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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Friday evening driving through Colorado Springs and west on US 24 eventually produces the traffic thinning we were looking for. Pink granite boulders sprout out of hillsides as we near Lake George and we know we’re close, even before the iPhone told us so.

Light fades as we setup tents in the Riverside campground and the air is chilling rapidly. No firewood. We drive back several miles to Woodland Park for dinner and to cell towers to inform a few others where we’re at.

22 degrees is the lowest I see on the watch overnight. I’m plenty warm in the tent and the sun is over an hour away but desire for coffee outweighs goose down warmth so I get up and prepare breakfast. Jeremy and I walk across the road into the sun and slowly warm up when Jonathan pulls up.

A little last minute sorting of gear and we’re headed down the canyon, trying to ID the formations on our first visit here, to Elevenmile Canyon.

I’m consulting a library of four different guide books, each with its own unique inclusion and exclusion of facts. The roulette wheel of flipping pages between text, maps and pictures and finally stops when we park at the Elevenmile picnic area. Turret Dome will be our first objective. We wander around the south side of the dome and scramble into a gully where the route Jaws starts. After gearing up (and abandoning the library under a large rock) I start up and quickly decide we should belay from out of the gully where we can hear each other. I build and anchor and belay the others up easy terrain then we restack ropes and I head up towards the overhanging arch.

I’m thankful that we brought a couple larger #4 cams as I try to selectively protect the traverse below the arch. Rope drag is going to be a problem, and I back clean the first piece to try to keep the angle lower. I hope it helped, since the friction was bad enough by the time I reached the crux mantle moves near the base of the water buckets. With two single ropes to pull through my arms get tried quickly and I end up using my leg as an additional lever to pull the ropes in.

Jeremy re-racks and leads up pitch two which was really fun, climbing over water buckets.

Jonathan and I follow up to the base of the roof above. Jeremy is interested in leading the 5.7 crack through the roof (really the route “Upper Lip”). After slotting a #3 cam in the crack he pulls the roof and moves steadily through the rest of the pitch.

While he climbs and Jonathan belays I admire the views up canyon.

I follow the pitch next and Jonathan works on removing the gear. Unfortunately, he can’t remove that first #3 cam, which has rotated and bottomed out with the non-cam portion of the head resting on rock. I finish the pitch and discuss with Jeremy and we eventually tell Jonathan to leave the cam and come on up.

The rest of the gear removes okay and we rig a rope as a fixed line for Jeremy to rappel down. Once down a lot of playing and a bit of knowledge of how the cam was placed finally frees it. I rejoice since it was my piece of expensive gear. Using some of our skills from a recent guides techniques course, Jeremy sets his belay device as an ascender and with an additional prussik wears himself out scooting up the rope.

From the top of the formation we hunt around and eventually piece together the 5.0 down climb and slab walk-off. Jeremy and I comment how this felt like a Joshua Tree walk off.

Back at the car we enjoy lunch and views of Arch Rock when Jenn pulls up.

We can now climb in 2 groups of two, so Jonathan and I gather our gear and walk over to Arch Rock and find a group almost done with pitch one of The Staircase. Known as maybe Colorado’s best 5.5 climb it usually has a long line. Luckily, everyone else seems interested in the sport climbs nearby. I rack up while Jonathan flakes the rope and a small dog scampers up the first 15 feet of the route to say hi to the climber above.

I find the first pitch pretty mellow with lots of gear placements. The wide ledge at the end is occupied by the second of the group ahead, but I still find room to clip the rappel webbing and start stacking the rope as Jonathan heads up.

I re-rack when he arrives and apologize for switching his and Jeremy’s name for the umpteenth time today. Then I start up the actual “staircase” section. Past these horizontal bands the straight up route would be a 5.8 off-width crack. I take the normal tactic of moving off on a ledge to the left then flanking back right to end on a great platform for a belay. Jonathan follows and we coil the rope and wait for Jeremy and Jenn to arrive next.

The day is getting late, but we hurry back to the base of the wall and find a father and son just finishing up on the Hollow Flake route. After the pull the rope I start up one of the 5.7 direct variations and then find myself switching technique every 5 feet from crack, to layback, to face and back. After lowering off this one-pitch climb, Jonathan follows to clean the gear and rappel back down.

We head back to our camp where Jonathan leaves for home and Jenn, Jeremy and I decide to drive into Woodland Park for dinner rather than sit around the cold campsite. Of course, when we come back, we do just that as clouds have moved in and keep the night about 10 degrees warmer.

Desire for coffee gets me up at the same time on Sunday morning but the morning isn’t as cold. Once the sun gets near, Jenn walks off to the “burning bush” to take in the heat.

With just the three of us today we drive up canyon as it warms up to reach Pine Cone Dome.

Jeremy racks up to lead the first pitch, but something feels off about the start of “Stone Ages” so he backs off and explores some other possibilities.

Eventually he passes the lead to me and I decide to try the neighboring “Armaj Das”, to which I traverse off our belay ledge then practically bushwhack through an aspen’s branches as I move up.

The climbing is fun and I really enjoy the pitch before stopping below the big flake to build a belay anchor. Jenn and Jeremy follow with the yellow leaves below.

Jeremy leads up, following the undercling of the huge flake while Jenn and I admire the views and watch as two mule deer walk into the clearing below.

I see the first deer look up at us and I start talking aloud the conversation I imagine is going on below.

Deer 1: Whoaa, crazy, there’s people up there.
Deer 2: [obliviously looking dead ahead]
Deer 1: [puts its nose in Deer 2’s ear] No, look up, there’s people on the rock.
Deer 2: [obliviously looking dead ahead]
Deer 1: [jerks his head up as if pointing at us] No, to your right!
Deer 2: [looks right, but doesn’t raise head]
Deer 1: Uggh, look up!
Deer 2: [walks off]
Deer 1: I can’t show you anything

Jeremy calls off-belay and we follow the pitch after laughing at the deer.

From the summit we scramble up some slabs then locate a ramp that leads down off the formation’s back side.

Walking back to the front side we spot some climbers on “Roof Bypass”.

Then we head further left until we find the start of the route “Jolly Jugular”.

Jeremy gets to lead this first pitch as I belay amongst the aspens.

When following I find plenty of juggy handholds to warrant the name, then I take the rack for the second pitch.

I finish up in the same spot and we repeat the walk off to return to the car. Lunch back at the campsite where we break down the now dried out tents. Then we head back up the canyon and find ourselves at Arch Rock again because it’s in the sun. We decide to try a route called “Arch Rock Route” which at 5.8 is a little tougher than the rest of what we’ve climbed this weekend. I start up the first pitch after attempting and backing off the direct start (5.9+) and find some great hand and foot jams interspersed with a few face holds. I run out the pitch a ways past the normal belay ledge and find an okay stance with my last several cams as an anchor.

I start to pull up the ropes thinking I’m belaying both Jeremy and Jenn but then notice that the middle marks come up almost together. They’re either right on one another’s heels or something else is going on. Looking down I see Jenn on the ground waving up while I spot Jeremy’s helmet reaching the crux moves. From then on I just take up both ropes together.

Jeremy arrives and explains that Jenn just wanted to relax and didn’t need to get in any more climbing today. So instead of trying to shout out what was happening, he just tied into the other rope as well and started up. With the extra weight of the two single ropes it was “all the disadvantages of a double rope system, but none of the advantages”. I passed over what remained of the rack then Jeremy led up pitch 2.

Pitch two had a fun off-width crack that you crawled in until it constricted too much. Then you had to move up and on an arete of low angled rock that you could ride cowboy style to the top.

With shadows falling across the canyon we rushed back down and met Jenn at the base of the rock. Packing away the gear we started to drive home with a stop for dinner at the Trinity Brewing Company in Colorado Springs for some delicious sweet potato fries.

We were already talking about returning to Elevenmile in the spring for another long weekend.

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