Archive for June, 2008

After the long hike up Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak on Saturday, Helen and I didn’t want to push Torrey too hard. So we choose one of the easiest 14ers for a Sunday ascent: Mount Sherman.

As we drove to the Fourmile Creek trailhead all the high peaks were shrouded in thick clouds. And when we finally reached the trailhead we were in the thick of it.

However, as we began to hike up the old mining road the clouds slowly parted and we tried to get our bearings.

A couple in front of us took a left turn at a fork and the road. I consulted the compass and decided that they were either headed to Horseshoe Mountain or going the wrong way (we found out later they were going the wrong way). We turned right and soon could look back at the cloud inversion in the South Park valley below.

Before long we had our first view of Mount Sherman.

We continued walking up the old mining road and passed by the Hilltop mine. The views below kept getting better now that we were higher above the clouds.

Rounding the corner around an old shack, we had a straight-on view of the one significant snow patch on our ascent route. We could observe a few people doing a rising traverse across it, toward the saddle between Mount Sherman and it’s lower neighbor, Mount Sheridan.

As we traversed the snow slope ourselves, we noticed a few glissade tracks and looked forward to the rapid descent we could make down this ridge later in the day.

Once at the saddle, we had a simple trail to follow up the steeper than I expected southwest ridge to the summit.

It had only taken us about 80 minutes to make the ascent, so we decided to continue northwards and reach the summit of Gemini Peak.

We dodged a few snow patches on the way down from Sherman’s summit then crossed a windy saddle filled with wildflowers before the short climb up loose rocks to Gemini’s top.

We thought about traversing west from Gemini and reaching Dyer Mountain – one of Colorado’s 100 highest mountains, but we would have faced a headwind for much of the route and then had to retrace our steps back. Looking down into the Sacramento Creek valley’s lakes we envisioned a short backpacking trip to Dyer Mountain in the future.

Once back at Sherman’s summit we chatted with the growing crowd of hikers and admired the views of the Sawatch range and Colorado’s tallest mountains to our west.

The descent down went quickly and we enjoyed our glissade down from the saddle.

We found one more short glissade near the Hilltop mine and then walked back to the cars enjoying the new views now that the morning’s clouds had burnt off.

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Helen and I camped near the Mount Shavano Trailhead on Friday night and woke up at dawn on Saturday morning. We started hiking by 6:15a and quickly reached the Colorado Trail, which we’d follow for a short distance.

Soon we came to a junction and turned left up the Shavano Trail which rose steeply through the forest. Before the first long switchback we left the trail and skirted across a talus field of loose rocks while Helen fittingly described the novel she was reading to me, “The Angle of Repose”. After meandering in a roughly uphill direction through the remains of the forest we broke out at tree line and laid eyes on the beginning of the snow feature called the Angel of Shavano. The body was disconnected from the arm we’d ascend and the other arm was completely melted out.

Taking a break at the base of the snow we strapped on our crampons and got out the ice axes and then started up, following some previous glissade tracks of climbers who’d descended this route.

Torrey loved climbing on the snow and would run back and forth between Helen and I, glissading and re-climbing the slope to check on the both of us. Toward the middle of the snowfield we passed near the regular trail and felt like objects of attention or amusement for all the regular hikers.

Once we reached the top of the snowfield we joined the regular trail and looked ahead at the last remaining bit of climbing to reach Shavano’s summit.

We took a short break on the summit and judged the weather plenty stable to traverse over to the neighboring 14er, Tabeguache Peak.

There wasn’t much of a defined trail toward Tabeguache, instead we hopped from boulder to boulder and descended toward the saddle between the two peaks.

We trudged through a short and soft snow patch and then climbed over loose rocks to reach Tabeguache’s summit.

We seemed to be the first people to reach Tabeguache’s summit this morning and enjoyed having the space to ourselves and admired the view of Antero to the north.

The “best” route back was to retrace our steps, so we headed down and then re-ascended Shavano.

We stopped along the way and chatted with numerous other hikers and took pictures of all the wildflowers.

Since our route had over 5,000 feet of gain, I felt it was appropriate to wear my “Lord of Pain” shirt (a gift from the Bloomington Hiking Club).

From Shavano’s summit we followed the regular trail down and then diverged to join the middle of the Angel snowfield. A combination of boot and butt glissading quickly brought us to the end of the snow.

We pushed on through the woods and soon reconnected with the regular trail. A delightful stream ran alongside one portion of the trail.

Before long we were back on the Colorado Trail and then nearing the trailhead. Beer and pizza in Salida would top off our hike. Torrey did great for her first two 14ers, but enjoyed sleeping all afternoon.

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After a prompting by one of the librarians at the American Alpine Club Library (a place I’ve been volunteering recently) I wrote a book review of The Horizontal Everest: Extreme Journeys on Ellesmere Island by Jerry Kobalenko, one of my recent reads. The Horizontal Everest made it on my reading list by winning the Best Book – Adventure Travel category in 2002 at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

You can read the full review at the AAC Library’s blog.

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I needed a quick climb (short approach and close to Golden) to fill my Saturday morning. South Arapaho’s Skywalker Couloir is described as “simply one of the best couloir climbs in Colorado” by a recent guidebook. I knew it would be popular on a Saturday morning and I hemmed and hawed about whether or not the snow would freeze up nicely overnight for this climb, but in the end I decided to depart very early for this climb.

I found the trailhead with no problems (other than a cop following me for 10 miles through an area of unnaturally low speed limits) and a few other people were sorting gear while I took off up the trail. In a coincidence eerily similar to my ascent of the Dead Dog couloir, I caught a group of 3 and passed them on the way to the climb and then was the first person on the route.

The hike in was mostly clear of snow, and the little to traverse to the base of the peak was firm. I’d left the trailhead about 4:30 and within an hour I was strapping on my crampons and starting up the couloir.

The route gradually steepened as I progressed upwards and I switched from using French technique on the lower slopes to taking advantage of the footsteps left in the snow from prior climbers.

The snow was frozen solid and with the steps, the route was a breeze. The most direct exit to the couloir is called the “Princess Leia” exit, and some years it exceeds 65 degrees. I stopped and measured it at only 50 degrees this year – agreeing with what others had reported on some online forums.

While I probably didn’t need it, I got out my second ice tool for security (especially since I was climbing solo) and mostly used it in a dagger position, but also enjoyed swinging it into snow solid enough for the pick to bite securely.

After an hour of snow climbing I topped out of the couloir and removed my crampons. A short rock and dirt path led to the top of South Arapaho.

I had plenty of time to do the class 3 scramble along the ridge to North Arapaho – at 13,502 feet it is the tallest peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

By staying on the ridge crest as much as possible, the route has some optional class 4 and low class 5 climbing. Some trails drop down below the difficulties but I was enjoying the exposure as I looked down on the Arapaho Glacier.

The final section to the top consisted of a hard snow and ice gully. I probably could have climbed it without incident with just my ice axe, but again, since I was solo I decided to put on my crampons and be safe.

From the summit I had great views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, several Front Range 14ers and the Gore Range.

Just as I was heading down another climber reached the top. Kyle and I stopped and chatted and traded contact information. We had some similar goals and skills. After parting I headed back on the ridge to South Arapaho and tried to stay on the crest of the ridge in all places – except where I found I’d have to down climb overhanging rock.

Back on South Arapaho I chatted with another climber and we tried to ID all the surrounding peaks. Our job wasn’t too hard, since a brass plate was installed on the summit with arrows pointing out all the ranges and peaks on the horizon.

Kyle showed up to expand our conversation to backcountry skiing and then he and I descended together, chatting the whole way about mountain climbing. Along the way we had a nice view of the Skywalker Couloir, finally getting some sunlight.

We met quite a few day hikers and a handful of backpackers on the way back to the cars. Besides talking to a few, we mostly carried on our own conversation and enjoyed the views.

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I first saw the Citadel Memorial Weekend, when a CMC group made an attempt on Grizzly Peak from Loveland Pass. “What mountain is that?” I asked around when I saw the impressive looking summit of Citadel.

Shortly afterwards I saw a weekday climb of Citadel offered on the CMC website. The original date was postponed due to thunderstorms, but when I met Diana at a park-n-ride lot west of Denver there were ominous clouds in the sky above.

We saw some lightning and drove through some rain on the way to the Herman Gulch trailhead. However, only a light drizzle was coming off and we started off hoping it would soon cease. The initial section of the trail was clear but as we hiked higher we encountered more and more snow.

Before long we gave up all semblance of following the summer trail and took off across the snow slopes to the base of the couloir we planned to climb.

On some dry rocks we strapped on crampons and broke out our ice axes and helmets. Three members of our group brought harnesses and I had a rope in my pack in case anyone was bothered by the exposure.

Meredith and I took turns kicking steps in the soft snow. Last night’s clouds hadn’t let the temperature drop much and the snow was soft in the morning light.

The last 20 feet or so of the couloir was still shaded and held firm snow.

We thought Linda might appreciate being offered a belay, so I got out the rope and lowered it down the slope for her. She accepted the belay but climbed the slope without incident.

The couloir was climbed, but we hadn’t reached the summit yet. A short class 3 scramble finished the climb.

The top of the Citadel was covered with spiky rock blocks. A large raven was perched on one of these but flew away before I could get a picture.

The clouds had really dissipated and we were rewarded with great views. I could see Loveland Pass, where I’d first noticed the Citadel as well as much of the Front, Gore, Tenmile and northern Sawatch ranges.

Before heading down I manged to drop the tripod mount from my camera. Luckily, I saw roughly where it had landed among the black and gray rocks. Unluckily, the mount was black and gray and tiny. Diana helped me search a bit before the call of lunch proved too enticing. While excavating the summit rocks I found a granola bar wrapper. I packed it away as trash and only then, in a flash of instant karma, did I suddenly find my tripod mount. For the rest of the hike I picked up every piece of trash I spotted.

Lunch over, we needed to descend a couloir immediately opposite to the one we’d come up. Not finding any suitable rocks to sling for an anchor we buried the 2 pickets we carried up and Meredith got ready to belay Linda down the steeper section.

I walked down the slope first, coaching Linda a little until the rope ran out and the angle eased off.

She handled the rest of the descent quite well and then we traversed across snow to the south ridge of Citadel.

From the ridge top we had a perfect glissade slope back into Herman Gulch. Waterproof pants came out of packs and loose items were buttoned down.

John descended first, checking his speed with an ice axe and stopping a few times to survey the slope.

As soon as he was out of my run out path, I leaped from the crest of the ridge and took a ~600 foot ride. Meredith soon followed and laughed the whole way down.

The fun part was over and now we had to pick our way down the softening snow – trying to avoid sinking to our hips.

I kept looking back up the drainage at Citadel as we hiked out.

Once we hit the trail and snow-less terrain, Linda helped me with some wildflower identifications (Diana disavowed all knowledge of wildflowers with a dismissive “I’m a climber”).

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Carpenter Peak

I joined a CMC group for a post-work hike at Roxborough State Park. With only 3 of us, it would be “unofficial” (club rules require 4 participants for safety reasons), but it was a nice evening, if not a bit hot.

Roxborough had the same red rocks formations that made the Morrison/Red Rocks area famous, but we quickly left for the higher elevations in the park. Our goal was Carpenter Peak (7,160 feet) – which despite the name doesn’t have enough prominence to truly be considered a separate summit. Still, the views were nice and the lowering sun moderated the temperatures somewhat.

Linda and Mike were both fountains of information on places to hike around Colorado and helped me understand some more of the CMC’s rules and history.

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Straight from the Dead Dog Couloir and Mt Edwards with only a lunch and hardware stop I arrived at the Mayflower Gulch trailhead plenty early. I had time to enjoy a beer, repack for the next adventure and replace the spring clip of my crampons with fresh bolts and lock nuts. Life was good, the sun was shinning and I talked to a few hikers and skiers returning from their own trips.

Well before the appointed meeting time the rest of the group showed up. Kurt was leading a CMC trip to Pacific Peak’s North Couloir and the plan was to backpack into a base camp on the western side of the mountain. Tomorrow we’d traverse a little ways then drop into the Mohawk Lakes basin and climb the couloir. To get back to camp we’d climb over the top of Atlantic Peak and descend the west ridge.

The six of us made last-minute decisions on gear and clothing then left behind the cars.

We followed the road a brief ways before crossing to the north side of the creek and began looking for a good route around Mayflower Hill.

It was a warm afternoon and the packs were heavy with snow and ice climbing equipment. Two of our group were even carrying skis. At least a cool wind was blowing and the scenery spectacular.

Our thoughts of staying low around Mayflower Hill disappeared as steep talus slopes appeared and the best route seemed to be up and over the top of the hill.

This route did provide an advanced look at our likely camping location and we didn’t need to loose too much elevation to get there. We did have to watch out for cornices on the north side of the hill and found plenty of soft snow to posthole nearly to our waists.

After exploring the flat area southwest of Pacific Peak we eventually found some dry and mostly flat terrain to setup camp. We made plans for a 6:30a start tomorrow and enjoyed dinner before turning in.

I woke up once in the night and was rewarded with an amazing view of the night’s stars and a shooting star. When dawn finally came the clear skies had persisted and morning light shone off the mountains to our west.

On schedule we left camp and headed north on a rising traverse towards the saddle between Pacific and Crystal Peaks.

The snow was frozen hard and we kicked small steps into the slanted surface to make progress. In between bands of snow were fields of loose rocks that we carefully picked our way across.

So we reached the sunlight and the saddle.

From here we had a great view of our objective – the north couloir of Pacific Peak.

As the only continuous band of snow on the face, it was obvious and looked like a great route. We put on crampons here, as well as our harnesses and dropped down from the saddle, down climbing the first 50 feet or so.

Once we’d lost enough elevation to avoid some cliffs, we traversed across the softening snow to the base of the couloir.

Here we took a break to remove layers in the hot sun and prepare to climb upwards. The couloir wasn’t steep enough to require roping up yet, so we took turns leading and breaking trail for the rest of the group.

Kurt directed us to stop where the route dog legged to the left and we perched below some rocks while we roped up and passed Kurt all the pickets and the handful of ice screws we’d been carrying.

The snow was soft enough that it was unlikely we’d need those screws, but the pickets would be perfect in this snow. Kurt would lead the first rope of 3 and I would take the second. He’d leave all the protection (pickets) in place so there really wasn’t much required to my leading.

We moved in and out of the sun as we climbed the deeply inset gully. The snow was soft enough that I would mostly plunge my axe shafts into the snow, only rarely was it solid enough to require a swing of the ice pick itself.

Above Kurt had already reached the top of the couloir and I was surprised how short this steep section had been. Soon the tail end of his rope team was disappearing over the top.

When I reached the top I found Kurt had a comfortable seat to belay from so I passed him the rope and let him bring up Diana and Steve.

Once everyone was up we could untie from the rope and pack away harnesses. The summit was only a short scramble from the top of the couloir.

Once on top we took a long break and admired the views.

We discussed the route down, which involved descending then climbing up to Atlantic Peak’s summit and then moving west to reach a snow field. In describing features on the mountain, Pete referred to the snowfield we’d descend as “It’s pretty broad, isn’t it?” I picked up on a double entendre and asked if he was calling the snowfield a “pretty broad”. And that’s what we called the feature from then on.

Our rest over, we started the descent down Pacific’s south side.

In between Pacific and Atlantic we found a small bump on the ridge. I toyed with naming it “Mediterranean Peak” but other names were tossed out as possibilities: Gulf of Mexico Peak, Indian Ocean Peak, Panama Canal Peak, etc.

The climb from “Mediterranean” to Atlantic was just a long snow slog. Kick a few times into the snow to make a step and stand up. Repeat and repeat again until we all marched up for another welcome break.

We found the top of the west ridge and followed it down until we could drop off through some loose rocks and reach the Pretty Broad snowfield.

From the top of the snowfield 4 of sat down and glissaded down to the base. A picket hanging down from my pack acted as a brake on my speed and the snow wedgie I ended up with prevented this from being my favorite glissade ever.

Our skiers clipped into their bindings and we looked back to watch them make turns down as we hiked back to camp.

As we approached our dry island camp the snow proved extremely soft and Kurt and I started postholing with each step. With 10 feet of rotten snow left to traverse, Kurt crawled on top of the snow while I evolved a rolling method of locomotion and dizzily arrived at camp.

Tents were stowed away and backpacks assumed their original, heavy shape in preparation for our return to civilization. We followed the Pacific Creek drainage directly hoping to snowshoe for as far as possible.

Eventually we had to take off the snowshoes and gingerly pick our way along the loose slopes back to the main drainage.

One last major obstacle presented itself – the willows. No good route existed, so we just bashed our way through these annoying plants.

Finally, we reached the road – even mostly snow covered as it was it would still take us back to the trailhead.

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