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Archive for April, 2009

With a forecast for high winds and possibly unstable weather, I decided to spend Sunday hiking some lower elevation peaks. I ended up with an hour and a half drive to my two planned peaks and wondering if I’d spend more time driving than hiking today. At least I had some decent views for the trip.

Thankfully, the gate was open on the 9-J road so I could drive up 1.5 miles to a parking area that made sense for both Thunder Butte and Sheeps Nose. Leaving my car, I followed the broad ridge north toward Thunder Butte, passing through some burned areas.

Eventually the ridge took me east toward a saddle south of the summit of Thunder Butte and I bushwhacked up burned slopes and soon neared the summit.

It was a little breezy, but not uncomfortable to spend some time on the highest mountain in Douglas county. So I leaved through the summit registers (not sure why there were two on this peak), and got a laugh at someone signing in as “Aaron Ralston” with the comment “I lost my hand”. At first I thought it might have been Aaron himself, until I noticed that “Aaron” was initially misspelled as “Aron” then corrected.

The day was looking much better than I expected and I half wished I’d gone for a bigger objective. I toyed with the idea of collecting a few more peaks, but decided I’d rather have some afternoon relaxation than pad my peak bagging stats.

On the descent from Thunder Butte, I kept my eye on Sheeps Nose, my next objective. Since I’d be passing by my car anyway, I decided to stop there and switch to approach shoes to facilitate the class 3-4 scrambling on that summit.

During my stop at the car I left a few layers behind then set out towards Sheeps Nose. I’d read some reports of people starting up the wrong gully and reaching steep cliffs, but my approach from the north allowed me plenty of opportunities to view the peak for weaknesses.

I followed a closed dirt road toward the peak, then branched off into some bushwhacking toward the saddle between the north and south (higher) summits. There I found a gully that looked reasonable about 50 feet west of the saddle and started up. Mostly it was class 3, but with a couple class 4 moves and I was soon on easier ground for the final rock hop to the summit.

I was a little nervous about reversing some of the moves, especially having not told anyone where I was headed (maybe the false signing of Aaron Ralston in Thunder Butte’s register triggered these thoughts). Partway through my down climb of the gully I spotted an old hand warmer. After picking it up to pack out as trash I felt much better. It’s a personal superstition that the mountains will treat me better when I take care of them. I’ve often felt safer and more confident after similar clean-up acts.

Once back on mostly level ground I figured I should tour the peak by descending north past the northern summit then loop back to my car. The route was steeper than I’d expected (I was hoping for a break from the steep slopes I’d ascended), but it was short and I was soon back on the broad ridges leading to my car and some post-hike chocolate.

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Pete and I met up for another Saturday adventure, this time we’d visit the Puma Hills near Hartsel. We weren’t sure that the weather would hold, so we decided to attempt the only technical peak on our agenda first. The unnamed peak of 10,100 feet (Gerry Roach’s 10,093) shone in the morning light as we gathered up our gear near the Tener Gulch Trailhead.

We hiked northwest to the saddle between 10,100 and its higher neighbor, 10,378. From the saddle we found several short 3rd and 4th class options (all avoidable) to warm up before the main event.

Soon we had only the summit tower to contend with.

We didn’t spend a lot of time searching for the best route, a boardwalk running to the peak’s west side attracted our attention and we quickly found ourselves looking up a steep gully with a tricky initial bulge.

I tied into the rope and Pete put me on belay. I started up the gully after knocking off a bit of snow from my shoes. Right away I found the initial bulge would present a short but more challenging move than I’d expected. I found a solid cam placement and then committed to the move. Maybe 5.5 or 5.6, but the climbing rapidly got easier as I moved upwards.

Once the climb leveled off I stepped around the arete forming the right of our gully and setup a quick anchor to belay Pete up. He made quick work of the pitch and we were soon enjoying the summit views and looking through the register.

We then scouted around the top of the peak looking for the best way down. On the north side we found what appeared to be the normal ascent and descent route (a 5.3 climb) and added a rappel anchor before lowering ourselves.

Once down we headed back to the saddle where we cached the climbing gear for a quick hike up 10,378.

We had some excellent views on the hike of 10,100.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of views on the treed summit of 10,378, so we didn’t stay long but soon headed down.

We then headed back to US 24 then drove a couple miles east to Wilkerson Pass where we trimmed our pack weight a bit before starting up the steep hike to Badger Mountain.

We took about an hour and 15 miles to make the 1,700+ foot ascent. Not too bad, but slower than we’d probably be in a couple months when we’re both in real hiking shape. The summit was decorated with a plethora of radio antennas, but the actual summit was undisturbed.

We then headed to the northwest to collect a forth summit, unnamed peak 11,053.

From 11,053 we took a fairly direct line back to US 24 requiring a short road walk back to the pass.

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The Palisade

From Indian Creek Pete, Ryan and I headed east back into Colorado and through the Dolores River canyon to Gateway, Colorado. As we approached town from the south we could see the huge mesa known as The Palisade, our final goal for the weekend.

After picking up a dirt road just north of the Dolores River we headed west around the mesa’s bulk and to a barely marked forest road. Here we setup camp, fitting tents between junipers and prickly pears and watching the evening light hit The Palisade. Across the valley we heard one of the other cliffs shed a lot of rock, reminding us that “geologic time includes now”.

In the morning we got going quicker as we had a lot of terrain to cover and the climbing wouldn’t be as hard or as sustained, so we didn’t need it to warm up as much. Just as we headed out of camp we heard another burst of rock fall, this time coming from our own peak.

We followed the road to the end then followed a dry wash until we could see the correct break in the cliffs we needed to head for.

Up the wash we found a cairn marking a faint path heading up the steep and loose rubble slope above. Spreading out so as not to knock rocks on one another we ascended the slope. Once up we had to traverse to get to the correct rubble fan and then proceeded to climb an even steeper and looser slope to the base of the cliffs. In the valley below herds of cows were making a strange background noise to accompany our climb.

I studied the cliffs above and picked out the scrambling route up and left that would lead us to the first of five pitches.

When Pete steep up to our platform I caught his expression at first seeing the route up close.

With harnesses and helmets on we headed up the broken ground to find this first pitch.

As reported, we found a blue fixed rope hanging down from a tree. The climbing didn’t look too difficult, so I headed up, soloing the crack. The only difficult part was the top whose moves I had to think a bit about.

Adam climbing the first pitch

Once up, I had Ryan tie our rope to the fixed line then pulled it up to belay both he and Pete up the same moves.

From here our ascent continued traversing left across some exposed slickrock sidewalks.

When the ledges ran out we contemplated pitch 2. This one was a slab climb, with a few steeper sections and some manufactured holds from some handy chisel work. I trailed a rope up this unprotectable pitch including over the cairn/steepladder I found that assisted in a mantle move.

From above I could belay Pete and Ryan who cruised up the pitch with the psychological aid of a top rope. Further scrambling and cairn following took us towards pitch 3.

Another fixed rope graced pitch 3, and I free climbed the initial wall, but went ahead and “batmaned” up the second rope (hand over hand hauling up on the rope).

Ryan and Pete did the same with the addition of the belay and we found ourselves in the sun at a little between a sandstone dome and the summit of The Palisade.

The other side of the saddle had a great view down into Gateway and the surrounding mesas.

We turned left and headed up more slickrock to a large boardwalk leading to a few boulders and a seam in the steeper rock above that marked pitch 4.

Our route description called this pitch 4th class, but with the sandy holds it seemed harder than that. At least I ended up laybacking a hold to step up and that seemed to argue for a harder rating. Once again, I dropped our rope down for a quick belay for Pete and Ryan.

Adam climbing the 4th pitch

Another short scramble took us to the base of the final pitch – a short crack. I offered the lead to Ryan and he took the rack and flew up the pitch to setup a belay from a tree.

Pete and I followed up on belay then we left the rope and started the final walk to the summit.

Along the way we found a bunch of old trash from pots and pans to a bed frame that Ryan risked tetanus to model.

An old eggbeater was also found and carried up to the summit.

The eggbeater was added to the summit cairn and after enjoying the views we started down.

We rappelled each of the five pitches on the way back down. I’d gone first on the 5th pitch and Pete stepped on a different part of the rock ledge and the lip broke away on him. Standing below, I dodged the few pieces of rock that headed my way and Pete had reacted correctly by gripping tight with his brake hand and kept from slipping very far. He earned a nice bruise from the incident and reminded us all to be careful around this loose rock.

Pitch 4 was quickly rappelled as was pitch 3. There underneath an overhang we found an old pick axe and wondered if it had been used on the first ascent to chisel out some of the holds we’d seen.

Pitch 2 was the long slabby route and our 60 meter rope just covered the whole route. A shorter rope would have been fine too, as the lowest portion of this pitch is pretty low angled.

Then we had the long traverse back on the sidewalk ledges to the top of pitch 1.

Along the way we passed a spot for recent rockfall had decimated a bunch of trees.

The final rappel took us to the top of a little class 4 scrambling and then we were back to the steep dirt and rock slope. We kept our helmets on and and tried as hard as we could not to knock down any rocks on our partners. We were all thankful to finally reach the dry wash for a flat hike back to the car.

All that remained was a multi-hour drive back to the Denver area to finish up a really spectacular weekend filled with interesting and challenging peaks. I have to wonder if I’ll ever again do three consecutive peaks this amazing in a row.

Adam’s Photo Album
Pete’s Photo Album
Ryan’s Photo Album

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Leaving Moab we drove on to Indian Creek, passing below the seemingly endless number of splitter cracks lining the road and spotting lots of climbers finishing climbs. About 14 miles past Newspaper Rock we made the left turn onto Davis Canyon Road and passed through the gate. The road quickly became rugged and Pete hopped out to help scout my passage through. I hoped I wasn’t tackling too much with only high clearance and no 4WD.

After driving around South Six-Shooter Peak we weren’t quite sure where the hiking trail to the cliffs above started but due to the failing light finally just parked near the junction with Lavender Canyon and camped in the dry wash.

Coyotes, an owl and the occasional cow provided a soundtrack for the night and I woke up once to check out the spectacular celestial display. In the morning we slowly packed up camp and waited for the temperatures to warm up a bit. Ryan called Pete and I “princesses” for using two sleeping pads which we found a tad ironic coming from his highness, clad as he was in down booties and having brought a portable DVD player.

Setting out to find the approach trail we headed towards the eroded slopes nearby and quickly found footprints and then a cairn. We’d set up camp in exactly the right spot after all. The Princesses may not be amazing climbers, but we sure know how to park.

During the hike the joking and banter continued and our little group somehow became the “Princesses of Darkness”. All conversation would cease however, when we got a good look at our peak and wondered how we were going to climb that.

The morning sun that we couldn’t wait for at dawn now was something to be avoided as we worked our way up the slopes to the south side of South Six-Shooter Peak.

The rock formation itself provided plenty of shade when we reached the base and the wind had picked up, quickly cooling us off. We hunted around for the start of the South Face route, then geared up and threw on extra layers. North Six-Shooter Peak, a much harder climb, looked on as I started up pitch 1.

I found the climbing to be quite easy, mostly 4th class over easy blocks and with the traversing back and forth of the route, I only placed two cams to keep the rope drag down. The one crux move was a solidly wedged block in a little chimney which maybe was 5.6 but the holds were so positive it felt easier. At a flat spot I built an anchor then Pete and Ryan climbed up.

Ryan had underestimated the wind and lingering morning cool so he waved off leading pitch 2. So I took off again, heading up a little ramp/chimney from the belay and squeezed through two towers before finding myself on a large ledge. From here I could a nice looking hand crack leading upwards which I identified as a harder option from the route description but for the life of me, I couldn’t find the easier route.

Adam climbing the second pitch

So I started up the hand crack and found it forced me outwards a little and the feet positions weren’t great. I backed down and pre-clipped a #3 cam to the rope and held it in my teeth then climbed back up and placed this higher. I briefly thought about using its sling as an etrier (a foot step basically), but finally grabbed the big holds on top of the crack and hauled myself up into a little alcove.

I placed another cam at my feet with an extended sling for the others to pull on if necessary then moved a little left and up onto another big ledge where I found the bolted anchor. Pete and Ryan quickly climbed up to the anchor were Ryan sat in the sun trying to warm up.

I took at look at the final pitch leading to the summit tower and the infamous “hard for 5.6 mantle”.

Easy climbing led up to the mantle and I placed two TCU’s and a #1 tricam in the several feet below the mantle to protect me if I fell. After playing around with the move and feet options I finally committed and got up on the shelf to where I could clip the bolt above.

Somewhere while climbing, Ryan warmed up enough to continue the joking and made some reference to me adopting an LL Cool J look. I shocked him and Pete by promptly singing most of “Momma Said Knock You Out” as I struggled with the final moves and made my way to the summit.

Those final moves were actually the crux of the climb for me. The hand holds were okay, but feet options were non-existent. I decided to cheat a little this time and from a .75 cam in a horizontal crack above the bolt I hung a sling that I could step in and easily complete the finish. I traversed over the the rappel anchor bolts and clipped in while finishing my LL Cool J impersonation.

Pete and Ryan both took advantage of the extra slings I’d left to aid their ascent past the mantle and the moves above then we all started in on the rappels back down.

Adam on first rappel

Due to a miss-communication we’d only brought 1 60 meter rope and 1 30. From the anchors at the top of pitch 2 we had to do two rappels to reach the base instead of just one. Once I reached the intermediate anchors I really wished we’d brought another 60 meter rope so we could have skipped this station. The rappel slings were wrapped around a pretty large block, but one that was sitting on a slight slope with smaller rubble underneath. It wouldn’t stay there forever, but thankfully it didn’t budge while we put our weight on it.

All down safely, we packed up and headed back down the approach trail, still marveling that we could climb a desert tower.

I said I’d only be happy after two more things: 1) I got my car back to pavement and 2) I had a beer.

Once back at the car we drove out two miles where Pete asked to be let out so he could get in a couple mile run and Ryan and I continued up the road, amazingly getting by all the rough spots perfectly.

Back at the gate I cracked a stout and we waited for Pete to catch up. Life was good.

But before leaving Utah we made a stop at Newspaper Rock to view the petroglyphs.

Adam’s Photo Album
Pete’s Pete’s Photo Album

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A day of rain began to morph into snow as Ryan and I drove up I-70 to pick up Pete. By Evergreen we were stopped to knock off the accumulated snow and slush from my car and began the creep up to the Eisenhower tunnel. Traffic signs alerted us that the interstate was closed ahead so we stopped in Frisco where I added the Backcountry Brewery’s “Breakfast Stout” to my growing list of Colorado beers. The interstate was open again, but driving conditions were very poor so we headed south to Breckenridge for the night.

As Friday dawned we figured we’d either be able to escape to the desert or be stuck in Breckenridge with no choice but to rent skis and enjoy the epic quantity of new snow. The weather gods let us slip west and the roads quickly improved as we downhilled past Vail to later hear that the interstate was shut down in our wake.

On the road we modified our plans only slightly and navigated to Arches National Park where we zipped along the main road to the Garden of Eden. While shaking out road-weary legs we re-packed and looked ahead to our first objective: Elephant Butte.

We followed a path beaten through the cryptobiotic soil and soon spotted the rubble-filled gully we needed to enter.

We scrambled around the big blocks and passed through a tight squeeze or two.

The canyon opened up with a sandy floor and several flowering plants.

After scrambling up a short step we continued straight where two side drainages met the main canyon.

Then we took the next left, reaching a broad sandy bowl and following old steeps to the first short bit of climbing. Initially I tried to climb right up the water channel but that seemed really sandy. After we explored numerous alternatives we came back to the first option which seemed much easier now and I scampered right up.

elephant butte

I tossed back a rope as a hand line for the others which was hardly touched.

After following the slot upwards we came to the next “pitch” which was steeper and required some real climbing to surmount. I trailed the line up this unprotectable pitch, then set and anchor to belay Ryan and Pete.

elephant butte

From there a short scramble brought us to a saddle where we could see Elephant Butte’s summit ahead. However, we still had a ways to go, as from the saddle we needed to scramble down to a rappel anchor and descend into another canyon.

elephant butte

We each rappelled down into a good stance.

Unfortunately, we were still left with a challenging downclimb to the floor of the canyon. Luckily, the doubled 60 meter rope just reached the floor.

Less fortunately, the rope wouldn’t pull free from this stance so I scrambled back up and pulled the rope and tossed it down. Then with Ryan spotting my feet, I down climbed to join them. Turning the corner we could see the slickrock slabs that would take us much of the way to the summit.

As we worked our way higher we had a great view of the saddle and the top of the rappel we’d just done.

We also had amazing views of the formations spreading out from Elephant Butte’s summit including the free standing tower marking the separate canyon we’d descend.

One final rock band was surmounted with a few 4th to low-5th class moves.

With a final walk we reached the summit register to see several familiar names and lots of new views.

After soaking up the landscape and savoring our first peak of the trip we started back down, eventually walking past the large tower.

We continued the slickrock scrambling down this slot until we came to a water hole. Doing a full body stem I kept my feet dry at the risk of slipping and soaking all of me.

Being more flexible, Pete was able to steam with his legs on each side to pass the pool while Ryan just removed his shoes and socks and waded across the ankle deep water.

Immediately on the other side of the pool was the final rappel. After clipping into the anchor we tossed the rope ends and I descended over the lip finding a wild free-hanging rappel awaited.

Pete and Ryan completed the rappel and we pulled the rope and looked at the hike out that awaited.

One final downclimb cleared the last hurdle then we started to work our way back west along the base of Elephant Butte towards our car.

To celebrate the climb of what was now one of our favorite summits ever, we headed into Moab for dinner at the Moab Brewery then continued further south towards Indian Creek.

Adam’s Photo Album
Pete’s Photo Album

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Several months had passed since Helen and I had hiked together and a late day cancellation of my Sunday plans put us together for an Easter egg hunt near Guanella Pass. We parked at the winter road closure well shy of the pass and proceeded to hike up the road.

Snowshoes went on as we left the road and headed cross country into the willow-infested upper reaches of Scott Gomer creek.

The snow was pretty well consolidated so it wasn’t too much effort to head across the willow fields that are such an obstacle in the summer. We navigated pretty much due east towards the cliff band marking the western base of Mount Spalding.

After passing below a prominent clump of trees we found the creek we needed to follow that bypassed the cliffs to the northeast. Torrey helped us locate a few cairns marking the summer route.

We hiked up the east side of the creek until we were at about the 12,400 foot level then we began to make our way to the saddle between Gray Wolf Mountain and Unnamed 12,988. We’d now hiked into the high clouds and the views were pretty much limited to a monochrome white.

Turning east again we began hiking the final 800 feet to Gray Wolf’s summit. The wind picked up a bit, but was never as strong or as consistent as yesterday’s hike and felt nearly pleasant in comparison. Just sticking out of the snow I noticed a tracking collar that had broken apart well before the 60 week timer had released. I tucked it in my pack to haul out then returned to the last 200 or so feet. We encountered a low bump that we might have mistaken for the summit had my GPS not been along. Continuing east we came to a stacked pile of rocks and snapped a few photos before reversing our ascent.

Ascending in a whiteout always seems much easier than descending, where your options are greatly expanded. Frequent checks of the GPS and compass kept us from zigzagging excessively and we were soon out of the worst of the weather and warming up as we neared the willows.

In the lee of several large boulders we sneaked breaks before finally making it back to tree line and the road. We never found any Easter eggs (unless you count the tracking collar), but we did have a much better day than sitting inside watching the rain come down in Denver.

For the second day in a row the post-hike drive featured several of Colorado’s four legged citizens. I thought about returning the tracking collar to the pack of bighorns, but didn’t really think they wanted it back. We also saw a herd of 20+ elk grazing by I-70 (sorry mom, no pictures).

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Pete and I drove down to the Horn Creek trailhead in the Sangre de Cristo mountains on Friday. Clouds were moving in but we caught a view of tomorrow’s objective, Colony Baldy – a 13,705 foot peak just north of some famous 14,000 foot peaks.

Kevin joined us just before we turned in with a planned 6am departure. As it turned out, we were only 5 minutes late pulling away from the gate as we started up the Horn Creek trail for a rendezvous with the Rainbow trail. The Horn Fork was mostly snow free and we found only a little snow on north aspects of the Rainbow trail at first.

We soon stopped for an enforced break when we caught sight of Colony Baldy rising above the trees.

The Rainbow Trail soon took us on a tour of shaded north aspects and we took turns postholing through the deep snow before eventually fighting our own inertia and strapping on the snowshoes we’d been carrying.

About 8:10 we reached our furthest south on the trail and took another quick break before leaving the trail and heading straight up slope.

A wet snow was falling but at least the trail breaking wasn’t too arduous.

As we reached treeline the wind picked up and our breaks got noticeably shorter as we all needed to keep moving to stay warm. Heavier gloves and additional layers were also donned.

The wind seemed to increase as we climbed higher and pushed on through conditions that verged on whiteout from time to time. Occasionally the ridge we followed had a distinctive form we could walk besides, but as we got higher the ridge broadened out and we just moved upwards as best we could.

We made several brief stops to change leaders and check our elevation or see how far the GPS claimed we still had to go. Just before noon we stumbled upon the summit cairn and cheered with the idea that we could now face away from the wind and hustle back to the trees.

Visibility oscillated between 100 feet and 20. Kevin lead us down the indistinct portions of the ridge navigating via GPS. Pete and I followed while flexing our numb toes and trying to restore life to our fingers.

Thankfully we were soon back at treeline and could relax in warmer and less windy conditions. I know I was dehydrated from not being able to stop and drink and desperate for calories.

All the fresh snow and wind had nearly filled our morning’s tracks leaving just slight depressions where each footstep had been. Still, we could easily enough follow our morning’s ascent route and we dropped back down to the Rainbow Trail in a quick 30 minutes of hopping and sliding down fresh powder snow.

Between the fresh snow and our new inertia of keeping the snowshoes on we hiked back out on the trail about half way with our extra flotation until it was really not necessary.

About 3:20 we made it back to the trailhead and returned home catching a few road side attractions on the way.

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