Archive for September, 2008

East Partner Peak is the unofficial name for a 13,057 foot peak in my beloved Gore Range. Named for the close proximity and elevation with West Partner Peak, it sounded like a fun scramble. The Colorado Mountain Club was leading a trip there so I jumped at the chance to sign up and visit another valley and peak in the Gore Range.

Seven hikers made the drive to Vail from the Front Range and set off up the Pitkin Lake trail just after headlamps were no longer necessary. The light was dim, but we could see the aspens around the trailhead were at their prime fall color. The group chatted about the politics of the day as we hiked up the trail and into the sunlight.

Our trip leader, Dominique, pointed out the route up Outpost Peak, a 12,362 foot mountain to our west.

Then we took a snack break before leaving the easy progress of the trail.

Just above our break spot we headed east past a small creek and several ponds to the base of a steep and grassy slope – a typical Gore Range feature.

Once we made it to the top of the slope we could discuss the rest of the route to the ridge crest.

A boulder field was our next obstacle.

Then we had to ascend a steep and loose gully. Try as we might, it was difficult not to accidentally dislodge some rocks so we were careful to warn each other when anything was kicked loose. This gully was so disagreeable that I began wondering why this route was featured in a respected guidebook on scrambles in Colorado.

Once I got to the ridge crest and found more solid rock and great exposure I began to understand the attraction of this climb and put the gully out of my mind.

We stayed to the east of the ridge and spent some time trying to find the best route through steep cliffs.

The ridge narrowed in places and the climbing was quite fun.

Unfortunately, the classic scrambling only lasted about 30 minutes and we found ourselves on top of the peak.

We spent some time picking out all the neighboring peaks and discussing past and future climbs in the range.

Clouds were definitely building up and we decided it was time to head back down.

We experimented with a couple different variations of our ascent route as we worked toward the top of the gully.

None of us was looking forward to going back down that gully. Staying fairly close together, but a little spread out across the gully we made it down without incident.

At the bottom of the gully we were surprised to get a few flakes of snow. The day was too warm for anything to stick however, and we soon started down the grassy slope.

We could now pack away our helmets and prepare for the hike back out. I spent a break admiring some interesting rocks and red leaves.

Once back on the trail we headed down into the bright yellows of fall.

This weekend would probably be the height of the fall aspen color and we were glad to have a great hike and scramble with good weather at such a beautiful time.

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Jonathan and I had done a few scrambles together on CMC trips, but he was wanting to try more technical rock climbing. I’d been avoiding the climbing cliffs all summer for days in the mountains so it was time to visit Golden Cliffs – the rock climbing area I can see from my apartment.

After the hike from the parking lot, we spent a little time bumbling around looking trying to make the photos in the guidebook match the cliffs in front of us. Eventually Jonathan noticed that we were too far east and once correctly oriented, we quickly found Killian’s Dead, a 5.6 crack climb I wanted to lead.

Another party was planning to top rope the route, but agreed to let me string up the rope by leading while they hung a rope on the neighboring route, Deck Chairs on the Titanic (a 5.9 sport climb). Jonathan had rock climbed in a gym before, but never outside so I ran him through the differences in belaying a leader versus belaying someone on top rope then racked up and started up the climb.

Most of the climb was pretty easy, but with a new belayer and not having done any real trad leading for a year I was a bit nervous. However, Jonathan did fine and I soon reached the top of the climb, clipped the anchor bolts and got lowered to the ground.

Jonathan flew up the route, taking instantly to the hand jams required. Then we traded places with the other group. With a safe top route I climbed Deck Chairs on the Titanic, which required more finger strength and balance than Killian’s Dead. Jonathan gave it a go as well, but lowered off half way into the climb.

Like me, Jonathan is more interested in climbing in the alpine environment and so wanted to learn more about trad climbing. With a top rope now, I re-climbed Killian’s Dead, placing cams along the way so he’d get the experience of removing them. Instead of lowering off the top of the route, I setup a hanging belay (maybe the only hanging belay at Golden Cliffs all day?) and belayed Jonathan up.

Again, Jonathan climbed well and got to practice removing the cams.

Once he joined me at the belay we re-rigged the rope for a rappel back down.

I went first so I could provide a fireman’s belay for Jonathan on his first rappel.

We only had the morning available to us, so we packed up and returned to town.

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Films for Fourteeners is a fund raiser for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the alpine environment of Colorado’s highest mountains. The films shown are part of the Boulder Adventure Film Festival.

The event provided food and beer to accompany a silent auction before the films. A couple vendor booths were also present (by “vendor” I mean the organization Leave No Trace and one company actually selling something). Several Osprey backpacks were also being offered in a raffle. My parents will be pleased to hear that I’m back to normal and didn’t purchase any raffle tickets (I didn’t need another backpack).

Then it was straight to the films:

Respect 23 minutes. A fairly standard ski film, a bunch of hotshot athletes heli-ski big lines in Alaska and Norway in unstable snow conditions. Setting off numerous avalanches they claim “you have to have respect for the mountains”, but certainly don’t act like they respect the danger. The best clips come at the end when their mentoring ski guide shows up the young prodigies.

First Ascent 15 minutes (Festival Version). I’d seen another edit of this film at last year’s Banff Film Festival and had recently borrowed the DVD from the AAC Library. So I was lukewarm about seeing these clips. I was more disappointed that the segments chosen were some of the weakest in the whole film. The “First in the Himalayas” is a sterile bit of film making depicting a group of European alpinists battling a huge Himalayan route, minus any individual personality. Filmed by a different director and included into First Ascent, it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. Then climber and “personality”, Timmy O’Neill, who generally annoys me, instructs a Montessori class on the history of first ascents. I did find his antics to be improved by watching with a crowd after a few beers. “Iron Monkey”, recording a first ascent of a hard trad line in nearby Eldorado Canyon is not so obviously flawed, but doesn’t contain the interesting characters or examination of motivations of First Ascent’s best segments (“The Obscurist”, “The Black Canyon” or “The Cobra” – none of which were shown tonight).

Balancing Point 7 minutes. Another film I’d seen at last year’s Banff. This one is truly fun to watch as balancing rock art is destroyed in Colorado’s scenic settings by a yoga and martial art practitioner. The fun comes from playing all the footage backwards and watching the structures come back together.

Zoltan 5 minutes. A short spoof of the extreme athlete. A misunderstood whitewater tubing enthusiast tries to fit in a kayak race.

Oil and Water 30 minutes. Probably the best film of the night, and a selection of this year’s Boulder Adventure Film Festival. Two whitewater kayakers buy a Japanese fire truck, convert it to burn bio-diesel and pimp it out with a pop-out camper and retracting spiral staircase. The modified truck (renamed Baby) is test driven around the US before the main show: a 21,000 mile drive from way north Alaska to southern-most Argentina along the PanAmerican highway. Mostly a road trip flick interspersed with a few kayaking scenes, the strength of this film comes from the obvious friendship and their battles with mechanical troubles. I’m not sure I wanted to know what cold pig oil could do to a diesel engine, but I enjoyed watching this film.

The night ended with a brief Leave No Trace “commercial” for Rest Stop, a way to pack one’s poop out of the backcountry.

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Among the climbers who travel to poorer nations for their adventures there are those who can pass through unmoved. Others, like Majka Burhardt, question their own frivolous activities in the face of other cultures and wonder if the true adventure isn’t understanding rather than recreation.

Majka’s well rehearsed slide show explains how a Minnesotan girl finds herself in the Horn of Africa as a journalist researching the origins of coffee. Antsy with the objective reporter role, she locates some unclimbed sandstone towers and convinces three female friends and a male photographer (he probably didn’t need much convincing) to join her in attempting first ascents.

The rock quality turns out to be not so great, but it’s the people and history that fascinates Majka and serves as the true focus of her presentation. From the “We Are the World” images of Ethiopia to the current headlines she takes on the Western stereotypes of this country and presents a more nuanced view of the only African country never colonized. Sometimes the best adventures aren’t about the rock.

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A little after 4am both Grant and I awoke and I started the coffee brewing. We discussed last minute gear (helmets: yes, ice axes: no) and then drove up Washington Gulch to Paradise Divide.

Yesterday’s clouds had cleared off and Orion greeted us as we exited the car. The bit-over-half-full moon lit up the terrain just enough that we didn’t need to turn on our headlamps. The temperature was a little warmer than we’d expected and the wind was light making for a pleasant hike up to Yule Pass and the Ragged Wilderness boundary.

Our goal was to traverse the entire Ruby Range from north to south. Grant had already left a vehicle at the southern end of the range on Friday, we only had to get ourselves there. “Getting there” would require hiking over 6 ranked peaks (Purple, Augusta, and Richmond Mountains then Afley Peak, Mount Owen and Ruby Peak), plus several un-ranked points (Hancock, Oh-be-joyful and Purple Peaks). Grant had hiked to several of these peaks previously, and we’d previewed some sections of the ridge from below. However, we didn’t have a lot of information on this route, other than that the difficulties should be limited to class 3-4 scrambling. Somehow we were expecting a lot of class 2 terrain.

From Yule Pass Grant led us up rocky slopes slick with frost. I encouraged him to take it easy up what would be our longest single climb of the day. We encountered a few class 3 sections on the way up but otherwise had an easy ascent. We reached the summit about a hour and a half after leaving the car and just before sunrise.

Grant signed us into the summit register while I admired the sunrise near the 14er Castle Peak. We took a long look south at our proposed route toward Augusta Mountain and beyond to Mount Owen. Hoping the weather would hold, we set off down the ridge.

As we hiked down the easy talus slopes Grant and I heard elks bugling in the valley to the west. Eventually, we spotted a herd of 10-12 brown dots moving through the vegetation far below.

Soon the ridge again became the focus of our attention as the easy class 2 slopes gave way to loose and exposed class 3 scrambling. I grew nervous watching Grant down climb some moves and argued that it was time to put on our helmets. Less than a week before I’d watched as a helmet-less friend fell 30-40 feet in similar terrain. The subsequent bandaging, worrying and hospital visits were an experience I didn’t want to repeat.

As we slowly worked our way toward Augusta the ridge’s difficulties eased and after avoiding one cliff on the east and then working our way up a stair-stepped slope piled with loose scree we found the simple class 2 terrain we’d expected more off.

By the time we reached Augusta’s summit it had taken us roughly as long to get here from Purple, as the trip from our car to Purple. Well ahead of us sat Richmond Mountain, and from our prior scouting we expected this section to be the crux of the route. From below we’d seen numerous gendarmes that looked very difficult if dealt with straight on.

However, our fears were quickly eased for the time being by the ridge section to Angel Pass. We found remnants of an old trail and felt we were making up time.

Past the pass we headed up to an unnamed point (12,104 feet) that I’d taken to calling Angel Point. The rock leading to the summit was the most solid we’d found yet today and the scrambling was enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t seem to be holding for our ambitious plans. To the east it looked like rain was falling on Crested Butte. Bigger clouds were building south of us, exactly where we were headed. I hoped we could at least make it to Richmond Mountain, since directly west of us and overhead we still had some sunny skies.

We were pleased to find pretty easy scrambling as we descended from “Angel Point”. Initially, all the cliffs we came to had easy bypasses.

Our easy progress finally came to a screeching halt when the ridge terminated in a 30 foot overhanging cliff. I didn’t see any good blocks to sling to rappel and the down climbs looked tricky and loose. So back we went until we found a loose and grassy gully to descend.

We picked up a trail that passed through a few gendarmes and saw remains of stone walls once build to shore up this path. I wondered what the history of this route was as we passed by the large cliff and started picking our way through the cliffs leading toward Richmond Mountain.

Soon the difficulties eased again and we came to the first of the 3 summits of Richmond. The map marked this one as the highest, but as is often the case, the others looked taller. The slope meter on my compass confirmed the map’s opinion so we discussed what to do next.

I didn’t like the look of the building clouds and thought we were moving pretty slowly to make the rest of our planned route before being caught by rain or storms. Grant was running low on water and I couldn’t see the rest of the ridge from the other summits of Richmond to Oh-be-joyful pass. Afraid of getting cliffed out again, I suggested we drop down into Democrat Basin and make a decision then whether to continue on or bail.

After leaving the summit we passed a large cornice that had so far persisted through the summer. Immediately after, we dropped down talus slopes into the basin. Lower down we took stock of our situation and decided to bail on the complete traverse.

Neither of our vehicles were within easy reach, but once we reached Slate River Road we could hope for a lift back up to Paradise Divide, a popular destination. We could descend down to Oh-be-joyful Creek valley, but we figured if we put in one last climb we’d be a little closer to our starting point.

So we traversed across the basin’s slopes and aimed for a switchback on the trail heading to Daisy Pass. From a distance we thought we could make out a goat trail leading to that point, but once across a talus field we couldn’t find any evidence on the ground of a trail. The steep dirt and grass was annoying to traverse and so it was with much relief when we finally stepped on the trail.

A short hike took us to the top of the pass and then we looked down at a series of tight switchbacks leading into Baxter Basin.

We passed two different couples during our descent into Poverty Gulch, the first people we’d seen all day. Any hopes we had of picking up a lift as we hiked the road back to Slate Creek slowly faded as we completed the 40 minute walk with no traffic passing by.

Once we arrived at the Slate River Road we took a break and discussed our options. Grant was hopeful that we’d be able to hitch hike back up to Paradise Divide and so we sat waiting for passing vehicles. After a truck bearing Texas plates passed with only a wave we cussed all Texans (a Colorado pastime I’m learning about). I convinced Grant that we’d somehow make our own luck if we started hoofing it up the road. A little doubtful he followed and about 100 feet up the road a 4-Runner stopped and offered us a lift. The driver turned out to be another Texan and I took back my earlier oaths.

Grant is already planning attempt #2 on the Ruby Range Traverse for next year. He promises to get in better shape and scout the remaining portion of the traverse that he hasn’t yet seen. Next time we’ll be able to make better route choices, knowing when to drop below the ridge crest to avoid cliffs and loose rock. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate better next time as well.

Adam’s complete Photo Gallery
Grant’s complete Photo Gallery

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Dean Lords

On Wednesday my local outdoor gear shop, Bent Gate was holding one of their monthly Community Nights. I’d missed all the others this summer and resolved to finally attend one.

The Idaho-based rock and ice climber Dean Lords gave a slide show covering a trip to Greece that focused on equal amounts overhanging tuffa climbing and cultural immersion into the island lifestyle. Dean’s presentation was open, unpretentious and humorous.

After warming the audience with Grecian beach life, Dean took us to his backyard, Idaho’s road-side ice crags and backcountry alpine routes. Dean has been exploring Idaho’s alpine ice and mixed (rock and ice routes) with a variety of friends for the last several years. Dean’s love for Idaho’s climbing potential was obvious and he talked of passing on Alaskan trips to “stay home” and put on new routes in the local mountains that he claims feels like the Canadian Rockies.

Dean has reported several of these climbs in the American Alpine Club’s yearly American Alpine Journal. Those reports are available online by searching the AAJ for “Dean Lords”.

Post-slide show Bent Gate held a prize drawing for items donated by Mammut with all proceeds going to the Access Fund. I lucked out and won a local climbing guide book ($28 retail) on my $10 investment in raffle tickets.

Bent Gate’s next Community Night is scheduled for October 15th when the new ski film Hand Cut will be shown. Hand Cut looks like an interesting departure from the standard fare in ski films with all voice-overs the recorded interviews of mountain mining town pioneers and an accompanying sound track heavy on blues and folk. Black and white ski footage compliments the historical view of mountain towns reborn as recreation playgrounds.

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Rain all day Thursday and Friday in Golden meant snow up in the high country and caused the cancellation or modification of two different Colorado Mountain Club trips. So at the last minute I decided to do an “easy” loop hike to visit a few new 13’ers.

I left town early Saturday and drove up to Guanella Pass, from here most hikers would head east and try to reach the summits of Evans or Bierstadt – both popular 14’ers. I headed the opposite direction and followed in the footsteps of two hunters who I soon caught and passed. They’d be the only people I’d see all day until I returned to regular roads.

The snow completely blanketed the slopes all around and the conditions felt more like winter than the end of summer. Soon I reached one of the Square Top Lakes and admired the sun hitting the peak above.

Hiking further uphill I eventually met the sun and admired its rise over the 14ers behind me.

I followed the southeast ridge above the lakes and tried to find wind blown areas of the ridge where the snow wasn’t very deep. Unfortunately, those were the areas where the wind was still blowing and keeping me from warming up.

When I couldn’t find windblown terrain, the snow was piled a few inches to nearly a foot deep. The going was slow, but snow shoes wouldn’t have helped very much. After a two hour climb I arrived at Square Top’s summit and took a 10 minute break near some rime iced rocks.

From the summit I had a wonderful view toward Quandary Peak and all its neighbors.

From Square Top I had a steep descent down partly snow-covered rocks to the saddle between it and Argentine Peak.

Off to my right I kept an eye on Mount Wilcox, which I hoped to make my third summit of the day.

As I moved along the ridge and past the windy saddle I looked back and could appreciate how Square Top acquired its name.

To my left I could see the snow line played out on the slopes of Peru Creek drainage.

On my way to Argentine I passed some power transmission towers, they weren’t immune to the rime ice either.

Less than an hour after leaving Square Top I arrived at Argentine Peak and sat down for another break of hot tea.

I looked ahead at completing this loop by backtracking a bit to the connecting ridge with Mount Wilcox.

On the way to Wilcox I had to pass another one of the towers, but this one hadn’t been iced up.

Some interesting rock formations adorned the north side of the ridge and proved more scenic than the man-made structures.

From the summit of Wilcox, I decided to drop down grassy slopes covered with wet snow and head toward Naylor Lake.

I found a trail on the north side of the lake and followed it back to a road.

While walking the road I suddenly noticed all the “No Trespassing” signs and realized I had missed the fact that Naylor Lake was private property. I hurried through as quickly as possible.

Back on the main road I had a couple mile walk back to my starting trailhead. At least the views of Evans and Bierstadt once I broke above treeline made up for the 30 minute hike on pavement.

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