Archive for July, 2011

Thursday night Tara and I decided to find a semi-shady spot in Boulder Canyon to go rock climbing. We settled on Avalon and crossed Boulder Creek on the tyrolean.

Since we’d never been here before, it took a bit of scouting around to locate the climbs we wanted but I was soon leading Dom Perignon, a 5.9 semi-dirty crack with a bolt to protect the beginning (not really necessary) and one at the end.

A bit of trickery enabled us to drop our line on the neighborly sport climb Dominator (5.10c). It’s overhanging nature worked against my Trad-osaurus Rex arms and I took a couple hangs to get through. Tara top roped both lines with more grace than I.

Hungry, we quickly reversed the tyrolean and headed home for dinner.

Splitting up the next morning Tara went for an eleven mile run while I hiked up to the Second Flatiron and free soloed the Freeway Route (4th class/5.0). I gave a bit of beta to 3 climbers with a rack and rope who were surprised to find the Third Flatiron still closed. The last few stages of the Tour de France had me excited and I stopped for a rest just below the diving board to check on this last mountain stage (go Andy!). In retrospect, taking an extended break just below the committing leap wasn’t the best idea and it took longer than usual to psyche up for the jump. The rest of the climb and run back to the trailhead went fine and I got to watch a few groups on the First.

Friday afternoon was spent driving up to Buena Vista to meet friends of Tara’s who took us out on an exploratory bouldering session in the hills above town.

With a 3-year-old in tow, the minimal bouldering equipment was augmented with a kids bike. A bit of scouting and some help from a GPS got us to Picnic Boulder were we warmed up and nearly maxed out on the NE Corner (V0) route.

I need to find V- grades to warm up on, as the V2 SW Arete proved beyond me, but not Rolf (Trad Rex arms again).

Dinner was at the always excellent Eddyline Brewpub and my first visit to the Mt Princeton Hot Springs followed. Three year old Evan and I mixed up pancakes which Rolf cooked and then performed double duty by providing the motivation to get out and start climbing. Rolf picked the area classic Bob’s Crack (5.10a) for our start. I loved the route but did have to hang twice near the top to get through the slightly overhanging crux.

While I was climbing a group was doing a route to our left (Ego Buster), but rather than finishing at the normal anchors, the leader traversed way right to the top of Groundhog Day. Even more strangely he then pulled the rope all the way up to rappel instead of lowering (I had to stifle a giggle when he called the rappel “the juicy part”). Now his rope was on a different climb, with his gear left on the first route.

Rolf meanwhile took a turn “sport leading” Bob’s Crack with all my gear left in place. I felt a bit better about my own struggles when he found the crux difficult as well. Tara got ready to top route and clean our route while our neighbors sent up their second climb on the original line they climbed. We noticed they were looking a long and unsafe pendulum fall given their setup and pointed this out to them. Their concession to the danger was to throw up a helmet to the climber. Somewhat amusing to us was their recommendation that the climber just throw the gear he was cleaning to the ground so it wouldn’t hang of his harness and distract him.

Less amusing was the sudden jerk of my rope above while Tara was starting Bob’s Crack. I looked up and saw their climber had swung across the wall hitting our rope. I yelled at their leader “That had better not happen again!” Arguing back he insisted that no one was hurt so it was okay. “It’s not okay, if our climber had been a bit higher she’d have been hit by your group.” Their stupid rational was that “traverses are a part of climbing”, of course a traverse should be protected and this swing was completely unnecessary. By now the climber (who seemed new and looked pretty scared by his ride) was arguing with his leader that he wanted to be lowered down (wise choice). The situation seemed safer now that they weren’t trying to climb, so Tara continued up the route.

Taking a break, they huddled to discuss and bad mouth me, including calling me an “anal f*ck” which I can only take as a badge of honor considering the source. Finishing Bob’s Crack, we decided to leave the junk show at Bob’s Crack and head over to Elephant Rock.

The South Side Classic (5.8) sported a chopped bolt so we ended up doing the harder Trunk Line (5.9+) which I led finding a couple new bolts, a few old pitons and some extra small nut and cam placements to add to the safety. Since the route traversed and we were climbing as a group of three, I needed Tara to clip into the middle of the rope and reclip each piece of gear, then single-line rap off the anchors before Rolf could climb and clean the route. It might have been a good example for the group at Bob’s Rock on how to protect a traverse and climb safely, but they were showing a bit too much ego for a teaching moment.

After pulling our rope we drove to the shaded formation Almost a Tunnel to look at a short 5.8 climb there. On the way we noticed the group at Bob’s still had their rope and gear on the rock and hadn’t yet figured out how to safely clean up their mess. “This 5.8”, our final route today, was less a crack and more a series of flakes, some of which were rather hollow sounding. Not really an aesthetic line, but a nice way to finish the day.

Driving back to Boulder the legend of my “anal f*ck” persona grew and we had fun telling the story to friends that night.

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Wanting to escape 90+ degree temperatures in the Front Range, Jeremy and I returned to the Estes Park area on Sunday scouting out a new-to-us place known as “The Crags”. A minor uphill bushwhack through trees brought us to a scree field where we tried to make sense of the array of cliffs and locate Sharksfin.

Our first thought on arriving at the base was that this looked like a miniature version of the Petit Grepon.

While admittedly less classic than the Petit, I’m surprised this isn’t more popular since it’s a quarter of the approach and similar rock quality (abet less traveled). Since Jeremy had done the research to get us here, I offered him the first pitch of the two on the North Face route (5.8). Our plan was to keep doing routes on this block of granite until mid-afternoon or the storms arrived.

Jeremy picked his way up pitch one, avoiding a loose area and clipping one old piton before working out the crux moves. I tried to quickly follow then re-rack and make a few route-finding choices through the easier second pitch.

Jeremy flew up the pitch and joined me at a large cable rappel anchor and we started our descent.

Our 60 meter rope didn’t quite reach the next anchor, but we landed on a small ledge with an old ring piton and pulled the rope. A short belayed traverse got us to another set of anchors. As we were threading the rope I felt a few drops of rain at the far-too-early hour of 11am.

Once back on the ground we took some shelter under and overhanging boulder and decided this wasn’t going to pass quickly. Retreating we started the hike out on wet lichen-covered boulders and made it back to the car just before the rain intensified.

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One day after Grays and Torreys Peaks my father and I made an early morning drive past Buena Vista to the Denny Creek Trailhead. A horse trailer to support a trail crew was taking up quite a bit of the parking lot and we were lucky to get a spot as the day’s hikers started showing up.

I’ve always thought this route on Yale to be one of the steeper all-trail routes on a 14er. Starting out we grunted up the initial switchbacks until we arrived at the slick log creek crossing.

Despite the steepness, I enjoy the forest this trail passes through in its lower section.

Trees gradually thinned out and we reached the alpine. I didn’t remember admiring the unnamed peak to our northwest before, but with an early-summer stripping of snow I thought 12,955 looked like a pretty objective for some other day.

Around treeline we also encountered the work crew from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, who were re-routing the trail.

While clouds to the north blocked our views of the Apostles, the view south was less obstructed.

Climbing higher we encountered increasing winds and much colder air temperatures than the day before. All our extra layers came on as we reached the ridge and followed a cairned trail that snuck below the ridge crest towards the summit.

My father had been pushing himself relentlessly up without eating and was starting to bonk when we reached the top.

A bit of water and food seemed to help, but with the winds and restricted views we didn’t want to spend forever on the summit.

Still bundled up we left the summit and finally warmed up over a thousand feet lower where we went from numb fingers to packing away layers in about 5 minutes.

The rest of the descent was uneventful and we arrived back at the trailhead to find a bright, warm day waiting us at these lower elevations.

Complete photo album

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After a week of high-altitude “boot camp” my father had arranged a graduation hike of two 14,000+ foot peaks for his fellow flatlander friends. I was able to get the day off and join them in a relatively un-crowded climb of the very popular Grays and Torreys Peaks.

It proved an auspicious day to hike these peaks, since I ran into another group leaving the trailhead at the same time, moving our speed and that contained a few folks I knew.

Unsettled weather was in the forecast and unlike a normal bluebird Colorado morning we already had plenty of clouds (if not very threatening ones just yet).

Still, we enjoyed the cooler temps as we climbed up in the basin below the two peaks.

Wildflowers were also more abundant than on our hike of Pikes Peak a week prior.

The last couple-hundred feet to Grays Peak were socked in with a stationary cloud, one that moved in and out of the actual summit while we rested.

We departed with the group I partly knew to battle the wind for 500 feet down to the saddle below Torreys Peak.

The hike back up another peak was a bit of a grind.

Hikers above us called down a sighting of mountain goats on top, which provided a bit of motivation to hurry to the top.

Tired, we spent less time on this summit and shortly started our descent back to the saddle.

From the saddle we had a long stretch of snow to cross before hitting (partly) dry trail again.

Well down from the peaks we noticed that the clouds had a more ominous look and I was glad we would soon be back at the trailhead.

A rain begin to fall and kept up for the final 30 minutes back to the car.

Complete photo album

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Some months ago Piper convinced me to travel to City of Rocks in southern Idaho simply by reminding me that the rock there was granite. I’m a sucker for quality granite. Travel to the City was supposed to be a simple flight (delayed one hour) followed by a three hour drive to the City. On the way out of Utah we had to stop and buy a weekend’s worth of fuel and groceries, a task complicated by our inability to remember to exit the highway and having to drive a few extra miles to effect a U-turn.

Only slightly delayed we neared our destination and were commenting on the stink of cow farms when the fates decided to show us what stink really was. Cresting a rise in the dark I barely saw the furry black and white in the headlamps before the thump and thickening smell of skunk. We pondered what our camp-mates would think when we pulled in at 1 am.

Cows woke us up at 7am and at least we could cook a mean breakfast of blueberry pancakes, coffee and eggs while deciding where to go. The Decadent Wall at the Breadloaves got morning shade so there we headed and I racked up for the classic “Carol’s Crack” (5.8). After an easy ramp the twin cracks on the steeper part of the face were a real joy.

Piper followed and we rapped off some anchors then I led the nearby “Adolescent Homosexual” (5.7), with the fun top crux.

Looking around we figured out where “Preteen Sex” (5.8) started and I found it less clean and seemingly less well traveled for a supposed classic.

By now the sun was shinning on the cliff so we travelled to Elephant Rock and found the line “Wheat Thin” free. I led and Piper again followed.

While on top we watched Amy lead the same climb and Piper was feeling up to attempting the lead herself.

I was happy repeating the climb and belayed while she tackled her first trad lead since a bike wreck a few weeks ago.

The heat was getting to both of us, so instead of pushing through another route we decided to drive the few miles back to Almo and cool off with fresh ice for the cooler, ice cream, beer and other snacks. Cell phone access was also a plus. Unfortunately, Piper walked away from the car, leaving the keys in the center console, and when I came back I assumed she had the keys and locked up the car and went to find her. You can imagine the conversation when we arrived back at the car.

Plans for camp-cooked pizza evaporated as AAA would take a few hours to get to us. At least I’d had the foresight to lock the keys in the car where there was cold beer, fresh pizza and cell phone service. Piper’s friends were probably thinking we were epicing on a night climb somewhere. . .

About dark I stopped the odd feeling of envy of others who could get inside their cars and we drove back into the City to hunt down a small party, eat Smores, drink more beer, and star gaze while telling our own tales.

Between the keys and the skunk we formed a new motto for Sunday: “No more incidents”. With not much of a game plan we drove up to Parking Lot rock and Piper decided to lead “Delay of Game”, a 5.8 sport climb.

I’m a piss-pour sport climber who sucks at face and slab routes and I’ll admit to some whining while following this long pitch (I’m only admitting to it since I caught it on video). Flailing on a route like this doesn’t help my confidence so I was a little nervous when we next found Skyline (5.8) on Morning Glory Spire to be open.

While at least a trad climb, the route followed a thin crack for most of its length and involved more face climbing than crack. At least the views on top were great. Piper psyched herself up for a lead of the neighboring sport route “Fall Line” (5.10b). After my morning’s performance, I asked her to clean the route and didn’t need to flail up another face climb.

Moving back to the Breadloaves we found the classic Bloody Fingers to be crowded, but the easier and nearby Intruding Dike (5.7) was open. Involving a mix of face and crack I did prefer this route to some of the others today. After following, Piper decided she’d like to lead it with the gear beta I could offer.

Deciding on an earlier start for our last day out, we finished up and headed back to camp for a “home”-cooked meal this night.

In the morning I woke and started towards the bathrooms across from Bath Rock to see virga clouds approaching and doubled back for a rain jacket just as a drops started to hit. Thankfully, it didn’t last long and we decided to romp up Cowboy Route (5.4) on Bath Rock to preview the route with an eye towards a possible free-solo.

A spirited game of Ninja-Grizzly-Cowboy in the parking lot had me as the winner and I got to lead the pitch we roped up for after scrambling into the bowl at mid-face.

The hardest moves seemed to be those just off the ground, with huge chickenheads and jugs up high.

We quickly decided we were both comfortable soloing this route and coiled the rope for a quick trip down the backside to ditch all the gear for a second round. Maybe we rationalized the free-solo as a way to honor our country’s independence by going sans rope.

Another group had started a roped climb of the route, but they were fine with us free-soloing past. Our timing was nearly perfect, as another short rain began right as we made the last few moves to the top.

After that we were a bit un-decisive on what to do next. We briefly stood in line for the 5.9 classic “Private Idaho”, but since it was really Piper’s turn to lead we eventually drove back to Elephant Rock and she got on Columbian Crack (5.7).

I’ll admit I was jealous that she got to lead this climb, it turned out to be one of my favorites of the weekend (along with Carol’s Crack and Wheat Thin).

Running short on time, I tried to climb as quickly as possible then we rappelled off and did some last minute packing at the car before leaving the City to catch a flight.

I recommend watching the following video for a good overview of our entire holiday weekend:

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After deciding to hike up Pikes Peak to increase my father’s count of Colorado 14ers, we settled on the Northwest Slopes route. My original plan had been to take two days and go up the classic Barr Trail, but the shorter (13.25 vs 26 miles round trip) Northwest Slopes route won out given the confines of our schedules. Leaving from Monument at sunrise on Thursday morning (thanks Rich & Kathy!) we found the trailhead and were hiking just before 6:30am.

One advantage of this route was hiking up in the shade of the peak until a bit above treeline. By that time the wind had increased and worked to cool us off.

The alpine terrain was greener than I’d expected and the hike was pleasant until we crossed the Pikes Peak tollway and found the path staying pretty close to the road for much of the rest of the hike. At least not a lot of cars were on the road at this hour.

I felt we’d reached treeline pretty efficiently, but about half the hike remained with the summit about 3 miles away.

A wilderness experience Pikes Peak certainly isn’t, but it did allow us to sit inside to get out of the wind and for me to enjoy one of the special high-elevation recipe donuts. Just as the cog railway disgorged a flood of humanity we departed to begin our descent while keeping an eye on the growing clouds.

A light, but wind-driven rain lashed us near Devil’s Playground and a single clap of thunder startled us (after all, Devil’s Playground is named for the way lightening bounces around these rocks, something I didn’t care to witness first hand). We pushed on as quickly as possible towards treeline where the sun started to come back out now that we were somewhat safer and lower.

A little over 7 hours later we rolled back into the trailhead and I’d been pleasantly surprised by how few people we saw (minus the crowds on the summit) and how green the hike had been. I took a lot more video than photos so you’ll have to watch the film below for more visuals.

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