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 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.

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