Archive for the ‘Scrambling’ Category

It had been too long since I’d done a proper scramble in the high peaks, but both Pete and I were getting over a week of sickness and we needed something not too long. Looking through Cooper’s “Colorado Scrambles” guide we decided on a hike and scramble to the “summit” of Little Matterhorn.

Bear Lake is a perennially crowded parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park, but at 7:30am there were still plenty of spaces. The hike towards Odessa Lake allowed us to warm up and catch up on the last month. Before long we were headed off on an unmarked trail to Grace Falls, passing a group of 3 also bound for Little Matterhorn. From the falls we started the ugly part of the climb, a traversing ascent up a slope of unstable talus. The route we took definitely wasn’t optimal and required us to drop some hard won elevation as we tried to contour closer to our goal.

The climb up to the ridge from the point of the photo above was much more pleasant. The blocks where more stable and easier to scramble upon. Finally we hit the ridge and started in on the real joy.

Our initial attempt to stay on the ridge crest was quickly quashed and we detoured to the north side of the ridge to find a less extreme passage.

At the next notch we got back on the crest and mostly stayed there to the end.

The “summit” of this un-ranked peak is a step down from the ridge and involves the trickiest climbing of the day. To get down we squeezed through a chimney without packs. On the return trip we followed a crack system with great handholds but plenty of exposure.

A little worried about what the weather could bring, we hurried back along the ridge and then down the more stable blocks. Scouting the terrain from above we picked a lower line that had us traverse through the worst of the loose slopes to the grassy edges for an easier descent.

Once back at the falls it was an easy walk downhill to end a great hike and scramble.


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It wasn’t pre-dawn, but 7am was early enough to arrive at the 4th of July trailhead and secure a parking spot at the end of the rutted road. The previous month had been filled with road biking and I was curious how my legs would hold up to a longer hike. After passing nearly a dozen others before the Diamond Lake trail junction I figured I still had some of the old speed.

Passing below South Arapaho I took a minute to pick out the gully of the Skywalker Couloir, a route I did over 4 years ago, when I super eager to pick off the classic snow climbs and scrambles around the state. I’m a little less gung-ho now, but still pleased to be headed towards another classic this morning.

Across the valley I get a good look at Mount Jasper, the planned second part of my day and it’s class 3 northeast ridge descending from the summit in my direction.

Nearing Arapaho Pass I’m surprised that I haven’t seen any more hikers since down in the trees. I’m kept company by reflections on the last 4+ years of weekend outings in the state, and by a few territorial pikas.

Passing near the actual pass, I continue to follow the trail to the placid waters of Lake Dorothy below the shear rock face of Mount Neva. I’m a little late for the best light and the angle is too direct, so I return to my ascent to gain the north ridge.

This is the classic route I’ve come to do – largely third class scrambling along the crest of the north ridge with a few 4th class sections near the prominent notches. The route lets you ease in to the difficulties, with the crux sections coming towards the end. The northern end of the ridge was even home to a guardian marmot.

Having done no technical rock climbing in months, I’m perfectly happy to go gentle into the scrambling and stop often to take photos and check hand holds.

By the time the final notch and headwall come into view I’m warmed up to the game, and thankfully don’t have any chest-tightening fear like I’d had the last time I was on steep rock. I originally got into rock climbing through scrambling, possibly it will be my gateway again.

Lake Dorothy looked better as a shimmering blue backdrop to the ridge I was perched on than it had up close.

The views north and east continued my reflection on prior climbs as I looked over Apache, Navajo and Arapaho Peaks.

The last difficult moves passed without much worry, I had picked the easiest line I could see (a few years ago I might have challenged myself more and felt indestructible). A bit of easy walking brought me to summit where I snacked and kept one eye on the clouds to the east. I should still have time to rush along the connecting ridge towards Mount Jasper.

Sky to the west was clear (well, hazy from distant forest fires, but clear of clouds) while clouds built ominously over Apache, Navajo and Arapaho peaks. I was still in the sun which made it easier to decide to solider on.

Thirty minutes later I was on top of the slightly higher Mount Jasper – the ridge line being easier than I’d suspected. I put my helmet back on for the descent down the northeast ridge which was largely class 2 with a few enjoyable class 3 moves.

Once off the ridge and approaching an unnamed lake I ran into the first person I’d seen since arriving in the alpine zone, and came across an old plane wreck.

Continuing down the trail-less drainage I passed several more pretty lakes and some great views of South Arapaho.

Eventually I connected with the Diamond Lake trail and the usual weekend masses of humanity (of which I was clearly a part) on the jaunt back to the trailhead to end a six hour day.

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Lightly loaded and partner-less, I left the Chautauqua trailhead a bit before 8am and followed the Mesa Trail south until I stopped following the Mesa Trail. The trail kept going, but I needed to head uphill and west to reach the base of The Regency, and the El Camino Royale route. The third class rating is a bit of a joke, that or the way I went wasn’t the road of royalty, but the path of jesters. The route was fun regardless of whether or not I was on it. A short downclimb and scramble through some boulders took me to the base of the East Face route of the Royal Arch. This was pretty straight forward Class 4. For better or worse, no one below seemed to see me on my giant pedestal.

From the arch I headed further south, but stayed too high to efficiently reach the base of Anomaly, and bushwacked down the north side of the formation. This was the least memorable route of the day, 4th class, rather licheny and uh, I don’t remember any other details. Oh, there was a dead tree at the base. Did I mention the lichen?

The Buckets route (Class 4) on Ameoboid was a definite step up in quality. The whole east fast of Ameoboid was stripped with a line of pockets and was just a blast to climb. Unfortunately, the route doesn’t top out on a real summit. I walked the short canyon between the north and south summits, then looped south around the formation and back to Royal Arch to jog most of the trails back to Chautauqua.

I took very few photos, instead I carried a small HD camera (GoPro) with a mini tripod and set it up where I could on the routes. I ended up repeating many short sections of the scrambles to setup the camera, back down, then climb back up and retrieve the camera. The results of those efforts are below.

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On the short hike to Mitchell Lake Jeremy mentioned that he’s been trail running recently. I wonder if I need to put down the muffin I’m stuffing my face with and get ready to pick up the pace.

From the lake we head north up to hanging valley via large blocks of talus and hit the southeast ridge that leads towards Mount Audubon.

Simple scrambling leads to a gradually more defined ridge and we decide it’s time for helmets.

Having failed to read the guidebook description, I’m surprised by the sudden notch we encounter. The point I’m standing on seems to overhang in 3 directions, but we eventually find a scrambling route off to the north side then down to the notch.

Some fun (Roach says “nifty”) ledges lead out of the notch.

Beyond the ledges we encountered just a slog up grass and easy talus slopes. At least more of the scenery presented itself and (somewhat) made up for the lack of interest in the terrain at our feet.

After a brief break on top of Mount Audubon we descended off to the west to continue the ridge on to Paiute Peak.

This portion of the climb is a Roach “classic” but the terrain seemed simple and neither of us ever felt like donning a helmet.

Though short, the north on the other side of Audubon turned out to be our favorite section of the day.

The summit register had a few names we both recognized, but neither of us felt compelled to add our own signatures. Lunch brought out a discussion on the merits of different breads for “un-crushable-ness” vs “jelly absorption” and the benefits of different sandwich ingredients (Bread is for Strength, Cheese is for Courage).

From the summit we dropped down on the ridge leading to Mount Toll for a short ways, then continued directly down to the valley down a loose dirt and scree gully. I had thought the descent might be steeper, but we could pretty much scree-surf most of the way.

Blue Lake’s waterfall was impressive as always.

A nice finish to the climb was having Mountain Sun’s staff mess up the serving of my stout and getting a second pint free.

Complete photo album

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Two years ago my brother Grant and I set out from Paradise Divide to Yule Pass and Purple Mountain with the objective of hiking the crest of the Ruby Range to Ruby Peak in the south. Weather was one of the factors that caused us to bail half way into the traverse at Mount Richmond.

We debated trying the complete traverse again, but ended up settling on just trying the southern half – from Oh-be-joyful Pass to Ruby Peak. The shortest approach involved starting from Poverty Gulch and hiking up to Daisy Pass (just east of the crest), then reaching Oh-be-joyful Pass from there.

With a shorter hike and a great forecast, we didn’t start in the dark, but shuttled one car to Lake Irwin and were hiking by 6:30 am.

The sun caught us on our hike up to Daisy Pass and quickly warmed us up. At the pass we stripped down to shorts and t-shirts and debated how best to reach Oh-be-joyful Pass.

We could follow trail and drop down into Oh-be-joyful Basin, then regain elevation to the pass, or we could try dropping just a little way and then contour around the basin off-trail. While debating which would be faster or more efficient we caught sight of a slight trail heading up the ridge towards Mount Richmond. Humm, maybe we should be a little sporting and try to connect with our path on the crest from two years ago?

Fresh footprints on the path showed it had been recently traveled. In spots the path faded out and we picked our way around the vegetation, avoiding the steep cliff off to our right.

It was more hiking than scrambling, but one or two sections required a bit of thought. Additionally, the rock was very loose and after I knocked several large blocks into Oh-be-joyful Basin, we decided it was time for our helmets.

This portion of the Ruby Range seemed less jagged than the northern half, so while we brought a light rope and harnesses two years ago (but never needed them), this time we only brought our helmets.

Soon we reached Mount Richmond and officially connected with our old route. We also got hit by the west wind and thin jackets went on while we hiked down to Oh-be-joyful Pass, often on the shaded side of the ridge.

From the pass we had a simple hike up to Hancock Peak, then a small drop before gaining altitude to Oh-be-joyful Peak.

Ahead, it looked like there might be a small notch that could give us some problems, but th shadows deceived and the notch barely registered up close. On top of Afley, a large cairn marked the summit and Grant and I timed the 10 second delay on my camera well.

From a distance, the ridge leading up to Purple Peak looked steep. In particular, one section in the middle appeared like it could cause us difficulties, it might be very loose (like pretty much all the rock encountered today) as well as steep.

While descending Afley’s south ridge I keep watching that middle portion of the ridge and trying to spot a weakness. Luckily, the closer we approached the lower-angle it appeared, however I still thought it would be loose.

I was very surprised when we hit that section and found that it was actually quite solid rock, and it turned out to be the best portion of the scramble.

A little more scrambling and avoiding a few loose sections led us to the summit of Purple Peak. It was almost noon and the sky was cloudless. Perfect time for a lunch break.

Grant knew most of the terrain ahead, so decided to take off his helmet now and get out his trekking poles. Partway across to Mount Owen (the range’s high point) we stowed the poles away as we still found a few sections where having your hands free was a help.

Once on Mount Owen it felt like we were almost done.

Grant took over the lead as we dropped down to the last saddle of the day.

Along the way he stopped to point out the beautiful shade of Green Lake.

The wind was gusting over 20 mph at the saddle, heads down we hiked up the loose dirt to our last peak of the day. 400 feet later we found a nearly windless summit on Ruby Peak and took a last break.

Descending back to the windy saddle we picked up the trail heading down to the east and passed right by Green Lake before reaching a 4wd road.

A longer-than expected hike on the road brought us back to Lake Irwin where one of our cars was parked. Feet were cooled off in the lake before driving back to town and retrieving the other vehicle.

Like two years ago, we’d timed our Ruby Range hike with Crested Butte’s Vinotok celebration. We missed most of the trial of the Grump (surprise, they decided to burn him), but definitely caught the burning itself.

I edited together a short video of the event: Burn the Grump!

Complete photo album

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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.

Complete photo album

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