Thursday, July 30, 2015

G-3 Summit Conference, First Summit: Gannett

G-3 Summit Conference

I’d had Gannett and Granite, the highest mountains in Wyoming and Montana, respectively, on my to-do list for quite a while. With some free time this summer, I finally headed off to get them done with my 17-year-old son Derek.

Gannett Peak, in the Wind Rivers Range, is the highest peak in Wyoming, only forty feet higher than the famous Grand Teton. Gannett is one of the most remote peaks in the lower 48 states and the two most popular approaches require 47 and 50+ miles for the roundtrip. The Grand, in contrast, almost sits on a paved road. That mountain rises 7000 feet in just a few horizontal miles. Whether via the easiest or most direct routes, the Grand Teton, on average, is twice as steep as Longs Peak in Colorado. It’s an incredible mountain with a vast and varied collection of climbing routes, many of which play a central part in the development of alpine climbing in the United States.

I’d already climbed the Grand Teton four times, by four different routes (Direct Exum, North Face, North Ridge, and East Ridge) and didn’t need that mountain, but Derek wanted it badly, so we added it into the G-Mountain Tour. As a compromise, I wanted to do the Owen-Spalding route, as it is the easiest route and the route taken when people run the peak for speed. Plus, that would give me five ascents of the Grand, all by different routes.

Granite Peak is in the Beartooth Mountains of southwestern Montana and it is one of the toughest state summits. It is 25 miles roundtrip, but half of that is on the Froze to Death Plateau - a giant, trail-less expanse that has caused many a peak bagger to get lost. The upper part of the mountain is steep and involves sustained 4th class climbing with some short low 5th class cruxes. If we could pull this off, it would be quite a week.


This mountain has been on my list for a long time, probably at least twenty years. The reason it is finally getting done is that my son Derek is an mountaineer/adventurer now and what better way to spend vacation time than with your family doing what you love.
The big peak above my pack is Fremont (3rd highest in Wyoming) and rises out of the Titcum Basin, where we are headed.
I’m sure I was first attracted to Gannett because it was the highest in Wyoming, but I wasn’t then and am not really now a “high pointer”, at least not in the usual sense of the word. My most vivid recollections about Gannett were the musings of my long-time climbing partner, the Loobster, about the Titcomb Basin and the Dinwoody Glacier. I think he just liked the sound of those places. They are named after a couple of brothers who climbed in the basin and a cavalry officer named Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie didn’t even come very close to the area and originally just a tributary was named after him. But then, “like a spawning fish the name traveled upstream” to a glacier, a pass, and a mountain. He said it so often that the place names became embedded in my mind. The names conjured up magical alpine adventures.

My friends Buzz and Peter explored shorten options to approaching Gannett via Wells and Tourist Creeks and Peter and then Anton put in incredible FKT efforts via a combination of the two that brought the time down to a remarkable 8h46m. This is for a world-class athlete in his element, however. While Derek and I could probably manage a one-day ascent via this route, it didn’t sound nearly as appealing as the Titcomb Basin, which is revered by the guidebook author, Joe Kelsey, who calls it maybe the most spectacular area in the Wind Rivers, with the only rival being the Cirque of the Towers. That was good enough for me and I chose that approach.

Gannett can and has been climbed in a day via the Titcomb Basin approach as well, but 47 miles was a bit more than Derek and I wanted to bite off and it would involve extensive night-time travel in order to hit the glaciers at the right time of day. So, we opted for a 3-day approach: hike in 17 miles to the Titcomb Basin on day one; climb Gannett on day two; and hike out on day three.
I think this is Barbara Lake
We left town around noon on Monday and drove straight to the trailhead where we set up our tent in the parking lot, not directly next to the “No Camping” sign, but pretty close. We had dinner, packed our packs a bit, watched a movie on my laptop and went to sleep. The next morning we got a bit of a lazy start, but were hiking by 8:30 a.m. It was a bit chilly, probably high 30’s or 40’s and we hiked entirely in long pants. The weather for the next three days would be as perfect as I can imagine and didn’t know if the Winds has ever had a three-day stretch so nice. We didn’t see a cloud for three days. We had very little wind. Temperatures were mostly in the 50’s and 60’s and probably hit the 70’s the day of our climb. 

We both wore long pants, hat, gloves, and Derek even wore his light alpine down jacket. I carried a water bottle in my hand, thinking I’d stash it in 30 minutes or so. Instead, I stashed it 5.5 hours later when we sat down for the first time in the Lower Titcomb Basin, 15.5 miles from the trailhead. 
And this is Seneca Lake...I think
Besides the first few miles, which are in a forest, this is the most spectacularly beautiful hike I think I’ve ever done. There is a new stunning lake every mile. The views of wild, high peaks are everywhere. This place has so much water and so much greenery, it was the alpine version of Seattle. Yet, we wouldn’t see a cloud for three days. The one drawback is that horses use this trail too and we saw a few and their droppings as well. On the way in I didn’t seem to notice this much at all, but did on the way out, especially over the five miles nearest to the trailhead. But this was nothing like the horse sewer of the Valley Trail in Yosemite or the Kaibab or Bright Angel Trails in the Grand Canyon.
Passing Island Lake
We had a late lunch in the Basin and Derek crashed a bit. He had been rolling on the way in, but now his heels had bad blisters and he was tired. He was done. I looked around for a campsite without much luck. The slopes of the Titcomb Basin are steep and don’t flatten out until hitting the lakes. I convinced Derek to hike another two miles to get past the Upper Titcomb Lake where the terrain offered more options and I knew campsites existed. We did get past the lakes, but not very far and I found a pretty good site right next to the trail. Right next to the trail…that would become a slight issue the next day.
Looking south in the Titcum Basin
For the first time backpacking, I brought in four pre-cooked Bratwurst and buns. This was a very good decision, as they were huge hits both nights. I forgot to bring in water filtration, but it wasn’t as bad as it might sound. There were exactly zero people camped above us in the entire watershed and we just dipped from the streams. I guess we’ll find out if we have giardia in a fortnight or so. On the other hand, forgetting the sunscreen on the next day, as we climbed on snow for hours, was just as bad as it sounds. I guess we’ll know if we have skin cancer in a decade or so.
Camp in the Titcum Basin. Bonney Pass is seen above the left side of the tent
I brought a charging brick so that I could recharge my phone, but I brought the wrong cable and my phone died on the first day. I was distraught. This was our source of audio books that we listened to while hiking and as we went to sleep (this trip featured Don’t Know Much About U.S. Presidents). I was also going to use it to read a Kindle book. We’d have to talk to each other! Derek’s great, of course, but between the hours of 5 a.m. and noon he isn’t much for conversation. Plus, 17 miles is a long way to hike and it’s nice to listen to a book, learn something, and discuss it. I didn’t realize how dependent I was on this device.
The ugly 2000-foot grunt up to Bonney Pass
I was startled awake the next morning when a team of climbers hiked by our tent (remember, we were right on the trail.) I check my watch: 4:20 a.m. At 5 a.m. I made a cup of coffee and at 5:20 a.m. Derek and I started up toward Bonney Pass (previously named Dinwoody Pass). I was a bit dismayed how far it was before we really started to climb. We stepped across streams, climbed over boulders and talus and traversed slopes before getting to the 2000-foot scree slope that leads to the pass. Derek got a bit of an ass kicking here. He frequently starts slow in the morning, as he has trouble eating, feels nauseous, and, this morning, he was fighting some painful blisters. I was concerned. Despite knowing how tough he is and knowing that he’s only turned back on a mountain once in his life - when he threw-up trying to climb Longs Peak when he was 12 years old - I thought he might cry “Uncle.” But he kept on hiking. I guess I’m still learning about his fortitude and toughness. 
On the Dinwoody Glacier and looking up at the summit of Gannett. We descended here and then up onto the Gooseneck Glacier which is the upper snow above and slightly left of me. We do not follow it to the skyline, though.
We made the pass in two hours and got our first look at the mountain we’d come to climb. Gannett did not disappoint. On Bonney Pass, the view of Gannett is the same as all the Google images we searched up during recon, and it is striking. The mountain, though still far away, gave us a boost of energy by virtue of its magnificence, and we started hiking down. Derek was still struggling, and said he was feeling nauseous. He decided to just puke and hopefully feel better after. He did! He got some food down right after and we then ventured onto our first (Derek’s first ever) glacier, the Dinwoody Glacier. This glacier was trivial. The snow was still fairly hard and it was easy walking. I had my light steel Kahtoola crampons, while Derek only had Microspikes, and he was fine.
"What do I do with this thing, again?" Derek on his first glacier and sporting Bronco orange headwear.
After the Dinwoody Glacier, we stowed the crampons and climbed across and partway up the Gooseneck Ridge. Here we saw a guy who had been waiting for “a couple hours” for his nephew to summit. This was the mystery of our ascent, as we never saw a soloist, and when we got back down to this point, the man was gone. Climbing up this ridge, which was mostly class 2 and 3, with some harder scrambling if you got off route (we did a bit on the descent), Derek discovered that he had lost one of his gloves. Bummer. Especially with the crux snow climbing above us. I had packed a spare pair, though, and it turned out that Derek did as well. He’s learning fast. Remarkably, on the descent and having forgotten about the lost glove, I stopped at one point to take a photo. Derek walks up beside me, looks down, and says, “Ah, my missing glove!” It was right at my feet. Cool.
Hiking up the lower talus on the Gooseneck Ridge

The Gooseneck
On this ridge, but off to our left was an older high-pointers couple. I called over a greeting and determined that they were still on their way up. They eventually turn around, as one was recovering from an injury and just wasn’t ready for Gannett yet. They were on their third day out. Bummer, after so much effort.

The crux of the climb is the Gooseneck Glacier, specifically crossing the bergschrund to get on the upper, steep glacier so as to bypass the Gooseneck Pinnacle on the ridge. Later in the season there is no longer a snow bridge across this bergschrund, but when we arrived, there was still a narrow, thin bridge. I thought it looked okay. From below we’d seen a party of three cross it roped (these would be the climbers that passed our camp). I decided not to rope us up and prodded Derek to just step lightly and keep ascending. I followed across after he was on the upper section and we followed good steps to the top and back onto the rock, where we stowed our ice gear once again.
Derek crosses the bergschrund
We scrambled up a brief bit of steep rock and then it was much easier scrambling (class 2 and 3) until we arrived at the summit snowfield. Here we met a guided party of three descending. They were all roped together and moving slowly down the soft snow. We strapped on our spikes and drew our axes and were on top ten minutes later. Here we met the three-person team from San Francisco. They were camping in the Titcum Basin as well and were planning to bag peaks for six days. This is a wise strategy to amortize that long approach and I hope to return with a similar strategy one day, but we would not be distracted from the G-3 Summit Conference.
See what Derek's wearing on his shoes? Big shout out to Danny Giovale, Kahtoola, and Microspikes!
We stayed on the summit for twenty minutes or so, eating and resting, and started down just before the SF Trio. We caught the guided party as the guide was belaying them as they downclimbed past the bergschrund. This was painful to watch. Derek and I had just walked up the steps and were just walking down the steps. When we arrived the woman was just going over the snow bridge and giving step-by-step updates on what she saw, expecting a response to each one. The man was kicking his boots five or six times per placement like he was soloing Slipstream. The guide didn’t say anything besides, “Nice job, Don.” Don was facing sideways with one hand on a ski pole and one hand on an axe. It was the most awkward, slowest way to climb anything and the guide remained mute to any instruction. I’d think a guide that was willing to teach skills would be even more valuable than one that just herds his clients to the summit and back. It took him fifteen minutes to descend fifty feet. A distance Derek and I would cover in about 30 seconds. We couldn’t easily go around though, as this was the only bridge across the bergschrund. We patiently waited and chatted up the guide a bit.
Derek above the Gooseneck Glacier and high on the ridge
They were on their fourth day of a six-day trip to bag Gannett. They took three days to reach their current camp on top of Bonney Pass. They’d return to that camp today and take two more days to reach the trailhead. That must be a hefty guiding fee. 

The guide asked me a strange question, one I’d never heard from a climber before: “Why climb Gannett?” Why? It took me aback. It reminded me of when a reporter asked Mallory why he strived to climb Everest: “Because it’s there.” If you have to ask why I climb mountains, you probably won’t understand or be satisfied with the answer. What he really wanted to know, I think, was “Are you two high-pointers?” High-pointers are people that strive to stand on the highest point in each state and make up probably all of the guided parties on Gannett, as it is one of the four hardest summits, along with Granite (Montana), Rainier (Washington), and, of course, Denali (Alaska). I responded, “Why not? It’s a cool mountain. A neat adventure.”

Derek on the final ridge to the summit.
Derek and I reversed the route efficiently and quickly (save for the grunt back up to Bonney Pass). Once there, after a brief rest, we headed up Mt. Miriam, as it was only three hundred feet above us. It offered more than just another summit, for the apex was a striking spire and required some careful and exposed scrambling. We reversed back to the pass and I wanted more. I wanted Dinwoody Peak, but Derek finally called “No más”, but he encouraged me to go for it. I left the pack with Derek and headed up with as much pace as I could muster, which wasn’t a lot at this point. Wyoming has 31 peaks above 13,000 feet (with 300 feet of prominence). All of them, save the Grand Teton, are in the Wind River Range. Many are quite difficult and involve long approaches. I know of only one person (13er Girl) who has done them all. If I lived in Wyoming, it would certainly be on my list. I’ve only done two of them because Dinwoody (12th on peak list, but only 80 feet of prominence) and Miriam (44th on peak list, but only 240 feet of prominence) do not meet the separate peak criteria. The Enclosure a bump on the side of the Grand Teton is also on the peak list (it only has 80 feet of prominence) and I forgot to tag the summit when we climbed the Grand a few days later. Oops.
On the summit!
A few hundred feet up, I could see the the SF Trio had now joined Derek at the pass. They asked if I was a sponsored athlete. Why? I don’t know, but the funny part is that Derek knew I was sponsored, but didn’t know why. Actually, maybe that isn’t so strange. I’m not sure myself most of the time. I’m not an elite athlete. I call myself an evangelist for La Sportiva and I do cool things and write about them. If I have any notoriety at all it would be as a co-author of my Speed Climbing book, with Hans Florine and as a founding member of Satan’s Minion Scrambling Club. Derek just said, “Yes…he’s sponsored…but I don’t know why. Yes, I am his son… Uh, he’s the race director for the world-famous Rattlesnake Ramble.” Good save, Derek!
The Grand Teton (our next objective) from the summit of Gannett
I cranked out the 700 vertical feet to the summit and took some photos before turning back down, using as much snow as I could to hasten the descent. I caught up to Derek at the bottom of the scree field in Titcomb Basin and we hiked the rest of the way back to camp together and passed two people, a male and a female, sitting on a rock having a snack. They seemed to have ranger patches on their shoulder but when they asked what we’d done and I told them that we’d climbed Miriam and Dinwoody, they had no idea what I was talking about. I wondered what those patches were on their shoulder, but not for long, as they asked if we knew the regulations about camping. Uh, sort of. They took issue with our campsite being only two feet from the trail. In our defense it was a previously used site and, technically, the trail ends at the Upper Titcomb Lake. They seem to think the trail ended right at our tent and needed to be moved, as it was detracting from others wilderness experience. We knew that the only people that were going to come by our tent before we moved it were the SF Trio, but reluctantly agreed to move camp. Then we didn’t.
Bonney Pass from the summit of Gannett (8x zoom)
We got back to camp a bit before 5 p.m. and had at least a couple of hours of sun left. This would normally be great, but the sun made it too hot to get into the tent and outside of it the mosquitoes were rampant. We hadn’t noticed them the day before because the wind blew them away. We lathered on bug juice and they didn’t bite us (much), but they still buzzed around our faces. I endured it for awhile. Enough to cook and eat a brat. Then I took a hike up to Mistake Lake, so named because it is a mistake to hike the three hundred vertical feet to see the one uninspiring lake in the entire basin. But it got me moving and away from the skeeters. 
Climbing back up the Dinwoody Glacier to Bonney Pass
The next morning we were hiking out by 6:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes into our hike we met the SF Trio hiking back up to bag another mountain. They climbed the same three mountains I did the day before, though taking four hours longer, making a 15-hour day for them. I was impressed they were up and at it so early the very next day. Right on!
Derek on the summit of Miriam Peak
We traded leading the miles, as usual, and Derek endured the heel pain. This is particularly painful starting out, because the nerves haven’t had a chance to be desensitized, and Derek limped along with compensatory gait. We moved continuously until 11 a.m. and then took a lunch break with a great view. After lunch we met an 11-person NOLS group that was on a 30-day hike. They had been resupplied twice by outfitters and didn’t have to leave the trail. Right on!
Descending back to camp in the Titcum Basin
When we ran into them they were on a “push” day doing eight miles. Most days they did about five miles. We did 17 miles that same day and were back at the car by 1:30 p.m. Both are great ways to experience the outdoors. 
Island Lake on our hike out.

Looking at Derek’s blisters back at the trailhead I was shocked and proud that he had just hiked out 17 miles with not a single whine. Sure he walked awkwardly at times, but he never made a peep about the pain he was in. He never asked to slow down. He never asked for a break. He never asked for Advil. In fact, the closer we got to the trailhead, the faster he hiked. Maybe he just wanted the pain to be over. When he took off his socks I thought we might have to amputate his feet. Okay, maybe not that bad, but lord they didn’t look good.
OUCH! Want to do 17 miles on these blisters? Derek is one tough dude.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

LPT for Month Seven of LPP

Charlie rides the Peak-to-Peak Highway towards THE peak - Longs Peak

Follow me on this and see if you can help me find the flaw. The elevation of Lyons is 5374 feet. The distance from Lyons to Boulder is about 12 miles, but we'll round down to be conservative; say ten miles. The average grade between the two has to be 10%, so Boulder's elevation should be 5374 + 5280 (10% of ten miles) = 10,000+ feet. Yet, Boulder's elevation is supposedly only 5430 feet. How can this be? You'll immediately jump on my guess for average grade, but I rode this stretch yesterday and it seemed harder than riding Super Flag.

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity (you ten people know who you are!) will recognize the two acronyms in the title, but the two other readers, LPP is the Longs Peak Project and means climbing Longs Peak by a different route in each calendar month of the year. LPT is the Longs Peak Triathlon, which has traditionally referred to biking from Boulder to the trailhead, hiking/running into the base of the East Face and climbing the Diamond. We're stretching it a bit to be any technical (5th class route) route on Longs Peak. That way you have cycling, running, and climbing.
They say the camera adds ten pounds. Untrue! It apparently adds about fifty. It's amazing that my bike doesn't collapse.
We chose to do Kiener's Route since it is not very sustained and only 5.5/5.6, but it is on the spectacular East Face and has stellar position. I'd soloed it a few times before and knew we'd be fine, but Charlie had never seen the route before. In order to go light, since we were on bikes and unsupported, we chose to not bring the following gear, which a regular climbing party would bring: rope, harness, rack, belay device, rain jacket, helmet, rock shoes, mountain boots, crampons, and an ice axe. Leaving that all behind really lightens the load. We just went in running shorts, scrambling shoes, and Kahtoola Microspikes.

I put essentially all my climbing gear in a mesh bag and used bungy cords to strap it to my handlebars. Charlie put it all in his Ultimate Directions Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest 2.0 (I used the same pack) and wore it on the ride up there. We both wore La Sportiva scrambling shoes. Charlie in the very unfortunately discontinued Exum Ridge and me in the Mix.
Trying to run on the slight descent towards Chasm Lake

Some might wonder why we rode up there, making an already very difficult LPP tougher. I'm one of those people. The reason: Charlie. He's a 24-hour Leadville 100 finisher, a Hard Rock 100 finisher, an ex-near-pro adventure racer, etc. The longer and the harder, the better for him. Which makes things tough for me, as my speciality is more the shorter, easier, slower. I excel there and not on such arduous adventures. Ten days before today, I hadn't been on a bike in nine months. I did four training rides, including this one. The saving grace is that my brother gave me a ridiculously good road bike and I'm much better suited to biking than running. Mainly because I can sit on my ample backside and still make progress. I really feel that is the biggest drawback to running - you can't sit down at the same time! Plus, having a bit extra around the middle doesn't matter as much on the bike.

Charlie heads up the bottom of Lambs Slide, just far enough to gain the rock rib (out of the photo to the left). The Diamond looms above and Kiener's traverses in from the left to follow the left edge of the Diamond.
We met at the Safeway in north Boulder at 4:45 a.m. and got all our gear ready. We had to wait until Safeway opened at 5 a.m. so that I could use the bathroom, but this wasn't a huge drawback since we were going without any headlights and needed a touch more light. We both wore red flashers on the back of our bikes so that the cars would see us. I figured the roundtrip would take us between 11 and 12 hours. I'd done this same adventure before with Stefan Griebel and we took just over ten hours. The FKT for this route is 9h40m by Bill Briggs. And, as long as we're talking FKT's, Stefan and Jason Wells have done the unsupported LPT via the Casual Route in 9h57m. This is a very impressive time, but it is also the ONLY known unsupported LPT on the Diamond.

Charlie and I pedaled north on 28th Street (highway 36) and noted the time when we hit Broadway. We had no reason to think, given our lack of training, that we had a chance at the FKT, but we kept it in mind, at least for awhile. Reality set in once we were high on Longs Peak. We traded pulls for a bit and then spotted a group of three pulling onto 36 from Neva Road. I accelerated a bit to catch them and asked if we could sit on their wheels for a bit. They were nice guys and we chatted with them. They were headed for Old Stage via Lefthand Canyon. I tried to convince them that riding to Lyons was a much better choice, but they stuck with their plan.
Charlie kicking steps across Lambs Slide, heading for Broadway
We made Lyons in 30 minutes and turned up South St. Vrain Canyon Highway 7. The first mileage sign we saw said "32". We knew the Longs Peak turnoff was a mile marker "9". We had 23 miles to go, mostly uphill. We soon got into a nice rhythm of switching leads at every mile marker. This helped alleviate some of the monotony of the climb and made it easy to set small goals and not think of the enormity of the day. Charlie was pulling strong and after ten miles or so, I'd long for my turn at the front because then I knew I wouldn't get dropped, at least for the next mile. The weather was stellar - clear blue skies and relatively little wind. We'd pay our dues for this lack of wind on the return trip. We just kept turning the pedals and turned off on the Longs Peak Road after 2h48m.

I pressed the pace on the mile-long Longs Peak Road to the trailhead. Why do this? I told myself that I wanted to be sure to break three hours, but that was guaranteed. The real reason was to show Charlie that I was strong. Why do that? Insecurity, pure and simple. It seems I'm always the anchor with Charlie. He assures me that we're a pretty equal team, but I'm still more convinced that he's just being nice about it. Anyone could see that I'm no Charlie. That would be very evident later in the day.
The spectacularly exposed and narrow Broadway
As we entered the parking lot we saw fellow Minion Drew Hildner. He was there to do a fast solo on the Keyhole Ridge (5.6). Charlie and I plan on that route for our September ascent. We transitioned into our running shorts and scrambling shoes, stashed our bikes behind the ranger hut, and started hiking up the trail. The thought of running only entered my head as that it could be immediately rejected. I couldn't do it. But we hiked strong and got to Chasm Cut-off in a bit over an hour, at 9:30 a.m.

We continued to Chasm Lake and around it and up the talus on the far side, headed for the East Face of Longs Peak. We got onto the top of Lambs Slide and were able to kick steps, in our Microspikes just high enough to gain the rock rib on the left. We scrambled up this until we were directly across from Broadway and then found a sharp rock to use as an ice axe and then carefully kicked steps across. Charlie led the first half of this until his hands went numb. He had forgotten to bring any gloves. I took over and finished the traverse. We didn't rush this. We knew a fall here could be fatal and took our time to kick a good step. The sharp rocks also work amazingly well as a good handhold.
Heading up Kiener's Route
Once on Broadway it was an easy, quick, though massively exposed, traverse to Kiener's Route. This ledge is only a foot wide in some sections, but it was completely dry and we were careful and attentive. A couple was gearing up at the base of Kiener's and we said "Hi" before pressing onwards. The rock was dry and solid and the scrambling felt very secure. Soon we were on the third class terrain and I was out of gas. I kept eating and drinking but the altitude and 9000+ feet of gain that we'd already done slowed me to a crawl. Did Charlie go by me to show me how strong he was? Nope. Charlie's secure. He knows he's a badass. He's also a great partner and would never leave me behind. I've got a bit more to learn from this kid...
Charlie high on Longs Peak with Chasm Lake below.
Earlier this month Charlie and I had joined Andrew Hamilton and some others on Longs Peak. Andrew was in the process of setting a new Colorado 14ers speed record and Longs Peak was his last peak. The weather was cold, rainy, misting, foggy. I had led everyone into some wet willows trying to take all the shortcuts and soaked myself. In the dark, near the Keyhole, as Andrew struggled to find the route, I found myself getting very cold, my feet and hands especially. We knew the Homestretch was icy and technical and I had no ice axe. My primary reason for being there was to help Andrew and to celebrate with him and I felt I was becoming a liability. Hence, when another companion turned around, I did as well. Andrew, Stefan, Charlie, and two others headed up into the cold, icy darkness on MY peak and I headed down, defeated. I was too wimpy and too weak and was sure the others came to the same conclusion. Not Charlie. Charlie thought, "What a mature decision to put his ego aside and turn around, thereby making the remaining group safer." A true friend is one that sees the best in you, even when you can't see it yourself. He's not blind to your flaws or limitations, but the first thing he sees are the best qualities.
Charlie down climbing the wet Cables Route
I try to always set a pace I can maintain. I like continuous movement. With such a strategy a slower guy like myself can produce some fast times. My pace on the upper mountain was extremely slow, yet I still had to stop. Just for a minute, but I couldn't keep moving. I started again, telling myself I'd take another rest at 13,800 feet, but then kept going, promising myself a rest at 14,000. I did stop at 14,100 feet when Charlie stopped for a bathroom break.
Transitioning at the Longs Peak Trailhead
We tagged the summit after 6h42m from Boulder, about 3.5 hours from the trailhead. I was hoping to do this in three hours, but hope doesn't make you faster. Training does and I didn't do it. It didn't bother me, though. I mean everyone wants to be stronger, but the weather was holding and I had just completed month seven of the LPP. I was pretty excited about that. We stayed a few minutes on top to rest just a bit and eat a bit and then started down the North Face, chatting continuously. We ran into a roped party coming up something on the North Face, though not the Cables Route. We downclimbed the very wet technical pitch and at the bottom we heard a yell from below. It was Drew. He had taken some photos of us and was running back to the trailhead. We didn't give chase. I was too tired to safely run the talus, so we hiked down to the Jim's Grove Trail and then mostly trotted the rest of the way out.

Before we got to the Jim's Grove Trail we hiked right into a mother ptarmigan and her chicks. They were so well camouflaged that I never saw them until I almost stepped on them. The chicks were so cute, so small. The mother, small and fragile herself, ran back and forth between me and her chicks, making a hissing sound almost like a rattlesnake. It might be silly, but I was inspired by this. Her bravery was noble, though probably just evolutionary genetics. She was standing up to two creatures more than 100 times her own weight. She might not be able to protect her babies, but to get to them we were going to have to go through her. Inspired by a bird...what have I become?
An inspiring ptarmigan protecting her chicks
We ran pretty well on the lower sections, probably because I smelled the barn - meaning the saddle of my bike and the coasting to come. I thought we moved very efficiently at the trailhead, yet it still took me 12 minutes to transition to my bike.
Always the fashionista. I can't help it.

We cruised down the Longs Peak Road and out onto the Peak-to-Peak highway. I knew we had forty miles to finish in Boulder, but a good portion of that we'd already earned on the way up and would be free now, as we coasted towards Lyons. We were mentally prepared for the three or four climbs before the long, final descent to Lyons and they went well, though with considerable effort.

Then we hit highway 36 and the hell that is the ride back to Boulder after going for ten hours and facing brutal crosswinds and headwinds. Charlie did the bulk of the work here and I hung on as best I could. The first three miles out of Lyons were ridiculously hard for me. If that had continued, I'd have stuck out my thumb. We got back to Broadway after 10h43 minutes, so about an hour off the FKT. It was solidly under my predicted 11 hours, though. I was satisfied. But mostly I wanted to be out of my biking shoes and off my bike. The next three miles back to Safeway were easy, downhill miles, thankfully, and it was with great relief and satisfaction that I pulled up to my car.

The roundtrip was 91 miles (about 80 miles on the bike) and 11,000 vertical feet. Five months to go. Next up is the Casual Route on the Diamond.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Linking Climbs Via Bike

I have a habit and a history of taking the great, motivational achievements of the world's top climbers and dumbing them down to my level. This thinking was the inspiration for the Poor Man's Linkup, where my buddy John Black and I invented our own way of linking El Cap to Half Dome. We climbed the East Buttress on El Cap (13 pitches, 10b) and then did Snake Dike (5.7). I freed them both as well - before Dean Potter freed them both! :-)

Jonny Copp and Kelly Cordes did the awesome Triple Lindy in RMNP and I, with my buddy Tom Karpeichik, countered with the Crescent Arete on Pagoda to the North Ridge of Spearhead to the North Ridge of Chiefshead to the Hourglass Ridge (it was supposed to be the East Face, but I had to dumb it down even further due to lots of verglas on our climbs) of Mt. Alice.

Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright (no relation, obviously) did two incredible suffer-fests where they biked and climbed California 14ers and then did desert towers in Utah. I like biking. Charlie and I are planning to bike to Longs Peak next week and climb Kiener's Route as month seven of the Longs Peak Project, so I need to start riding a bit. Two days ago I rode 15 miles. I didn't want to overtrain or anything, but I figured I needed another ride.

This isn't even the first time I've done this link-up of climbs. Tom and I did this one last year. But we stopped for a burrito in town before I rode home, so the roundtrip was a lot greater. This time I wanted to do it a bit more continuously. The idea was to link up climbs in Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, Flagstaff Mountain, and Boulder Canyon, by bike if Alex and Cedar did this, they'd have chosen the Naked Edge, Death and Transfiguration, some V10 on Flagstaff, and Country Club Crack. But this is me, remember. It's all about getting down to my level...

I rode from my house out to Eldo and rode right across the bridge to the base of the Wind Tower. I had two bottles on my bike, a couple of Honey Stinger Chew packets, my climbing shoes in my jersey pockets, and my scrambling shoes bungy-ed on underneath my seat. I also had a lock wrapped around my seat post.
The Wind Tower. The Wind Ridge is the left skyline
I switched directly into my climbing shoes since the approach is so short and all on rock and hiked up to the start of the Wind Tower. Two guys were gearing up there, but they were cool with letting me through. I did my usual start, which goes directly to the ridge, to the right of the 5.8 direct start. This feels very solid to me. I cruised up all three pitches to the top and who do I find coiling his rope on top? Fellow minion Jason Antin with a couple of chicks. I assume he was guiding them. With my sunglasses and biking helmet (why not?) Jason didn't recognize me right away. He probably wondered what the heck some old dude was doing up there in a biking kit. Cool, I am not. I said hi, told him my plan, and moved on. He was quite enthusiastic about it, but he's enthusiastic about everything. Jason is the human equivalent of a Labrador Retriever.

Selfie on top of the First Flatiron
I downclimbed back to the trail and when I went by the start of the route the other party was just starting to lead the first pitch. I descended back to my bike, hopped on. I rode to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead and switched into my scrambling shoes. I hiked up to the base of the East Face, taking about 16 minutes for that. I wanted to get this one done in an hour, roundtrip, but I didn't want to suffer too much. I paced it right, because I did it in 56 minutes. Almost exactly the time it would Stefan to do it twice. Perfect.

I passed a party of two on the third pitch. They were carrying sizable packs. Of course they looked way cooler than I did, for I was stuck in my nifty lycra outfit for this outing. They let me cruise on by. I found three older dudes talking about corporate intrigue or some such topic at the Route Junction Knob. It's a nice place to relax, but all I could think about was how much hotter the upper face was getting. I passed another team of two just as I hit the North Ridge.
Looking down on Chautauqua Park and Boulder from the summit of the First.
I was back on the ground forty minutes after starting and trotted gingerly (the only way I seem to come down these days) back to my bike. Back in my shoes, I toiled up the Flagstaff Road to the hardest climbing of the day - the Monkey Traverse. This problem is rated V4, which supposedly translates to a 12a, but there is not move remotely that hard and if you use both of the rests (I did, liberally), it's much easier. I have it wired, as well. Still, I hadn't been doing any hard climbing for months and wondered if I had the finger strength.

I switched to my climbing shoes and this route is why climbing shoes are necessary for this link-up, at least for me, though I wore them on the Wind Ridge and appreciated them there as well. I was hot, very sweaty, and tired. Thankfully the Monkey was completely in the shade still. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have stood a chance.
My favorite boulder problem: the Monkey Traverse. Mainly because is is the only one I can do.
I drank some water and tried to get my heart rate down. I walked down to the start, relaxed for a few moments, and pulled onto it. The Monkey is broken into three distinct sections with two good rests. The first part is the most overhanging (all sections overhang somewhat) but also has the best holds. I dorked up the sequence a bit and got a lot more tired than usual here, but made it cleanly to the rest and took a minute or two there. The middle section is the technical and endurance crux and I had my doubts. Everything felt harder than normal, clearly because I was out of shape. I struggled a bit and barely made the match up and left on the small rail. I hung on, though, and got into the knee-lock that provides the second rest.

Halfway up the East Slab on the Dome
With this knee-lock you can get a no-hands rest, but I also alternate my hands in a jam here as well to take some weight off my quad jammed into the rock. I rested here for at least two minutes because the final section is a bit of a high-ball, with an unpleasant landing. Most people use pads here and if you're going to come off, that's highly recommended. Of course carrying a pad on my bike was out of the question...even if I owned one. Anyway, I bore down hard and hung on to finish it off. This was a great relief because it was the one section of climbing I wasn't sure about. I had to be sure about the other sections since falling off on them would mean death. Hence, the easier ratings. This is supposed to be fun.

Back on the bike, I descended clear down to the Boulder Creek bike path and took that west up Boulder Canyon to the Dome. This one is cruiser and I did it in my approach shoes. It took me five minutes to hike up there. Five minutes to climb the route. And five minutes to descend back to my bike.
Doesn't this look like the Salathe Headwall? This is the crack splitting the East Slab on the Dome
Now I just needed to ride all the way home. I was now out of water and fading a bit, but kept turning the pedals until I pulled into my driveway. It took me 4.5 hours to cover the 43 total miles (biking and hiking) and 5000 vertical feet. I might try to get this under four hours, but there wasn't a lot of lollygagging on this effort, though I'm not too swift on the bike right now. Fun, goofy stuff - my specialty!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Pacing Hard Rock and San Juan 14ers

Mark and his four pacers: Homie, Mallory, Alice, and me

Once again we left town on Thursday afternoon for a 3-day weekend of camping and hiking. This time we were headed for the awesome San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado. The raison d'etre for the trip was to pace Mark Oveson in the Hard Rock 100. My leg was from Telluride to KT (Kamm Traverse), which would begin early Saturday morning. We wanted to get to the 6 a.m. start in Silverton on Friday morning, so we drove clear down there and camped in a big rocky, communal area up Mineral Creek Road, just outside of Silverton. The camping was...utilitarian. We put up the tents between a couple of RVs, but far enough away. The ground was like a cobblestoned street, but our pads smoothed things out. We weren't there long, as we didn't bed down until after 10 p.m. and were up at 5 a.m. to pack things up.

We drove into town and parked right at the start of the race. It was 40 degrees out and the weather would be stormy, off and on, throughout the entire race, but these 150+ ultra-runners are super tough. It's incredibly hard to get into this race because the number of entrants (~150) is so low and the number of applicants is so high (2000?). To even apply, though, you must have finished another 100-mile race in the past two years. These aren't rookies.

Defending champion (and 2015 champion) Killian Jornet
I found Homie first and then Mark. Killian Jornet was in town to defend his title from last year, when he set the course record at 22 hours and change. I knew a few other people, but mostly this isn't my crowd. Oppositely, Homie knew just about everyone. This is definitely his crowd. He's done this race twice and paced people numerous times. Both he and I paced Mark the last time he entered this race. Mark ran 36 hours and change then and hoped to better things this time, but in a race this long, with vastly different conditions and weather each year, there is no guarantees of anything.

It doesn't take long to start 150 runners and it was over in a flash. Homie, Derek, Sheri, and I all went back to the house that Mark is renting and his wife Patricia made us all an awesome breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and potatoes. It was delicious! Thanks, Patricia!
Hiking up from Grouse Gulch
Afterwards, Homie joined us for the drive up to Grouse Gulch. We were headed for Handies, a 14er, for Derek. Homie was bagging a couple of nearby peaks and joined us for the first 45 minutes before peeling off to the north. We hiked up over a saddle at 13,000 feet and then dropped 600 feet into the American Basin. At the saddle we got a good look at a snow-frosted Handies and wondered how the snow up there might affect both our ascent and that of the Hard-Rockers.
Handies with a frosting of snow
We had to cross quite a few soft snowfields en route to the main Handies trail. There was still a lot of snow in the San Juans and this would prove to be problematical for the lead runners trying to find the course up Oscar's Pass in the darkness of the coming night. We were fine, though, and followed the course markings all the way toward the summit, as this entire hike was part of Hard Rock 100 route. The leaders wouldn't be getting here until the afternoon, though.

The going was smooth to the summit and we took photos and got out a touch of food, but we didn't stay long, as the weather was turning. In fact, it started to graupel on us just as we started down. We pulled on our shells and were fine, but the skies were dark and threatening over the pass we had come over. Climbing up into that weather wasn't going to be fun.

But, like the entire weekend, the weather changed rapidly. The skis cleared up, somewhat, before we got there. For the next three days we'd be constantly switching from pulling on our shells and hats and gloves to shedding down to short sleeves and shorts. The weather just couldn't make up its mind for even an hour. Mother Nature...

Hiking back down to the car, where we could see Homie waiting for us, we passed lots of spectators and photographers hiking up to position themselves to document and cheer on the runners. In fact, we starting seeing them from the summit of Handies on down. Homie had been chatting with a bunch of people while waiting for us. He'd bagged his two peaks quickly. We drove back to Silverton and had a lingering pizza lunch with Sheri's sister Tara and her husband Carl. They live in Durango now and we hadn't seen them in awhile and enjoyed relaxing and catching up.

After lunch, we all went out separate ways. Tara and Carl headed home to Durango. Homie headed to Ouray, where he'd start pacing Mark around 11 p.m. His leg was from there to Telluride, where I'd take over. Hence, we headed to Telluride and then up highway 145 in search of a campground. The first, Sunshine was full, but we got the last walk-in spot at the very nice Matterhorn campground. We set up our tents in the sunshine and cooked dinner. Derek found a big boulder and pioneered a number of routes on them. The easiest, V3 on Derek's scale, was ascended by Sheri in her sandals and I did it in my Crocs. Derek also sent a V10 and a V6, also on his modified scale which converts to the standard V scale by dividing by ten.
Camping at the Matterhorn campground, 9 miles from Telluride.
It didn't occur to me until going to sleep that I didn't even know where to go in Telluride. I didn't know where to go in Silverton either, but that town is a lot smaller. Feeling somewhat stressed I got up at 3:15 a.m. and drove into Telluride. I made a pass through town, down Main Street and didn't see anything. I parked on the side of the street and tried to consult the tiny map I made of my segment to see if I could identify where it started. Just then I saw a runner trotting down the street. I asked him if he was associated with Hard Rock and he said he was a pacer. I followed him, driving slowly behind him until he got too nervous and took a short-cut.

The Hard Rock website was down and there was no updates for Mark available in Telluride. I didn't even know his Grouse Gulch time, let alone his Ouray time. It was 4 a.m., still before Mark's earliest projected arrival time, so I wandered around the aid station for a bit, picking up some information, like Killian losing forty minutes postholing around in the dark below Oscar's Pass, and Darcy passing Anna to move into first place for the women (Darcy would end up as second woman, tenth overall. Anna won, eighth overall).
Mark crossing a wood bridge halfway up the huge climb to Oscar's Pass
Finally, I checked my phone and found a text from Homie from 12:08 a.m.: "Leaving Ouray aid soon." I wondered if he had cell service wherever he was and sent a text asking for his ETA. To my surprise he responded almost immediately. At 4:26 a.m. he sent "At Virginius/Kroger's now." Then "1:30-2:00" as the time to Telluride. A bit later, apparently due to Mark's speed descending, which I'd experience later that day, "Probably earlier."

I rested in my car until 5:30 a.m. and then got my gear together, locked my car, and headed back to the aid station. It wasn't long before someone said, "169 on this way in." I grabbed Mark's drop bag and met them as they came trotting in. It was inspiring to me, seeing my two great friends running through the night together. One in service of the other. One giving all he had for him. It got me pumped up to do the same, though my leg would be much easier, entirely in the daylight. These two are pros and, much like last time, I mainly stayed out of the way and let them do their work. Homie even helped Mark take off his shoes. No task was too small for him, if he could possibly help Mark.

Studly Mark and incredible peaks everywhere in the San Juans
Soon we were out of there, following chalked arrows out to the start of our trail up to Oscar's Pass. This was a monstrous, 4500-foot climb that took us two hours and forty minutes. Mark was a machine on this section, just grunting it out with a smile on his face. I tried to carry the conversation but he was quite chatty himself. We finally crested the climb and thought we were done, only to look to our right and see that we still had a bit more climbing to do.

The descent started down a jumble of two-foot talus blocks and remarkably Mark was running this! I couldn't run this and I hadn't been going for 27 hours. He passed everyone in sight on this descent. Further down it started to rain and then some tiny hail. The same thing would happen descending our next climb. We were lucky with the weather, though. It was always reasonable as we climbed up and then stormy as we descended, giving us additional incentive to go down quickly.

On the next climb, up to Grant Swamp Pass, Mark passed a couple of racers early on. I think he passed a couple more up high, as well. As we neared the top, Mark pointed out the final section. From a distance this appeared to be vertical dirt! Mark looked a bit discouraged, but I wouldn't allow it. I had talked to Homie before and he told me that it wasn't as bad as it looked (thank God!). My altimeter told me it was only going to be about four hundred vertical feet. I led and went slow and steady and concentrated on placing my feet solidly before moving up. That way I didn't slip at all. Well, except for the top, where it was so muddy a bit of slippage was unavoidable.
Nearing the summit of Oscar's Pass
We now had a long descent and a long traverse, but Mark moved amazingly well, always running anything that wasn't uphill. All downhills. All flats. He was moving. Through mud, roots, plunging into and out of streams, like he was an escaped POW striving to get to the Swiss border. On the final Kamm Traverse section, with about a mile to go, I heard some cow bells cheering on a runner ahead. I said to Mark, "Sheri and Derek have cow bells. I wonder if that is them." As soon as we rounded the corner I spotted Derek's flashy orange jacket and yelled, "Sheri! Derek!" They had come all the way out to cheer us on. They ran along behind us, trying to keep up and take some photos.

We hit the road leading up to the KT aid station and it turned uphill and we walked. It was just 1:30 p.m. and Mark had a great chance to finish under 36 hours. He was out of there by 1:40 with Alice taking over the pacing duties. She'd take him to the finish. I hiked out with Sheri, Derek, and Patricia. We then drove into town and got a late lunch and relaxed a bit before heading over to the finish area. We didn't want to miss Mark. Homie checked the splits of runners that finished in 33 hours and it wasn't clear he could make it under 36. But then we got his split from the Putnam Aid Station and it was a slam dunk. Mark was running better than ever and the only question was how far he'd be under it. We spotted him coming down the hill and rallied everyone to the finish. He trotted in relaxed and strong, with his family and friends and everyone else cheering him on. He kissed the rock at 35 hours, 24 minutes, in 27th place overall. Outstanding!
Mark running down incredibly difficult terrain on the backside of Oscar's Pass
After some celebration, we said our goodbyes and Sheri, Derek and I drove over to Ouray and up the Camp Bird Mine road to the 2WD parking for Mt. Sneffels. We put up our tents on a flat spot and then the rain hit - bit surprise. We ate dinner in the car and then went to sleep a bit after 9 p.m.

The next morning we all headed up the trail, but Sheri was just going to hike to Wrights Lake and read her book. She'd already climbed the peak, of course, and wasn't motivated for a second trip. I was excited to show Derek the great Southwest Ridge route on one of my favorite 14ers. When Sheri stopped, we cranked up the effort a bit and moved continuously up the beautiful trail and then the great talus and scrambling on the ridge. We caught a team of four or five guys that were having trouble with the route finding at the notch where you move down and right to the next gully before heading back up. We passed them there, gave them our beta, and never saw them again.
Derek and the Southwest Ridge of Sneffels
We did the ridge in 47 minutes (1150 vertical feet). I only know this because Strava told me that we had the third fastest time (out of only eleven) on the ridge. We met three other climbers on the summit and hung out for about ten minutes to rest, drink, eat, and find a summit rock for Derek.

We then cruised down the regular route, finding nice firm snow in the upper couloir and then the fast, loose scree below the saddle. Once down on the trail we started trotting and would run the rest of the way back to the car. I stopped to use the privy at the 4WD parking and then ran down to catch Derek. Before I got to Derek I ran into George Barnes. I didn't recognize him, but as I neared I heard "Hey, Bill." "What?" I asked. "Hey, Bill. It's George Barnes. I do your race every year." Cool. He and his partner had just climbed the Teakettle - one of the top 100 peaks in Colorado. It has a 5.3 crux pitch at the summit. Derek and I had been admiring that peak from the summit and want to come back and climb it, along with the Coffee Pot and Mt. Potosi. The San Juans have so many awesome summits.
Derek scampers up the final section of the Southwest Ridge to the summit of Mt. Sneffels with Dallas Pk. in the background.
We did the roundtrip in under 3.5 hours and got back to the car before 10 a.m. All that was left was the long drive home and the nasty I-70 traffic, but Sheri handled the driving. It was another outstanding weekend. I've now done 33 unique peaks on the year (14 with Derek) and am ahead of my goal of 52 for the year.

A great morning with my son!