Archive for December, 2009

After yesterday’s avalanche excitement I was glad to turn my attention to an-all ridge route. A little before 7am I met up with John on Hoosier Pass and we headed out hiking on a road while watching sunrise hit Mounts Bross and Lincoln.

We stopped a few times while walking the road to take photos of the sunrise.

As we worked our way up broad slopes to the narrowing east ridge, we caught some great early morning views of Front Range peaks poking out of the clouds.

The wind would pick up as moved higher and apparently there was still some snow for the wind to transport as we hit a mini-ground blizzard.

Finally, we hit the “fun” portion of the ridge and had a view of the over a mile long ridge to the true summit.

The sun was out and the air temps warm for this time of year, however the wind had us donning face masks and hoods. Before long we’d also put away poles for our ice axes. So far John and I were in complete agreement at every step of the hike – which route options and when to break out the ice axes.

The wind had been shifting so much recently that we didn’t see any cornice formation and could easily stick to the crest of the ridge. Occasionally dropping low on the south side gave us a break from the wind however.

We hit the true summit (after several false ones) just a little after 10:30am and had a direct view of the avalanche Pete and I had released the day before.

After a break out of the wind and in the sun we returned to the ridge crest for our return trip.

Towards the end of the ridge we ran into another two climbers who had originally started out hoping to climb the north ridge, but had been wallowing in deep snow in the valley below.

As we descended the broad part of the ridge we stowed ice axes and began to shed layers. For the return trip we went over the top of point 12,214 for something different.

Complete photo album

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Clinton Peak

In Pete’s quest to climb the 100 highest peaks of Colorado he only had 6 summits in the San Juans and Clinton Peak. Winds looked relatively low up high so we decided to tackle Clinton Peak and get Pete that much closer to his goal. After spending a night in Breckenridge we headed south over Hoosier Pass and hit the parking area to find windy conditions. After gearing up in our cars we headed out to start the hike up a 4wd road.

We had a good look at the ice climbing at Lincoln Falls as we left the parking area and both had a moment’s regret that we weren’t taking advantage of the conditions. Maybe in January we’ll hit the ice here again. As we worked past an old mine the sun began to light up Mount Lincoln’s cliffs.

I’d thought about bringing skis for the long road hike in, but I’m glad I didn’t. Parts of the road were wind blown dry and others were mini-staking rinks of ice. Snowshoes worked best for these conditions.

The sun disappeared behind Mount Lincoln as we continued west up the valley. When it was time to branch off towards Wheeler Lake it was nice to hit the sun again.

Just above the lake the terrain presented some problems in route finding. Avalanche conditions were rated “considerable” on these aspects with a shallow snow cover highly granulated then covered with wind slabs from a week prior. We’d already hit some collapsing layers in the low-angled terrain as we hit the valley. Now I needed to find a reasonable way to pass the somewhat steeper terrain just above the lake.

Pete and I linked a few 20-25 degree slopes with exposed rock areas that I deemed safe. We had to cross one snow slope that I checked at 25 degrees before venturing across.

I crossed without incident and waited at some more exposed rocks. Pete followed and then I hit a small bowl. After taking a few steps forward I heard a large “whoopf” as the windslap I stood on collapsed. I looked up at the slightly steeper slopes above and my eyes were draw to the even steeper slopes above the terrain we’d just crossed. A crack appeared and I watched a mass of snow break away and begin to slide across the path we’d just crossed.

The slopes above us showed a few compression cracks, but didn’t release. They were lower-angled than the terrain above what we’d just crossed.

I was extremely thankful I’d stopped at the exposed rocks while Pete crossed the slope. The avalanche didn’t run over the whole possible slope and wasn’t very powerful, but could have definitely partially buried a person and broken a limb. I believe if I’d kept to some rocks just to my right the avalanche would never have been triggered. Pete questioned if we should continue, and we discussed the conditions and the possibility that we’d turn back.

We decided to press on and stick to very wind swept aspects or angles below 30 degrees. Pete was moving a little slowly since he’d run 21 miles the day before. Our original plan was to head up unranked Traver Peak then follow the ridge to McNamee and finally Clinton. However, with our reduced speed we decided to follow some windblown and rock-exposed slopes directly up Clinton in the interest of time.

We moved from rocky section to rocky section over lower angle slopes and watched as we gained elevation against the nearby 13’ers and 14’ers.

The wind picked up as we reached the ridge crest, but the views of the 10 Mile range to the north provided some motivation.

The wind was well above the forecasted 10 mph speed as we contoured around a false summit just east of the true summit.

A windy and undulating ridge led us on to the real summit.

It was windy enough that we didn’t even try to dig out the summit register, but just took a single photo and started back.

We discussed a few descent options, but the extremely windblown south face of the mountain led us in that direction. We negotiated bare rocks for a couple hundred feet and descended out of the worst of the wind. Eventually, the bare slopes turned back into snow and we had to pick the most gentle descent route and watch for additional avalanche terrain. Slope meter in hand I picked my way down 30 degrees slopes to safer angles.

Once back in the valley we enjoyed descending without snowshoes and worked our way back to our upward track. After a food and drink break in sight of “our” avalanche, we crossed the debris slope.

A few of the broken slab blocks were quite large in size.

As we descended below the avalanche track we kept looking back at the closest we’d been to a running avalanche track. Pete thought about acquiring the skills and gear to deal with type of terrain and I thought about the level 2 course I was planning to take next month.

It was a relief to be out of the steep terrain and we returned to our tracks on the road for the long hike out.

After 8 hours we returned to the cars and split up with different plans for Sunday.

Complete photo album


The next day on North Star Mountain I took the following photo of our avalanche. I’ve added our approximate route track and other notes to the photo to help explain the incident.

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Crooked Top Mountain

After Saturday’s fight in the windy alpine I was thankful for the planned hike with a larger group on peaks roughly 3,000 feet lower. “Determined” peak bagger Teresa setup a social experiment to see if anyone would join if she offered a view-less tromp through lower elevation summits and was surprised to gather a group of 8.

After spinning tires on snow-packed forest road 101 we parked and proceeded to hike the road till we were west of our first goal – unnamed 10,148. We hiked up, still carrying our snowshoes on our packs, and found a few wind slabs with shooting cracks and collapsing layers. Glad we were on low-angled terrain I scooped up some of the huge snow grains buried below the slabs and had a close look at the deep instabilities that will haunt our snowpack throughout the winter.

Eventually we gained the summit, finding a cairn but no register and after a short break set off for the next peak.

From 10,148 we continued east bushwhacking through the forest. By now we’d decided snowshoes would do more good on our feet than on our packs.

Peak 10,140 soon was the site of another gathering and a break while we signed the register.

Then it was down again through some aspens and a steeper hike up to our one named peak of the day – Crooked Top Mountain.

To reach the summit we had a little class 3 scrambling with snowshoes that provided a bit of spice.

After a few false summits we finally located the highest point.

From the summit we descended back down our uphill route until we hit the saddle between Crooked Top and 10,140. Here we followed a closed road until we reached forest road 101 again. A new inch of snow made the walking a little slick. While the hike wasn’t a huge day, pretty much everyone had been out for long runs or hikes the day or two prior, so it was with some relief that we arrived back at the car and returned to Aspen Park seeking food and alcohol.

Complete photo album

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It had been a few months since I’d hiked with Kevin, Sarah, Dominic or Dwight, so it was good to catch up while we battled the wind on a couple 13,000 peaks. Our first goal of the day was London Mountain, which we climbed from the south, aiming for the peak’s west ridge.

Recent snowfall followed by high winds had created a hard wind slab where the ground wasn’t blown clear. While post-holing through some willows we noticed shooting cracks and whoompf-ing sounds as the slab collapsed. Looks like we’d be trying to avoid any steep snow patches today.

Once we were well above the trees near some old mine buildings the snow was thin enough we could stash our snowshoes and continue a little less burdened.

Avoiding snow, we found wind-blown ridges and some loose talus to climb.

Once we hit the west ridge it was a simple right turn and a bit of marching until we hit the summit.

We took a break in the cloud (London Fog?) just below the summit. It wasn’t even 10am yet, so we agreed to continue west towards soft-ranked “Repeater Peak” and then on to taller Mosquito Peak.

London’s west ridge proved to be interesting with a few snowy class 3 moves and increasing wind. While hiking I started to feel static from my fingers and along my back. This would be really late in the season for lightening, but I queried the others and no one else noticed it. Strangely, it stopped by the time we hit the low point in the ridge between London and Repeater.

The hike up Repeater was just a simple slog, but we were in the wind shadow of the peak until topping out on the summit filled with communications equipment. The wind was noticeably stronger as we headed north to Mosquito. Even with a face mask my nose was getting cold and some of my wind layers weren’t proving so adequate. By the time we reached the summit I was ready to turn back. Kevin, Sarah and Dwight wanted to continue north to another soft-ranked peak, but Dominic had a bad headache so he and I turned around for the hike back over “Repeater Peak”.

By the time we started down the east ridge of Repeater the sun was coming out in patches and we were once again in the wind shadow.

The more elevation we dropped, the more layers we removed and I remembered the need for sunscreen. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten what winter temperatures will do to a tube of sunscreen and the rock hard lotion wasn’t coming out.

By the time we reached our snowshoe cache the sun had disappeared behind a band of clouds and the wind had picked up again. We hurried back to the cars and ran the engine for a bit to get warm while waiting for the other 3.

For a post-hike meal we visited Alma’s South Park Saloon, which bills itself as the Highest Saloon in the USA. I’d been meaning to stop by for years now could mark this off my to-do list.

Complete photo album

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For the seventh year in the row I volunteered to sweep the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. My job involves starting the race behind all the runners and basically staying there to the finish. Along the way I let the aid stations know they can shutdown, watch out for injured or lost runners and pick up some trash along the trail. When runners are falling behind the cutoff times I have to pass them with a warning that they likely won’t make the one enforced cut-off (at the 22.8 mile mark) to be allowed to finish the full course.

This year I decided to camp out at the finish area the night before. Overnight low in my tent was 21F and a lot of runners looked at me strangely in the morning. I ran the car for a while to warm up and change into my running clothes just before boarding one of the school buses to the start (about an hour away). While on the bus I noticed my shoes were fitting looser than normal and realized with horror that I’d forgotten to put the superfeet insoles in. Nothing I could do about it now however.

The marathon got underway at 10:17 am with over 600 runners. I looked around the starting field to make sure everyone was ahead and then started a fast walk/jog that I’d keep up for most of the day.

The runners ahead of me were moving well this year and I didn’t see anyone moving at a real slow pace right off the starting line. Humm, I just might be doing more jogging this year than I’m really ready for.

By the second aid station I thought this was going to be short year. Even with the late start we were nearly 30 minutes ahead of the non-adjusted cut-off pace. However, right after leaving the aid station I ran into two ladies who were hiking the marathon and had arranged their own early start. The extended walk break was welcome, but I didn’t think we’d stay ahead of the cut-off times for long.

Aid station #3 at 6.4 miles was a big surprise this year. The volunteers had gone all out with the Christmas theme including holiday music, tinsel, candy canes and signs.

On the way to the next station I realized we had fallen behind the cut-off pace. Warning each runner that they wouldn’t be able to continue on the full course, I passed 4 before reaching the aid station. After informing the station managers about the 4 runners still to come, I headed on and soon caught up with the next runner who was still on pace.

This runner didn’t feel like he was having a good day but kept plugging along right at cut-off pace. So we continued past the 5th aid station and up the big gravel hill (Indian Hill Road) and beyond the half marathon distance. At Aid station 6 he decided this just wasn’t his day and dropped out.

As I left the aid station I began to pick up reports over the radio about a runner in trouble between stations 6 and 7. Runners had gone ahead to #7 to report her condition to the volunteers but there was a concern she may be headed back to aid station #6. I walked and jogged a long section of the trail without seeing another race participant and I hoped the runner was okay and moving forward (by now it was much closer to station #7 than #6). Just before hitting Lanam Ridge Road I came to a group of about 8 people moving slowly up the trail. Thankfully, two EMTs were already on site, as well as one of the volunteers from station #7. The poor girl might have been wearing all cotton and suffering from hypothermia. With the runners assistance she was moved to the ambulance and I’m told, recovered fine.

The 4 runners looked at me and asked what they should do. Now were were .75 miles from aid station #7, and several minutes behind it’s advertised cut-off time. However, all these runners had spent 30 minutes or more assisting and so were probably a bit faster than most people I’m sweeping at this point in the race. I told them how far to the enforced cutoff at the lake, and how long and they felt they could do it. I’d never swept a group who did so much running before. My insole-less feet were certainly feeling the pace now as we quickly moved through the next two aid stations.

I was basically just uphill from the 22.8 mile aid station and the 4:47 pm (adjusted for the late start) cut off when I heard that they were getting ready to shutdown and send the runners down the “short course” finish. I got on the repeater and told them that everyone was just minutes from making the cut-off, had sacrificed their own races to help the injured runner and were moving faster than normal runners staring down the cut-off. I asked that they stay open and let each runner decide for themselves if they wanted to continue on the full course or take a ride or short route back to the finish. I felt really good when all the runners were given the chance to finish the race if they wanted. A few did take a ride back, but most had legitimately made the cutoff and were running to the finish.

After a brief conversation with the race director I took off behind the runners (and a volunteer deflagging the course). Partway down the lake I caught a father and daughter who were walking to the finish. My feet needed the break anyway, and they managed to finish just over the course closing time of 7 hours and 30 minutes. Still, we pretty much finished with enough light to not require a headlamp – a first for me in several years.

Also, I don’t recall ever getting so much post-race food in the prior years! It was nice to finish a little early and taste some of that great hot vegetable soup.

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