Archive for June, 2010

Sleeping well for the first time since we arrived at Upper Slate Lake I feel ready for today’s climb of Peak L. It’ll be a repeat ascent for me, but is such a fun scramble I’m looking forward to it. First, I’ve got to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the moon set at the upper end of the basin.

Gary and I make quick time up to the Slate Creek crossing.

From here we head somewhat northwest and upwards through the trees and reach a curving open slope of boulders and steep grass.

The slope is steep but straightforward and we soon gain the ridge with a excellent view of the Regal Couloir on Peak R. From this vantage point it looks far steeper than the 50 degrees we know it is from Friday’s ascent.

We drop our packs and just bring our helmets for the scrambling to the summit.

The rock is solid, and feels wonderful after the loose blocks on Peak Q. Gary comments that the climb feels like one of Boulder’s Flatirons.

Past the knife-edge section we arrive at the final summit block. Gary starts up a right-tending ramp and I head for the right of two parallel cracks to its left.

Moving further right we curve back towards the summit block, only about 2 hours after leaving camp.

We spend a little bit of time on top and enjoy the views and the day’s solid weather. We’ve still got miles to go so we don’t linger too long and are soon reversing our route.

Back across the knife-edge.

Back at our packs we spy a slightly quicker way around the snow near the saddle and are rewarded with a great view of Peak Q across the valley.

The steep grass and rock slope dumps us back at the creek rapidly and we have the hike back to camp pretty much dialed around the south side of the lake.

After eating and packing up camp we start down the trail. I arrive at the creek crossing with the bridge having miraculously avoided repairs while we’d been above. I realized I couldn’t jump the creek with my pack but thought I could make the jump if the pack went separately. After tossing the pack to the other side I was committed. Gary arrived and suggested we built up a few rocks to get a bit extra vertical for launching ourselves. Excellent idea and I stay dry on the leap.

From here down past Slate Lake and some muddy meadows we each move at our own pace and trudge onwards. I run into a couple horseback riders then after clearing the last muddy obstacle and change into my lighter shoes while fighting off the swarming mosquitoes.

We run into a couple of other hikers and keep up a slow pace on the hike back to the Gore Range trail where we break for a bit. Tired all around we realize we’ll take longer on the hike out than the hike in, in spite of having consumed most of the food we’d brought in.

A lone hiker tells us about a bear he saw on the trail, but the critter is gone by the time we pass through that area and nothing enlivens the hike back. At least not until we get to a trail junction sign and know we’ve only got .6 miles left.

Back at the trailhead we rapidly change clothes and hurry back to town for a big dinner at the Dillon Dam Brewery.

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For the second night in a row at Upper Slate Lake I didn’t sleep very well. A cup of coffee didn’t help right matters and I yawned most of the 2 hour approach hike to the basin between Peaks Q and R.

Along the way we saw some tracks from the Outward Bound group who’d gone up this way and then did some ice axe arrest practice on the slopes above the “South American Lake” before making tracks towards the Peak Q-P saddle.

Gary and I decided to head right up the snow slopes on the firm snow and so strapped on the crampons.

I was dragging behind Gary the whole way and didn’t help much to navigate or kick steps. Mentally I was tired and my legs didn’t have their usual spring.

Gary led us up the east facing snowfields and through a short talus band.

The snow was steep in places, but the sun had been hitting for a while now and had really softened it up. Eventually we transitioned onto loose rock slopes and began scrambling. Very quickly we spotted a rock cairn marking a class 4 gully we needed to head up.

The terrain got a little easier above the gully, but it was still confusing and a couple wayward cairns led us astray.

After climbing one really loose step we started to get closer to the true summit. A few more class 4 sections presented themselves.

Finally we reached the summit.

One look at the deep and steep notch to the west killed any though we had of traversing off that way (“We’re going to need a bigger rack” I thought) and on to Peak P. The weather wasn’t very confidence inspiring and my listless energy all pointed to descending back the way we came.

We avoided the one really loose downclimb with a steeper but far more solid option then worked our way back to the top of the 4th class gully.

Slowly and carefully we downclimbed it while avoiding some of the ice still present. Afterwards we stayed on rock for a longer period to avoid some of the steepest sections of snow which had been softening up even longer by now.

Finally it was time to tackle the snow again and we traversed out to meet our previous tracks.

Then we followed those down to the talus band where we removed our crampons and put on our rain pants for the upcoming glissade.

By sliding down the snow we rapidly descended back to “South American Lake”. A break in the sun allowed most of our gear to dry before we packed it back up for the hike back to camp.

We stayed lower and closer to the creek this time and found a decent path. We also identified a place to cross the creek fairly easily for our ascent up Peak L tomorrow.

We arrived back in camp a little less than 10 hours after leaving and I spent a good portion of the afternoon napping and avoiding the mosquitoes by hiding in the tent.

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Gary gets us up the 4wd road to the Bush Creek Trailhead where we finalize our packs and start hiking at 5pm.

The trail is beautiful, but will run for a long 10 miles to the Upper Slate Lake while including multiple ridge and drainage crossings.

Those ups and downs will weigh heavily in a few days when we come back out, but for now just add to the challenge of reaching camp by dark.

The miles don’t roll by as quickly as I’d hoped, but our pace is explained by the large loads we’re carrying in. Ice axes, ice tools, steel crampons, stiff boots, harnesses, helmets, a picket, 40 meter climbing rope and a light rack hang off our hips and shoulders.

At least the evening light is worth the long hike.

While approaching Slate Lake Gary and I observe prints in the mud and decide some people are ahead of us in the valley.

Around 8:15 we reach Slate Lake and I think the next mile or so will only take 35-45 minutes. A steep trail, a washed out foot bridge and an ill-advised headlamp-assisted bushwhack delays our arrival until 9:30p. Exhausted we setup the tent, snack and filter water for tomorrow.

I don’t sleep well, but quickly get up with anticipation for today’s objective.

A couple years ago I spotted an amazing looking couloir on Peak R while scrambling up Peak L. A little research indicated that guidebook author Joseph Kramarsic had called the couloir the “Regal Couloir”. It looked classic, but required some commitment to haul the appropriate gear in this far.

Gary and I left camp a bit after 6am and started traversing around the south side of the Upper Slate Lake. A large group suddenly appeared in a small meadow and I took one look at the tarps and ages of the party and asked “Are you an Outward Bound group?”

16 years ago I’d taken a 23 day “alpine mountaineering” Outward Bound course in this same range. It’d been my first real introduction to backpacking and mountaineering and provided the foundation for my outdoor pursuits ever since. After I gushed to the trip leaders and talked about their plans, Gary and I continued up the valley.

A little bushwhacking, some snow field traverses and a lot of rock hoping delivered us to the base of the Regal Couloir.

The sun had softened a bit of the snow in the lower apron leading to the couloir and we kick stepped up this until it was time to get out the crampons.

Harnesses went on a well, as we weren’t 100% sure we wouldn’t hit terrain steep enough to require belays.

The couloir ended up being a very consistent 50 degrees and gave our calves quite the workout.

The couloir proper only lasted 600 feet however, and after topping out we dropped our packs for the short scramble to the summit.

The summit register showed that Joe Kramarsic had climbed the Regal Couloir almost exactly 4 years ago to the day. No one else had indicated they’d come up that way.

The Regal Couloir was the huge enticement for me to return to this valley, but our day and our weekend was only just beginning. The view east showed a lot of rugged terrain, and our goal was to traverse that whole ridge.

The Gore Range has very few officially named peaks, so a Colorado Mountain Club trip in the 1930’s started to simply name the peaks after letters in the alphabet. Hence, after climbing Peak R we were headed on to Peaks S and T and T’ (T Prime).

For the first portion of the traverse, over to Peak S, we managed to find a break in some cliffs that allowed us to traverse beneath the snow field at the Peak S-R saddle, but without dropping too much elevation. Mostly straight forward scrambling remained to the actual summit.

The portion of the ridge from S to T I thought was one of the more continuous fun and challenging scrambles I’d done.

Plenty of knife-edged ridges presented themselves.

Just before reaching Peak T, we located a goat’s path on the south side of the ridge and even spotted a couple goats. Hiking past the summit, then doubling back a bit we eventually reached the 12 foot boulder that is the true high point of Peak T.

Gary tossed our rope over the top and we took turns belaying one another on the ~5.5 climbing to the summit and back down.

After packing away our ropes and taking a bit of a break, we scrambled back down to easier terrain and then to the T-T’ saddle. T Prime isn’t a ranked peak (neither is T for that matter), and I was feeling pretty exhausted. If Gary had suggested we skip T’, I’d have quickly agreed. Instead, we dropped our packs at the saddle and started an hour round trip to the summit of T’ and back.

We mostly stayed left (north) of the ridge for the whole distance until we reached the summit boulder (no ropes required this time).

After returning to our packs we descended straight back to the lake from the saddle.

It was about 4:30p and Gary prepared an excellent salad to start our recovery dinner.

The rest of the evening we napped, planned tomorrow’s excursion and filtered water from the lake.

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The route Rewritten is a classic in Eldorado Canyon that was on my to-do list for the year. Plans worked out where Jonathan was able to get out for a 3/4 day and this route fit perfectly into his available time. We arrived at the parking lot and only saw a few other cars at 7am and hiked up the Redgarden Wall trail. We were the first ones at the base of Rewritten (5.7).

The actual first pitch of Rewritten is a bit run-out, so I choose the slightly harder first pitch of The Great Zot (5.8), a pitch I’d climbed before, but had numb fingers at the crux and hung around rewarming them until completing the pitch. This time I did the line cleanly.

Jonathan followed and cleaned the pitch and the next group arrived at the base. Jonathan was up for leading and so we started to alternate pitches. Pitch 2 was Jonathan’s and he took the slightly harder, but cleaner 5.6 left variation.

After cleaning the route and reaching Jonathan’s belay at some rappel bolts, I took the rack and climbed the next 5.6 pitch. Jonathan soon arrived and was game to lead the famous traverse at the start of the 4th pitch.

While climbing the route, I decided the traverse wasn’t all that hard and some of the moves higher up were the crux of the route. I arrived at the large ledge with the dead tree and re-racked for the 5.7 Rebuffat’s Arete finish. Traversing right from the ledge I reached the arete and started climbing and finding more protection opportunities than I’d expected. The left side of the arete dropped down only 20 feet or less into the standard gully finish to Rewritten, but the right side fell away steeply and was very exposed. Fun climbing led to a small notch that I decided to belay at so I could get better photos of Jonathan climbing the arete.

The 6th pitch (short and 5.5) was Jonathan’s to led and he did so quickly up the blocky terrain.

From the crest of the ridge we were able to walk off to the north following a well-cairned path.

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After getting a rain delay on my weekend and our usual Monday night climbing, Gary and I decided to take advantage of the improving weather on Tuesday. This time he picked the Rincon Wall.

Gary wanted to dive right into the climbing so he took the sharp end to lead the first pitch of Over the Hill (5.10b). I could tell it was spicy and in the heat his shoes weren’t smearing well near the crux. Gary stopped a little short of completing the full first pitch since he was exhausted between the heat and the climbing.

I followed and had my feet slip out at the crux as well, I’m definitely not a solid 5.10 climber. At the belay Gary thought we should traverse left to the finishes of “Emerald City” and “Over and Out”. I led the very short traverse then belayed Gary across and he continued up the 5.6/5.7 climbing to the large belay ledge. It was my turn to lead again, and I had the option of finishing with the last pitch of “Over and Out” (5.8+) or the more classic last pitch of “Over the Hill” (5.9). I took on Over the Hill, and tried to place as much protection as possible (a whole lot of nuts) since this was my first 5.9 trad lead outside of Indian Creek’s splitter cracks.

The climbing followed a finger crack with several hard moves on very marginal feet. I could have used some cooler temperatures (climbing shoes stick better in cool temps) and really fought through the crux (especially since I had a horrible nut placement below me and figured it wouldn’t hold a fall). Eventually, I struggled to the top and in a beaten down state struggled to find a descent anchor. Gary followed and we scrambled off the formation and eagerly descended on the water in our packs.

A few clouds were starting to cool things off, but Gary needed to be home by 8pm, and I was pretty much shot, so we hiked out and headed home, both pretty satisfied with the pitches we’d led.

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With hot and somewhat humid conditions prevailing, Gary and I decided we needed to find a shady spot for our Monday night rock climbing. We decided to choose Cob Rock in Boulder Canyon and hoped we could get across Boulder Creek okay. While driving up the canyon, it was obvious that weeks of warm weather had the snow-melt feed creek flowing high and fast. From the parking area we could make out some of the popular lines on the formation, like the 5.7+ Empor route which we’d end up climbing first.

The Tyrolean was across the creek just down stream from the parking area, but it looked like there was a chance we’d get a little wet.

Gary went first and had a rogue wave drench him mid crossing. I got lucky and stayed mostly dry. After consulting the guide book we geared up and scrambled to a corner behind a huge boulder to start Empor. I got to lead the first pitch which I really enjoyed.

Gary followed, then took the rack to lead the next pitch. Each of these pitches were very short and we could have linked a couple. However, communication would have been very hard with the loud creek below.

While Gary was working up to the next belay a couple of chipmunks ran around entertaining me with their free-soloing antics.

After following the second pitch I retook the rack and led the zig-zagging crack exit to the summit, another classic pitch. We scrambled off to the west side of Cob Rock and back to our packs to decide what next to climb. A party was just starting up North Face Center, but a group was leaving the base of Huston Crack – a 5.8 sandbagged off-width crack. I’d brought a couple big cams in case we had time for this one route, looks like they’d be put to use.

Gary wasn’t sure he wanted to try this without long pants, so I got another turn on the sharp end. The base of the crack is a wonderful hand crack, but soon I was using my #3, and #4 cams and struggling. I took a short fall and hung from the #4 resting before making it to the top (and that new #5 definitely got used). At the top I built and anchor and lowered off to clean the crack of the 5-6 cams I’d placed.

Gary had his eye on a couple one pitch routes on the east side of Cob Rock, Indistinction (5.8) and Right Crack (5.7), so we moved over there while I scrambled to the top of Huston Crack to remove my anchor.

Quickly climbing Indistinction, Gary belayed me up the route and then we had some “fun” finding the easiest route off. A bit of scrambling, maybe some 5.0 down climbing moves, and lots of loose rock made this a bit of an adventure.

The downclimb didn’t scare Gary off from wanting to even up the score on the number of leads we’d each gotten, so he re-racked for Right Crack – which turned out to be a great route with some offwidth moves. It would have been a nice way to end the evening – if we didn’t have to repeat the scary downclimb and the wet Tyrolean across Boulder Creek.

Gary went first back across the Tyrolean and got even wetter this time. I filmed a short video which you can watch – but be warned you will here some strong language.

My turn was next, and I didn’t get across very dry. Gary said he was actually glad I got at least one soaking as well.

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I had hoped to climb a snow couloir on Sunday morning, but the forecast for a cloudy and warm night convinced me none would be in ideal shape. Ratcheting back my plans, I settled for a ridge hike starting at Hoosier Pass and heading east on the Continental Divide.

My goal was two “ranked” 13,000 foot peaks: Hoosier Ridge and Red Mountain. A secondary goal was to catch the sunrise above treeline, so I started hiking just after 5am.

The sky had actually cleared overnight, so there weren’t many clouds to catch the morning alpineglow, but the peaks did pretty well by themselves.

Winds were gusting around 20mph, not too bad, but just enough to be a bit annoying.

The temperatures were mild however, and it only took a couple light layers to stay warm. A few soft snow patches confirmed my hypothesis that the snow didn’t freeze overnight.

While navigating the undulating ridge I scared a large herbivore from its rest at a saddle. It seemed large for a deer, and the photo shows a rump like an elk, but would have been rather small for one of those majestic creatures.

Hoosier Ridge isn’t really all that interesting, there aren’t many rock outcrops and no knife edge sections. However, I did find a couple vertical rocks that nicely framed and mirrored Quandary Peak’s east ridge.

I wasn’t yet to the highest point of Hoosier Ridge, but the summit of Red Mountain was coming in view.

I used some interesting lichen patterns as an excuse to stop and take a couple pictures before continuing on to the summit.

I didn’t spend very long on Hoosier Ridge’s top, but started down towards the saddle with Red Mountain.

There was one unavoidable patch of snow I had to cross to reach the summit. Thankfully, it had frozen a little bit and I was able to climb up while kicking several inch deep steps and not sinking to my hips.

I admired the view of the Tenmile and Gore ranges and enjoyed the summit for a little while.

I didn’t want to stay too long as clouds and winds were increasing and I had lunch plans back in town.

On the way back I skirted the summit of Hoosier Ridge and worked to contour around a couple of the bumps. While I didn’t run into any large mammals, I did come close to a ptarmigan that was changing to its summer plumage.

A few wild flowers slowed my return to Hoosier Pass, but I still completed the hike in under 5 hours.

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