Saturday, September 16, 2017

Pikes Peak Cycling Ascent


Colorado has some awesome high-mountain road climbs. For as long as I’ve been in Colorado the canonical high-mountain climb has been Mt. Evans. There is a race up it every year and it’s a huge climb at 28 miles and 7000 vertical feet. Loveland Pass is another brutal climb if you start it in Idaho Springs, but still not the vertical gain of Evans. Plus, if you do Evans, you can hike 200 more vertical feet to the summit and get a 14er. A number of years ago Guanella Pass got paved and it is now an absolutely gorgeous (and difficult) climb. The other iconic 14er in Colorado with a road up it is Pikes Peak. But wasn’t an option for bikers until recently. It was a dirt road and bikes weren’t even allowed. The whole road got paved in 2011 but even then it wasn’t open to bikers until the Colorado Bikers Alliance (or something like that) got the road opened to cycling, though each cyclist has to pay $15 to ride it. I think the city of Colorado Springs owns the road so no federal parks pass gets you in.
Starting out from Manitou Springs - the only time it wasn't too windy to take photos
Pikes Peak is now the biggest climb in Colorado. If you start from Manitou Springs, at the roundabout, the climb is nearly 8000 feet - about 1000 feet bigger than Mt. Evans - and it even finishes higher since you can bike directly to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak, but have to stop, as I mentioned above, 200 feet or so lower than the summit on Evans. And the road up Pikes is shorter…which makes it quite a bit steeper than Evans. Both climbs are brutal in high winds, but the road surface on Pikes, being a lot newer, is way better. It doesn’t make a huge difference going up, but while Pikes Peak is a dream to come down, Evans is hell, as it is so bumpy.

Anyway, when I asked Buzz for Ultimate Direction schwag for the Rattlesnake Ramble he told me, “I have new policy. I don’t give out gear unless you do an adventure with me. Since he has been hobbled a bit recovering from a hamstring tear, this meant biking. This was a huge win for me because there few activities where I can keep up with Buzz, but biking is one of them. Bill Briggs suggested Pikes Peak since none of us had done it and Buzz drove us down there early Saturday morning. We debated whether to skip the unpleasant riding along highway 24 but, in the end, decided we needed to do the Full Monty and started at the roundabout in Manitou Springs. Buzz and I just had biking shells and leggings, but Bill carried a small pack with extra clothes for the descent. This turned out to be a great idea.

We were riding by 6:45 a.m. and Buzz set a pretty fast pace from the start, faster than I would have gone, but I didn’t want to lag early. I hadn’t done but one real ride all year - a 70-miler at the Be Strong charity ride a month ago and I think Buzz doubted my ability to either make the top or keep up. I’d done hard climbs off the couch before, but by myself. Keeping up with these two endurance athletes would be a chore, but I figured I could drop off on the upper half and just try not to be too much of an anchor. Buzz pulled over after a mile and then I pulled a mile and then Bill did and that was it for highway 24. Not too bad.
Buzz Burrell
We rode another steep mile and then came to the gate for the Pikes Peak Highway and there was a queue of cars. The road doesn’t open until 7:30 a.m. and we had to stand around waiting for almost 20 minutes. Also, it cost $15 per cyclist to go up this road. More than we expected, but still a pretty cheap adventure. Once through the gate we were all surprised at how steep and sustained the road was. I was riding a compact crank with a 26 in back and had to stand what seemed like half the climb. Buzz had a 28 and it allowed him to spin a bit more. I move on ahead not by choice but by necessity - not low enough gear to sit down. It was windy already, even though we were still well below tree line. It was going to get a lot worse. 

There is a shop and outhouses at the some reservoir about 10 or miles up the climb. Bill and I stopped here, mainly because Buzz said he was going to stop here. But then he rode right past us. Bill dug out some food and I went to the bathroom and then we gave chase. A mile up the road we Buzz at a porto-potty and he said, “Keep going, I’ll catch up.” And he did. When Bill and I stopped at the next “aid station” - a gift shop/coffee shop about 8 miles from the summit. It wasn’t yet open so we sat by the ranger station in the middle of the road. We were leaning up against it, hoping to get out of the wind, but to no avail. At least we were in the sun. My feet were already frozen and I pulled off my socks and warmed them with my hands. When the store opened we went inside and soaked up the glorious warmth. Bill said, “We better not stay in here very long.” And we didn’t because we spotted Buzz riding up the road. We scurried outside and called to him and, once again, he didn’t pause but rode on by. Bill ran to fill his water bottle and in a few minutes we were chasing Buzz.

We were all wearing shells at this point and I had all my clothes on…with still nearly 8 miles of climbing to go. Was I worried about freezing on the descent? Yes.

The riding up to here had been very tough: steep and very windy, but now it got really ridiculous. Our speed on the steep sections, into the wind, was maybe 4 mph. It was demoralizing. When I caught Buzz he said, “I underestimated this climb. You never ride the ‘average grade’. 10% grade into a 30 mph wind. I’m at my limit and just grinding it out.” I felt the same way and inched on by because I didn’t have a lower gear. Bill had a similar gearing issue and also moved by Buzz. We’d remain in that order and strung out all the way to the summit. Each one of us suffering at our limit and quickly getting colder and colder. Near the top one of my fingers was completely wooden and I was worried about damage. I stopped and put both hands down the front of my bibs to warm them on my belly. I was a pitiful sight, bent over at the waist, hands down my pants, shivering. I got some feeling back but it was obvious things wouldn’t get much better until I got to shelter. I got back on my back.
Bill Briggs
On one of the steepest sections near the top I was headed directly into the wind and just barely moving. Ahead the road went the same direction for too long, but there was a turn up ahead and I knew I just needed to get to the turn. I wouldn’t be out of the wind and I wouldn’t have a tailwind, but any change of direction was going to be a big boost. That was the way for most of this climb. It got to be where you just loved a strong crosswind, only because it wasn’t a headwind. When I got to the summit I was frozen. I leaned my bike against the summit gift shop/snack shop, went inside, and plopped down in the nearest booth. I took off my gloves and shoes, put my head on the table and braced myself for the soon-to-be-arriving screaming barfies. I was shaking so badly that my leg, braced against the table shook the entire table.

In less than ten minutes Bill arrived and in another ten Buzz. My hands and feet a quite sensitive to the cold and I wondered if the other two would just be wasted from the effort and not greatly affected by the cold. The first thing both said was, “I’m freezing.” Bill went to get us a couple of hot cocoas and a couple of donuts, though both donuts were for me. Bill started talking almost immediately about taking the train down or jumping in one of the vans they use to ferry downhill riders to the summit. He probably was more concerned about me, but both Buzz and I were convinced we’d be okay, once we warmed up. We knew there was a warm shop 8 miles down and we’d stop there to warm up. After thirty minutes of warming, we started down.

In just a couple of miles we spotted a big group of riders who had no doubt paid good money to be driven to the top of Pikes Peak so that they could ride down, stopping to get into the van. I heard one women say, “I can’t feel my hands.” I knew that pain. On the way up I tried to ball up my hands to keep them warm, but then I couldn’t grip my handlebars and I was in grave danger of being blow over by the wind. I couldn’t ball up them. Just a bit further down the winds eased slightly and we got most sun. We caught up to a long line of cars and fell in line, not wanting to be weaving around cars in such strong winds. By the time we got down to the store my hands were very cold again, but nothing else was cold. Buzz and I went into the shop to warm up a bit but Bill was there just a minute later. We took 5 minutes though to let my hands warm up.


The rest of the descent went smooth and fast, though the winds remained strong. Down in the trees again, things were better of course. The run down highway 24 was stressful, but we could maintain a speed of nearly 40 mph and it was over quick. We cruised back to the car, arriving 5h57m after we left. I hit the at 4m02m, including the 20 minute wait at the gate and all stops. It was a rough four hours. At the summit Buzz called the hardest ride of his life, after 25 miles. This is a guy who had ridden the 100-mile White Rim Trail in day, unsupported many times. Lots of Type-2 fun on this ride. Some Type-1, but lots and lots of Type-2.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 1

Descending off the Hippo Head

The 2017 Tour de Flatirons started with a huge turnout for stage 1. Twenty-five scramblers toed the line at the Lower Skunk Canyon Trailhead and reigning, but injured, champion Matthias was on hand to be the starter and timer. The course was a classic linkup, but with a new extension, and linked four rocks (Regency, Royal Arch, Fifth Flatiron, and the Hippo Head) in the longest continuous climb ever in a Tour stage. This stage was heavy on the tricky down climbing and it paid to have all of these wired. The level of competition is high enough where lots of scramblers do extensive previewing. This is in the true spirit of the Tour - learning and loving the Flatirons. Oh, and to suffer mightily. 
Winner Kyle Richardson trailed by Cordis Hall
Will Porter was second last year and perhaps he thought, with Matthias out, it was his turn, but a couple of youngsters proclaimed their intentions. Loudly.  t was clear almost from the gun that this was going to be a battle of youngsters. Kyle and Cordis, good friends and frequent adventure partners, were now arch rivals. Kyle took the lead early and held it all the way to the wire, though Cordis remained close the entire time and finished just ten seconds back. The battle for Tour Champion is going to be fierce. Will finished comfortably in third, but three minutes down on the young guns at 56 minutes. Darren and Greg duked it out for fourth and fifth and provided a great comparison of the descent routes, for Darren took the bushwhack south of the Regency and Greg took the Woods Quarry/Kohler Mesa trails. Watching on Strava Flyby the times appear near identical. Frequently podium finisher Ryan Franz was the last one to break an hour.
Starting Stage 1
As with last year, we had some first time Tour entrants, the fastest of which seems to be Jason Kilgore. He finished 7th and just barely over an hour in 1:00:15. My son Derek is in the Tour for the first time. He just started scrambling last year and college classes prevented him entering last year, but I think that was a wise choice anyway. Before entering the Tour you really need to be a very experienced scrambler. Derek started off strong, but the length of stage took its toll on him. Jason Well caught and passed Derek on the Royal Arch and I closed the gap by the summit of the Royal Arch. On the west side down climb of Royal Arch we found Jason trying to talk newcomer Craig Randall through the moves. I climbed down to Craig and observed for just a few moments before I told Craig to climb back up and go down the East Side. Apparently Craig had been there for awhile. This brings up a point I want to emphasize. Scramblers should be racing stages that they don’t have wired. If you cannot move continually on all the terrain in a stage then you shouldn’t be in the stage. Period. This is not the time to work out the moves to anything.

The last newcomer was Colleen Powers and she appears to be a serious threat for the women’s title as she took the first stage. At least four women are entered in the Tour this year including another newcomer Caitlin Ryan joining Angela and Sonia.

Danny Gilbert stepped up his game and was in a group with Dylan and Stefan for the most of the stage. Stefan is still somewhat hobbled from a serious injury to his foot while glissading in the Indian Peaks. If there was a Hall of Fame for Flatiron Scrambling, Stefan would be in it, along with Bill Briggs, Buzz Burrell, Dave Mackey, and Matthias Messner. He’s never not finished on the podium and has won the Tour five times. Not to bet against Stefan, but with his injury and the incredible competition this year, its going to be extremely difficult to extend that streak. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

LA Freeway Attempt with Derek

Traversing the complex ridge to Paiute

The Continental Divide, in Colorado, houses incredible peaks, exposed, technical ridges, and high altitude adventure. The most spectacular terrain lies in Rocky Mountain National Park and its adjacent southern neighbor the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Gerry Roach wrote how Karl Pfiffner envisioned a traverse on the Divide from Milner Pass, on Trail Ridge Road in RMNP, to Berthoud Pass, but never attempted it. Gerry eventually did a 2-week backpacking trip that started and ended in those locations, but avoided all the technical climbing on the Divide itself and strayed significantly from it. He named it the Pfiffner Traverse.
Heading up Longs Peak at the start of the LA Freeway
In July 2011 Mark Oveson modified the route slightly, calling it the "Pfast Pfiffner" and did the entire traverse in one monster 37h44m push. I think Mark might still be the only person to do this in a single go. I know Andrew Skurka has developed a guide package for it and he might have done it as well. I was with Mark on his first attempt on this ono July 6, 2001 and we got halfway before incessant rain caused me more misery than I could take.

Still inexperienced at massive projects like this, John "Homie" Prater, Lou "The Loobster" Lorber, and I attempted the "Pfiffner Direct" over July 22-23, 2002. Over 1.5 days we made it from Milner Pass to Buchanan Pass where 12 hours with no water weakened us to point of abandoning. Along the way we stood atop every peak on the Divide. To my knowledge this is the only attempt at the Pfiffner Direct, and it highlights the biggest problem of this traverse: water. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. Being directly on the Divide leaves you scant chance of finding much water. The terrain is technical enough where you want most snow-free conditions, but then you have the water issues.
Descending off Pagoda
The other major problems with the traverse are the length and the technical difficult. The technical difficulty is concentrated in the middle with the northern and southern portions being primarily high mountain tundra and ridge hiking. In 2002, Buzz Burrell did a 2-day traverse from Longs Peak to South Arapahoe Peak and called it the LA Freeway. All but the first two peaks, Longs and Pagoda, are on the Continental Divide, so this consists of the technical crux and center section of the Pfiffner Direct. Buzz dropped down off the Divide to sleep for his one night and to restock on water. Doing this traverse, which is roughly 35 miles and 22,000 feet of vertical gain, in just two days requires an extremely fit endurance athlete, considerable technical climbing skills, and extensive route knowledge.
Still smiling on top of Chiefshead
The LA Freeway had not been repeated until 2017 when Peter Bakwin put in a very impressive effort over two days only to bail due to weather and route finding difficulties on the Kasparov Traverse from Shoshone to Apache, more than 85% done with the traverse. A couple of weeks later uberfit mountain runner Matthias Messner, after extensive reconnoitering, did the entire LA Freeway in less than 17 hours! It is impossible to appreciate this achievement without intimate knowledge of the terrain.

Being friends with all the parties above, my interest was rekindled in this traverse and my son Derek, as gungho as only the naive can be, wanted to give it a try. Hence, we picked Labor Day Weekend, as we had the time and hoped for good weather. When the reports looked like stellar, clear, warm weather, we finally committed the night before. It felt strange to pack for something so audacious in just an hour.
Heading toward the Hourglass Ridge on Mt. Alice
Our lack of planning and forethought hurt our chances, but it added to our adventure. I was over confident because I had previously covered almost all of the terrain. The only portion I hadn't before was from Arikaree to North Arapahoe, probably about a single mile of travel. But it had been a long time since I'd been on the tricky sections and my confidence in my memory was misplaced. My lack of respect for dehydration, despite my previous experience on this same terrain, seems irrational and ridiculous.

We each carried Ultimate Direction Fast Packs (thanks, Buzz), Derek a 20-liter and I a 30-liter. We each had a sleeping bag, pad, long pants, long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, shell, headlamp, and food. We had sunscreen, a SPOT locator, our phones (primarily as cameras), and a tiny 2-man tent. But our biggest mistake was that Derek started with just 84 ounces of fluid and I with 70 ounces. This was just plain dumb. Which is embarrassing to admit for guy with the experience that I have. I know Anton does monstrous outings with little water and Kilian Jornet climbed Denali, round trip on a liter of water (which is the most amazing feat of adventuring with little water that I've ever heard of), but I know that I cannot do that. Yet, I still carried so little. Why? I didn't want the wait and stupidly hoped we'd find some water, despite knowing the chances of that were nil. I'd say "live and learn", except that I've proven that I don't learn. Live, screw-up, and repeat the same mistakes is more accurate in my case.
Derek climbing up the crux pitch on Isolation
I remember Peter telling me that he had no desire to do any of this traverse in the dark. That sounded good to me, so Derek and I started hiking at 6:20 a.m. We took the lower shortcuts on Longs and then followed the Keyhole Route to the summit. Normally we'd have taken the North Face route, but heard it was seriously iced up. We made the summit in about 3h15m and, after a quick photo, descended and headed for Pagoda.

I didn't find the easiest descent but went directly to a 5.4 downclimb that I was familiar with. Derek followed me down and he was solid. We traversed over to the low point and then up tiring talus to the summit. I finished my first 20-ounce bottle on this summit. Twenty ounces in 4+ hours of difficult terrain. That isn't enough. We were trying to conserve and we needed to conserve, but we were heading for disaster, though we didn't know it yet.
Taking a break on the slopes of Isolation
After another photo we headed down the West Ridge. This was going to be the trickiest route finding for me. I'd done some version of this before, three times, but always different, once the opposite direction, and never got it wired. Peter had told me to head down the first rib and we were down there looking off both sides and trying to decide what to do when along comes our friend Cordis. He had Peter's GPS track from his Wild Basin traverse and with that to guide us we eventually found the right way down. We lost at least 30 minutes here, I'd guess.

Cordis zipped off and we followed. Down the 3rd/4th class terrain to the horribly loose talus ledge that heads down and back to the east. Then down a steep but easy downclimb to the key ledge that cuts all the way back to the Pagoda/Chiefshead col. We toiled up endless talus and felt the effort. We could see Cordis ahead of us, nearing the summit of Chiefshead and were only 15 minutes behind probably. But when we got to the summit and peered over towards Alice, we didn't see him. He disappeared. That kid moves awfully fast.
Endless moderate terrain on the way to Buchanan Pass
We took a photo and had some food and water and were moving on in less than 5 minutes on the long traverse over to Mt. Alice. As we neared the saddle we could see someone on top of Alice. Obviously it has to be Cordis. Impressive!

Toiling up Alice was when I first knew my dehydration was seriously affecting how we moved. We moved continuously up Alice, but it was slow. Very slow. Over the course of the next 24+ hours we would never recover and never fully hydrate again. Our pace never picked up.
Our campsite on the edge of the ridge
We headed down to Boulder-Grand Pass and bypassed the first of many summits. Tanima sticks way out to the east and in our tired state we already concluded that we needed to conserve as much energy as we could to just make Buchanan Pass. We skipped it. But we did not skip the Cleaver. On my only go at the Pfiffner Direct I was in the lead and zipped by this tiny summit enroute to the north face of Isolation. I was the rope gun for Isolation and we were losing the light. I got to the base and was pulling my harness and flaking the rope when Homie comes up to me and says, "Did you get the summit of the Cleaver?" I asked, "What's the Cleaver?" Fifteen years later, as Derek and I scrambled to the top I realized that I passed within 60 seconds of scrambling from this summit. Those 60 seconds had taken me fifteen years to complete.

We got to Isolation's north face just before 3 p.m. Peter Bakwin told me about a sneak that involved descending 200 vertical feet on the west side, but we opted to tackle the 5.5 pitch out of the notch. I'd done it once before, with a rope. We went slow and solid and I felt the climbing here was the best we did on the traverse. The rock is really good and the climbing not very continuous. It was one of the most fun sections of the entire trip.

Working along endless tricky sections on the ridge from Algonquin to Paiute
Once we got to the more gentle slopes higher up, we took our first and only extended break, though it only lasted about 15 minutes. I had hoped to get from here to Buchanan Pass in three hours. My buddy Mark, watching our Spot track, said the same to Sheri. But we both didn't factor in our massively weakened state due to dehydration. We did find a couple of pools of standing water by Ouzel Peak and we drank out of them and filled some containers. We trudged onwards.
One water source we used.
Towards the end of the day, while making what we thought was a beeline to Buchanan Pass we came to a giant valley. We had to turn 90 degrees to our left and stay on the winding ridge. It looked so long. Derek said, “I think we should pull the cord.” We still had 30 or 40 minutes of light and we could have continued via headlamp, but new disappointment was too much in our tired, dehydrated state. We bivied. We pulled out our 2-man, 2-pound tent and found the only flat spot within miles, perched right on the edge of a steep slope. We secured the tent with rocks and our trekking poles, inflated our pads and crawled inside for some badly needed rest. We’d remain there for 11 hours, yet hardly feel rested the next morning. Derek estimated that we recovered about 15% of our strength.
Beautiful morning light on the traverse north of Buchanan Pass.
We didn’t get moving the next morning until past 6:30 a.m. It wasn’t that cold but it also wasn’t that light out. We dropped down the steep, rock-studded grassy slope into the saddle and then dropped further to get around some rock towers. And then up. And then down and then up and one final down to Buchanan Pass. We were going to bail here due to fatigue and dehydration but we found some more standing pools of water. We drank heartily and filled our containers. Our thirst sated, but still weak, we decided to continue over Paiute, mostly because Sheri was over that side in the next drainage. We sent her another text message to meet us at the Audubon Trailhead and started the arduous traverse, skipping the summit of Sawtooth, over to the top of Algonquin. From there the view is daunting to say the least. A very exposed, technical, extremely complicated, rocky ridge sculpted a tortured path over to the saddle below Paiute. I’d done this section once before and forgotten nearly everything about it. I led us astray a couple of times, wasting time, but more importantly wasting precious energy. It took forever, but we eventually arrived at the saddle.

This was the only part that I had remembered from my previous trip. We scrambled easily up to final headwall, which is quite daunting. My one time up here before, I found a 30-40-foot steep section that was probably 5.6 or 5.7 with some rests, but tricky, insecure climbing in-between. When I did this before I had a rope and belayed my partners up it and hauled up my pack. This time we had no such aids. I went first and made the top, though a bit concerned with the difficulty of the climbing, which is much harder than the climbing on Isolation and more insecure. Derek had some trouble. Enough to get me concerned I climbed a bit higher to more secure ground, took off my pack and dug out the three slings I’d carried to secure the tent. I looped them over a secure rock and dropped them down. It would only help, if at all, on the final crux. Derek’s poles were sticking high out of his pack, as they couldn’t be collapsed much and in the way. I was so stressed and nervous watching him work it out. I could do nothing to help him. He didn’t rush and he took his time to work out the moves that felt solid to him and he got up it.
Highly complex and technical ground enroute to Paiute in the background.
Relieved, we continued up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the summit. Our last for this attempt. We relaxed for a bit, ate, and drank. We saw Sheri's text telling us that she'd meet us at the trailhead. We descended to a saddle and then descended loose, skiable terrain down into the cirque. We emptied our shoes and trudged to the trailhead. We found Sheri waiting with the most impressive spread of food and drink that I've ever seen at a trailhead. And she had carried the entire thing into Pawnee Pass for us! My buddy Mark had made us fresh bread and delivered to our house at 5:25 a.m. I was overwhelmed by the love and support, but disappointed that we'd let them down. Our support was first class. We were not. At least on this attempt.

Feeling bad about bailing on the LA Freeway, I moved this boulder onto these rocks as a final workout.

Despite our failure, Derek was very excited about the attempt. He'd never done anything like it before and now he knows a lot about the LA Freeway. He had an incredible adventure and found his limits. I had a tremendous weekend bonding with my son.


Blue Lake. We are nearly down to the first real trail since leaving the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak
The peaks you are supposed to climb on this traverse with the ones in bold being the summits we actually hit:

Longs Peak
Pagoda Peak
Chiefs Head Peak
Mt. Alice
Tanima Peak
The Cleaver
Isolation Peak
Ouzel Peak
Ogalalla Peak
Peak 12277
Red Deer Peak
Sawtooth Peak
Algonquin Peak
Paiute Peak
Mt. Toll
Pawnee Peak
Shoshoni Peak
Apache Peak
Navajo Peak
Arikaree Peak
North Arapaho Peak
South Arapaho Peak

Wow. That looks pretty lame. Lots of room for improvement, I guess. Good thing we didn't make it as that would be a pretty significant asterisk. Derek was up for doing it "right" and I somehow convinced myself that we didn't need the summits. If we'd done them all, we might have bailed at Buchanan Pass. A great father-son adventure and learning experience.

What we learned and what we'd do differently:

When I finished this adventure I could hardly imagine even hiking again and was absolutely sure I'd never try this again. Yet, just a day afterwards, Derek and I were brainstorming how we'd do it differently. First, intimately knowledge of the route is key as tons of time and effort can be wasted finding the correct passages. This effort doesn't just drain you physically, but does as much damage to you mentally.

Next, we should have started much earlier and did almost all of Longs Peak in the dark. This would have saved us hours of daylight that we needed to make Buchanan Pass.

Third, we envisioned the ideal support plan. While the LA Freeway has been done unsupported (currently only by Buzz), it can be made considerably more doable with support. Dropping below the Divide to get water adds time and effort to an already epic undertaking. We'd start with 120 ounces of water each and plan to drink it all by Boulder Grand Pass. At the same time that we'd start from the Longs Peak Trailhead, Sheri would start from Wild Basin and hike into Boulder Grand Pass (9 miles one way) and leave 200 ounces of water. She'd then hike back out and then, with 4WD support, hike into Buchanan Pass with two gallons of extra water where she'd meet Derek and I for the night. Maybe she'd even carry in our sleeping bags, pads, and tent. The next day, she'd hike out, certainly with our overnight gear, and then hike into Pawnee Pass with more water and food for us. Finally, she'd meet us on South Arapahoe Peak with final snacks and drinks. This would be a grueling weekend for Sheri as well, but I think she'd be into it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Patience Face: My 5.12 Project



This will be nearly unreadable for anyone but myself. It is a full accounting of the effort I put in to send Patience Face (12a) on Dinosaur Rock. Some of it was cut-and-pasted from my Strava reports so the flow and tense will be variable and rough.

When I turned forty I had four big goals, two running and two climbing. One of the climbing goals was to send a 5.12 outside. Back then I don't even know if I'd done a 5.12 in the gym. Anyway, I got one, Meteor Rhoadblock, that year. For the next decade I concentrated on my strengths: 5.6/7 trad routes, but when I turned forty-ten I decided to try and do another 5.12. That year I got Empire of the Fenceless. And then it was back to my usual scrambles. Each winter I'd climb in the gym and each gym season I'd get a few 5.12's clean, but they'd take me lots of attempts.

This year I once again sought to work a 5.12 project and this time I wanted to do one that wasn't in Boulder Canyon, but still close by, which meant in Eldo or the Flatirons. A couple years ago I tried Scratch n' Sniff in Eldo and got crushed. I couldn't touch the crux move and struggled to gain inches. I probably hung 20 times to get up the route and that included aid to get over the roof. It was hopeless and I gave up. Hence, this year I thought I'd try the Flatirons. I picked Patience Face because I'd toproped, with many hangs, my way up it back when my buddy Bruno was working Milkbone (13a), which was just to the right of PF. Bruno would warm-up on PF before trying Milkbone. Bruno was going to project Ultrasaurus, which is just right of Milkbone, so PF was a good choice and we were a team.
Bruno leading Touch Monkey
On our first trip up there we didn't even get on PF, as it was crowded with other climbers. Instead we went across the way to try Touch Monkey (11b). This route is really steep and very burly. I didn't get it even on TR on my first go. I did get it, again on TR, on my second go. Derek was with us and he got it too. On a subsequent trip Derek and I both sent it. I figured if I couldn't send 11b, I had no business working 12a.

Derek leading Touch Monkey
Patience Face was put up by Matt Samet, et. al. in 2008, but it wasn't bolted until 2010 or later. It's a long route for a sport climb, requiring a 70-meter rope to lower off of it. There are 14 bolts on the route, not counting the anchor.

On my first trip to PF on June 25th, Bruno put up a TR for me. My first effort was dismal. So much so that I thought it was beyond me. Subsequent tries still had me failing at all three cruxes and hanging maybe 4 or 5 times just to get between bolts 8 and 9 - the hardest part of the route. I did work out how to get through the first five bolts, which I called the pre-crux and delivers quite the pump.

One the encouraging things about PF, though, was that, despite its great length, there were at least three no-hands rests. I'd eventually find six no-hands rests on route. If it wasn't for these rests, I wouldn't be able to touch this route. My tips hurt so bad after this first session and the route seemed impossible.
The steep, opening moves of Patience Face
I didn't get back to PF for a month and went with my buddy Chris Weidner and Derek. Despite the multiple hangs between the bolts at the crux, Chris convinced me to start leading the route and work it that way. I relented, but assumed I'd be coming down after the eighth clip because I won't be able to make it to the 9th. Chris would then bail me out.

So I geared up and started leading for the first time. Getting to the second bolt is really burly for me and a tough warm-up. I've fallen off here before, but last time I was on it, I made it and I made it again today and made the clip with some relief. There is a pretty good rest a bit higher and I milked it. I then climbed up and clipped the third bolt but then screwed up reaching way right for the hidden hold and fell off. Oh well.

Another thing Chris stressed was to take on nearly every bolt while I'm still working it. If I'm not going for a redpoint attempt (and I was far from that), then I should take on every bolt and save energy so that I could work in free climb all the moves between the bolts. That made sense and I mostly did that the rest of the way up.

I got to the fourth bolt, made the clip and then fell off on the tricky moves right there. I got it on my second try and climbed through the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th draws clean. I hung on the 8th draw as it marks the start of the crux of the entire route. After one short fall trying the crux, I grabbed the draw and used it to reach the slanting slot above the undercling hold. I then barely deadpointed my way up to the next bolt. I was staring right at it, but no way I could clip. I tried another move, but was too chicken to make the run into the pod on the right as it would be a large fall and I was worried about the slight bulge below. I downclimbed a move and then fell off. Chris gave me an expert, soft catch and sailed by the worrisome bulge, not hitting anything. This gave me the confidence to give it a better try on my second go. Cheating off the draw again, I was just barely able to climb into the pod on the right and then reach back and clip the bolt. Whew!

Clipping the 10th draw is really tough and awkward and it risks a bit of a fall, but I got it. I grabbed it and hung, sussing out the next moves. This section is the second crux and feels 5.12 to me as well. I cheated on the draw and only had to do one hard move before hitting the jug and then moving left and up to clip the next draw.

I did fine clipping the next three bolts, the last draws, but the ramp section getting to the last bolt is harder than it looks. And making that clip is also tricky and awkward. I rested on the bolt and then did the final crux, which is a big throw to the left for a jug and then locking off on bad feet to get another jug. I grabbed the chains to clip in.
Moving by the fourth bolt on Patience Face - what I call the "pre-crux"
I lowered and then sort of re-did the final section, at Chris' insistence. This time I climbed up and left of the chains and was able to get up there without grabbing them. I lowered to the ground and it was Derek's turn.

Derek did awesome, leading it on his very first time on the route. He was clean up to the fourth draw, I think, and then took a rest. He was doing it in similar style to me - pretty much resting at each bolt. He made it up through all the draws except the last one. He was just too tired at that point to pull on the small, bad holds and step on tiny things to get up to the last draw. This is a bit of a run and he said that it was a combination of mental and physical fatigue. Still, he did about ten times better than my first go on the route.

Derek lowered off and after Chris refused to climb the route to retrieve the draws, I went up on TR to get them back. Chris only refused to make me get in a second burn. My goal was mostly to get up there as quickly as possible, as I was aware of the late hour and needed to get to work. I climbed okay, but was noticeably a bit more tired and my tips a bit sensitive. As I neared Derek's highpoint I clipped in the other side of the rope so that when I started to lead again, I'd be into three bolts instead of one. I was just barely able to finish the final three deadpoints to the chains, grabbing the carabiner after debating if that was a smart thing to dyno to.

I cleaned the top and Chris lowered me to the ground and we hiked out of there.

Chris spent the entire morning belaying and cheering us on. And he met us at 5:30 in the morning. And he didn't climb anything. Derek used a funny phrase to describe Chris and I can't remember it now, but it was something like "ruthlessly nice." I agree. He's an incredibly nice guy and a ridiculously good climber, having redpointed 14b.

Each of these visits I went up the route twice. I figured years ago I TRed it twice, so I was now six tries into this route.

My next trip up there was spent just belaying Bruno. I didn't get back on the route until August 10th. Bruno and I would meet at NCAR at 5:30 in the morning on a weekday and hike up and get in one burn each before hiking back down and going to work. On this trip, Bruno led it first and put up the draws.

It was only my second time leading on the route and my first time with the draws pre-placed (thanks, Bruno). I got up four clips clean and then just got tired working out the crux section there. I think I know exactly what to do now. I just need to relax, get a slight shake out, and executing the correct sequence.
Stretching for the clip at the start of the second crux.
So, one hang there and then clean up to the eighth draw and the start of the crux. I hung here to rest and then cheated by pulling on the draw. It's still desperate even pulling on the draw and I had to grab the next draw to clip. I hung again and worked out the finish to the crux into the next pod.

I worked on the next crux section a bit but cheated on another draw there as well. I've worked out the top of this section and after making the next clip, I could move a bit to the left into another pod and get a no-hands rest.

I climbed clean up to the ramp and got another no-hands rest there, lying on the ramp. Then got up the ramp and clipped the last draw. I gave this final crux a go and fell on it. I rested went back to the start of it and worked out how to do it and got it clean, so that's some good progress.

I was hoping to either get the start or the top clean and did not, but I made some progress on both. I'll continue with these intermediate goals and once I have them, I'll work on the second crux and then finally work on the first crux, which is brutally hard and the longest hard section, as well.

This was my seventh lap on the route. At the time I wrote that I thought it would take between 20-30 tries, but that was probably just to ease the pressure on myself. I was making progress faster than that, but I still hadn't done the crux section clean, so it might have gone at all.

On Saturday, August the 13th, Bruno and I returned.A great morning on Dinosaur Rock with some significant progress. My goal for the morning was to lead it, placing the draws (I'd already done this once before, but didn't want to regress), climb clean through the first eight clips, and climb clean from above the second crux to the anchors. I'd be happy with getting just the first goal.

On my first go, I got all three! I could have quit and come home at that point. I pulled on the eighth draw to get by the first and hardest crux and I rested on it. I did the same at the tenth draw for the second crux.

Bruno lowered me down and I worked on the second crux and got it clean twice on TR.

Bruno got on Ultrasaurus and climbed clean through six clips, but was tired from new route work the day before and came down to rest.

On my second go (with the draws in place now), I once again went clean to the eighth draw and even got a good shake/rest before trying the crux just a bit. I got up a ways, but was too far to the left. I fell off and then cheated to get by once again.

I rested in the pod and then sent the second crux and all the way to the top! Essentially I have only two feet of climbing that I haven't freed. I do need to link it all once I get it free and linking the climbing between the 8th and 9th bolts will be a bear, but I'm so much closer now. Just one hang on the route and one pull on a draw.

On August 17th, Bruno and I were back.Bruno hung the draws and then it was my turn. I used a different foot placement getting to the second bolt and it definitely made things easier on this 10+ opening section.

I screwed up the sequence getting up to the 4th clip but had the endurance to correct. I also messed up the next section after moving to the right. Just a bit off, I thought. I made it clean up to the eighth clip and struggled to rest before attempting the crux, which I didn't really know how to do. It went as expected: poorly.

The feet here are really bad, but to make up for that, the handholds are very bad as well. I guess that's why it's 5.12. I tried a few things and failed badly, but then I noticed a tiny edge that I could use for my right foot. Getting the sequence right to get my foot there took trying a few combinations, but I worked it out. Once I had my right foot on it, I could then move up my left foot high enough so that I could do the cross-over move to get the sloping slot with my left hand. I continued, just barely, to move upwards and grab the ninth draw. Just clipping in was hard, as I was so pumped.

Cool. So now I've finally free climbed between the 8th and 9th bolts. To get it clean on a redpoint I'll have to climb clear into the pod, but involves a few more hard moves, but I have the sequence worked out. I just need to build the endurance now. On my next trip up here the goal will be to link from the 8th draw into the pod. I've gone clean from there up and I can rest as long as I want, so I should get it from there, but there are plenty of places to screw up above there.

Once in the pod I rested and then tried the second crux. I screwed that up as well and fell off it. After resting, I got it on my second try and climbed clean up to the ramp rest and then stuck the finishing crux, barely, and clipped the chains without grabbing them. So, the finish is getting better. I did have some stress getting to the jug at the bottom of the ramp. I don't have that area worked out very well. It's so balancy with a couple of terrible holds, but I don't really need to move much on them. Just get stable and then hit the jug.

I cleaned the route on rappel. When cleaning I have been clipping into the other strand so that I can pull back onto this overhanging and traversing route to clean it. If you don't do this, you'll be 20+ away from the wall. When first cleaned this way and unclipped the last draw I swung out hard and pulled Bruno with me because the rope on him was now going straight to the anchors, instead of through the first bolt. He stumbled along the ground for a bit and everything was fine, but I thought that maybe I should have unclipped from the other line before unclipping from the last draw. that way I wouldn't pull Bruno with me. On Sunday, I did this, but it's dangerous. I cleaned the lowest draw before cleaning the second draw. Then I unclipped from the rope going to Bruno, unclipped the second bolt and then swung out, gaining lots of speed and then hitting the rock bulge at the base of Milkbone, rather hard. I bruised my hip and the heel of my hand, even with my feet bracing myself a bit. That sucked.
Danny on the opening moves of Patience Face
Today, trying to do better, after unclipping the lowest two bolts, I climbed up to the third bolt and let go. I still hit the slab, though it was better this time and no injuries, but scary and dangerous, with injury potential to be sure.

I'm now convinced I should NOT unclip from the rope leading to Bruno. I will pull him across the ground a bit, but he will greatly slow my swing and I won't hit anything hard. Maybe we just need to anchor Bruno. But I'm definitely not cleaning this route correctly right now.

The following week, on August 22nd, I went up there with Mark Oveson, specifically to try and link from the eighth to the ninth bolt.Mark's ankle gets fused tomorrow, so in maybe his last outing before going on crutches for 6-8 weeks he agreed to give me a belay on my project. We hiked up his his daughter Mallory and her soon-to-be-fiancee (don't ask) Theo. After dumping my pack at the base of PF, we hiked up to the backside of Der Zerkle and I pointed out some of the sport climbs there for Mallory and Theo.

Mark and I returned to the base of PF and geared up. I had Mark use my Grigri but failed to show him how to work it. I got a chance to do that after he short-roped me on the second clip. I didn't come off or have to hang, but go an extra pump waiting for the rope. After I got the shoulder-jam rest, I told him about the pinch-and-pull technique and he was good to go for the rest of the pitch.

My plan was to climb up to the eighth bolt and take on it. My goal for the morning was to climb clean from this bolt through to clipping the ninth bolt - the crux of the entire climb. This is the only section that I hadn't got clean yet.

There is semi-rest at that bolt, but it's bad, so I just hung on the bolt. After a rest and working out my plan, I went for it. I don't use the low undercling hold on the left really at all. I start by slapping up on the arete and then getting my left foot on the sloper. I then bear down and get my right foot on the tiny edge I found last time. I stand up, get the upper undercling hold, move up the left foot. Cross-through to the slot hold. Right foot up. Bump the right hand through to the crimp. Cool. Then stay strong and keep moving on the bad holds and tricky, smeary feet until I can reach way into the pod on the right and grab the jug. Sweet! Clean for the first time.

I got the second crux clean as well and then climbed up to the final crux and barely got that as well. Up to the chains, no grabbing of chains, and clipped in. My best effort so far. One planned hang. No pulling on draws. No cheats on clips. I'm officially in redpoint mode now. Hopefully get this baby on Thursday.

But I didn't on Thursday. It was my time for a full morning of belaying Bruno and I was happy to do it, but anxious to get a redpoint go on PF. I got that two days later, on Saturday morning, when Bruno and Danny Gilbert joined me.
We met at 6 a.m. and hiked up nice and slow. I tried to tell myself that there was no pressure. This was my first real redpoint attempt. I'd get in two tries this morning and might need 2 or 3 visits (4-6 more tries) before I sent it.

I fumbled the second clip for the first time and that took a bit more energy. I didn't dwell on that and got a good rest at the shoulder jam. I then climbed smoothly up through the pre-crux of the first five bolts to the no-hands rest. I rested a good while here and then sent the crux for only the second time and into the pod for another no-hands rest. I'd climbed the route clean from there to the top before, so I knew I had a good chance, but there are two more cruxy sections that are at my limit.

The next crux is just a big deadpoint and I hit it and moved smoothly up to the no-hands rest on the ramp. I could take a nap up here on my belly.

On the final crux, I missed my bump to the left first time, but had ample power to adjust it and then almost statically reach way left for the jug. The next two moves, normally deadpoints for me, were no static moves and I had tons of power left. I easily clipped the chains.

I let out a whoop of joy and heard the same from my friends below. When I hit the ground Bruno and I embraced. I bumped fists with Danny. At the top of that route, listening to Bruno chant, "Come on! Come on", I wanted to send it more for him than for me. I didn't want to let him down.

This is only my third outdoor 5.12 and the first not in Boulder Canyon. It took me 12 tries. What a great morning! This was my third major climbing goal of the year (after climbing El Cap and the Diamond with Derek). Thanks to Bruno, Chris, Mark, Danny, and Derek for all the help in getting this done! But mostly Bruno. :-)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mt. Shuksan with the Loobster



I love the Loobster. I've climbed with him for thirty years. He's twenty years my senior and while we've been equal partners in the past, I'm finally, maybe, the stronger one. His endurance and energy is inspiring to me. I used to say, "I sure hope I can do what the Loobster does when I'm his age." I'm doing what he did at my current age, but he doesn't seem to be slowing down much and now I'm not sure I even want to do what he's doing when I get to that age. It just seems too hard.

I've done so many climbs with the Loobster that we've been at our limits together. Climbing can be stressful and the Loobster has seen me at my best. And my worst. My love and respect for him is so great that whenever I think of climbing with him I can't, for the life me, forget my bad moments. My short temper. My fear and stress breaking me down into a person I don't want to be. But the past is the past and I now use it for extra motivation to be mindful, to be calm, to caring, to be thoughtful, to be more like the Loobster. It's very encouraging that he stays interested in climbing with me. And, perhaps, I am judging my past behavior too harshly.


Our route
Early in my climbing career I was primarily guided in my goals by the book "Fifty Classic Climbs in North America." I love lists and love checking things off. I'm very goal oriented. In the preface to this book it states that no one person (at the time of printing, 1980 or thereabouts) had yet to even climb half of these routes. That became my goal and now I've done over thirty of them. Of course, many others had the same goal and now there are at least a few people with 48 of them, but no one has yet climbed them all and that is not my goal either.

The goal of the trip was to climb the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. Shuksan is in the North Cascades National Park and looms over the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Not living in the Northwest, I only became aware of the mountain via “Fifty Classic Climbs in North America.” This book guided most of my early climbing and I’ve done over thirty of the routes. My interest in these climbs has been rekindled. It might be reasonable to get forty of them. I have unfinished business on at least one and new places to go for others. Shuksan is one of those places. The 50CC route is the Price Glacier - complex ice fall on the north face. My interest in the Fisher Chimneys was in learning the descent off of Shuksan for a subsequent attempt on the Price Glacier.
Camp I in the Mt. Baker Ski Area parking lot.
The North Cascades are incredible, striking mountains, looking more Alaskan or Andean or even Himalayan in nature compared to my beloved Colorado Rockies. While they are comparatively low in altitude (none of the non-volcanic peaks are above 10,000 feet), they have numerous glaciers with huge crevasses and terrifying ice falls. The vertical relief is also huge and approaches can be quite arduous. The Fisher Chimneys route has one of the easier approaches, but just getting to the higher bivy spots involves more difficult scrambling than getting to the summits of most Colorado 14ers. Our plan was for me to fly into Seattle at 1 p.m. and for the Loobster to pick me up and then drive the three hours to the trailhead and hike four miles into Lake Ann, where we’d camp, before climbing the peak the next day.

Things didn’t go as planned. That’s okay. We rolled with it. It started to go off the rails with flight problems. From a late plane to air traffic control issues to baggage problems we proceeded to leave the Sea-Tac airport two hours behind schedule. Seattle traffic and a couple of accidents conspired to add another hour. That wouldn’t put us on the trail until nearly 8 p.m. so we decided to sleep at the trailhead and try the climb in a day. After a stop for dinner, we arrived at the trailhead. Loobster wanted to pitch a tent off in some discreet area we knew not where. I convinced him, with some difficulty, to just throw down our bags in a large parking lot just down from the trailhead. He was worried about ranger detection. He worries a lot more than I do.
Looby Dooby Doo
Our second plan went awry when the Loobster called over to me at 2:30 a.m., an hour before our scheduled wake-up time. He told me he hadn’t slept a wink and would not be capable of doing the route in a day on no sleep. He’s had this sleeping problem before when large, stressful outings are imminent. We modified again, this time to turn off the alarm, sleeping until we were rested and just hike into Lake Ann on Saturday and do the climb on Sunday. That eliminated any chance to recce another 50CC mountain, but Slesse isn’t going anywhere. We got up around 6:30 and re-packed for the overnight plan. The Loobster brought me a one-man tent (he had one as well) and a small pad. I brought a tiny sleeping bag and a JetBoil stove.

We weren't hiking until nearly 9:30 a.m. There was no need to rush, as we weren't going very far. Part of me thought we should still just do it in a day, but I knew that would stress the Loobster and kept my mouth shut. We lingered on the packing and ate some breakfast.
Lake Ann at 4600 feet on August 5th. Crazy
The trail into the lake immediately dropped 800 feet. It then followed a Valley for two miles or so without climbing at all. Finally, in the last mile to the lake, we climbed back up to the elevation we started at, about 4700 feet. Seeing Lake Ann was a shock. In August, at 4700 feet, the lake was still almost entirely frozen over and covered in snow. I wondered what percentage of the year was Lake Ann actually a liquid water lake.

We got a good view of Shuksan here, but we'd been able to see it for a lot of the hike and the mountain itself is prominent from the road...if the skies are clear. The weather was great the entire trip, but epice forest fires up in British Columbia had caused the entire North Cascades to be inundated with smoke and, while breathing wasn't an issue, everywhere we looked we saw a brown haze, making everything else appear a bit ghostly.

We didn't even sit down at the lake, but continued on, as we'd heard there were sites just past the lake. The trail dropped again, this time less than a hundred feet and we didn't spot any enticing spots before the trail started climbing again, with a vengeance. The trail narrowed to more of a climber's path and switch-backed up a steep slope.

Hiking in to Camp II
We went long enough where the Loobster was doubting that there were any bivy sites up there. Finally, he dropped his pack and just continued up without it, just in case we'd be turning around. a little higher up we ran into two climbers on their way out. They had summitted that day and told us about some nice sites above the shoulder above us and below the Fisher Chimneys. I gave Loobster my pack and hiked down the hill with the two climbers to get Loobster's pack. After saying goodbye I hiked back up to join the Loobster at the crux of the approach.

We had to inch out on precarious tongue of snow and step across to steep slabby rock. It was only maybe twenty or thirty feet of climbing, but in my mountain boots and with a pack on, I thought it was a bit dicey. The Loobster styled it, though. This guy, at 74-years old, is strong and agile. And confident. Above this crux the terrain stayed steep, but was now just third and second class.
Fisher Chimney from Camp II
After less than ten minutes of climbing we crested the shoulder and immediately found a couple of tent sites. Each site was pretty small and the Loobster occupied the lower site and I was just fifty feet away, a bit further up the slope. The first thing we did after dropping our packs was to take off our boots. We both carried our approach shoes into camp and should have worn them and carried the boots, but our packs were a bit small and we feared we wouldn't have room. We'd both get the boots on the pack on the way out however.

It was still early afternoon and after setting up camp, I couldn't resist and headed off to check out the Fisher Chimneys. I carried a nearly empty pack with me and wore my helmet and brought one axe. We had both carried two axes into basecamp, but after talking to other climbers, decided that one axe would be sufficient. I crossed three easy, small snowfields and started up the Chimneys. The 800-foot climb up the rock wall is a mix of second, third, and fourth class climbing on mostly very solid rock. I ditched my pack and axe early on, but kept the helmet on as a couple of big parties were descending above me. These parties were rappelling a couple of sections, and maybe one section was low 5th, but I don't think so. Excellent terrain for a Minion.


These three photos are all part of the Fisher Chimneys
I buzzed on up to the top of the rock section and stepped onto the White Salmon Glacier. this is a large glacier, but I was nearly at the top of it when I got on it and it was very low angle. And I was on it for about one minute before I hit talus and scampered up to the first of two steep snow/ice sections on the route: Winnie's Slide. This is maybe a 200-foot 45-degree slope that was hard snow with nice steps kicked in it. I didn't venture further as I was just in my running shoes with no traction.

I reversed the route back to camp where the Loobster was trying to catch up on his sleep. Somewhat revived, he went off to scout the route as well. If I had known he was going to do that, I'd have waited. He probably didn't know that either, but he got some rest was feeling good and is generally not one who can sit around in camp. So, off he went. I read my book.

We add a nice dinner from Backpacker's Pantry or something like that and got to bed pretty early. We didn't see any need to move in the dark, so settled on a casual start. We set the alarm for 5 a.m. and after a cup of coffee, we were moving by 5:30 a.m. We carried our mountain boots to the base of Winnie's Slide and then switched into them. A quick jaunt up the slide and a short traverse and we arrived at the upper bivy location, where a couple of teams were packing up to head down.

Loobster on Winnie's Slide
Here we got onto the Upper Curtis Glacier. The Lower Curtis Glacier was 1000 feet lower down, below the rock wall we climbed up. The start of this glacier was the only place we encountered real ice. It wasn't that steep, thankfully, as we had just the one axe. We were careful not to slip or fall here, as a self-arrest was impossible. Soon it was back to snow, though, and we climbed upwards into a magnificent bowl, where the angle eased off. Above us loomed Shuksan, but guarded by very steep rock and a steep snow/ice couloir. We turned hard right and descended about 250 feet to the base of Hell's Highway - the other steep section on the route - which we climbed up to the Sulphide Glacier.

The Sulphide Glacier route is the standard route on the peak and the route the Loobster took on his first time up the peak. It's a low angle glacier walk up to the summit pyramid. When we joined that route, we met a solo climber. I forget his name, but he was a fit dude, doing the peak in a day, after doing a 20-mile Enchantment hike the previous day. He was a dentist from Boise. He gapped us going up the final part of the glacier and we headed over to the far right to climb the ridge instead of the standard route.
Heading up the Upper Curtis Glacier. Shuksan's summit looms above.
At the base of the rock the Loobster and I stashed our boots, crampons, and axes and switched into our scrambling shoes. We had 600 vertical feet of really fun, exposed, low-5th class scrambling up the ridge. We had our 100-foot a rope with us, but never pulled it out of the pack. We got to the summit at 9:30 a.m., taking just four hours from camp.

On the summit we hung out with the dentist and I bragged about my two most impressive climbing partners: the Loobster and Derek. He was suitably impressed with both. He cranked his head around so abruptly when I mentioned Loobster's age that I thought he was going to get whiplash. He said, "You're 74?!" That was the reaction I was looking for.
We don't have this in Colorado!

Descending towards Hell's Highway
After eating our sandwiches and watching a big group take 30 minutes to complete the first rappel down the standard, we started down. The dentist followed us down our route and he told us that he was off to climb the Eiger later that month, doing the same route that Homie and I did in 2013. We parted ways at the bottom because he started up from the standard location. When we got back to our gear stash we found a party of three - a guide and two clients. As we switched back to boots and crampons we watched these two clients, both younger than the Loobster and one of them younger than me, struggle to start up the first ten feet of rock. One of them fell here. Not my partner. Good thing, since we weren't roped. The Loobster's got game.
On the Sulphide Glacier
It was cruise reversing the route back to camp, where we took our time packing up. The Loobster has an interesting routine whenever he packs a backpack. Each item is placed into the backpack is removed at least once. I leaned back against my pack and observed all this and resting up the hike out, which was more tiring than I expected. The last four miles from the lake to the car seemed like six miles. We knew we had to climb 800 feet back to the parking lot, but the trail stubbornly refused to start climbing. We were both a bit pooped by the time we got there.


Heading up the summit pyramid
We changed into more comfortable clothes, threw in the packs, and hit the road, looking for a suitable restaurant to celebrate our success. We found a great Mexican place in a tiny town and gorged ourselves. Later, we continued to a rest stop on I-95, getting there at 10 p.m. I packed for the plane there and then we threw down the backs and slept for four hours before getting up at 2:30 a.m. so that I could be dropped at the airport by 4 a.m.

What a great trip with the redoubtable Loobster. We have more trips in our future. He doesn't appear to be slowing down much. Nor speeding up his packing. But we still mesh pretty well together on climbs. Thanks, Loobster!
Another great summit for us.
It was tempting to return to this peak the very next weekend and do a Minion-style ascent. The conditions were perfect right for a running-shoes-Kahtoola-steel-crampon-light-axe ascent. Carrying nothing but the crampons, an axe, a 3-ounce wind shell, a light pair of gloves, and minimal food and water, I think I could make the summit, from the car, in around five hours. Maybe six. I’d highly recommend this approach to any Minion with the time and interest. Shuksan is a worthy mountain and very complex. Every route involves glacial travel, but very safe conditions exist right now. Go get some.

Looking back at the mountain on the way out. Smokey, but still majestic. The glacier at the bottom is the Lower Curtis Glacier. The hanging glacier above is the Upper Curtis Glacier. We traversed that and when through that prominent gap.