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

Two Weeks in Alaska

This trip was a long time coming. Though discussions started last autumn, things were cemented on this fateful night when Hans convinced me to join him (Lauren assisted) on a 12-day mountaineering course with AMS. Six months (and a plane ride, and 6 hours in the Ted Stevens International Airport and a 3-hour shuttle) later, we were dropped off at the Talkeetna Hostel, where we would be spending a night before flying out to the Pika glacier.

After dropping off our stuff, Hans and I struck out to check out the town (he’d been here before, I hadn’t).

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A Long Day on Ellingwood and Blanca

After Culebra last Saturday, I thought the misery would be over for a while. It’s turning into spring, I thought. No more bitterly cold, painfully long, 11+ hour days for a while, I thought. We’ll have good, stable, easy to climb snow, I thought. And then this past Saturday happened. After driving for a few hours to the Lake Como road, and an hour of 4-wheeling (which included cutting branches and shoveling snow-drifts that were obstructing the road), we arrived at 10,100′ for a luxurious three and a half hours of sleep, my spot being the front passenger seat. It was not warm, and I was only able to be comfortably warm by wearing a puffy on top of my other clothes inside my 15 degree bag.

The 3:30 wake-up call was not a pleasant one. It was so cold that I abandoned my oatmeal plan, and just shoveled down a PB&J that I didn’t eat for dinner, and downed a bottled Starbucks thing that I grabbed at a gas station the night before. As tends to be the case, getting started in the morning was slow, and an hour later we were walking up the rocky road towards Lake Como.

Another hour and a half later, it was still bitterly cold, although it was finally starting to get light out. Shortly after crossing the lake, we saw a group of five or six approaching for Little Bear.

As seemed to be the case with everything this day, we took an approach line that, while beautiful, was certainly “interesting.” Continue reading

Ski Culebra

This trip got started a couple weeks ago when I got an urgent email from Carl about a date set for a climb of Culebra in a couple weeks; with spots likely to fill fast, I jumped on it. I’m glad that I did, because all 20 spots filled in about four hours. For those of you not familiar with Culebra, it’s the only 14er that’s entirely on private property. During the summer it’s possible to get on the mountain more often than not for a $100 fee, and certainly on weekends. Winter and spring availability is much more limited, and in the past has had a climbing fee of $200-250; this time it was only $100. The original plan was to ski the North Face, assuming good weather. Unfortunately the weather was not good (as seems to be the case with most Culebra ski descents), but we certainly got our $100 worth of adventure. Keep in mind when you’re reading this that most of these photos have been enhanced to de-fog them and make people a bit more visible.

A major spring storm rolled in to Colorado late last week, bringing with it lots of snow. People in their right minds were enjoying an amazing powder day. Nine of us decided to take our shot and chance the weather. Besides, the forecast was for the storm to ease up and clear out by about 2pm, we would just have to fight our way through it most of the day. A few days ago things were dry pretty much to the summer trailhead, which would mean a 7 mile round-trip day with about 3,200′ of vertical. Things changed a bit, so we had a 14 mile day with roughly 5,000′ of vertical. I’d like to think Carl was saying something like “we have to go how far?” in this photo.

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Skiing Off the Top of the Rockies

Yesterday kicked off this year’s 14er season for me with Mt. Elbert; I’ve set a goal of skiing 10 new-to-me 14ers and after yesterday, I only have to do nine more. Of course, it’s so enjoyable (I wouldn’t say “fun” is the right word for it) that I may go over. Time will tell I suppose. Here’s the track (blue is ascent, red is descent; approximately 6 miles and 5,000′ vertical each way):
Yesterday at 3:59am both Nate and I were sound asleep on the floor in the back of the luxurious Silver Plume Saloon. At 4:00 sharp, the alarms went off and it was time to get moving. A couple hours later we would pull into the parking lot for the South Mt Elbert Trailhead to single-digit temperatures. No time was wasted getting skinned up, and we were moving just before 7am.

Winds were almost nonexistent before getting in the trees, and were completely calm in them.

It was a tough temperature balance, as I had dressed for the forecast, with a high of nearly 40F and no wind. It was too warm for a shell while blazing through the trees, but a little chilly for just a t-shirt.

Surface hoar had grown everywhere, and the snow was sparkling brilliantly (though I seem to have failed capturing it in this photo).

After two miles along a snow-covered 4WD road, we reached the summer trailhead. There’s a small bridge here that seems to be in every TR along this trail; I’m not sure why, but here’s the mandatory bridge:

A couple more miles and we were at treeline, with most of the rest of the route in view.

Without any recent reports from this route, I was slightly concerned about snow coverage for the descent. This view made me pretty happy. There’s really nothing technical about this mountain, mostly skinning with a little booting over rock at times.

That doesn’t mean the views weren’t spectacular at times though.

Here I am, smiling for some reason.

Box Creek Chutes is the classic descent route on Elbert, and coverage is looking pretty decent.

We were considering that as a descent option; unfortunately some wind and clouds rolled in as we were nearing the top, and I expect the snow would’ve been rock hard and unenjoyable. There’s a good chance I’ll be back later this spring to hit Box Creek. There was a group of four Nebraskans who went up on Thursday and camped at treeline for two nights before going for the summit. I’m not sure when they started yesterday, but here they are coming down from the summit. Nate and I had another half hour or so from this point. The Nebraskan on the right looks rather nonplussed.

It was about this point that things became significantly more challenging; the air was getting thin and the mercury was dropping. I started employing my standard step-counting technique to keep myself moving at a reasonable pace. I would lead off, take 30 or 40 steps, stop, and breathe. Then Nate would cover the same distance, we’d point at the next false summit, say “five more sets, that’s the summit.” When I saw the final false summit I told Nate not to get too dismayed when we hit that point. We got there, saw the real summit 200′ above us, confirmed with the GPS how close we were, and I called one more set of 5 (which actually turned out to be accurate this time). After an hour of high intensity interval training at 14,000′, we reached the top.

We were both pretty tired from the climb, and instead of 40F, clear, and calm, it was probably in the 20s, overcast, and breezy. I asked Nate if he would mind not staying on top very long; turns out he had the same sentiment and was ready to strap in and go.

Since snowboarding is clearly the most efficient method of backcountry travel, Nate kept a pole out to help him keep moving along flat spots.

We had a decent ride down the east ridge, picking our way through the rocks. Coverage was pretty good, as I only had to take off my skis for one short section, although I did do a bit of billygoating through sparser sections. It was a mix of soft sastrugi, rockhard windslab, and difficult (but manageable) breakable crust.  Nate would later remark that he’d never turned into snow like that. I shot back, “you still haven’t.” We didn’t stop to take photos on the way down, as it was pretty straight forward and uninteresting. The aspens at the bottom were brutally tight, and I was wishing for the relative openness of the NE ridge’s runout. An hour and fifteen minutes after leaving the top (a mere fifth of the time spent on the ascent) we were back to the parking lot. Exhausted, we threw everything back in the car, had a beer, and were off.

I’m not sure what’s next, but there are quite a few options and I’ve got a project to work on.

Butler Gulch

After some discussion, I went up to Butler Gulch yesterday morning for a quick tour. The cast of characters included the following:

Larry, tele-skier extraordinaire


Lindsay (red) and Bella (dog) (Larry is in Orange):

And Hans:

The plan was to go up a little ways, do a little exploration, and get a few nice turns in. Beautiful.

A couple hours later, we topped out for the day. We didn’t go much higher due to time and also avalanche risks. Any higher and the slope steepened up, and the trees cleared out. Given October’s avalanche record, I’m very cautious right now. We de-skinned, and I took off to enjoy some turns and get set up for taking some shots. Unfortunately, there was a tele-binding issue which held things up a bit.

Finally, everything was set. Larry killing it:

Travice ripping:

Lindsay and Bella having a blast:

And Hans loving life:

Coverage wasn’t awesome. I sustained a little bit of damage, Hans took nothing, and Travice had a nice big core shot from it all. Oops.

And here are a couple artsy-style photos, since it was just so damn beautiful up there.

Yesterday was my second day skiing, and first day in the backcountry for the year. And it was a blast.

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!