Thursday, May 25, 2017

Climbing a Little Big Wall in the Flatirons

Not many Boulder climbers, when asked, would be able to name any local "big walls." None that weren't delusional, anyway. But for the creatively deranged, there can be big walls anywhere. Or at least Little Big Walls.

When Derek was ten years old we climbed to the top of the Maiden and slept up there. I figured it was time for another Flatirons bivy. Plus, we're heading to El Cap in ten days and will need to set up our portaledge 1000 feet off the ground and...we've never set up the ledge on the side of a cliff before. Might be a good idea to try it once before getting up that high.

I scoped out the backside of Der Zerkle as a practice bivy site on Tuesday morning with my buddy Danny. We climbed "What If You're Not?", a 5.7 sport route and the two-bolt anchor at the top looked good to me. Wednesday, after dinner, Derek and I headed up with huge loads. We took our El Cap gear, which meant a 70-meter lead line, a 60-meter haul line, rack, two pads, two sleeping bags, food, water, clothes, headlamps, books, etc. We had about everything we'll take on El Cap, except the rack will be much larger and we'll have more food and water.

We didn't start hiking until 7 p.m., which was a bit late. We saw Minion Sara belaying some dude on The Shaft and said "Hi" as we went by. At the base of the route, we quickly geared up, cognizant of the fading light. Derek buzzed up the pitch and soon had the rope fixed. I jugged and he hauled. We then pulled out the ledge and, somewhat remarkably, set it up without much trouble. We did have our lines twisted a bit, but didn't bother to fix them and they weren't a problem. When we weighted the ledge I immediately loved it - so much better than hanging in a harness! But Derek legs started shaking and it vibrated the entire ledge. I asked if he was afraid and he said, "No, but my legs just know how unnatural this is and they won't stop shaking." This was pretty funny because he face and voice seemed completely relaxed. I got a bit concerned that it would last all night, but after maybe ten or fifteen minutes it stopped.

We got out the bags and Derek's pad. I didn't bother with a pad, thinking I'd be fine. I was, pretty much, but got a bit cold in the night when I just had the sleeping bag over the top of me. I needed to be completely in it. Quarters are a bit tight on this ledge, but we managed. Derek was on the outside, just by chance and seemed fine with it.

We ate a tiny bit of our food and Derek had some water. I was too afraid to drink anything because peeing was going to be an issue. We didn't want to just pee off the ledge because our ropes hung below us and I left my pack at the base. Plus, these are sport routes underneath us and I didn't want to pee on them. We should have brought a pee bottle and will take one up El Cap.

We didn't make it through the night without peeing. At 1:30 a.m. I got a bit cold and put on a hat and a jacket (I was just in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts). I had to pee, but was hoping I could last another four hours. I went what I thought was a pretty long time and checked the watch again, hoping to see at least 2:30. My watch read 1:45. I wasn't going to make it. I rousted Derek to get the one headlamp that was working (another thing to fix before El Cap) and told him I was going to scramble over the top of the wall and pee up there. I was tied in with about ten feet of slack on the lead line and this was enough to grab the top of the wall, pull over, and find a good spot for peeing. I then downclimbed back to the ledge. Derek did the same.

At around 5 a.m. a couple of hikers came by in the dark, headed for Mallory Cave. They didn't notice us, of course. We blew their minds a bit when they descended around 6 a.m. and we were up moving about in the light. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and climbed to the top of the wall again. This time I unroped and moved about taking photos of Derek on the ledge. I even went back down to the base to take a photo, before scrambling back up to the top, tying into the rope again, and downclimbing back to the ledge to help pack things up. Ah, the advantages of climbing these little walls instead of those big walls...

We stuffed the gear into the haul bag and then broke down the ledge and slipped it into it's own little haul bag. I then rapped to the ground with the ledge clipped to my harness. Derek lowered the haul bag to me and then he rapped off as well. Things had gone so well!

We packed everything up, and then dropped it at the base of Der Freischutz. We then took a quick scramble lap to the top in perfect weather and glorious morning sunshine. Then we shouldered our heavy loads and hiked back out to NCAR. We got home at 8 a.m. This was a blast, despite the difficult sleeping conditions. I can see why climbers prefer to each have their own ledge, but this is all we've got and it will be fine. Our plan for Lurking Fear is to spend just one night on the portaledge.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Trad and Aid Climbing Training with Derek

Derek leading Supremacy Crack on aid

Derek and I headed to the Dome to climb the East Slab, but it was busy so we headed up Cozyhang (3 pitdhes, 5.7). When we got there the East Slab party was geared up and ready to go. In the time they did that route and descended, Derek and I climbed Cozyhang and then the East Slab (5.6) and were back down for a second lap before they got down. Derek then led the East Slab - his first trad lead! He did great and put in lots of good gear. He enjoyed it. We were then going to maybe do Cozyhang again, with Derek leading this time, but another party was at the first belay. In the time it took them to climb the second pitch, which is about forty feet long, Derek and I ate and drank, packed up, hiked over to Monster Woman (3 pitches, 5.9), geared up and climbed that route. I led it as one pitch, but you get the point. It was super windy out at that point and we decided that was enough for today. Fun stuff. Derek was a natural on lead and we'll work to get him a lot more experience fast. was all about training Derek up on trad leading and aid climbing. Before today Derek had led only one trad pitch - the East Slab on the Dome (5.6).

Derek on his very first trad lead: East Slab on the Dome
The next weekend we headed to Eldorado Canyon for more trad climbing and for some initial aid practice. We started with me leading the first pitch of Calypso because the Wind Ridge (our first choice) was busy. We then simul-rapped to the ground and Derek led the same pitch.

Derek leading at the crux of Reggae
 I then led up Reggae and things were getting really crowded on the Wind Tower. It was time to move quickly. Derek followed and descended to the rappel anchors just before another team was ready to rappel. Thank goodness as they took about 20 minutes to rappel. We simul-rapped down to the halfway ledge and then Derek did his first trad onsight lead up the West Overhang (5.7). He cruised it easily and we got on it just before another party was ready to do it. This was also good since the second of that party hung on the roof three times.
Derek leading Calypso
Derek got back up to the rappel anchors before the leader of the party we got in front on our first rappel had left it! I followed and we simul-rapped again down to the same ledge. Now Derek led Reggae - his first 5.8 trad lead. He cruised it, placing bomber gear the entire way and finding great placements.

I then led the traverse pitch over to the bottom of the third pitch of the Wind Ridge and Derek led the roof to the top. We scrambled to the rappel anchors and did another simul-rappel.

We then ran into our friend John Black and headed over to the first pitch of the Bulge - a runout, serious 5.7 lead. I led up it first and Derek followed, checking out the placements and the climbing.

Derek leading the first pitch of the Bulge

Then Derek led the pitch and he looked super solid and got in even more gear than I had placed. Impressive. I followed and fixed a rope for John to climb on and then we descended back to the car for food and water.

We then drove up the canyon to the Supremacy area and I aided up Supremacy Crack, teaching Derek the techniques involved. I put in an anchor on top and lowered down. Then I had Derek follow the route on aiders, like he was leading an overhanging bolt ladder, except that he removed all the gear as he went.

I then lowered him down and he led the route, placing all his own gear, though I had him on a toprope, just in case. He did very well. He had one piece pop on him, but he suspected it was bad. He did swing off the route, though, as he never weighted the toprope. He fell onto the lower piece, which he was still clipped to.

Derek aiding up Supremacy Crack
He back cleaned all his gear as he went, which is a useful technique to know and it also allowed him to have all his gear available for each placement. That made the leading a bit easier, but it was only his first time aid leading on gear, so a good first step.

Oh, this crack leans left and overhangs significantly, so it is actually quite a difficult introduction into aid climbing. I couldn't think of a better alternative in Eldo that wouldn't be crowded. All while we were doing this two different parties were working on climbing The Web (13b) which is only 5-10 feet left of Supremacy Crack. Chad Greedy was up there with his girlfriend (Emily?) and she sent the route on her second try. That was impressive.

It was a great training day for us. I have Derek on a bit of a crash course, as we plan to climb El Cap in June.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

El Potrero Chico with Derek

This year Derek and I have another major climbing goal: El Capitan. Last year we were mountaineers and climbed Denali. This year we're going to be rock climbers and climb El Cap. Next year we'll be astronauts and climb Olympus Mons. But back to this year...

Just like last year, Derek has a lot of learning to do before he climbs El Cap. Most climbers apprentice for many years before tackling such a wall, but Derek has always been a fast learner, especially when he's motivated. We started by training at our local gym - Movement in Boulder. We worked our way up the grades to climb a few 5.12's and Derek surpassed me and led a 5.12b and even had to run things out at the crux because of the difficulty of clipping. So, he was not only strong, but had a good head for leading.

The gym is a great place to get strong and practice some leading, but it is a very long way from climbing El Cap. So, our next step was climbing outside. Yeah, yeah, Derek's climbed outside before and been up some things, like the Grand Teton, Devil's Tower, and various Eldo routes. He has been to Yosemite, though. Two years ago we took a trip there to whet his appetite and climbed Royal Arches, Snake Dike on Half Dome, and My Favorite Things on Cloud's Rest. But he hasn't taken the sharp end outside.

Saturday, March 25th: Lower Spire - photos

Hence, we took this trip to Mexico to climb on some really long routes. Sure, it was all sport climbing, but one step at a time. The goal here was to get Derek on lead, swinging pitches with the Imperial Grand Poobah (that's me). We booked our tickets, collected our 23 quickdraws, and unwrapped our new 70-meter duodess rope. We started from home with a 3 a.m. alpine start so that we could catch the bus in time to make our 6 a.m. flight. After changing planes in Dallas we arrived in Monterrey around noon. I had booked an airport pickup, but didn't understand that we were supposed to get in a certain cab and our motel would pay for the cab when they dropped us off.

We climbed the tower on the left (higher) via the shaded face. We'd later climb the other tower.
We stayed at a place called La Posada, which is walking distance to El Potrero Chico park. It's an interesting place. There are maybe eight motel rooms of various configuration and camping sites. There is a community kitchen area with many propane burners and pots, pans, dishes, utensils and a community refrigerator, along with many tables to sit and eat. There is also a small restaurant that probably serves a total of less than ten meals a day. It's open for breakfast, but not until 8:30 a.m. and we never went then. Then it closes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so not open for lunch, which was fine as well. We ate dinner there three times though and it was very convenient very reasonably priced.

When I finally got someone on the phone at La Posada I was told about the cap and after waiting around the airport for nearly 90 minutes, we finally got in a cab. Seventy minutes later we were at La Posada and into some serious heat. It would be 90+ degrees every day we were there. After the early wake-up, the rigors of traveling, and the heat, we decided to rest up a bit and wait for cooler temperatures before heading into the park.

Derek following the first pitch of Crack Test Dummies
Our room was tiny, with two single beds taking up 80% of the total area. We had a tiny bathroom and our shower mostly just dribbled out cool water. We probably had less than a gallon of hot water out of that shower over five days and probably no more than ten gallons of total water. It was difficult to fully rinse off the soap, but the cool water temperature wasn't much of a problem because of the tremendous heat.

We rested for a bit too long and didn't head into the park until after 5 p.m. We were to soon learn that it gets dark at 7 p.m. We headed for the Spires, hoping to back the higher, easier summit via a 3-pitch 5.9 route called Crack Test Dummies. Walking into the park was a complete sensory overload. First, we were daunted by the tremendous vertical relief of the steep, limestone walls. Steep ridges, walls, towers lined both sides of the roads. Most of the walls, though, were peppered liberally, and sometimes nearly covered completely, in vegetation, mostly cactus, yuccas, and, get this, palm trees! This is no Yosemite. There are steep, blank sections of pure rock, but they are the exception here and rock like that usually signals extreme difficulty -- too difficult for us.

But it wasn't just the geography that had our attention. The place was packed with the Mexican version of "white trash." Oh, and trash as well. Everyone seemed to have music absolutely blasting from their car stereos. The volume of some of these stereos would make a thrash metal concert seem like a church hymnal. And most of the speakers were massively overdriven, distorting painfully. But it got even worse. I used to think that Mariachi music was a quaint, traditional Mexican music, played mostly for tourists. Wrong! This is a deep cultural love with absolutely everyone playing it. And oh how horrible this music is. How these people can stand it I don't know, but each one has to have their music so amazingly loud to drown out their neighbors' music because, while everyone is playing Mariachi music, they are all playing their own Mariachi music. It's so loud and so pervasive that is detracts from the climbing. It is no wilderness experience. It's difficult to hear commands from your partner low on a climb.

Derek on his first lead outside.
We walked the gauntlet of shuddering cars deeper into the park, past the great walls on both sides of the road to the Spires just beyond. El Potrero Chico seems to consist, mostly, of just one giant east-west ridge of rock that is cut in two right at this entrance. Once through the gap, there is no more walls to climb. It's just really one 2000-foot tall ridge with many sub-ridges, but that's it. It's only a few hundred yards wide. So, on the south side of the ridge we turned west and headed up hill for a couple hundred feet to the base of the lower spire. Our route was on the north face of the tower and we were thankfully in the shade.

We geared up and I took the lead on the first pitch, a 5.8 that followed a blocky, ledgy crack system. Despite lots of opportunity for natural gear, all the routes we did were completely bolt protected and I happily clipped bolts for a hundred feet up to a belay ledge. Derek followed and was game to immediately take over the lead and head up the crux 5.9 pitch. He did well, moving confidently and quickly at first. He paused a couple of times at the crux sections, but handle them with aplomb, even one crux that was well above his last bolt.

Out of sight of me and more than a hundred feet above me, the rope stopped playing out through my hands. It moved haltingly and then stopped for a long time. Finally I heard "Off belay." I waited. And I waited. I yelled up, "How's it going, Derek?" I didn't hear much of his response. I waited some more and then the roped got pulled up, mostly. I waited to be put on belay. I waited some more. I called up, "How's it going, Derek?" Nothing. I was concerned. Our light was rapidly fading. It would be dark soon and our descent was down the other side of the tower - a way we were obviously not familiar with. I didn't want to overly rush Derek and I knew I couldn't call up with any frustration in my voice, but it was difficult for me. I felt for Derek, as I knew he must be going through some difficulties up there, but we needed to make progress. I called up again, "Derek, we've got to get moving." I contemplated climbing up without a belay. The climbing didn't look that hard. What if he needed my help? But I was sure the rope wasn't fixed and I'd be onsight soloing 5.9 200 feet above the ground. I pushed those thoughts aside for a few more minutes. Finally, the rope came tight and, with great relief, I started to climb.

I found two 5.9 sections that were challenging and I was even more impressed with how Derek climbed them so confidently. When I got to the belay, I made sure not to say anything to discourage him. He knew he had taken awhile and was frustrated with himself. I'd been there before in my early days leading and knew how it felt to be all alone way up on a pitch with no one to help you and having to solve the problem by yourself. He never panicked or shut down, but figured things out. In my early days I'd have angrily asked my partner what was going on.When I think how I have behaved to some of my past partners, when under stress, I cringe. I climb with the greatest partners, the greatest people, and I'm not one of them. I'm much more introspective these days and much more careful with Derek and it's made me think back on previous behavior. I'm pretty disappointed with what I've seen and am all the more thankful that all my past partners are still my partners. It wasn't that I was a pure asshole but that I was scared also. So, I was half asshole, half coward. Having Derek as a partner is helping me become a better person. Kahlil Gibran wrote:

To be able to look back upon one's life in satisfaction, is to live twice.

It isn't all satisfaction for me. At best I can live one and three quarter times.

So when I got the belay, I just told Derek not to worry about it and he could tell me all about it once we were safely back on the ground. I told him I had a much tougher time on my first lead. I went by his belay and climbed the remaining twenty feet to the summit. I downclimbed five feet or so on the other side to the rappel anchors and put Derek on belay. We were racing the light now. The sun had set and it would be dark soon. I didn't want to be searching for rappel anchors in the dark. I quickly threaded our rope and put myself on rappel. I descended carefully, scanning for the next anchor. I found one about fifty feet down and stopped there. I didn't know where the next anchor was and couldn't afford to pass up any station.

Derek joined me and we repeated the process. I had my headlamp in the top of the pack that I was wearing. Derek had his headlamp in his pocket, but we could still see, barely. Eighty feet down I spotted another station to my right and swung over to it. When Derek joined me, we dug out the headlamps and turned them on. It was now dark. I figured we had at most two more rappels and I started down again. I was soon delighted to realize that the ropes reached the ground. I called up the good news to Derek.
La Posada
When he joined me on the ground I was relieved. No big deal to be rappelling in the dark, right? It's a little bit stressful, I think. Because it's hard to find anchors and if you don't, you aren't going anywhere. And I'd have a hard time re-ascending the rappel line if I had to, though I could (note to self: teach Derek how to do this). It's just always a relief to be back on the ground. I hugged him and told him how proud I was of him and how he had handled himself in a stressful situation. He was certainly less stressed than I was on the descent. This makes sense, as he was relying on me to get us down, but Derek doesn't panic. Ever. He gets stressed, like the rest of us, but he doesn't panic.

On the hike down, which was actually a bit tricky as there wasn't a defined trail and we just descended a long rock chute, Derek told me that he had trouble finding the belay anchors and then couldn't figure out how to use his belay device in guide mode and then couldn't use the Gri-Gri for a climber below him and eventually, just used his belay device like he always had. He was just not sure where to go and what to do. In our enthusiasm, I hadn't given him enough instruction on exactly what to do at the belay stance. We'd rectify this the next day.

Back at La Posada, we dumped the gear and headed to dinner, where we both had chicken enchiladas, which were marginal, though more than ample, calorie-wise. I was hoping for a red enchilada sauce and we got a much thicker green paste. It was taste, but a bit dry. Also, there was no cheese at all. This was quite surprisingly and made the meal seem that much more dry.

Afterwards, we took our showers and then fell asleep watching a movie.

Sunday, March 26th: Space Boyz - photos

I was up first and headed over to the common kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and nibble on some breakfast. After an hour or so I came back to the room and rousted Derek for some climbing. We headed into the park a little past 8 a.m. Our goal was to climb Space Boyz (11 pitches, 10d), but decided to warm-up on a couple of adjacent 5.8 routes. This was actually a bit strange, since the first pitch of Space Boyz is 5.8 also. We realized this after climbing "CDC and J" and ditched the second climb to start up Space Boyz, a little before 9 a.m.
Derek at the top of pitch one of Space Boyz. You can see how easy the approach was.
Space Boyz starts right behind a pavilion and only two or three steps off a paved path and about fifty feet from the main road. It's highly convenient. The first four pitches are rated 5.8 and 5.9 and they seemed a bit easier. A bit easier than a gym 5.9 and about two number grades easier than an Eldo 5.9. Our confidence soared. I led the first pitch and when Derek arrived I went over the mechanics of setting up a belay and he was off on the second pitch. He even had a semi-hanging belay and had to butterfly coil the rope over his tie-in and he did this very well. He continued this way all the way up the climb. Apparently he just needed one belay set-up to learn and now had it down. He did the same thing when he was first lowered off a climb. He was probably 6 or 7 years old the first time I lowered him. It was off Dinosaur Rock and the first lower was less than vertical and only about 30 or 40 feet. I think he cried a little getting down that, but that was it for the rest of his life. The second lower, just ten minutes after the first, was massively overhanging and dropped down over a hundred feet. He thought it was fun. A few years later when we climbed the Maiden and prepared to descend via the famously intimidating rappel from that summit, Derek didn't hesitate a millisecond when I started to lower him. He learned how it worked the first time and he had it.

Derek was leading the even pitches and the crux pitch is the sixth. When we got there, I asked if he wanted to try and it and he said, "Let me look at it." The sixth pitch traverses around a corner at the very start and climbs a dihedral out of sight of the belayer. Derek took a look around the corner and said he'd go it. He kept me informed on what was going on and I paid out rope. He moved steadily and when he got the crux he was tired. He had me give him some tension so that he could rest. After a rest, he continued to the next bolt and rested again. That was it and he was at the belay.
Derek expertly manages a hanging belay
I followed and took the next lead, rated 10c. This pitch had me thinking a bit, as there was two ways to navigate the crux section and it was thin and balancy and I wanted to get it right. I finally chose the left way and made it up to the belay. It was the most challenging pitch for me, but I had a nice toprope belay from Derek on the crux pitch.

Derek led another 5.9 pitch up to a hanging belay and we really started to feel the heat. We'd been in the sun since the fifth pitch but we were managing it.  I led up past the belay on my lead and then past another intermediate belay to a ledge, where I slung a bush for a belay. This allowed Derek to string the remainder of the tenth pitch and the eleventh pitch to the summit. We relaxed up there for a bit, drinking the water we had carried clipped to our harnesses but failing to drink since we were concentrating on the climb so much and, apparently, weren't thirsty enough.
Derek heading around the corner and up the crux pitch. He looks terrified, doesn't he?
Soon we started down, using our simul-rappelling technique that we'd practiced just once in Eldo, a week before coming down here. I'd done it before, years ago, with Hans and then just a couple of years ago I simul-rappelled entirely down the very steep Rainbow Wall in Red Rock Canyons with Chris Wiedner. It turned out to work great. We had excellent, coordinated teamwork and this allowed us to be together the entire way down. No yelling commands up and down. Just smooth descending. We enjoyed being together and working the ropes as a team so much that we descended everything this way the entire trip and I suspect we'll keep doing it. We both used Grigri's and we religiously tied knots in the ends of each strand.

It took us 75 minutes to do the 11 rappels back to the ground, back to the cacophony that was this park on the weekends. Hiking back down to La Posada was like walking through a block party in Manhattan. In fact, climbing here during the weekend days is like climbing the middle of busy city.

Derek on the summit of Space Boyz
After resting for an hour and a half, we got a ride down the hill to Hidalgo to buy some groceries. We really craved more drinks, especially soft drinks. After buying some supplies we had to walk the 3 km back up the hill. We passed so many dilapidated buildings that, coupled with the baking heat, it resembled the news stories of Syria. Okay, that's perhaps overstating things, but it seemed at least a third of the building were abandoned or half fallen down. A tourist town this isn't. Out of character with the ambiance was a set of Par Course stations along the hill. I didn't see a single local that I could imagine using these stations. They appeared to be in very good condition though. I had not thoughts of using them either in the 95 degrees and my hands heavy with groceries.

We cooked up hotdogs for dinner that night and not much else. We met most of the other climbers at La Posada, all American, I think. Everyone was remarkably friendly. The first night we were invited to join four others at their table and we traded climbing stories. On this second night we met Owen and Neal and they gave us lots of beta on our next climb - the big one - for they had climbed it the day before.

Monday, March 27th: Time Wave Zero - photos

Time Wave Zero is one of the longest climbs in El Potrero Chico and our main goal for this trip. It is 23 pitches and the descent involves rappelling back down the route. The pitches are generally half-a-rope-length, still about 100 feet, and could be combined with a 70-meter rope, which we had. Chris Weidner told us to combine pitches and simul-rappel in order to move fast enough to climb this route in the light of a single day. Neal and Owen had started climbing in the dark, but we didn't want to do that. This might have been a mistake, because this route gets a lot of sun, all day long, for it faces south. Neal and Owen brought 3 liters of water each. We went lighter on the water, hoping the lighter weight would help more than the water. This was probably a mistake as well.

Time Wave Zero climbs, roughly except down low, the left skyline to the summit.
We got up at 5 a.m. and didn't move too fast. We had some cereal for breakfast and left around 5:30. We'd never been up to the base, but found the start and were climbing around 6:30 a.m. We were determined to link as many pitches as we good could in order to make it up and down before it got dark.

The sun hit us after five pitches and it would be the hottest day of the year so far, getting to 36 degrees C (97 degrees F) according to our compound desk clerk Jose Luis. We felt that big time by the top of the route. Spoiler Alert!

I led the first two pitches, a 5.7 to an 11a/b. I fell off the 11 once and then grabbed a draw, not feeling strong enough to clip from the hold next to it. This was a bit disappointing, but it was my first lead of the day and I didn't want to take much time on it. Derek followed and waltzed right up it. He hardly paused, even, like he was climbing a clearly marked route in the gym and it was 5.9 jugs. I wondered how I could have so much trouble on something that looked that easy for him.

Derek cruises the 5.11a/b pitch
It was 7 pitches to the top of the lower buttress and then we hiked up class 2 terrain for a couple hundred feet to the start of the upper wall. The topo counts this hiking as a pitch so I then led pitches 9 and 10, the tenth being a slanting 10b crack that I found challenging and Derek found a bit too challenging. He fell here a couple of times and the crack was hurting his hands and his feet hurt and, judging from the sounds coming from below, I thought we might be going down. But, no! Derek hung tough and immediately launched into his next leads, a 5.9 and a 5.7. I then did a 5.8 and a 5.9.
Derek nearing the top of pitch 17.
Pitches 15 and 16 are rated 5.9 and 10d. Or both 5.10, depending on which guidebook you read. Derek decided he didn't want to do the 10d, so he just led one pitch and then I led 16 (10d) and 17 (5.9+). This got to to a tiny shaded section. Well, there was a sort of hole/corner you could get into to get out of the shade and Derek sat in there while we let another party rappel by us. They had started the route at midnight to avoid the heat.
Derek starting up pitch 18
Derek then led the next two pitches of 5.9+/10. I then led a really hard, steep, pumpy 10d that had me fall on the bolt (what bolt?), going the wrong way and then cheating (tense matching with fall and going) a bit up high by pulling on draws. The next pitch was the 12a and I pulled on everything in sight and stood in two slings, but got the rope up there reasonably fast. It was smokin' hot at this point and I was just trying to be efficient.

Derek then took over for the final real pitch, rated 5.8, but it seemed harder. Derek was massively dehydrated, having only drank about 25 ounces of water. He was very tired from climbing the 12a pitch and just mentally done. Yet, he took the sharp end and headed up, hoping for a cruiser pitch. We'd had pitches rated 5.9 before that felt very comfortable. Derek got up to the steep section on the pitch and balked. He tried to climb up on the right and got himself into a dangerous fall position. He was scared and I couldn't do anything to help him. He figured out how to downclimb back to the last bolt and he was completely done at that point. I lowered him back to the belay, a hanging stance, and I led the pitch up to the ridge. Derek followed without falling and then led the last 5.6 (more of a scramble) to the summit.
Derek resting while following the crux 21st pitch. He's still smiling here.
Derek pulled out his last bottle and drank it down to 200ml. I was already out of my water and that was all we had for the 3 hours of rappelling ahead of us. Despite making the summit and completing this huge climb, it was ironically a low point for us. We were very, very hot, very, very dehyrated and Derek was probably very near his limit of physical and mental fatigue. We knew we had 21 simul-rappels to get down, two of which traversed significantly with plenty of opportunity to make a mistake or get our rope stuck. I sure we were both wondering how much weaker we'd be by the time we got down.
Derek at the top of pitch 22. We just have the 5.6 ridge behind him to go. No more smiling for awhile...
Reversing the top pitch was time consuming because Derek was just gone and this took some climbing effort. Also it seemed to be the hottest on the summit. We had absolutely no breeze. Starting the first rap was a bit tricky, but we quickly found our rhythm and Derek seem to revive a bit. We worked fluidly together on every rap, diligently tying knots in the ends of our rope each time. Pulling, threading, knotting the rope 21 times. Carefully weighting our ends simultaneously. Carefully doing the delicate sideways rappelling on the two pitches. We were definitely better off by the time we hit the ground than when we left the summit, but that's easy to understand as the burden of 2300 feet of technical descending had been lifted. 

We packed up and hiked down. The route had taken us only 7h45m but that was continuous movement with no eating at all. It took us 3 hours to descend. Another 90 minutes for the hike up and down and you've got about 12h15m for the roundtrip. But most of that in 90+ degree heat with a total of 64 ounces in my Camelback and 56 ounces in Derek's pack.
Happy to be back down on the ground safely.
Once back on the ground we could finally really celebrate the ascent and feel great about our accomplishment. Derek is gaining experience by leaps and bounds and he is very tough and rarely quits on anything. He's a great partner and I feel so blessed to be having these adventures with my son. Everywhere I go people tell me how lucky I am. I do NOT take it for granted. 

We had a fun dinner last night and talked with our new friends Neal and Owen (whose wife Mrs. Lunz taught Derek at Monarch High School and knows and has climbed with Chris Weidner!) and some other climbers.

Tuesday, March 28th: Higher Spire - photos

I was up at 6 a.m. the next morning, having fallen asleep soon after I laid down last night. I made my coffee and ate my cereal and soon Owen and Neal showed up. 

Today Derek was reluctant to get up. Extremely reluctant.  I hiked around Potrero for two hours scoping out approaches to routes until the heat drove me back to La Posada around 1 p.m.

Today we climbed the spire on the right. We climbed the left spire on our first day.
Derek and I climbed the other spire today, late in the afternoon. This is the spire that is further uphill but slightly lower in overall height. We did a route called Aguja Celo Rey. The first pitch is rated 10b R and did have some attention getting runouts, though the difficult climbing was well protected. I was a bit baffled by the first crux section, which seemed to be a barn door situation. I searched for while before finding a tiny, but positive, crimp and it solved my balance problem. There was a another tricky section getting out of the "Eye of the Needle" - a tunnel through the connecting ridge between the two towers, but soon I was at the saddle.

Following the first pitch.
Derek followed nicely and found the climbing challenging, as well. He took the lead for the summit pitch, rated 5.9, but quite delicate with very marginal holds and some great exposure down the south face. He worked it all out and belayed from bolts just below the summit. After I joined him, I continued five additional feet to the summit and then he did the same.
Starting up the delicate and tricky summit pitch.
Two simul-rappels, our new standard descent method, later, we were back on the ground. When we got back to the pool complex at the mouth of the park we decided to hike up the stone trail into Virgin Canyon. this goes up to a nice platform with great views to the north and of the climbs on Virgin Wall. We spotted a party on the last (fourth), crux pitch of The Shroud (12b). The leader was just starting up it and we watched him until he fell just a few feet from the anchors.
On the summit with the Time Wave Zero summit in the background.
Back at La Posada we both had the fettuccine Alfredo with chicken. We noticed someone eating it the night before and it looked delicious, but we also noticed the lack of bread. In preparation, we toasted up a couple of slices of bread and two tortillas. We also brought our milk to dinner and drank it after our Cokes. 

Wednesday, March 29th: Dope Ninja - photos

I was up at 6 a.m. again and, after making sure Derek was semi-awake, went over to the kitchen area for some coffee and breakfast. 

Tres perros joined us halfway up the road. We recognized them from our compound and they seemed to roam free. They accompanied us all the way up to the base of the climb, including up some steep scrambling. There they got in the way, as the stance was too small to accommodate two climbers gearing up and three pooches. 
Trying to gear up at the base of the climb.
Dope Ninja was described as a "mountaineering route with bolts." I guess that means it wasn't very continuous and indeed it was blocky and ledgey. The climbing was fun and low stress and it was a fine choice for our last climb. We thought the second pitch might be the crux since some rated it 10b and it was the longest pitch. Hence, Derek led the first pitch and I the second. But the real crux was the third pitch, rated 10b and all that and more at the bouldery crux. Once again Derek led the crux of the route. He did this on three of the five multi-pitch routes we did on this trip. Quite an introduction to leading. He went from zero leading to mostly leading the cruxes and doing 20 leads over the five days were in Mexico. The kid learns fast.
Derek following the fourth pitch. Space Boyz is in the background and two parties are on it.
The crux gave Derek a bit of trouble, but he worked it out. I followed, barely staying on the rock. The next three pitches were 5.6, 5.9, and 5.7 and were easy rambles. The climbing isn't stellar here, but we had a great time being together, chatting it up and working out the climbing problems. On the descent we got our rope stuck for the first and only time of the trip. I had to climb up the start of the fifth pitch (5.8) for three bolts and then downclimb back to our belay. No biggie. Pulling the ropes down this way was a bit more work because of all the vegetation, which was particular rich on this climb.
Starting up the fifth pitch.
We had started up the route at 7:35 and were back down on the ground three hours later. We hiked back to La Posada and had just enough time to pack, shower, grill up our remaining hot dogs for the ride to the airport and hop in our taxi. Things went smooth on the flights home and we considered the trip a huge success. We'd seen a new climbing area, climbed a 23-pitch route, got Derek a lot of experience with leading, belaying, and simul-rappelling, and we'd stayed safe and had a great time being together. Will we be back? I'd definitely come back, though at a much cooler time. There are many hard, cool climbs here and with more moderate temperatures I'd be interested in giving them a go.

Derek led 21 pitches on this trip, up to 5.10d. He did 44 rappels, 40 of which were simul-rappels.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Streaking on Longs winter!

While we were climbing up Mt. Massive a few weeks ago Derek asked me when winter ends. He was thinking that he should keep this streak of climbing Longs Peak in winter going. How long was his streak at that point? One winter in a row! I told this to my buddy Mark, thinking he'd chuckle too, but he responded, "For most things that would be funny, but for Longs Peak in winter...that's definitely a streak."

He makes a good point. Climbing Longs Peak in winter is no easy chore. At least for most people, myself and Derek included. Maybe not much of a stretch for Homie, Anton, Joe (as we'll see), Danny Gilbert, etc. but those aren't normal people. I've done it a number of times, but it's never been easy for me.

So, we made plans to climb the last weekend of winter, which was today. Derek wanted to do the Loft to Clark's Arrow, as he'd never been on that side of Longs before. He'd been up the Loft before, though, in winter, when we climbed Meeker as part of our training for Denali. We decided not to make a loop out of it (via a descent of the North Face) and settled on an out-and-back. That way we wouldn't have to carry harnesses or a rope. We did carry an ice axe, crampons, and a helmet. We wore double mountaineering boots with Microspikes over them and used poles.
What a nice day!
We got a pretty casual start, arising at 5 a.m. and leaving the house at 5:35 a.m. and starting up the trail just a few minutes before 7 a.m. We ambled along to just below treeline and took a short break to drink and apply sunscreen. Once above the trees the wind hit us pretty good, but we were still just in our long-sleeve shirts. For me to be dressed that lightly, in high winds, it had to be warm -- and it was. But not too warm. The snow was quite firm. In fact, we decided to switch from Microspikes to crampons for more security and less slipping.

The climbing up to the Loft Bypass was nearly perfect snow for crampons. The only drawback was that it was very windy and we were in the shade for the first half. My hands got very cold, mostly because I refused to stop until we hit the sunshine. By then my hands were quite painful. Derek took care of me here, getting out my heaters and digging out my big mitts while I kept my hands balled up. The mitts and heaters had the problem solved in 10-15 minutes and that was never an issue again. We pulled on our shells here as well because we'd get hit it some pretty big gusts. Of course shortly afterwards the wind seemed to ease up and the sun had us pretty warm.
Derek climbing up the Loft couloir
The Bypass had steps up very steep snow, but it was solid going. We noticed some strange tracks in the snow here but thought nothing more about it. We continued up to the Loft, pulling off our crampons here, as it was just bare rock. We left out poles here as well and then descended the other side and did the traverse past Clark's Arrow to Keplinger's Couloir. Shortly after heading up the couloir we met two guys, Pawel Mikrut and his buddy Damien, coming down. They are Polish ex-pats now living in Denver. They had started  up at 2 a.m. and had just completed their first winter ascent of Longs. Cool. We asked them if we needed crampons to complete the ascent and they assured us we did. I was hoping to leave them behind.

Derek on the steep snow section of the Bypass. Notice the tracks right of Derek and also behind and left of him. They go to the edge of the cliff...
I was amazed how little snow was up there and we were able to stay nearly entirely on rock up the couloir, across the traverse to the Homestretch and up that to the summit. We didn't put our crampons back on the rest of the day. We made the summit just two minutes short of five hours. It was not entirely coincidental that we broke five hours. I might have mentioned it to Derek...

We spent thirty minutes on the summit, an extreme rarity for me in winter. There was little wind up there and it was sunny and beautiful. We ate and drank and relaxed. When we started down we were careful on the slabs and took our time. As we approached the top of Keplinger's I spotted a guy coming up, moving unusually fast. I noticed his pack was tiny and he had long hair. The way he moved, I knew he was something special and I immediately thought it must be Anton. I knew there was a 95% chance I knew this person though. Or if I didn't, I wanted to know them. Then I saw the curly hair and called out, "Hey, Joe!" It was unsupported, self-powered-14er-record-holder and all-around world-class endurance athlete Joe Grant, who is also an incredibly friendly guy. We chatted for at least ten minutes. Joe was in the Scarpa Neutron running shoes, which appeared to be nearly identical to the LaSportiva Crossovers, both have built-in gaiters and Gore Tex covers. He was in running tights and his signature BUFF. Looking at the differences in our clothing you'd think we were climbing different mountains or at least different routes. Nope. Though Joe was planning on descending the Keyhole Route to make a loop out of it.
Derek on the Homestretch and nearing the top of Longs Peak
We continued on our separate ways and Derek and I reversed our path back to the Loft and then very carefully down the steep snow section. We used our ice axes here to protect us and went slowly and carefully. Derek had an intense altitude headache and we took some time to eat, drink, and down some Advil. He was in pain but continued on, climbing safely and securely in no-fall territory.

Once back in the Loft couloir we were able to walk down facing out, digging in our heels, ice axes at the ready for a self arrest. It was too hard and too steep to glissade until we were more than halfway down, but then we got in some marginal glissading on hard snow.

Nearly to Chasm Cut-off we took a break to eat, drink, and strip off our Microspikes, stow our axes, and pack up our shells. The rest of the descent went smoothly with our conversation completely masking the tedious, tiring nature of the descent.
On the summit!
When we got to the parking lot we found Pawel and Damien, our Polish friends still there. They told us that they had started as a team of three and the third guy, also named Pawel but I'll call him Pole3 to avoid confusion) had turned around at the Loft and started down alone. This was around 8 a.m. He hadn't been seen since. The three had stashed snowshoes on the way up and when Pawel and Damien retrieved their shoes, they noticed the Pole3's pair was still there. They picked them up, thinking that their Pole3 just forgot them. Back in the parking lot, they found that Pole3's car was still there. As I write this at 10 p.m. he is still lost. The rangers will start a search and rescue Sunday morning if his car is still in the parking lot. I was hoping they'd go up tonight. It is still winter, but the weather report is pretty mild tonight, though with building winds.
Descending back to the top of Keplinger's Couloir. We did not climb the snowfield behind him.
Derek and I should have seen him descending. We would have got to Chasm Cut-off before Pole3 got there. What could have happened? What about those tracks on the steep section of the Loft Bypass? I hate to think he went over that cliff. Wouldn't we have seen a body below? Maybe not. He was supposedly a bad route finder. He was the fittest of the three, a marathon runner, and had been 100 meters ahead of the other two for the entire climb up to the Loft, yet the other two had to correct three route-finding errors of his. Could he have missed the traverse from the Meeker-Longs cirque back out to Chasm Cut-off? And descended that gully down to Peacock Pond and got lost down there? Unlikely, I think, with the trail so clearly in view. It's definitely a mystery. I have Paul's phone number and we are in touch. I'll find out what happened to Pole3 tomorrow, I hope. I'm crossing my fingers for him until then.

Derek has now climbed Longs Peak six times by six different routes in five different months, with his only doubling up in March - both winter ascents. And he's just 19 years old. I told him about my first time up Longs on our hike out. It was after my freshman year in college and I was 19 years old and did the Keyhole Route. He did the Keyhole when he was ten years old. He's got quite a jump on my young self. His ascents have been:

September: Keyhole, 10 years old
March: North Face, 18 years old
May: Notch Couloir, 18 years old
July: Kiener's Route, 18 years old
August: Keyhole Ridge, 18 years old
March: Loft/Clark's Arrow, 19 years old

Our goal this year is to climb the Diamond and we'll try that in July or August.

UPDATE: As of 5 p.m. on Saturday Pawel (Pole3) still hasn't been found. Supposedly they were going to use a helicopter but it's been very windy today.

UPDATE: I don't know anything more than what is in this DC article, but I suspect our guess was right. The climber fell and died. Tragic.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Mt. Princeton

Tigger in the background and Piglet (aka Homie) in the foreground

Homie and I kept our winter 14er streak alive this weekend. For the third weekend in a row we topped a peak. This time it was Princeton. I picked it because it was the easiest and closest 14er that I hadn't already done in winter. It was my 21st winter 14er. For Homie, it was another grid point and his second ascent of Princeton in the winter.

Derek was very excited to join us. I'm so lucky to have a son nearby that loves doing the same things that I do and that he still likes having me as a partner. This kid loves it more than I do. That's clear. Sheri picked him up at CU on Friday night and brought him home where we prepared our gear and packed our packs. We went to bed early, were up at 3:30 a.m. this morning and picked up Homie at four.

The trip got off to a bit of a rough start with a patrolman pulled me over for excessive speed on highway 285 - 70+ in a 55mph zone. Dang it. I wasn't trying to speed. I was just driving and not paying enough attention to the speed limit. After taking my information and looking me up in his database of bad guys he returned to my car and said, "Well, it looks like you're off to have a fun day with your sons. I'm going to view this as a momentary lapse in judgement and let you off with a warning. Don't make me regret it."

I looked at him and said, "Officer, first, we're going to climb a 14er in winter. That isn't going to fun. That's going to be serious suffering. I'd rather stay here and have you do a body cavity search. Second, how old do you think I am? This guy in the back seat could be my brother. Granted a much younger brother, but come on!"

At least that's how I remember it now, but I might have said, "Thank you, officer. No, you won't regret it. I'll be a good."

We geared up at the trailhead in great weather - no cloud in the skies, no wind, 18 degrees out. Derek first indication that things wouldn't go his way came when he tightened the waist belt on his pack and the buckle broke. He'd have the weight hanging off his shoulders all day long.

Snow came all the way down to the parking lot, but it was very hard and icy. Homie, once again with snowshoes, just walked in his boots and Derek and I did the same for awhile, at least until Derek said, "I'd rather be using these skis than carrying them." Good point. We put on the skis. Derek was in the same gear he  used on Massive, but I was in my NNN setup. These boots were not nearly as warm as the Olympus Mons I used on Massive, but the forecast was more friendly today. We all took Microspikes to pull onto our boots as well. Homie was in a very light pair of boots that were no longer waterproof.

Homie went off the front, moving strong, as he always does. Derek, though, was moving quite a bit slower than last weekend, right from the start. The main reason I went in my NNN gear was to be considerably lighter, since I had lagged the group last weekend and was well behind Derek then. Today, it wasn't just my lighter gear. Something just wasn't going well with Derek. I asked him how he felt and he said he felt fine. I asked him if his torn-up heels were hurting him and he said they were doing okay. He just couldn't find his rhythm. He couldn't keep a steady pace. I stayed with him for the first mile and a half, but then forged ahead at my own pace, putting in a ski track for him next to Homie's footprints.
Derek following Homie's tracks above the radio towers
We had no track on this ascent at all, but we weren't sinking in too deeply. In fact, Homie went for about 2.5 miles before he put on his snowshoes. That was where I caught him. Much to my surprise, Derek wasn't that far back. He must have started moving better once I went ahead. I waited for him to catch up and we moved together up to the radio towers (the summer parking spot for most people with 4WD).

We stopped to eat and drink and then Derek took over the lead here, mainly to keep us together, but the going was tougher - breakable crust and some very hard sections on steep side hills where it was difficult to hold an edge, especially for Derek with his skins a bit too wide for the skis (we're going to fix this). I went ahead again and once again caught up to Homie. My skis were a distinct advantage on this terrain compared to his snowshoes. We stopped just across one of the hard, steep sections and waited for Derek. I was just about to descend to check on him when I thought about calling him. We had great cell coverage on this entire mountain and he answered quickly. I asked how he was doing and he said he stopped to eat and drink again. This was after only 0.4 miles of moving from the last eating/drinking break. Clearly something was off. Derek didn't know what it was and tried more eating and drinking. It helped marginally.

Further up was an exposed section where the snow was so hard that Homie couldn't get purchase with his snowshoes. I was able to barely edge across it, switchback and come back across but it was difficult to hold an edge and I was on the verge of sliding down the slope. Homie climbed directly up the hill side and met me above. I sat down here and waited twenty minutes for Derek. I wanted to make sure he pulled his skis and hiked up directly. He did this, but had tremendous difficulty climbing this slope. It was probably what really did him in. I pulled off my skis and descended to help him, carrying his skis up the last bit.
Homie above the steep section where he avoid the rock-hard snow behind him. My tracks can barely be seen there.
We were following the 4WD road completely up to here, though the road bed was completely obscured up here, as the hard snow angled across it, eliminating any level terrain. This was especially difficult for Homie on his snowshoes, but Homie's a beast.

I put my skis back on and continued up the road. Homie had gone on 20 minutes before. I rounded the mountain and was on the long traverse that eventually hits the south ridge of Tigger - a 13,000+ sub-summit to the south of Princeton. Here Homie called down to me that he was heading up directly to the ridge, as the road was about to exit the trees and any protection from the wind. I followed suit and switchbacked and kick-turned my way up the slope to the ridge, where I met up with Homie and we both dropped our floatation and pulled on our Microspikes.

While I was climbing up to the ridge Derek called me. I was able to talk to him for 20 minutes of more as I climbed up here, switched my gear and continued on because I had on some Bluetooth wireless headphones. Derek was distressed. He was tired, alone, and confused why he couldn't more better. He didn't think his legs or his lungs were the problem. It was a weird combination of mental issues and rhythm. It had never happened to him before and he was upset. I tried to console him, saying that sometimes it just isn't your day, for whatever reason. I asked him if he wanted me to descend back to him and possibly all the way back to the car. I wanted the summit, but not as badly as I wanted to have my son stop hurting. He didn't ask me to turn around and I didn't want to just do it. I knew he'd feel bad if he turned me around without a better reason. I asked if he was worried about himself physically. Was he in trouble. He assured me he was not. He was just not happy to be in his current situation. I asked if he just wanted to head back down. He knew where the key was stashed and there was a Kindle in the car and he could read a book while waiting for Homie and I. When we ended the long call, he was noncommittal on what he was going to do. We agreed to talk again in 30 minutes.
Mt. Princeton from the ridge on Tigger
Homie led the way up the east ridge of Tigger. This is the standard winter route up Princeton, as the normal trail traverses the big bowl of the east face and northeast aspect of Tigger. The snow out there would either be an avalanche threat or rock hard and difficult to traverse. Homie quickly gapped me here. There wasn't an doubt which climber had once climbed 41 14ers over 7 days. I fell behind enough where I decided to cut across the upper northeast face and gain the Tigger-Princeton ridge a bit closer to Princeton. This saved me a couple hundred feet of climbing and the traversing wasn't too bad, as it as almost all on rocks and not too annoying.

Once I hit the ridge, I found Homie just a little ways beyond taking a break to eat and drink. I did the same and pulled on my big mitts for the first time and an additional layer. It was quite windy at times on the ridge, and some serious gusts hit us, though rarely. I talked to Derek just before I got to Homie and Derek sounded much improved. In fact, he was at our ski/snowshoe cache. I was surprised at the dramatic turnaround. He was again his normal self, though still moving slowly. He was good to continue, though, and I said to just keep coming and I'd head back to the summit with him.

Homie and I moved on, but soon he had to stop and tend to a blister, though I didn't know this until drive home. When I noticed I was far ahead of him, I figured he was just stopping to take a lot of photos. I took a photo of him with Tigger in the background and said that he must be Piglet, as those two are good friends. I then said that Derek was Eeyore, at least today, since he was down in the dumps, and I was Pooh Bear. Homie responded, "I agree. You are a big pile of poo." I walked into that one.
Looking down the summit ridge to Tigger
When Homie caught me 600 feet from the summit, he said, "I'm going to throw away these boots when I get home." I knew exactly what he meant. If he didn't throw them away, he might be tempted to use them again, as they were so light. But the shoes have lost any waterproofness they ever had and were too light for the task. Homie's feet were uncomfortably cold. And he never gets cold. And ever says he's cold. If he's mentioning his feet, he's in pain. Just then I got another call from Derek and he said he was trying to traverse to the ridge like I did, but thinks he started the traverse too low and it was wearing him down. I told him I'd call him on the summit to check his progress.

While I was talking to Derek, Homie moved far ahead. I could no longer move and talk to Derek at the same time, as my headphones died. With my phone stowed away I continued up after Homie. By the time I joined Homie on top, he'd been there for almost 20 minutes and needed to descend, as his feet were so cold. I bid him adieu and sat down, thinking I'd wait for Derek. I called Sheri and left her a long message with our status and then I called Derek, hoping he'd be well up the final ridge. He wasn't. He'd just gained the ridge on Tigger and was very tired. I looked at my watch and was astounded to see that we'd been moving for 6h15m. I didn't think it had been that long. This must have been become I was never that physically challenged, since we'd stopped a lot and moved pretty slowly. On Massive I was hard-pressed to keep up the entire time and was completely wasted on the summit. I knew Derek was probably 2 hours from the summit in his current state. It was too much, at least today. I told him he should turn around and he didn't argue. I think he might have been grateful that someone else was telling him to turn-around. I don't he'd have done it on his own. He generally just keeps on going, no matter his speed, no matter the difficulty. He'll learn more about when to turn around and when to keep going, but today it was good for me to turn him around. I told him he'd see Homie soon and I'd meet him back at the skis.
Down on the standard trail, looking back up at the snow slope I descended
I started down. I had told Derek to go back over the top of Tigger and Homie would surely catch him. I had eyed the standard trail far below and it looked enticing to descend to it, rather than climb hundreds of feet up Tigger. When Homie left me, he said, "I know you know what you're doing, but if take that route, know that I've had friends fall doing that." I appreciated his concern for me and his confidence in my judgement. When I talked to Derek I mentioned I might try it and he said, "No, go over Tigger." I was touched by his concern for me and said that I would, but once down at the saddle, with tired legs, confidence in my ability, and the desire to rejoin Derek and Homie as quickly as possible, I decided to descend to the standard route instead.

I careful made my way down a steep, very hard snowfield, conscious that if I fell here, I'd have just 2 or 3 seconds to stop myself with my poles before it was too late. Surviving a fall down the slope might have been possible, if I didn't hit any rocks. Coming down the ridge above I'd broken one of my poles, so it was now a short stub. I used that on the uphill side and bent over so that I could plant it. I'd fallen on terrain like this once before while going for a winter speed trip on Grays and Torreys. Back then I was going too fast for safety and fell. I tumbled out of control for maybe a hundred feet or more desperately trying to stop myself, which I eventually did, or I'd have probably died. That experience uppermost in my mind and I planted my poles and my spikes carefully, went at a speed that was safe, and made it down to the trail. I was dismayed at how far of a traverse it was back to the ridge and I had to cross four additional snow slopes, two of which were rock hard like the first big one and two that had a foot or more of soft snow atop the rock hard layer.  I took great care with each one, but was particularly nervous on the last two for year that foot-deep layer would slide over the hard surface underneath. If it slid, I'd go with it.
One of the loaded snow slopes I crossed
Alas, I made it back to the ridge where I found Derek patiently waiting for me. It was great to be back together with him. He gave me a fist bump for the summit and I gave him a big hug, knowing what a tough emotional ride he had on his attempt and very empathetic over the pain. We put on our skis and started down after a long-gone Homie, who expected us to ski by him.

The snow was very tricky the entire way down. Either rock hard or breakable crust, with very few exceptions, from the high ridge to the parking lot. We kept both skins on for the steep descent back to the road and continued with them due to the icy nature of the track, which made for reasonable descending even with the skins. Further down, Derek stripped one skin off to use his now familiar technique of one ski skinless and ski with a skin. He has the balance to ski on one leg when he needs the glide and then sets down the other ski when he needs more braking power.
Derek at the ridge with Mt. Princeton behind him. We'd ski from here to the car.
I struggled considerable in my NNN gear with my single pole. Well down the road I decided that I wanted more glide and stripped off both skins. I was now greased lightning and descended on both edges of control the rest of the way. I could work the tricky breakable crust to the side of the track for braking power. I ran off the track and uphill whenever I could to control speed. In some sections the snow was consistent enough to allow for snowplowing. I fell a number of times, once a hard face plant and once into some rocks, but I wasn't injured. I should have put my skins back on, but pride wouldn't allow it. Derek, on the other hand, was doing great and it was first time he did a better job descending than I did.

We got to the bottom almost 40 minutes after Homie. Some might wonder why we don't use snowshoes. I don't. I'd rather ski, even if it's slower. It's more fun and a challenge. And exciting to be sure, though you do risk injury. Derek agrees and always wants to be on skis if it makes sense.

Homie did the round trip in 8.5 hours, but Derek and I took 9h10m. We'd covered 13 miles and about 5500 vertical feet, a lot of that pretty difficult going. I was tired. On the long drive home I tried to make sure I was always within 5 mph of the speed limit. So I was quite distressed when driving across South Park, when I saw the alarming lights behind me. Another police car was coming up behind me, all lit up. Damn it! I thought. Not again. I was being careful. I pulled over to the side and stopped...and the cruiser flew right on by me!

Derek descending the rock-hard snow