Archive for October, 2009

For Sunday’s hike Pete and I selected Kenosha Pass because it had the best forecast of anywhere within a two hour’s drive. Plus, I’d driven over the pass the day prior and saw no snow so we guessed we’d have an easy hike. “Cone Master” is guidebook author Gerry Roach’s name for the 3-peak link up we’d be attempting.

Pete was able to drive a couple miles past the pass itself towards our first peak, North Twin Cone Peak, to the first switchback at 10,400 feet. We could have driven even further, but still wanted to get in some miles today.

Following the road up we felt it was much warmer than forecasted, but eventually hit colder air and a bit of wind above treeline.

The sun intermittently poked out of clouds that seemed to stay on all the 13’ers in sight. Our little 12,000+ foot peaks were blessed with fewer clouds and less snow.

We left the 4wd road and scrambled directly up to the summit of North Twin Cone Peak for our first summit of the day.

I found a summit register tucked between rocks near the communication tower, but a quick perusal of the contents showed 4wd enthusiasts were the main contributors. Not really caring to add our names to that crowd, we left the register unsigned and headed towards Mount Blaine.

A little rock hoping and some light bushwhacking through willows brought out the comment that the willows in these alpine tundra regions of the Lost Creek were never that bad. There was always a nice trail through them. Of course, we’d have reason to regret that comment later.

However, the rest of the hike to Mount Blaine’s unranked summit went smoothly and we were soon checking out the interesting rocks on the top.

We still had a bit of a hike to the highest peak of the day, South Twin Cone Peak.

We struggled a bit more through the willows at its base – finding a few places where we had to push through and no decent trail existed. Still, it wasn’t bad (yet) and we continued up open slopes.

Knowing we’d have to face into the wind on our descent, we added extra layers before starting off the summit and aiming for the willow mess below.

Here we hit the real crux of the day – willows well over human height that consisted of a few dead-ending passages and lots of boggy terrain. Instead of staying high around them we bullheadedly pushed on through and cussed the resilient plants. Pete finally came up with a full-body tackle method of getting by, but I wasn’t really sure whether the plant or the person came out on top.

Eventually we reached the 4wd road again and finished up the hike in willow-free bliss.

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John, Renata and I originally planned to go after the peak 11180, which had a small technical section and resided just NE of McCurdy Peak in the Lost Creek Wilderness. However, new snow in the last week meant the long approach from the Twin Eagles trailhead meant we had to shorten our objectives. I’d already climbed the closer peak 11460 just two weeks before, but didn’t mind repeating it.

While on the approach hike of the Brookside-McCurdy trail we ran into two separate groups of backpackers who were completing a large loop starting from the Goose Creek Trailhead. The second group greeted us with the strange question:

“Are you food?”

While wondering about the possibility of their cannibalistic tendencies, I tried to rephrase their question “Do you need food? Are you out?” Turns out they half expected to run into someone out here from an online forum who went by the handle “Food”.

We took a different line to the summit than Pete and I had two weeks prior, we stayed lower in the woods trying to avoid the boulders that would have been really treacherous with the dusting of snow. A little hunting around and we found the base of our climb and I led up with one mitten and one glove then worked on rewarming myself on top while belaying John and Renata up. A short rappel took us back down where we were soon walking in the sun and warming up again.

With evening plans we couldn’t go after McCurdy Peak or 11180, so we all decided to repeat 11762.

After a quick lunch in a sunny and somewhat wind sheltered spot near the summit, we made the several hour return trip to the trailhead.

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Armed with a perfect weather forecast I decided to take a Monday off and go into peak-bagger mode. For a goal, I chose 5 peaks on the southeast side of the Lost Creek Wilderness, all unnamed.

A bit after 7am I left the Wigwam trailhead, walked the Wigwam trail for nearly 2 minutes, then headed straight up the slopes to my right aiming for “The Wigwam” a 9,500 foot peak.

This first peak would take 1,100 feet of climbing and a bit of scrambling as I worked my way around some cliffs and a few false summits. From the top I had a nice view up the Wigwam Creek drainage.

I headed west off the summit and then found myself plunge stepping down a bowl of eroded South Platte pebbles. I expected to find the trail before I reached Wigwam Creek, but came out in the one brief spot where the trail had crossed to the south side of the creek. After making the crossing I emptied my shoes and started hiking up the valley.

I accumulated another 1,000 feet of gain (2,100ft total so far) in the hike up the valley, but passed the time admiring the rock formations off the trail.

A large beaver pond marked the junction of the Wigwam and Goose Creek trails and I turned south on the Goose Creek.

Again, I didn’t stay long on the trail but soon made another right turn up mostly open forest gaining elevation on the east, then south-facing slopes leading to “Wigwam Park Peak” and it’s 11,180 foot summit. That was good for almost another 1,700 feet (3,800 feet running total). From the summit I had a view west of other granite domes and white-capped peaks farther away.

Also from the summit I could see east towards 10,620, my next goal.

I descended somewhat east and northeast off the summit, hit the Goose Creek trail and then started up 10620’s west slopes for another 800 feet of gain. Thankfully a few clouds rolled by and offered some shade. Those same clouds also violated the 0% chance of precipitation in my forecast by dropping a couple of snow flakes or rain drops. I couldn’t tell what they were and they stopped quickly enough.

Behind the cloud was a horizon of blue sky, so I kept going and soon found 10620’s summit boulders, which provided some nice 3rd class scrambling.

Most impressive were the large rock fins just south of “Wigwam Park Peak” across the valley.

The view south was a little discouraging. My next two summits along this ridge (10605 and 10654) looked a long ways off.

At first the descent off 10620 went well, but then I began to hit a field of closely spaced aspens that forced me to push through.

Aspens gave way to a burned area and I soon found 10605’s summit after a 300 ft gain from the saddle.

After leaving 10605 and continuing south I stayed west of the ridge crest to avoid some cliffs and spent a fair amount of time backtracking and hunting out the best path between car-sized boulders. Once at the next saddle, I had another 600 feet to gain to my last summit and was seriously slowing down by now.

A bit after 2pm I finally reached 10654, and was as far from my car as I’d been all day. The shortest way back involved dropping off to the east and “bushwhacking” through a burned area, side-hilling to avoid private property. If I’d had a few waypoints in my GPS I might have taken this option. Instead, part of me wanted to hike all of the Goose Creek Trail and I was frankly sick of bushwhacking now.

So I headed north back to the saddle between 10605 and 10654 then dropped west into Goose Creek. I’d already done 5,500 feet of gain today and was nearly out of water. Plus, I knew I was facing another 1,000 feet of climbing on the Goose Creek trail itself before the long downhill stretch back to the Wigwam trailhead.

It took nearly two hours (including a water break at a creek) before I hit the trail and knew I didn’t really have to think anymore. Still, the sunny warm day was a painful liability on the 1,000 foot climb with little shade to the saddle between Goose and Wigwam creeks.

I barely even noticed the formations as I death-marched on by.

Life was slowly restored as I crossed into the Wigwam drainage and into shade. Propelled along by the downhill course, I started drinking and eating again.

By the time I left the Goose Creek Trail I was enjoying the hike again, even with it’s over 6,500 feet of elevation gain. Still, almost every other peak I’ve climbed this year has been one I’d repeat, but I can’t imagine returning to these summits again. Backpacking or hiking on these trails – I’d certainly return for that.

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At 4:35am in a Walmart parking lot Pete and I squared off in a strange tactical game of blinking and yawning. The object was to convince the other person that we were the more tired so that they’d volunteer to drive. Our yawning match proved a stalemate and Pete broke protocol by blatantly suggesting I drive.

Or maybe he was returning to our old protocol of alternating drivers, a scheme that had been more honored in the breach lately. Regardless, we loaded up and I tried to wake up with a thermos of coffee as we headed over the divide and to the Holy Cross Wilderness.

A little after sun-up we were hiking up the Holy Cross Road (a very rough 4wd road) and passing a few spots of snow. As we neared the wilderness boundary the snow grew much deeper and we decided to leave the trail and walk on the sunny side of the valley.

We navigated through pines and tried to avoid the deeper sections of snow as much as possible by staying high on the slopes of Whitney Peak. It probably would have made a lot of sense to head straight up Whitney’s sunny south slopes, but we enjoy hiking because its unreasonable.

We continued to gain height in the French Creek valley which also equated to running into more snow.

We found suggestions of the trail where it crossed back to our side of the valley near the start of the Seven Sisters Lakes. I’ll bet this place is really pretty in July when the wildflowers are out.

After a break we started up Fall Creek Pass, but not really following the trail.

From near the pass we headed up the northwest slopes of Whitney Peak, zigzagging to link the more windblown sections of shallower snow. Along the way up the views of the Gore Range reminded me of all the unclimbed peaks I have left in that range. Furthermore, once we hit the west summit of Whitney Peak, the Temmile-Mosquito, parts of the Sawatch and a huge number of Elk range peaks dominated the horizons.

This western summit wasn’t the true highpoint, so we headed east towards the true summit and a stack of lenticular clouds over the front range.

The true summit is a large block just tall enough that you actually have to make a few climbing moves to reach the top.

I’d brought a short length of rope, which was easily tossed over the top, and Pete put me on belay from the other side of the boulder. I did a quick hop and mantle move and was on the summit.

We switch positions and Pete tried the same trick but found it hard to commit to the move while giving up a couple inches in height to me. We found another climbable option and Pete quickly sent that route.

Our mission accomplished, we decided to avoid the snow slog through the valley and took the south slopes straight back to the 4wd road.

Right after we hit the road we heard a strange motorized noise then saw the type of vehicle required to travel this road.

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Original plans to travel far from town for the weekend broke down and Jeremy and I decided to hit some several pitch trad classics in Eldo. He’d recently climbed Rewritten (5.7) on the Redgarden Wall so directed us back to that area. We were looking at a couple easier climbs, but first had to reach the Red Ledge. Jeremy suggested climbing The Zot Face (5.8) and I took the first lead. The rock was shaded and morning still cool and my fingers were numb by the time I reached the crux. I placed a couple cams and then hung on the rope while rewarming my digits. Finally, I moved through the crux quickly and made several pauses on the rest of the pitch to reheat my fingers.

Jeremy followed and brought the sun onto the rock with his ascent.

Jeremy took the next short pitch to gain the Red Ledge (5.3). Since it was so short I let him take the next pitch on the left hand variation to Swanson Arete. I followed, then took the lead for the next pitch of this 5.5 climb. Looking up, the climbing looked harder at first glance with a few roofs.

However, an abundance of good holds kept the climbing reasonable and there was plenty of protection available.

From the top of the tower I had a conversation with another group finishing the Yellow Spur (5.9), the last pitch of which we’d be doing soon.

First, we had to make 3 rappels back down to the Red Ledge.

It was Jeremy’s turn to lead, so after another group went by he started up Icarus (5.6) and quickly found it true to its run-out nature. On my pitch I stayed further left than the normal variation to follow a crack where it looked like I could place a few more pieces.

Jeremy got to lead our final pitch of the day, the wildly exposed finish to the Yellow Spur.

Then we made 4 rappels back to the base to find it was already 5:30p and time to head home.

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The weekend on the front range had been cold and wet with forecasted sun and higher temps never arriving. Not knowing what to expect in the Lost Creek Wilderness, I had way too much in my pack as we left the Twin Eagles Trailhead.

The curving Brookside-McCurdy trail led us around private property and through aspen stands freshly denuded. We pondered how beautiful this spot would have been a couple weeks ago. At least the natural arch never fades.

About 5 miles in we reached a saddle and junction with the McCurdy Park trail. I queried Pete to see if he wanted to take a short detour to ranked peak 11762. In a role reversal, Pete decided he’d rather nap and watch our climbing gear while I made the trek. Plus, Pete had climbed 11762 previously.

I left much of my gear and fast hiked off on the McCurdy Park trail to a saddle and a view of the treeless slopes on 11762.

Turning left I headed up hill and soon scrambled onto the summit boulders.

The wind threatened to push me off the summit, so I left and once I hit the trail I began a slow jog back. Speeding up as I descended I reached Pete after 45 minutes (and a thousand feet up and back down).

Pete debated whether he was more tired than if he hadn’t taken that short nap as we countoured around the rock towers to the east, aiming for the ranked peak 11460.

The rock formations were amazing and I was thinking about coming back with a full rack and rope some day in the future.

A little scouting and a little trusting of the GPS brought us to the final obstacle to 11460’s summit. The short (40 foot) climb was technically easy, rated about 5.4, and I climbed on only a tiny half rope and placed just two cams before reaching the slung rappel boulder. Pete quickly followed and kidded around for the camera.

The rock formations in view from the top were phenomenal and we could even see into Goose Creek where we’d been just a couple weeks before.

Pete surfed the summit and we signed the register (again, we pretty much knew everyone who had signed it since the late 90’s).

We rappelled the short climb to return to our packs.

Descending towards the south we hit an open marsh with some intriguing rock spires.

A compass bearing of due east took us fairly efficiently towards our next goal – peak 11328.

We found some fun scrambling to reach the summit, including the large 4th class summit boulder itself.

In a case of not wanting to downclimb what we’d come up, we hunted around for the best way off the summit that didn’t involve a short section of overhanging rock. Finally, we pieced together the best route which included a little cave to crawl through.

The spires near the marsh made a perfect landmark for our return trip.

Then we continued the bushwhack west and then southwest eventually hitting the Brookside-McCurdy trail again. A few back-lit aspens provided some company on the return hike.

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White Ranch Park

I’ve become a weather wimp since moving to Colorado. Over-endowed with sunny days, the climate leaves me unprepared for those rare wet weekends. After excusing my way out of any hikes Saturday, I made plans with Helen to hike on Sunday so I wouldn’t back out.

With just a morning available we headed to White Ranch Park, which provided more snow-dusted trees than anywhere else closer.

We were the only car at the trailhead at 8am, so Torrey the lab got to run free a bit (shhhh, don’t tell the rangers).

We mostly had the park to ourselves, minus seeing a huge group that looked like a CMC Wilderness Survival course in the middle of our 6+ mile loop. They were all clustered near the parking lot so we were soon past and only ran into another 2 hikers.

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