Mt. Elbert Sunrise Bike Descent

I’d hoped to do this last summer, but schedules just never worked out. Everything came together this past weekend though – no one was busy with other plans, good weather was in the forecast (save a bit of wind), and there was a mostly-full moon.

Originally, we were going to start pretty early in the morning and finish up mid-day. I half-jokingly suggested to Andrew that we just do it overnight, summit at sunrise, and finish up early. After thinking about it for a minute, the overnight plan made a lot of sense – not having to wake up at 2am is always nice, and we’d miss the hordes of mid-day hikers by being off the mountain before most of them even started.

Photo by Brian Pearson
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Hiking Huron

The weather has been extremely conducive to late-season hiking this year, with above average temperatures and a near-total lack of precipitation. With the weather on our side, Lauren and I continued on our quest to hike all of Colorado’s 14ers together yesterday morning with an ascent of Mt. Huron. After an early wake-up call at home, we pulled in to the parking lot shortly before 6:30, finding the “Gurlz Hike” about to get underway (though they were hiking La Plata Peak). The walk along the 4WD road to the trailhead was quick enough, and offered beautiful views of the surrounding peaks under an early-morning alpenglow.

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Moon-lit, Midnight Hike of Torreys and Grays

Lauren and I were planning on adding to our (admittedly short, at this point – 6/58 at the time of this writing) list of 14ers that we’ve done together this morning with a hike of Grays and Torreys. I’ve done this a few times before (4 summits of each, 3 times doing them as a combo), and they’re generally packed, easy, and uneventful in the summer and fall. The plan changed last night at about 9:45, when I was thinking about starting to prepare to get ready for bed; I knew I had to if we were going hiking early in the morning, but I really just wanted to stay up and have some coffee. Then it dawned on me – full moon, clear skies, and gentle winds were in the forecast. Why not go NOW? Continue reading

The Decalibron!

Sometimes schedules, weather, and motivation all align to make a trip happen, and yesterday was one of those days – exactly four years to the day after my first attempt at this route. The weather was still breezy, but far nicer, warmer, drier, and sunnier than last time.

Through a few conversations, Lauren and I decided it would be fun to try to hike, climb, or ski all the 14ers together. I’m going to have a few repeats (I was at 16/58 yesterday morning), but that’s alright – most of the repeats will be good ski descents, which I’m always up for.

Though the original plan was to camp up there, last minute schedule changes nixed that. Instead, we loaded up the car the night before. The next morning, I checked my phone and saw a comment from Lauren during a quick stop on the way to Kite Lake, and had to reply.

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Fast Times on Longs Peak

I would have posted this sooner, but things have been busy. I’ve also been dealing with the loss of a friend, who died while skiing alone in RMNP this past weekend.

Last Friday night, I went to bed extremely early, planning to get up around 11pm. Instead, I was up at 9pm, unable to sleep any longer. I was getting ready for my annual Longs hike, with a much larger group than normal this time – Nate, Matt, Hans, Ryan, Alan, and myself. We all met up and drove to the trailhead, getting started on the hike shortly after 1:30am.

It was incredibly foggy down low, and the six of us had red headlamps, making for a fairly creepy train of hikers in the night. After our break at the bottom of the Boulder Field, we essentially broke in to two groups, the lead group being Nate, Matt, and myself. I started to slow in the Trough, while Nate and Matt, well-recovered but still trained from their race in May, powered on ahead. The four of us (I ran in to a guy named Caleb and we hiked up the rest of the way together) topped out about 5:30am, a good 15 minutes before sunrise.

It really was beautiful up there – moreso than usual, due to the undercast. Continue reading

Geohashing Pendleton Mountain

First, I would like to thank xkcd for coming up with a phenomenal Spontaneous Adventure Generator. For those who would like details on how it works, look here; for those who just want the gist, it basically takes your location, the date, and the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average at its most recent opening, encodes the values, and then converts that to new coordinates. This means that for every single day, you’ll get a randomized location that’s reasonably close to you, and with the exception of weekends, there’s no way to know where it is in advance.

Yesterday morning I saw this post, which led to research, and which led further to realizing that geohashing is a legitimate way to kill some time, and that there are tools out there to make it easier to determine the day’s location. I found that West Denver’s location for today (Denver is split into two major areas because of the way the process works) was about 5 minutes from the top of a mountain. This mountain turns out to be called Pendleton, and there is zero information about it out there, which isn’t surprising since it’s “only” at 12,275′. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in CO, it’s that once you get down below 14,000′, no one seems to care anymore. After hours of planning, I found a route that would work, though no trail was expected. I was able to convince Nate to come along for this boondoggle, and picked him up at 7am.

An hour and a half later, we were starting from Guanella Pass Road, a few miles from the road closure (which has been closed for several months now, due to a rock slide). This is the view from the car, with nary a trail or road in sight.

Nate was characteristically excited to get started.

I was just glad to be out in the mountains. There’s not much like a mountain boondoggle to clear your head.

For a while we were practically crawling, as it was steep, fairly loose, and full of underbrush.

It made for some decent photos at least.

Aaaaannd…more bushwhacking.

Eventually things started to open up a little, though not entirely.

This pipe was riveted together from sheet metal. Unreal.

After more trudging through the snow and downed trees, we at last hit treeline.

My GPS’ compass was acting weird, which led to a bit of meandering through the alpine tundra.

At long last, the point was reached. Note that the elevation shown is off; the correct elevation is roughly 12,135′.

Hero shot!

The summit of Pendleton Mountain was only a few hundred feet away, so off we went; and a minute or two later, we were there. The register was much like the one I found on Mount Goliath a few years ago, a simple mason jar left by Gerry Roach. This one was left in 2006, with fewer than 10 people checking in since.

It’s ok, we’re from the internet.

America’s finest beer, two non-consecutive years over a spread of 114 years.

I can say with near-certainty that no one has ever had pants as bright as mine on this mountain.

What separates cool, historic structures from old crap? If it’s fallen down, it’s old crap.

There are apparently no photos from much farther down, as we were just wanting to get down and back to the car. We followed a trail for a while, but eventually had to bushwhack down the steep, loose crap that we had to fight our way up through. It certainly was a boondoggle, but what an adventure!

Back to Longs Peak

“I want to drink SO MUCH BEER.”

It’s early Saturday morning and Nate is talking about how many pitchers he’s going to order when we get to the Dark Horse. Most of Denver is still asleep.

To be fair, it had already been a long day at that point. I’d been up since 11:15pm (after a 4 hour nap). Nate had the luxury of sleeping in an extra half hour. We were on our way down from the summit of Longs Peak, after sprinting up the Homestretch to catch sunrise by less than a minute.

It was a great morning. Despite only getting a few hours of sleep and waking up before most people we know had even gone to bed, we were able to keep a fast, comfortable pace all the way to the top. Here’s Nate enjoying the view as well as his chapstick during sunrise. One person passed us on the way up and was waiting for the sun to come up on top, but had to head down before it did, as he was getting too cold to stand around despite the total lack of wind.

And a look over to Meeker.


The view to the Northwest.

The view across the Narrows on the way down. We would pass a couple people through here, but not enough to cause any slowdowns.

When we hit the Trough, we saw the train of people who’s headlights we saw marching up towards the keyhole a couple hours prior. 30 minutes later on the way down and we would’ve hit a major logjam. I counted 48 people in this photo, and the top of the trough isn’t even visible. There are dozens upon dozens of people below us.

We were asked by countless people, “how much longer to the top?” Nate told one guy who asked low in the trough “about an hour.” He was dismayed as he had been told an hour by the guy who left ahead of us roughly half an hour earlier. Nate’s guess was accurate (if not on the low side) based on the guy’s current pace, but of course not what he wanted to hear. The estimates of course got longer as we progressed, until we neared the keyhole and the response became “about as long as it’s taken you to get this far.” This is really not what people wanted to hear. It actually became entertaining to be the mountain’s unofficial demoralizers to people with shiny new gear and absolutely no idea what they were doing.

We had a blast scrambling down, and racing up small rock formations that were conducive to sprint-scrambling (or as Nate would call it, “spiderman shit”). One person even remarked that Nate was “dancing on the rock.”

The boulder field was an absolute blast, and we discussed the intricacies of what differentiates leaps, bounds, and simple jumps, of course with countless examples. Of course, at what point can you draw the line between a “leap” and a mere “bound?” If you take a leap but shorten it by a millimeter each time and continue repeating, at some point it will cease to be a leap. But where? Just look at statistical usage of the word “leap,” decide using that average, end of story. Oh snap, philosophers! Did Mike just totally school you with his statistically-based descriptivist approach to semantics? IT APPEARS THAT HE TOTALLY DID!! It also appears that he’s speaking in the third person because he’s so impressed with his awesome self!
[thanks to Ryan North for inspiring this passage]

After the boulder field, we tried to keep up a good pace as both of us wanted to be done, and go get our beer and burger at the Dark Horse. Hey look, a heap of rocks!

And a look back at Chasm View.

Sun’s out, guns out!


Time counting stops other than the summit was 7:40. Total time right at 8:20, which is substantially faster than I’ve ever done the trip, and my average heart-rate was only 118.

The Dark Horse was great, with a hickory bacon cheeseburger w/ fries for only $5. I love that place.

Tenmile Traverse

I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. That’s because yesterday, I set off to do the Tenmile Traverse. The traverse starts in Frisco where you head up Peak 1, then continue along all the numbered peaks in the range until you get to Peak 10 in Breckenridge and descend back to town. I was successful in my attempt, with 17.5 miles and over 8,000′ of climbing completed in 10:15, but it was such an amazing experience that photographs and numbers can’t adequately describe it. I hope that I’m able to come close.

This is a day that’s been in the works for some time. I thought about it last year, then planned to do it on my birthday last month. It was put off until now due to conflicting scheduling, and I’m glad it did, because yesterday couldn’t have been more perfect.

It started like any other long day in the mountains. I woke up to the sound of two alarms going off almost simultaneously at the ridiculous time of 2:15am. Scout didn’t realize it was that early, and so was excited to get up and run outside as if it were any other morning. I moved a little more slowly, getting dressed, making two big breakfasts (one to eat at home, one to eat at the trailhead) and tea for the drive. It was right around 3am when I hit the road, and 4:30 when I pulled into the parking lot.

As I was eating breakfast #2 I talked to a guy in a group of 5 who was also getting ready to head out. Turns out they were also there for the traverse. I had hoped for solitude for the day, but figured a little occasional company wouldn’t be so bad. We all started for Peak 1 about 10 before 5, meaning there would be plenty of time to get above treeline for sunrise.

I got ahead of the group in the trees and opened up some distance, and was really able to enjoy the serenity of the pre-dawn morning.

It’s unfortunate that camera sensors have such a limited dynamic range compared to the human eye. These pictures just can’t compare to actually being there.

Better images can be had with better equipment, but I was traveling light this day, only a 12 pound pack including food and water. I wanted to enjoy the experience, rather than suffer by hauling several extra pounds up and down the mountains of the Tenmile Range.

By this point I truly was enjoying the whole experience, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Being alone above treeline before sunrise is always great. Soon enough, the first of 10 objectives came into view.

The sun hit on the approach to Peak 1, which made for some great views.

Doing something like this really makes you realize how close together so many of the ranges in the state are. Here are the Gore getting some alpenglow.

And the group that was also attempting the traverse this day. They were fairly loud, and I was amazed how well sound travels up in the mountains when the air is still.

And finally, Peak 1 bathed in alpenglow. This was a substantial hike, and isn’t a bad target in and of itself, at about 3,500′ of elevation gain.

A couple hours in, the summit was reached.

Peak 1 was a great warmup for what was to come. Peak 10 is visible here, far off in the distance on the left side of the picture. The coming ridgeline on the way to peaks 2, 3, an
d 4 is the most difficult portion of the traverse. It’s said that it can be kept to class 3, but my route had some solid class 4 (though I was able to avoid anything class 5).

The ridge from 1 to 2 was largely uneventful (though still a fun scramble), and there are no photos here of it. Visible here is “the dragon,” along the ridge from 2 to 3. It is the most technically demanding section of the day.

Here’s a look back. I started off on the west side and looked a few times for exits onto the top of the ridge. It was an unbelievably fun (though stressful) section, and I’m glad the group was there to help with routefinding through it. No good pictures from the dragon as I was focusing on getting through it, plus the lack of color variation made most of the photos worthless.

This is taken from the summit of Peak 3, showing the immediate change in terrain after reaching Peak 4. This ridge was less difficult than the preceeding two, but there were still a lot more “you fall you die” moments than I was expecting. The ridge up to 4 was generally a couple feet wide, but with vertical drop offs on either side. It was fun, but became very mentally draining by the end.

And at long last, Peak 4 and its accompanying gentle, rolling terrain was reached. This was a huge relief, making the coming easy tundra walk far more rewarding than it otherwise would have been.

I set off for Peak 5, leaving the other group behind for the rest of the day. I would not be within shouting range of anyone else that day until I was heading back down into Breckenridge in the afternoon. I finally had the solitude I wanted.

I didn’t even stop moving while going over Peak 5, as it was little more than a small bump along the ridge without anything of real interest. The following photo was taken between peaks 5 and 6. It was the most blissful, serene moment in the mountains I’ve ever experienced. There was a small dip, filled with short grass blowing in the constant, moderate breeze in the ridge. The lighting was perfect, and it was silent except for the wind. I had no choice but to sit down and simply experience it for a few minutes. The beauty of the morning, the camaraderie seen through the difficult sections, and the danger of the climb all came together and hit me at once. I felt like I could have stayed there forever.

Sadly, I had to get up and keep moving. Things started to get more physically demanding again after Peak 6. Peak 7 was not terribly steep, and hitting the ski area boundary gave a mental boost as I knew I was getting closer to the end.

This shows Peak 8, with the melted-out run known as Whale’s Tail. It’s a blast in good conditions. The climb up to 8 wasn’t very difficult, as I’d done it dozens of times in the past carrying skis over my shoulder.

This is Lake Chutes from the top of Peak 8. It’s beautiful in the winter, and just as beautiful in the summer. It was nice to be covering terrain that I was familiar with, as I was starting to wear out from the long day.

This is Peak 9, with the summit being the small bump on the left. I was noticeably slower here. The miles and several thousand feet of climbing were adding up and taking their toll on me. The various emotions of the day were piling up as well, and I’m glad it was an easy walk up so that I didn’t have to be 100% focused on the task at hand.

This sight was far more demoralizing than inspiring. I’ve gone 12 miles and climbed over 7,000′, I’m exhausted, only have one mountain left, and it’s not only the highest in elevation (and one of only two over 13,000′, at 13,633′), but is covered in loose, crappy, sharp rock.

Rock that looks a little something like this. I got my only real injury here, when a loose rock smashed a finger. My fingertip was immediately red, and there’s a chance I’ll be losing another nail. Fortunately nothing’s broken. It was a hard 700′ of climbing, and despite my growing exhaustion and slowing pace, failure never even crossed my mind. I had come this far, and I would make it to the top no matter how tired I was.

An hour after leaving Peak 9, I made it. I was overjoyed, having done something of this difficulty in a single attempt. Yet almost immediately, I realized that reaching the final summit was not all that spectacular – that the journey is what really mattered, and is one of the major things I would take back from this day. I only stayed on top long enough to eat something and snap a couple pictures before heading down to town.

Here’s a look back on the route. Kind of hard to make out, as it’s pretty far off.

Down lower on Peak 10, I found these guys with a pretty cool park set up. There was also a guy skiing on a different patch of snow. Way to get after it in August, guys.

The trudge down the ski slopes felt never-ending. I wished I could have skied down, especially the farther down I got, as towards the bottom the vegetation got much thicker. There were even marshes with my most hated mountain plants, willows.

Truly an amazing day, probably the most spectacular one I’ve ever spent in the mountains. Words can’t adequately describe the experiences, emotions, and realizations of the day, which is all the more better as it’s absolutely not what I was expecting. I just thought it would be a long, challenging day in the Tenmiles, and I ended up having a near-life experience.