Sunday, May 31, 2015

LPP for May: Flying Dutchman

Crazy wind as Charlie climbs out of the top of the Notch

When I told my friend Mark that I was planning to do Longs this day he said, "You need to go up there with an army of friends to break trail in all that new snow." Turns out I did. Breaking trail for me was Chuck, Charlie, and Mt. Nuttelman. With those three in front, I barely made this climb. Months like this make the Longs Peak Project so challenging. One year April was my toughest ascent. So far this year, May was our toughest. It was the windiest and coldest. On the last day of May! Crazy Colorado...

Our original plan was to link up couloirs on neighboring peaks with the Notch Couloir on Longs, but the tremendous amount of snow on the mountain caused us to scale back our plan to a safer route and even then we were prepared to abort. Better to fail on this project than to risk death in an avalanche.

We both went a bit undressed, expecting warm, sunny conditions up there with a forecast for 80+ degrees in Boulder. We also didn't even meet in Boulder until 5 a.m. and started hiking after 6 a.m. The wind hit us as soon as we broke treeline and we'd battle it the rest of the way. On any other day my thoughts would immediately turn to bailing, as the wind was so strong that it greatly reduced the chances of success. Yet today, on the last day in May, it never entered my mind. We had to summit today, barring excessive danger, and if we had to exert tremendous effort, so be it. Charlie even stated at one point, "We just have to summit before the end of the day, right? Or do we need to get back to the trailhead today as well?" We were committed to whatever it took.
High in the Flying Dutchman couloir

The wind had us staggering at Chasm Cut-off and along the traverse to the eastern cirque. I was somewhat surprised to see Chasm Lake still completely covered in snow, but neither one of us wanted to risk a crossing this late in the year. We forged a track around the north side of the lake on the usual path. As we started up the Flying Dutchman, a couloir east of Lambs Slide, we noticed two skiers descending it from above. The snow conditions here were excellent.

The Flying Dutchman usually has a nearly vertical ice crux section. The last time I did it, I needed two tools to climb this section. Today, we kicked steps up it without even putting on crampons! This was the most snow I'd ever seen on Longs, and I've climbed it over 60 times and 10+ times in winter. Charlie did all the leading here, putting in a nice track for me to follow. We had a bit of steep rock to negotiate just before getting to the Loft, but were careful and solid here.

At the Loft the wind was tremendous once again and I led us slowly up the Beaver, which is the structure that forms the south side of the Notch Couloir. Things went well here and at the top of the Beaver, we geared up with harnesses and crampons. We failed to located the rappel slings here, which were probably buried in snow. I searched as much as I felt safe doing on the edge of the 100-foot drop before Charlie saved the day by pulling a long cord our of pack. He's always prepared. We looped it around a large outcrop at the top and I rappelled into the Notch.

The wind here was even greater. I put in a piece and clipped to it. I was still thirty feet above the lowpoint of the Notch. Charlie soon joined me and I put him on belay. He cautiously downclimbed extremely steep snow to the top of the Notch and then started up the Skyline Traverse rock route. When dry this route is 5.5. In mixed conditions, like we found it, it's challenging. Charlie took his time and did a great job finding the little protection available. I followed and took the lead to finish off the steep climbing.
Rappelling into the Notch Couloir

I headed up a steep corner, mainly because I could see solid gear. I placed a bomber cam and was liebacking off an icicle when it snapped! I fell down to the bottom of the corner, but the snow below and grabbing the sling saved me from having Charlie catch me. I tried again, this time using the rock - not as good of a handhold, but considerably more solid. I led out until the terrain eased back and set up a belay. Charlie took over again and led us to the summit.

This was the only time I've ever been to the summit of Longs and seen a point higher than the summit boulder. Fifty feet away a snow mound was even higher. Normally it is a 5-foot scramble to gain the top of the summit boulder. Today, I could step over the boulder. Charlie had to dig down a full arm's length to located the summit register. I was amazed he found it so quickly.

The ascent had taken over six hours and I was pretty drained. I wanted to descend the North Face, because it was shorter, but after descending just a tiny bit, Charlie didn't like the look of things. Weeks ago, he'd heard of a climber being caught in a avalanche while approaching the base of the North Face and he was gun shy. Laziness is not a reason to risk unnecessary danger, so we headed for the Keyhole descent.
Charlie digging out the summit register
The Homestretch was steep, hard snow and we descended cautiously and then kicked steps and drove in our axes to protect the Narrows traverse. The Trough, though, had perfect snow and we easily descended until we had to start the traverse over to the Keyhole. We stopped here to eat and drink. I hadn't done either for the past five hours and was seriously bonking. I have a bad habit of doing this when conditions are so difficult. I need to keep moving to stay warm, but I also need to fuel. We were out of the wind here and I downed twenty ounces of fluid and 300 calories, while putting additional food in an accessible pocket.

The traverse to the Keyhole, normally a rock scramble was completely covered in snow. So much so, that it was difficult to know exactly where to go, but I'd been here many times before and I directed us to the proper location. Descending from the Keyhole is normally very steep, blocky talus. Today it was a snowfield. The boulder field is usually a maze of walking through blocks, even in winter. Today it was an unbroken snowfield. We had to break trail across its entire length, never once stepping onto a rock.
Charlie leading the first pitch of the Skyline Traverse
We took the Jim's Grove route on the way down and had to plunge-step through a lot of this as well. The snow here was incredibly wet. The amount of water on Longs Peak was astounding. By this time my boots were so filled with water that each step was like walking in a stream. When we finally got back to treeline we took a break to strip down and met one of the only full-time climbing rangers of RMNP. His name escapes me now, but he was descending on skis, was an ultrarunner and seemed to be a badass climber as well. I invited him to come scramble with the Minions, but I haven't heard from him yet.

We got back to the parking lot after 10 hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds on the move. It was our most grueling ascent yet. Hopefully things will get a bit easier in June and July and August, but to make up for the expected easier conditions, we plan to up the ambition of our route selection. We'll see, but for now the LPP is still on. Five months down, seven to go.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bolder Boulder -23rd Time in a Row!

Just before running the Bolder Boulder for the 23rd time in a row (13 for the boys)
This is a long-standing family tradition for us. Sheri and I first ran the Bolder Boulder in 1993 when we were living in California. We were out looking for houses, planning to move here, and ran our first one then. That was the only Bolder Boulder we didn't run as husband and wife.

Throughout the years we've had some close battles, but Sheri was usually fitter and dominated the early going. Our head-to-head record improved when Sheri got pregnant a couple of times. She used the weak of excuse of either being pregnant at the time or recently recovering from child birth as an explanation for why I took the family title in those years.

Nowadays my rival is Derek. Last year Derek ran track and we had an epic battle that he won by 0.3 seconds. This year, despite starting in the same wave again, Derek had not been running (he had been concentrating on taking countless college aptitude and advanced placement tests) and would not be challenging me - family victory once again! 

Or not... My extended family includes my sister Brook's family and her husband Kraig Koski, who would always win the extended family title. This year was no different with regards to me - he beat me, as usual, but he experienced what I did last year: getting beat by his child! This year his college-bound daughter Samantha took the extended family title with a massive PR - running 44:08. Yes, it is getting easier and easier to take this title as the big guns get older and slower.

I finished in 44:44 and just made my goal of breaking 45 minutes. Sheri ran well and broke 49 minutes. Derek fell just short of breaking 50 minutes and Danny cruised it with Brook in around 58 minutes. Danny has run this race every year since he was 8 years old and Derek since he was 5 years old. I wonder when the streak will be broken... We've had injuries throughout the years, some pretty severe for me, but never around BB time. 

I have another streak going - running the Bolder Boulder under my age since I turned 40 (and still the only time I've ever broken 40 minutes in a 10K). I wonder when that will be broken as well. I figure I'M good 'til at least 70, right?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Blob Rock

Octavian on the fourth pitch of On Ballet (5.9) at Blob Rock

I met Tom and Octavian at Blob Rock and we climbed up On Ballet (5.9). We weren't positive we did each pitch correctly, but we climbed by three two-bolt anchors. We went clear to the summit in five pitches and walked off. It was nice doing a bit of granite climbing, as I plan to head to Yosemite next month and need to do some training. Of course, now it's raining again. It's been a super wet May in town and the snow keeps piling up on Longs Peak. I still need to climb that this month...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Left Out

This is me at the crux of Reggae
I met Anton Krupicka this morning for another Eldo session. We had hoped to do a couple of laps on the Bastille but the ripping winds and 40-degree temperatures drove us over to the friendlier Wind Ridge. We warmed up by climbing the West Overhang (5.7) and then rapped down to the halfway ledge and climbed a rarely-climbed gem called Left Out (5.8, S+). This route is on the corner of the more gentle Southwest Face and the intimidating South Face. I'd done the route a couple of times before, but probably not for at least five years. It's exciting and the cold temperatures had my hands feeling pretty wooden. I took my time putting in what gear I could find and even then got a small cam semi-stuck and then didn't use slings liberally enough so that rope drag was an issue and I had to stop just before the pitch reaches easy ground. Thankfully I was at the one location on the entire pitch with lots of bomber gear. Tony climbed easily up to me, but had the common courtesy to pause at the crux and to blow on his hands, mimicking my troubles.

I finished the last tricky bit and then over to the rappel anchors we had used after the West Overhang. We rapped to the halfway ledge once again and did our Reggae Loop. This is where I climbed up Reggae and immediately downclimb The Bomb while Tony climbs up Ruper. I downclimbed all the way to the ground and Tony did as well, after unroping at the top of the Bomb, since I didn't place any gear on the downclimb, which we previously agreed on. This is interesting because I'm always on belay and never soloing, but Tony down solos the entire Bomb route. He has a very good head for soloing, though.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Rockies 5K Race Report

I'd been sick for the past 12 days and had not run for 16 days when I staged for the start of the Rockies Run for the Homeless 5K. The previous day I did 6000 vertical feet of hiking and scrambling in the Lost Creek Wilderness and it didn't wipe me out, so I figured I was ready to try a run.

I did a couple of really slow miles to warm-up and then a few striders. I staged with Sheri and Derek. Sheri had been doing some training, like me, but Derek was coming in completely cold, his last being the Rattlesnake Ramble last September. But he's fit, 17 years old, and a natural runner. I thought he was going to be serious threat to me. Last year, we ran four races together: two 5K's, the Bolder Boulder 10K, and the aforementioned Ramble. He beat me in all of them, though they were all close, but last year he ran track. This year nothing. I had a shot.

Derek actually conceded before we started. He was just going to run mostly with his mom and see how things felt, so I was on my own. The first mile is pretty fast and my plan was to try and hold back to 7:15, as I feared the next two miles, which were tougher. The barker at the mile mark called out 7:13, my watch showed 7:11, and my chip time was probably 7:09, so I was on track. I pushed a bit harder in the second mile, powering over some small hills and went by the 2-mile mark at 14:15, so about a 7:02 mile. 

I tried to empty the tank in the third mile, but probably could have suffered more. Just before the finish this race goes into the Rockies ballpark, Coors Field, and circles the field on the warning track. This surface feels great to run on. I looked back to make sure Derek wasn't coming for me and then exited the stadium and kicked solidly for the finish. I went hard enough that I dry heaved once or twice after finishing.

In the third mile I worked quite hard and my Garmin watch told me I was going faster than the other miles, but my final time doesn't seem to agree with that. After uploading to Strava, it seems to think my third mile was faster as well, but the final time was 22:04, for an average of 7:07/mile. In the past, my watch has overestimated my speed, but the splits I got at the miles don't jive that much with the final time either. It doesn't really matter, though. The time is the time. My goal for the Bolder Boulder is 7:15/mile and this 5K indicates I'm not ready to run that fast for a 10K, but I have three weeks to hopefully improve. Oh, and I won't do a big hike the day before the Bolder Boulder.

Sheri finished 1m14s behind me and Derek 14 seconds after her. We immediately got our Rockies tickets for a game in August (part of the perks of running this race) and then we entered the park to eat, drink, and relax in the perfect weather. A few minutes after we settled into some seats and started eating, Derek had a severe allergic reaction. His face started getting very puffy, his mouth and lips in particular. Sheri ran back to the car to get a Zyrtec that we always keep with us for exactly this. When Sheri got back, Derek was still going downhill and we called for some EMTs to come give him a look. They arrived about ten minutes later and an IV, right there in stands. They then injected him with 40mg (I think) of Benadryl. Sheri had already given him a Zyrtec (10mg, I think), but his mouth and entire face was swelling up pretty badly. He had some hives as well, but mostly it was his mouth swelling up that had them concerned. They recommended a trip to the hospital and an ambulance team came right to our seats in the stadium and they loaded him in a gurney and took him through the massive crowd of runners. He was quite the spectacle, but that was nothing compared to the attention he received at the hospital.

Derek in the emergency room at Denver Health
Apparently word got around the ward that some good looking, 17-year-old academic superstar (he just learned he scored a 34 on the ACT) tennis start was being brought in and the entire female staff rushed to his room. When we got there five of them hovered over him pretending to tend to his condition but secretly hoping for an autograph…

He’s fine now and off to a study session, but he’s now gone through this four times in the past four years. He’s been tested for allergies and they have all come up negative. Frustrating, but it doesn’t happen often. Now we have an Epi-Pen, though, and I can’t wait until I have to jam it into his thigh…NOT! But we will be prepared.

I ran reasonably well, for me, and was 3rd in my age group out of 105 runners. When I read the email that told me this, Sheri responded with, “Oh, so you weren’t first out of 167, then?” Guess where she finished? Smack talk from the wife!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Lost Creek Wilderness Sufferfest

Atop Buffalo Peak

I've resisted joining Mark and Homeslice on adventures in the Lost Creek Wilderness because of the long, windy drive, the unappealing summits (so I thought), and, mostly, the running they always planned to do. Then they came up a plan to mostly be off trail and bag ten summits. I have a goal of doing 52 different summits this year and this one day would go a long ways toward satisfying this. Hence, I agreed to join them and invited my LPP partner, Chuck Charlie Nuttelman.

We met at 4 a.m. and drove down together to the Wigwam Trailhead. We took the trail for about two minutes and then headed directly for the summit of the Wigwam. The going here was steep, but the ground was dry and snow-free. We did some fun scrambling as we approached the summit. Because of the scrambling we planned to do, Mark wore his scrambling shoes. Because of the snow we expected to encounter, I wore my Crossover, Gortex, built-in gaitor, hobnailed running shoes. Despite the earlier indications, I'd made by far the better choice.

We hit our first bit of snow just below the summit of the Wigwam, but paid it no mind, as we descended to the saddle and away from any snow for while. We were hiking up the southern slopes of Buffalo peak and didn't hit snow again until probably 10,000 feet. At first the snow wasn't too bad and we postholed through ankle-deep to mid-shin deep, soft snow. I broke trail for a bit and then Chuck Charlie took over and the snow got quite a bit deeper. When Homie finally went into the lead, it was downright ridiculous.

We were hiking over breakable crust that would sometimes support our weight (at least at first), but mostly we plunged into at least knee-deep snow and would occasionally drop in up to our crotches. The depth of the snow wasn't our biggest problem, though. We all wore shorts and each plunging step into the crust would scrape excruciatingly up our shins. Each step was so painful that Mark took to scooting on this butt to avoid plunging in. It was the worst, most painful snow conditions I've ever hiked through, in a lifetime of snowy adventures.

By the time we made the summit of Buffalo Peak and surveyed the similar terrain and likely identical snow conditions to our north,  no one, and these are three very tough guys, considered continued with our ridiculous ten-peak plan. I wanted to return the way we had come, for at least we had a track that way. Apparently I didn't make this very clear because Homeslice didn't understand what I wanted. I didn't want to force everyone to call it a day so quickly, so I didn't push it, but I feared any new trail breaking. Mark's feet were numb and we took some time on top for him to revive his feet.

Homie devised a plan to head northwest and then down steeply to the west until we encountered the trail. We were currently at 11,589 feet. The trail lay nearly 3000 feet below us. Chuck Charlie boldly took the lead. He plunged a track through the crust, seemingly immune to the pain, but, not, just too tough to cry out in pain. I followed, howling with each step. Mark continued to scoot on his butt on the worst sections.

After descending five or six hundred feet the crust finally stopped, but the snow just got deeper and wetter. Homie took over the lead and we wound our way through draws, over creeks, and over deadfall. Mark took a couple of nasty drops into the snow up to his crotch, bashing his shin against a log one time and nearly bashing his face into a boulder another time. We eventually found a big rock slab in a clearing and took refuge from the snow there to rest, dry out a bit, and regroup. Mark's feet were again numb and all of us had cold, wet feet.

We sunned ourselves like lizards for thirty minutes before donning still soaked shoes and socks to continue our quest for dry land and a trail. Charlie took the lead after the break and soon we were free from the snow. We passed a big cliff and surfed down steep loose slopes, losing elevation rapidly. Finally, we arrived at the bottom, crossed the creek on a bridge of logs and hit the trail, the glorious trail. We'd covered about four miles in an almost entirely miserable 4.5 hours.

Mark envisioned this day, even with the majority of it off-trail, as a training day for the Hard Rock Hundred, which he'll run come July, and he wasn't satisfied with calling it a day. The rest of us had no desire to run around on trails after that experience. Eventually we settled on a plan. Mark would hike/run up to Buckleberry Pass, hopeful ahead of the Nazgul and try to descend from there before Sauron's eye spotted him and brought him more miserable snow. He was still well-stocked with lembas bread and he took off. The three of us would hike out and the drive around to make a stealthy assault on the Black Tower. We'd meet up in nearby Rivendell. At least that was the plan.

Mark didn't elude the snow and had an even more miserable time descending from the pass. Sauron had obliterated any sign of the trail, burying it in unconsolidated, freezing snow. Mark's feet froze solid for the third time that day and his spirits dipped low. Just when he was about to give up all hope, an angel called to him and revived him. Miraculously, he still had cell service, answered, and pushed on.

Meanwhile, with Sauron's attention diverted, Chuck Charlie, Homeslice, and I ventured around to the Black Tower. The bridge at Khazad Dun was out, but our FJ forded it and we continued to the base. After paying the Troll's Toll, we started up, steeply, with a short section of rope and one pair of magic shoes. An airy traverse on wet rock brought us to Durin's Door and I headed up, trailing the rope. Homeslice wrapped the rope around his waist and Chuck Charlie danced up in his magic shoes.
Chuck Charlie took the lead and found the passage through the maze to the base of the final prow. A steep crack was dispatched and the summit gained, but retreat wasn't possible and we pushed over the top, down a wide crack and descended a tree back to the base. We retraced our path through the maze and back to the ground. We descended back to the FJ, way behind schedule, and headed for Rivendell.

Gandalf must have been looking after each of us, for, while both parties arrived over 70 minutes late, we were within two minutes of each other. Beaten and bruised, Mark had barely escaped, running just ahead of warg-mounted orcs before reaching the safety of Elfin land. We hadn't recovered all the treasure that we sought, but we lived to return again.