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Archive for July, 2010

Lovers Leap

It was hotter than we’d have liked and the route was going to be in the sun. Both of us knew that, having been stuck in traffic coming back from the mountains just the day before and passing Lovers Leap right around 6pm. But the 0% chance of rain was an enticement to get out on a multi-pitch climb and this one was on both of our to-do lists.

After pulling off 285 we hiked down to the creek and quickly located a log bridge across the barely flowing stream. We then turned up stream for a 20 feet to a little drainage and followed the climbers trail to the base of the rock. The lower portion of the climb was so blocky we weren’t sure where it was best to start or sure if it mattered. Gary was coming off a few weeks of no climbing, so he choose to take the first lead to get back in the game.

I got to hang out in the shade at the base while Gary sweated up the first pitch and eventually located some bolts just above the first ledge to belay from. It was a fairly long pitch, and he’d placed a lot of gear. After following and re-racking, I decided to step just a little to the left to start the second pitch.

I soon reached another ledge which would have also made a decent belay (but with gear), then continued to follow the dominant crack angling up the face. I could spot the exit pitch (well marked by the “goal posts”) and realized I was nearing the cave after 30 meters of climbing. Another couple and I reached the cave, to find less shade than I’d been hoping for.

Still, I alternated crawling back into the cave for a little shade with standing out on the ledge watching Gary climb up.

Gary decided that while he was pretty hot and tired, that he’d like to take the last, crux, pitch. He traversed left on the ramp to get in a little gear, then pulled the easy overhang to reach the next ledge and the start of the hand/finger crack.

Tired, hot and finding he’d placed cams right where he’d like to stick his hand, he did a little hanging on the rope before reaching the top and calling “off belay”. I wondered just how hard this 5.7+ section would be as the extra length of rope snaked upwards and came tight on me. Time to find out.

Turns out my hands must be a bit smaller than Gary’s, as I could get decent hand jams in the crack that was only finger-width for him. That made it much easier for me and I was soon at the top of the climb.

We decided to for-go the 3 rappels in the sun for the walk off that would be more shaded, even though we’d have to do it in our tight rock climbing shoes. Descending that way only took about 15-20 minutes, and would have gone faster if we’d known the route. Definitely quicker than rappelling.

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After climbing the Guides Ridge on Saturday, Pete and I took another look at the weather forecast and decided to bail out of heading to Telluride and attempting Dallas Peak. We looked about the options and after telling of a “fun class 3 scramble” he read about in a trip report on Belleview Mountain we decided to give that a go for Sunday. So we stayed around Crested Butte, ran into some friends, hung out at their campfire and then drove back to our camp near Splaine Basin for some sleep.

Unfortunately, we’d set up near some discarded wood panels which had attracted a porcupine who gnawed and scratched away most of the night. Pete later said it sounded like someone’s pig was rooting around for 6 hours. A mouse tried to eat my shoes and it or something else attacked my car twice at night, requiring me to get up (not really wake up, since I wasn’t asleep) and start the engine to drive it off.

Therefore Sunday started a bit slower than we’d have liked and the 16oz Americano at Camp 4 wasn’t really enough to wake me up as Pete drove us over Schofield Pass. About a mile north of the pass we stopped and prepared to start hiking towards North Maroon Pass.

It wasn’t that the coffee finally kicked in, but the amazing display of wildflowers seemed to wake me up. Pete and I found ourselves stopping every 100 feet for another photo.

As we slowly moved up the trail we got our first views of the back-lit Belleview Mountain.

We ran into a couple backpackers descending who described their amazing campsite further up the basin.

After briefly discussing a route going straight up the slopes above us, we decided to continue towards the pass and run the ridge from there. After all, this is supposed to be a “fun class 3 scramble”.

At the pass we put on our helmets and had a good first look at the ridge running towards Belleview. We skirted the initial gendarmes on their left side.

Continuing our traverse we soon found ourselves ascending a loose gully back to the ridge crest.

Another cliff further along the ridge forced us to do another west-side traverse then another loose climb back up to the ridge top. Easy walking continued to a false summit on the ridge. We skirted this point on the north side and had a pretty good view of the majority of the remaining route to the summit. The pretty good view also included a high snowmelt lake, South Maroon Peak and Pyramid Peak.

As we walked toward the final climb we could see and hear a large group gathered on top of West Maroon Pass. They seemed to let out a loud cheer every so often and I personally found their boisterous behavior annoying. I yelled a single “Shut Up” after one of their outbreaks and amazingly they stopped.

Possibly, I was just taking out my own frustrations on the group, as so far this climb had not been a “fun class 3 scramble”. There had been portions of class 3 for sure, but nothing I would call fun. The summit block looked like a loose pile of choss as well and I wasn’t expecting to find any fun there either.

That last 100 feet fully lived up to my expectations. While the rock was loose, at least the views were excellent. Pete rattled off a list of mountains I should probably avoid given how much I hate climbing loose rock, while I kidded him about the missing “fun class 3 scramble”.

The down off the peak went quickly however, and I could breathe a little easier with that completely behind us.

We pretty much followed the exact same route back to the pass, when what we probably should have done is to descend off the false, western, summit straight back to the basin. It would have saved a lot of time and avoided the ugly gully again.

Once at the pass, we fought through the crowds to get back to the trail and quickly hiked out. We didn’t need to stop as much on the way back for photos and were soon reversing our route over Schofield Pass back to Crested Butte.

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Recently the Crested Butte Mountain Guides had posted some photos showing a lot of details of the “Guides Route” that they take clients up frequently. I’d also run into one of their guides on top of Crestone Peak and asked a few questions about the difficultly, approach and gear required. Pete was enthused about the climb and my brother, Grant, was free so we paid our 15 dollars to reduce the approach to a 5 minute hike and rode up the Silver Queen lift.

We had an excellent view of the ridge to preview the route as we neared the top of the lift (the green line is where we scrambled un-roped, while the red is where we climbed while roped up).

Possibly unique in the US – the lift provides an Alps-like approach and we only had to traverse west from the top through a short band of trees then across a talus field to the ridge.

At a flat spot on the ridge we put on our helmets and harnesses then scrambled up class 2/3 terrain.

From all the photos posted, I easily recognized the slab pitch with the overhanging block. I stopped just below this and Pete and I tied in at the ends of the rope while I put my brother about 15 feet ahead of Pete. I explained to Grant how he’d clip through any protection I left and let Pete clean it and how they’d have to communicate to keep slack to a minimum between them.

The pitch was fairly easy, minus one mantle move that could easily be avoided by staying further left. Finding a good anchor was more problematic, but I ended up slinging a large block that appeared more solid than everything else around.

Grant decided not to commit to the mantle move and headed further left to avoid it, but quickly arrived at my belay with Pete right behind. The ground above us relented to loose class 3 blocks, so I coiled much of the rope and led up with the others following.

We skirted a few large blocks on their east side and the climbing kept to an easy 3rd or 4th class for the most part.

We started to hit a few large blocks and flakes that we could climb over, so I would place a few pieces of protection, then belay after the difficulties as Pete and Grant tackled the hard bits.

None of the climbing was sustained, and climbing on the shortened rope was definitely the most efficient way to move if the leader was willing to mostly solo the short sections of 5.5/5.6.

The “diving board” flake was one of the more interesting features on the route.

We also did a bit of climbing through a long v-slot on the left of the ridge crest and then had a fun mantle back onto the small knife-edge.

We hit a little more 5.easy climbing higher up just before nearing the summit.

The summit itself was crowded with hikers, several ravens and quite a few flies that made staying on top unpleasant. Here’s a tip – if you don’t feed the ravens they won’t hang out on top pooping and attracting flies.

We quickly packed away the rope, helmets and gear and started down the trail for a quick descent back to the lift.

In the end, we climbed the ridge in about 2 hours, after a 5-8 minute approach from the top of the lift. I only took a belay for the start of the climbing (on the slab with the overhang), the rest I generally free-soloed and placed gear to protect my seconds then would do a hip belay or belay off a real anchor (depending on what was available) for the short harder bits. The climbing never seemed harder than 5.6 and was never sustained. Trying to pitch-out this climb with full rope lengths could be a mess with all the loose blocks and rope-snagging features. A light rack to a #3 cam is plenty, with some long slings or cordelletes for building anchors off large blocks.

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Before falling asleep I’d been reading Steven Rinella’s American Buffalo so when a rumbling disturbed my sleep after 11pm I dreamed we were about to be crushed by stampeding bison. Waking up and remembering that bison don’t have headlamps I remembered the Custer Co Search and Rescue vehicles we’d seen drive up the road during dinner and I saw they were now returning. Hoping everyone was okay I returned to sleep.

Again we were away about 5:40am and hiking up to the Sangre de Cristo wilderness and the South Colony Lakes.

Instead of heading towards Broken Hand Pass, this time we walked beside the lower and upper South Colony Lakes on our way to Humboldt Peak. Since this was just a hike, all the extra weight in helmets, ice axes, harnesses and more stayed back at camp.

I’d wondered how the closing of the 4wd trailhead last fall and making everyone hike and extra 2+ miles would impact camping around the lakes. After counting 13 occupied campsites I had to believe there was little reduction in use.

From the upper lake, our trail towards Humboldt began to switchback and climb roughly a thousand feet. With the sun illuminating the east faces of Crestone Needle and Peak I mostly watched the reflected light from the lakes below.

Fat butterball marmots teared around the tundra as we reached the saddle.

We were thankful to have the shade provided by the mass of Humboldt itself to keep us cool on the entire hike to the summit. I was again glad of yesterday’s rationalizations not to do an afternoon climb of Humboldt.

The main attraction of this hike was definitely, as Gerry Roach said, “to either nervously preview or triumphantly review Crestone climbs”.

After yesterday, we were in the ranks of the latter, and with this being just a class 2 (walking) hike, I could pretty much shut off my brain.

I may have done that all too well, and started feeling a little loopy around 13,500 feet. The mass of marmots and marmot poop inspired a stream-of-consciousness story of marmots taking over the trails, enacting food tolls for hikers and enslaving the smaller pikas to act as mid-winter servants to keep their blankets securely tucked around marmot shoulders as they hibernated.

I was midway into plotting out a possible pika revolt when we crested the false west summit and could see the true summit, or could if we weren’t suddenly blinded by emerging into the sun.

After making the short final hike we had the summit to ourselves as we soaked up the sun’s warmth and took in the view of the Crestones.

We also watched a small plane fly up the South Colony drainage then buzz right past the east faces of the Crestones, shoot over the Humboldt-Crestone Peak pass and continue up the spine of the range. Wow, that must be an impressive flight.

The local marmot population was more impressed with what we were eating and came within inches of us begging before I shoo’d them off.

Last night’s delayed dessert (the Raspberry Crumble) was calling, so we started back down as Helen threatened to take away my camera.

“Well, when are we going to get any pictures of you?” she demanded. “When I’m sitting in Trinity Brewing Company with a stout in my hand.” I responded, continuing the descent.

While hiking back to the saddle we ran into a father and son wearing running garb and carrying water bottles, I verified they were the same pair I’d run into on July 4th on Mt Sherman just weeks ago. Then we spotted a group of 3 hiking up and I recognized Ryan’s hat. He’d made it back to Golden for the end of his lacrosse game and had returned here this morning for the Humboldt hike.

From the pass we continued rapidly down to the lakes and missed a right turn near the lower lake. Helen and I realized we were on a different path, but the map said this one should also return back to the old 4wd parking lot, so we followed it and didn’t see another soul all the way back to camp.

The Raspberry Crumble was quickly cooked and consumed while we broke camp and then made the 50 minute hike back to the trailhead.

A couple hours later I finally released the camera to Helen when I got the that stout in my hands.

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Three hours after leaving the Denver/Golden area, Helen and I meet Pete for pizza and beer in Westcliffe, on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo range. Somewhat randomly, our friend Kevin is in the same restaurant and joins our table along with Pete’s hiking partner for tomorrow, Brian.

After the social dinner, our 8 pm departure from the new South Colony trailhead is a little later than I’d hoped. At least the temperature has moderated now that we’re hiking in the shade of the peaks above. I’d hoped to reach the South Colony lakes, but 9pm finds us at the old 4wd trailhead looking at an unoccupied site as darkness sets. We call it good and get some sleep.

About 5:40am we leave the old trailhead and our camp and hike up into the Sangre de Cristo wilderness area to a beautiful sunrise.

As we near the lakes we split off to head up to Broken Hand Pass.

The way up the pass is a loose as I remember from last year.

Once on the other side of the pass we descend towards Cottonwood Lake, fight off some mosquitoes and fill up on water.

Continuing past the lake we follow the climber’s trail around the ridge coming off Crestone Needle and the up into the basin marked by the red couloir.

Reaching the base of the couloir we also hit the mosquito-marmot line, where one species seems replaced by the other.

Staying out of the loose couloir we find solid scrambling on the rock to its right.

Occasionally we drop into the couloir, but often quickly return to the more solid rock on the right.

Eventually we have to commit to the couloir and run into another hiker moving about our speed. We ascend with Ryan and chat away the elevation gain.

The couloir ends at a small notch and some ledges allow us to traverse to the somewhat busy summit (our group of 3 now makes 8). We relax a bit then decided to return to the Red Couloir to start the traverse to Crestone Needle.

After descending the Red Couloir a ways, we eventually pick a side gully to ascend (with some appreciated help from another group who had done the traverse before).

Once up high we spot a few cairns and make our way to the low point of the ridge where we then have to descend down loose slopes to a distant cairn.

Then we can starting working upwards again and around some ribs.

Trying to follow a diagram in Cooper’s Scrambles book, we end up on some exposed low 5th class terrain traversing to a mini notch.

The scary stuff over, we continue up easier terrain in a gully and then zig-zagging along some ledges to the final notch right on the ridge below the summit.

Here we get out the short 30 meter rope and I tie in and solo up what starts as easy scrambling and soon turns into a brief section of 5.0 terrain. Helen plays out the rope and right as I reach an old sling yells, “you’re out of rope”. Perfect. I back up the sling and put her on belay as Ryan scrambles below.

After Helen arrives at the anchor we pass down the rope for Ryan to use if necessary at the short crux. He passes through without a problem and while we’re cleaning up to scramble the last bit to the summit two other climbers yell to us and ask if they can get a belay too.

We wait for them to arrive below while Helen removes her harness and I lower it down with the rope. The first climber comfortably climbs up and says his partner was a little nervous and would appreciate the belay. Below the other climber puts on the harness and double checks his knot then I belay him up and we all stroll to the summit.

Ryan hopes to get back to Golden by 6pm, so our threesome doesn’t spend much time on top of the Needle, but quickly start down the confusing gullies of the standard route.

Once we reach Broken Hand Pass Helen and I stop for a break while Ryan rushes back home.

Feet aired out, food snacked on, marmots scared away and more sunscreen applied, Helen and I finally start down the loose east side of the pass.

We debate about also doing Humboldt today (a far easier peak), but if we did that I argue we’d drive home too early tomorrow for a brewery visit for lunch. So we head back down to camp and nap in a cloudy and cool afternoon before a two course dinner (spinach salad and feta/pesto pasta). We’re too stuffed to enjoy dessert (Raspberry Crumble), and decided to save it for a post-Humboldt snack tomorrow.

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Sunday and Pete’s toe was feeling good enough to risk a hike. We head over Hoosier Pass and pass Montgomery Reservoir and make it only .3 miles from the winter gate before pulling over and admitting that the road is far to rough for Pete’s stock 4wd truck. We quickly pass some old mining building and continue up the road aiming for Wheeler Lake.

The road and valley are mostly quiet this early in the morning as we slowly make our way while taking a lot of wildflower photos. Eventually we hit the stream flowing out of Wheeler Lake and head uphill alongside it, forsaking the road for now.

Below the lake we find a pretty easy rock hop across the creek.

Then we travel to the west side of the lake, all the while shooting photos, especially of the now-visible Wheeler Mountain.

Aiming for a creek flowing into Wheeler Lake on its northwest side we contoured around the water and found an old car. Pete seemed ready to drive us the rest of the way.

Alas, the car had a few mechanical issues and we had to continue on foot. A fairly steep and faint trail led us upwards along the cascading stream.

The trail faded out at the upper lake, one which still had a bit of snow around its west side.

Traversing across the snow patches we headed for the far side of the lake and the steep grass slopes that led up towards Wheeler Mountain.

Excellent views of Mount Lincoln’s north face stuck out above the lake.

Putting on helmets we slowly gained elevation to the ridge line above.

Finally reaching the ridge crest we took a break out of the wind to snack and check out the view towards neighboring Clinton Peak. Then we added an extra layer and started the scramble to the summit.

The route finding was pretty easy, as we could largely stay on the ridge crest with few “dead ends”.

A couple loose blocks needed care, but mostly the ridge was solid, fun and exposed.

We soon hit a summit with a register, but there seemed to be a cairn on the next bump north. Dropping our packs we scrambled over to that point and back, deciding that the register was likely on the highest point.

Clouds were building and loosing their innocent, puffy look. So we quickly started back to the Clinton-Wheeler saddle reversing our earlier route. Along the way we made a few variations to take easier or harder lines depending on looseness and the appeal of the the challenges.

From the saddle we descended a few hundred feet, then cut right following a mellower angle back to the upper lake and eventually locating a trail on the lake’s east side. Continuing we headed for the main Wheeler Lake, and saw several modified 4wd vehicles had arrived.

This time we followed the rocky road down and started seeing other hikers.

Most never made it to the lake, since the skies finally delivered the promised rain and wind.

As is typical, it rained just long enough to convince us to get out jackets before passing by and making us stop again to remove the extra layers.

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It had been about two weeks since I’d been rock climbing when plans for Saturday fell into place to head to Boulder Canyon. Piper (Heather) and I met early and were the first across the tyrolean to Cob Rock.

I decided to start on one of the classics, North Face Center, and led the first 1-2 pitches as one. Nearly out of gear I arrived at the deeply inset corner below the zig-zag exit pitch (shared with the route Empor) and belayed Piper up.

Piper is a very strong climber (she’s recently led 5.12 sport routes) but is newer to trad leading. I offered her the lead of the exit pitch which she accepted. Not liking hand jams she made the climbing a little more difficult and ended up falling on a small #3 nut. The gear was good and the fall let her head get back in the game and she quickly finished the rest of the climb smoothly. However, following the pitch I had trouble retrieving the stuck nut and had to leave it.

We decided to climb the route Empor, which I thought Piper would enjoy leading. She set off and linked the first two pitches back to the same belay stance I’d used previously.

My turn to lead the exit pitch, my second time leading this section and third time climbing it. Each time I think I’ve done it slightly differently. Piper had more success than I with removing the stuck nut when she cleaned the route.

The weather was clouding up and the wind increasing, so after hiking back to the base we decided not to venture up any more multi-pitch climbs right away. We weren’t sure whether we wanted to do some more easy trad routes or head for some harder sport lines. Eventually we drove further up the canyon to Tonnere Tower and decided to do the 2 pitch sport route, Stayin’ Alive.

The first (and easier) pitch was mine to lead. Piper enjoyed the second 5.10a pitch.

After following we made two rappels down the wall and headed home for the day.

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