Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tour de Flatirons Kicks Off!


After an aborted first stage last week, due to torrential rain and lightning, the 2016 Tour de Flatirons officially started tonight and oh what a start it was! A full field (20+ is huge for the Tour) started from NCAR and headed out to link the Stairway to Heaven to Buckets on the Ameboid to the East Face South Side Route on the Fifth Flatiron.
The course: Stairway to Heaven to the Ameboid to the Fifth Flatiron
Start and finish at NCAR
At the start, speedster and Tour neophyte (he has competed in a few stages before) Galen Burrell went straight to the front. His dad, Buzz, one of the pioneers of speed scrambling, went straight to the back. I know from experience that I should be behind Buzz, as he'll eventually catch and pass me. A few years ago, he catch me, pass me, bury me, so I tried to always stay behind him at the start. Here, though I was a bit ahead of him. We're a lot closer in speed these days. I did notice as I labored up the water tank hill that only Brian, Sonja, Sara, and Buzz were behind me. A number of scramblers took off early, including Angela, Greg, and Adam, but I was definitely close to being the Lantern Rouge.

At the front was Galen and defending champion Matthias and they ran together to the base of Stairway to Heaven. At that point, Matthias dropped the hammer, went off the front, and absolutely annihilated the field. He made a very strong statement that he plans to repeat this year. The usual podium was broken by Will, so finish second and then Stefan took third. Stefan hasn't finished below second overall in the Tour in about a decade.
Defending champion Matthias Messner
Back at the tailend of the pack, I labored up Stairway, trying to keep Danny close. Behind me were Sonja and Brian, but I'd continue to put more space between me and them. Near the top of Stairway I could see Buzz closing on me, but some other scrambler was coming fast. Who could that be? It was Kyle, who started about five minutes later. He topped out right behind Danny and I. I led the way down the new, steep descent and Kyle did his descent further to the west. I think Danny balked on my way and went down the usual slab.

My fast descent and nailing the bushwhack to the Ameboid, with Kyle right on my heels, allowed me to leapfrog past a number of scramblers, including our sponsor the Imperial Grand Poobah of Sportiva, Jonathan Lantz. I nearly caught up to Jon Sargent and David Glennon. Jon saw and cried out, "Ack! Here comes Satan!" Not for long, I was so gassed. Going up Ameboid, I was passed by Kyle and maybe another scrambler, but the gap I got was rapidly closing.

I scrambled down the ground and nailed the bushwhack over to the Fifth. On my way over I heard cries of "Rock, Rock!" Apparently a scrambler (Matthias?) had trundled a large rock while descending the Fifth Flatiron. In the past we've given a 1-minute penalty to anyone that knocks off a rock that descends down the course. Stefan did this while scrambling Atalanta and assessed himself a 1-minute penalty. I didn't say this before the start, so no penalty this time (and it wouldn't have changed the order), but that's the rule going forward, so take note.
Trying to stay ahead of Buzz and Sonja on Stairway to Heaven
I got the base of the Fifth and there were a bunch of scramblers there. I started paddling up the face, taking my usual route on the far left. Many scramblers were to my right. I was really sucking wind here and Danny passed me, Buzz passed me, I think a few others too, including Nikita and Jonathan if they weren't already by me. I topped out right behind everyone, though. It was crowded on that final ridge with climbers going up and down, but everyone was cool and there were no problems.

I descended the Fifth rather quickly passing everyone near me, including Jon Sargent, who was ahead of me, but missed the south-side descent ramp. I too went too low, but only lost maybe 15 seconds. Jon lost at least 30 seconds. I reversed and took the ledge with Buzz about five feet behind me. I cruised the descent, hit the ground and descended the fastest I've done in years. Usually, with our historically smaller fields, I wasn't in the midst of so many scramblers near my speed. I had made great strides descending the Fifth and I wondered how long I could hold off these fitter, faster runners.

I nailed the descent all the way down the Mesa Trail, blasting past Galen Burrell (first time I've ever wrote that line! Probably the last time too). I didn't know that he had DNFed by skipping the Fifth, but I was coming down a lot faster. I touched down a couple of times, but did no damage. I was able to maintain my lead all the way down to the Mesa Trail, but just after I reached it, David Glennon comes cruising on by, complimenting my descending skills, while running about twice as fast as me. He quickly disappeared. Next to come by was Nikita, running strong. I was hurting bad here and barely caught and passed a couple of chicks out for a casual run with their dog. Ugh.

I then passed Joe Grant, limping badly and under the watchful eye of Jason Wells, who gets the award for most compassionate scrambler. Joe had hurt his foot and I hope he's okay and will be able to continue with the Tour. I dropped into Skunk Canyon and had to power hike out of it. Here Jon Sargent came running by me, complaining about the lack of aid stations. I sure could have used one.

I was running scared now. I'd lost three places since hitting the Mesa Trail. I got over the Water Tank Hill and ran down the other side, but looking over my shoulder saw Buzz just a little ways back! Ack! I thought Buzz didn't run downhill fast anymore. I just did my fastest descent in years and here's Buzz right on me. Dang it. I know he's a threat to me on the ascent, but thought he'd just take it easy on the descent. Wrong. I ran as hard as I dared, trying not to hurl, over to the last hill up to the NCAR Mesa and then power hiked up it, looking over my shoulder constantly. I got to the top just as Buzz started up the last steep section, only 20 seconds back or so. He had the class and the breath to call up, "Nice job, Bill!" I barely eked out a "You too", but I had no breath to spare and not sure it was even loud enough to be heard. I ran scared the last 90 seconds, prepared to sprint if necessary, but held Buzz off by 22 seconds.

I finished in 1:05:47, which really surprised me. I figured I'd do 1:20 to 1:30, but having so many scramblers around me for almost the entire stage was motivating and I pushed into the pain zone way more that I would on a solo time trial.

What a fun, painful time! Loved it!


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Little Bear


Strava - Approach - Garmin POS software won't upload it!

One of my favorite days on Colorado 14ers was when Mark, Loobster, and I traversed the ridges between Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood Point. Since Derek had never done these peaks before, we planned to give them a go over Labor Day. To make a clean sweep of the group, our plan was to bag nearby Lindsey before heading into Lake Como for the other three. Now what do they say about the “best laid plans”?

The “road” into Lake Como is infamous and notorious. I believe it is the toughest road to drive in Colorado. To get clear to the lake requires a speciality vehicle - no stock SUV has a chance. We had no designs on getting all the way to the lake but hoped to get near the first named obstacle, “Jaws I”. Our Land Cruiser should have been up to the task, but it wasn’t running great and had some trouble idling at 12,000 feet on our 10-4 adventure, and then on the Lake City 14ers trip, it got some tire damage had to be fixed. In talking with Mark about the best ways to address these short comings in the two days before Labor Day, he ended up offering me his significantly lifted FJ. He drove that FJ when we went in last time and got us very close to Jaws I. I hoped to do the same, after Lindsey.

We took off at 5:25 a.m. on Saturday from our house with Sheri driving, me riding shotgun and Derek comatose for most of the drive in the back. We got off I-25 at an exit with not a single building or sign or anything. We drove to the town of Gardner where we found out Gardner’s nearest gas station is 45 miles away. The drive into Lindsey from there was 22.5 miles, one way.  We had less than a quarter tank of gas.  Game over. I’d never made a mistake like that before. We’d have run out of gas before we could get anywhere near a gas station if we had climbed the peak. We headed further south to Fort Garland, the nearest gas and on the way to Lake Como.

After gassing up, we decided to just head into Lake Como and we could get Lindsey on the way home. I buzzed up the lower part of the road, which wasn’t technically challenging, just very bumpy as the roadbed consisted almost entirely of baby heads. Actually, they are more like adult heads. It’s a bumpy ride.

We buzzed up past the normal stopping point for regular 4WD (at least according to 14ers.com) and caught up to a caravan of speciality vehicles. They were just stopped in the road, blocking all passage while one of their vehicles cooled off. As will become very obvious, I’m a neophyte when it comes to 4-wheeling and I was a bit surprised at their audacity. Maybe the culture surrounding 4-wheeling is that no one is ever in a hurry to get anywhere and stopping and blocking the road is acceptable social behavior. We weren’t in a big hurry, but I put on the parking brake and hiked up the road to the second vehicle in the train, with its hood propped up. I see lots of vehicles doing this whenever they stopped - they popped the hood so that the engine could cool down quicker. I asked the guys eyeing the engine how long we’d be stopped.  He replied, nicely, “Oh we’re ready to get going now. Are you the guy in the FJ?” I said yes and asked how he knew that. He said, “Our tail gunner has a radio.” It probably wasn’t me the tail gunner was talking about, since right behind their group and right in front of me was another FJ.
At Jaws II
We followed this group for awhile. At one switchback the FJ in front of us pulled off and I was now behind the trailing speciality vehicle, which was now being driven by a kid that looked to be 14. Sheri had already recommended that we pull over and stop twice when we rounded another switchback that had the lead vehicles going very slowly. We gave them some room so that we wouldn’t have to stop every few feet. I watched the vehicle in front of me spin all wheels and balk before clearing an obstacle. That should have been a warning to me, but I continued up, very steeply. A large rock forced me right, towards the edge of the road. Falling off this road would total the vehicle and likely kill everyone in it. That happened at the Jaws II obstacle and there is a plaque there memorializing the killed driver. I lost traction, spun the tires and slid further right, to the very edge. Yikes! I stopped.

I shut off the engine and got out. I had to turn the engine off because I had to leave the FJ in gear because the parking brake wasn’t sufficient to hold it on the slope. Things didn’t look good. We jammed some rocks behind and in front of the wheels, hoping to stop and drift backwards and to give us better traction going forward. The surface of the road was wet just under the first layer of dirt and the mud was slick. I got in and tried again. No dice. Too dangerous. Sheri and Derek went up the road to see if there was a place to park or turn around. I got out the control cable for the winch.
Hiking the road into Lake Como
When I picked up the FJ from Mark, he immediately started telling me how to work the winch. I almost stopped him because I had no interest in doing anything with his truck where I’d get it stuck and would need a winch. I needed the winch now, as I feared I might lose the entire truck. I opened the back and some of our gear fell out onto me, as the road was so steep. I dug out the control and plugged it in at the front of the vehicle. I showed Derek which buttons to push and I pulled out the cable until I could wrap it around a 5” diameter root thirty feet up the road on the left side. I got back in to drive and Derek worked the winch. We had to go forward, even if we eventually wanted to back down the road. If we went backward even a few inches, we’d lose a tire over the edge and that would be the end of it.

Derek tightened up the winch and I could see the root flexing. I gunned the engine, but my tires just spun and smoked a bit. The root flexed even more. I feared it busting and rocketing toward me, smashing the windshield or hitting Derek. I told him to stop.
Little Bear
We re-assessed. A large tree was way up the road. I wondered how long the winch cable was and we decided to pull it all out. I was afraid to leave the truck unattended now. I kept my foot on the brake and the handbrake fully engaged. I asked Sheri if she would take over holding the brakes while I set up the winch. Her response, “I’m not getting anywhere near that truck.”

Sheri worked the winch control while I kept the truck on the road. When we previously pulled out the cable, it had bound up, pinched between coils. I had to tie a loop in it and jump on it with my foot to free it. Now Derek had to do the same. With the entire cable out, we couldn’t reach the tree. Dang. Then I realized that there was a sizable tree up the slope to the left. It was at a 50-degree angle to the road, but at least it would be pulling us away from the edge. Derek took it up there and wrapped the cable around the 14” diameter trunk. Now we had a firm anchor and the winch did its job pulling us away from the edge. I was able to then maneuver the FJ away from the edge and straighten it out. We were then in fine shape, but my confidence was shaken enough where it took me a moment to tell Derek to remove the cable from the tree. At least with the cable I knew I wasn’t going over the edge.
Derek at camp
With Sheri and Derek helping to guide me past large rocks and the edge, I backed down the steep slope to the switchback, where I was able to make a 4-point turn and head further down facing forward. Derek and Sheri walked down while I drove. With the FJ in 1st gear of 4WD low, it wouldn’t even roll down the hill. I had to give it gas. I shifted to second gear and still had to give it a little gas, but I didn’t have to touch the brakes. I got down to the next switchback where I was able to wedge it into a parking position off the road, next to another vehicle. Whew! I was never so glad to be parked.

We took awhile to pack our backpacks and then headed up the steep road again, this time on foot. It took us 45 minutes or so to get up to Jaws I, hiking casually. Just as we got there a trio of vehicles arrived and we stopped to watch the action. This is a serious obstacle and each vehicle went over it with a spotter directing him minutely. We documented it with our cameras. After the second vehicle got by we continued hiking and stopped again at Jaws II, the site of the fatal accident, to wait for the 4x4’s. There are two ways to do this obstacle. The hardest and safest is to be hard against the inside wall, but the jeep then gets tilted up at nearly a 45-degree angle. The lead jeep tried this ten times and couldn’t make it happen. He kept sliding to the left. In trying to position himself, his tires would get to the very edge of the road. He didn’t seem that worried. I was, just watching. He eventually gave up and went left, against the edge of the road. There is a key rock there and once he got his left tire positioned just right, and it had to be just right - within an inch or two - then he cruised up it no problem.
Our camp
We spent nearly an hour all told waiting and watching these jeeps, but it was interesting to us. Sheri eventually got bored and hiked up to Lake Como where she waited for us. We regrouped there and headed up higher to a great spot we knew from the last time we’d camped there. Surprisingly, it was still open and we set up camp. Sheri had brought in the newspaper and she read it while Derek and I reviewed our usual memory games: naming all the U.S. Presidents (44) and all the named elements (112). We ate a couple of the Mountain House dinners that we carried down from Denali and then retired to the tents at 7:30 to read and sleep.

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I started the stove for a cappuccino and to make Derek an eggs and hash brown dehydrated breakfast. Derek and I were off at 6:15 a.m. We waited that long on purpose so that we could go sans headlamps.
Traversing to the Bowling Alley in the fog
Going up the initial gully on the regular route up Little Bear, we passed five people. On the traverse to the bowling alley we passed six more. We were in a dense fog and once we passed people it wasn't long before we could no longer see them. We couldn’t see more than a hundred feet ahead and it made it difficult to determine the route, though we did find cairns to direct us. At the base of the fixed lines, we caught another party of three, and just above them was a party of four that were bailing. The lines were soaked and the slope was running with water. With the steep rock, the obscuring fog, and the soaked conditions, I didn’t blame them at all for turning back. Yet we continued.

We had no problems getting up the lines and then moving left onto drier rock. This got us a bit off route, though we weren’t that sure because of the fog. I climbed us into a dead end on a precarious ridge with death falls on either side and vertical, soaked rock above. We retreated back down fifty feet and traversed hard to our right, regaining the route. We thought we were the only ones on the upper mountain at that point, but on the summit we found three climbers huddled in an alcove, hoping to do the traverse, but waiting for the weather to clear.
Starting the traverse
We tagged the top and then continued right into the traverse. The only time I had done this traverse I had climbed up nasty verglas to get to the summit of Little Bear and then found the traverse to be bone dry. I expected it to be dry again, though I don’t know why. We were in a cloud.

This traverse is spectacular - extremely exposed, 4th class, but with near constant death fall potential. We started off okay, but then it was so wet that I couldn’t trust my feet, certainly not with my life and I made sure I had a secure handhold at all times. We went right over an intimidating gendarme and then it started to spit, part snow, part rain, part sleet. I called a halt to don our shells and to re-assess. We were climbing in gloves, which were now soaked, freezing our hands. The clouds rolled by with impressive speed. We could see a long way to the south, down to the town of Blanca or Alamosa, but we never saw Blanca or Ellingwood Point or more than a hundred feet along our traverse. To our right was solid fog. To our left, down to the basin where we camped, we could generally see to the ground, but not much along our ridge. We stood there for 25 minutes with nothing improving. Cold now, I called it off. It would have been very stressful for me to do this with a regular climbing partner, but with my 18-year-old son wearing running shoes, it would have been so stressful as to make me sick with fear. It wasn’t worth it. It was too dangerous. We retreated, passing the other three who were starting across, though one in their party looked way over his head. I don’t know if they made it, but I hope they turned around.
Retreating back to camp
We carefully climbed back to the summit and found three other climbers there. They had planned on the traverse as well but had already aborted. Good call. We should have done that. We carefully descended the wet route and passed two other parties, one of three or four and another of just two climbers. Our hands were still very cold and we descended mostly with balled-up fists. At least until we got to the fixed lines and used the ropes, despite soaking and freezing our hands further. Once down these and off to the side a bit, we were out of any rockfall danger and our hands slowly warmed up.

We reversed all the way back to camp, and the weather on top of the peaks stayed the same - socked in, windy, cold. We initiated a rockfall descending the final gully, though neither of us were standing on the rocks when they went. We must have loosened them and they went 20 seconds later. They didn’t hit us and no one was below, but they went down an impressive distance.

As we crossed the final talus slope we met a couple going up with a small Husky. The dog was in a climbing harness and they carried a rope to belay the dog to the top. People are crazy… The dog walked so quietly, like a cat.
Descending the final loose gully to camp
At camp, as expected, Sheri wasn’t there. The plan was for her to meet us at the saddle between Blanca and Ellingwood Point at 10:30 a.m. I figured we’d take two hours to do Little Bear (it took us 1h40m) and then two hours for the traverse (we aborted but spent 45 minutes going out, waiting and coming back). Derek stayed in camp, but I immediately headed up in search of Sheri.

I was casually hiking up the trail when I caught a group of five. I said hello and we exchanged pleasantries. Then one of the guys says to me “What kind of pants are those?” I immediately cringed. I was wearing my Dwight-Schute-mustard-colored Prana pants, a respectable climbing pant but one that seemed to clash massively with every shirt I owned. It wasn’t just that, though.

The only time another guy had ever made a comment about the pants I was wearing was when I met Chris Weidner and Alex Honnold in Eldo to climb the Diving Board. That morning I was just supposed to be climbing with Chris when the night before he called and asked if it was okay if Alex came along. Hmmm, is it okay for the most famous climber in the world to join us…Yeah, that will be fine. I was leaving for Europe to climb the Eiger with Homie in just a week and I had gone to REI and spent an hour searching for just the right summer alpine rock climbing pants. I found just the pair, a two-tone brown/black, tough, water-resistant pair and I wore them that morning, to test them out. When I jumped out of my car, all excited to climb with these famous climbers, Alex took one look at me and said, “What the heck are you wearing?! Are those waders?” I was immediately crestfallen. My prized Eiger pants immediately denigrated to fishing pants.
Sheri hiking out from Lake Como
Hence, when asked about my pants, I was thinking “They are ugly and this guy is telling me so.” I answered sheepishly, “Ah, I think they are Prana pants.” The girl next to him then said, “Prana makes the best pants for men.” I then said, “But the color is so ugly,” and she said, “I like the color.” Well, that didn’t go as expected.

A little further along, before I really started to climb, I spotted a blue rainshell-shod woman descending. I recognized the gait right away. It was Sheri. She didn’t notice me and stopped on a rock to rest and drink, but only to delay getting back to camp and not finding us there. She had hiked up to the saddle and immediately froze, so she couldn’t wait for us. She descended very afraid for us, hoping we hadn’t tried the traverse. She didn’t want to return to camp and just sit there worrying, so she delayed. Then she spotted me. She hugged me and said, “I’m so glad you didn’t do the traverse!”

We hiked back to camp and told her about our climb and she told me about her morning. Back at camp, Derek gave his version. The conditions were still chilly and we were indecisive about what to do next. I didn’t have a strong opinion either way, as I’d done all the peaks. Derek wanted all the 14ers, of course, but he really wanted that traverse and knew he’d have to come back for it. Hence, he didn’t need the peaks now. We decided to get warm in the tent for a bit and see if the weather would improve.

We did crossword puzzles, drank hot drinks and napped a bit, as extremely powerful thunder rocked the skies above and hail started to pelt the tent. We snoozed some more. At 2:30 p.m. we finally swung into action. We decided to pack up and hike out. The hike out went smooth and we found our FJ waiting for us. By the time we drove down the road, we were out of mountain mode and decided to drive home and relax watching tennis on Labor Day.

The trip wasn’t a rousing success and in fact was marked more by driving incompetence than anything, but Derek did climb one of the harder 14ers and his total now stands at 41. Seventeen to go.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Petit Grepon and Pen Knife with Derek

Derek on top of the Pen Knife with the Petit Grepon in the background

Derek's evolution as a climber continues. Seeing reports from Kyle and Cordis of climbing the Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park, Derek told me, "I think this should be next for me." Derek really hadn't done any alpine rock climbing before. We'd recently done the Keyhole Ridge and Kiener's Route on Longs Peak, but the climbing there is minimal and easy. We'd done the Grand Teton, Gannet, and Granite, but again, the rock climbing was easy. The toughest climb he'd done was the Durrance Route on Devil's Tower and he did that when he was thirteen. While he's climbed hard in the gym (11d), he hadn't even explored the more classic routes in Eldorado Canyon. But the Sharkstooth wouldn't be sufficient. I decided we'd go climb the uber classic South Face of the Petit Grepon, and then possibly tack on the Sharkstooth afterwards.
Derek in his college dorm. He starts classes at CU's Engineering school on Monday
Derek had moved into his dorm at CU the Tuesday night before and I picked him up outside of Kittredge Central at 4 a.m. I brought him a pack and a bag of clothes and we drove to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and were hiking by 5:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes into the approach we passed a party of four headed to Zowie. I'd climbed the spire many years ago with the Trashman. I should do that again. On our way out we saw climbers near the summit of Zowie and I wondered if it was this same party.

Besides these four the only other people we saw on the 4.5-mile hike into Sky Pond were three guys in sleeping bags directly on the rock-stepped trail! We had to go off-trail to get by them. They didn't seem to even have pads and they were sleeping in a particularly awful spot with much better locations just a hundred yards lower. Bizarre.
Derek climbing on the Petit
At the lake we ran into a team wearing harnesses and helmets. I assumed they bivied up there, since they were geared up so far below the route, but they had hiked in. We found out later that they were headed for the Southwest Corner, but at the time I thought they were competition for our route. I didn't worry much about it, though. We weren't in a hurry and hopefully everyone would play nice.

As we hiked up to the base we spotted a party on the second pitch, high enough where they shouldn't be an issue. We geared at the very base of the South Face and I ran out all the rope and about fifty feet more to gain the very top of the first grassy ledge, with Derek simul-climbing below me. I didn't want to do much of that because Derek hadn't done much rock climbing all year, but it made sense here and I wanted to establish our position on the route. The two climbers we had seen at the lake had climbed up talus to our left and I wondered if they were trying to jump ahead by skipping the first pitch. I needn't have worried.
Derek just above the crux on the Petit Grepon
Derek followed nicely and I led another super long pitch that required about thirty feet of simul-climbing from Derek. I caught the party above us halfway through it and followed the second to the second big ledge above. This party was led by Spencer, a local transplant from New York, and his buddy Ken, who was out for a week of climbing from New York. They were cool and offered to let us pass a couple of times, but I declined, as they weren't holding us up and I didn't want Derek to feel rushed.

Despite the sun shining on us, it was chilly. Derek was completely climbing with his gloves on, as a chilly wind kept me in my pile sweater. I wore my gloves for the first pitch and the first half of the second pitch, but took them off for the steep 5.7 climbing.

The third pitch (for us) was 5.6 and not very long and we joined Ken and Spencer at the sloping belay below the crux pitch. Once again, they urged us to take the lead, but Spencer was leading at a reasonable clip and it wasn't a good place to pass. They took the 5.8 start that leads right off the belay and then back left. When it was my turn I went straight up, via a couple of 5.9 moves. Once I got footwork down, it seemed quite casual, but Derek noted this as the definite crux due to the flat, smooth holds. The climbing on this pitch is stellar: steep, well-protected, interesting. The normal crux is a couple of slippery crack moves with tricky feet. Both Derek and I solved this nicely, but Ken was left hanging from the rope.
Looking up the ultra-classic and very steep last pitch on the Petit Grepon
Derek and I took a break on the big ledge above and let Ken and Spencer get some distance above us. Spencer didn't find the Pizza Pan belay stance (difficult to find, as it's just around the corner to the left on the very arete), so I started up knowing I'd have that belay to myself. When I got there I felt the full force of the wind. I quickly put my gloves back on to belay. Derek joined me at the very crowded stance, but I was soon away. I met Ken, still belaying, just thirty feet higher. Spencer was nearly done with the pitch, but I knew Derek would be getting cold at the belay and decided to continue, doing my best to keep our rope separated from Ken's. They were fine with me doing this and it caused no problems.

I belayed in a sheltered, sunny spot just below the summit ridge. I watched Ken struggled and fail to remove two stoppers that Spencer had placed. He cursed stoppers and left them behind. Derek, following ten minutes later, removed both. The first in just a few seconds and the second one probably took him a minute. We returned them at the summit.
Derek approaching the Pizza Pan belay
The last pitch is airy, but easy and we were soon on top taking photos. Ken and Spencer took awhile setting up their rappel and getting down. In my experience this is where the speed difference is greatest among climbers. Some parties can take thirty minutes to do a rappel I can do in five minutes. Ken and Spencer weren't too slow, but I've witnessed some truly glacial rappelling on the Grand Teton.

Spencer offered us of his rappel line to us and we took it. I went down first, as Derek didn't know where we were going. Ken and Spencer were rappelling back to the base and they had double ropes, so their ropes didn't go to the notch we wanted. I was able to flip the ropes around the corner and safely make the notch. I put in a large cam here, clipped in, and clipped the rappel lines in as well. When Derek was halfway down and on the wrong side of the arete he called down to me, quite casually, "I assume you're giving me a fireman's belay." I was indeed, as this was a bit of an advanced rappel.
Derek belaying from the Pizza Pan
Once down we yelled down our thanks and I led off from the notch, not to the second rappel anchor, but up the loose, lichen-covered 5.6 pitch to the top of the Pen Knife. I did this for the first time with Mark Oveson just a couple of years ago and it's a striking summit when viewed from the notch between the Saber and Sharkstooth. In fact, it obscures any view of the Petit from there.
Derek nearing the top of the penultimate pitch on the Petit
On the summit we heard a yell from the party that had just descended from the Sharkstooth: "What's your phone number? I'll send you a photo of you on top!" Cool. Derek yelled it back. Then a party way over on the Northeast Ridge yelled at us to exchange photos. I yelled my number back and took some photos of them. We've yet to hear from either party.
Derek about to top out on the Petit
We rapped off and were grateful to be removing our shoes. We hadn't had much to drink or eat since leaving the car. I wasn't that thirsty or hungry on the climb. We could have eaten more, but we didn't. Here we finally ate and relaxed. We decided that was enough climbing for today and passed on an ascent of the Sharkstooth. We took the hike out nice and easy and enjoyed the incredible beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Derek seemed energized to explore more of this vast park. Nearly his only experience with the park has been the Longs Peak area. Time for new vistas.

Derek standing on the tiny summit of the Pen Knife

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kiener's Route on Longs Peak w/Derek, Homie, and Kyle



Derek climbed Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route when he was ten years old. He was my September partner the first time I did the Longs Peak Project. Until this year that was his only Longs Peak ascent. He found that to be unacceptable. This year we've done quite a bit to right things. Derek just completed his fourth ascent of Longs this year. Not only that but all five of his ascents have been via a different route and a different month. He's 5/12's of the way to a career LPP:

March: Cables/North Face
May: Notch Couloir
July: Keyhole Ridge
August: Kiener's Route
September: Keyhole Route

We had just done a tough 16-mile, 6000-vertical-foot run the day before, but the weather looked good and we had lined up two incredible partners. First, Homie. We'd done the run and the 10-4 the previous weekend with him and he's such a great partner to have in the high mountains. The fourth member of the team was Kyle Richardson, a junior at CU double majoring in Jazz and Business. He's also an extremely fit mountain runner and very fast climber/scrambler. He graciously agreed to slow down to our speed and even carry some gear for us (which he did not use) in order to help equalize our speeds. What a nice kid!

Homie picked us up at 4:15 a.m. and we picked up Kyle at 4:30 a.m. We were at the trailhead a bit before 5:30 a.m. and were soon headed up the trail. I led for a bit and then Kyle took over. His pace was hurting me, but I could just barely hang on. The lighting was really dim (we didn't bring headlamps) and I kept my eyes glued on his feet so that I wouldn't trip.

I took over at the front after a bit, so that Kyle wouldn't go too fast, and we made our way to Chasm Lake. Derek had never had to go around this lake before. On his previous visit he could walk right across it. We traversed around on talus and huge boulders and then up more talus, this time pretty loose, the other side. We got to the bottom of Lambs Slide and stopped to pull on Kahtoola crampons onto our running/scrambling shoes. We put on our helmets (except Kyle) and pulled out our ice axes. Homie and Derek put on harnesses. I didn't pull one on as we neglected to bring another. Oops.

Kyle did most of the step kicking up Lambs Slide and it was just barely soft enough to  allow safe passage in running shoes. Just as we started up I heard the terrifying howl of rock falling at high speed. I yelled and crouched down, but never saw the rock. I took over just for the very top to give Kyle's toes a break. two thirds of the way up, a softball-sized rock sped within a foot of my head. I never heard it or saw it coming. Before I even had registered exactly what it was, it struck Kyle in the hip. Ouch! If it had hit any of us in the head, we'd have fallen all the way down Lambs Slide. I was impressed that Kyle hardly made a sound and didn't lose his footing. I know, from experience, how badly that hurts. He had a mark on his hip, but carried on, seemingly, without being hampered at all.

I had to cut four steps across pure ice for us to gain the rocky ledges of Broadway. Here we put away the crampons and ice axes and then continued on the increasingly exposed and awesome Broadway to the start of the rock climbing on Kiener's. This traverse isn't very hard, but it is spectacular and if you tripped...it's a 1000-foot fall to the talus below. We didn't trip.

Homie and Derek climbing up Lambs Slide
At the base of the steep rock climbing, we got out our two 30-meter ropes and our four cams. Kyle soloed above me and I led with Derek tied in at the other end of our first 30-meter rope and also tied into the rope leading down to Homie. We simul-climbed up 300 or 400 feet of beautiful, mostly solid, low-5th class climbing. Everyone was super solid. Neither Homie nor Derek needed a rope, but I insisted on it. I wanted Derek to do it once on a rope before he solos it.

I screwed up and dropped my belay device. The Petzl one I just bought. Dang it. At least it didn't hit anyone. At the top of the steep section, we put away the ropes and the gear and continued up via mostly beautiful, solid, ledgy third class climbing. This scrambling is tiring, as there is no reason to stop, but it is so fun to be climbing up alongside the Diamond to the top of Longs Peak.
Kyle leading the way on the Broadway traverse
We got to the summit 3h37m after we started. We took some photos and had a bit to drink and Homie signed into the summit register for us all. Then we headed down the North Face. At the rappels, Kyle downclimbed, then Homie rapped to the next anchors. Since I had dropped our only rappel device, I taught Derek how to rappel with biners. As he rappelled down to Homie, I downclimbed, since I had no harness or rappel device. We repeated the procedure at the next rappel and soon we were packing up the gear. Once again, Kyle chipped in and carried gear that he didn't even use.
Homie at the top of the roped climbing
We passed a team of four who roped up for the approach pitch to the Cables. They were still on their way up. A bit further down Homie mentioned that one of the two guys just below us was Jim Detterline. Jim has climbed Longs Peak 500 times or so (I'm still in the 70's) and I'd been seeing his name in the summit register for the last twenty years, but we had never met. When Homie, Mark, Tom, and I climbed Kiener's on January 1st, 2000, hoping to be the first team to climb Longs in the new millennium, we found that Jim Detterline has summited at 4:15 a.m. He really wanted to be first and he was. He also was on Denali the same time we were this past June, but missed the weather window and waited out his time with no summit (2 from his party did summit).
Climbing up the last steep section of upper Kiener's
We cruised down the rest of the descent with the conversation flowing nearly as easily as the miles. We took all the nice shortcuts and ran quite a bit of the lower part. I was driving this, I guess. I had promised the team that we'd do the roundtrip in six hours. I didn't want to be wrong. We finished in 5h54m.
One more summit for Derek and I
What a great day out on my favorite mountain with my son, one of my favorite partners, and now a new friend. We were back home by 1 p.m. Our perfect day was marred by passing a horrible accident during the Boulder Ironman Triathlon. A woman got hit by a car during the bike leg and was killed. We passed by well after the accident, but the clean-up crew we saw didn't bode well. I didn't find out what had happened until a few hours later. Tragic. With all the cones out there and so many bikers, how does that happen?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Skyline Traverse...One Last Time




The Skyline Traverse isn't really a big adventure, but it is another step in Derek's transformation into a complete outdoor athlete. Last weekend he did his first ultra, sort of. It was 30 miles of travel and over 15,000 feet of climbing, but broken up with rather long stays in our "aid stations". Still, all those miles and vertical were mostly above 12,000 feet, making it considerably harder than it sounds at first. We did climb ten fourteeners...that makes it sound as hard as it actually was.

Anyway, we first did the Skyline Traverse as sort of a consolation training day, though it proved plenty challenging when we started with about ten inches of fresh snow. I originally predicted it would take us six hours. We made it, barely, but the snow made it a lot tougher.

After Denali I gave it a try and it was just too hot. I cramped up badly - everything from my feet to my quads and hamstrings. I barely limped down off the Red Rocks and called it quits. A month ago I tried again, in ideal, cool weather conditions. I ran much better and finished in 4h06m. That was just too close to four hours to leave it. So today I went out with Homie and Derek to see if I could break four hours.

I was going to track the run on my watch, which has a great feature where I can race a previous track. I was focused on this goal and would try to stay on it, regardless of my partners. I encouraged both Derek and Homie to run at their own pace as well.

We started at the South Mesa Trailhead and stayed right together going up Shadow Canyon. We met a young guy in the parking lot doing the same thing. He has just done the Leadville Marathon and was training for a 50K. We'd catch him in Shadow Canyon, but he was moving along and we stayed together until he stopped to take a photo.

At the saddle Homie dropped the hammer and took off toward the summit. We'd see him as he descended past us but then not again until we were climbing up Sanitas and he was just about done.

I gapped Derek just a bit at the top, maybe by 20 seconds, but he closed up on the descent and we stayed together over to Bear Peak and then all the way down Bear's West Ridge to the start of the Green Bear Trail. We were up 3 minutes at the summit of SBP, but gained nothing over to Bear and lost a bit on the top of the descent. Throughout the run I found that I was climbing (which means hiking, mostly), a bit faster than last time, but descending no faster and I had to push the pace to keep up with my previous effort.

We ran all the way up Green Bear and then power hiked to the summit of Green. I gapped Derek again, this time by maybe 40 seconds. He shut down that gap remarkably fast and came up on me at double my speed. He said he needed to go by and I gave him track and he was gone. I had been having some stomach issues and had to stop behind a bush, losing a minute. I had worked hard to be up 4.5 minutes at the summit of Green, but I was now back to be up only 3.5 minutes.

I tried to run smoothly and quickly, but I was already getting a bit stiff legged. I worked hard going up Flagstaff, hoping to catch a glimpse of Derek and hoping Derek knew where to go. He's still pretty new to these trails. Just as I topped out Flagstaff I caught a glimpse of Derek running down, across the trail-less field. When I got down to the Amphitheater Road I spotted Derek running down the road to the left. I yelled at him to get back on the trail. He cut across the woods and met me a little ways down the trail.

Derek led the way down to the Flagstaff Road crossing with me yelling out directions at each junction. I took over the lead here when Derek walked the tiny uphill over to the trail on the other side. We followed right behind me down to Eben G. Fine park, where we arrived 5m25s up on my previous time. We stopped here to get some extra water for our Camelbacks and to cool off. We left there only 4m55s up. It was going to be close...

We power hiked up the hogsback and then scrambled to the summit of Red Rocks. Derek was just a tiny bit behind me on the climb. We descended together and hit the concrete bridge at the base of Sanitas at 3h12m into the run. Last time I had done the roundtrip in 48 minutes. I just needed to go one minute faster.

Almost immediately I gapped Derek and after ten minutes was out of sight of him. The trail was super crowded with a couple of big groups of kids, though they didn't really slow me down much. I was working hard, breathing hard, sweating profusely, hurting greatly. I was trying to get enough ahead so that I didn't have to come down any faster than last time. I got up 6 minutes and then 6m20s and then it bounced back and forth from 6m40s to 6m20s. I couldn't gain any more. I'd have to come down faster. Halfway up Homie came running down. He looked great. I told him I was only 6 minutes up and it was going to be close.

I topped out at 3h40m and immediately started to descend. I just needed to come down in 19 minutes. Last time I came down in 18 minutes. I passed Derek about 35 seconds down from the summit, so I figured I was up about 80-90 seconds on him. He was hurting bad and just shook his head at me, as if to say, "I can't make it." I told him, "You have it. Definitely."

I tried to move along on the descent, but I was hurting big time and my normally limited agility was now severely limited. The casual observer would think I had no agility whatsoever. I hobbled down as fast as I could, mindful not to trip and fall or cramp up. Despite this, when trying to pass a woman at a tricky slabby section, my right calf locked up in a painful cramp. She had stepped to the side and wondered why I wasn't going by. I was painfully waiting for the cramp to release, trying to pull back my foot. It was only ten seconds and I was moving again.

Further down, maybe two third of the way down, Derek comes blasting up behind me at warp speed. Cool. He was moving so fast that I thought he was just going to yell, "Track! Get out of the way, old man! I feel great!" Instead he said, "I'm SO tired!" A short bit further down, I caught a toe and sprawled to the ground with my right calf locking up badly. I bashed my knee on the ground and blood ran down my leg. I was groaning in serious pain and asked Derek to pull back my foot. He tried once, twice, and stopped, thinking it was done. My groans and pleas told him otherwise. He pushed hard and got my foot back and the cramp released. He pulled me to my feet and took off. I did as well, albeit at a much slower pace. My knee hobbled me for a bit, but then loosened up. I was fearful of any sudden movement that might force another cramp upon me. I looked at my watch. I knew I had it if I could keep moving.

As I neared the finish I could hear Homie and Derek yell up some encouragement. I hit the concrete bridge at 3h56m58s. Yeah! Derek finished in 3h55m and change. Homie in 3h38m. Sweet. We all made it. I was sure glad to stop running. I checked my watch and saw a text message from Sheri. She was parked just down the street and two minutes later we joined her.

It is probably silly to most people to try to break an arbitrary 4-hour time, but to all of my close friends they understand completely. Derek does too. I was incredibly impressed with Derek's effort here. He doesn't run long. Never really has before. Last weekend was all hiking. The sky is the limit for that kid.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

10-4: Climbing Ten Fourteeners in One Day

On top of Mt. Evans - our 10th 14er of the day - at 8:35 p.m.



"Eight 14ers?! Is that even possible?" That's what a woman asked me as I descended off Grays and Torreys yesterday afternoon. It's not a silly question, at least for people that aren't very familiar with all of Colorado's 53+ fourteeners.

I first thought of doing this more than ten years ago. I tried back then to do it solo. I failed. Badly. I added in a 13er (Sheridan)?! I went too fast, bonked, and quit after the first six. I shelved the idea, but when good friend Homie tried for the 14er record (he got 41 14ers in 7 days) and Andrew Hamilton, another friend, did all 58 in under ten days, I revived the idea. I wanted to experience what a single day was like for these Ultra-14er masters.

To climb ten 14ers in a single day, I'd need to make some concessions. First, I didn't abide by the arbitrary 3000-foot rule that all 14er record attempts use. I started each 14er from an established trailhead and in all but one case, the most popular trailhead. Secondly, Cameron is not a true 14er, as it doesn't meet the distance/drop criteria to be a separate mountain. Nevertheless, it is a named 14er and included in all the speed record link-ups.

I don't know of anyone doing ten 14ers in a day before. This is somewhat surprising, but, as with most of my adventures, it was probably deemed not worthy or too silly or too contrived. Hundreds, if not thousands, of just Colorado climbers could do this link-up faster than I could. I'm far from elite and only mention this as a curiosity item and to see if any of my tens of readers can enlighten me on other multi-14er days.

Update: Eric Lee informed me that he did these same ten mountains a few years ago, observing the 3000-foot rule, in 19 hours. Super impressive!

So, what are the ten 14ers? Sherman, Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, Quandary, Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, and Evans. These are also the closest 14ers to my house. A few years ago I thought about going for the 10-4 and recruited good friend Mark Oveson - a top-30 Hard Rock finisher. When I mentioned it to Homie he immediately said, "Oh, you have to finish with Longs!" Ugh. I had run the numbers and just doing the ten was going to take more than 24 hours. That would be too much for me. The project withered and we didn't attempt it.

Fast forward to this summer and I was looking for a follow-up to our Denali climb, which had been completely occupying my attention for the first half of the year. I needed another challenge. When I mentioned this idea to my 18-year-old son Derek, he was immediately in. He's fit and had climbed all these peaks before, but he'd never done a day like this. His biggest day was just a few weeks ago when he did the Ten Mile Traverse (15 miles, 8000 vertical feet). The 10-4 would be 30 miles and 15,500 vertical feet, almost all of that above 12,000 feet, and take twice as long. It would be a rather audacious jump.
Derek on top of Mt. Sherman at 1:20 a.m.

While those numbers are pedestrian to a number of my friends, they are not for Derek and I. This adventure was about challenging my limits, not anyone else's. I have no illusions about where I stand. Finishing this was in doubt and that's what made it an adventure. Most of my friends would never ask, "Why?" -- they understand completely. But when others ask that question my answer is, "To find out if I can do that or not?" I want to find my limits. 

In preparation, Derek and I climbed many of the peaks again. Derek did eight of them, mostly with other friends, but we recced the Sawtooth Traverse, at third-class the most technical part of the day, together. I did all ten, including a repeat of the first six. This second time I made some improvements: just doing 14ers, going slower, and did a new, shorter route on Quandary. It took me ten hours to do these six. I was tired, but not wasted. I also did a speed link-up of Torreys (via Kelso Ridge) and Grays with Homie in 2h11m. We were ready.

I recruited Homie for this also, but his participation was in doubt until just a few days before. Having Homie along is cheating, somewhat. He wouldn't be able to carry me (well, he probably could do that), but he's so experienced at this stuff and would keep us on track and take care of us. Sheri was excited to be our support person and the four of us left town Friday afternoon.

We drove to the high trailhead (12,000 feet) on the Mt. Sherman road. Derek, Homie, and I laid down our bags under the spectacular Milky Way and Sheri nestled in the back of the truck. Our start time was chosen so that we'd hit the Sawtooth in the daylight. We set the alarm for midnight and struggled to get a couple of fitful hours of sleep.

When the alarm went off we packed up our gear, tossed it in atop Sheri, wolfed down a bit of food and drink, and were hiking by 12:15 a.m. It was a bit chilly, as there was a breeze, but Sherman went nicely in just under two hours. We jogged very sparingly on the way down (only when the path was smooth and not very steep), yet as I would get gapped by Derek walking down the same stretches... Sheri was up when we got back and we were soon driving towards Kite Lake and Decalibron. 

I drove the 4WD sections, as Sheri is a more cautious (read: slower) driver. Hence, I took the wheel from Sherman to Kite Lake. We arrived there before 3 a.m. and found other climbers readying themselves for the ascent. We re-stocked our tiny packs and hit the trail just ahead of a large group. Homie led the way up Democrat and soon distanced himself from me. I could have kept up with his pace, but I didn't think it was prudent to go that fast. I failed before by trying to go faster than I could sustain. I let the gap open. Derek was right on my heels. And I mean right on my heels. He hikes closer behind me than anyone I've ever hiked with, clipping my heels every once in a while. I asked if he wanted to go by and he said, "Nope." 

We topped out Democrat and were back at the saddle just as the large group was arriving. We said good morning and immediately started up Cameron. It was very windy now and quite cold. Even Homie had to pull on his shell. Democrat had taken us 1h11m and we were on top of Cameron 43 minutes later and Lincoln just 14 minutes after that. It was just starting to get light now and we did a tiny bit of trotting on the descent to the saddle. On top of Bross we met a guy with a Labrador. Our arrival frightened the dog who proceeded to bark aggressively at us, all the while wagging her tail furiously. Labs...

Derek led the descent and he and Homie got well out in front of me. I had scheduled four hours for these peaks and we were well ahead of pace. The descent is loose and rocky. Once again, I was cautious and took my time. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h25m. Sheri had got a bit more sleep while we climbed, but was up and re-organizing the back of the truck. I took the wheel just to get us back to town and then Sheri took over the driving.

After every climbing leg we'd dig into the cooler to retrieve food. We did most of our eating on the drives between the climbs. In fact, Derek never ate while hiking up our peaks. I carried food while hiking and did eat some of it, but a small percentage of our total calories.
Derek climbing up the very steep slopes on the south face of Quandary, with Blue Lake in the background.
Sheri drove us to the Blue Lakes Trailhead below the very steep south face of Quandary. Here we found a large group of mountain goats, including some young kids. One of the goats was sitting atop an SUV! They seemed to be very interested in the undersides of the vehicles. I know that rodents (porcupine in particular) like to chew on the cables of a car, but I don't know what held the goats' fascination. These goats would keep Sheri company while we ascended Quandary.

We climbed up just to the west of the Cristo Couloir - a popular snow climb and ski descent in the spring. This route gains 2400 feet in just over a mile. Homie powered up this route in just 1h25m, but Derek was feeling the angle and, in his words, "got his butt kicked." I stayed with Derek (I couldn't have gone with Homie) and we steadily made progress. This route is actually pretty cool and ends directly on the summit. The descent must be taken carefully as the angle is great and loose rock abounds.
Homie on top of Quandary
Six down and four to go. We were off to Grays and Torreys via a Starbucks run in Frisco. Driving up the 3-mile 4WD road to the trailhead was going to the the crux driving of the day. We figured most people would be driving out when we wanted to drive in. Luckily we got there a bit earlier than expected and not many cars were coming out. Still, we had to back-up a couple of times to let people pass. This road was jam packed with cars so that it was a one-lane road for most of its distance. We powered up to the lot and found an open parking spot, as expected.

Sheri was joining us on this hike and the four of us left the trailhead ten minutes before noon. Derek and I were hoping people would say, "Late start, don't you think?" like they did to us on North Maroon the weekend before. We were all ready with our reply: "Actually, no, we started at midnight!" We wanted to tell people that these were going to be our seventh and eighth fourteeners of the day. Alas, no one mentioned our late start...

Homie hiked with us for a bit and then turned on the jets. He disappeared so fast that I thought he might be off-trail using the Little 14er Bagger's room. We couldn't even see him on the trail above us and we could see for a long way. I had scheduled four hours for this pair and broke it down, roughly, to two hours to get up Grays, 45 minutes to get over to Torreys and back down to the saddle, and then 1h15m to get back to the car. 
Selfie on top of Torreys Peak - with my alter egos on my shoulders.
Derek, Sheri, and I topped out Grays in 1h50m. We found Homie taking a nap just off the summit. He'd done the ascent in 1h25m. As expected, this link-up wasn't a big challenge for him. He'd done SEVEN days of this on his record attempt. I crewed for the first half of that and knew I wanted no business with suffering at that level. Yet, I did want to understand it better and that was a part of this adventure.

Derek and I rolled over the summit, picking up Homie, and dropping off Sheri. She'd descend back to the car instead of joining us for Torreys, as she wasn't sure she could keep up and didn't want us waiting on her. She needn't have worried for she got down in just 1h15m and would have easily kept up with Derek and me. 

Going up Torrey's, and even Gray's, people would encourage us: "You're doing great!" "Almost there." "You can do it." Homie commented: "we must look really tired!" Derek responded: "At least two of us do!" I'm sure I did. My head was down, concentrating on my footing and trying to maintain constant motion, which we did, for the most part, all day. We didn't really hike very fast, but we never stopped. The exceptions were some small stops going up Quandary and some called for breaks on the traverse to Mt. Evans.

We didn't run at all on the descent, as I figured that was just a recipe for me to trip, fall, and injury myself. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h45m. The drive back down the 4WD road was very slow as we got behind some cars from Nebraska with low clearance and...it took some time. At I-70 Sheri took over again and we all wolfed down some food. Only two to go.

We arrived at Guanella Pass at 4:45 p.m. and found the Alpine Rescue Team there. A hiker had dislocated his knee and he was coming down in a litter. We started at 4:56 p.m. Our plan was to ascend Bierstadt, hopefully in two hours, and then do the Sawtooth Traverse over to Evans. I originally gave us five hours for this section, assuming we'd be moving pretty slow. We told Sheri to expect us between 9 and 10 p.m. 

Right at the start, Homie and Derek were climbing strong and gapped me. I felt I was moving pretty well, though tired and winded, but they were stronger. Watching those two power up the trail ahead of me I figured I was looking at the future. I'd soon be joining Sheri in a support role for Derek and Homie's ever ridiculous adventures. I still have some things to teach Derek, but he's going to be the stronger partner.

A thousand feet up Derek and Homie slowed a bit and I caught up. I fell in behind Derek, just watching his feet, and Homie took up the rear, in case I needed a push. We stayed in that formation all the way to the summit, arriving in 1h45m. I was happy with that ascent time and glad to have banked an additional 15 minutes of daylight. I forgot my headlamp for this section, but Derek has his and Homie had two lights. We all wanted to finish in the light, but weren't counting on it.
Derek and Homie on the Sawtooth Traverse, with Bierstadt in the background
Homie had recently set the course record on Strava for the Sawtooth, so he started off leading...until he got us off route. That isn't true, but I did take over the lead to show Homie the way that Derek and I went. Each time we had to go up hill, Derek and I were practically crawling, making heavy use of our hands. I called for a 5-minute break, the first of the day, when we got to the low point on the traverse. I was extremely tired. Derek and Homie traded off leading the rest of the traverse and we gained the shoulder of Evans about an hour after leaving Bierstadt's summit.
Bighorn sheep on the Mt. Evans plateau
As we traversed the rocky tundra to the Mt. Evans trail we went within 30 or 40 feet of a herd of bighorn sheep. Derek and I wouldn't have even seen them if it wasn't for Homie pointing them out. We had our heads bowed to the task, watching our feet, trying not to trip, trying to keep moving. The traverse to Evans is long and tedious and I led a lot of this, mainly so that I wouldn't get dropped. After any particularly steep section I had to call for a 30-second rest. I took a number of these and my partners never complained and in fact encouraged them. 

Homie wasn't in the least bit stressed, but never raced ahead even as the light faded on us. He could have made the summit with lots of daylight to spare and waited for us in the summit parking lot, where Sheri was waiting to pick us up. Yet, he didn't. He stayed behind me and never asked me to move faster, never complained about my snail's pace. In fact, he spoke of how happy he was that he'd been able to join us for this big day. I'm a very lucky guy to have people like Homie willing to take me on as a partner for big days. It's a bit tough on me to be the slowest guy, the anchor, but it doesn't seem to bother Homie in the least.

Just before the summit we met a girl, Emily, who had driven up to watch the sunset. She followed us to the summit and took our photo. We descended to the parking lot where we were so grateful to find Sheri and not have to descend back to Guanella Pass. I'd have never made it. This was the key support role - this pickup at 14,000 feet. Sheri had been our ace-in-the-hole. She made this linkup possible for us and we were all very appreciative. She then drove us home while Derek slept, I dozed, and Homie remained alert.

It feels great to accomplish difficult goals and I'm proud that we completed this, but the most amazing thing to me was Derek's performance. He's rock solid. In his first ultra-type adventure, he was stronger than I was, with vastly more experience. He can suffer and he can just go and go and go and never whine, never complain, never be anything but a solid, calm, supportive partner. I'm super proud of him and feel very lucky to have him as my partner...and my son. Homie felt the same way about Derek and I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to join Derek on a big adventure or even invite him along. Derek's the real deal and I'll be watching his future adventures with great joy and hopefully, for awhile still, be a part of it.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Roughed Up By The Bells




Derek has a desire to climb all Colorado's 14ers. That's not surprising, since he likes bagging peaks and his parents have done them all. We got Derek started pretty early (he climbed Huron when he was 6 and Longs when he was 10), but he generally didn't get going on them until later when he and his brother got bit by the summit bug and were focused enough to hike for many hours. Derek's been doing a lot of repeats lately, with his cousins, because he loves being with them and he loves climbing mountains, even if he's climbed them before.

For the more difficult mountains, he still likes to have me long. With Sheri out in California visiting Danny for the weekend, we decided to head to Aspen and get some of the Elk Range 14ers. Derek did Castle and Conundrum many years ago and we did Maroon Peak this winter. We were hoping to get at least two over the weekend.

We drove out Friday night, right to the Maroon Lake parking lot and threw down our bags right there in the parking lot, along with quite a few others. One guy had his radio cranked up to some talk show. Strange. The parking lot had a lot of activity starting ridiculously early. I remember checking my watch well after the first people left and it read 4 a.m. Our alarm was set for 4:45 and I ignored it until after 5 a.m. and then I got up and ate some breakfast and readied my pack. Knowing how fast Derek can move, I waited to roust him. 
Headed towards that notch in the ridge
We didn't leave the lot until nearly 6 a.m. That's ridiculous, especially because we were hoping to climb both Bells and Pyramid. A guy walked by our car at 5:40 a.m. and asked what we were doing I told him our plans and he responded very enthusiastically, "Wow, the Three Pack in one day would be impressive." I shot back, "I'm hoping the afternoon weather will give us a good excuse to quit."

We caught this guy and his party of four just about 50 minutes into our hike. Turns out he was headed for Pyramid as well. My original plan was to go up the regular route on Maroon Peak (as I had not done that route before) and then do the traverse to North Maroon. We would then go up Pyramid if the weather looked good. I told my plan to Homie and he told me to go up Pyramid first, then down the West Face so I could save some vert on my way to Maroon Peak. I adopted his plan because, well, he's the 14er expert. I'd regret this later. 
I'd only climbed Pyramid once before, with Sheri. We had done a traverse of the peak then, going up the rarely climbed Northwest Ridge and down the standard Northeast Ridge. I didn't remember that much of it, except that Sheri was a bit afraid, but that we done it unroped. Derek and I didn't take any ropes or helmets with us, as our proposed plan should have kept us away from the masses.

Anyway, We caught the guy, who was from Carbondale and he wished us luck on the link-up. Then he picked up his pace and got on our tail. After ten minutes or so he moved in front of me. One of his partners was pretty close, behind Derek and I, and they continued to chat. He was clearly very fit, as I was moving too fast to have much of a conversation. I'll admit that I picked up my pace as well, when he went by, to keep up with him. This guy's other partners were spread out behind us. It was all good. Maybe they weren't accustomed to being caught by an old guy and a kid...

Our paths diverged shortly thereafter when they headed for the regular route. Derek and I struggled to get secure traction as we inched up the loose slope towards the Northwest Ridge. I didn't see any sign of a trail or any cairns here. We followed one goat path to a mini-ridge and traversed across steep, loose rock to gain the ridge proper. 
Derek contemplating the final scrambling section
Once on the ridge we did find a faint climber's track and cairns. We followed these to just below the summit before they seemed to disappear. The going up to that point was loose at times, but mostly okay. We traversed steeps slope of loose rock and scrambled up loose gullies. Some of the gullies we could climb solid rock on the sides. Near the top, we just followed our noses, traversing a narrow ledge far to the right and then up a steep, but pretty solid wall to a very exposed ridge on the west. We scrambled up this solid ridge and popped out on the summit! 

We stayed 20 minutes on top, taking in the views, eating and drinking. We only brought two 20-ounce bottles with us, but we brought a squeeze filtration system that we planned to use before heading up the Bells. We left shortly after the other team hit the summit. I didn't recognize them, as they had donned an extra layer and helmets and the lone female in their group was now leading them. 
On the summit of Pyramid
We said hi and goodbye and reversed our route back down to where we hit the Northwest Ridge on our ascent. We then took a hard left, to the west, and started down a steep, miserable looking slope. This descent, back to the trail, would take us longer than the ascent had taken us. It started off okay, but then we made the mistake of getting onto the south side of the prominent gully and got into horrible bushwhacking where we couldn't even see our feet. Then we descended a slippery little creek to avoid the worst of the bushwhacking, but this was worse. Further down we hit a slope of sizable talus, all of which moved dangerously with each step. It was painstaking, tiring, tedious, injury-prone going. It ended with a series of streams crossings.
This is the West Face of Pyramid...not recommended!
By the time we hit the trail on the other side, we were drained. It was hot and there were tons of flies buzzing around everything. We took a rest on a rock despite the constant annoyance of the pestering insects. I asked Derek if he still wanted to head up Maroon Peak. It was noon and I was worried about afternoon storms. Maroon Peak wasn't really a goal at all, since we'd already climbed it, though we did want to do the traverse. We decided to head down valley and then decide if we even had the energy to do North Maroon.
Descending the West Face of Pyramid
When we got to the junction, I wondered what Derek would decide. It didn't matter much to me, as I had done all these peaks. If we didn't do the Bells on Saturday, we'd just come back on Sunday and do the traverse. Derek pointed uphill and we made the turn and slowly started gaining elevation again.
This was our route...not a good choice
A thousand feet higher we crossed a creek when we turned off the main Maroon-Snowmass trail and headed for the Bells. We stopped to squeeze out two fresh bottles of water for both of us. Further up, we encountered parties descending. Each one would be a bit surprised that we were headed up. Being a smart ass, I asked each one, "Are we almost there?" One guy responded, "No. In fact, you have two hours and 45 minutes before you'll top out." I just said okay, but was surprised that he was so confident in predicting our ascent time to such accuracy. 
Even the stream crossings were challenging.
Throughout the day, I was teaching Derek how to memorize the 112 named-elements (there are 118 elements that have been discovered or synthesized and the first 112 have official names. Most of the rest have temporary names, though 114 and 116 now have official names as well). I learned how to do this on my Pawnee-Buchanan hike the previous weekend with Sheri. I had previously learned all the U.S. Presidents, mostly from Derek, and he re-taught me these as well. So, it wasn't just about the climbing. It was also about memorizing nearly useless information. Fun stuff!
Happy to be back on a trail, on the ascent of North Maroon.
We were fading a bit as we entered the first gully, but kept plugging away. We changed leader every 500 vertical feet. We switched over to the second gully and then hit the summit ridge. We soloed confidently through the crux headwall and I found a better way out left on the ridge. Better, at least, for soloists.

We weren't on the summit for five minutes when I heard voices. This was surprising, as I thought we were the last on the mountain. I stood up and looked down to the north and saw two people climbing up. It was a father/daughter team. They had just finished the traverse from Maroon Peak. They had taken three hours to do it, but they did it safely and without a rope. I was impressed. They didn't know the way down North Maroon, but followed us until we got too far ahead. I wasn't worried about them, as they had proven that they can do more difficult route finding already.
Traversing from the first gully into the second gully high on North Maroon.
We descended slowly and carefully, knowing how tired we were. When we got to the top of the descent gully Derek didn't like the looks of it and convinced me it wasn't the right gully. I admit that there wasn't much clear sign of a trail below. We continued down the ridge proper and I got confused at the next gully, for I didn't see the point where we'd cross from one gully to the next. I didn't know it at the time, but we were looking down the first gully (first on the way up). 

As we picked our way down the final section of the ridge to get into the top of the gully, I heard a loud crashing sound behind me, immediately followed by a cry of danger from Derek. I know that sound. It was the sound of rocks big enough to severely injury me, if not kill me, tumbling towards me. On this angle, I had to move immediately. I dashed hard left, hoping to escape the path of the projectile. Of course, running sideways on the extremely loose terrain that we had been painstakingly down climbing was about as successful as you'd imagine. I dislodged other rocks, one went out below my foot. A large rock hit me in the back and then another hit my foot, but the one that elicited a sharp cry of pain was the one that crashed down directly on my left thumb while it grasped another rock. I stumbled down to another ledge, amazingly staying upright and not tumbling. I fell back into the slope and grabbed my thumb. I thought for sure it was broken. The pain was intense and I rocked back and forth, blowing tremendous amounts of air through my pursed lips trying to endure the pain, waiting for it to subside and trying to recover my heart rate from that incredible spike of stress and effort. 
You've got to be kidding!
Derek did not descend to me for quite some time. I don't know what was going through his mind. Maybe fear of dislodging something else. Maybe fear of seeing whatever injuries I had up close. He eventually joined me, retrieved my water bottle, which had been in my left hand, and helped me pull a glove onto my hand to protect it. My thumb wouldn't be useful to me the rest of the descent and as I write this the next day all it can do is occasionally hit the space bar. It's stiff and swollen, but I don't think it is broken.
Happy to atop our second 14er. Pyramid is in the background.
We continued down after maybe ten minutes. Derek didn't say anything. Didn't ask me anything. I knew he must be feeling bad about dislodging the rock. I told him not to beat himself up over it. It was the first time he'd done something like that. With all the climbing we'd been doing, it was bound to happen at some point. It happens to everyone. It got me thinking about all the times rockfall has come down on me, many times by my partners, all of whom are very safe climbers, safer than I am.

On one of my early climbers with the Loobster, while descending from the Arrowhead Arete in Yosemite Valley, I was creeping down to the rappel anchors at the top of a 150-foot cliff. Just as I got there, the Loobster dislodged a huge rock that would have swept me off the edge. Backed up to the edge I had no where to go. Instinctively I jumped up and over it. When I landed back down on the ledge I slapped my hand on the rock in front of me and the Loobster immediately grabbed my wrist like it was caught in a vise. A year later, while climbing the DNB with the Loobster a basketball-sized rock exploded on the wall twenty feet from our heads.
Descending down the ridge further than we should have.
When my partner Tom was descending off Spearhead he dislodged a similar sized-rock that Derek did. In my scramble to escape that rock I sliced open my hand and we had to end our day early and head to the hospital for stitches. 

Descending off of Mt. Sill with Loobster, Sheri, and her friend Katy, a neophyte, she dislodged a giant rock that almost crushed me. 

I once soloed the Dana Couloir on Mt. Dana, in Yosemite, while Sheri hiked the trail to the summit. We got a late start and I was in the couloir climbing dinner-plating 50-degree ice when I heard a horrible sound above me. I looked up to see a boulder the size of a car coming directly for me. Previously I had been carefully swinging my axes, making sure I had a solid placement, since I was without a partner or a belay. One sight of that rock had me nearly running sideways on the ice to avoid being crushed. 

Rappelling a gully in the Grand Canyon, I adjusted my rappel line and dislodged a refrigerator-sized block right above me. Fixed to the rope with my rappel device my options were limited. I barely was able to jump out of the way. 

Just last year, while approaching the Diamond I got beamed in the head with a small rock and then a microwave-sized rock landed ten yards to my right. We bailed. 

Is my number coming up? Or have I proved that rockfall can't kill me? Mountains are dangerous and if you do this long enough...
Injured mountain goat.
We got down the gully and then back across the talus field. Here we found a lame mountain goat. It was moving around on just three legs. It's back right leg or hoof was injured and it could not weight it. I was saddened that our approach had frightened the goat enough to move up the hill, albeit not far.  It limped and hopped up the slow to put some distance between us. I wondered if it had been hit with rockfall, like me. I was hobbled as well. I'd be fine, but what were the survival chances of this goat? With any real predators around, the chances would be zero, but what predators do they have up this high? I hoped it would heal before winter...

Derek squeezed a bottle of fresh water for each of us at the creek crossing and we continued down to the parking lot. At Maroon Lake there was a small crowd of hikers watching a young bull moose at lake's edge. We stopped to take a couple of bad photos.

Back at the car, Derek was as tired as I was, but wanted to go for Capitol the next day. I didn't and begged off. He immediately supported my decision and drove the entire way home (with a stop at Qdoba's for some sustenance). I wondered if I was being a wimp, but I think this was probably a good call as my back was limiting my mobility the next day and my thumb wasn't functional. I need to heal fast though. Next weekend we have big plans...