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Archive for July, 2008

I recently earned my “C”-level hiker classification with the Colorado Mountain Club. To move higher on their classification scale (see CMC Hike Classifications) to the “D” level or become a trip leader I’d need to have a current first aid certification. My last Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course had been 6 years ago (the certification is valid for 3 years).

Luckily, the CMC was offering a WFA course that fit easily into my schedule. Over three week night lectures we covered topics like victim assessment, bleeding and burns, bone injuries, snake bites and environmental hazards. The week day lectures also had short practice sessions to reinforce these skills such as splinting limbs, locating pulses and patient assessments.

Our final session was an all-day Sunday class. After a final lecture and review session we took the written exam (I passed!) and then did four more involved scenarios.

We dealt with victims with camping stove burns, 2 hypothermic hikers, a fallen hiker with a neck injury and finally a hiker who fell into a creek with a rash of problems (hypothermia, broken leg, and internal injuries). For each of these scenarios we rotated through different roles – acting as the leader or recording patient data, doing a physical exam, stabilizing the victim’s head and neck or rummaging through their pack looking for helpful items to split limbs or keep them warm.

Like the last time I took a WFA course, I left feeling better about doing the right thing if I have to respond to an accident in the backcountry. I’ve also started taking a critical eye to the items I carry in my first aid kit.

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There is probably no finer representative of the typical spike shaped high peaks of the Gore Range than “Peak L”.
-Joseph D. Kramarsic, author of a Mountaineering in the Gore Range

Lightening had been striking south of me when I left town for the drive to the Rock Creek trailhead. The weather was still unsettled when I started hiking with gray skies and strong winds. Occasional sprinkles put an additional damper on the scene. I should have been happy – the winds and clouds would keep the hike in cooler. Unfortunately, the majority of the trees in this area were dead, killed by the pine beetle. I feared one of them may snap above me as I hiked along.

It was with this background that I suddenly saw something large and black run through the trees on my right. “Bear!” I thought, before realizing it was a moose. Actually two, a mother and her calf. We stared at each other for a while then I slowly walked off.

As excited as I was to be back in the Gore Range, I definitely missed having a partner along for this hike. The Gore Range was the location of my first introduction to Colorado’s backcountry, some 15 years ago in an Outward Bound course. It’s a rugged range and not nearly as visited as those containing 14,000 foot mountains.

For most of the hike I followed the Gore Range Trail, which partly encircles the range. Once I reached the turn off for Boulder Lake, I was in new territory. I’d visited Boulder Lake both in Outward Bound and years later on a day hike.

My discombobulation increased as I kept an eye out for the Slate Creek trail. My map showed it turning left before the Gore Range trail crossed Slate Creek. As I marched over the bridge I hoped there’d been a reroute since the map was published. Thankfully, that was the case. The Slate Creek trail then turn west and proceeded through a valley in full bloom.

I was undecided if I should stop at Slate Lake or hike another 1,000 feet higher to the upper lake. When I reached Slate Lake at 8pm I decided to stop here. A group of 5 was sitting around the campfire as I approached and we chatted a bit before I went looking for a tent site of my own. I followed a trail a little ways until it led to the base of a cliff that presented an easy scramble. Against my better judgment I decided that just maybe there was a site up the cliff. It didn’t look promising, but I managed to find a spot just big enough for my 1 person tent. Once setup I went back down to join the group.

The five guys were old school friends who get together once a year and do a backcountry trip. I was impressed that they’d found the Gore Range and we chatted about our trips and lives. I ended up staying up later than I’d planned, given the long day I had in mind for tomorrow. But sitting around the fire and talking with other people was just the cure I needed for the mild unease I’d had on the hike in.

The next morning I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.

At 6am I left camp and headed to the Upper Slate Lake. I chatted briefly with a camper there who had hiked in late and followed the trail in the dark arriving around 4am. Crazy. A bushwhacking trail runs around the south side of the lake, which I was mostly able to follow – only really losing it once. As usual, my punishment for missing the trail was a thick patch of willows to bash through.

By 7:30 am I’d hiked well past the upper end of the lake and located a crossing of Slate Creek. I’d also acquired my own personal herd of mosquitoes.

Once across the creek I headed north west and found some grassy slopes and talus slides to ascend. The terrain was only class 2, but the mosquitoes were definitely class 3.

Probably due to the mosquitoes’ “help” I was able to scurry to the ridge crest (a gain of 1,700 feet) in less than an hour. Once on the ridge top the mosquitoes disappeared. Whether that was due to a slight breeze or their dislike of exposure, I’m not sure.

On the ridge I had a great view of Mount Powell to the northwest. Powell is the highest peak in the Gore Range and a mountain I climbed a year ago. Looking at the terrain more immediately in my vicinity I decided it was time to don a helmet. I then scrambled up some 4th class rocks.

Once on top of the first obstacle, I could see that the next would be easily passed on the north side of the ridge. After that, the route should get more interesting.

Scrambling up the next feature got me to the start of the knife edge. I could also see the summit waiting above.

The knife edge wasn’t too difficult, but then I had to descend to a small gap and contemplate the route to the summit.

I followed two parallel cracks straight up from the gap then when they ran out I traversed left and was soon on the summit. It had taken me about 25 minutes to traverse the ridge and I spent 15 minutes enjoying the views. The weather wasn’t threatening any thunderstorms right away, but I didn’t want to hang around too long. So at 9am I started reversing my route.

I took a slightly different route down, staying a little further east initially on easier terrain, then traversed back to the parallel cracks. Once on the knife edge, I setup my tripod and took a self portrait.

For the rest of the ridge I mostly took easier options, usually further from the ridge crest, to make the descent a little safer. The talus slopes were tiresome to descend, but at least the mosquitoes didn’t reappear until I was back down at the lake.

I navigated along the south side of the lake much better on the return trip and managed to avoid the protracted willow bashing experience. I ran into the two late night hikers again and stopped to chat with them for 15-20 minutes.

I arrived back at Slate Lake well before noon and had collected a pile of snow in a gallon-sized ziplock to present to my fellow campers. They planned to use the snow for tonight’s daiquiris. I quickly scrambled up to my campsite and brought down my gear to repack.

At noon I said goodbye to the group and headed out. I stopped a few times in the Slate Creek valley to pour water on my head and cool off. I also admired the wildflowers in bloom (again).

Looking back, I could see Peak L up the valley.

The hike back out took me 15 minutes longer than the way in. Even with a lighter pack (less food and fuel) the heat and tired legs kept me to a slower pace. Just before arriving back at the trailhead it started thundering, but it only began to sprinkle and rain right when I drove off.

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Mosquito Grades

Hikers and climbers have several ratings systems to describe the difficultly of routes. One of these is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Descriptions of the YDS can be found here and here.

I believe backcountry travelers also need a grading system to describe the nuisance level of mosquitoes.

Class 1

Mosquitoes may be present, but they’re not biting. Hands not required for slapping.

Class 2

Mosquitoes are starting to bite, hands may be used occasionally to slap bitting insects.

Class 3

Mosquito bites are frequent enough to warrant basic protection such as tightly woven nylon shells or repellent. Hand slapping is frequent and some parties will consider retreating to the confines of their tent. Oaths may be uttered.

Class 4

Mosquitoes are swarming. Protective clothing and repellent are used. Trips outside of the tent are carefully planned in advance to minimize exposure. Some parties will wish to use head nets.

Class 5

Hands are used constantly to swat and slap mosquitoes, little else is possible without plentiful protective measures. Head nets, repellents and protective clothing are required.

Class 6

Rumored to exist in Alaska and parts of northern Minnesota.

———

Recently I’ve been camping in Class 2 (Pine Creek valley) and Class 3 (Holy Cross) mosquito conditions. In the past I’ve experienced up to Class 5 in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Isle Royale National Park in upper Minnesota.

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I had ambitious plans for my Sunday which quickly died when I hoisted a too-heavy pack on tired legs. Out went the rappel rope and harness. Bancroft’s east ridge would have to wait for another day.

For the second day in a row, I enjoyed sunrise from St Marys Glacier.

Today I was enjoying this location solo and after hiking up the glacier I headed west to the foot of James Peak. Looking down at James Peak Lake, I didn’t like what I saw – a very loose rock and dirt slope leading downward. However, I really wanted to get in another snow climb this year and the view down Starlight couloir yesterday enticed me onwards.

James Peak has 4 couloirs on its steep north side. I could see that the Superstar was melted out at the top. Shooting Star and Sky Pilot couloirs were unknowns.

Once I reached the lake I put on my helmet and crampons and started up the lower snow field just ahead of a group of four.

The views back down toward the lake were a nice excuse to stop and rest occasionally on the climb. Eventually the snow ran out and I worked my way over boulders to the base of the couloirs.

I confirmed that Starlight was in good condition.

However, I was still holding out hope that one of the longer and steeper couloirs were climbable. I started up the snow slope leading to Shooting Star, Sky Pilot and Superstar then traversed onto the snow ramp that leads to Sky Pilot. At first the snow was in good shape, and steep enough to feel committing. However, I topped a bulge and saw that the ramp had a large section melted out.

I thought about traversing the loose rocks to the next patch of snow, but didn’t know what lay ahead. So I turned back and down climbed and then glissaded to meet up with the foursome who had just arrived. They saw me turn around and had started toward Starlight. We stopped to get out ice axes and don crampons and chatted a bit. Then I set off up the couloir.

The snow was soft enough to kick solid steps and I worked around a few rocks that had fallen from above. In the shade, the snow was a little more solid and took more work to make a decent step.

The couloir gradually narrowed and approached the constriction that looked to contain ice instead of snow. When I reached the alpine ice it was little more than a foot wide and I probably could have climbed the rocks to the side. But I came here to climb snow or ice and I didn’t want to take the risk of knocking any rocks on the climbers below.

I pulled out my second ice axe and worked to make secure placements of the tools and crampons. Once above the 10 foot section of ice the snow returned. Shortly I was at the top of the couloir and I turned around to watch the other climbers come up.

We sat around chatting about other climbs and found we knew some people in common. Then we wandered upward the last couple hundred feet to the summit. On the way we took a look at the top of the Shooting Star couloir, which had some small sections of wet dirt separating rapidly melting snow. Maybe next year?

After enjoying the summit views we started back down, eventually separating to head to our respective trail heads.

Complete Photo Album

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After Torrey got bit by another dog on a Friday morning run and Helen and I had to scrap our original plans, I responded to an internet posting looking for partners to join a loop hike of 4 peaks centered around James Peak. James is the focal point of a relatively new wilderness area and shields the well-known St Marys Glacier at its base. Plus, I hadn’t been to that portion of Colorado yet. Sign me up!

Doug, Kevin and I met at a park and ride lot outside of Denver and then continued up to the town of Alice were we parked below the glacier. Kevin had organized this outing and had visited the glacier for skiing numerous times. He directed our steps up the network of roads and paths. Around sunrise we were starting up the glacier.

Once above the glacier we exited onto a flat, alpine expanse below James Peak. We also had unobstructed views of Mount Bancroft, our next goal after James.

As we hiked up the east slopes of James I admired the sharp east ridge on Mount Bancroft. A steep notch splits up the scrambling on the ridge and requires a rappel and technical climb back out of the gap. It’s a route that I’ve had my eye on for some time now.

We could also see the famous Superstar couloir on James – the top of which was melted out now. As we walked along the ridge we also spotted a couloir that looked “in”. I later identified it as the Starlight couloir. Immediately, I thought about returning tomorrow to climb it.

Once on the summit of James we took a break and examined the route from here to Bancroft. This section would have the only scrambling (class 3) on our route – most of which was trail-less terrain without scrambling (class 2).

Once we left James we found a few snowfields to cross before reaching the Bancroft-James saddle.

As we picked our way downward we admired the view of Ice Lake and the obvious receded glacier that had formed this tarn.

The scrambling we found was often avoidable by dropping down further, but I enjoyed sticking to the ridge crest as much as possible to increase the difficulty.

Once we reached the low point of the saddle we had easy, but steep, grassy slopes to hike. Once we were above the east ridge we had a choice of continuing on talus or hiking through a snow patch. Kevin and I chose the snow.

Bancroft isn’t truly a separate summit, it’s shorter than its neighbor Parry Peak, and the saddle drop between them is less than 300 feet (the standard in Colorado for being a separate summit). Still, the mountain looked very impressive on its own from the east, as we’d find out later in the day.

From Bancroft we had a quick hike to reach Parry’s top where a large cairn marked the continental divide. Looking at our last objective, Mount Eva, we spotted some ski tracks on the far side of the snowpatch running east from the Parry-Eva saddle. It seemed a long way to haul your skis for 4 or 5 turns.

Once on Mount Eva we took a long lunch break and discussed how to descend. Kevin and I were eager to glissade the route of the ski tracks down to some unnamed lakes. Doug was a little less sure of his snow and ice experience to relish the thought of a steep glissade. So he opted to descend Eva’s east ridge to a grassy slope he could safely take to the lakes. I hope I’ll always know my own limits in the presence of others as well as Doug.

Splitting up, Kevin and I back tracked towards Parry and then edged around the snow field to enter below a cornice. Then we traversed across the snow so that our fall line would take us past and not into some rocks.

Kevin wondered what this slope angle was, so I took a minute to fish out my compass and measured it at 58 degrees! Thankfully, the snow was soft enough that I could control my speed with my boots and ice axe once I started down. The run out of this slope was also safe, with the angle easing off and leveling out. I was able to stop without braking and turned around to witness Kevin’s descent.

We shortly caught up to Doug at a beautiful lake.

From the lake we began descending the valley by staying high on the north side with the plan to wrap around Bancroft’s east ridges.

Once we descended far enough to reach tree line the route finding grew more difficult. We followed various deer paths through the woods – provided they seemed to be going the direction we wanted. Eventually, we decided to ascend upwards, trusting that we’d reached the end of the southeast ridge of Bancroft. Or at least gotten around all the steep cliffs.

With a little terrain reading and a few compass checks we ended up about where we wanted to be. Kevin’s GPS confirmed what our ears told us: a four wheel drive path was nearby.

Once on the path, we hiked up to the Loch Lomond reservoir and then faced a steep hike back to the level tundra below James Peak.

From here we could see why Bancroft was named even if it wasn’t a significant summit.

We had to take a wide route around wet ground hosting thick willow plants, then we were able to reach St Marys Glacier again. We quickly descended that snowfield, boot skiing when ever possible until we reached the lake.

A short downhill hike brought us back to our car and cold beer. After 10 hours and 45 minutes of hiking and climbing those drinks tasted wonderful.

Complete Photo Album

Also see Doug’s Trip Report

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After climbing North Arapaho Peak last month, I knew I’d soon be back to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I decided to squeeze another snow climb into an already long snow season and attempt the long Fair Glacier/Queens Way loop on Apache Peak.

Guidebook author Gerry Roach had this recommendation before attempting this loop: “get in shape, leave early.” Since I’ve never meet Gerry, I could safely cuss him when my alarm went off at 2:20am. After some slow and winding roads, I departed from the Long Lake trailhead at 4:10a. I shouldn’t have stopped to read the cougar sighting postings at the kiosk before hiking alone and in the dark up the trail.

When I heard a crashing through the brush to my right and swore I saw a pair of eyes reflected from my headlamp I thought about getting out my ice axe a little early. Instead, I pushed quicker up the trail and felt better as the sky grew lighter and I hiked above tree line.

I reached Pawnee Pass around 5:30-5:34 and then faced a demoralizing drop down below 10,000 feet before I’d start gaining on Apache Peak again.

Thankfully, the scenery was gorgeous the whole way down from Pawnee Pass and past Pawnee Lake.

Just before reaching the Crater Lake trail, I had a view of the Fair Glacier and Lone Eagle Peak.

I saw a few campers as I passed by Mirror Lake and Crater Lake, but no one was out and about yet.

From Crater Lake I found the climbers trail that leads up to a grassy saddle below Lone Eagle Peak and then followed it around just below the cliffs. The grassy slope was host to a riot of wildflowers in bloom.

I traversed past the Solo Flight route on Lone Eagle Peak and had a great view of the Fair Glacier.

After working my way around some cliffs and the loose rocks I made it onto the glacier where I finally broke out my ice axe and crampons. Around 8:40a I started hiking up the glacier and passed a few large blocks that had slid down from the cliffs above. I hoped those had fallen much later in the day when the sun had warmed the rocks.

I took a path that initially ascended to the right of all the rock fall. Once I was above an obvious cliff on the left that was shedding rocks, I hustled left across the tracks to minimize my exposure. Thankfully, while I was on the route, I never heard or saw any rock fall.

Sometime after 9am I reached the top of the glacier and had a wonderful view south to North Arapaho Peak.

From this saddle, the route description said to follow a gully of loose rock on the north of the ridge. The gully was snow filled, so I started kicking steps and traversing across.

In the middle of the gully a huge snow arete had formed, which I climbed up, then straddled and started kicking steps back down the other side.

Eventually the snow gave way to the awful loose rock and I slowly picked my way toward the top, trying not to knock any large rocks loose.

Right at 10am I reached the summit. With no register or marker, I nearly convinced myself that nearby Navajo Peak was taller and was where I should be. Spending time with the map, compass and GPS convinced me that I was on the right summit. Navajo would have to wait for another day.

I’d been going for most of the day on energy gel packets and a couple bars. Now my stomach was rumbling and I fished out a satisfying bagel with cream cheese to celebrate with. Luckily, I had just enough water left to wash it down. I hoped to descend the Queen’s Way couloir quickly and find some fresh snow melt to replenish my stock.

The entry to the top of the Queen’s Way couloir was easy enough to find, once I worked through a few hundred feet of loose rock (notice a theme?). I started plunge steeping down the couloir, then boot skied a couple hundred feet and then sat down and butt tobogganed the rest of the way.

Shortly I found a stream and enjoyed the cold water before continuing downward and looking for the Isabelle Glacier trail.

I hadn’t seen anyone all day, but as soon as I hit the trail I noticed a couple relaxing at the unnamed lake below the glacier.

For the rest of the hike out I kept a tally of the people I saw. Between taking a trail census, I admired the views back up the valley toward Navajo and Apache.

Lake Isabelle was also pretty.

I got a kick out of the people in the crowds who noticed my “Lord of Pain” shirt and would either stare, or discuss it with their hiking partners when they thought they were out of ear shot. Since today’s hike was over 6,000 feet of gain, I felt justified wearing it for that reason alone. Getting up a little after 2am was an even better justification.

By the time I reached the trailhead I had counted just under 100 people. The 15 mile loop had taken me just over 8 hours. Definitely not a speed record.

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Helen and I began another weekend at the Pine Creek Trailhead with the goal of hiking up some more of the Sawatch range 14ers. To reach the national forest land we had to cross a private ranch which asked for an access fee of $1 for Helen and I. Torrey was twice as expensive.



Clouds had rolled in and joined with a slight wind that moderated the temperature a bit as we began the 7.2 mile hike.

Eventually we passed through the ranch and then the trail ran along Pine Creek.

Just after passing into the Collegiate Peaks wilderness our trail joined with the Colorado Trail to cross Pine Creek.

We only took a few steps on the Colorado Trail before splitting again to continue west.

Along the hike in we’d been playing the game “What does this section of the trail remind you of?” The meadows in the valley definitely recalled our trip to the Wind Rivers of Wyoming 3 years ago.

About two and half hours after leaving the trailhead we came to Little John’s Cabin. We located a nice camping spot in the aspens behind the cabin and settled in for a night of wrestling for floor space with Torrey.

We woke up at 5 and left camp at 6:15. For some silly reason I’d misunderstood a sign near the cabin and we started bushwhacking through fallen timbers out of camp until we crossed a creek and found the climbers trail leading to Mount Oxford. The climbers trail ascended directly up the south side of Oxford and wasn’t a whole lot better than bushwhacking. As soon as we started to clear timberline the early morning sun began to warm us up as well.

The “trail” was marked in a few spots of rock cairns, but mostly consisted of braided paths around young aspens and loose rocks. We had to step lightly to avoid knocking rocks down on one another or twisting an ankle. At least the aspens were solid enough to pull on. We had one pleasant surprise on the way up, a waterfall right next to our ascent route.

Behind us, Mount Harvard loomed across the valley. Our goals today included 3 14ers and if we felt up to it, tomorrow we might try to climb Harvard, Colorado’s 3rd highest peak.

Both Helen and I acquired a collection of cuts and bruises on our shins from all the large loose rocks that posed as solid foot holds. While this route was very direct, it wasn’t quick and it took us nearly two and a half hours to reach the top of Oxford.

Once on Oxford’s summit we looked to the west at Belford and the easy trail that would take us along the ridge to our next summit.

Most people who climb these two mountains do so from the north, climbing Belford first then Oxford then having to retrace their steps back to Belford before descending again. We passed at least 16 people on our way between the two summits taking this normal route.

Belford’s top was similarly crowded and we considered our options for our third mountain of the day.

We decided to descend to Elkhead Pass, then drop a little ways into Missouri Basin on the left side of a steep ridge that Torrey wouldn’t be able to negotiate. We’d then need to reascend all that lost elevation and climb Missouri’s far side.

The descent to the pass was easy enough on a nice trail, but as we cut across Missouri’s southeast slope we found alternating gullies of snow and chutes of loose rock.

At least the views of Missouri Basin’s lakes and Mount Harvard partly made up for the slow going.

Once on the far side of Missouri, we had to climb up to a saddle between it and a neighboring peak, Iowa Peak. We ascended the worst loose rock of the whole day, moving slowly and being careful not to knock any loose on each other and hoping Torrey would obey the same etiquette.

Finally we reached the ridge line and found more solid rock. Helen had renamed the mountain Misery as much for all the loose and dangerous rock as for the late in the day 1,000 feet we had to regain to reach the summit.

The summit was crowded but we enjoyed looking back at Belford and Oxford and all that we’d done today.

Torrey’s paws were looking a little raw, so we put on her dog booties and spent the next 20 minutes making sure they stayed on. I threatened to bring a roll of duct tape on our next hike so Torrey wouldn’t be able to shake off any of her shoes.

We returned to the Iowa-Missouri saddle and then found two snow fields to glissade down for a quicker and safer ascent than those loose rocks.

Once down in the basin we took a break at one of the unnamed tarns then set off to find the Elkhead Pass trail.

After cutting across the open basin we located the trail and set our minds on autopilot for the hike back to camp.

Once back at camp we soaked our feet in the river and then devoured our pesto pasta dinner. We weren’t sure that Torrey could handle another climb tomorrow, and both Helen and I had big plans for the coming week so we agreed to sleep in on Sunday and have a leisurely hike out.

Torrey didn’t decide to play “King of the Sleeping Pad” until about 1am, so we slept well for at least 4 hours. At least it was a treat to have the time to enjoy a second cup of coffee in camp hours later once the sun was up. We packed up camp and were walking back down hill at the definitely-not-alpine hour of 9am.

On the way out we had one long stop to chat with a just-married couple hiking from Leadville to Durango on the Colorado Trail.

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