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Archive for May, 2010

After climbing Independence Monument, Ryan and I headed to the Rockslide Brewpub in Grand Junction for a late lunch. Refueled, we continued our journey south to Ouray then located a campsite at the Angel Creek campground partway to Yankee Boy Basin.

The cool air and clear sky felt like home after the sand, wind and biting flies of the desert. After a nap we packed a completely different set of gear into our backpacks for the next day and debated when to get started in the morning.

I was pleased when the night remained clear and the temperature dropped to the mid-30s. At 5:40am we drove up to Yankee Boy Basin to find a couple headed for Sneffels and a set of skiers aiming for Mount Emma. No one else was destined for Potosi however, so Ryan and I set off the opposite direction to pick up the familiar slopes that lead to Teakettle and Potosi.

The sun was coming up across the valley, but we’d be in the shade for some time yet and we were both comfortable hiking in insulated jackets. For the first thousand feet or so we were able to keep to bare slopes and frozen tundra.

As we neared the Coffeepot-Potosi saddle we hit steepening snow and stopped to strap on crampons and un-holster an ice axe.

A steep snow patch below some cliffs was our last obstacle to the saddle.

In full view now was Potosi and the couloir that had attracted us here.

Getting to the couloir required some consideration. The saddle and ridge we were on was still corniced and had been getting sun for at least an hour by now. We knew of a party last year that turned back because they didn’t want to re-ascend these slopes later in the day. After talking it over, Ryan and I committed to descending the longer standard route.

Agreeing to proceed, we descended near a cornice, but off to one side of its fall line.

A traverse then brought us to the base of the couloir.

The slopes around us showed plenty of evidence of wet slides and rock fall. Glad that the night had frozen so well and that weeks of warm weather had settled the snow and melted off much of the cliffs above, I began to climb into the shade of the couloir.

A small rock came bounding down the couloir and I saw it take a beeline for Ryan, then pass harmlessly through his legs. Marble-sized ice bits musically descended the couloir encouraging me to quickly move higher.

Partway up the couloir the snow turned icy and I felt it was time to engage the second ice tool. Ryan did the same and a bit before 10am we topped out of the couloir.

We still had a bit less than 100 feet to the summit. The slopes above had been getting sun for a while, but the deep freeze had kept them from getting too soft.

If we weren’t concerned about softening snow and wet slides we could have stayed on top soaking in the view for hours. Ryan wondered if there was a peak in the San Juans that we couldn’t see.

Neither of us were familiar with the standard route, but we had a brief description and maps so we reversed our route back to near the top of the couloir then headed south down a gully which seemed to lead in the right direction.

A little face-in downclimbing brought us to the class 2 ledge that in summer is the standard route to the summit. Now, it was a sloping pile of snow with cliffs above and below. Still, the snow conditions were good and we were able to traverse around the south side of Potosi until the Coffeepot-Potosi saddle was again in sight.

A little scree hiking in crampons returned us to the saddle. We were a bit concerned about repeating our morning’s traverse after the snow had been exposed to the sun for hours. On the traverse I’d examined the terrain and been able to piece together a route through rocks and gullies that would allow us to reach our ascent route lower down.

We still had a few steep slopes to cross, but their high angle and aspect kept them from softening too much and before long we were back on muddy tundra and removing our crampons.

At the trailhead we had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Winger, whom both Ryan and I had purchased guidebooks and climbing gear from.

Adam’s photo gallery
Ryan’s photo gallery

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Somewhere around when the full moon passed duties on to dawn, Ryan and I wake up and bump out of Rabbit Valley (watch that coffee!) and backtrack to Fruita and the east side of Colorado National Monument.

We’d scouted out the trailhead location the day before and are pleased to see we’re the first car here on a holiday weekend. We start up the Monument Canyon Trail for emerging views of Independence Monument.

After 45 minutes the tower looms directly above us.

Walking around to the north side we find the start of Otto’s Route (5.8+), the most popular line to the top of the tower and first “climbed” by John Otto in 1911.

Just after Colorado National Monument was officially designated, Otto chopped steps and drilled holes to insert iron pipes for handholds to craft a route to the top of the monument and fly a US flag. The pipes are gone (minus one exception) but the footsteps and drilled holes make this a reasonable ascent for someone of my abilities.

I start up the first long pitch, linking a 4th class section to a few of Otto’s steps and some modern bolts.

Ryan quickly follows and I turn my attention to the 2nd pitch, with a off-width bulge that I’ve brought a couple wide cams for.

A few drilled pockets keeps the climbing reasonable (5.7) and I figure out the sequence through the bulge and up to another set of anchors. Ryan regrets wearing shorts while fighting through this pitch.

The next short pitch is a 4th class slot that I have Ryan lead to Lunchbox Ledge.

Following I arrive to look up at the 5.8 “sport-like” pitch. The climbing turns out to feel much easier than 5.8, and I get in a few pieces of pro besides the pins as I climb to the next ledge.

Communication is getting harder as the wind has picked up well above the 15mph forecast. We’ve been in the shade all morning and I’m actually getting a little chilled. Once Ryan arrives he re-flakes the rope while I get psyched out by the overhanging finish at the end of the next pitch.

Leading up to the overhang is easy, but rapidly gets exposed. A few big handholds with sloping foot holds let me clip the 3 pins. Then I try to figure out the best way to tackle the final moves while not looking down and trying to discount the wind. I hang for two long and my fingers tire and result in my hanging from the rope and trying to shake out and get motivated for attempt number 2. I contemplate pulling on some of the draws, but ultimately climb up to the belay ledge in decent style thinking that was way harder than 5.8.

I put Ryan on belay and get situated while trying to stay warm.

Ryan rapidly climbs up to the crux then struggles to unclip the last draw which is held in tension by the rope’s travel out over the jutting roof. Wearing himself out because I didn’t put a longer sling on the last pin, I finally lower part of the rope to Ryan so he can clip it to his belay loop and put that strand on belay. Slowly letting out slack on the first line he eventually has enough play to free the draw and I pull the slack back in. Ryan flops on the ledge worn out from his exertions.

I apologize, then he belays me the final 8 feet to the summit where I wander over to sign the register.

After downclimbing back to the ledge, we reverse roles and Ryan gets to stand on top. After returning to the ledge we quickly want out of here so we can get out of the wind and warm up. A double rope rappel returns us to Lunchbox Ledge.

The ropes pull cleanly and we walk down the 4th class slot where we notice another party on the first pitch. Once we do a single rope rappel down the bulge pitch, we discover the party is a group of 6 with 3 new climbers (at least one in running shoes).

They’re plenty nice enough and after half their party is on the large ledge they let us rappel down their rope to the base.

Ryan and I pack up and talk to a few of the climbers awaiting their ascent then start back down the trail, quickly warming up as we leave Independence Monument behind.

Adam’s photo album
Ryan’s photo album

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Given a long weekend, Ryan and I leave the Front Range for a road trip to western Colorado. Our first stop is past Fruita and nearly in Utah at the Rabbit Valley. Driving in we soon see the Castle Rocks.

There’s a small campsite on the north side of the north Castle Rock, and we add my tent to the mix then walk around the slab looking for the best ascent route.

Back at the car we gear up and head to the southside where a few hanger-less bolts indicate where I might start climbing. I few medium-sized stoppers are used to hook the bolts and provide a bit of protection.

Midway up the pitch I find a band of pockets that take a #1 cam before continuing up and climbing a mudstone flake. I locate a single bolt (at this one has a hanger) and back it up with a cordellete around a mudstone pillar. Ryan follows and cleans the pitch.

I start the next pitch by climbing on top of the pillar and mantling onto the slab above. A ring piton and a sandy crack leads to the summit (with another single bolt). The wind is strong enough that Ryan and I can not hear one another only 70 feet apart, but hand signals work out.

We do a single rope rappel from the summit bolt back to the shelf at the top of our pitch 1. A single 60 meter rope would leave us with a couple feet of slab to downclimb, so we use the second rope to easily reach the base.

After that bit of fun, we explore the trailhead on the east side of the road and the kiosk advises us that there is a set of petroglyphs only a quarter of a mile down the trail.

We soon reach the small panel of petroglyphs.

We continue down the trail and explore the dry wash and many wildflowers.

If followed the whole way, the trail eventually reaches the Colorado River, but we turn back about half way so we can make dinner and pack up for the next day’s early start.

Adam’s photo album
Ryan’s photos

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Despite living within a couple miles of the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon, I’d never done any rock climbing along its walls (ice yes, rock no). A small group had organized on Fourteener World to get out and climb midweek. John, Steve and I were the only ones available this Wednesday and we trekked over to the Canal Zone area for some post-work sport climbing.

Steve led us off by starting with Holiday Road (5.8), John and I followed the route.

I jumped on the sharp end for the next lead (Venice Beach, also 5.8), which John then followed and Steve cleaned.

That pattern was repeated on another 5.8 (Box of Rain), then the weather started to turn. A few sprinkles and some distant thunder had me wondering if I should commit to another route. While dithering, John decided he needed to depart and I finally started up Bears Choice (5.10). The climbing was easy up to the overhang and then a little insecure after that, but I successfully led the pitch. Steve followed, possibly at a disadvantage due to his height.

We figured we had time for one more route and looked at the only trad climb in the area: Route Canal (5.9-). I’d packed a light rack just in case this was an option tonight and was glad to put it to use.

There were some really nice hand jams in the lower section, followed by a bit of laybacking above. Another group was just finishing up the Gondolier Arete (which shares an anchor with Route Canal), so I clipped into the bolts and setup our anchor then clipped their rope through it so they could quickly clean their draws and lower through my anchor.

Steve top-roped the route and cleaned what gear I didn’t pull while lowering and then we packed up and hiked out just as it was getting dark.

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Winds were gusting 50+ mph on the Front Range when Gary and I drove into Eldo. The winds must have chased or scared off all the other climbers as the parking lots were nearly empty. I was hoping we’d be a bit out of the wind on the Lower Peanuts formation, especially compared to the West Ridge or Wind Tower.

After hiking up to the Lower Peanuts crag, we identified the upper pitch of Star Wars, one of the best hand cracks in Eldo. Gary led the first pitch (5.5 or so) to the base of the crack and our communication had to occur between gusts. The second pitch was great climbing with good hand jams, but unfortunately short. Above the crack flared and leaned back with lots of holds on the arete to the left. Then a fun and well-protected overhang led to the ridge crest. Standing on the other side I was just out of the wind, but couldn’t hear Gary at all.

While reeling in the slack as Gary climbed up I admired the view of the long West Ridge and Redgarden Walls across the valley.

After Gary arrived we scrambled and hiked back around to our packs, then decided I’d lead the Direct Start to Your Basic Layback (5.6, 50 feet) and Your Basic Layback (also 5.6, 50 feet). I linked the two pitches together and found the second half (Your Basic Layback) to be a lot of fun. I built and anchor in the bottom of the crack that formed the 5.8 route Cornered above.

Gary arrived and led Cornered to the rappel anchors above.

Then I followed and cleaned the route and we made two rappels to arrive back at the base.

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After doing the Y Couloir on Pikes Peak, I needed something of a rest day. Somewhat easy climbing in the flatirons was my choice and I carpooled up to Boulder with Lewis. Lewis was new to trad climbing so I decided to start easy with the Fifth Flatiron.

After hiking the Chautauqua and Royal Arch trails to their terminus (I promised Lewis we would indeed do some rock climbing today), we then followed a fainter climber’s trail to the base of the Fifth. I placed a couple pieces of pro at ground level and showed Lewis how to remove the gear then I started up the first pitch. I probably started a little further right of the “standard” start, but soon found a left tending crack that I took to get me closer to the southern edge. I stopped to belay with only a few feet of rope left and waited for Lewis to rocket up the pitch.

His first trad pitch completed, Lewis arrived grinning at the belay and he handed over the pro he’d cleaned and flaked the rope for me to lead pitch 2. I watched two parties arrive at the base and get ready to climb as I started up the easy climbing to a little headwall that became the top of pitch 2. Lewis was getting into the swing of things and we had another fairly quick belay transition before I launched off on the third and final pitch. The end of that pitch was a run-out ridge scramble to the summit with a fair amount of exposure.

The summit anchor was a single large eye bolt, so I backed that up with a #3 cam and pre-rigged Lewis’s rappel setup since it was his first rappel in a little while. After I descended, Lewis removed the backup and joined me on the ground.

Looking just to the northwest, the formation called Schmoe’s Nose was calling us. In particular, the East Face (North Nostril) route and it’s harder rating of 5.7 seemed a logical step up. The bushwhack over to the formation was one clue that Schmoe’s Nose doesn’t get climbed much.

After scrambling up to a notch I led a lichen-covered pitch to a rock trench. While belaying Lewis up, I watched the two teams who’d just reached the summit of the Fifth.

The second pitch improved a bit in quality – or it was just higher than the pine trees so I didn’t have piles of those slick little needles on all the holds. After traversing into the shade of the “nose” I setup a belay and Lewis quickly scampered up.

The 3rd pitch was the main attraction, a steep climb right up the nose using several wedged blocks (or boogers) to easier slab climbing and the summit above. The anchor on top was a tied off cap-stone with some sun-faded webbing and cord. Once Lewis arrived with my cordelette, I sacrificed it to the anchor so I’d have something more trustworthy to bet my life on.

Again, I pre-rigged Lewis’s rappel before stepping off to the west and then provided a fireman’s belay for Lewis’s descent.

After coiling the rope, we scrambled back along the north side of Schmoe’s Nose to reach our packs. Then we traversed back towards the Fifth Flatiron and did some exploratory bushwhacking and scrambling along its north side then through a little cave to the north side of the Upper Tangen Tower and down that way to come out between the Upper and Lower Tangen Towers. From here the terrain eased up and we had a great view of the Royal Arch and quickly reached its trail for the hike back to Chautauqua Park.

Complete photo album

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After climbing New Era, Kevin and I drove to the Barr trailhead for Pikes Peak and ended up parking several blocks away. After some re-packing, we hit the road, then the trail and started marching our way up the 6+ miles to Barr Camp.

I was amazed at all the hikers and runners coming down this trail after doing the steep ascent of the Incline Trail. Once we passed that trail junction, traffic slowed considerably. After 3 hours we reached Barr Camp, and even had some time to spare before they served dinner.

While waiting for dinner, Kevin and I selected one of the three leanto’s to occupy for the night and spread out our gear before returning to the main cabin. Dinner was an excellent and hearty round of spaghetti and fresh garlic bread. Stuff, I walked out to the leanto to fish out the beer I’d buried in a snow patch when we arrived. Beer finished, I returned to the cabin and talked with all the other guests and the caretakers.

The wind began to pick up and it really hadn’t cooled off much. Kevin and I both had problems sleeping since the temperature never dropped below 50F. I wondered if the warm night would cause us problems in the morning in the Y Couloir, but hoped the wind and clear night would solidify the snow just enough. Around 11p Hoot arrived and we verified our plans for a 4:30a departure.

My alarm was set for 4, but since I wasn’t sleeping I got up 15 minutes early to start a cup of coffee. After packing up the three of us departed only 6 minutes after our planned 4:30. Other guests were already up and moving and getting ready for their own trip up the standard east slopes route.

30 minutes of hiking brought us to the junction with the Bottomless Pit trail, some old tracks were evident, but it hadn’t seen much traffic. After fighting through a few postholes, we broke down and put on our snowshoes while Hoot led us along the path.

Sunrise came along the trail and the magic hour brushed the cliffs with a clear golden light.

Approaching the Bottomless Pit we were occasionally hit with a strong wind gust. Still the temperatures were very mild and it kept the number of layers were were wearing down.

Once we arrived at the Bottomless Pit, we got our first view of the lower portion of the Y Couloir.

After a break we started up a mix of snow and rocks leading to the base of couloir.

Taking advantage of some sunny rocks we packed up the snowshoes and strapped on the crampons and switched from trekking poles to ice axes.

The three of us started up the snow slope, finding fairly solid snow where the sun had only just arrived.

Hoot stopped to adjust his boots and told us to start up. Feeling excited for the first couloir of the season, I hammered up the slope installing a staircase past old roller-balls of snow.

In the couloir we were out of the wind and quickly warmed up. I was thankful for a shady stretch even if the snow was softer than I’d have liked.

After 500 feet or so the couloir branched (hence the “Y” name). This was the fifth year Kevin had done this climb, and he’d already done both the standard right and left branches. Last year Hoot had looked at a far-right branch and found a little ice step. Prepared, we’d brought a light rope, harnesses, a little bit of rock pro and a second tool each.

Just at the splits we gathered up and verified we’d be going for the far right branch.

After leading a little further, Hoot took over to show us the way.

The little ice step was wet ice and snow this year. Our gear was overkill, but most of us used the second ice tool.

By now I had decided that this couloir was one of the more scenic ones I’d climbed.

With all of us through the crux, we only had easier slopes leading to the summit.

Kevin mentioned that we were moving pretty fast this year, so I asked what the quickest they’d made the ascent in prior years was. 5 hours and 30 minutes came the answer, and some quick math said we had about 15 minutes before that time had elapsed from Barr Camp. Fired up, I passed Kevin and Hoot and pushed up the couloir.

Just below the top I heard the wind screaming above and yelled down that it would be very windy up top. Climbing onto the summit plateau I was nearly knocked down by winds I estimated at between 50 and 60 mph. Leaning into the wind and covering my face from the blowing dust and snow, I lurched towards the summit buildings and took shelter on the lee side. While donning extra layers I noticed I’d made the summit in 5 hours and 24 minutes from Barr Camp. Kevin and Hoot weren’t far behind and we moved around to the east side of the building were we meet some of the climbers from Barr Camp who were just reaching the summit.

We were on the summit from just after 10am to about 10:40am – and later learned that the weather station on top recorded a wind gust of 109 mph at 10:38am!

None of the three of experienced anything like that however (not that 60 or so mph gusts are something to disregard).

Geared up with many more layers, we quickly began a descent of the standard route, shedding clothes rapidly and enjoying some fine glissades on the way to the A-frame. From there to Barr Camp the trail was intermittently clear, and filled with packed snow in other spots. Once we repacked at Barr Camp we each descended on our own schedule.

Adam’s complete photo album
Hoot’s trip report and photos

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