Monday, August 24, 2015

Luxury Climbing up Mt. Evans

Ah Mt. Evans. It's claim to fame is the highest paved road in North America. Throngs of tourists crowd the summit taking pictures of each other and the multitudes of goats and sheep that seem a little bit too comfortable around humans. The mountain also happens to have some really good rock climbing on it. Alpine rock climbing with the possibility of hitch-hiking down seemed like a pretty luxurious day out. So we chose our route - Second Apron, Right Side -5.7 (Really creative route name huh?). It's the second buttress from the right in the photo below. The route was supposed to be a "choose your own adventure" kind of climb, meaning that there were lots of ways to the top, all being 5.7 or easier.

At 5:30 we started our hike to the base of our climb. The sun wasn't far below the horizon, so there was just enough light to see where to go, which was nice since we forgot headlamps! We traversed the slopes south of Summit Lake for a while, looking back as the sun started to rise. Due to smoke from California and Washington, the sun looked deep red as it was rising. Some combination of smoke and altitude gave me a bad headache for about an hour, but it eventually went away.

As we approached the second apron, our route came more into view. I could recognize where the standard start was, but there were so many crack systems there was no single obvious path to the top. Rather, endless possible ways to get to the top!

We reached the base of the climb and by 6:45 we headed up the first pitch. It was a long lieback crack with a decent crack to pull back on with your hands and pretty poor feet most of the way up. The climbing was fun, albeit a bit tenuous at spots where it became really slabby. The rock was very cold, making my hands numb enough that it was hard to feel the tiny edges I had to pull on the slab sections. I got to the top of the crack and traversed over a slab to another crack to the right. This lead to a narrow ledge that I was able to follow to the left for a while. The ledge would have made a good belay position, but I looked down and could tell that I still had plenty of rope left to move upward. So I headed up some mossy cracks, passed a giant M-shaped set of dihedrals, and found a good belay on a small ledge with about 10 feet of rope to spare. We'd be climbing long pitches all day to finish the climb as fast as possible. It was pretty cold and windy all day, so we didn't want to dilly dally.

 Shelby approaching the top of the first pitch

The second pitch was the most straight forward pitch of the day. It headed straight up a mossy crack from the belay and kept heading up. No traversing or any route finding really. It finished with a fun little step with a nice hand crack where I found a hidden jug to get up to the base of a dihedral. The left side of the dihedral blocked the sun and the wind seemed to be shooting straight the dihedral, so this was a pretty cold spot to sit.

From here, the dihedral looked like it wouldn't provide very good protection, so after heading up a bit, I moved out of the dihedral to the left, onto the face where I figured there would be better quality rock. I was glad to find some good cracks with good protection out on the face. This pitch made a zig zag pattern as I traversed left, climbed up, traversed some more, then climbed some more. The traverses were a lot of fun and I was glad to have done a bit of slab climbing recently to help me trust my feet. Just 30 feet away I saw a giant ledge, big enough for a small home and I knew I wanted to belay from there, but I was running low on rope. I headed towards the ledge and felt the rope go tight. I had run out of rope. The wind was blowing loudly and because of the length of the pitch Shelby and I could barely hear each other yelling. I yelled as loud as I could for Shelby to start simulclimbing, meaning that we would both be climbing at the same time with the rope attached to both of us. Since she is tied into the rope, she would still essentially have me on-belay even though she would be climbing. I felt the rope loosen, indicating that she was climbing and soon I was able to reach the ledge and set up an anchor to bring her up. 

The ledge was sunny and sheltered from the wind so we just hung out there for a while before continuing, enjoying the warmth after how cold we were at the last belay. The final pitch was the only pitch we didn't use the entire rope for. It started out with some easy mossy blocks and then I had the choice of taking the easy, but boring way, or the harder but fun way. The route finding all day has had choices like this and since I was still having fun, I chose the harder, fun option which was a wide lieback crack which lead to the top of the technical climbing for the day.

The ridge we would walk to the main summit of Evans 

The climb ends at a sub-summit which is a bit over 14,000 ft, but in order to reach the main summit of Mt. Evans we walked along the ridge for 25 minutes. The walk was a nice cool-down. We talked about our day on the way along the ridge, answering questions from curious hikers wondering why we had harnesses on.

Cairn with Bierstadt and Sawtooth in the background

We made it to the summit and spent some time taking pictures. The young couple that took our picture seemed nice so I asked them where they were from and started a conversation, hoping for a chance to ask for a ride. Sure enough, they were happy to give us a ride back to our car, so we returned the favor by giving them lots of recommendations on places to go during their visit. 

Despite the cold and the wind, it was a really fun climb and a cool way to do a 14er. I'd say that the climbing was significantly better than the climbing we did on Spearhead a few weeks ago, only with less hype. It took a little more thought and the ability to be able to choose our own route up the crack systems was a lot of fun. It's always a bit frustrating to follow vague step by step instructions up a climb, always wondering if you're off route. So it was cool to just make our own decisions on the route we chose to take. The rock quality was excellent everywhere, except for the right facing dihedral we found on the very right side of the face. But the best part is you don't have to walk all the way down!