bothering me and we were at the tail end of a difficult 11 mile, 2 pass day. Eventually we found a nice campsite in Fravert Basin. We set up our camp and enjoyed basking in the sun and simply relaxing before dinner time.

The descent from Frigid Air

Dinner was satisfying and we spent the evening playing Mancala on a sleeping pad board with little twigs for the playing pieces. It worked quite well. We also have the option to play Scrabble, Connect-Four, and Tic-Tac-Toe on Shelby's sleeping pad.

In the morning we slept in a bit and then started the hike for the day towards Trail Rider Pass. We hiked through Fravert Basin for a few miles, passing a waterfall and an easy stream crossing.

Eventually the trail started traversing the slope on the north side of the basin and we began our long climb. The trail switched back several times on the way up and the trail was pretty steep for much of the climb.

Eventually the angle eased off and we made it to the upper basin below the pass. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the trip for us. There was a beautiful lake with wide open views in all directions. It was nice to take a break in this area before finishing the climb to the pass.

After a short break, we headed up the last bit of hill before the pass. We caught our first glimpse of Snowmass Lake from the pass and were quickly off down the hill since it started hailing on us. It wasn't too long before the hail went away and the clouds started to break, making for probably the best scenery of the trip.

Snowmass Peak from right above Snowmass Lake

 Snowmass Lake with double rainbow (part of the way!)

The descent from the pass was steep to start out with, then mellowed out for a while, then got steeper again as we approached the campground at Snowmass Lake. We set up our camp quickly and spent the rest of the evening hanging around the lake, reading, and eating.

 Snowmass Peak, Haggerman Peak, and Snowmass Mountain from the lake

We had planned for our trip to be 4 days - 3 for backpacking and 1 for hiking Snowmass Mountain, but due to the condition of my knee and a nasty cold that Shelby developed, we opted to hike back to the car the next day. This ended up being a good call since we were able to get some Niquil!

The last day of hiking was pleasant. We started out hiking through the woods a ways to Snowmass Creek and then started our way up towards Buckskin Pass. The climb started out with lots of trees and after gaining some significant elevation we made it to treeline where we found a pretty upper basin area. 

One more short break before the pass and we made the final climb to the top. It was definitely the easiest finish to a pass that we did on this trip. The trail is very low angle with long nice switchbacks. It wasn't too long until we made it to the top and had views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.

Pyramid Peak on the right from Buckskin Pass

As it typically goes on a long hike, the last stretch feels like it is the longest. We made our way down the steep trail to Minnihana Gulch. The previous days had a long hike leading to the pass followed by a short descent to camp, but this day was the opposite, so we still had a ways to go.

I started to get a rhythm and figured out a good way to walk fast without hurting my knee, so I picked up the pace so that the end of our hike didn't drag on for too long. The trail brought us to the trees before too long and then it was a mostly forgettable hike to Crater Lake. Walking along the trail back to the car, some people ahead of us stopped us and told us there were a couple bull moose down in the valley. This made our trip feel complete. We had heard about the bears and moose in the area and hoped to see one or the other and we were rewarded with a great moose sighting and Shelby's first!

The last mile and a half dragged on, but we eventually made it to Maroon Lake. Our feet were tired and we were looking forward to a celebration beer in Aspen. But first we took a few minutes to wade in the frigid lake and enjoy the bliss of having spent a wonderful weekend together in the wilderness.