Saturday, August 20, 2016

Petit Grepon and Pen Knife with Derek

Derek on top of the Pen Knife with the Petit Grepon in the background

Derek's evolution as a climber continues. Seeing reports from Kyle and Cordis of climbing the Sharkstooth in Rocky Mountain National Park, Derek told me, "I think this should be next for me." Derek really hadn't done any alpine rock climbing before. We'd recently done the Keyhole Ridge and Kiener's Route on Longs Peak, but the climbing there is minimal and easy. We'd done the Grand Teton, Gannet, and Granite, but again, the rock climbing was easy. The toughest climb he'd done was the Durrance Route on Devil's Tower and he did that when he was thirteen. While he's climbed hard in the gym (11d), he hadn't even explored the more classic routes in Eldorado Canyon. But the Sharkstooth wouldn't be sufficient. I decided we'd go climb the uber classic South Face of the Petit Grepon, and then possibly tack on the Sharkstooth afterwards.
Derek in his college dorm. He starts classes at CU's Engineering school on Monday
Derek had moved into his dorm at CU the Tuesday night before and I picked him up outside of Kittredge Central at 4 a.m. I brought him a pack and a bag of clothes and we drove to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and were hiking by 5:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes into the approach we passed a party of four headed to Zowie. I'd climbed the spire many years ago with the Trashman. I should do that again. On our way out we saw climbers near the summit of Zowie and I wondered if it was this same party.

Besides these four the only other people we saw on the 4.5-mile hike into Sky Pond were three guys in sleeping bags directly on the rock-stepped trail! We had to go off-trail to get by them. They didn't seem to even have pads and they were sleeping in a particularly awful spot with much better locations just a hundred yards lower. Bizarre.
Derek climbing on the Petit
At the lake we ran into a team wearing harnesses and helmets. I assumed they bivied up there, since they were geared up so far below the route, but they had hiked in. We found out later that they were headed for the Southwest Corner, but at the time I thought they were competition for our route. I didn't worry much about it, though. We weren't in a hurry and hopefully everyone would play nice.

As we hiked up to the base we spotted a party on the second pitch, high enough where they shouldn't be an issue. We geared at the very base of the South Face and I ran out all the rope and about fifty feet more to gain the very top of the first grassy ledge, with Derek simul-climbing below me. I didn't want to do much of that because Derek hadn't done much rock climbing all year, but it made sense here and I wanted to establish our position on the route. The two climbers we had seen at the lake had climbed up talus to our left and I wondered if they were trying to jump ahead by skipping the first pitch. I needn't have worried.
Derek just above the crux on the Petit Grepon
Derek followed nicely and I led another super long pitch that required about thirty feet of simul-climbing from Derek. I caught the party above us halfway through it and followed the second to the second big ledge above. This party was led by Spencer, a local transplant from New York, and his buddy Ken, who was out for a week of climbing from New York. They were cool and offered to let us pass a couple of times, but I declined, as they weren't holding us up and I didn't want Derek to feel rushed.

Despite the sun shining on us, it was chilly. Derek was completely climbing with his gloves on, as a chilly wind kept me in my pile sweater. I wore my gloves for the first pitch and the first half of the second pitch, but took them off for the steep 5.7 climbing.

The third pitch (for us) was 5.6 and not very long and we joined Ken and Spencer at the sloping belay below the crux pitch. Once again, they urged us to take the lead, but Spencer was leading at a reasonable clip and it wasn't a good place to pass. They took the 5.8 start that leads right off the belay and then back left. When it was my turn I went straight up, via a couple of 5.9 moves. Once I got footwork down, it seemed quite casual, but Derek noted this as the definite crux due to the flat, smooth holds. The climbing on this pitch is stellar: steep, well-protected, interesting. The normal crux is a couple of slippery crack moves with tricky feet. Both Derek and I solved this nicely, but Ken was left hanging from the rope.
Looking up the ultra-classic and very steep last pitch on the Petit Grepon
Derek and I took a break on the big ledge above and let Ken and Spencer get some distance above us. Spencer didn't find the Pizza Pan belay stance (difficult to find, as it's just around the corner to the left on the very arete), so I started up knowing I'd have that belay to myself. When I got there I felt the full force of the wind. I quickly put my gloves back on to belay. Derek joined me at the very crowded stance, but I was soon away. I met Ken, still belaying, just thirty feet higher. Spencer was nearly done with the pitch, but I knew Derek would be getting cold at the belay and decided to continue, doing my best to keep our rope separated from Ken's. They were fine with me doing this and it caused no problems.

I belayed in a sheltered, sunny spot just below the summit ridge. I watched Ken struggled and fail to remove two stoppers that Spencer had placed. He cursed stoppers and left them behind. Derek, following ten minutes later, removed both. The first in just a few seconds and the second one probably took him a minute. We returned them at the summit.
Derek approaching the Pizza Pan belay
The last pitch is airy, but easy and we were soon on top taking photos. Ken and Spencer took awhile setting up their rappel and getting down. In my experience this is where the speed difference is greatest among climbers. Some parties can take thirty minutes to do a rappel I can do in five minutes. Ken and Spencer weren't too slow, but I've witnessed some truly glacial rappelling on the Grand Teton.

Spencer offered us of his rappel line to us and we took it. I went down first, as Derek didn't know where we were going. Ken and Spencer were rappelling back to the base and they had double ropes, so their ropes didn't go to the notch we wanted. I was able to flip the ropes around the corner and safely make the notch. I put in a large cam here, clipped in, and clipped the rappel lines in as well. When Derek was halfway down and on the wrong side of the arete he called down to me, quite casually, "I assume you're giving me a fireman's belay." I was indeed, as this was a bit of an advanced rappel.
Derek belaying from the Pizza Pan
Once down we yelled down our thanks and I led off from the notch, not to the second rappel anchor, but up the loose, lichen-covered 5.6 pitch to the top of the Pen Knife. I did this for the first time with Mark Oveson just a couple of years ago and it's a striking summit when viewed from the notch between the Saber and Sharkstooth. In fact, it obscures any view of the Petit from there.
Derek nearing the top of the penultimate pitch on the Petit
On the summit we heard a yell from the party that had just descended from the Sharkstooth: "What's your phone number? I'll send you a photo of you on top!" Cool. Derek yelled it back. Then a party way over on the Northeast Ridge yelled at us to exchange photos. I yelled my number back and took some photos of them. We've yet to hear from either party.
Derek about to top out on the Petit
We rapped off and were grateful to be removing our shoes. We hadn't had much to drink or eat since leaving the car. I wasn't that thirsty or hungry on the climb. We could have eaten more, but we didn't. Here we finally ate and relaxed. We decided that was enough climbing for today and passed on an ascent of the Sharkstooth. We took the hike out nice and easy and enjoyed the incredible beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. Derek seemed energized to explore more of this vast park. Nearly his only experience with the park has been the Longs Peak area. Time for new vistas.

Derek standing on the tiny summit of the Pen Knife

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kiener's Route on Longs Peak w/Derek, Homie, and Kyle

Derek climbed Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route when he was ten years old. He was my September partner the first time I did the Longs Peak Project. Until this year that was his only Longs Peak ascent. He found that to be unacceptable. This year we've done quite a bit to right things. Derek just completed his fourth ascent of Longs this year. Not only that but all five of his ascents have been via a different route and a different month. He's 5/12's of the way to a career LPP:

March: Cables/North Face
May: Notch Couloir
July: Keyhole Ridge
August: Kiener's Route
September: Keyhole Route

We had just done a tough 16-mile, 6000-vertical-foot run the day before, but the weather looked good and we had lined up two incredible partners. First, Homie. We'd done the run and the 10-4 the previous weekend with him and he's such a great partner to have in the high mountains. The fourth member of the team was Kyle Richardson, a junior at CU double majoring in Jazz and Business. He's also an extremely fit mountain runner and very fast climber/scrambler. He graciously agreed to slow down to our speed and even carry some gear for us (which he did not use) in order to help equalize our speeds. What a nice kid!

Homie picked us up at 4:15 a.m. and we picked up Kyle at 4:30 a.m. We were at the trailhead a bit before 5:30 a.m. and were soon headed up the trail. I led for a bit and then Kyle took over. His pace was hurting me, but I could just barely hang on. The lighting was really dim (we didn't bring headlamps) and I kept my eyes glued on his feet so that I wouldn't trip.

I took over at the front after a bit, so that Kyle wouldn't go too fast, and we made our way to Chasm Lake. Derek had never had to go around this lake before. On his previous visit he could walk right across it. We traversed around on talus and huge boulders and then up more talus, this time pretty loose, the other side. We got to the bottom of Lambs Slide and stopped to pull on Kahtoola crampons onto our running/scrambling shoes. We put on our helmets (except Kyle) and pulled out our ice axes. Homie and Derek put on harnesses. I didn't pull one on as we neglected to bring another. Oops.

Kyle did most of the step kicking up Lambs Slide and it was just barely soft enough to  allow safe passage in running shoes. Just as we started up I heard the terrifying howl of rock falling at high speed. I yelled and crouched down, but never saw the rock. I took over just for the very top to give Kyle's toes a break. two thirds of the way up, a softball-sized rock sped within a foot of my head. I never heard it or saw it coming. Before I even had registered exactly what it was, it struck Kyle in the hip. Ouch! If it had hit any of us in the head, we'd have fallen all the way down Lambs Slide. I was impressed that Kyle hardly made a sound and didn't lose his footing. I know, from experience, how badly that hurts. He had a mark on his hip, but carried on, seemingly, without being hampered at all.

I had to cut four steps across pure ice for us to gain the rocky ledges of Broadway. Here we put away the crampons and ice axes and then continued on the increasingly exposed and awesome Broadway to the start of the rock climbing on Kiener's. This traverse isn't very hard, but it is spectacular and if you's a 1000-foot fall to the talus below. We didn't trip.

Homie and Derek climbing up Lambs Slide
At the base of the steep rock climbing, we got out our two 30-meter ropes and our four cams. Kyle soloed above me and I led with Derek tied in at the other end of our first 30-meter rope and also tied into the rope leading down to Homie. We simul-climbed up 300 or 400 feet of beautiful, mostly solid, low-5th class climbing. Everyone was super solid. Neither Homie nor Derek needed a rope, but I insisted on it. I wanted Derek to do it once on a rope before he solos it.

I screwed up and dropped my belay device. The Petzl one I just bought. Dang it. At least it didn't hit anyone. At the top of the steep section, we put away the ropes and the gear and continued up via mostly beautiful, solid, ledgy third class climbing. This scrambling is tiring, as there is no reason to stop, but it is so fun to be climbing up alongside the Diamond to the top of Longs Peak.
Kyle leading the way on the Broadway traverse
We got to the summit 3h37m after we started. We took some photos and had a bit to drink and Homie signed into the summit register for us all. Then we headed down the North Face. At the rappels, Kyle downclimbed, then Homie rapped to the next anchors. Since I had dropped our only rappel device, I taught Derek how to rappel with biners. As he rappelled down to Homie, I downclimbed, since I had no harness or rappel device. We repeated the procedure at the next rappel and soon we were packing up the gear. Once again, Kyle chipped in and carried gear that he didn't even use.
Homie at the top of the roped climbing
We passed a team of four who roped up for the approach pitch to the Cables. They were still on their way up. A bit further down Homie mentioned that one of the two guys just below us was Jim Detterline. Jim has climbed Longs Peak 500 times or so (I'm still in the 70's) and I'd been seeing his name in the summit register for the last twenty years, but we had never met. When Homie, Mark, Tom, and I climbed Kiener's on January 1st, 2000, hoping to be the first team to climb Longs in the new millennium, we found that Jim Detterline has summited at 4:15 a.m. He really wanted to be first and he was. He also was on Denali the same time we were this past June, but missed the weather window and waited out his time with no summit (2 from his party did summit).
Climbing up the last steep section of upper Kiener's
We cruised down the rest of the descent with the conversation flowing nearly as easily as the miles. We took all the nice shortcuts and ran quite a bit of the lower part. I was driving this, I guess. I had promised the team that we'd do the roundtrip in six hours. I didn't want to be wrong. We finished in 5h54m.
One more summit for Derek and I
What a great day out on my favorite mountain with my son, one of my favorite partners, and now a new friend. We were back home by 1 p.m. Our perfect day was marred by passing a horrible accident during the Boulder Ironman Triathlon. A woman got hit by a car during the bike leg and was killed. We passed by well after the accident, but the clean-up crew we saw didn't bode well. I didn't find out what had happened until a few hours later. Tragic. With all the cones out there and so many bikers, how does that happen?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Skyline Traverse...One Last Time

The Skyline Traverse isn't really a big adventure, but it is another step in Derek's transformation into a complete outdoor athlete. Last weekend he did his first ultra, sort of. It was 30 miles of travel and over 15,000 feet of climbing, but broken up with rather long stays in our "aid stations". Still, all those miles and vertical were mostly above 12,000 feet, making it considerably harder than it sounds at first. We did climb ten fourteeners...that makes it sound as hard as it actually was.

Anyway, we first did the Skyline Traverse as sort of a consolation training day, though it proved plenty challenging when we started with about ten inches of fresh snow. I originally predicted it would take us six hours. We made it, barely, but the snow made it a lot tougher.

After Denali I gave it a try and it was just too hot. I cramped up badly - everything from my feet to my quads and hamstrings. I barely limped down off the Red Rocks and called it quits. A month ago I tried again, in ideal, cool weather conditions. I ran much better and finished in 4h06m. That was just too close to four hours to leave it. So today I went out with Homie and Derek to see if I could break four hours.

I was going to track the run on my watch, which has a great feature where I can race a previous track. I was focused on this goal and would try to stay on it, regardless of my partners. I encouraged both Derek and Homie to run at their own pace as well.

We started at the South Mesa Trailhead and stayed right together going up Shadow Canyon. We met a young guy in the parking lot doing the same thing. He has just done the Leadville Marathon and was training for a 50K. We'd catch him in Shadow Canyon, but he was moving along and we stayed together until he stopped to take a photo.

At the saddle Homie dropped the hammer and took off toward the summit. We'd see him as he descended past us but then not again until we were climbing up Sanitas and he was just about done.

I gapped Derek just a bit at the top, maybe by 20 seconds, but he closed up on the descent and we stayed together over to Bear Peak and then all the way down Bear's West Ridge to the start of the Green Bear Trail. We were up 3 minutes at the summit of SBP, but gained nothing over to Bear and lost a bit on the top of the descent. Throughout the run I found that I was climbing (which means hiking, mostly), a bit faster than last time, but descending no faster and I had to push the pace to keep up with my previous effort.

We ran all the way up Green Bear and then power hiked to the summit of Green. I gapped Derek again, this time by maybe 40 seconds. He shut down that gap remarkably fast and came up on me at double my speed. He said he needed to go by and I gave him track and he was gone. I had been having some stomach issues and had to stop behind a bush, losing a minute. I had worked hard to be up 4.5 minutes at the summit of Green, but I was now back to be up only 3.5 minutes.

I tried to run smoothly and quickly, but I was already getting a bit stiff legged. I worked hard going up Flagstaff, hoping to catch a glimpse of Derek and hoping Derek knew where to go. He's still pretty new to these trails. Just as I topped out Flagstaff I caught a glimpse of Derek running down, across the trail-less field. When I got down to the Amphitheater Road I spotted Derek running down the road to the left. I yelled at him to get back on the trail. He cut across the woods and met me a little ways down the trail.

Derek led the way down to the Flagstaff Road crossing with me yelling out directions at each junction. I took over the lead here when Derek walked the tiny uphill over to the trail on the other side. We followed right behind me down to Eben G. Fine park, where we arrived 5m25s up on my previous time. We stopped here to get some extra water for our Camelbacks and to cool off. We left there only 4m55s up. It was going to be close...

We power hiked up the hogsback and then scrambled to the summit of Red Rocks. Derek was just a tiny bit behind me on the climb. We descended together and hit the concrete bridge at the base of Sanitas at 3h12m into the run. Last time I had done the roundtrip in 48 minutes. I just needed to go one minute faster.

Almost immediately I gapped Derek and after ten minutes was out of sight of him. The trail was super crowded with a couple of big groups of kids, though they didn't really slow me down much. I was working hard, breathing hard, sweating profusely, hurting greatly. I was trying to get enough ahead so that I didn't have to come down any faster than last time. I got up 6 minutes and then 6m20s and then it bounced back and forth from 6m40s to 6m20s. I couldn't gain any more. I'd have to come down faster. Halfway up Homie came running down. He looked great. I told him I was only 6 minutes up and it was going to be close.

I topped out at 3h40m and immediately started to descend. I just needed to come down in 19 minutes. Last time I came down in 18 minutes. I passed Derek about 35 seconds down from the summit, so I figured I was up about 80-90 seconds on him. He was hurting bad and just shook his head at me, as if to say, "I can't make it." I told him, "You have it. Definitely."

I tried to move along on the descent, but I was hurting big time and my normally limited agility was now severely limited. The casual observer would think I had no agility whatsoever. I hobbled down as fast as I could, mindful not to trip and fall or cramp up. Despite this, when trying to pass a woman at a tricky slabby section, my right calf locked up in a painful cramp. She had stepped to the side and wondered why I wasn't going by. I was painfully waiting for the cramp to release, trying to pull back my foot. It was only ten seconds and I was moving again.

Further down, maybe two third of the way down, Derek comes blasting up behind me at warp speed. Cool. He was moving so fast that I thought he was just going to yell, "Track! Get out of the way, old man! I feel great!" Instead he said, "I'm SO tired!" A short bit further down, I caught a toe and sprawled to the ground with my right calf locking up badly. I bashed my knee on the ground and blood ran down my leg. I was groaning in serious pain and asked Derek to pull back my foot. He tried once, twice, and stopped, thinking it was done. My groans and pleas told him otherwise. He pushed hard and got my foot back and the cramp released. He pulled me to my feet and took off. I did as well, albeit at a much slower pace. My knee hobbled me for a bit, but then loosened up. I was fearful of any sudden movement that might force another cramp upon me. I looked at my watch. I knew I had it if I could keep moving.

As I neared the finish I could hear Homie and Derek yell up some encouragement. I hit the concrete bridge at 3h56m58s. Yeah! Derek finished in 3h55m and change. Homie in 3h38m. Sweet. We all made it. I was sure glad to stop running. I checked my watch and saw a text message from Sheri. She was parked just down the street and two minutes later we joined her.

It is probably silly to most people to try to break an arbitrary 4-hour time, but to all of my close friends they understand completely. Derek does too. I was incredibly impressed with Derek's effort here. He doesn't run long. Never really has before. Last weekend was all hiking. The sky is the limit for that kid.