Sunday, February 28, 2016

Road to Denali, part 7: Mt. Meeker

Derek and I needed a break from long drives and overnight weekends, so we planned to climb a local mountain. We haven’t had a lot of success on the high peaks so far this winter, with weather and boot problems slowing us down. I decided we weren’t quite ready for Longs yet and the mountain just one notch down is its neighbor: Mt. Meeker. One of Colorado’s Centennial  Peaks, Mt. Meeker is 13,950 feet. It rises to the south of the Loft while Longs is to the north. From the Longs Peak Trailhead, the roundtrip requires about 4700 vertical feet of climbing via a pretty steep couloir and then a heads-up traverse above a big drop.

Our plan was to be hiking at first light, around 6:15 a.m. so we agreed on a 4:45 departure time. We had all our gear ready the night before, as we always do, so I set my alarm for 4:30, planning to eat on the drive. Derek got up at 4 a.m. and was fully dressed and ready to go before I even woke up.

The drive went smooth and the parking lot was quiet when we arrived. A couple more cars pulled before we headed up the trail, but, unsurprisingly, we hiked alone. We went in our mountain boots, of course, though, as you’ll see, that isn’t required for some people. We each carried crampons, an axe, 40 ounces of liquid and some food. Derek took the lead and set a nice, sustainable pace. We went up the winter shortcut, but was barely tracked. Above, at the Lightning Bridge, we had to put in the track ourselves. Mostly we could find the previous path underneath the untracked snow, but sometimes we made a mistake and plunged in. We had to do some postholing to get to the junction with the regular trail and then it was packed or blown off. 

It was quite windy and would stay that way pretty much all day. Mostly it was manageable, probably 20-30 mph, but it took energy to get through it. We passed a party of two heading for Martha’s on the traverse into the eastern cirque from Chasm Cutoff. The steep snowfield was very hard and at first just had a single set of ski tracks before the footsteps could be found. We went across in just our Microspikes and poles, but were very careful.

I donned another layer before we started up the Loft couloir and we got a bit to drink and eat. Derek thought he saw a pair of climbers ahead of us, but I doubt that now, as we never saw them. We looked back towards the traverse at this point and saw a solitary climber coming across if fast. Ridiculously fast. He wasn’t running, but his stride was long, strong, and purposeful. I used to do stuff like that. Now I specialize in knowing people that do. I figured I must know this person and wondered if they were headed for Longs or Meeker and if he came by us. After studying the gait a bit more, I guessed it was Anton Krupicka, not realizing that he was at the Power of Four SkiMo race that day.

Derek and turned to the task at hand: gaining 2000 feet up the continually steepening Loft couloir. The wind was tolerable and the snow conditions were really good and firm. Actually a bit too firm. It got to be a bit dicey in Microspikes so we made our way over to the rocks and put on our crampons. Derek’s hands got really cold here and he switched to his big mittens (I was already wearing mine). We continued up the slope in our much more secure crampons, still just using our poles, our axes still strapped to our packs. We got up to the traverse around the headwall and a short ways out we stopped to take a break to eat and drink. Derek was really feeling the effort. I knew not to ask if he wanted to continue. If he isn’t in physical pain, he always wants to continue. He doesn’t quit from fatigue. Ever.

A few moments after we sat down a solitary climber appeared on this way down. I immediately knew it must have been the speedster we saw earlier. Before I could recognize him, he recognized me. It was Cordis Hall - a definite speedster. Not quite at Anton’s level, but he’s sure headed that direction. He was in his Sportiva Crossovers. I was pretty amazed, but I guess at the speed he moves, his feet stay warm. Even in my double boots, I was having a bit of trouble with my right foot feeling cold. He didn’t have any traction on and said it was relatively snow free from there to the top. We told him about the hard snow below and as he put on his crampons, we pulled ours off.

Derek and I moved steadily up to the saddle and then up the trail that gains three hundred feet from the saddle up the shoulder on Meeker. Derek led the way and did this stretch without stopping. He’s definitely getting stronger. Above, on the talus, Derek is getting more agile and surefooted in his big mountain boots. It was really windy up here so we didn’t linger on the summit, as to take some photos, but we stopped just below to linger. Derek felt he deserved a “victory break”. I pointed out all the peaks surrounding us and he soaked it all up. 

We reversed our selfs back to our crampons and strapped them back on. We also pulled out our axes and stowed our poles. The descent down the couloir was a joy compared to the ascent with the gentle tug of gravity easing along instead of the immense weight holding us back on the way up. It was a too firm to glissade and we just hiked down. Once down to the meadow we switched back to Microspikes, mainly for the traverse back to Chasm View, and stripped off some clothes. 

The rest of the descent went smoothly and quickly, with a couple of incidents. Derek loves the shortcuts and it makes the descent fast and easy. On one shortcuts, with Derek leading the way, he slipped and fell. This should have been a warning to me, but I repeated the fall and even broke my pole in the process. Ugh. Further down, at the start of the last shortcut, there wasn’t a track. Derek headed down through the woods and continued a bit to see if I could find a track, before doubling back to join him. When I caught him a little ways down he was with a woman snowshoer. She had descended all the way down there to pee in private. Derek said we were looking for the shortcut and she said, “This leads down into a different drainage where people have been lots for days.” When I arrived and went right on by, she repeated that it was the wrong way. I knew she meant well. She was trying to save us from being lots. But she knew not to whom she spoke. I just said, “We’ll be fine.” Ten minutes later we walked into the parking lot.

My Garmin watch, for the second time completely lost the track. And then it locked up. I have a love/hate relationship with Garmin products. When they work, they work great. And generally the hardware is awesome. But their software is the most unbelievable crap (this coming from a software developer who knows of what he speaks) as to be astounding. Maybe it was a conscious business decision to just test software for 80% of the cases and deal with the frustration,support issues, and lost customers. 

1 comment:

Jeff Valliere said...

Nice job, congrats on another fine climb.

Sell the Garmin and get an Ambit3 Peak. They might not be as bells and whistly, but the watch and the software are solid. Upgrading to Suunto has made my GPS tracking much more enjoyable and pain free.