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Archive for August, 2010

Gary decided to come down to Golden this time and we figured we could find a bit of shade on the south side of North Table Mountain (Golden Cliffs). A warm hike up from the parking lot took us to the popular Brown Cloud Crags, where there was only one other group. Gary offered me the first lead and I decided on the route Axis of Weasels (5.7).

After cleaning the route we both top roped the neighboring sport climb, Brown Cloud Arete (5.10a). I’ll admit to having trouble with the starting moves.

By now the rock around Killian’s Dead (5.6) was in the shade so Gary took the rack for his first trad lead in a couple months.

I decided I should lead the next route to the right, John Adams’ Adams Apple (5.7) and found a perfect tricam placement at the start to protect the opening moves. Excellent hand jams higher up had me enjoying this pitch more than the more “classic” Killian’s Dead.

I convinced Gary to take another lead and pushed him towards Thick Crust (5.7) – it’s actually more fun than it looks, I assured him (pigeon crap was decorating some of the holds). Gary powered through, cleaning out some cobwebs in his lead head and reached the top to belay me up. The sun was starting to set and I’d had a pretty full few days so we didn’t try to cram in another climb.

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Following a complete rest day on Saturday, Piper and I met at the Eldo Market to carpool into the park. A handful of other climbers were gearing up in the parking lot and setting out for climbs, but as we hiked up along the West Ridge we didn’t see anyone else. Shirttail Peak was also devoid of people and it looked like we’d have the route Gambit to ourselves.

The first pitch is rated 5.5 and as a newer trad leader I offered it to Piper, she led up, a little nervous about Eldo’s reputation for loose rock.

The first pitch ended at a large ledge and tree that I arrived at after cleaning the pitch. The second pitch had the crux moves (5.8) with a few roof/budge features to pull around. Thankfully, I was feeling pretty solid after the recent climb of the Petit Grepon and had a lot of fun with the moves.

The next two pitches were rated 5.7 and 5.6 respectively, so I offered Piper her choice of leads. She decided to let me take the 3rd pitch which started out with an interesting stemming/slab move protected by a piton, then to a large ramp and a nice jamming hand traverse. However, the line then went straight up a crack filled with huge blocks. Umm, these are all stable aren’t they?

I probably took longer leading this 5.7 pitch than the harder 5.8. Testing every single hand and foot hold and looking for solid cracks for gear while trying not to think about the exposure so much. Back in April, Pete and I had climbed Shirttail Peak via the much easier (and far less classic) Mountaineer’s Route and had watched another group on Gambit. From a distance the route seemed pretty exposed, and the close-up view was confirming that.

Piper arrived at the belay a little emotional at the thought that she’d almost agreed to lead the third pitch. She’s a far better climber than I, but not so happy with loose or blocky terrain.

I tried to be a gentleman and offer to lead the last pitch to the top, but Piper quickly composed herself and set off above the belay.

These last two pitches and belay stances were in the sun and the day had certainly warmed up. However, it wasn’t uncomfortable as a mild breeze cooled us off and I took in the views towards the plains while on belay duty.

Once on the summit, Piper belayed off a tree and I climbed up to join her in “tagging” the highest summit boulder then resting in some shade.

Then we headed north along the ridge crest to the now familiar pair of rappels that would take us back to the base of the climb.

On the walk out I was surprised to see nobody along the entire West Ridge, making Eldo feel a bit like a ghost town today.

Complete photo album

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What was really grating was that our driving day to the Tetons was also supposed to be the best weather day. Was it worth it to drive up there to possibly get shutout of any climbing? Jeremy and I decided the answer for us was a “no” and a perfect forecast and last minute acquisition of a bivy permit for two nights at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park convinced us to turn our trip into a “staycation”.

Still, we had a bit of driving to do, dinner to eat, permit to pick up and last minute shopping. We began the four mile hike to Sky Pond at 8pm – pretty much using headlamps from the beginning. At least it was a beautiful night and the varied terrain meant we got to watch the moon rise a few times. The stars and reflected night sky in The Loch also kept me enthused on the approach.

I started to get a little sleepy as we began to gain elevation near Glass Lake, but the scrambling with a full pack up to the lake in the dark (“Is this really the trail?”) woke me up.

We stumbled on to Sky Pond and found a bit of a climbers trail, went past a couple others who were also bivying (hope we didn’t wake you), then luckily found a perfect spot tucked in amongst the boulders. We set an alarm for 6am and went to sleep watching the Petit Grepon illuminated by the near-full moon.

The same moon eventually worked its way across the sky and shined into our faces and I discovered another use for a Buff as an eye shade.

After getting our caffeine dose in the morning we packed very light packs and hung the rest of our gear from salt-starved marmots and made the short approach to the base of the South Face route.

Knowing that the 5.8 crux moves were on pitches 3 and 5 we made a plan that we’d split up the leading A-B-A-B-B-A-B so both of us would get one of the crux pitches. To decided who would take the first lead, we ninja-grizzly-cowboy’d and Jeremy won yet again.

We stashed our approach shoes and Jeremy started up a grungy chimney to a nice right facing dihedral and nearly a full rope length to a substantial grassy ledge.

We moved the belay a little to the left and I started up the wide chimney of pitch 2, past a chockstone and into a left leaning crack. With only a little rope left I stopped on a tiny ledge to belay, probably a little past the traditional end of pitch 2.

Jeremy quickly followed and left my small ledge to head up the first section of 5.8 above, then easier terrain to a much nicer belay spot.

Pitch four lead up to another decent stance with some pitons that I backed up.

Now, instead of alternating leads, I’d again head off on the sharp end. Pitch 5 started with a run-out section of 5.7 then just as I could get gear in the difficulty increased for a continuous section of 5.8. Lots of fun alpine jamming had me smiling by the time I hit easier grassy ledges above and ran the rope out for nearly its full length.

I was still smiling as Jeremy arrived at the belay. Since I’d drawn the classic pitch and more sustained crux (pitch 5) and maybe taken a bit of his pitch 3 with my long pitch 2, I offered him the last two pitches to the summit. We weren’t entirely positive where to the route went from here, there seemed a lot of options and Jeremy settled on a left-rising grassy ramp into a shallow dihedral and ended up out on the narrow south arete.

I struggled to remove one of his cam placements for a while, but otherwise climbed okay to his belay. He set off on some slightly run-out terrain then hit the ridge crest where he radioed that he “could see the other side of the formation – take a lot of photos when you climb up here!”. I followed up the pretty wildly exposed 7th pitch to find Jeremy sitting on the summit block surrounded by the taller peaks of the Saber and Sharkstooth.

It was about two in the afternoon and we were stoked to have climbed this classic route on such a perfect day and have the whole formation to ourselves. Now we just had to get down. Jeremy located the rappel bolts just off the summit and we threaded our single rope through the rings and tied it to our 6mm tag line. It was the first time setting up a tag line rappel for either of us, so we double and triple checked the knots before I committed to the very exposed descent.

50 meters down I located the next set of bolts and Jeremy soon arrived at my stance. When we tried to pull the tag line it was stuck. 160 feet below the summit, in the shade, with light clothing and no expected to hear from us until late tomorrow. Dang, why couldn’t there be another party on the route, behind us, who could easily untie our knots and free the ropes? After trying every trick we knew to free the lines, Jeremy volunteered to ascend the line back up while trying not to think of John Harlin.

After a very strenuous ascent, Jeremy reached the anchor, found the tag line and rope running separately over different sides of a block, reset the lines and carefully descended directly to me. Thankfully, this time the lines pulled smoothly. Only 4 more rappels to go.

Another 40 meters brought us down to the next anchor, then the shortest rappel of the bunch, just 30 meters to a huge grassy ledge. That one allowed us to descend just on the climbing rope and pack away the small tag line momentarily.

The last 3 rappels were all longer and we had to deploy the tag line again. Being smaller it tended to tangle more and we had to slowly rappel with autoblocks and un-knot the line on descent.

A few of the rappel anchors were also not so obvious to locate and I was really looking forward to our final rappel, dinner and a beer back at our bivy.

I breathed easily a little too soon once I was on the ground. The ropes refused to pull again. My turn to ascend the rope up the slabby lower face. I got up, found the tag line and rope were twisting around each other, reset the knot further from the anchor and had Jeremy do a test pull. It seemed okay, so back down I went.

Uggh, damn rope! Once again it pulled only 10 or so feet before twisting around and placing too much friction to budge any further. Jeremy went up this time, completely undid the knots, re-flaked the climbing rope and tossed them back down. This time he didn’t clip the butterfly knot into the climbing rope which should keep the two ropes from twisting around each other.

Meanwhile, I was devising other strategies for getting the rope down, such as ascending while placing gear on our first pitch ascent line, then down-leading instead of rappelling. Thankfully, Jeremy’s fix worked and we (and the ropes) were all back on solid ground.

The short hike back to our bivy spot had us completing the round trip in just under 12 hours. About 6+ for the climb itself and an incredibly long 5 hours for the rappels with all the snafus we experienced.

At least I could enjoy one of the best warm beers I’d ever had, then sunset, dinner and some organizing by headlamp.

Another beautiful, star-filled clear night had me sleeping deeply and waking occasionally to check the moon light on the Petit Grepon’s south face.

Between the longer-than-expected climb (and descent) of the Petit Grepon and a bit of rope damage, we decided not to stick around for a second route. Waking up with dawn we packed up and started the hike out.

The scramble below Glass Lake went much more easily in the light and we were even greeted by an elk before reaching The Loch.

Back in Estes Park we stopped at The Donut Haus, then ran back to Jeremy’s place to pick up his climbing rope. With time to kill we headed to the decidedly-less-alpine Boulder Canyon and repeated a few climbs I’d done before on the shaded Cob Rock (Empor, North Face Center).

Ripe and exhausted bodies were then showered and treated to a wonderful home cooked dinner with friends.

Complete photo album

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It wasn’t hard to wonder if I was on a fool’s errand, driving through the rain and watching a lightening strike as I headed to Boulder to go rock climbing. Gary assured me the weather was better there than in Golden so I continued north figuring I’d soon be headed home.

It was cloudy in Boulder Canyon, but not raining, so after watching the clouds a bit we put on our packs and made the short hike up to The Dome formation. Weather looked okay, but we weren’t ready to commit to any multipitch lines, so we started with the classic East Slabs (5.6) which could be done in one pitch.

Gary hadn’t been out climbing for a while, so was feeling rusty and gave me the lead. The opening moves were a bit tricky to figure out at first, but the rest of the climbing went pretty well, if just a tad run-out on the slab. Pulling the roof made for a fun top out.

After hiking back down the side, we found a group of three just starting the same climb.

The clouds still had us a bit nervous, so we killed some time watching them climb, then finally decided to try another one pitch route which I think was “East Face, Far Right” (5.7), but that portion of the guidebook was cut off when I photocopied the page so I’m not positive. Regardless, it was a fun, shorter climb, and definitely a little harder than East Slab.

By now the weather showed a definite improvement, so we decided to try The Owl, a 2 pitch climb. Gary was feeling better, but still didn’t have all the kinks worked out so I took the lead again.

After an easy start, the first pitch threw a wide variety of really classic sections all at a grade near 5.7 at me – a hand traverse on a solid lip, continuing on steep slab with large chicken-heads, then up a fun hand crack. Gary followed, also loving the pitch despite the look on his face as he pulled over the roof.

Rust all gone, Gary seemed to think about leading the last pitch, but graciously let me take it as he had done this route before (but it had been years ago). I stopped to take a photo of Gary at this belay, when he reminded me that he was hungry and looking forward to dinner.

An easy slab traverse led to the last roof which took me a while to figure out the secret to getting around, then a really nice hand crack took me to the summit where the lingering storm clouds generated some beautiful reds.

Gary cleaned the route and joined me on top to lead the way off the other side of the formation and we made it back to the cars before needing a headlamp. Just the perfect amount of climbing in the time we had.

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While driving home from Mt Toll yesterday I got a voice mail from Pete canceling our Sunday plans. By now this has become a well-established pattern for the summer and I just laughed as he described the sprained ankle and events that led to it. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be peak baggers.

After a hike Friday and a technical climb Saturday, I figured Sunday should be a scramble. Dave Cooper’s book help me choose the East Ridge of Pawnee Peak (Little Pawnee to Pawnee traverse) and I accept that I’ll be visiting the Indian Peaks Wilderness two days in a row.

The alarm wakes me early and while brewing coffee I check email to see that Kevin found out what was behind the helicopter we say yesterday. Reading news article I realize the accident was on the route I’m planning today.

Undeterred, but very cautious, I drive up to the Long Lake trailhead and start my hike at 6:30 am. I follow the trail most of the way up to Lake Isabelle, only seeing a few people in the parking lot. No one is on the trail just ahead of me (or they’re moving quicker than I am) but when I start off-trail towards the east ridge of Pawnee I immediately gain some company.

The deer watches me and lets me approach within 20 feet before fleeing and I turn my attention back to picking out a line up to the east ridge.

A little bit of talus hopping, a fair amount of pine tree bushwhacking and a tiny quantity of rock scrambling and I’m on the ridge. Mostly easy terrain, minus one small notch (which I later realize is where yesterday’s climber fell), and I’m soon on the summit of Little Pawnee – about 2 hours after leaving the trailhead.

I know the crux is waiting for me and I figure it was just ahead or somewhere along the traverse that the climber fell yesterday. I’ll admit all the accidents I’ve been in proximity to recently has me a little nervous.

A very careful downclimb gets me through the crux, but it will be another hour until the mental weight has really lifted. Plenty of loose rock and non-obvious route finding lies ahead.

If I was with others, I might try to stick closer to the crest. Being solo and haunted I play a cautious hand. Still, I sometimes decide to stay higher, on more difficult but possibly more solid terrain than the lower, looser side-hilling that I deem more dangerous.

Continuing the traverse, I get my head screwed on straight and recall how I often think of “alpine mountaineering” as “alpine decision-making”. Being outside and high on a ridge isn’t a time to turn off my brain, but a time when I become more focused, constantly analyze and consciously make choices.

While the terrain eases off a bit and I feel better with my choices I ponder asking the alpine vegetation what season it is. Their red color clearly answers autumn, at least at this elevation.

Nearing the end of the difficulties I find a wonderful series of broken slabs to follow up to the ridge crest. Plenty of positive hand holds has me enjoying the scrambling just before the whole ridge eases off to a walk.

Surprisingly, I have the summit to myself, since I can see a trail just below with lots of hikers. I take a break to decompress then join the crowds on the Pawnee Pass trail back to the trailhead.

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As we left the Mitchell Lake trailhead I was glad to see that yesterday’s 3-peak day didn’t seem to be impacting today’s hiking. I wasn’t sore and didn’t feel tired as we made the three mile hike past Mitchell Lake and on to the more impressive Blue Lake.

Kevin and I followed a trail around the north side of the lake, admired the falls at the upper end and then began to pick a line leading to the saddle north of Mount Toll.

A fair amount of loose scree and talus stood between us and the saddle, but we carefully navigated through and were soon enjoying more solid scrambling on the ridge crest.

In the shade ahead stood our goal – Mount Toll’s North Ridge.

While still in the sun we stopped and put on climbing shoes, harnesses, helmets and Kevin passed the rack of gear he’d packed to me. This would be his third time up this route, so I’d get to lead the 1st and 3rd pitches.

Kevin spotted the 5.6 thin ramp that marked the start of the climbing and stacked the rope while I kept my fingers warm and ready to climb. The start was quite easy, but cold so I tried to plug gear quickly and follow the line of least resistance to a large ledge with several loose blocks. While traversing the ledge, rope drag increased but I continued through a little step-across move to a sunny ledge to belay.

Kevin soon arrived and took the rack to lead the second pitch.

He stopped his pitch after only 30 meters so that I could have the fun hand crack just above his belay. I followed and cleaned his pitch and found the exit from the dihedral to be the crux of this section and harder than anything I did on pitch 1.

While I took the rack and Kevin got organized to belay me a helicopter circled over twice. A little unnerving since this was the 3 time in the last 4 days I’d been out that I’ve been buzzed by a helicopter.

Starting up the hand crack I had to maneuver carefully around a couple large and not entirely solid looking blocks. Once in the crack, the climbing was fun but jamming wasn’t mandatory. What was essential, was placing real gear around the ancient and shoddy looking piton.

A small “roof” came after the crack ended and required trusting some blocks jutting out into space. Above, the difficulties rapidly eased and I was soon on a huge rubble strewn ledge looking for the largest block to use as an anchor.

Kevin climbed up and we packed away all the gear for only scrambling remained. Following the ledge around to the west side of the summit towers we decided to finish up on a harder scramble up a vertical gully then on to the summit.

A couple on the summit greeted us as we arrived then the four of us figured out all the peaks in view.

We all left via the south slopes route, a mostly straight forward if not loose and steep descent. Lots of talus, some grass slopes, a few slabs, a bit of snow and a small water fall passed by as we made it back to Blue Lake.

Per Dominic’s dictum we eventually spied the “happy fat person” and knew we were nearly at the trailhead.

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It seems our 4 pitch climb of the Second Apron on Mount Evans might have beaten up Pete’s toes again. So our plans changed at the last minute (which by now I’ve decided is standard operating procedure) and I took off to the Lost Creek Wilderness on my day off.

Starting from the Brookside-Payne Trailhead right at 6am I marched up the trail enjoying the cool morning and trying not to push too hard. Today would be a 17+ mile hike with over 5,000 feet of gain, and the weekend was just starting.

Sunrise came and illuminated the few remaining clouds from last night’s storms, then poked at me through the trees and teased with the warmer temperatures I knew would arrive eventually.

The trail ducked out of the sun’s view for a bit and crossed a small creek. Well-watered raspberries provided a second breakfast while a squirrel scolded me for raiding his stash.

For over two hours I worked on gaining the 3,000+ feet to an unnamed saddle on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail.

Along the way I was disappointed to see that all the wildflowers were well past their prime and fading quickly. However, the mushrooms were starting to take their place.

Once I reached the 11,240 foot saddle I left the trail for the bushwhack to “No Payne” – the day’s highpoint at 11,789 feet.

On the summit I rifled through the register and recognized a lot of familiar names. I also enjoyed the view southwest towards Peaks X, Y and Z and remembered the Alphabetizer hike I’d done almost two years ago.

Turning back I soon descended back to the saddle then started climbing up the north-facing slopes on the other side to reach Payne Benchmark, my second peak of the day and only 9 feet lower than the first.

I decided to definitely head for a third peak today, the weather was good and I had plenty of time. Descending and continuing south I worked my way lower and through a lot of trees towards the Payne Creek Trail and a much lower saddle at 9,890 feet.

From the saddle I had an annoying bushwhack up through really green vegetation and fallen aspens to towards the summit of “Lost Platte Peak” (10,657 feet).

I found a shaded spot on the summit and started a sandwich while signing the register. Been a few months since anyone was on this peak.

Even with a 0% chance of rain in the forecast, I didn’t completely trust the clouds, so I hustled back to the trail and then the remaining 3.8 miles of trail back to my car. Round trip was completed in just under 9 hours and now I’ve only got 5 of the 37 peaks in the Lost Creek Wilderness to go.

This post was written while enjoying, really enjoying, Mikkellar’s Beer Geek Brunch.

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