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.


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.