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Archive for November, 2010

Windy Saddle

Not feeling like driving anywhere today, I walked out the door and hoofed it to one of the nearer trailheads. Windy Saddle Park’s Chimney Gulch trail was my objective.

It was cool, but warmer than yesterday with plenty of sun. Great hiking weather.

Besides the ridge lines surrounding the gulch, most of the views were back east towards Golden, Denver and the Table Mountains.

The breeze picked up as promised in the toponym “Windy Saddle”. The view west showed clouds promising snow up in the mountains.

Turning back I headed back down the trail the way I’d come.

It was nice to see a variety of people out using the trail today, from hikers to trail runners, dog walkers, mountain bikers and even two unicyclists.

At a neighborhood access trail I walked out of the open space park and took a more direct route to downtown Golden through the Colorado School of Mines campus. A nice symmetry suggested I should stop at the Windy Saddle Cafe for lunch.

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After making the worst batch of hash browns in the history of the spud I decided to go do something I’m better at – hiking. Though it had been some time now since I’d just been on a “hike” and not hiking to access rock climbing areas.

Apex Park is nearby and I’ve never visited. The morning was full of beautiful blue sky, but the forecast promised snow later.

After hiking part of the Apex trail, up the new Argos trail to the Pick N’ Sledge I reached the Grubstake for a loop that would have me on some snow in the shaded north aspects.

Back on sunnier slopes and drier trail I decided not to drop down the Sluicebox trail to the Apex (which is a total misnomer as it runs through a valley). The Apex doesn’t get much sun this time of year and I could see more snow lying in wait on that path.

The decision to stick to the snow-free Pick N’ Sledge was rewarded with a herd of mule deer.

At the junction with the Grubstake Loop I ran into another hiker who was out reliving his past days of mountain biking these trails. We chatted for a while before setting off in opposite directions.

My two hour jaunt was only about 6 miles, but a nice way to work off the potatoes on a day too cold to rock climb.

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I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be drinking more Americano’s (3) than the number of pitches I’d be climbing (1). A pitch-in breakfast allowed the weather to warm up a bit, then Piper, Jenn, Gary and I carpooled up to Castle Rock in the upper reaches of Boulder Canyon. I should mention that Jenn has a particular history with this crag – having attempted to climb there three times and getting shutout on all prior occasions.

Jenn and Piper were eying Curving Crack, while Gary and I decided to take advantage of the wonderful weather for the 3-pitch Cussin’ Crack. The sun was out, wind was low – perfect. I led up the first pitch but left my brain turned off and didn’t follow the most ideal line. Indecision, backing off some variants and a lot of rope drag at the top combined with the sudden appearance of clouds and wind to put me in a poor mood.

I didn’t want to believe that the weather was threatening however, the darkness was surely just the tint from my sunglasses. Gary took the rack and started up pitch 2.

He had just slotted a large nut at the crux when the skies flashed and cracked. I lowered him off the nut back to my stance where we knew a rappel would reach the ground. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an established anchor, just a piton which we backed up with another nut.

Down below Jenn and Piper walked over to check on us (after they’d successfully climbed their route). Puffy layers came on and we hid out from the wind and discussed trying to retrieve the gear vs heading back to Boulder for hot drinks. Hot drinks won out.

It was raining in the lower part of the canyon and in Boulder, but while sitting inside getting dry and warm blue skies returned and Gary talked me into trying to go back and retrieve our gear. By now the start of the route was in the shade and the breeze was still present, so re-climbing the route didn’t seem like the best plan. Instead we pieced together the scramble up the north side of the formation with the intent of lowering one of us down our route then coming back over the top to descend.

Just before reaching the top a look west told us that another wall of clouds was fast approaching. Scrambling down we rapped off a tree with a chain anchor and decided not to risk any more for the few nuts, carabiners and slings we’d left behind.

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Ruper

Has this been the perfect fall or what? Okay, maybe not for ice climbing, but every weekend has offered perfect conditions for rock climbing. Jonathan and I head up to Eldo, my legs walk us too far up Redgarden Wall and seem to vote for the Green Spur. Once we realize our mistake, we head back down, and mostly scramble up to the first pitch of Ruper (belaying one 20 foot section).

I get the odd pitches as Jonathan has done this route before – following all but pitch 4. We’re in full on sun and I seem to miss all the little nubs for my feet making the start of the first pitch harder than it should be. My arms and fingers are worked by the time I traverse out on the belay ledge below the infamous Ruper Crack. Another party is finishing pitch 1 of Rosy Crucifixion.

Jonathan arrives, takes the rack and starts up the wide crack. Several incidents have occurred where people got their knee wedged in the crack and required SAR teams to use motor oil to extract them. We mostly face climb out side the crack to avoid a similar fate.

Above the crack is the next classic pitch, the Ruper Traverse. Slightly easier (5.7 vs 5.8), but exposed and it seemingly unnerves some leaders or followers, as one crack sports 3 stuck pieces.

Jonathan easily follows the pitch and we eat a couple sandwiches at the large ledge while looking at the next 3 pitches.

We scramble over to the base of the fourth pitch and Jonathan leads up.

I follow the pitch, arrive at the cramped belay and re-rack for my next short pitch. Unlike the other odd-numbered pitches, this one is only rated 5.6 (vs 5.8/5.7) so I can somewhat shut down my brain and cruise up. Unfortunately, the belay is a hanging one, so I plug plenty of gear to ease the mind while trusting the placements.

Jonathan quickly follows the pitch and we work to get him set off on our last pitch as quickly as possible. He protects the climb and traverse well, then hits the easier run-out section to the crest of the ridge.

I belay while watching the earlier group who has moved on from Rosy Crucifixion to Alice in Bucket Land.

Once Jonathan is safely on the ridge, I follow and think how I probably wouldn’t be that comfortable leading this pitch. From the top, we scramble north and find the first of 3 rappels we’ll need to make back to the base.

The couple on Rosy Crucifixion and Alice in Bucketland arrive behind us and we agree to share ropes to make the rappels go a little faster.

Complete photo album

This post written while enjoying Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.

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