Archive for August, 2008

I hadn’t hiked with the CMC for two months, but a scheduled hike of Longs Peak via the Loft route attracted my interest. Longs was a peak that I wanted to attempt, but I hadn’t been excited about taking the normal Keyhole route up and down the mountain.

We left the trailhead around 5:30a, something of a late start for a day on Longs, but still requiring headlamps as we hiked through the woods. Before breaking out of treeline we were able to shut off the lights and enjoy the morning’s sunrise.

After the first 3+ miles of trails we came to the Chasm Lake junction. Here we had a great view of the East Face of Longs Peaks (the Diamond) and could see our route up to the Loft.

After passing by the ranger station near Chasm Lake, we started boulder hopping to reach the gully that we’d take most of the way to the Loft (the large flat expanse between Mount Meeker and Longs Peak).

A few cairns directed our way up the gully as we looked for the exit ramp on the left before the dark, water-stained cliff that blocked direct progress.

The exit ramp was obvious and still held a little snow from the storm nearly 2 weeks ago. However, the snow was easy to avoid.

The route dried out above as we made our way to the Loft.

On the Loft we took a break and discussed adding Mount Meeker to our day. In the end, we decided not to include a second peak in our schedule.

We headed west across the Loft and dropped below some cliffs coming from the false summit of Longs.

Following a couple cairns we dropped into a gully and picked our way down some class 3 terrain that was considered the crux of this route. Soon we exited the gully just below and old mark called Clark’s Arrow.

The next bit of the route took us to Keplingers Couloir and up toward the Notch. Well before the Notch, we traversed left out of the Couloir and toward the normal Keyhole Route.

From here we could see the crowds (not really that bad today) moving up the Homestretch – the final portion of the Keyhole route to the summit.

We joined the normal route right at the base of the Homestretch and got in line between two other groups of hikers.

The rock was worn smooth by the many feet and butts that had walked and scooted this way before. However, it was still pretty easy scrambling and we soon reached the summit.

On the summit we relaxed for about an hour – probably the longest I’ve spent on any summit ever. We chatted with many other hikers, several from foreign countries like Spain, Scotland and Texas.

After taking a tour of the summit and admiring the Keyhole Ridge and top of the Cables Routes, we headed back down the Homestretch, scurrying past some slow moving descenders ahead of us.

Below the Homestretch we continued to follow the yellow and red bulls eye marks which led to the Narrows.

After that we hiked down the Trough then turned right toward the Keyhole.

We took another break at the Keyhole.

Then we made our way across the Boulder Field, until we picked up the trail which would return us to our cars a little over 10 hours after leaving.

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Since June I’ve been volunteering at the American Alpine Club Library in my spare afternoons. The Library is housed in the old Golden High School building along with a museum and the offices of the American Alpine Club, Colorado Mountain Club and Outward Bound.

Most of my work has been fielding research questions AAC and CMC members send to the library. I’ve crawled through the Rare Books room looking for photos of famous mountaineers, searched the periodicals for routes on obscure mountains or looked up facts in the stacks of guidebooks. I’ve enjoyed the research and all the years of living in Indiana and living vicariously through mountaineering’s classic literature has sure helped.

One of my recent tasks involved scanning lantern slides that belonged to AAC member Allen Carpé from the expedition he joined in 1925 which first climbed Mount Logan (Canada’s highest mountain, and the second highest in North America). The expedition was an international affair, organized by the Canadian Alpine Club which extended invitations to the American and British Alpine Clubs to send members. Mount Logan was so remote in the days before ski-equipped planes that the expedition had three phases. First, a reconnaissance expedition was dispatched to even locate the best route to the mountain. Second, loads of supplies were ferried into the mountain’s base during the winter over frozen rivers. And finally, the international team arrived after traveling by boat, train and horse. On June 23rd Allen Carpé and 5 other climbers reached the summit.

Most of Carpé’s own photos were destroyed in a rafting accident when the group was returning to civilization. Most of the photos I scanned were actually taken by other climbers. The collection of lantern slides can be seen on Flickr.

An obituary appeared in the 1932 American Alpine Journal after Allen Carpé died on Mount McKinley while researching cosmic radiation. That obituary is available online in Adobe Acrobat format.

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I was a little nervous approaching the Citadel to Pettingell Peak traverse. Most the route has a technical difficulty of Class 3-4 which is in line with what I’ve been doing lately. However, there’s one cliff on the ridge traverse that is rated 5.4 (technical climbing) that I’d have to downclimb or rappel. I was bringing a rope, harness and anchor slings to deal with this section. So why was I nervous?

Vertigo is sometimes described not as a fear of heights but a fear that you won’t be able to stop yourself from jumping. I’ve never had issues with vertigo (not since I was young anyways), but I was worried that I may try to downclimb the crux and not rappel it.

I left the Herman Gulch trailhead about 5:30 am and started hiking by headlamp up the trail towards Herman Lake. I’d been this way 2 months prior, back when the trail was still covered with snow and a group of us with the CMC climbed the Citadel. Now the trail was dry and the weather looked good for a long ridge traverse.

At the junction with the CDT and Herman Lake trails, I left both options and headed off-trail for the upper valley staying just below Herman Lake. The travel was a little harder now than 2 months ago when snow had nicely covered all the willows. But up ahead I could see the Citadel.

Instead of climbing the central couloir that splits the two summits, I headed to the east ridge of the mountain and climbed up to a saddle below the peak. Then I turned right and followed grassy slopes initially.

The few gendarmes on the ridge were easily avoided, however the guidebook I was referencing showed someone climbing one of the spires “Because it was there.” I decided to do the same, but found the rock a little loose and not as fun as I’d hoped.

With some anxious thoughts I looked north at the ridge between Citadel and Pettingell. I could pick out the crux cliff, waiting for my decision.

The south summit of the Citadel soon came into view and and I traversed right below the initial cliff and found a gully that brought me nearly to the summit.

To the east I cast a covetous eye on Hagar Mountain, another peak I’ll have to climb one of these days.

From the south summit I cast another weary eye on the ridge traverse then headed for the north summit.

On the north summit I found an abandoned water bottle. Both times I climbed this mountain I’ve packed out a little trash from the summit. Last time I had a moment of instant karma and immediately found a part of my camera I’d dropped after pocketing the trash. I hoped the water bottle would have similar luck for me.

I started off on the ridge, finding the climbing solid and fun. The view back at the Citadel’s twin summits was also impressive.

Soon I came to the crux and found two separate rappel anchors other climbers had left.

I decided to use the lower one since I only had a 30 meter rope, and doubled it should just reach the base of the cliff.

The blue webbing on this anchor looked in horrible shape. I cut it out and replaced it with some black webbing I was carrying. The old webbing was in even worse shape than I’d thought, as one section was down to just a few strands of nylon. There was only one rappel ring, so I backed it up with a short loop of tied cord.

With the anchor fixed up, I tossed the ends of my rope and verified that they hit the base of the cliff. Then I suited up into my harness and rigged my rappel device and a backup autoblock cord. The rappel went smoothly and I was soon at the bottom ready to pull my rope down.

With the crux dispatched, I could relax and enjoy the little class 3 climbing remaining before the ridge turned into a simple walk.

About 9:20 I arrived on top of Pettingell Peak. One other hiker and a dog greeted me, the first people I’d seen all day. We chatted and picked out peaks all round us from the Front Range to the Tenmile, Sawatch, Elk and Gore ranges. After about 20 minutes we all left the summit. They headed directly down to Herman Lake while I continued my ridge traverse, following the continental divide with more class 3 scrambling on Pettingell’s east ridge.

Ahead I could pick out Hassell Peak, a ranked 13’er further along the divide that I planned to add to my day.

Pettingell’s east ridge turned out to be a fun scramble as well. Some of the difficulties would have been easily bypassed on the south side of the ridge, but I stayed as much on the ridge crest as possible.

Soon the ridge flattened out and I met up with the Continental Divide Trail which I followed to Hassell Peak.

I greeted one other hiker on this summit and we chatted for a while then agreed the weather didn’t look like it would hold much longer. We parted and I decided to follow the CDT back into Herman Gulch.

Looking at my watch, I thought it was possible that I could get back to the trailhead by 12:30p. That would be a 7 hour day, the exact time estimate my guidebook had for the Citadel to Pettingell traverse alone. Ego driven, I decided to jog portions of the trail back to ensure a sub 7 hour day.

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The Grand Traverse is a classic ridge scramble between North Traverse Peak and Grand Traverse Peak in the Gore Range. The most common way to approach this climb is to hike up Bighorn Creek to reach North Traverse Peak, perform the traverse then descend into the Deluge Lake valley for the hike out. Doing this (or the reverse) leaves you at a different trailhead than you started at. Most groups will use a car shuttle to avoid hiking the 1.6 miles of road. Most groups will also do this route in one day.

I decided to be a little different. I’d use the standard route outlined above (some other options to return to your starting trailhead exist) but I really wanted to camp out and I didn’t have any one to car shuttle with. I slimmed down all my backpacking gear until everything fit in my large “day” pack and hiked up Bighorn Creek. I figured I was carrying roughly 4 extra pounds of gear that wouldn’t have been in my normal day pack. That included a tarp, lightweight bivy sack, sleeping pad, small pad, metal cup, stove and fuel.

While hiking up the valley I had a nice view of the traverse above.

The hike in was much more enjoyable than many I’ve had recently due to the light pack weight. The minor sacrifice in comfort in camp was worth the extra ease during the approach hike. I’d already eaten dinner before leaving the trailhead, so after setting up camp I enjoyed a cup of hot tea and a chuck of cheese.

The stars were out in force once the sun went down and before the half-moon came up. Other than a couple sprinkles, the weather remained clear. Before 5am my alarm went off and I packed up camp while savoring a cup of coffee. By the aid of my headlamp I worked my way up the valley and started a rising traverse toward the saddle north of North Traverse Peak. Unfortunately, I should have stayed low in the valley and taken a direct line to the saddle once I reached its base. The slopes I found myself walking across were loose rocks and dirt waiting for an excuse to slide. Eventually, I started taking a direct line up the slope and slowly worked my way from stable rock to stable rock.

My route would bypass the saddle altogether and I actually reached the ridge crest just a little north of the summit. But thankfully, the ridge crest was many times more solid than the surrounding slopes and at 6:30 I found myself on the top of North Traverse Peak.

I took a break on the summit and admired the sun rise and clear morning light striking the Grand Traverse ridge.

The beginning of the traverse was pretty easy, but with lots of exposure on the east side of the ridge. Pretty soon, the difficulties increased and I found myself occasionally consulting the copied guidebook description for recommendations on which way to pass or climb the various gendarmes on the ridge.

I was happy to find that the extra weight in my pack wasn’t interfering with my scrambling much. While moving along I thought of other routes where I could use this approach of camping out at the base and carrying lightweight backpacking gear on the climb.

About 8am I found myself arriving at the summit of Grand Traverse Peak. I could look back and admire the ridge I’d just traversed.

I found a summit register on this peak, and decided to sign it even through I rarely do so these days. While admiring the morning I looked ahead and decided to add Valhalla to my day. I’d continue along the ridge crest in the same direction to reach its summit. Hence the upgrade from “Grand Traverse” to the Grander Traverse.

From Grand Traverse Peak’s summit I dropped down the ridge and southeast face until I was level with the low point connecting it and Valhalla. Then I traversed over and found evidence of mountain goat paths working around the rocks and gendarmes on this ridge. The path mostly stayed to the south of the ridge, just below the crest. The gendarmes that I did climb directly all ended with simple downclimbs on the backside. However, the rock here was looser than on the Grand Traverse, probably due to fewer climbers coming this way. Surprisingly, this was also the route of the first recorded ascent in 1943 of Valhalla.

The last couple gendarmes were easy passed on the ridge, while staying on the grass or semi-solid talus. A bit before 9:30 I reached the summit and briefly contemplated a “Grandest Traverse” by continuing on to Snow Peak. Impure thoughts kept me from continuing on as I contemplated how good a shower, rest and fresh food would taste.

So I backtracked to the grassy slopes and inched my way down to Deluge Lake. The descent route was pretty awful – loose rocks and dirt followed by some stumbling through old rock moraines.

Reaching Deluge Lake was a nice end to the descent.

Now I just had to hike the Deluge Lake trail back to a parking lot where my car wasn’t. Oh yeah, there was still that 1.6 miles of shadeless road paralleling I-70 to hoof back to my car. With the light pack I managed to jog the whole stretch of Bighorn Road. It was actually the longest run I’ve done in years, and I’m sure I provided a sight to all the drivers as I jogged along with my climbing helmet bouncing around on my pack.

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Davin, Grant and I shuttled some cars around the Gunnison area and ended up with Davin’s cataraft ready to launch on the Gunnison River opposite Garlic Mike’s at the put-in.

Davin hadn’t run this section of the river before, but we knew we’d pass through the whitewater park in Gunnison. After he swept the bow of the boat (and me) through some brush in the first 20 feet after launching, I was sure we’d be going for a swim at some point.

But our captain quickly got back into the swing of things and our only other incidents were bumping a beautiful dory while attempting a pass, and having one beer and one hat go over board. Both the beer and the hat were retrieved.

The scenery was beautiful with swallows flying arcs over our heads from their take off points on the cliffs ajoining the river. Grant and I loaded up on liquid courage and forgot about the whitewater course in our future.

After passing below US 50, we donned our life jackets for the whitewater course. All the other boats were pulling out upstream of the competition that was under way. We’d have an audience for our run. After stalling out in an eddy, the PA announcer gave us clearance to pass through then tried to coax us into surfing the wave. Davin was too anxious just to clear the obstacle, so we flew through with Grant and I raising our beers high and getting a cheer from the crowd.

Below the whitewater course we seemed to have the river to ourselves and passed under several footbridges spanning the river.

After only two hours we’d reached our pullout spot and headed back to Crested Butte.

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Poverty Gulch

Grant and I had a late start to our day, but decided to drive to the upper end of the Slate Creek drainage at Poverty Gulch and try to hike to Mount Augusta. We followed an old road to the site of the Augusta Mine, then scrambled up rocks to the basin above.

We had clear views of Gothic Mountain and the town of Crested Butte, but we could also see storm clouds forming. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a clear view of the western sky to get a good read on the weather pattern.

As we hiked higher the clouds didn’t seem encouraging for a long hike above tree line. However, the views around us were still grand as we admired several unnamed lakes.

We decided to bail on climbing Mount Augusta and headed over a saddle between an unnamed point on the Ruby Range crest and Cascade Mountain.

From here we could view the Ruby crest on the north of Richmond Mountain, it looked rugged with plenty of gendarmes. We thought we could spy a route on some grassy slopes below the cliffs should we commit to our plan to do a hike of the entire Ruby Range on some future date.

From the pass we continued down into Baxter Basin, enjoying more lakes and waterfalls on our trip back to the car.

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My brother Grant has wanted to climb “his” peak, US Grant Peak, for some time. When I researched it and discovered that there was a technical section, I offered to help him reach the summit. So we met up in Crested Butte and made the drive down near Silverton.

Grant and I arrived at the Ice Lake Trailhead a little after 3pm and repacked, deciding at the last minute what climbing gear to take with us. Then we started off on the Ice Lake Trail.

The hike along the Ice Lake Trail took us through several alpine meadows.

When we reached the Lower Ice Lake Basin we briefly took notice of where the trail to Ice Lake should branch off, but didn’t positively ID it. There were several game trails and dry stream beds that looked like candidates, but we could see a switch back above us.

I left Grant and the packs on the trail and hiked a little above the path until I found a decent campsite. The ground was rocky, but smooth and flat.

Once our camp was established, I wandered off to find a good water source. I ended up hiking up the trail a short ways then dropping down to the creek that flowed out of Ice Lake above us.

A few marmots wandered too close to our camp for comfort. Having just had a backpack nibbled by a mouse the weekend prior, we tossed some rocks at them to indicate that we weren’t about to feed them. Grant and I also decided to construct some rock walls around the tent’s vestibules to help keep the marmots from our gear over night.

We woke up to clear skies and got ready in the dark. It was light enough to hike without our headlamps when we left camp at 6am. We backtracked down the trail then took the first good looking path that seemed to head in the right direction.

We ended up following dry stream beds and a few game trails plus doing a little bushwhacking until we came across the real trail where it crossed the stream bed we were following. Once on the path we had an easy hike toward Island Lake.

We also had our first good view of US Grant Peak and the saddle between it and “V4”, the peak to its south. That saddle was our next objective.

Looking southwest we also had a great view of Fuller Peak, Vermillion Peak and Golden Horn reflected in the small pond just before Island Lake.

Island Lake was a scenic highpoint on this hike. We passed north of the lake and admired the views to the east of the Needle Mountains.

Above the lake we headed toward the V4-US Grant saddle. The slope was a tedious grind up loose rocks and dirt.

As we neared the saddle the skies above clouded up and I could see dust blowing through the gap above us. The skies didn’t look like thunderstorms however, but it would definitely be colder and windy up on the ridge. So we stopped below and donned extra clothing and put on our helmets.

We actually had a few snow flakes come down on us before reaching the saddle. Once at the saddle I was relieved to see clear blue skies to the west. Some cloud building was obvious south of us, but I judged we had enough of a weather window to get to the summit and back. We also had views of the Wilson group of peaks, which I’d been on with Helen less than two weeks ago. Looking north on the ridge toward US Grant we could see that we weren’t done hiking up loose scree.

We picked our way up the loose scree slopes following some boot prints and a few cairns. There were several wild gendarmes on the ridge.

Soon we reached the crux section – a ten foot section of vertical wall with a good crack to climb. I asked Grant if he wanted a belay for the crux and took his delayed answer as a yes.

So we broke out the ropes and harnesses and I added a few pieces of rock protection to my harness. Also, as a joke, I’d drilled a hole into the guide book to keep it on my rack. This came from a discussion we had at the American Alpine Club Library to put keeper straps on all the guidebooks we lend out so people don’t drop them on climbs. I decided to prototype the idea and send some humorous pictures back to the library staff.

I climbed up the left crack, which had plentiful hand and foot holds then came to the small ledge where I built and anchor.

Anchor built, Grant began his climb as I belayed him up.

After Grant completed the climb, we removed the rope and anchor and started the traverse right on a ledge.

At the end of the traverse we came to a gully that we ascended to regain the ridge crest.

It was mostly solid rock, but covered with loose debris. So we moved one at a time up the gully. From the ridge crest we were nearly at the summit and had a great view of the other peaks in the Ice Lake Basin to the south.

We took several summit photos and admired the view and the much improved weather for about 30 minutes.

Grant had successfully climbed “his” peak! We would have stayed longer, but we’d forgotten to bring any “Grant” beer to enjoy on the summit, so it was time to head back down. We took the gully one at a time on the descent as well.

Then we repeated the traverse on the ledge.

Back above the crux, I reassembled the anchor and belayed Grant as he down climbed the cliff. Once safely down he untied and I re-coiled the rope then dismantled the anchor. Grant took several photos of me down climbing the crux section.

Then we put away the rope and harnesses and started back down towards the saddle.

From the saddle we could enjoy the scree run down to Island Lake.

Along the way we found a large boulder to play on.

And I got a photo of Grant, “his” mountain and Island Lake.

Instead of descending the way we came, we traversed around the other side of Island Lake and took a trail into Ice Lake Basin.

Here we reconnected with the Ice Lake Trail which brought us back to our campsite in the lower basin.

After packing up camp we started the hike out with one last look back at the peaks in the upper basin.

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Grant’s Photo Gallery

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