Archive for June, 2009

Pete’s unfortunate collision Friday morning with a deer meant a slight delay of our weekend plans. So, with a Saturday morning free for once I made my first visit to Golden’s Farmer’s Market before Pete arrived in a rental that definitely wasn’t going to make it up to the Music Pass Trailhead. We hoped my vehicle would get us there (no 4wd, but high clearance) and set out for the 3.5 hour drive to the Sangre de Cristos.

The high clearance was definitely required for the 3 miles of rough road past the Grape Creek trailhead but we made it to Music Pass Trailhead and were hiking by a little after 2pm.

Clouds had been building to the north and east over the Wet Mountains, but the weather looked good where we were as we hiked up to Music Pass for a view of Tijeras Peak, Music Mountain, Milwaukee Peak and other sentinels of the Sand Creek watershed.

From the pass we descend a couple hundred feet into dandelion-infested meadows. I wondered if the weeds occurred here naturally or were brought in on boots on hooves.

The crux of our hike would be the crossing of Sand Creek on some slick and not very stable logs.

We both managed to stay dry and then started to hike up to the Lower Sand Lake passing a few patches of snow. At the lake we stopped to admire the east face of Tijeras Peak (not the way up for us!).

After hunting around, we eventually located some dry ground far enough from the lake to satisfy the regulations and then wandered the lake shore looking for photo opportunities.

After dinner we turned in fairly early as we planned to wake up a 4:30am to enjoy the morning’s alpine glow on the peaks.

After a quick breakfast we were out of camp before 5:30a and picking our way through the trees just bearing roughly west and uphill. As we broke out of treeline we attempted to take a route that would lead us to the snow ramp that broke the lower cliffs of Tijeras Peak and provide easy access.

As we dodged willow bushes and marshy areas we admired the morning sun on Music Mountain.

At the snow ramp we deployed our ice axes and kicked steps up the semi-firm snow. As the ramp narrowed the snow grew rotten and couldn’t support our weight so we moved onto the wet rock and scrambled upwards.

Above the ramp we stowed the ice axes and then commenced boulder hopping to the ridge above. As we climbed higher clouds started to drift over from the west and obscure the peaks around us.

It wasn’t a white-out, but it certainly provided extra atmosphere to our ridge scramble.

The ridge was a mix of class 2 and 3 scrambling, occasionally requiring our hands but not very difficult. However, while the climbing was enjoyable, we were disappointed by the lack of views on the summit and didn’t stay long.

We quickly reversed our route and then located the ramp with a combination of rock cairns and a GPS waypoint.

We hoped the weather would hold (or actually improve) as we wanted to climb Tijeras’s neighbor Music Mountain as well. From the exit to the snow ramp we contoured around the basin again dodging marshes and willows and aiming for the long east ridge of Music.

Ice axes again came out for a hundred feet of snow climbing to gain the ridge.

The east ridge started out gently enough, but soon provided more challenges and exposure.

After passing a notch the difficulties increased to class 4 scrambling before easing off again.

The rock was mostly sound, but a few loose boulders were noticed and had to be carefully passed. While avoiding these dangers we took the time to admire the Upper Sand Lake from above.

Clouds intermittently came and went, buzzing our little ridge but giving us short views of the surroundings.

Best of all, we could see the summit of Music Mountain just to our north along a steep ridge and anticipate the fun scrambling ahead.

Once again, the difficulties weren’t consistent, but revolved between class 2, 3 and 4 scrambling with another crux just before the true summit.

The clouds had mostly left to gather elsewhere and the skies to our west were largely blue and encouraging to a longer break on the summit.

After warming up just below the summit in the sun and out of the wind we started down to reverse our ascent route.

We quickly made it back down the east ridge and past all the difficulties, then dropped back into our basin to locate camp. Once there we packed up thinking it might rain before long and set off hoping to stay dry crossing Sand Creek again.

Our pace slowed down as we used lower gears to regain Music Pass before stopping for a final look back at Tijeras and Music.

Once back at the trailhead Pete decided he could use a good downhill run so switched into running shoes while I worked my way down the road for 3 miles to wait for his run to finish up. All great hikes and climbs deserve a brewery ending, so we made a stop in Colorado Springs at the Phantom Canyon Brewing company.

Adam’s Photo Gallery

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As I told Pete on Friday’s drive to Garden of the Gods, “I have to wake up twice today.” So I found myself trying to get 5 hours of sleep at 6pm and realizing only about half that by the 11:30pm alarm.

1:40am finds us departing from the Longs Peak trailhead for the now familiar trudge up to Chasm Junction. A few stars are out at the trailhead, but mostly clouds dominate. I notice much less snow on this trail than 2 weeks ago, but am disappointed it didn’t freeze well overnight and there’s no sign of ice on the puddles we stomp through.

Still navigating by headlamp Sarah and I reach Chasm Lake first and decide to try the northern route around the lake. We stay too close to the shore at first and I nearly avoid getting a soaking foot when the snow fails to support my weight and I find my foot in a pool of water just below my boot cuff.

Dominic and Jamie take the southern route and we all meet up on the far side about the same time. Just ahead we can see a couple headlamps working their way towards Lambs Slide and figure they must have bivied here last night. Sunrise comes as we’re climbing the snow of Lambs Slide and we catch up to the two climbers who let me take over kicking steps for the final ascent to Broadway.

Broadway is a sloping ledge that runs clear across the east face of Longs Peak and just below the Diamond. Everyone breaks out ropes and crampons at this point and I let the other two climbers (John and Jonathan) start across first. It turns out they’ve elected to belay the traverse across Broadway pitch by pitch while Sarah and I were planning to simul-climb. After suffering our chomping at their heels for two pitches, they kindly let us pass.

Unfortunately, they let us pass right at the crux of Broadway – a boulder that requires one to either crawl under or lean out around. Easy moves but with lots of air below your heels. I setup a belay on the far side and Sarah soon comes across. She did the exposed move quickly, but had left one of my cams in the rock to protect the harder down climb to the boulder. I had anticipated this and John and Johnathan were kind enough to collect my cam and return it to us.

After a couple rope lengths of simul-climbing we reached the entrance to the Notch Couloir and I collected our two pickets from Sarah and then started the long process of kicking steps. Since the snow hadn’t frozen well overnight it wasn’t well consolidated and required a few kicks to build a stable platform.

In all, I found the snow conditions to be some of the worse of this spring – worse than Savage Couloir and a far cry from Dreamweaver. In a few spots I felt I was excavating a trench and I should have brought a shovel.

At least the couloir had some amazing views down to Chasm Lake framed by the large rock cliffs on either side.

Sarah and I continued to simul-climb placing our few pickets where I couldn’t find any decent rock protection. In general I kept about one and a half pieces of protection on the shortened rope separating us.

John and Jonathan elected to avoid the crowds building in the Notch and head up Kleiner’s route. Besides Sarah and I traveling as a rope team, Dominic and Jamie were also following and another two person group was catching up. Later a three person party would also trail all of us.

The two person group passed Dominic and Jamie, but must have decided to let me continue to break trail since they settled in behind Sarah and I. Like on Dreamweaver, we’d planned to pitch out the crux pitches that Cooper’s “Snow Climbs” book said could be up to M3 (mixed rock and ice, about 5.7 in difficultly). However, we found both these spots to be predominately snow with just a little 60 degree ice and were comfortable continuing to simul-climb through the cruxes.

About 9:30am we reached the notch and finished our snow climb. The notch was windy and we settled on a ledge to make up for the lack of food and water over the last several hours. We hadn’t wanted to stop with multiple groups behind us and slow everyone down.

Sarah and I wanted to locate an easy fifth class climb that led to the summit. However, we weren’t sure how far behind Dominic and Jamie were and if they’d want to proceed up that same route or consider other options, such as descending down to the Clark’s Arrow route to bail off the Loft or up to the summit via the Homestretch. We cursed the lack of foresight that prevented us bringing radios.

While waiting we explored just east of the notch looking for the gully and the slabs leading there. I was suddenly distracted by seeing a cam sticking out of the rock. I figured the lobes were over cammed and there would be no way I could remove it. However, I took my nut tool and started working on the trigger. I found the cam was actually under cammed and assumed the person who had tried to remove it just couldn’t access the trigger since it was deep in a crack. Soon I’d acquired what looked to be a nearly new $60 piece of climbing gear!

Back to the mission, we found a good belay spot and the slabs that must lead to the rock climb. Dominic soon appeared, about a half hour behind us and they rested while I started across the slabs.

For some reason I was trying to match up a photo I’d seen of the climb and only half remembered and so I wasted a lot of time traversing around trying to look at different gullies. Instead I should have just taken the first one (which looked quite reasonable). Eventually, I came to my senses and belayed Sarah across the slabs.

The two person group started climbing out of the notch and took a slightly higher line than I had and basically cut my first two pitches into one.

I set out to follow them and arrived at their belay station just as the leader was taking off for the next pitch. The follower and I looked at each other and he commented “Don’t I know you?” and I replied “Scott?” Scott and I had first met climbing one of James Peak’s couloirs last year. It seemed strangely appropriate to run into him again on a couloir climb.

Once they’d climbed off and Sarah arrived at the belay I headed up for another pitch, but ended up stopping at about a half rope length. The climbing above looked easier (3rd and 4th class) and we’d move faster without pitching it out.

From here we followed Scott and his partner along the ridge north to the summit.

Once at the top we debated about our descent route. Scott’s team was worried about the snow conditions on the north face and so elected to descend the Homestretch to Clark’s Arrow and the Loft. We really wanted to descend the North Face, or old Cables Route (so named because the park service used to have hand cables running up the face to assist ascents) since we thought it would be faster.

Again wishing for radios, Sarah and I discussed the options while waiting for Dominic and Jamie. We quickly decided to try to the North Face route since the sky had definitely clouded up and we expected rain and worse at any minute. Thankfully, the clouds lifted just enough to allow us to see as we started down the North Face looking for the top eye bolt to rappel from.

The last couple hundred feet to the old eye bolt is steeper and in the soft snow we decided to belay the climbing. Dominic led down, then I sent Sarah and Jamie down with prussiks on the rope before following them down.

After the first rope length, a half length pitch took us to the eye bolt where we anchored in and then tied our two ropes together for the 60 meter rappel down to easier angled snow.

Once in the Boulder Field the skies finally took the expected step of producing rain and thunder. The Boulder Field and all the alpine tundra below was a wet mess of running water and soft snow over pooled water.

In many places the “trail” was more “creek” and flowing with several inches of water.

Splashing my way I rushed down until I reached treeline where I found a dry rock under a tree and waited for the others to catch up. Sometime after 5pm we finally staggered back to the trailhead for an over 15 hour day. We could hardly change into dry clothes fast enough for the long anticipated stop at Oskar Blues for dinner and beer.

Adam’s Photo Gallery
Sarah’s Photos

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Pete and I were out to make up for our past failure on Cheesman Mountain in Jefferson County. This time we were coming prepared with a 60 meter static line, prussiks and some thinner cord to toss over the summit formation.

We hiked up the shady side to Cheesman and were soon back under the familiar summit block that had stymied us back in March.

I took out one of the two 50 foot sections of parachute cord I’d bought and Pete found a rock to toss. After tying the two together I took aim and launched my first stop short of the summit. Attempt two got the rock on top of the formation, but not over the other side. Once the rock came untied on top the cord jammed into the jumble of rocks on top.

Thankfully, I had the other 50 feet of cord and Pete produced a stuff sack and another rock. I let him take over and his first shot was also short. His second volley had plenty of vertical but absolutely no horizontal vector. Once we recovered from a fit of laughter Pete composed himself for a third launch. This time the rock sailed smoothly over the summit and by flicking slack into our heavier line eventually the rock touched down on the far side.

Once we’d pulled the static line all the way over the summit I anchored it to two large boulders then returned to the other side where I prussiked up to the summit. Two visits, at least 8 throws and now I had finally climbed to the summit of Cheesman Mountain. Actually it was all rather anticlimactic.

After rappelling back down I gave Pete some instruction on how to ascend a fixed line and he started up.

Then he safely rappelled and we undid the anchor and managed to pull the line back without jamming it in the rope-grabbing summit boulders.

Our next objective was over an hour away in Garden of the Gods. After stopping by the visitors center to register for a climbing permit we hurried out to jump on the route. Montezuma’s Tower was our goal.

After sorting the gear Pete put me on belay and I started up. I found the initial climb a little run out, but the climbing wasn’t hard. Still I was happy to clip the first bolt on the route.

There are several bolts and a couple fixed pins on the North Ridge, but I was glad to bolster the protection with a few cams and stoppers as well. The climbing was fairly easy, but wildly exposed on this narrow arete with about 270 degrees worth of tourists standing around and qawking at you.

At the belay stance over half way up the ridge I noticed a pigeon sitting on a next just below my feet. With some anxiety she watched my every move as I clipped a bolt and pin then yelled down “Off belay!”. After pulling up the slack I put Pete on belay and he followed up the climb while I watched the tourists watching me.

Pete soon arrived at the narrow belay stance where we reversed roles and I took the gear back from him. Looking up the next portion of the climb looked really exposed. Thankfully, it turned out to be even easier climbing and I could get in a cam before reaching the next bolt. The summit quickly appeared and I settled in to await Pete’s arrival.

We took some time to slowly reorganize the ropes on this beautiful day while taking in the views.

Pete had carried up a second rope since one by itself wouldn’t get us to the ground. With the two ropes tied together and the ends tossed down below I left our airy perch for a quick descent.

Pete soon followed and we pulled down the ropes then chatted with a party just about to start up the same route.

It was still early and we had plenty of time for a late lunch at Trinity Brewing Company before driving back up to Golden.

Adam’s Photos

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The last forecast I’d seen for this area promised an overnight low near 37 degrees at 12,000 feet so I was excited to wake up a few times during the night and see 33-35 degrees on my thermometer here at 10,500 feet. About 6am John, Renata, Pete and I started up the now familiar trail to the basin below Mount Powell and Peak C. Just above the camp we found the snow well frozen and the sky was clear (another forecast failure working in our favor). A group of 4 skiers were just leaving their camp below the basin and headed for Mount Powell.

Once in the basin we strapped on crampons as the morning sun lit up “East Corner” peak.

To get to Peak C we first needed to climb a short couloir that broke the steep cliffs of the ridge running west from Peak C.

Pete was feeling strong this morning and took over the last bit of step kicking to led us to the saddle.

From this saddle we had a view of Peak C’s west face and could pick out the alternate line of ascent detailed in Cooper’s “Scrambles” book. It looked mostly snow covered, but while we had a rope, we hoped not to use it and his description mentioned requiring a rope for the downclimbs. Further to the right the normal southwest couloir ascent was hidden, but hinted at by the fan of wet slide debris. We decided to take this normal route.

We were able to traverse over to the couloir without losing any elevation.

Once we were at the base of the southwest couloir, I abdicated step kicking to Pete and John who led a good way up the route. Most of the lower couloir was moderately angled – about 30-35 degrees.

As we climbed higher we could see that the couloir ended on the south ridge of Peak C with a large gendarme blocking access to the summit. We ended up following steeper snow (~40 degrees) to our left and meeting the south ridge less than a hundred vertical feet from the summit.

The wind was blowing strong enough that Pete and I didn’t want to sit on the exposed ridge long, so we hurried up about 50 feet to a large rock and found shelter on the leeward side while basking in the sun. The view south along the Ripsaw Ridge at peaks C-Prime, D, E, F and G was amazing.

With large cornices overhanging the east side of the ridge, we stuck well to our left on a mix of rocks and snow as we worked our way up.

We had one slightly tricky downclimb just south of the summit. In summer, it was probably easy class 3, but with some snow and in crampons it felt a bit harder. However, none of felt the need for a rope and we were soon celebrating on the summit.

Looking north at Mount Powell we actually spotted several of the skiers standing on the summit. With the wind and a lot of snow left to descend, we didn’t spend long on the summit.

We quickly moved past the one tricky spot by spotting one another then continued back to the couloir which was still hard enough that we thought it best to face in and down climb the steeper upper section.

Once the angle eased off and we found the snow had softened enough, we switched to plunge stepping down the couloir where we regrouped.

From the couloir we reversed our traverse to the saddle on the southwest ridge of Peak C.

The north facing snow couloir we’d kicked steps up in the frozen morning was now soft enough to facilitate a speedy plunge step descent. Back in the basin we noticed some ski tracks descending from Kneeknocker Pass as we removed our crampons for the hike back to camp.

The weather wasn’t looking too favorable, so we quickly packed up camp and started down the climber’s trail. On the way in we’d often gotten off trail, but this time we followed the trail much more consistently by remembering that the trail was often a flowing creek.

The climber’s trail meets the main Upper Piney Trail at a series of small cascades – a popular day hike for visitors to the Piney River Ranch. Indeed, once we hit the main trail I was asked by a family “how far to the cascades?” Looking behind me I replied “50, no 40 feet.”

In all fairness, the cascades are not very spectacular, but they do make a nice place to picnic later in the summer. The real draw of the valley should be the open forests of aspens and the rock boulders at the bend in the valley that make for a great view looking west.

We rushed through the 3 mile hike back to the trailhead, but still enjoying the forests while hoping to avoid the rain that looked imminent. We did receive a few sprinkles and John’s shorts-with-long-underwear outfit provided a photo opportunity for some tourists near the ranch. Looking back east, we had a final parting view of Peak C flanked by Kneeknocker Pass on the left and our ascent couloir on the right.

Adam’s Mount Powell and Peak C photos
Pete’s Mount Powell and Peak C photos

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John, Renata, Pete and I made plans over a month ago to spend this weekend backpacking into the Gore Range via Piney Creek to attempt Mount Powell and Peak C. Saturday morning found us enjoying a beautiful day at the Piney River Ranch and setting off on a trail that pointed right at our objectives.

It was clearly spring down here, with spring beauties and larkspur blooming.

At the cascades, three miles into the hike, we located the cairn marking the climber’s trail up to the basin below Peak C and Mount Powell and struggled to follow the best route as snow and blow downs hindered our route finding.

Too late I realized that the small creek I was avoiding was the trail (last time I was here was the drier month of August) and we splashed our way upwards.

Around 10,500 feet we decided to setup our camp. Given the forecast we opted not to camp up in the higher basin above treeline. Plus, I was pretty sure there would be plenty of snow up there still and this would be a more comfortable place. After camp was arranged we decided we had enough of a weather window to try for Mount Powell still today. Continuing to follow the climber’s trail we soon hit plenty of snow.

We followed some footsteps until they suddenly turned north once in the basin. We were know above the trees and our first objective of Kneeknocker Pass was quite visible.

A few wet slide paths and avalanche debris were visible on all aspects around the basin, but there was a clean path up to Kneeknocker Pass. Once we reached the top of the pass I noticed two climbers who had just done a round-about ascent of Mount Powell. Their footprints had been the tracks we’d followed early. I discussed the snow conditions with them and we all agreed we’d head up a slightly different route that would avoid cornices and most of the wet slide paths.

From the pass we dropped down the other side and our steps immediately produced some snow rollers that careened down the slope below. One hit a convex roll and released a small wet slide. Initially all this activity had me nervous, but I was heartened to note that all the sliding snow was only the top 1.5 inches of new snow that hadn’t bonded well with the dust layer underneath. The snow under the dust layer was well consolidated and firm when we kicked our steps in deep. Small wet slides like weren’t likely to be a danger by themselves, but had the potential to knock one of us over. Thankfully the basin below was free off terrain traps with a safe run out.

After talking over the conditions and discussing our route we moved forward, traversing below some cliffs and heading for the standard route on Mount Powell.

The more time we spent traversing these slopes the better I felt about the potential avalanche danger. However, I was more concerned about the weather. Clouds were definitely gathering but not quite yet building.

Both due to the weather and the soft snow, afternoon’s aren’t my favorite time to ascend snow routes on mountains. Still, patches of blue sky to our west held out the promise that we had just enough time to reach Powell’s summit.

With a late 3pm summit we didn’t linger on top longer than 5 minutes before turning around and plunge stepping back down the south gully. Clouds were definitely building now and I’d feel better once we were back over Kneeknocker Pass.

Even with the weather looking threatening, it was hard not to stop and notice Peak C’s impressive northeast face.

Soon we were traversing back to Kneeknocker Pass and I noticed two new wet slides had partly covered our earlier tracks. Like we’d anticipated, they had slides had only involved the new layer of snow and produced a small debris cone below.

At the pass we quickly took off our crampons and added shell pants to assist the sitting glissade that would rapidly drop us back into the basin. On the way down the weather finally broke and thunder boomed nearby. We were glad to shortly hit treeline and descend back to camp.

On and off rain keep us under a sheltering pine tree for the rest of the evening. Eventually the sun shone briefly on the cliffs across the valley and produced a rainbow.

Before turning in we discussed when to wake up and begin our attempt on Powell’s southern neighbor, Peak C.

Adam’s Mount Powell and Peak C photos
Pete’s Mount Powell and Peak C photos

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Having missed celebrating National Trails Day on Saturday I sentence myself to an alpine start on Sunday and make plans to attend the huge alpine cathedral that is Chasm basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

1:30am and the alarm wakes me from sleep. Thankfully, the radio wasn’t playing a certain pop song by Gary Wright which would have been far too weird to contemplate. 2:30am and the bars have closed, many people are headed home after a long day. I meet Dominic and Sarah in Boulder and we’re just waking up for our own day. 3:30am finds us leaving the Longs Peak trailhead just ahead of another party – they’re probably headed to our route as well and it would be nice to get ahead of them.

I spread out from Dominic and Sarah a bit on the hike in and just take in the monastic silence of hiking uphill in the dark with just a small spot of illumination to concentrate on. We’ve departed earlier than last week’s trip so we get sunrise from inside the Chasm basin – who needs stained glass?

Like the great cathedrals of the medieval ages, Chasm Basin includes a Flying Buttress. Our route – Dreamweaver – lies adjacent to the huge buttress now glowing in the dawn light.

We pause on some rocks below the route to gear up (harnesses, helmets, ice axes and tools, and ropes) while watching a solo climber start up the couloir. The wind is gusting through our layers and hands go numb while we fiddle with metal but provides a certain push to climb up towards the sun.

We find well defined steps still in the snow and provide an easy route upwards past some avalanche debris and into the couloir’s first constriction. I’m surprised to the see the solo climber hanging out on what looks to be a steep section of icy rock.

Like Pete last week, this is Sarah and Dominic’s first real ice climbing experience, but they both have logged plenty of time on steep snow and rock. I’m prepared to belay our group as much as necessary to increase their comfort in this new medium, but we’d also like to climb fast and efficiently, which means belaying only when we really need to. With just 30 meter ropes, belays will also have to be short, so I lead up to just below the first icy crux and build and anchor while talking to the solo climber who is trying to re-warm his frozen fingers.

Once I sort out a completely tangled rope and tie into both strands I take off up the ice. Enjoying the solid swings of my tools I feel really secure leading this crux but then have to hunt around to find another belay. Finally, I locate an anchor and bring up Dominic and Sarah who are each climbing with one ice tool and one mountaineering axe.

Above this first crux the terrain levels off and we warm up in the sunshine while chatting with the thawing solo climber. His plan is to bail out to the Loft from this saddle near the top of the Flying Buttress. He gives us a little route information about what lies ahead and warns us to climb efficiently due to the chance of worsening weather.

A short scramble on rock and we’re back on snow and heading up a steeply inset snow gully with great views back down towards the Flying Buttress.

When the snow steepens and turns a little icy I check with the others to see if they’re okay continuing to solo or if we need to rope up. They choose to continue climbing unroped and we quickly pass the short ice bulges with no issues.

Above I spot a steeper section and figure we ought to belay this section. I locate another anchor and clear another knotted rope then start up, running out the rope until I exit the couloir onto a sloping snow field with some large rocks to belay from. Sarah and Dominic again quickly follow with some huge grins.

Dominic leads us up the steep snow field towards the summit of Mount Meeker.

Once near the summit we remove our crampons and pack away the technical gear then scramble to the top. The weather looks worse to our south and east so we feel safe but don’t dawdle before taking on the scramble to the east summit.

A hungry marmot greets our arrival at this lower summit and we eat in front of him before continuing along the east ridge.

We depart the east ridge at the Iron Gates and crash down scree and talus until we’re back in the basin admiring Dreamweaver from below again.

Sun bakes us as we hike out of the basin but eventually the clouds win and snow falls before we reach treeline.

I’ve been wanting to climb Dreamweaver for the last year or more and the smile on my face never fades on the hike out. Even in the snow I keep my head up and enjoy the walk back to the trailhead without ever consulting my watch to see how much longer it’ll take.

Later at Oskar Blues brewery I order the only beer that seems to match the day, a very hearty imperial stout with over 10% alcohol content.

Adam’s Photo Album
Sarah’s Photos

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The forecast wasn’t ideal for a snow climb – cloudy and not cold enough to really freeze up the route. 35 degrees at nearly 12,000 feet was the guess from NOAA. So I was understandably happy when the 4:50a alarm went off and I read 35 degrees at our 10,000 foot camp. I was less pleased to note the lack of stars in the sky overhead.

Pete, Sarah, Dominic and I had camped just below the Missouri Lakes Trailhead with our eyes on the Savage Couloir of Savage Peak. It was a striking line in a beautiful place (the Holy Cross Wilderness). At 5:30 we starting hiking up the trail which more resembled a small stream due to the failure of some water diversion structures.

As we got higher water on the trail was replaced by snow, but thankfully a few parties had been up and packed down the route enough that we never broke our our snowshoes.

The guide book we were following mentioned a stream crossing near 11,000 feet, but they must have come in when there was much more snow. Following the summer trail we made a bridged crossing of the creek to the south side then back to the north side well before 11,000 feet.

The perfect stream crossing log was found a bit over 11,000 feet and we could start to head more directly to the base of the Savage Couloir.

Even on the untracked snow we were now high enough that it was supportive of our steps and only rarely did we posthole. Cutting through the trees and slowly gaining elevation we aimed for the couloir – trusting on maps and compasses to direct us to what we hadn’t seen yet. Trust was well placed however, and we could now see the couloir.

Some avalanche debris was visible at the base of the couloir, and while we didn’t expect any slides this early in the day we decided to stop out of their range on some rocks and gear up with crampons, ice axes, sun block, and helmets.

The snow was less than ideal near the base of the couloir, and I found a breakable crust that would drop my leg to calf height once I weighted it. Moving onto the avalanche debris provided a more stable surface for us to gain the couloir.

The couloir itself was somewhat V-shaped. The right hand wall of rock was crumbling away and a funnel had formed on that side. We stayed further left which also provided snow that didn’t directly face the sun.

The snow conditions were mostly pretty good, with one kick providing a firm and deep step. Ice axe shafts could be securely plunged in for security. However, given the sloped nature of the couloir, the whole ascent felt a bit like a rising traverse as we stayed left of the funnel (and we did see a bit of small rock fall barrel down that path).

Partway up the couloir I stopped to eat a gel packet which I partially spilled in the snow. I scooped up the surrounding snow and gel and had an instant alpine slushy. Yum!

Near the top of the couloir it branched in two. Both sides looked “in shape” but the right side led more directly to the summit and was a little longer – so that’s the direction we headed.

On the way up I’d measured the slope angle three times and got consistent results of 42-44 degrees. The finish of the couloir was steeper and measured 50 degrees.

Then it was only a short walk to the summit which had amazing views and would have been a place to linger in the sun had it not been blowing about 20 mph.

Bundled up we started back down by following the ridge past both exits to the couloir.

Then we hit a wide east-facing bowl with provided a great glissade and enough drop in elevation to take us out of the wind. From the bowl we traversed over the east ridge and then down into the valley we’d ascended that morning.

We picked up our old tracks and back across the log and down the trail to finish at the cars around noon.

Dominic, Sarah and I were happy with the day’s activity and spread out gear to dry while enjoying a beer. Pete still had some energy to burn and he changed into running shoes before embarking on a 30 minute jog of the forest roads.

Adam’s Photo Album
Sarah’s Photos

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Pete and I left a busy Longs Peak trailhead at 4:15a and had to notice that at least two other parties (of 5 and 3) had left up to a hour before us with the same objective: the Flying Dutchman Couloir. With a path illuminated by headlamp we strolled up the trail slowly gaining elevation and staying pretty much right on our time schedule. Sunrise came just as were were passing through treeline.

At Chasm junction the Meeker to Longs panorama greeted us. The Dreamweaver couloir was obvious, as was the trough leading to the Loft between the two peaks. Less obvious was the Flying Dutchman, which only certain segments were revealed to us.

Foolishly, we’d carried our snowshoes up this far, but had never needed them since many prior feet had trampled down the snow. The extra weight was cached under a rock and behind some bushes for later retrieval and we continued towards Chasm Lake.

At the lake the view of the Diamond on Longs Peak was nearly overwhelming. We had to traverse around the lake and seek out our more shy route.

With a large head start, I’d figured the other groups would be partway up the couloir by now but I was surprised to see all 8 people gathered at the base still adjusting crampons and getting ready for the climb. At first I hoped we could quickly shoot by them, but in the short time it took us to gear up both groups started upwards.

In a wide couloir I may not have worried too much about the other groups, but partway up the Flying Dutchman was a short technical crux that I knew everyone would rope up for. I didn’t want to be behind these two groups and waiting at that bottleneck. So with Pete trailing I pushed myself up the route and soon came up behind the last member of the 5 person group who turned out to be a CMC climb. They politely let me pass.

The 3 person group was also nice and let me by and I found out one of the climbers was from Indiana and was moving well despite being here for only a couple days.

With Pete and I in the lead I decided to be nice by hurrying to the crux and building an anchor so we could quickly climb and get out of the way of the others. Pete arrived and I took the rope from him while he worriedly eyed the crux ahead. He’d never done any ice climbing before.

The first 15 feet of the climb turned out to be great alpine ice – perfect sticks with my ice tools brought confidence as I lead upwards. I tried to place an ice screw but found the ice was too soft for that. Instead a perfect crack for a .75 cam presented itself to my left. Then I ran out the rest of the 30 meter rope to find a large block with a sling from a prior party. I backed it up by slinging another block then clipped in. Pete soon began to climb up after warning the other groups that he was going to be slow since this was his first time on ice. Despite being nervous, he climbed really well and was soon onto the steeper snow and little bit of mixed terrain to join me.

Down below I heard the leader of the next group start, then back off the climb. They were discussing what to do when I offered to drop down our rope and give them a top rope belay to climb up. They accepted and Pete warmed up while I belayed the first person from the other team up to my stance.

Pete and I then started up the rest of the couloir, aiming for some rocks above to take a quick break.

Pete took a turn leading through the steep snow until we topped out on a ridge leading to the Ship’s Prow. A right hand variation looked a little more direct to the Loft, but had a large cornice so we were happy with our route choice.

After taking a break we took off our crampons and headed up to the Loft and then eastwards towards Mount Meeker. Behind us, the view of Longs Peak was very impressive.

An easy scramble took us to the summit where we then had to find a route on top of the summit block.

A gray cloud that had been hovering over the summit soon disappeared and we headed along a sharp ridgeline to the east summit of Mount Meeker under clearing skies.

One section was an enjoyably exposed knife edge reminiscent of Capitol Peak.

From the east summit the difficulties eased to class 2, but the views of Longs Peak and the huge cliffs down to our left were amazing. Eventually we reached the gap in the cliffs that was known as the Iron Gates where we could scramble down to loop back below Chasm Lake.

We collected our snowshoes back at Chasm junction then started down the trail reliving a wonderful day. Even a thunderstorm’s steady rain on the last half mile to the trail head couldn’t dampen our spirits.

Adam’s Photo Gallery
Pete’s Photo Gallery

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