Saturday, January 23, 2016

Road to Denali, part 3: Mount Lady Washington

On the summit of Mount Lady Washington with some obscure 14er in the background

After last weekend's epic drive, weather, and failure to summit, Derek and I opted for Mount Lady Washington today. This was supposed to be our second training climb anyway, but the Dark Lord (Homie) got his hooks in us. We're once again on the Good (Light? I can't remember. My midi-chlorians must be low today) Side of the Force.

We got a casual start, leaving the house at 6 a.m. I was quite surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot at the Longs Peak Trailhead. Granted it was a nice day, but this is January! I'd never seen it like that. Maybe, partially, because I'm usually hiking before 7:20 a.m. and I'm usually not down by 1:15 p.m. It was even more surprising then, when the parking lot appeared to be entirely full!

We talked with Steve...I can't remember this last name...who was parked next to us. Nice guy. He was heading up solo to do D7! Not in a day, obviously, with this late start. I think the Diamond has only been soloed once in a day in winter, but I'm not that plugged into the super hardman scene. Anyone even contemplating the Diamond in winter, no matter how you do it, is either pretty badass or completely delusional. I fall into that second category. Or at least, I did last year. I told him to look out for my buddies Wade and Jason, who were supposed to be up on the Diamond doing the same, either in a day or in two days - I didn't hear their final plan.

Derek and I started up the trail and took the first shortcut, as it was nicely packed out. Above there, we stuck to the trail, as the shortcuts are viciously steep, but we planned on taking them on the way down. We didn't see anyone on the way up, which was pretty surprisingly with the state of the parking lot. We noticed a number of teams taking off a bit before us. Maybe we got ahead of them with the shortcut or maybe they were headed to Estes Cone.

I wore my new expedition backpack and Derek wore my old backpack. We wanted to try them out before taking them on an overnight. They both worked well for us. We made treeline in an hour and Chasm Cutoff in 90 minutes. Here we saw one guy over by the junction, sort of wandering about. We took a break here to drink and eat, before heading directly up the ridge towards the summit of Mount Lady Washington. Soon we saw a guy descending. He was off to our side and we didn't talk to him, but I'm guessing he bagged the summit.

We didn't see anyone else on our way to the summit. I climbed most of this upper section in my new Sportiva down jacket. It wasn't super cold, but I'm super wimpy. Also, Derek is still getting used to winter climbing in big boots and was getting worked over a bit by the effort it takes to stay in balance on tricky terrain with significant wind. I don't think it will last, but right now I'm stronger than Derek on this terrain and even going easy, I'd get out in front of him pretty quickly. I settled into a routine of hiking for ten or fifteen minutes and then stopping to wait for Derek. With my down jacket on, I'd just sit down on a boulder and wouldn't get cold at all. Most of the time, in the winter, I need to keep moving in order to stay warm, but it turns out that wearing a down jacket keeps you really warm. Who knew? I now understand that merely carrying this jacket in your pack, which I've been doing for years, doesn't actually make you any warmer. Follow me here, but the key is actually putting it on. Works like a charm.

Derek, on the other hand, being a bit tougher when it comes to the cold, climbed the entire time in just a short sleeve, long sleeve, and a wind jacket that had a tiny amount of down just in the torso area. Like I said, it wasn't that cold, but it was pretty windy and when you stop moving it's easy to get cold without more layers.

We topped out after 3.5 hours and, despite having climbed this peak probably ten times, I thought that maybe the next bump over was the true summit. It's not. I went over there to make sure. We scanned the North Chimney, Broadway, and the Diamond and didn't see a single soul. I wonder what happened to Wade and Jason? Maybe the wind deterred them... Or they came down with an acute case of sanity. I also didn't see Steve even approaching the face on the snow below. He should have been there by now, as we were now a thousand feet above the base of the East Face.

Mt. Lady Washington is 13,281 feet tall (the 416th highest peak in the state) and therefore involved an elevation gain of four thousand feet. While it is really just a hike with some boulder scrambling, it's a decent training mountain in winter. We're planning to work our way up to bigger and tougher peaks. We spent about thirty minutes on top, eating, drinking, resting, and enjoying the spectacular view of Longs Peak.

We started down about four hours into our day and soon ran into a party of two ascending. A little further down, we found another party of two. Below them was a solo woman. Further down was a party of three. I'd never seen so many people trying to climb MLW at any time of year. Cool. It's a great summit to get some winter experience on. We descended quickly and smoothly, completing the roundtrip in 5h40m. A very successfully outing!


Gayla Wright said...

Your training is progressing. Happy Bill finally put on his down jacket. Worked wonders in keeping him warm. Derek proves pretty tough in the clothing department. How are the boots working out? Just please keep extra safe for me. Love you both so much.

Mark Oveson said...

Great report, Bill. They just keep getting better. Congrats to Derek on a tough winter 13er! That is a serious outing by any standard. In the coming matchup of Bill and Derek vs. Denali, my money is on you two.