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Posts Tagged ‘East Ridge’

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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The weather forecast wasn’t calling for as stable conditions as I’d prefer for doing some long and committing. However, that was just an excuse to cover for my feeling a little tired after doing Torreys and Holy Cross back-to-back. Cooper’s “Colorado Scrambles” book came through with an ideal recommendation – the East Ridge of Father Dyer Peak.

The trailhead and approach were well known to me, I’ve been up here multiple times in all seasons. And like the last two days, none of today’s peaks would be new to me, but I would get to experience them in new ways.

A bit of a later start found me walking away from the car at 6:40am. I had decided to start the hike at the lower trailhead, adding about 500 feet to the climb from Cooper’s description. I power hiked up the steep jeep road to clear timber line and pass one of the backcountry huts. Above, I found the road was more stream than clear path.

I ran into two climbers gearing up for their own route up Crystal Peak and got greeted by their friendly dog (maybe the muffin in my hand was the cause for its attention). After leaving them I fought through some willows and found a spot to cross a stream.

I didn’t commit well to the leap and received a slightly wet left foot as a consequence. Oh well, the sun was out and I dried out as I continued up the road to Crystal Lake.

I visited the old cabin remains at the lake and got a good look at Father Dyer’s east ridge.

Following the 4wd road another 200 feet up I then broke off to the right and laid down in the alpine grasses to read the route description.

The description was short and sweet, basically stay on or near the ridge. The only other instructions were to gain the ridge on the south side over some grassy slopes. I spooked a deer there, which after running downhill decided it wasn’t so afraid and slowly walked up to within a few hundred feet of me.

A little walking on a flat part of the ridge brought me to the start of the class 3 scrambling. The climbing proved to be fun with many great views.

While ascending I kept tabs on the progress of the other two climbers and their dog as they negotiated the long switch back to the Upper Crystal Lake.

Soon I topped out at the end of the difficulties. Still, I was only on a sub-summit and had a bit of ridge walking to go to reach the top of Father Dyer Peak.

The short talus walk completed I took a break at the memorial sign for Father Dyer, the “Snowshoe Itinerant” and looked ahead to the taller Crystal Peak.

The ridge to Crystal was straight forward class 2 talus and I was soon enjoying the views to the west and the straight-on view of the North Couloir on Pacific Peak.

It was a little windy so I started my descent down to the Crystal-Peak 10 saddle.

Here I ran into the other climbers again and talked about their upcoming trip to Mount Rainier. I wanted to visit the Upper Crystal Lake, so I glissaded the snow slopes down from the saddle toward the lake.

After walking around the lake and visiting the old cabins I connected back to the trail and began the hike out in earnest.

By the time I reached the trailhead again after 5 hours cars were parked in every spot and along the road. A couple of young kids had even set up a lemonade stand and I willingly parted with a buck fifty for a cold drink.

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Mount Yale

Eight of us meet at Bongo Billy’s in Buena Vista for lunch and last minute planning for our imminent climb of Mount Yale. After calculating the division of tents, stoves and shovels we drove to the Avalanche Gulch trailhead to implement the last minute packing.

We followed the Colorado Trail north and up a sunny “headwall”. With several weeks of warm, sunny conditions and a current temperature around 45F we felt hot and overburdened with snowshoes and heavy boots.

Eventually we reached the trees and the temperature moderated. With the shade came increasing patches of snow until the trail was covered. We decided to climb above the trail in hopes of finding drier, sunnier aspects above.

This tactic worked for a little while as we followed a few game trails running through the woods. We still encountered increasing snow patches and deeper sections of wet, rotten snow.

We were probably close to breaking out the snowshoes when we reached a suitable knob for camping. The snowshoes finally came out to help stomp down level spots for our tents.

Around 11,900 feet our campsite was still in the trees and thus protected from the forecasted winds. Five tents quickly went up and the process of melting snow began.

A 9th member of our party was planning a later start and hoped to find our campsite. Since our tracks went in and out of the snow, Kurt and Jan hiked all the way back to where they could view the trailhead looking for Jim. They didn’t find him and arrived back in camp near dark.

It may have barely reached freezing overnight and the rotten snow still wasn’t supporting weight outside of the walkways we’d tramped down. In the trees above we could hear the wind but things were quite pleasant in camp. After boiling snow for coffee, tea, water and additional breakfast Kurt’s and mine fuel ran out and I had to forgo a warm thermos to take up high.

Leonard decided today wasn’t his day and packed up his camp to head back out. His boots had been soaked yesterday and hadn’t dried out overnight. The remaining seven of us were soon packed and off at 7:20 am.

We took turns breaking trail through the soft snow, sinking in to our calves even with snowshoes in many spots. We crossed some fresh tracks we suspected belonged to Jim.

Finally, the snow toughened up as we reached the saddle with Mount Yale rising to our west. About a thousand feet above our camp the temperatures must have been just cold enough to freeze the snow. The trees also thinned out here and would soon vanish as we climbed higher.

Looking ahead it appeared we could take the time to remove our snowshoes and continue on windswept rocks.

We continued on mostly dry ground, with just occasional pockets of wind-hardened snow, around a small bump and then upwards towards point 13,420.

Occasionally, we found small rock outcropping to skirt or climb directly.

A stretch of hard snow then covered the ridge’s crest and we followed fresh tracks direct up this obstacle.

From here we had excellent views of the unofficially named “Mascot Peak” which sits just south of Mount Yale. We’d thought about adding Mascot into our day, but the descent options looked really steep for heading directly back to our camp. Additionally, we felt we were moving too slow to do the out and back hike along the ridge.

As we rounded the south side of point 13,420 we could see just how much further we had to go to even get to Mount Yale.

After picking our way through the boulders on this side of 13,420, we crossed a flat-ish tundra area where the wind really picked up. I hurried ahead to a slight rise that I hoped would offer some protection and then began bundling up.

The first five of us gathered up here and agreed that Mascot was no longer on our agenda. So we took the snowshoes off our packs and anchored them with rocks before resuming our upwards march.

We soon encountered the crux of the climb – a steep section of hard snow. Kurt lead up slope while I followed trying to enlarge the footprints he left for everyone else. Noreen admitted to being nervous here, understandable since this was the steepest snow slope she’d ascended.

After picking our way through more rocks and snow patches I spotted Jim descending. Kurt and I talked to him briefly and made plans to meet him back at our campsite.

Roughly quarter to noon Kurt and I reached the top of Yale and began enjoying the great views all around.

Simple math was beyond us however, as we tried several times to work out how long our climb took from our camp. Soon the others gathered and we lounged around enjoying the nearly wind-free summit and fueling up for the descent. My left achilles tendon had started to bother me on the last few hundred feet to the summit, so I popped a couple ibuprofen.

Beth and Rich soon arrived to complete our group, but didn’t seem to interested in being included in the group photo.

With much travel still ahead of us we shortly began our descent.

When we got to the steep snow Noreen was interested in finding an easier route down, but nothing was too evident. I traversed a bit to a slightly easier and shorter slope then downclimbed the snow while kicking solid foot platforms. Noreen was able to follow this staircase with much more confidence.

We collected our snowshoes and then started across the tundra area near point 13.420. The wind didn’t seem as bad this time around, but it was mostly to our backs. Then we turned the corner and started to rapidly loose elevation again.

We took several short breaks to keep everyone together as we worked through bands of boulders and the snow rib.

The windiest spot ended up being just after the snow rib where gusts threatened to knock us over. I had to shorten my stride and think carefully about each step hoping the wind wouldn’t push me out of balance while one foot was off the ground.

Once back at the saddle we put on our snowshoes for the soft snow slog back to camp. Jan and I got temporarily turned around while following Jim’s earlier tracks but soon arrived back at camp to find Jim napping away.

While Jim slept the rest of us packed up our camp and got ready to depart. Thoughts of a post-climb fest were stirring us forward.

We kept on our snowshoes for the initial hike out of camp, but soon hit bare ground and the game trails. The wind was shaking some dead trees above us that were already tilted over and leaning onto others. Jim and I had several experiences of traversing under these hanging dangers when a gust past through and the tree squeaked loudly in warning. We took to quickly running underneath such hazards.

Soon we were back on dry trail and removing extra layers and gaiters for the final hike back to the trailhead.

Once back at the cars we could see the sky had rapidly clouded over and the evening’s forecasted storm appeared to be coming true. After a dinner in Buena Vista we were happy to reach home without encountering any fresh rain or snow.

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Mount Bancroft’s East Ridge is a route I’d had my eye on for a while. It’s listed in both of Cooper’s guidebooks (Scrambles and Snow Climbs) and I had a great view of it during the Tour de James back in July.

For a Columbus Day ascent I posted my plans online and John agreed to join me. His 4WD was able to make it up to Loch Lomond – in only another couple days one of the gates would be locked for the winter requiring a longer approach hike. A few clouds up on the peaks were starting to burn off, but the wind was making us wonder if we were walking into an epic.

We hiked up a partly snowed in road for a ways then climbed up to the basin beneath Bancroft’s East face and doubled back towards the base of the East Ridge.

Snow-covered class 2 rocks led us higher on the ridge.

The terrain became a little more difficult as we neared the infamous notch.

The wind was howling through the notch, so we sheltered ourselves behind some rocks and put on our harnesses and helmets. I racked a handful of cams, stoppers and slings on my harness while John tossed the ends of the rope into the notch. Some miscommunication and last minute gear changes at the trailhead found me trying to force a 9.1mm rope through my reversino belay device. Finally I gave up and prepared to rappel on a munter hitch. Once down I provided a fireman’s backup for John’s rappel.

John pulled down the rope while I setup a belay anchor on the other side of the notch. Then we tied in and he put me on belay. I was only too happy to charge up the 4th class ledges into the sun where the real climbing began. A light dusting of snow covered the hand and foot holds but thankfully they weren’t icy. Taking off my warm mittens I was able to climb up a crack system while placing a couple bits of protection.

On the easier terrain above I built an anchor as quickly as I could, knowing John would want to climb out of the cold and windy notch. Probably none too soon I had him on belay and he quickly climbed up to the crux. Once there he had to go bare-handed to make the moves.

Once out of the notch we took a few minutes to warm our hands then coiled the rope. We each took an end and marched on using terrain belays to protect each other through the next section.

Before long the terrain eased off again and we stashed the rope away to continue our scramble.

Above us the large east face of Mt Bancroft still loomed but we knew the terrain would ease off and the weather was holding. The wind had even lessened and our hands were probably warmer than any time since the start of the climb.

A couple clouds rolled by to remind us of the forecast, but we still had great views toward Evans & Bierstadt and Grays & Torreys Peaks.

The final slope seemed to drag on longer than was proper, but around 12:30p we reached the summit of this unranked peak having had one of the more enjoyable climbs we’d done. Our descent was an easy walk down talus and grassy slopes south of the east ridge. We had a fine view of the notch that had spiced up the scrambling.

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