Mt. Democrat – 9/16/06

Originally written 9/16/06

Mt. Democrat, 14,148′

I woke up at 4am this morning to go get up some mountains. Although I planned on climbing Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross (all 14ers), the conditions were a bit much. I checked the forecast and it called for 60mph wind gusts at 12,000, plus a decent amount of snow.

Got there about 7:30, threw on my boots, made sure I had everything ready, etc. I noted that the outside temp was 31, around 12,000′. Scout got impatient while I was doing this.

It was cold and windy, and the terrain was killing my speed enough as it was (4-6″ loose rocks, slick with a layer of wet snow on top), so I didn’t take any more pictures until I reached the summit. Sorry. It was pretty dark gray, with sustained winds at a mere 15-20mph.

I passed a huge group of people on the way up, no idea what sort of group it was but I’m guessing they’d planned this well in advance, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have voluntarily come out in the storm that was going on. Higher up, there was a good 6″ of snow covering everything, getting deeper (and wiping out footprints in a matter of minutes) constantly.

It started getting really windy up top, gusts that were 60mph easily. Here’s Scout not being too happy about the weather:

Like I said, I’d planned on hitting the adjacent 14ers. I would’ve been able to handle them, as I had the proper clothing to completely seal up against the elements (including facemask). Unfortunately, my dog wasn’t having fun anymore, and I have no intention of dragging her along when she’s already miserable. At least I’ve learned that in the future, if conditions are going to be bad, I’ve got to leave her home. I love having her along, but I also want her to have fun when we go.

After a long, slow slog through the wind and snow, we made it up to the top. The clouds opened up a bit right when I got there, making for some impressive views.

Picture of us with the summit in the background (on the way down). Notice the ice in her whiskers:

Here’s a picture of the lake for which the trailhead is named, Kite Lake:

The view from a little farther down showed that I was right to head down. Judging by the intensity of the snow blowing around, winds were at least 30mph sustained. My dog would have been hating every second.

Next week…something. What exactly, I’m not sure. Mt. Elbert maybe. Hopefully there won’t be near-whiteout conditions, and it’ll be a little more fun with a better view of the changing aspens.


Mt. Sherman – 9/10/06

Originally written 9/10/06

Mt. Sherman, 14,036′
Round trip distance: 5 miles
Elevation gained: 2,000′

Some of you will notice right off the bat that this looks to be about 1/3 the trip I did last week. That would be correct. I planned to hike Mt. Elbert (highest in the state) yesterday, but it was decided late on Friday that I had to work Saturday morning. I woke up this morning about 6:45 and had a hankering to go hiking, so I rolled out of bed, threw together my gear, and was out the door by 7:45. Such a late start means I would have to do something a little shorter than my usual craziness; fortunately, something short and easy is exactly what I was in the mood for today, with a nice scenic drive in and out.

At 9:55 I rolled up to the end of the road, where this locked gate stands, keeping vehicles but not people out of an old mining area. I was by far the last person to arrive, but definately not the last to leave. There was a group I passed about 45 minutes from the summit, and I passed them on the way down not far from where I passed them on the way up. I’m not sure how these people were going so very slowly.

The mountains have been getting dusted with snow since mid-week, and it was still going. Here’s a picture of Mt. Gemini, with the summit poking into the clouds:

After an hour or so, I was up to the saddle between Sheridan and Sherman. Here’s the view to the east:

And to the west:

The weather was changing literally by the minute. It rapidly cycled between heavy clouds overhead, to clouds coming down to where I was, and back to clear. I’ve seen weather move quickly (like on Quandary, from my report last new year’s eve), but never cycling so fast.

Here’s a look up to the ridge the route takes, with my dog wondering what was taking me so long.

This was the first time she’d been in any amount of snow. She walked through a small patch of snow in May and started going nuts, here she went ballistic for a good 30 minutes through the snow, running up and down continuously.

Here’s another picture of Gemini, showing how quickly the weather was changing:

A little higher up the summit ridge, there were a bunch of rocks with some cool snow patterns on them. Also, notice the gray skies again:

The route, heading up into the clouds:

Here’s Gemini, gray and snowy again:

Here’s my awesome dog Scout, sitting for some reason.

Abandoned mine buildings:

With a kid climbing around on them:

From here, I plunge-stepped down a steep scree field, which was a lot of fun. After that it was a quick walk down to the car, with a car to car time of 2 hours, 20 minutes. Real quick, just what I wanted today.

Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak, 9/2/06

Originally written 9/3/06

Time: 10 hours (within 3 minutes)
Distance: 14 miles
Total ascent: 6,621′

The weather in Colorado has been turning in the past few weeks, with snow showing up at higher altitudes. This weekend represented what may have been the last chance for the year to go have fun on Longs Peak, an amazing mountain with routes ranging from class 3 all the way up to 5.12.

Last year, I went twice in two weeks, and went up the standard route known as the “Keyhole” both times. This time, I went up the “Loft” route, and descended via the keyhole. I also ascended Mt. Meeker, at 13,911′ while I was at it.

I woke up at 10:50pm Friday evening, ate breakfast, walked my dog (who couldn’t come, since Longs is in Rocky Mountain National Park), and hit the road around midnight. The drive was fairly foggy, since there were some low-lying clouds. I was on the trail at 2am, and the first person to leave that night.

When I hit treeline, the sky was completely clear – not a single cloud in sight. The stars were amazing, although there was no moon. We’re at the first quarter, but the moon set just after midnight, so was of no use to me. I made my way to the trail junction at Chasm Lake, and ensured I wouldn’t see anyone else for several hours by heading away from the standard route (where it branches off to the left, for those viewing the gps track).

The walk in from there was truly amazing. I could make out the profiles of huge rock towers and walls all around me, and the only sound aside from my footsteps was that of streams and small waterfalls. I wish I could better describe it, but it’s something that truly must be experienced.

Things started getting rockier and steeper, and before I knew it, I was in the heart of the climb. Ideally, the loft route can be kept at class 3 difficulty. With the only available light being that from my headlamp, routefinding was dicey at best. Add my impatience to the mix, and you’ve got a great potential for getting off-route, and into more difficult terrain. I worked my way into some climbing that was at least some solid class 4. Better yet, I managed to get up to bases of not just one, but two waterfalls, and had to downclimb and work my way back around. A pain, yes, but still fun, so I didn’t mind much.

I finally topped out on the loft, and Meeker is a simple 10 minute walk with some very minor scrambling at the top. The summit is also very exposed, which made for some amazing views. Unfortunately, the sun hadn’t quite come up yet, so this is all I’ve got for you from there:

I would have loved to be there for sunrise, but I was starting to shiver and needed to keep moving. I walked back down to the loft, and the sun finally rose.

When it got light, the view over the plains was absolutely amazing. Those clouds I drove through 4-5 hours earlier were still there, down between 10-11k feet. Simply beautiful.

My next goal was Longs Peak, and I didn’t have any solid idea of the exact route to get there. As I got closer, it looked like I could just go straight up and over to Longs from the Loft, but I recalled what looked like a big gap along the way, and tried to reconcile this with the topo map on my gps. Here’s the view from the south, heading towards Longs.

It was hard to do, but I went around to the left, and dropped several hundred vertical feet to make my way around. It was steep but fairly stable, with gorgeous scenery. I finally got a view that made me glad I didn’t just try to go straight up:

A little farther and I was at the “homestretch,” and joined up to the keyhole route. Still, not a soul in sight. 6 hours on Longs Peak without spotting a single person is truly remarkable. I was over 14,000′ at this point, and made the last 250′ up steadily, expecting to see at least one group on the summit. Nope. Check the register, and I’m the first person there. I guess the clouds blanketing Denver made people assume the mountains would be under blizzard conditions. Not quite true:

About 15 minutes later, people started streaming onto the top, 7 or 8 in only a few minutes. I started descending, and passed another 10 or 15 people by the time I got back down to the trough. I didn’t take but a couple pictures on the descent, since last year I showed all of you plenty of pictures two weeks in a row. I did, however, get this cool picture of the trough, with clouds creeping back into the valleys:

Once I passed down through the keyhole, I was getting very warm, so I lost the shirt. At some point, I was hopping down rocks, and my tempo picked up steadily until I was at an all out run down the trail. Some old guy told me I was crazy as I blasted by. It was a lot of fun, and helped make the 6 mile slog go by more quickly.

Shortly before re-entering the woods, I caught up to the clouds. It was truly amazing, as they were hanging in one place with only a tiny amount of wavering.

It was a wall of clouds, and a few steps made a difference between clear, warm summer day and cool, cloudy fall day. I made my way back to the trailhead, signed out, and saw that I was the only person who summited and returned so far. The ranger asked me for some information about the mountain, and was surprised to hear that it was bone dry on the standard route; understandable, given how thick the clouds were.

I was pretty sore, so popped a couple ibuprofin, and headed down the mountain. I stopped at a liquor store I used to frequent when I lived in Boulder (Superior Liquors, for those familiar with the area), and picked up a 12er of New Belgium’s “Saison,” their fall harvest brew, for $11. It was a tough call because Sunshine was the same price. Later in the evening I had a couple, and I highly recommend that those of you who have the opportunity to try some do so.

My next adventure will depend on what the weather does, but there’s a good chance it’ll be up Mount Elbert, highest peak in the state.