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Archive for November, 2009

While in Indiana I met up with my old regular hiking crew for a 13 mile loop around the Deam Wilderness.

The morning started a little cool but quickly warmed up to about 60 with lots of sun. I was appreciative of the blue skies since it seemed like I hadn’t seen the sun for the last 6 days. Colorado’s notoriously blue skies certainly have spoiled me.

Our group of 8 was following the eastern side of the old Blue Diamond trail that predated the Deam Wilderness area and was decommissioned in the early 80’s when the area received wilderness designation. Faded blazes, leaf covered treadway and old maps helped us piece the route together years ago.

A few portions of the old trail are segments of official pathways now, but the other portions quickly become overgrown and harder to follow every year. An old homesite within the wilderness area exists a short walk from the path and I’ve been referring to it as “the clubhouse” for some time. Unfortunately, a beech tree broke right over the home in the prior year so we’ll have to hold our board meetings elsewhere.

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A warm and sunny day combined with a Friday off sent Pete and I to Golden Cliffs. For being right outside my door, I hardly ever climb there. We hiked up the access trail to the Overhang area. For a warm up we started on the 5.7 route “Toast & Jam”. I found the finish to be a tad stouter than I’d expected but soon reached the anchors and belayed Pete up.

Pete didn’t have much experience cleaning sport routes, so generally I’d set myself up with a hanging belay at the top so we could review anchor cleaning and then rappel. We followed the same pattern on our next route, Umph, a 5.6 with a few chimney moves.

From there we moved east to the Brown Cloud Crags and I decided to try a local classic, Big Dihedral, a 5.8 rated corner crack.

I cruised through the first half of the route feeling good, but above the small overhang I had trouble putting together the moves and when my feet slipped off marginal holds I ended up taking my first leader fall. Pete and a large #3 cam caught me in the air. After resting a bit I climbed back up, added a stopper just above the cam, then with some hurried and ugly climbing sketched my way past the crux moves to the anchor bolts. Pete decided not to attempt this one, so I pulled up the rope, rigged it for a rappel and cleaned my own gear on the way down.

After that we decided to step down a notch and do Big Dihedral’s neighbor – Thick Crust, another 5.7. The climbing felt like some of the easiest of the day and after Pete followed we walked off instead of dealing with the short rappel.

With a few routes behind us, we decided to continue Pete’s climbing education and talk about equalizing trad gear for anchors. Working around the base of the cliffs, we found a few spots to build 2 and 3 piece anchors and demonstrate ways of tying them together.

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With multiple fronts coming through Colorado the weather didn’t look great anywhere. However, with the fronts being mostly upslopers, Pete and I hoped a trip to the west side of the Lost Creek Wilderness would produce the best hiking conditions.

Many clouds, but no new snow greeted us as we drove down the Tarryall Creek valley towards the Spruce Grove Trailhead.

The first few miles of the Lizard Head Trail was dry and allowed us to watch the play of light on the rocky peaks above with snow-dusted trees.

Once we hit the Hankins Pass trail and north-facing slopes, we found the snow we hadn’t been missing. Thankfully, the trail had been traversed by others since the last storms and we had a beaten down but slightly icy route to follow to Hankins Pass.

From the pass we were on our own and bushwhacked uphill through a powdery 4-6 inches of snow towards the summit of South Tarryall Peak.

Snow started to come down steadily and I figured we’d be under falling flakes for the rest of the day. So it was surprising when the snow stopped and the sun appeared while we relaxed at the summit.

I didn’t want to ask where the forecasted 30mph wind gusts were, or the high of only 18F.

We counted ourselves seriously lucky for the pleasant conditions and took in the views of McCurdy Peak and its satellite peaks to the north.

Eventually we headed back down, returning to Hankins Pass following our upward tracks. Then back down the trail to Spruce Grove before heading home where the weather and roads deteriorated the closer to home we got.

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A day of regrouping after our Zion disappointments had Pete and I reformulating plans. Warm weather and sun in the forecast sent us to the South Platte area and Turkey Rocks in particular for some climbing on thankfully solid rock.

After locating the Turkey Rocks area and making the approach hike we quickly found the Turkey Perch formation and set at two of the easier routes here. “Honky Jam Ass Crack” was first up at 5.7.

A little out of practice, I felt insecure jamming up the crack and had my feet slip a couple of times. I was feeling better by the top however and Pete followed to clean the route.

Honky’s next door neighbor, “Left-Handed Jew” was next. I laybacked the initial portion of the crack then jammed more straight-forwardly toward the crux roof. A layback, worked my feet up then a high reach and I was past the bulge. Again, Pete followed, getting in a good jamming rhythm.

The other routes I was aware of here were rated 5.8 and above. I initially debated top-roping one of these climbs, then maybe leading it, but a surge of confidence sent me right up “Reefer Madness”. I moved quickly though the lower crux portion, and was pretty efficient at finding good rests to place gear. Even with its harder grade I felt more solid on this climb than the two prior. Pete struggled a bit with the initial crux, but eventually worked through and then dealt with the psychological crux – the final slabby moves.

Pete’s hands were pretty beaten up after his fight with South Platte granite, so rather than trying any more routes we spent some time talking about gear placements and having Pete place and evaluate gear in the cracks at the base of the routes.

Pete has plans to purchase a used climbing rack off a friend and to eventually start leading. So this practice will be instrumental in working him towards anchor building and mock-leads before his first real trad lead.

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With a dawn start Pete and I left the Watchman Campground and headed due south. Across the valley sunrise was glowing off the West Temple.

After working south and staying below a line of cliffs we eventually outflanked the red sandstone and looked up at the saddle just south of “North Johnson”.

Spying what we though was the correct ramp system we made our way up loose dirt and rock slopes to the base of the cliffs then started scrambling up and right.

The loose rock was undermining my confidence and combined with the high exposure I wasn’t having a good time. We came across a red rappel sling on a tree and decided someone else hadn’t been especially comfortable here either. Luckily, the going got a little easier and we started to find a few cairns which led us to the sandy wash and the rocky saddle of Johnson Ridge.

Our original goal was to try for the peak called “No Man’s Mountain” for its remote location. Already feeling tired and mentally worn out we changed plans for the closer Watchman.

We could pick out the gully we needed to eventually gain across the way, and I hope we spied the correct ledge system of 4th and low-5th class moves that would bypass the smooth bottom pour-off. Starting down we picked our way from cairn to cairn to the base of the wash separating The Watchman and Johnson Mountain.

We saw a rappel anchor just right of the pour-off and then moved north until we came to what looked like the first reasonable place to ascend. Breaking out the rope and the very light rack I’d bought I started up initially easy slopes.

My early confidence ran into a brick wall as a hit a portion that required a committing move on crumbling holds without good protection. I spent a while reversing myself and looking for a better option.

Eventually I had to admit my unease with this place, and by now “this place” meant more than just The Watchman. Zion’s sandstone had me completely unnerved and unwilling to commit to anything tougher than some easy scrambling. Admitting my condition to Pete after downclimbing, we packed up the rope and headed back up to the gap in Johnson Ridge.

By now all I wanted to do was to get safely off Johnson Ridge and back to camp. Our original plans for 7 or more Zion summits withered in the heat.

It was after noon when we reached camp (thankfully finding another way off Johnson Ridge that avoided the red webbing rappel). All I wanted to do was to sit around and cool off. Pete still had some energy so he returned to the east side of the park and climbed Nippletop solo.

Once he returned we drove into Springdale for dinner, then tried to turn in early but were thwarted by a school group that setup shop not 50 yards from our campsite to sing around a campfire until quiet hours. In the morning we fled Zion and returned to the Front Range after one long drive.

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Progeny Peak

Armed with several days of vacation, Pete and I left the Front Range on Thursday afternoon heading westward. After a dinner stop at the Gore Range Brewery we made it about 30 miles past Green River, Utah when it was time to stop and get some sleep. BLM land just off the highway provided a moon and star-lit night’s sky for us to just throw out our bags and fall asleep.

The morning cast brilliant light on the formations just north of us as I prepared coffee while Pete took a jog.

Four more hours of interstates brought us to Zion National Park where we claimed our reserved campsite then drove to the eastern side of the tunnel to head up “Progeny Peak”.

The temps were warm as we made our way through a dry wash and then started up sandstone aiming for the summit.

A little scrambling on a ramp brought us a good deal higher and closer to the summit.

Picking our way up loose rocks and breakable ledges we eventually reached the huge and gaudy summit cairn.

Looking at the guidebook and maps we started identifying the nearby summits of East Temple, Deer Mountain, Ant Hill, Nippletop and more.

The landscape would have been amazing had I brought my old hiker’s eyes on this trip. My newer climber’s gaze found these summits wanting as ledges and continuous crack systems were missing, replaced only by sandy and loose slopes.

After a suitable pause, we started back down, following nearly the same path as on our ascent. Pete triggered one time-bomb of a breakable shelf, but his fall was minor and just served to remind us of the dangers.

Returning to camp we started to plot for what we’d planned to be another 5 days here.

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John, Renata and I met at the Ute Creek Trailhead on the west side of the Lost Creek Wilderness at 6:30am on Sunday morning. A large storm had hit the Front Range days ago, but snow totals seemed to slack off further west and from nearby monitors I’d gathered that we shouldn’t expect as much new snow here.

With the hours-old daylight savings switch, it was light when we started up the Ute Creek Trail with only small patches of snow. However, as we gained elevation and hit the switch-backs below the Brookside-McCurdy trail junction the snow became more persistent. At the junction we added gaiters to our boots and started post-holing in the 6-8 inches of snow in drifts with occasional patches of wind-swept dry ground. The effort possibly saved by snowshoes would probably have been canceled out by their extra weight and constant application and removal.

After working up the north side of Bison Arm we hoped we’d be done with the deepest accumulation of snow.

Bison Arm was extremely windswept and we motored across its 11,800 foot plus elevation to the south. Strangely, this ridge off Bison Peak was higher than one of the two mountains we had our eyes on today.

Dropping off the south side of Bison Arm, we found somewhat less snow, but still some decent sized drifts and tree-sheltered patches of powder snow. Plus, all this elevation we were losing would have to be regained late in the day on our return.

As we neared the saddle between McCurdy and Bison Peaks we admired the large rock towers while losing the trail.

Once at the pass we discussed our plans and decided to head first up McCurdy Peak. John and Renata had already been up McCurdy, but really enjoyed the summit. Plus we hoped that having reached one peak would help motivate us for the long bushwhack over to unnamed 11180. John took over the postholing duty for the first part of the ascent, but linked balancing on exposed fallen trees to avoid some of the snow.

As we neared the summit plateau we spotted a mountain goat lounging on a rock formation. He didn’t seem too worried about us and watched our passage as we continued south to the summit block.

Before noon we reached the actual summit of McCurdy and took a short break on top.

The unnamed peak 11180 was a bit over a mile away and following a GPS’s direction we headed as straight towards the peak as we could. Along the way we had to detour around a few rock towers before we reached a small saddle with an excellent view of the peak.

Most aspects of the peak looked very technical, but we had information that a mostly scrambling route from the north side of the peak would lead to the summit. From our saddle almost due east of the peak we dropped down a steep slope littered with aspens and enough snow to make the bushwhack a bit of a fight. Eventually we reached the lower saddle due east of the peak and started hiking and scrambling up snow-covered boulders to the hanging garden nested between the various summit towers.

Here we got out a short length of rope and harnesses. I scrambled around trying to find the best route to the summit and when I realized I was too far east John traversed below the cliffs and found the correct ascent gully.

There was a little snow and a few patches of ice in the gully but mostly it presented easy scrambling. The few harder moves we “protected” by spotting each other and we were soon on the summit without ever having used the rope.

We reversed our ropes and again spotted one another at the crux spots. Then we repeated our bushwhack in reverse back up to the little saddle.

From here we decided to contour around the north side of McCurdy Peak back to the McCurdy-Bison saddle. It ended up taking us an hour due to the 6-8 inches of snow covering everything from willows and creeks, to slab rocks and downed trees. Once at the saddle we picked up our old tracks just as the sun was setting.

Here we also found recent tracks from another hiker and their dog, following our early footprints. Behind us a full moon was rising over McCurdy Peak and helped lessen any nervousness I had about following our tracks through the intermittent snow back over Bison Arm.

The 500 foot gain back up Bison Arm was a slow crawl for our tired party. My mind wandered far while I nursed an aching achilles tendon up hill. I tried hard to appreciate the beauty of the moon rise over the alpine landscape littered with rock towers. The sun’s last rays on wind crusted snow recalled all the recent photos I’d seen of polar journeys. And the disappearing and reappearing footprints of the hiker and his dog ahead of us, combined with yesterday’s Halloween and today’s full moon had me imaging we were following the devil and a hell hound. Humm, maybe when we reached the crossroads I could trade my soul for some more water, of which I was nearly out.

Entirely without headlamps we made the hike up and over Bison Arm and then found our old tracks on the trail. The downhill quickly restored our flagging energies and a little after 6pm we were forced to resort to headlamps due to the trees and the north aspect blocking the moon’s light.

It was after 8pm by the time we finally finished the hike, making for an over-13 hour day. John and Renata didn’t believe me when I said I’d already decided not to hike the following day (my original plan), but I was already dreaming of sleeping in and then a large breakfast of eggs and potatoes when I did wake up.

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