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

No comments: