Friday, July 04, 2014

Crestone Trip - Humboldt

Danny and Mt. Humboldt

Each year I've organized a 14er climb for my co-workers. This started back in 2009 when I took our CEO Adrian Tuck up Longs Peak. That year five total made the summit, including Tendril's founder Tim Enwall and my son Danny. The next year I got a more experienced group of eight up the North Face of Longs. 2011 was my most audacious trip. I took 14 people up North Maroon Peak - one of the most difficult 14ers in the state with lots of steep, loose rock and one roped section. Most of this group had never done anything like this and it was probably a huge risk. If bad weather had hit us up high, we'd have been in big trouble. It was a very stressful day for me but I got everyone to the top and back down again. 2012 we went up an easy peak: Grays. This is also easily accessed from Boulder, as it is right off I-70. On that climb a number of Tendrillions made the summit of Grays, including Kevin Workman who bagged his first ever 14er. In 2013 we did the third highest peak in the state - Mt. Harvard. This peak is mostly a hike, but has a tiny bit of third class near the top. On this outing people were all over the peak, mostly as solo climbers. In total just four made the summit and only one Tendril employee, Marcel, besides myself. 
Derek drops a bomb on Danny!
So, while I've tried to keep this a tradition, it hasn't been met with much enthusiasm by my co-workers. That's okay. There's is no reason they'd be interested in climbing mountains and if they were they might not want to climb them with their professional contacts. But I love keeping these things alive, so I announced it and got a smattering of interest. I didn't do anything to promote it, though, as there is only so much rejection I can take. I now pick 14ers for the challenge based solely on what my family wants to climb, as I know they will be interested and enthusiastic. I originally planned to do Capitol, one of the hardest in the state, but it was a bit too snowy over the 4th of July weekend so I switched to the Creatones. This still provided the backpack experience that I wanted for my family and a side bonus was that multiple 14ers would be available if our ambitions ran high.
Starting in from the trailhead
In the end we had four vehicles heading for Westcliffe Friday morning at 5 a.m. Kevin in his FJ, our family in our Land Cruiser, Jenny and Sean in their truck and Nick and Erica in their Subaru. I list the vehicles because the road to the South Colony Lakes trailhead is 4WD. It used to be one of the toughest approach drives for the 14ers, but the road is now closed about halfway up. The drive up isn't too bad, but high clearance is handy. Remarkably we all converged on that road at the same time! Nick and Erica were there first, but with their marginal clearance they let the rest of us go by. After 15 minutes at the trailhead Kevin started back down to rescue them when they suddenly arrived. 
Sheri negotiates the crux near the summit
We were hiking into camp about 9:45 a.m. The boys and I were chatting about the formation of our country and lost track of the others. We were far off the front and decided to continue up and find campsites for us all. We found a great, big site with room for all five of our tents at 11,600 feet, still well sheltered in the trees and about fifty feet from a gorgeous stream. I dropped my pack and headed down to check on the others. I first came across Sheri and Kevin, who was doing great. Sean and Jenny were a bit further down. After twenty minutes of hiking/running I was starting to wonder about Erica and Nick when I finally ran into them. They were just taking their time, taking some breaks. That was cool, but my family wanted to bag Humboldt that day so we were hiking with a purpose. I took some weight from Erica and hustled back up to camp. Once there we got our tents up and packed for the summit. We were headed towards the top before 1 p.m.
Heading back to camp
Humboldt is only class 2, but we found the hike to the top more arduous than we had expected. The weather was perfect, though. On the slopes of Humboldt we found the highest concentration of marmots we've ever seen. We must have seen more than a hundred marmots on our way to summit. The grassy slopes must be paradise for these cute, alpine rodents. They must not have any predators. This should be prime real estate for foxes looking to relocate.

We had a troubling and bizarre incident on the upper slopes. Many of the hikers in this area bring their dogs. Indeed, Erica had brought her dog Aspen, who had previously growled at Derek for some reason. Aspen is normally a sweet dog, but she's a rescue dog and can sometimes be afraid. Or maybe it had something to do with Derek, because high on Humboldt we encountered a couple coming down with dog that looked something like an Australian Shepard. I was in front and Derek was just a few feet behind me, when the dog growled, ran right by me and bit Derek in the thigh! Derek didn't make a sound and it was only later that I knew he had actually been bitten. The owner apologized and scolded the dog, but anyone with a dog that will attack and bite me must keep that dog on a leash. It was only at the summit when Derek showed me the four puncture marks in his leg. It was bleeding, but only a little bit. I was more worried about infection. Back at camp we'd clean it with Kevin's disinfectant wipes (he carried everything up there up) and I wondered if we'd be hiking out to a hospital in the morning, if it looked any worse (it didn't).

Speaking of Kevin and the gear he carried, while I poked some fun at him, he had the disinfectant. He started the fire. He had the dessert. He had the rope to hang the food bags. It was his first time backpacking and he looked like pro. All his gear is so organized as well. I tend to just open up my pack and just start throwing stuff in until it is full. The food is spread all throughout my pack, into whatever crevice I can find. Kevin has everything in its own bag. And I mean everything. In fact, Kevin had to return home this morning because he forgot the bag that he carries his trash bag in. You heard that right. Kevin has a tiny carrying bag to carry a larger bag into which he will put trash. It was clipped onto the outside of his pack and looked so cute.
This is me pointing out the stuff sack which carries Kevin's trash bag. This guy is prepared and organized!
We took one break en route to the summit and then hung out on top, eating a late lunch. We called my mom from the summit and talked to her for 15 minutes or more. Derek had been hiking with an American flag on his pack all day, but the day before we left Danny went out and bought a large American flag. He unfurled it on the summit and we all took photos with the flag. Then Danny whipped out his pocket edition of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He read us the Declaration and it brought tears to his eyes. This brought tears to my eyes. I find it exceedingly rare that a 19-year-old kid can understand the gravity of that document, and how it changed the world, so profoundly and deeply to affect him such. Almost all of us take for granted the liberty we enjoy. I've never had to sacrifice for my country and Danny certainly hasn't, not yet, but his blood runs red, white, and blue. It was perhaps the most meaningful Fourth of July celebration in my life.
Threatening clouds drove us off the summit.
Some darker clouds started to move in and we headed down. About 200 feet below the summit we ran into Erica and Nick. Erica was surprised she hadn't seen us earlier. I guess she doesn't know about summit siestas. Danny was getting an altitude headache and we stopped to get him some Advil and then took a break at the beautiful Upper South Colony Lake before returning to camp. I cooked up some coffee for Sheri and hot chocolate for the boys and then it started to rain. We all ran for shelter and I fell asleep in the tent. The boys roused me and we all ate dinner around the modest fire that Kevin had started. When it got dark we all went to bed.
Heading towards Humboldt from Upper South Colony Lake

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