Monday, June 25, 2007

Sawatch Range Finale

This weekend a couple guys from work, Scott and Kyle, as well as myself traveled to the Sawatch range to bag a couple of 14ers. The plan was to leave from work and head out to Leadville and eventually to the Winfield trailhead to climb Huron the next day. The drive was quick, and we stopped at Wendy’s on the way up. Two words: bad idea. I haven’t eaten Wendy’s in about three years, and it didn’t sit well. Lets just say I had a little extra propulsion from the rear to get me up the mountain the next day. Anyway, we were driving in Scott’s Durango, and didn’t have too much trouble getting to Winfield. After that the road got a little bumpy, and we threw it in 4x4 and made it up another 1.5 miles, just a mile short of the upper trailhead. There’s nothing like cruising down old county roads with the Yonder Mountain String Band blasting away on Scott’s bagillion dollar sound system. We hit the hay at about 9 and set the alarms for 4am the next morning.

The Three Apostles from Huron's North Flank

We awoke at 4 to severe Wendy’s syndrome, and decided to give it another half hour before getting up so that our stomachs could settle. We hit the trail at 5:15 and were off into the woods. Huron’s trail is short, but makes up for its shortness with steep and relentless switchbacks. The 3 miles to the top covers about 3500 feet, with almost all of the elevation gain in 2 miles of the trail. Scott had a bad knee, and wasn’t in tip-top shape, so we let him set the pace. The alpenglow that we saw on the trail was amazing, and we had a wonderful view of Ice mountain and the three apostles sitting on the continental divide behind Huron peak. Another notable view were all the Alpine Forget-Me-Nots in the area. Starting at about 12,500 feet, they were scattered all over the mountainside, and it might have been the vividness of my new polarized lenses for my sunglasses, but they were vividly beautiful. We made the summit at about 10:??, taking about 5 hours to climb the peak. I was really happy that Scott and Kyle made it to the top, as this was their first fourteener. The top had an incredible view, we could see every 14er in the Sawatch range, as well as Grays and Torreys, all of the Elk range including the Maroon Bells, Capitol, etc, and even Pikes peak. The sky was very clear and what started as a potentially boring climb turned out to be well worth the trouble. I definitely plan on returning to the area to hike up Ice mountain and the three apostles, as the climb looks really technical and fun, plus Ice mountain is a centennial 13er (one of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado). I plan on tackling this goal after I finish the 14ers sometime next year.

We hiked down and had some food, and then drove to Buena Vista to stock up on some food. We also parked at the park and set up a slackline to put on a show for all the families with their kids, and also to see if any raft guides wanted to come over and have a walk. Unfortunately, I was the only one there who could walk it. Kyle gave it several goes and made some good progress, but while I was walking people just came by and asked my if I was in the circus and silly things like that. After a little slacklining, it was starting to get past the afternoon, and we needed to get to the Harvard trailhead. We picked up some food and headed up to the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead. After some moderate 4x4 we arrived at our destination and set up camp. I took some neat close-ups of the trees and a bridge in the dying light, and then we hit the hay at about 8:00 well before dark.

On the way up Harvard with Yale and Princeton in the background

We awoke at 3:00 to a really neat view of the milky way, and to legs ready to rock and roll. Scott was too tired from the hike the previous day, so he slept in and then went fishing later that morning. Kyle and I hit the trail at about 3:30 and were ready to rock. It was about 3.5 miles from the trailhead to treeline with about 2000 feet elevation gain. It is really easy to hike when it is dark out because the scenery doesn’t distract you, and your goal is a lot simpler. You just put one foot in front of the other and make sure not to stumble on the obstacles dimly lit by the headlamp. We made it to treeline in about 2 hours and took a quick break, then continued to hike, motivated by the increasing light. We were able to see some really amazing views of Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, lit up by the Alpenglow.

Kyle and I were feeling good, so we kept on hiking, making it to about 13,000 feet before the sun finally hit us. The last part was really steep, but we made incredible time because the trail was so well maintained and because we were already acclimated by the previous days climb. We were able to make the last 1,400 feet in about 50 minutes, finally summitting at 7:32, 4 hours after we started. I finally finished every 14er in the Sawatch range!

On the summit of Harvard at 7:30am

Mr. Marmot on the summit of Harvard

We enjoyed the view, made friends with the resident Marmot, and then started the descent. We didn’t run into more than 10 people on the way down, but they were all moving slow with heavy packs. Kyle and I only packed the essentials and kept our pack weights down to about 15 pounds. We ran down most of the steep sections, using gravity to our advantage, and were back to the car at 10:30, only 7 hours after we left. It was a 13.5 mile round trip with 4,800 feet in elevation gain, and we averaged nearly 2 miles an hour which is great for my standards. I wanted to stop by the cabin to say hi to the Grandparents but Scott and Kyle were spent and just wanted to get back to Denver to shower and sleep. I didn’t blame them. The first 14er is always really taxing on the body, and Kyle did really well for bagging number 1 and number 2 all in the same weekend. Traffic was bad going back and we arrived at about 2:30. All in all, it was a really fun weekend, although I can’t wait for this next week… Look forward to the next mild adventure, as this will be the best one so far…

To view all the pictures from this trip, click on the following link:
Huron/Harvard Pictures

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Highline at "The Monastery": Truly a Religious Experience

On Sunday June 10th, Said, Dylan and I went to set up a highline at “The Monastery”. The Monastery is actually really close to Estes Park. If you are coming from Denver, you take I-25 to Loveland, and then take highway 34 west towards Estes Park. Once you get to the town of Drake, it is a fun drive up a bunch of switchbacks on a steep dirt road until you get to the trailhead. At that point we got out and started the hike. The hike is only about 1.5 miles, but it is really brutal. It is probably close to 1000 feet of elevation gain and loss in the first ¾ of a mile to get through a really steep cliff section and then across the valley to the climbing area. We hauled butt and it only took about 20 minutes. The rigging took a lot longer though. It was about 3 hours before we had a walkable line. The gap was 35 feet long and about 110 feet high, with Longs peak dominating the horizon in the background. I can honestly say that it is one of the coolest areas I’ve ever been to in, and the fact that we were highlining there was even cooler.

Dylan, one of the guys we met up with for this line, is a really good highliner. He has been walking highlines for several years now, and has quite a few significant walks. Two summers ago he walked the lost arrow spire line in Yosemite. This is the highest established line in the US, and the second highest line in the world. Because of the intensity of the exposure, there have only been 20 people in the world who have walked it. Dylan’s highlining has been featured in many different catalogues and magazines, and it was no surprise that while we were highlining, a couple of older guys who work for Scarpa offered to hook Dylan up with a shoe sponsorship right there at the crag (There were a lot of strong climbers working on 5.12s and 5.13s right near us). They wanted him to wear their shoes while he walked the line, and he gladly agreed. It was really cool. Hopefully after I get some more experience in the realm of highlining, I can get sponsored as well.

Because the line was so short, it was really quite easy to walk, so we all tried doing tricks and other fun things to push the envelope even further as we were on the line. I got the knee drop, lay down and sit start. Said was able to pull off a lot of really cool moves that I don’t know the name for. Dylan was really incredible though, pulling off a couple of surfs, no-hands walking, and a lot of really hard sit moves. It was pretty fun.

Dylan with Longs Peak in the background

By the end of the day, we had all walked the line several times, all with very minimal falling. Nobody took a leash fall, which was great.

This is only my second outdoor highline, but I feel that it was scarier than the first one. In fact, while I was up there I was really questioning my decision to do any sort of intense activity. I couldn’t really find the fun in it for a while. In the words of my Buddy Jeff, “for me I love it...I think that you can never fully understand the beauty of life unless you are scared ****less with the possibility you might die”. Well I’m not so sure that I agree with that, but Jeff jumps out of planes for fun. In my opinion, life wasn’t meant to be drab and boring. God didn’t put us all on this earth to sit on our butts and push the button of a remote all day or complain about everything. It really grinds my gears when people who do nothing with their lives think they have a right to argue about meaningless issues like war, american idol, etc. I think life is so much more worth living if you are on the edge. Of course I make sure that everything is safe on the highline before I do step out onto the void, but at the same time, once you are on the line there is no control whatsoever regarding your fate, except for the ability to put one foot in front of the other. How many people can say that they have simplified their life so much that their entire fate rests on the ability to take a step? Walking is something almost everyone takes for granted and it is an incredibly important human function, but it is never simplified to a matter of life or death. What if everything were simplified in this manner: eating, breathing, blinking, pouring a cup of coffee? Because highlining simplifies life in this manner, I grow an incredible appreciation for everything that I come in contact with. It is hard for people to understand this without having a similar experience, but I feel that I am actually a better person because of highlining, and this is a gift and blessing from God not to be overlooked.

I think that "The Monastery" is an aptly named location.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Kelso Ridge

On June 2nd Kevin Kelly and I decided to go climb Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak. After Kevin rented the proper equipment from REI (Ice Axe + crampons = $14), we hit it. We left the Highlands Ranch area at about 4:00am and got to the trailhead at 5:30. We were on the trail by 5:45. The normal trailhead was actually not accessible, as there was an avalanche earlier that season that was covering the road in debris. We ended up starting down about ¾ of a mile below the actual trailhead. The initial hike was easy going. We passed about 15-20 people with skis getting ready to ski the north face of Torreys. The sun was just peeking over the peaks behind us as Kevin and I got to the saddle between Kelso peak and Torreys peak. This is where Kelso ridge began. From reading reports we knew that up high on the ridge near the summit there were a lot of steep and dangerous cornices that we had to navigate around. We had mentally prepared for this for a few days and felt ready for it.

The first portion of the ridge is about a half a mile of navigating around class 3 and class 4 towers. Many times we were climbing a lot of vertical rock. I’ve never climbed anything so steep with such a heavy pack before. Just in case we needed to rope up for a few sections, I was carrying an ice axe, a second ice tool, 2 snow pickets, a 30 meter rope, a small rack of 5 cams, 5 slings, a harness, belay device and a few biners. I was also carrying a couple extra jackets and gloves in case the weather got bad. In any event, things were heavy, but the climbing wasn’t too bad. We just threw it into 4wheel drive in a few sections and got through fine. As we were going, there got to be quite a bit of exposure. To the south of the ridge there was about a 1000 foot drop at an 80-85 degree angle, and a steep slope to the north of the ridge. During the towers section we ran into a solo climber. Colin was from Tennessee and had come out to start training for an Alps trip he has planned for the latter part of July. Because he had just gone from 500 feet to 10,000 feet in a matter of 12 hours, he was a little slower than Kevin and I, but a strong climber just the same. We started talking and ended up joining up with him for the rest of the trip. This was his third attempt at the Grays/Torreys group, and he was pretty determined to succeed. Luckily the weather was great and we had no problem cruising up the ridge.

There were a few sketchy sections before we got to the snow cornices near the top of the ridge, but they weren’t really an issue with the ice axes in tow. The last half-mile of the ridge was covered in cornices, however, so we decided it would be best at this point to throw on our crampons for the rest of the climb. I led all of us from this point on, breaking all the trail and cruising up the steep sections. After all, this was Kevin’s first 14er and Colin was still acclimating. We got up a few hairy couloirs and finally got to the crux of the climb. At this point we were about 100 vertical feet from the summit with about 2000-2500 feet of exposure on either side of us. We had to traverse around a final tower on a knife-edge of snow on the ridge. Right at the tower crossing the snow was at a steep 60 degrees or higher. At this point it was about 9:00am and the snow was starting to get a little soft. Thus, our crampons got less and less purchase on the melting snow. I crossed the crux no problem though, and Kevin and Colin were soon to follow. Not too long after we were on the summit of Torreys, joined by the 20+ skiers who had trudged up the normal route and were about to start their descent. It was a little too bad having to share the summit with all those people, but it was fun all the same. I think that was my 5th ascent of Torreys.

After soaking up the view we ran over to the top of Grays and then were headed down. We were back to the car by about 12:30. Overall it was a really fun day. I was a little disappointed in Kelso ridge though. From what I had read, it was supposed to be really scary and difficult as a snow climb, but from my perspective, it really wasn’t all that bad at all. Hopefully this isn’t me being na├»ve, but based on my experience, it was well within my acceptable level of risk. There wasn’t a single point during the climb where I felt uncomfortable. It was definitely a good learning experience though, and a great way to start out the 14ers season.