Archive for March, 2009

I had never been this nervous before a big event before. Prior to 50-60+ mile trail runs I’d been calm and confident. However the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse had me scared. The event is an unsupported backcountry ski race that starts in Crested Butte and ends in Aspen roughly 40 miles away and over a couple passes through the Elk Mountains. The race starts at midnight so racers can clear some avalanche prone areas in the dark before the sun warms the snow slopes.

Partly, it was my injured achilles tendon that I suspected would flare up and force a painful withdrawal from the race. I may not have even started the event except that participants had to compete in two-person teams and I couldn’t let down my brother with out at least trying. Also, with the Grand Traverse I would be much more dependent on gear and much more at the mercy of the weather than any of my previous big endurance events.

By virtue of being one of the first teams in line at Friday morning’s registration we got to enter the gear check just after all the top competitors. We emptied our packs on the floor then went over all the items on the gear list from our skis, food, water containers, first aid kit, repair kit, headlamps, maps and clothing.

After passing the gear check we returned to the main room and enjoyed the pasta feed. Then we returned to our team #63 headquarters where we repacked and weighed our bags (14-15 pounds each prior to adding 6-8 pounds of water).

With the sunny day outside we were worried that some of the creek crossings might not be bridged. Racers in some prior years had needed to ford some cold streams so we took a few trash bags and molded foot beds into them with duct tape and left a few extra lengths of tape for securing them around our legs if necessary.

Grant and I then applied some additional glide wax to our skis and Grant buffed on several layers of extra blue grip wax into his kick zone.

After a multi-hour combination of sleeping and lying awake staring at the ceiling we woke and had a light dinner while heating up water to carry during the race. After a cup of coffee each we loaded up my car and drove over to the Crested Butte Community School with a small entourage of friends. At the school we picked up our laminated medical cards to wear during the race and had a beacon check. Do I look nervous about the impending insanity?

We stood in the hallway thinking a thousand thoughts and just waiting for the start of the race when I could focus on moving and quit worrying.

We didn’t hear the announcement, but sensed the frantic movement in the crowd as people grabbed gear and headed out the door. We lined up well behind the pack and clipped into skis and adjusted poles.

I don’t remember any kind of starting gun, just the crowd of skiers surging forward. The race was started this year with a “slow start” where a snowmobile would move slowly ahead of the skiers and everyone must stay behind the snowmobile and jockey for position until it pulled off. This was partly to avoid a mad rush for the front at the beginning and to guide us through some fence gates.

Grant immediately went into NASCAR mode and started pushing his way through the pack and passing people. After a little while I caught my breath and told him to slow down, we still had nearly 40 miles to go! We settled into a decent pace and watched the pack spread out a bit. Then the wide trails at the start slowly narrowed and we soon reached some bottlenecks where the beaten path went down to a single track.

Up ahead we could see the pack’s lights moving up a hill and people stopped at the base applying their skins. We joined the crowd here and also skinned up then got back in line. For the next couple miles we’d pretty much stay in the same position and moving with the pack toward Mount Crested Butte.

Many of the people on Randonee gear were stopping to make frequent skin changes in this section, but my keeping our skins on we felt we were moving at a faster overall pace.

We came into the base area for the Crested Butte Mountain Resort where several more of Grant’s friends cheered us on before we started the long climb up the resort. Grant set an aggressive pace and we passed several people on the gradual climb.

At our high point we found a bunch of racers de-skinning and a small group playing drums and making up impromptu songs to cheer on the Grand Traverse racers.

After stowing away our skins we started down the ski area’s trails, often over-driving our headlamps. The slopes hadn’t been groomed since the morning so we found variable conditions – hard snow/ice and pockets of softer snow. Dealing with those conditions in our skinny skis was trying and we both took several spills before passing the bottom of the East lift.

The route then took a service road down to the East River Valley with several steep rolls. The last one was about 20-25 feet and quite steep. Standing on the top I decided to try and side slip down but just ended up going down on my hip and sliding to the bottom.

Looking back up I saw Grant reach the top of the slope where I yelled at him to just slide down on his side. Instead he decided to point his skis straight down and hope to ride out his momentum on the flats. Unfortunately, the transition from steep to flat wasn’t gradual and Grant went down hard at the bottom of the slope. He got up okay but probably earned a large bruise.

The first thing I noticed now that we were in the East River Valley was the sudden drop in temperature. The cold air had definitely settled in the valley bottoms and I was anxious to keep moving before we chilled.

As we moved out I could see a string of headlamps running well down the valley and more people coming down the slopes behind us. I found this section of the race quite enjoyable as it was slightly downhill and I could get into a good kick and glide rhythm. When we reached the Ambush Ranch checkpoint on Bush Creek Road we had been racing for just under three hours. Grant estimated we should take another 2 and a half hours to reach Friends Hut, which would put us comfortably under the 7am cut off.

We soon ran into problems as Grant’s grip wax wasn’t performing very well anymore now that the temperatures had dropped so much. He struggled on for a while then decided it would be better to just put on his skins now – roughly an hour earlier than he’d normally rely on them. We quickly found that the skin’s adhesive had frozen in the cold air after getting wet on the earlier usage. Taking the advice of some Grand Traverse veterans, Grand had trimmed his skins to only run from the ski tip to the end of his kick zone. I had stuck with a full-length skin including a modified rat tail attachment system.

It didn’t take many strides forward to notice that Grant’s skins weren’t going to stay on and they soon fell off. We stopped and fished out our mandatory repair kit, including the all-important duct tape and made a few wraps around the skin and ski. Once again the cold worked against us and the duct tape wouldn’t even stick very well.

After some frustrating forward progress Grant ended up with one skin that seemed to be staying on and the other was tucked away into his jacket in hopes of warming up the glue. In this manner we slowly made our way past the Death Pass checkpoint where we should have stopped by the roaring fire to deal with our equipment problems. Instead, we pushed forward and stopped not much longer to further expose our fingers to the cold and re-tape the skins.

Death Pass turned out to be an awkwardly steep slope that required care to negotiate. For the first time since the beginning of the race we found ourselves stuck behind other skiers as they each gingerly picked their way across the slope while trying not to look at the steep drop down to a creek. Eventually we cleared this section and could ski comfortably again.

When we were moving we were passing people pretty well, but with the constant stops more racers were going by us and we were steadily loosing our time margin for the Friend’s Hut cutoff. The valley air was probably below zero with a slight wind and taking off our mittens to deal with our gear had numbed our fingers. I ended up putting 2 hand warmers in each mitten to try and fight off any frostbite.

While we were stopped I saw two racers descending and recognized Drew, Grant’s training partner. Drew and his race partner had the same problem with their skins and found that the duct tape wasn’t holding. So they were bailing out on the race after successfully completing it twice before.

With three wraps of duct tape around his skins, Grant was game to try and make the cut offs so we continued upwards. The temperature increased a little as we gained elevation and left the creeks. The duct tape wraps were slowly loosening and dropping away. At 5am Grant and I held and conference. From prior trips up to the Friend’s Hut he knew we still had two hours left. That put us right at the cutoff even if we didn’t have any more equipment issues which was almost a certainty.

It also wasn’t like we could just continue to the hut and then get a ride out, we’d still have to self-evac from the race course unless we had a medical problem. Also, we’d both much rather descend this portion of the trail with skins on to slow us down for the sharp switchbacks. With all that in mind we decided to quit the race.

Just before we started down a “skier” came up behind us carrying his skis and booting it up the slope. We told him about the cutoff and the two hour ETA to the hut and he quickly took off uphill at a jog. Apparently, his skins weren’t staying on either.

I figured we should salvage some good out of our retreat and so we scanned the trail for duct tape (of which there was plenty) and other trash and picked it all up to carry out. We descended past a few more teams still continuing on and couldn’t imagine them actually making the cutoffs.

Back down in the valley we put on some extra clothes as we still had to deal with the cold temperatures and now weren’t generating as much heat as when we were moving upwards. I did get to stop and take a few photos now that we weren’t “racing”.

I stopped Grant at one point on our descent and asked him to turn off his headlamp. Remembering his roommates’ excitement at our journey I figured we should enjoy being out in the middle of nowhere with a clear sky and take in the celestial display. We were even rewarded with a few shooting stars.

Continuing on to Death Pass I mentioned how it didn’t seem that deadly to me – while it was steep there were trees below and ground that looked like you might stop before landing in the creek. Of course, just after saying that I got tangled up while negotiating the difficult part and Grant had to take off his skis and return to help me out. He was nice enough not to first take a photo of my Death Pass game of Twister.

When we reached the Death Pass checkpoint we found all the volunteers had turned in to their tents to get some sleep, but thankfully the fire was still going. We found another team warming up by its flames and joined them to share tales of the cold temperatures and our respective trials.

After twenty minutes of warming up and eating, we all headed out past the Ambush Ranch checkpoint and continuing on Bush Creek Road. Grant and I tried for cell phone reception at a couple points but got nothing. We hoped to catch some of the people heading to Aspen to see our finish before they started their drive.

The peaks around us were receiving the sun’s full attention this morning, but the road stubbornly stuck to the shade. However, once we reached the trailhead two wonderful things greeted us. First was the sun and second was Charlie, a volunteer with the Crested Butte Search and Rescue who knew racers would bail out to this point. He gave us each a welcome shot of hot chocolate and then a ride back to town.

Back in Crested Butte we were able to alert everyone that the course had chewed us up and spat us out. An hour later we were enjoying a large breakfast and noticing 3-4 other Grand Traverse teams in the restaurant who would also be recording a DNF (Did Not Finish) for this year.

Gear notes:
Both Grant and I used nordic backcountry skis with full metal edges and manual BC-NNN bindings. His were Rossignol BC 65 skis while mine were waxless Alpina Discovery’s. We both used Black Diamond’s Traverse poles. Boots were backcountry models by Alpina and Rossignol and we used lightweight backpacks from ULA and GoLite.

Complete Photo Gallery

Race Results

Future updates: Grant’s comments on the race.

Special thanks to Chris at Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge for lending us the required spare binding for the race.

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Mount Yale

Eight of us meet at Bongo Billy’s in Buena Vista for lunch and last minute planning for our imminent climb of Mount Yale. After calculating the division of tents, stoves and shovels we drove to the Avalanche Gulch trailhead to implement the last minute packing.

We followed the Colorado Trail north and up a sunny “headwall”. With several weeks of warm, sunny conditions and a current temperature around 45F we felt hot and overburdened with snowshoes and heavy boots.

Eventually we reached the trees and the temperature moderated. With the shade came increasing patches of snow until the trail was covered. We decided to climb above the trail in hopes of finding drier, sunnier aspects above.

This tactic worked for a little while as we followed a few game trails running through the woods. We still encountered increasing snow patches and deeper sections of wet, rotten snow.

We were probably close to breaking out the snowshoes when we reached a suitable knob for camping. The snowshoes finally came out to help stomp down level spots for our tents.

Around 11,900 feet our campsite was still in the trees and thus protected from the forecasted winds. Five tents quickly went up and the process of melting snow began.

A 9th member of our party was planning a later start and hoped to find our campsite. Since our tracks went in and out of the snow, Kurt and Jan hiked all the way back to where they could view the trailhead looking for Jim. They didn’t find him and arrived back in camp near dark.

It may have barely reached freezing overnight and the rotten snow still wasn’t supporting weight outside of the walkways we’d tramped down. In the trees above we could hear the wind but things were quite pleasant in camp. After boiling snow for coffee, tea, water and additional breakfast Kurt’s and mine fuel ran out and I had to forgo a warm thermos to take up high.

Leonard decided today wasn’t his day and packed up his camp to head back out. His boots had been soaked yesterday and hadn’t dried out overnight. The remaining seven of us were soon packed and off at 7:20 am.

We took turns breaking trail through the soft snow, sinking in to our calves even with snowshoes in many spots. We crossed some fresh tracks we suspected belonged to Jim.

Finally, the snow toughened up as we reached the saddle with Mount Yale rising to our west. About a thousand feet above our camp the temperatures must have been just cold enough to freeze the snow. The trees also thinned out here and would soon vanish as we climbed higher.

Looking ahead it appeared we could take the time to remove our snowshoes and continue on windswept rocks.

We continued on mostly dry ground, with just occasional pockets of wind-hardened snow, around a small bump and then upwards towards point 13,420.

Occasionally, we found small rock outcropping to skirt or climb directly.

A stretch of hard snow then covered the ridge’s crest and we followed fresh tracks direct up this obstacle.

From here we had excellent views of the unofficially named “Mascot Peak” which sits just south of Mount Yale. We’d thought about adding Mascot into our day, but the descent options looked really steep for heading directly back to our camp. Additionally, we felt we were moving too slow to do the out and back hike along the ridge.

As we rounded the south side of point 13,420 we could see just how much further we had to go to even get to Mount Yale.

After picking our way through the boulders on this side of 13,420, we crossed a flat-ish tundra area where the wind really picked up. I hurried ahead to a slight rise that I hoped would offer some protection and then began bundling up.

The first five of us gathered up here and agreed that Mascot was no longer on our agenda. So we took the snowshoes off our packs and anchored them with rocks before resuming our upwards march.

We soon encountered the crux of the climb – a steep section of hard snow. Kurt lead up slope while I followed trying to enlarge the footprints he left for everyone else. Noreen admitted to being nervous here, understandable since this was the steepest snow slope she’d ascended.

After picking our way through more rocks and snow patches I spotted Jim descending. Kurt and I talked to him briefly and made plans to meet him back at our campsite.

Roughly quarter to noon Kurt and I reached the top of Yale and began enjoying the great views all around.

Simple math was beyond us however, as we tried several times to work out how long our climb took from our camp. Soon the others gathered and we lounged around enjoying the nearly wind-free summit and fueling up for the descent. My left achilles tendon had started to bother me on the last few hundred feet to the summit, so I popped a couple ibuprofen.

Beth and Rich soon arrived to complete our group, but didn’t seem to interested in being included in the group photo.

With much travel still ahead of us we shortly began our descent.

When we got to the steep snow Noreen was interested in finding an easier route down, but nothing was too evident. I traversed a bit to a slightly easier and shorter slope then downclimbed the snow while kicking solid foot platforms. Noreen was able to follow this staircase with much more confidence.

We collected our snowshoes and then started across the tundra area near point 13.420. The wind didn’t seem as bad this time around, but it was mostly to our backs. Then we turned the corner and started to rapidly loose elevation again.

We took several short breaks to keep everyone together as we worked through bands of boulders and the snow rib.

The windiest spot ended up being just after the snow rib where gusts threatened to knock us over. I had to shorten my stride and think carefully about each step hoping the wind wouldn’t push me out of balance while one foot was off the ground.

Once back at the saddle we put on our snowshoes for the soft snow slog back to camp. Jan and I got temporarily turned around while following Jim’s earlier tracks but soon arrived back at camp to find Jim napping away.

While Jim slept the rest of us packed up our camp and got ready to depart. Thoughts of a post-climb fest were stirring us forward.

We kept on our snowshoes for the initial hike out of camp, but soon hit bare ground and the game trails. The wind was shaking some dead trees above us that were already tilted over and leaning onto others. Jim and I had several experiences of traversing under these hanging dangers when a gust past through and the tree squeaked loudly in warning. We took to quickly running underneath such hazards.

Soon we were back on dry trail and removing extra layers and gaiters for the final hike back to the trailhead.

Once back at the cars we could see the sky had rapidly clouded over and the evening’s forecasted storm appeared to be coming true. After a dinner in Buena Vista we were happy to reach home without encountering any fresh rain or snow.

Complete Photo Gallery

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Even on way too little sleep I found myself enjoying the drive from Crested Butte to Aspen Park through the mountains at sunrise. After meeting Pete at our standard rendezvous location I re-packed and then jumped in his truck for the hour drive through the South Platte’s winding back roads.

Following the map closely I navigated as Pete drove us to the unmarked road where Kevin and I departed for a climb of South Noddlehead back in October. Pete hadn’t done this mountain yet, so I agreed to join him for a another trip back.

In October we’d left the road and headed straight toward the peak but this time we followed the dirt path until it led us right under some power lines and then intersected an active dirt bike path. After crossing that path and then following our original line we came to a great view of South Noddlehead.

We also had a great view of Long Scraggy, which we’d just climbed the weekend prior.

From here we approached the base of the rock tower and donned helmets for the scramble up the northeast of the peak onto a prominent shoulder.

We found some webbing here that looked like someone had rappelled this route, which would have been a stout downclimb. However, I planned to descend a much easier gully that Kevin and I explored last time.

From the shoulder I “led” the final bit of climbing, but only after seeming to try every approach I’d done back in October but had forgotten about. I finally located the same “best” way to the peak’s west side and the little bit of 5.0 climbing that would lead to the summit.

My ankle was bothering me some from yesterday’s ski race so I was moving gingerly on it and didn’t feel as comfortable scrambling as the first time I was on this peak. Maybe this time I can easily blame my ankle, but I’ve noticed before that I often feel more comfortable my first time on a climb than later repeats.

After enjoying the summit and the clear views all around we broke out the rope to rappel this section. I was glad to see the anchor webbing I’d left in October was still in good shape.

Once down I packed up the rope and we quickly re-traced our steps to finish a light Sunday in the mountains.

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It’s 5 degrees at 6am when my brother Grant and I are rushing around to load skis, food and clothes into my car. I’m thankful for the spare down jacket he’s lent me since I left mine at home on a couch where I would be sure not to forget it when I ran out the door yesterday. Car loaded we hustle over to the Crested Butte Nordic Center and setup our pit near the start/finish area. A couple bags of spare clothes, a labeled cooler and a folding chair marks our staging area. Then we rush inside for the 6:45 skier’s meeting.

We’re both registered for the inaugural 12 Hours of Crested Butte nordic ski race. Teams of 2 or 4 make up most of the field but three of us are registered as solo racers. The course consists of a winding 6k route through the center’s trails with one water stop serving double duty at the narrow neck of an out and back loop. Easter eggs would also be hidden along the course and could be turned in later for a prize. With a 5 minute warning we all run outside and get ready to ski.

The race is started at 7:05am and the pack takes off on skate skiing gear. Grant, his friend Drew and myself look at each other as we slide forward our on snail-like classic skis. Oh, and they aren’t racing skis either, they’re backcountry models. We stick together for the first lap talking and warming up as dawn breaks over the valley. Toward the end of the lap my only thought is to finish one lap before being passed by any of the skate skiers on their second time around.

Luckily, all three of us just barely make it though the timing tent before the fast racers come through. Our first lap was about 45 minutes and we soon headed out for lap two after a quickly refueling stop. Grant and I take a longer break after the second lap and sunglasses come out and some layers stay back at the pit. Pretty soon we work into a pattern: ski for 45 minutes, then rest/refuel/rewax skis/hit the bathroom for 5-15 minutes.

After lap three I’ve removed my heavy mittens and before starting lap 5 I’m down to some light pants, a t-shirt and thin windbreaker. The day would heat up to about 43 degrees and a few climbs were in shadeless areas. I kept wondering how Grant was doing in his all-black “nordic ninja” outfit.

Other than Drew’s four person team we were the only classic skiers out on the slopes, so we just trudged through the course all day while being passed on the left by the quicker skate skiers. Most said a few kind words as they’d zip by and we soon zeroed in on the other solo racer, a female skate skier and cheered her on as well.

The advantage of moving slower was finding more of the Easter eggs. Grant found 1, Drew 2 and I found 4 (between us that accounted for all but 5 of the total eggs).

As noon approached more spectators showed up and the 4 person teams who may have started the race with only one skier present gathered in total. With a lively announcer and the growing crowd we took longer breaks at the base to enjoy the scene and relax between laps.

By the half way point we’d covered 7 laps and we debating whether to call it quits after 10 or 11 (37-40 miles roughly). Today’s race was training for a “Grand”-er event coming up and wasn’t an “A” race for either of us. Plus, the beer was flowing and with every lap it looked more and more enticing.

Grant and I both agreed our 7th lap was our worst, it felt just hot and miserable. On that lap we’d started well apart and skied solo for the whole loop. Being together was enough of a moral boost that we decided to keep together for our remaining circuits. Our tendency to stay together had the announcer referring to us as the “Solo Duo”.

Still, the last two laps were pretty tough on me. Grant was feeling plenty strong but my left ski boot was bothering my achilles tendon and watching my brother zip ahead on the downhills on his faster waxable skis while my waxless scales hummed on the snow was demoralizing. For the final lap Grant had to wait a few times for me to drag myself along and we ended our final lap 12 seconds apart.

The beer and food was great, as was just sitting down and not having to think about going out for another lap. We watched the last two hours of the race including some really fast laps by the two leading four person teams and a completely naked finish by another competitor. The other solo racer ended up meeting her goal of 17 laps (102km) for a really impressive finish.

At the awards presentation both she and Grant won $500+ pair of skis for finishing first in their categories (solo female and solo male). Hats went to the egg holders, and I’d distributed my “spare” 3 eggs to other racers (both for good sportsmanship and to follow the race rules).

Race Results

The race was a lot of fun, but if I come back next year I’d rather do it on skate skis, and maybe as a two or four person team. Of course, that might depend on what I’m training for. . .

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Centennial Cone Park

I decided to take another post-work Monday hike and summit another peak in the process. The unnamed peak known as 7,814 for it’s elevation was my goal and was too easily accessible from the western most trailhead at Centennial Cone Park.

Instead, I stopped off US 6 in Clear Creek Canyon and hiked up the Mayhem Gulch trail which brought me within 300 feet or so of the summit.

Delaying the eventual ascent, I took a clockwise tour around the summit via the Mayhem and Juniper trails and just before completing the circle I turned off and bushwhacked to the summit. Sitting down on the summit cairn for a picnic, I enjoyed part of a thermos of soup and spilled the remainder on myself.

The views from the top were better than I’d anticipated. Furthermore, the summit register was filled with names I recognized.

The hike back down to the trail was a pleasant stroll through mostly-open forests along deer paths.

After rejoining the trail I finished my loop and quickly descended back to my car for a short hike of maybe 5 miles.

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Long Scraggy Peak

Pete, Ryan and I had planned a more ambitious day involving a little technical climbing and a lot of driving. Fresh snow and a realization that alpine starts weren’t best combined with losing an hour of sleep due to daylight savings had us reconsider our outing and eventually heading toward Long Scraggy Peak.

From the road closure we followed the dirt road with a little fresh snow until we reached a fence line running towards the north ridge of Long Scraggy Peak. We followed the fence for a while before branching off and adding a little elevation gain and loss to our approach.

Soon we re-joined the fence and located a cairned pathway leading up through the rock outcroppings. We debated the merits of cairns and other trail markers and agreed that we never built any ourselves and while we enjoyed hiking in areas without them, we often found them a comforting sign when hiking solo.

Just a few minutes from the summit we stopped in an area with a nice view and discussed the relatively weak state of peak names in Colorado. The San Juans were granted an exemption and our current peak, Long Scraggy, came in for some praise.

Continuing to the summit we squeezed through one final obstacle, a narrow slot where Ryan protested at not having signed up for a day of canyoneering.

The summit itself afforded great views, warm rocks and some wind. We briefly considered a summit nap as a way to re-claim the hour of sleep lost by last night’s conversion to daylight savings. In the end, we decided to retrace our steps and continue on to the unnamed summit 7774, identified only by it’s elevation.

7,774 was a peak I’d climbed back in December with Dwight, and since then the summit register had only recorded one other visit. I didn’t mind repeating this peak, since the last 50 feet or so were a nice scramble and this time we took a much smoother approach without too much elevation gain and loss. From the summit we also had a view of the craggy Long Scraggy Peak we’d just climbed.

A summit nap was again brought to the table for discussion, but vetoed as we started the down climb to begin the hike back to our car.

Our formerly mountain-dominated conversation veered off into discussion of the Simpsons and YouTube videos as we worked our way back to the car and strangely seemed to be going mostly uphill.

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On the day before daylight savings takes away our morning light I took advantage of the earliest sunrise possible to skin up the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Once again I started at the base of Peak 9 and went to the top of the Mercury chair. Had a nice sunrise looking across the Blue River Valley to 14ers Grays and Torreys.

I was on my skinny nordic backcountry skis again, so the 2,000 foot trip up took only an hour. I mostly followed the Cashier run back down and felt I was doing a descent job of linking parallel turns on less-than-optimum downhill gear. I passed someone else skinning up on full AT gear who smiled when he saw my skinny planks.

Next I caught a Summit Stage bus up Boreas Pass Road and then had to walk the last half mile to the winter closure and trailhead. It hadn’t snowed in quite some time and the hour trip up to Baker Tank (about 3.5 miles in) was frustrating on the re-frozen sun crust. However, the sun was out and the views of nearby peaks were wonderful.

I took a short break at the tank, then decided to keep pushing on until noon or I reached Boreas Pass.

The snow improved above the tank, it was still icy but had a tiny layer of powder snow on top. I reached the pass about 11:45 and thought about visiting Ken’s Cabin until I noticed smoke coming from the chimney and decided not to bother those staying at the cabin.

The clouds had been building and the expected snow looked ready to make an entrance any moment. As I started back down the old railroad grade snow began falling. The new snow made the downhill run 100 times more pleasant than the slippery climb and I was enjoying myself even as the snow was plastering to my face.

Work paged me as I was nearing the trailhead and I ended up on a phone conversation with a coworker that was occasionally interrupted by passing snowmobiles (thankfully, the only two I saw all day). Once I reached the road I walked back down to the bus station and endured a measly 5 minute wait for the next bus. Some people look to have waited a lot longer.

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In preparation for some upcoming longer adventures I set out for a post-work hike of about 15 and a half miles starting at the Marshall Mesa Trailhead near Boulder.

I’d worked out a clockwise loop hike with a few out-and-back spurs and started hiking around quarter to four. The sun was out, but contemplating setting behind the Flatirons. The wind was the dominant meteorological fact of the afternoon however. The strong gusts weren’t much of an impact as I headed east on the Marshall Valley and Cowdrey Draw trails. Once I did an about face and returned west on the Cowdrey Draw trail I staggered a bit against the wind to the amusement of a prairie dog colony.

On my journey back west I turned onto the Community Ditch trail and followed the water channel toward Colorado 93.

My next junction signaled a turn south onto the Greenbelt Plateau trail.

My final out-and-back segment was a 2.4 mile section of the High Plains Trail. This trail was a little rockier and contoured around the low hills as it paralleled Colorado 128. Commuting traffic was pretty consistent as I pounded out this section. The sun also finally set on this segment and at the turn around point I put on an extra layer for the march back to 93.

After crossing Colorado 93 I made a slight detour to the Flatirons Vista trailhead then followed the Flatirons Vista Trail North (which my map had confusingly labeled the Doudy Draw Trail). Earlier I’d been looking for the moon which was nearly overhead 2 days prior, but now I strangely couldn’t find such a large object in the clear sky. Only after I’d turned off my headlamp and noticed my moon shadow did I realize I hadn’t been looking straight up enough to spot the half moon.

I kept my headlamp off while walking the wide Flatirons Vista trail until I heard voices just ahead at the junction with the Doudy Draw trail. A scattered group of night riding cyclists passed by and then I had the trail to myself. The Doudy Draw quickly became my favorite trail of the day – not too flat, not a wide track, a good helping of rocks but not too many. It looked like it might be more scenic than the other trails, but I was basing that judgment on views by my headlamp and the starlight. I also started imagine how fun it might be to mountain bike these trails, but so far I’ve been resisting picking up yet another hobby.

Towards Eldorado Springs Road I picked up the Community Ditch trail which took back across 93 and to the Coal Seam trail. Within a few minutes of the trailhead I ran into another two bikers out enjoying the perfect weather.

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It’s late Monday afternoon with beautiful, warm weather so I figure I’ll blur the normally sharp edges between weekend and work week with a post work hike. I drive up towards Boulder and turn off towards Eldorado Springs and find a spot at the busy Mesa Trailhead.

3:30pm and I start hiking up the Homestead trail with inspiring views of the flatiron formations above.

From Homestead I connect to the Towhee Trail and then to Shadow Canyon. Thankfully, the canyon is cool since this is where I’ll gain most of the roughly 3,000 feet of elevation on this hike. The snow is all off the trails too, minus a few small patches near the saddle between Bear and South Boulder Peaks.

With a left turn and a few minutes of hiking up a partly-snow covered trail I reach South Boulder Peak’s 8,549 foot summit. The views of Longs Peak to the north west are stunning, but so is the scene nearby when a large raptor floats by.

I retrace my steps back to the saddle and head north to Bear Peak. It’s a little lower than South Boulder peak, but I find it’s jagged summit much more attractive.

I pass back below the west face of the peak in dying sunlight and then jog for a while down the Shadow Canyon Trail.

Eventually, I stop jogging since I’ve really no reason to hurry. I’d actually look forward to a little night hiking. As I finish up the Shadow Canyon Trail I stick to the Towhee Trail all the way back to the parking lot. Clouds east of me take on a barely-perceptible deep purple while the light fades out. Looking back and up I see the crescent moon a little out of focus through the light cloud cover and a planet, Mercury perhaps?, accompanying it.

No one else is out on the trails at this time and my car is the only one left in the lot when I return after a three hour trip, ending my trip about 15 minutes shy of needing a headlamp. My hikes will have to be an hour longer next week if I want to visit with the same twilight magic after daylight savings time kicks in.

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Pete and I again teamed up to attempt some of Jefferson County’s peaks. Our first objective was Sheeprock were we danced across an ice slick log then got plenty lost on the approach hike.

We found some minor technical terrain on our approach to Sheeprock’s south side and ended up breaking out the climbing shoes a little earlier than we had anticipated.

Finally, we found ourselves looking at Sheeprock’s summit from the west. We thought about climbing a bolted sport route on this side of the peak, but since it was barely in the sun we decided to keep warm on the south side route.

We scrambled up to some trees on low angled slabs, then cached our packs and hiked up a little further to begin the climb. In the photo below, our route went directly up from the trees to the blocks near the top.

This first pitch was all slab climbing on really sticky granite. It wasn’t very hard (a few 5.5 moves maybe) but there was little protection, a couple nuts low down then an old bolt that didn’t look very trustworthy.

Pete had to simul-climb about 10 feet up into a pocket so I could reach the large blocks and build an anchor. Then he quickly ran up to the belay.

From here I traversed east on the easy but exposed slopes at the base of the large blocks. I placed a few pieces of pro then reached an easy ramp where I belayed Pete over. We scrambled up the ramp then onto some broken ground back on the south side of the summit. From there it was easy slabs to the summit.

The summit was far windier than the base of the route, and we’d both been freezing while lightly clad at some of the belays. We wanted to rush back down to the warmth and so motivated Pete belayed be down the easy slabs to a rappel anchor on the west side of the summit. I was about 10 feet above the next anchors when I reached the ends of the ropes. Damn. Thankfully, we were rappelling down a bolted sport route, so there was a single solid bolt at my feet. Anchoring to that while cursing the fact that I didn’t pack a second 60 meter rope I yelled up to Pete to come down.

With both of us anchored to the single bolt we re-threaded the rope through the locking carabiner I’d have to leave on the route. Then I went down the remaining 10 feet to the real pair of anchors. Here we regrouped and felt some comfort being attached to two bolts again, but still freezing and hoping to get down shortly. With our luck holding my rope made it to the ground from this set of anchors and we coiled the rope and hiked back to our packs.

A little worn out we decided to forgo some of the other ranked and un-ranked peaks in the vicinity. Instead we hiked out and drove to the base of another peak – Cheesman Mountain.

It was a hot and sunny hike up the 700 feet to Cheesman’s “near top”. The actual summit of the peak is a wild boulder that required some technical climbing with ground fall potential.

The other way most people summit this peak is to toss a rope over the block and anchor the other side. Then you ascend the rope with prussiks or the like. The boulder was taller than I had anticipated and I was fearful of getting my brand new climbing rope stuck. Still I took a few feeble attempts to launch the end of the cord over the summit with a rock, but failed to clear the top.

Giving up, we decided to return on a future date with a lighter rope to toss over first and then pull a static line up.

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