Sunday, July 31, 2016

10-4: Climbing Ten Fourteeners in One Day

On top of Mt. Evans - our 10th 14er of the day - at 8:35 p.m.

"Eight 14ers?! Is that even possible?" That's what a woman asked me as I descended off Grays and Torreys yesterday afternoon. It's not a silly question, at least for people that aren't very familiar with all of Colorado's 53+ fourteeners.

I first thought of doing this more than ten years ago. I tried back then to do it solo. I failed. Badly. I added in a 13er (Sheridan)?! I went too fast, bonked, and quit after the first six. I shelved the idea, but when good friend Homie tried for the 14er record (he got 41 14ers in 7 days) and Andrew Hamilton, another friend, did all 58 in under ten days, I revived the idea. I wanted to experience what a single day was like for these Ultra-14er masters.

To climb ten 14ers in a single day, I'd need to make some concessions. First, I didn't abide by the arbitrary 3000-foot rule that all 14er record attempts use. I started each 14er from an established trailhead and in all but one case, the most popular trailhead. Secondly, Cameron is not a true 14er, as it doesn't meet the distance/drop criteria to be a separate mountain. Nevertheless, it is a named 14er and included in all the speed record link-ups.

I don't know of anyone doing ten 14ers in a day before. This is somewhat surprising, but, as with most of my adventures, it was probably deemed not worthy or too silly or too contrived. Hundreds, if not thousands, of just Colorado climbers could do this link-up faster than I could. I'm far from elite and only mention this as a curiosity item and to see if any of my tens of readers can enlighten me on other multi-14er days.

Update: Eric Lee informed me that he did these same ten mountains a few years ago, observing the 3000-foot rule, in 19 hours. Super impressive!

So, what are the ten 14ers? Sherman, Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, Quandary, Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, and Evans. These are also the closest 14ers to my house. A few years ago I thought about going for the 10-4 and recruited good friend Mark Oveson - a top-30 Hard Rock finisher. When I mentioned it to Homie he immediately said, "Oh, you have to finish with Longs!" Ugh. I had run the numbers and just doing the ten was going to take more than 24 hours. That would be too much for me. The project withered and we didn't attempt it.

Fast forward to this summer and I was looking for a follow-up to our Denali climb, which had been completely occupying my attention for the first half of the year. I needed another challenge. When I mentioned this idea to my 18-year-old son Derek, he was immediately in. He's fit and had climbed all these peaks before, but he'd never done a day like this. His biggest day was just a few weeks ago when he did the Ten Mile Traverse (15 miles, 8000 vertical feet). The 10-4 would be 30 miles and 15,500 vertical feet, almost all of that above 12,000 feet, and take twice as long. It would be a rather audacious jump.
Derek on top of Mt. Sherman at 1:20 a.m.

While those numbers are pedestrian to a number of my friends, they are not for Derek and I. This adventure was about challenging my limits, not anyone else's. I have no illusions about where I stand. Finishing this was in doubt and that's what made it an adventure. Most of my friends would never ask, "Why?" -- they understand completely. But when others ask that question my answer is, "To find out if I can do that or not?" I want to find my limits. 

In preparation, Derek and I climbed many of the peaks again. Derek did eight of them, mostly with other friends, but we recced the Sawtooth Traverse, at third-class the most technical part of the day, together. I did all ten, including a repeat of the first six. This second time I made some improvements: just doing 14ers, going slower, and did a new, shorter route on Quandary. It took me ten hours to do these six. I was tired, but not wasted. I also did a speed link-up of Torreys (via Kelso Ridge) and Grays with Homie in 2h11m. We were ready.

I recruited Homie for this also, but his participation was in doubt until just a few days before. Having Homie along is cheating, somewhat. He wouldn't be able to carry me (well, he probably could do that), but he's so experienced at this stuff and would keep us on track and take care of us. Sheri was excited to be our support person and the four of us left town Friday afternoon.

We drove to the high trailhead (12,000 feet) on the Mt. Sherman road. Derek, Homie, and I laid down our bags under the spectacular Milky Way and Sheri nestled in the back of the truck. Our start time was chosen so that we'd hit the Sawtooth in the daylight. We set the alarm for midnight and struggled to get a couple of fitful hours of sleep.

When the alarm went off we packed up our gear, tossed it in atop Sheri, wolfed down a bit of food and drink, and were hiking by 12:15 a.m. It was a bit chilly, as there was a breeze, but Sherman went nicely in just under two hours. We jogged very sparingly on the way down (only when the path was smooth and not very steep), yet as I would get gapped by Derek walking down the same stretches... Sheri was up when we got back and we were soon driving towards Kite Lake and Decalibron. 

I drove the 4WD sections, as Sheri is a more cautious (read: slower) driver. Hence, I took the wheel from Sherman to Kite Lake. We arrived there before 3 a.m. and found other climbers readying themselves for the ascent. We re-stocked our tiny packs and hit the trail just ahead of a large group. Homie led the way up Democrat and soon distanced himself from me. I could have kept up with his pace, but I didn't think it was prudent to go that fast. I failed before by trying to go faster than I could sustain. I let the gap open. Derek was right on my heels. And I mean right on my heels. He hikes closer behind me than anyone I've ever hiked with, clipping my heels every once in a while. I asked if he wanted to go by and he said, "Nope." 

We topped out Democrat and were back at the saddle just as the large group was arriving. We said good morning and immediately started up Cameron. It was very windy now and quite cold. Even Homie had to pull on his shell. Democrat had taken us 1h11m and we were on top of Cameron 43 minutes later and Lincoln just 14 minutes after that. It was just starting to get light now and we did a tiny bit of trotting on the descent to the saddle. On top of Bross we met a guy with a Labrador. Our arrival frightened the dog who proceeded to bark aggressively at us, all the while wagging her tail furiously. Labs...

Derek led the descent and he and Homie got well out in front of me. I had scheduled four hours for these peaks and we were well ahead of pace. The descent is loose and rocky. Once again, I was cautious and took my time. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h25m. Sheri had got a bit more sleep while we climbed, but was up and re-organizing the back of the truck. I took the wheel just to get us back to town and then Sheri took over the driving.

After every climbing leg we'd dig into the cooler to retrieve food. We did most of our eating on the drives between the climbs. In fact, Derek never ate while hiking up our peaks. I carried food while hiking and did eat some of it, but a small percentage of our total calories.
Derek climbing up the very steep slopes on the south face of Quandary, with Blue Lake in the background.
Sheri drove us to the Blue Lakes Trailhead below the very steep south face of Quandary. Here we found a large group of mountain goats, including some young kids. One of the goats was sitting atop an SUV! They seemed to be very interested in the undersides of the vehicles. I know that rodents (porcupine in particular) like to chew on the cables of a car, but I don't know what held the goats' fascination. These goats would keep Sheri company while we ascended Quandary.

We climbed up just to the west of the Cristo Couloir - a popular snow climb and ski descent in the spring. This route gains 2400 feet in just over a mile. Homie powered up this route in just 1h25m, but Derek was feeling the angle and, in his words, "got his butt kicked." I stayed with Derek (I couldn't have gone with Homie) and we steadily made progress. This route is actually pretty cool and ends directly on the summit. The descent must be taken carefully as the angle is great and loose rock abounds.
Homie on top of Quandary
Six down and four to go. We were off to Grays and Torreys via a Starbucks run in Frisco. Driving up the 3-mile 4WD road to the trailhead was going to the the crux driving of the day. We figured most people would be driving out when we wanted to drive in. Luckily we got there a bit earlier than expected and not many cars were coming out. Still, we had to back-up a couple of times to let people pass. This road was jam packed with cars so that it was a one-lane road for most of its distance. We powered up to the lot and found an open parking spot, as expected.

Sheri was joining us on this hike and the four of us left the trailhead ten minutes before noon. Derek and I were hoping people would say, "Late start, don't you think?" like they did to us on North Maroon the weekend before. We were all ready with our reply: "Actually, no, we started at midnight!" We wanted to tell people that these were going to be our seventh and eighth fourteeners of the day. Alas, no one mentioned our late start...

Homie hiked with us for a bit and then turned on the jets. He disappeared so fast that I thought he might be off-trail using the Little 14er Bagger's room. We couldn't even see him on the trail above us and we could see for a long way. I had scheduled four hours for this pair and broke it down, roughly, to two hours to get up Grays, 45 minutes to get over to Torreys and back down to the saddle, and then 1h15m to get back to the car. 
Selfie on top of Torreys Peak - with my alter egos on my shoulders.
Derek, Sheri, and I topped out Grays in 1h50m. We found Homie taking a nap just off the summit. He'd done the ascent in 1h25m. As expected, this link-up wasn't a big challenge for him. He'd done SEVEN days of this on his record attempt. I crewed for the first half of that and knew I wanted no business with suffering at that level. Yet, I did want to understand it better and that was a part of this adventure.

Derek and I rolled over the summit, picking up Homie, and dropping off Sheri. She'd descend back to the car instead of joining us for Torreys, as she wasn't sure she could keep up and didn't want us waiting on her. She needn't have worried for she got down in just 1h15m and would have easily kept up with Derek and me. 

Going up Torrey's, and even Gray's, people would encourage us: "You're doing great!" "Almost there." "You can do it." Homie commented: "we must look really tired!" Derek responded: "At least two of us do!" I'm sure I did. My head was down, concentrating on my footing and trying to maintain constant motion, which we did, for the most part, all day. We didn't really hike very fast, but we never stopped. The exceptions were some small stops going up Quandary and some called for breaks on the traverse to Mt. Evans.

We didn't run at all on the descent, as I figured that was just a recipe for me to trip, fall, and injury myself. Still, we did the roundtrip in 3h45m. The drive back down the 4WD road was very slow as we got behind some cars from Nebraska with low clearance took some time. At I-70 Sheri took over again and we all wolfed down some food. Only two to go.

We arrived at Guanella Pass at 4:45 p.m. and found the Alpine Rescue Team there. A hiker had dislocated his knee and he was coming down in a litter. We started at 4:56 p.m. Our plan was to ascend Bierstadt, hopefully in two hours, and then do the Sawtooth Traverse over to Evans. I originally gave us five hours for this section, assuming we'd be moving pretty slow. We told Sheri to expect us between 9 and 10 p.m. 

Right at the start, Homie and Derek were climbing strong and gapped me. I felt I was moving pretty well, though tired and winded, but they were stronger. Watching those two power up the trail ahead of me I figured I was looking at the future. I'd soon be joining Sheri in a support role for Derek and Homie's ever ridiculous adventures. I still have some things to teach Derek, but he's going to be the stronger partner.

A thousand feet up Derek and Homie slowed a bit and I caught up. I fell in behind Derek, just watching his feet, and Homie took up the rear, in case I needed a push. We stayed in that formation all the way to the summit, arriving in 1h45m. I was happy with that ascent time and glad to have banked an additional 15 minutes of daylight. I forgot my headlamp for this section, but Derek has his and Homie had two lights. We all wanted to finish in the light, but weren't counting on it.
Derek and Homie on the Sawtooth Traverse, with Bierstadt in the background
Homie had recently set the course record on Strava for the Sawtooth, so he started off leading...until he got us off route. That isn't true, but I did take over the lead to show Homie the way that Derek and I went. Each time we had to go up hill, Derek and I were practically crawling, making heavy use of our hands. I called for a 5-minute break, the first of the day, when we got to the low point on the traverse. I was extremely tired. Derek and Homie traded off leading the rest of the traverse and we gained the shoulder of Evans about an hour after leaving Bierstadt's summit.
Bighorn sheep on the Mt. Evans plateau
As we traversed the rocky tundra to the Mt. Evans trail we went within 30 or 40 feet of a herd of bighorn sheep. Derek and I wouldn't have even seen them if it wasn't for Homie pointing them out. We had our heads bowed to the task, watching our feet, trying not to trip, trying to keep moving. The traverse to Evans is long and tedious and I led a lot of this, mainly so that I wouldn't get dropped. After any particularly steep section I had to call for a 30-second rest. I took a number of these and my partners never complained and in fact encouraged them. 

Homie wasn't in the least bit stressed, but never raced ahead even as the light faded on us. He could have made the summit with lots of daylight to spare and waited for us in the summit parking lot, where Sheri was waiting to pick us up. Yet, he didn't. He stayed behind me and never asked me to move faster, never complained about my snail's pace. In fact, he spoke of how happy he was that he'd been able to join us for this big day. I'm a very lucky guy to have people like Homie willing to take me on as a partner for big days. It's a bit tough on me to be the slowest guy, the anchor, but it doesn't seem to bother Homie in the least.

Just before the summit we met a girl, Emily, who had driven up to watch the sunset. She followed us to the summit and took our photo. We descended to the parking lot where we were so grateful to find Sheri and not have to descend back to Guanella Pass. I'd have never made it. This was the key support role - this pickup at 14,000 feet. Sheri had been our ace-in-the-hole. She made this linkup possible for us and we were all very appreciative. She then drove us home while Derek slept, I dozed, and Homie remained alert.

It feels great to accomplish difficult goals and I'm proud that we completed this, but the most amazing thing to me was Derek's performance. He's rock solid. In his first ultra-type adventure, he was stronger than I was, with vastly more experience. He can suffer and he can just go and go and go and never whine, never complain, never be anything but a solid, calm, supportive partner. I'm super proud of him and feel very lucky to have him as my partner...and my son. Homie felt the same way about Derek and I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to join Derek on a big adventure or even invite him along. Derek's the real deal and I'll be watching his future adventures with great joy and hopefully, for awhile still, be a part of it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Roughed Up By The Bells

Derek has a desire to climb all Colorado's 14ers. That's not surprising, since he likes bagging peaks and his parents have done them all. We got Derek started pretty early (he climbed Huron when he was 6 and Longs when he was 10), but he generally didn't get going on them until later when he and his brother got bit by the summit bug and were focused enough to hike for many hours. Derek's been doing a lot of repeats lately, with his cousins, because he loves being with them and he loves climbing mountains, even if he's climbed them before.

For the more difficult mountains, he still likes to have me long. With Sheri out in California visiting Danny for the weekend, we decided to head to Aspen and get some of the Elk Range 14ers. Derek did Castle and Conundrum many years ago and we did Maroon Peak this winter. We were hoping to get at least two over the weekend.

We drove out Friday night, right to the Maroon Lake parking lot and threw down our bags right there in the parking lot, along with quite a few others. One guy had his radio cranked up to some talk show. Strange. The parking lot had a lot of activity starting ridiculously early. I remember checking my watch well after the first people left and it read 4 a.m. Our alarm was set for 4:45 and I ignored it until after 5 a.m. and then I got up and ate some breakfast and readied my pack. Knowing how fast Derek can move, I waited to roust him. 
Headed towards that notch in the ridge
We didn't leave the lot until nearly 6 a.m. That's ridiculous, especially because we were hoping to climb both Bells and Pyramid. A guy walked by our car at 5:40 a.m. and asked what we were doing I told him our plans and he responded very enthusiastically, "Wow, the Three Pack in one day would be impressive." I shot back, "I'm hoping the afternoon weather will give us a good excuse to quit."

We caught this guy and his party of four just about 50 minutes into our hike. Turns out he was headed for Pyramid as well. My original plan was to go up the regular route on Maroon Peak (as I had not done that route before) and then do the traverse to North Maroon. We would then go up Pyramid if the weather looked good. I told my plan to Homie and he told me to go up Pyramid first, then down the West Face so I could save some vert on my way to Maroon Peak. I adopted his plan because, well, he's the 14er expert. I'd regret this later. 
I'd only climbed Pyramid once before, with Sheri. We had done a traverse of the peak then, going up the rarely climbed Northwest Ridge and down the standard Northeast Ridge. I didn't remember that much of it, except that Sheri was a bit afraid, but that we done it unroped. Derek and I didn't take any ropes or helmets with us, as our proposed plan should have kept us away from the masses.

Anyway, We caught the guy, who was from Carbondale and he wished us luck on the link-up. Then he picked up his pace and got on our tail. After ten minutes or so he moved in front of me. One of his partners was pretty close, behind Derek and I, and they continued to chat. He was clearly very fit, as I was moving too fast to have much of a conversation. I'll admit that I picked up my pace as well, when he went by, to keep up with him. This guy's other partners were spread out behind us. It was all good. Maybe they weren't accustomed to being caught by an old guy and a kid...

Our paths diverged shortly thereafter when they headed for the regular route. Derek and I struggled to get secure traction as we inched up the loose slope towards the Northwest Ridge. I didn't see any sign of a trail or any cairns here. We followed one goat path to a mini-ridge and traversed across steep, loose rock to gain the ridge proper. 
Derek contemplating the final scrambling section
Once on the ridge we did find a faint climber's track and cairns. We followed these to just below the summit before they seemed to disappear. The going up to that point was loose at times, but mostly okay. We traversed steeps slope of loose rock and scrambled up loose gullies. Some of the gullies we could climb solid rock on the sides. Near the top, we just followed our noses, traversing a narrow ledge far to the right and then up a steep, but pretty solid wall to a very exposed ridge on the west. We scrambled up this solid ridge and popped out on the summit! 

We stayed 20 minutes on top, taking in the views, eating and drinking. We only brought two 20-ounce bottles with us, but we brought a squeeze filtration system that we planned to use before heading up the Bells. We left shortly after the other team hit the summit. I didn't recognize them, as they had donned an extra layer and helmets and the lone female in their group was now leading them. 
On the summit of Pyramid
We said hi and goodbye and reversed our route back down to where we hit the Northwest Ridge on our ascent. We then took a hard left, to the west, and started down a steep, miserable looking slope. This descent, back to the trail, would take us longer than the ascent had taken us. It started off okay, but then we made the mistake of getting onto the south side of the prominent gully and got into horrible bushwhacking where we couldn't even see our feet. Then we descended a slippery little creek to avoid the worst of the bushwhacking, but this was worse. Further down we hit a slope of sizable talus, all of which moved dangerously with each step. It was painstaking, tiring, tedious, injury-prone going. It ended with a series of streams crossings.
This is the West Face of Pyramid...not recommended!
By the time we hit the trail on the other side, we were drained. It was hot and there were tons of flies buzzing around everything. We took a rest on a rock despite the constant annoyance of the pestering insects. I asked Derek if he still wanted to head up Maroon Peak. It was noon and I was worried about afternoon storms. Maroon Peak wasn't really a goal at all, since we'd already climbed it, though we did want to do the traverse. We decided to head down valley and then decide if we even had the energy to do North Maroon.
Descending the West Face of Pyramid
When we got to the junction, I wondered what Derek would decide. It didn't matter much to me, as I had done all these peaks. If we didn't do the Bells on Saturday, we'd just come back on Sunday and do the traverse. Derek pointed uphill and we made the turn and slowly started gaining elevation again.
This was our route...not a good choice
A thousand feet higher we crossed a creek when we turned off the main Maroon-Snowmass trail and headed for the Bells. We stopped to squeeze out two fresh bottles of water for both of us. Further up, we encountered parties descending. Each one would be a bit surprised that we were headed up. Being a smart ass, I asked each one, "Are we almost there?" One guy responded, "No. In fact, you have two hours and 45 minutes before you'll top out." I just said okay, but was surprised that he was so confident in predicting our ascent time to such accuracy. 
Even the stream crossings were challenging.
Throughout the day, I was teaching Derek how to memorize the 112 named-elements (there are 118 elements that have been discovered or synthesized and the first 112 have official names. Most of the rest have temporary names, though 114 and 116 now have official names as well). I learned how to do this on my Pawnee-Buchanan hike the previous weekend with Sheri. I had previously learned all the U.S. Presidents, mostly from Derek, and he re-taught me these as well. So, it wasn't just about the climbing. It was also about memorizing nearly useless information. Fun stuff!
Happy to be back on a trail, on the ascent of North Maroon.
We were fading a bit as we entered the first gully, but kept plugging away. We changed leader every 500 vertical feet. We switched over to the second gully and then hit the summit ridge. We soloed confidently through the crux headwall and I found a better way out left on the ridge. Better, at least, for soloists.

We weren't on the summit for five minutes when I heard voices. This was surprising, as I thought we were the last on the mountain. I stood up and looked down to the north and saw two people climbing up. It was a father/daughter team. They had just finished the traverse from Maroon Peak. They had taken three hours to do it, but they did it safely and without a rope. I was impressed. They didn't know the way down North Maroon, but followed us until we got too far ahead. I wasn't worried about them, as they had proven that they can do more difficult route finding already.
Traversing from the first gully into the second gully high on North Maroon.
We descended slowly and carefully, knowing how tired we were. When we got to the top of the descent gully Derek didn't like the looks of it and convinced me it wasn't the right gully. I admit that there wasn't much clear sign of a trail below. We continued down the ridge proper and I got confused at the next gully, for I didn't see the point where we'd cross from one gully to the next. I didn't know it at the time, but we were looking down the first gully (first on the way up). 

As we picked our way down the final section of the ridge to get into the top of the gully, I heard a loud crashing sound behind me, immediately followed by a cry of danger from Derek. I know that sound. It was the sound of rocks big enough to severely injury me, if not kill me, tumbling towards me. On this angle, I had to move immediately. I dashed hard left, hoping to escape the path of the projectile. Of course, running sideways on the extremely loose terrain that we had been painstakingly down climbing was about as successful as you'd imagine. I dislodged other rocks, one went out below my foot. A large rock hit me in the back and then another hit my foot, but the one that elicited a sharp cry of pain was the one that crashed down directly on my left thumb while it grasped another rock. I stumbled down to another ledge, amazingly staying upright and not tumbling. I fell back into the slope and grabbed my thumb. I thought for sure it was broken. The pain was intense and I rocked back and forth, blowing tremendous amounts of air through my pursed lips trying to endure the pain, waiting for it to subside and trying to recover my heart rate from that incredible spike of stress and effort. 
You've got to be kidding!
Derek did not descend to me for quite some time. I don't know what was going through his mind. Maybe fear of dislodging something else. Maybe fear of seeing whatever injuries I had up close. He eventually joined me, retrieved my water bottle, which had been in my left hand, and helped me pull a glove onto my hand to protect it. My thumb wouldn't be useful to me the rest of the descent and as I write this the next day all it can do is occasionally hit the space bar. It's stiff and swollen, but I don't think it is broken.
Happy to atop our second 14er. Pyramid is in the background.
We continued down after maybe ten minutes. Derek didn't say anything. Didn't ask me anything. I knew he must be feeling bad about dislodging the rock. I told him not to beat himself up over it. It was the first time he'd done something like that. With all the climbing we'd been doing, it was bound to happen at some point. It happens to everyone. It got me thinking about all the times rockfall has come down on me, many times by my partners, all of whom are very safe climbers, safer than I am.

On one of my early climbers with the Loobster, while descending from the Arrowhead Arete in Yosemite Valley, I was creeping down to the rappel anchors at the top of a 150-foot cliff. Just as I got there, the Loobster dislodged a huge rock that would have swept me off the edge. Backed up to the edge I had no where to go. Instinctively I jumped up and over it. When I landed back down on the ledge I slapped my hand on the rock in front of me and the Loobster immediately grabbed my wrist like it was caught in a vise. A year later, while climbing the DNB with the Loobster a basketball-sized rock exploded on the wall twenty feet from our heads.
Descending down the ridge further than we should have.
When my partner Tom was descending off Spearhead he dislodged a similar sized-rock that Derek did. In my scramble to escape that rock I sliced open my hand and we had to end our day early and head to the hospital for stitches. 

Descending off of Mt. Sill with Loobster, Sheri, and her friend Katy, a neophyte, she dislodged a giant rock that almost crushed me. 

I once soloed the Dana Couloir on Mt. Dana, in Yosemite, while Sheri hiked the trail to the summit. We got a late start and I was in the couloir climbing dinner-plating 50-degree ice when I heard a horrible sound above me. I looked up to see a boulder the size of a car coming directly for me. Previously I had been carefully swinging my axes, making sure I had a solid placement, since I was without a partner or a belay. One sight of that rock had me nearly running sideways on the ice to avoid being crushed. 

Rappelling a gully in the Grand Canyon, I adjusted my rappel line and dislodged a refrigerator-sized block right above me. Fixed to the rope with my rappel device my options were limited. I barely was able to jump out of the way. 

Just last year, while approaching the Diamond I got beamed in the head with a small rock and then a microwave-sized rock landed ten yards to my right. We bailed. 

Is my number coming up? Or have I proved that rockfall can't kill me? Mountains are dangerous and if you do this long enough...
Injured mountain goat.
We got down the gully and then back across the talus field. Here we found a lame mountain goat. It was moving around on just three legs. It's back right leg or hoof was injured and it could not weight it. I was saddened that our approach had frightened the goat enough to move up the hill, albeit not far.  It limped and hopped up the slow to put some distance between us. I wondered if it had been hit with rockfall, like me. I was hobbled as well. I'd be fine, but what were the survival chances of this goat? With any real predators around, the chances would be zero, but what predators do they have up this high? I hoped it would heal before winter...

Derek squeezed a bottle of fresh water for each of us at the creek crossing and we continued down to the parking lot. At Maroon Lake there was a small crowd of hikers watching a young bull moose at lake's edge. We stopped to take a couple of bad photos.

Back at the car, Derek was as tired as I was, but wanted to go for Capitol the next day. I didn't and begged off. He immediately supported my decision and drove the entire way home (with a stop at Qdoba's for some sustenance). I wondered if I was being a wimp, but I think this was probably a good call as my back was limiting my mobility the next day and my thumb wasn't functional. I need to heal fast though. Next weekend we have big plans...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Family Trip on Longs Peak

Most of the group (Kraig and I are taking the photo) on the summit of Longs Peak

My niece Gabi, aka Ever Lasting, was inspired by Charlie and my talk on our Longs Peak Project. No, she didn't start an LPP, but found her own summer project, which was to complete all the Sawatch 14ers and get another 14er in each range. For the Front Range that was Longs Peak. Out of this idea evolved a complicated trip with three different vehicle arriving at three different times and three different routes visited.

My sister Brook, her daughters Ever Lasting and Marissa, her friend Helena, and Helena's dad Jake all started up the trail at 4 a.m. Derek and I started at 4:30 a.m. planning to meet them at the Keyhole and take Marissa up the Keyhole Ridge with us. Brook's husband Kraig started at 6 a.m. because he wanted to run up. He's crazy. Running up Longs... some people...
Derek and a beautiful sunrise
Derek and I took all the usual shortcuts and we were on Jim's Grove Trail just above to cross the Longs Peak Trail when Brookie calls out, "Billy!" If neither one of us hadn't seen the other, we'd have actually collided. We hiked together to the Keyhole where Derek, Missa Moo, and I broke hard left for the Keyhole Ridge and the rest headed up and through the Keyhole into an absolutely brutal wind.
Derek, Marissa, and Brookie in the Boulder Field, headed for the Keyhole
We traversed the ledge for a bit and then stopped to gear up. We put on harnesses, helmets, and Marissa put on her climbing shoes. We kept the rope in the pack for the first section and kept a close eye on Marissa. The climbing wasn't that difficult here but the exposure was huge. Derek led and I followed close behind Moo to spot her. She was completely nonplussed by the exposure, was completely solid, and did not call for the rope.
Scrambling unroped up the first section of the Keyhole Ridge
We wrapped around to the cold, shaded, windy side to bypass "Tower Two" and then roped up. I led two short pitches on half a rope length so that Derek and Marissa could climb on separate ropes. That limited how far I could do, though, and we switched to tying them both into the same rope, with Derek on the end and Marissa about ten feet in front of him. We endured some very cold, windy climbing before emerging onto the sunny slab below the crux pitch.
Happy to be out of the wind and the shade at the base of the crux pitch
Here the wind was nil and the sun warm. We had perfect conditions for this pitch and only this pitch. Above the sun would disappear behind clouds and we'd once again enter the wind tunnel. I zipped up the crux pitch and Derek and Marissa followed, with Derek doing some great coaching. Marissa is strong and has climbed 5.11 in the gym, but she wasn't done hardly any climbing outside and, well, it's different when the tape doesn't mark all the footholds for you. She's a quick learner, though, and Derek's a great, patient teacher. Soon they joined me on a great ledge.
Topping out the crux pitch
We did one more easy pitch and then I traversed into the notch, where we'd join the Northwest Gully route. Here we encountered some of the strongest winds I've seen. Definitely the strongest winds I've ever been roped up for, including the epic day Charlie and I had on May 31st last year on the Longs Peak Project, where our rope didn't touch the ground. Here not only wasn't the rope touching the ground, but it was flying high above us and exerted a nontrivial pull on us. Check out this video:

Above here we unroped and scrambled up the beautiful ridge towards the summit. After only ten minutes or so we saw a person high on the ridge. Derek immediately said, "That must Kraig!" Sure enough it was and we soon joined him. He hiked back to the summit with us, telling us that there others might have started down already as they had been waiting in the high winds for already thirty minutes. I wouldn't have blamed them at all. I don't think I would have stayed that long. But they were all there! Sweet!
One tough chick and a doting cousin
The first time Brook ever did Longs she went up the Keyhole Route with our sister Kim, topping out in less than three hours. She might be a touch slower now, but she's hardy. At the difficult wall at the top of the Trough she got a bit afraid, but Kraig was there to take care of his family. I had asked Brook if Kraig was going hard all the way to the summit and she said, "Maybe. It depends on how afraid we are." They were a bit apprehensive and Kraig immediately gave up his effort. I was super impressed that everyone pushed on to the summit, enduring the incredible winds far longer than Derek, Marissa, and I, for we were sheltered for some it.
Derek always looking out for Marissa
Kraig blitzed up the Keyhole and caught the rest just on the other side. He'd gone literally twice as fast as us. Kraig owned the FKT for the Keyhole route (1h47m) for nearly a decade. Now at 50+ he's still the man. The others started down immediately after the photos but Derek, Marissa and I took a short break to eat and drink something and take summit photos with the Which Wich bag (you get a free sandwich if you bring in a photo of yourself with the bag on top of a 14er).
Scrambling down the rappels
As were were doing this a super fit guy came sprinting up to the summit from the east face. Because he had an ice axe, I guess he came up Kiener's Route. Sure enough, he did. It was Pete Fox, a climber I'd met before and a frequent partner of another friend, and his partner Jacob. He remembered me and immediately congratulated Derek and I about our Denali climb. So cool that he took an interest in our climb and knew about it. Pete and Jacob would catch us on the descent and share our rappel line. Watching Pete descend from there was a thing of beauty. He's super fast and jumps around on the rocks like a marten.
Jacob rappelling with Derek, Marissa, and Pete below
Just after meeting those guys, up popped John Christie. He also immediately shook Derek's hand, congratulating him for climbing Denali. John had already climbed Meeker and was contemplating heading to Pagoda. I was surrounded by supermen.

We descended the North Face to the eye bolts and I lowered Marissa down (she doesn't know how to rappel yet - I need to teach her that soon!). Then Derek went down 200 feet on the fixed single line. After Pete and Jacob descended the same line, I doubled it and did two rappels down. A team of three climbers graciously took a break and let us all rappel through before they started up. We tried to return the favor and were ultra careful descending to the rappels to make sure we didn't know off any rocks.
Derek and Marissa in front of their next goal?
Once down the 4th class scrambling below, we packed the gear and hiked out. Marissa did amazingly well on the technical talus and bouldering hopping, keeping up very well. We had hoped to meet the others in the Boulder Field, but with no sign of them, we continued down. We were halfway down the Jim's Grove Trail when Kraig ran up to us. He said everyone was safely through the Keyhole, but would be an hour behind him. He continued down at a run, while the rest of us continued down at a much more reasonable hike. We moved quickly though and were soon down at the parking lot. Well, maybe not that soon to Marissa, but that chick can hike!
Derek and Marissa Snapchatting already
The real eye-opener for me that day was seeing Marissa's toughness. In retrospect I shouldn't have been surprised. She's a level 10 gymnast (near Olympic level it seems) and has the strongest core, by far, of anyone I know. She does things that look impossible and are impossible for 99.9999% of the human race. But suffering in 70-mph winds in the shade, in tiny climbing shoes, and enduring endless talus over rocks that are huge for her 5'3" frame without a single "I'm cold", or "I'm tired", or "Slow down", or "Wait for me." She just kept up and was a worthy alpine partner on her first outing. She'll be back, I'm sure. She has the mentality for it.

Derek's skills and fitness continue to grow. He's love for Marissa and his great attention to taking care of her was an added element I loved watching. Those two could be a great team in the future. Derek had never done the Keyhole Ridge, but he cruised it easily on the end of the rope, where he couldn't fall without pulling Moo off as well. He did it in his scrambling shoes, too. In the last week he's climbed nine 14ers and did the Ten Mile Traverse (11 peaks above Frisco and Breckenridge) just two days ago.

What a great day on my favorite peak, with my favorite people. Only Sheri was missing. Unfortunately she was on call and couldn't come. But when the lives of main frame computers everywhere are counting on her, she could not leave her post. She was missed. The day would have been ideal if she could have made it instead of the wind. The wind was a definite negative factor, but we didn't let it get us down or stop us from our goals.