Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 2

Stage 2 of the tour was the ultra-classic Trifecta: Freeway on the Second Flatiron to the East Face of the First Flatiron to the East Face of the Third Flatiron. Every scrambler knows these routes and every time the course covers them the field size increases. With no possibility of anyone getting lost or confused, my chances of doing well drop precipitously.

We ran this stage two years ago and Matthias set the course record in a time of 57:39. He was the only one to break an hour. This year the field was faster.

The field was so large that we split into two waves, two minutes apart. I divide the field by whoever ran under 1h20m in stage one and that put me (1h09m in stage one) last in the first wave. When I ran by Sheri, who was taking photos, I wasted valuable oxygen, saying "I'm not last. Second wave in two minutes." To add more injury to humiliation, I got caught and passed on the Second Flatiron by Michal. I didn't know him?!  Yeah, what was he doing here? If you are going to bandit a Minion race have the decency to stay behind Satan, please. And it got worse. As he went by he says, "I hope I'm still doing this when I'm your age."
The Minions flying up the East Face of the First Flatiron
"My age?" What the hell does that mean? It means I'm old and I look it. Dang. I hardly ever see myself and was under the impression that I was just one of the Minions. I usually finish in the middle of the field. I've never that phrase directed at myself before. I said it plenty of times, mostly to my buddy the Loobster. Now I know how it feels and I didn't like it much. It was too early to say that me. Maybe in a couple more decades, when I'm 40+35, but not when I'm a spry (again with my delusions) forty-fifteen-year-old. I've been using that technique of saying my age for five years now. It's more than novelty. I feel younger. I feel like one of the group. I caught up to my 20-year-old neighbor David Bonan higher up and tailed him to the top. David was doing his first Tour de Flatiron stage. As I raced right behind him down the trail, heading for the base of the First Flatiron, two hikers stepped off the trail to make way. We passed by and one called out, "How old are you?!" What's up with this? I must not be one of the guys, but instead some freak-show spectacle. People seemed to be surprised I've ditched my walker.

Up ahead, the real battle was raging.

Kyle and Cordis - the youth brigade - continued their battle, destined to last the entire Tour. Per the script, Kyle barely stays ahead of Cordis on the rocks and tries to hold onto his lead on the run out. This time Cordis made a number of moves to pass Kyle on the Third, the last of the scrambles, but couldn't get it done. Kyle stayed in the lead on the rappel and even down the talus back to the smoother trail, but then Cordis, the faster pure runner, ran him down and took his first stage victory ever. They both broke the course record, finishing in 56:16 and 56:27. Jason Killgore became only the fourth scrambler to break an hour when he took third in 59:50.
Colleen rapping off the First Flatiron

I took my son Derek in the first stage, but only because it was his first stage ever and it was long and had a couple of tricky downclimbs and he got a bit lost on the descent. By ignoring all that, I was able to convince myself I might have a chance to retain the family title. Alas, I'm getting a huge dose of reality in this year's Tour. Derek left me at the start and widened the gap the whole way. He was chasing Danny, but Danny pulled away from him. Derek was running scared, not wanting his dad to catch him, when he got to the Third Flatiron. Fellow Minion Jon Sargent was there with his daughter taking photos. Injury put him out of the Tour this year. He asked Derek, "Where's your dad?", but in Derek's hypoxic state he heard "There's your dad" and thought I was right behind him. He thinks, "Crap!" and looks over his shoulder. I'm not there.
Cordis pegging the effort to take the win over Kyle by just 11 seconds.
I'm way back there chasing Nikita on the link from the First Flatiron to the Third. He always starts way faster than me and I frequently catch him later in the stage. He's a fitter guy and a faster runner, but I'm a quicker scrambler. I take the high shortcut to the base of the Third and start up just a few seconds in front of him. I give it all I have to stay in front and try to build a gap over him, as I know I'll need it on the way out. When I get to the summit world-famous mountain athletes Anton Krupicka  and Joe Grant are there to hand me a fixed line and make sure I get on rappel safely. Having guys like that come out and support you is one of the very special aspects of this stage. Both have raced the Tour before, but injuries kept them away this year.

I zipped down the line and ran scared all the way back to the finish, holding Nikita off. I finished 17th out of 35 in a time of 1:15:45. Derek was 13th in 1:11:48. Derek had to out run Craig, a running specialist, but not with the pure speed of a 19-year-old. Sonia set the women's course record in 1:27:03 and four women finished the course.
Satan's Minions after Stage 2
We ended up creating quite a scene there at the ranger station, what with 35 scramblers and some spectators, photographers, family members and friends. We had beers (soft drinks for Derek and I) and Sheri brought watermelon. It was pure a gathering of energy, happiness, and camaraderie. This feeling I get, with everyone chattering away about the stage and cheering everyone one and supporting everyone's effort, this feeling is the best part of the Tour, for me at least. Maybe it's not quite the best for Cordis. Taking the win has to feel pretty dang special.

Kyle and Cordis recovering after an hour of intense competition.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Pikes Peak Cycling Ascent

Colorado has some awesome high-mountain road climbs. For as long as I’ve been in Colorado the canonical high-mountain climb has been Mt. Evans. There is a race up it every year and it’s a huge climb at 28 miles and 7000 vertical feet. Loveland Pass is another brutal climb if you start it in Idaho Springs, but still not the vertical gain of Evans. Plus, if you do Evans, you can hike 200 more vertical feet to the summit and get a 14er. A number of years ago Guanella Pass got paved and it is now an absolutely gorgeous (and difficult) climb. The other iconic 14er in Colorado with a road up it is Pikes Peak. But wasn’t an option for bikers until recently. It was a dirt road and bikes weren’t even allowed. The whole road got paved in 2011 but even then it wasn’t open to bikers until the Colorado Bikers Alliance (or something like that) got the road opened to cycling, though each cyclist has to pay $15 to ride it. I think the city of Colorado Springs owns the road so no federal parks pass gets you in.
Starting out from Manitou Springs - the only time it wasn't too windy to take photos
Pikes Peak is now the biggest climb in Colorado. If you start from Manitou Springs, at the roundabout, the climb is nearly 8000 feet - about 1000 feet bigger than Mt. Evans - and it even finishes higher since you can bike directly to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak, but have to stop, as I mentioned above, 200 feet or so lower than the summit on Evans. And the road up Pikes is shorter…which makes it quite a bit steeper than Evans. Both climbs are brutal in high winds, but the road surface on Pikes, being a lot newer, is way better. It doesn’t make a huge difference going up, but while Pikes Peak is a dream to come down, Evans is hell, as it is so bumpy.

Anyway, when I asked Buzz for Ultimate Direction schwag for the Rattlesnake Ramble he told me, “I have new policy. I don’t give out gear unless you do an adventure with me. Since he has been hobbled a bit recovering from a hamstring tear, this meant biking. This was a huge win for me because there few activities where I can keep up with Buzz, but biking is one of them. Bill Briggs suggested Pikes Peak since none of us had done it and Buzz drove us down there early Saturday morning. We debated whether to skip the unpleasant riding along highway 24 but, in the end, decided we needed to do the Full Monty and started at the roundabout in Manitou Springs. Buzz and I just had biking shells and leggings, but Bill carried a small pack with extra clothes for the descent. This turned out to be a great idea.

We were riding by 6:45 a.m. and Buzz set a pretty fast pace from the start, faster than I would have gone, but I didn’t want to lag early. I hadn’t done but one real ride all year - a 70-miler at the Be Strong charity ride a month ago and I think Buzz doubted my ability to either make the top or keep up. I’d done hard climbs off the couch before, but by myself. Keeping up with these two endurance athletes would be a chore, but I figured I could drop off on the upper half and just try not to be too much of an anchor. Buzz pulled over after a mile and then I pulled a mile and then Bill did and that was it for highway 24. Not too bad.
Buzz Burrell
We rode another steep mile and then came to the gate for the Pikes Peak Highway and there was a queue of cars. The road doesn’t open until 7:30 a.m. and we had to stand around waiting for almost 20 minutes. Also, it cost $15 per cyclist to go up this road. More than we expected, but still a pretty cheap adventure. Once through the gate we were all surprised at how steep and sustained the road was. I was riding a compact crank with a 26 in back and had to stand what seemed like half the climb. Buzz had a 28 and it allowed him to spin a bit more. I move on ahead not by choice but by necessity - not low enough gear to sit down. It was windy already, even though we were still well below tree line. It was going to get a lot worse. 

There is a shop and outhouses at the some reservoir about 10 or miles up the climb. Bill and I stopped here, mainly because Buzz said he was going to stop here. But then he rode right past us. Bill dug out some food and I went to the bathroom and then we gave chase. A mile up the road we Buzz at a porto-potty and he said, “Keep going, I’ll catch up.” And he did. When Bill and I stopped at the next “aid station” - a gift shop/coffee shop about 8 miles from the summit. It wasn’t yet open so we sat by the ranger station in the middle of the road. We were leaning up against it, hoping to get out of the wind, but to no avail. At least we were in the sun. My feet were already frozen and I pulled off my socks and warmed them with my hands. When the store opened we went inside and soaked up the glorious warmth. Bill said, “We better not stay in here very long.” And we didn’t because we spotted Buzz riding up the road. We scurried outside and called to him and, once again, he didn’t pause but rode on by. Bill ran to fill his water bottle and in a few minutes we were chasing Buzz.

We were all wearing shells at this point and I had all my clothes on…with still nearly 8 miles of climbing to go. Was I worried about freezing on the descent? Yes.

The riding up to here had been very tough: steep and very windy, but now it got really ridiculous. Our speed on the steep sections, into the wind, was maybe 4 mph. It was demoralizing. When I caught Buzz he said, “I underestimated this climb. You never ride the ‘average grade’. 10% grade into a 30 mph wind. I’m at my limit and just grinding it out.” I felt the same way and inched on by because I didn’t have a lower gear. Bill had a similar gearing issue and also moved by Buzz. We’d remain in that order and strung out all the way to the summit. Each one of us suffering at our limit and quickly getting colder and colder. Near the top one of my fingers was completely wooden and I was worried about damage. I stopped and put both hands down the front of my bibs to warm them on my belly. I was a pitiful sight, bent over at the waist, hands down my pants, shivering. I got some feeling back but it was obvious things wouldn’t get much better until I got to shelter. I got back on my back.
Bill Briggs
On one of the steepest sections near the top I was headed directly into the wind and just barely moving. Ahead the road went the same direction for too long, but there was a turn up ahead and I knew I just needed to get to the turn. I wouldn’t be out of the wind and I wouldn’t have a tailwind, but any change of direction was going to be a big boost. That was the way for most of this climb. It got to be where you just loved a strong crosswind, only because it wasn’t a headwind. When I got to the summit I was frozen. I leaned my bike against the summit gift shop/snack shop, went inside, and plopped down in the nearest booth. I took off my gloves and shoes, put my head on the table and braced myself for the soon-to-be-arriving screaming barfies. I was shaking so badly that my leg, braced against the table shook the entire table.

In less than ten minutes Bill arrived and in another ten Buzz. My hands and feet a quite sensitive to the cold and I wondered if the other two would just be wasted from the effort and not greatly affected by the cold. The first thing both said was, “I’m freezing.” Bill went to get us a couple of hot cocoas and a couple of donuts, though both donuts were for me. Bill started talking almost immediately about taking the train down or jumping in one of the vans they use to ferry downhill riders to the summit. He probably was more concerned about me, but both Buzz and I were convinced we’d be okay, once we warmed up. We knew there was a warm shop 8 miles down and we’d stop there to warm up. After thirty minutes of warming, we started down.

In just a couple of miles we spotted a big group of riders who had no doubt paid good money to be driven to the top of Pikes Peak so that they could ride down, stopping to get into the van. I heard one women say, “I can’t feel my hands.” I knew that pain. On the way up I tried to ball up my hands to keep them warm, but then I couldn’t grip my handlebars and I was in grave danger of being blow over by the wind. I couldn’t ball up them. Just a bit further down the winds eased slightly and we got most sun. We caught up to a long line of cars and fell in line, not wanting to be weaving around cars in such strong winds. By the time we got down to the store my hands were very cold again, but nothing else was cold. Buzz and I went into the shop to warm up a bit but Bill was there just a minute later. We took 5 minutes though to let my hands warm up.

The rest of the descent went smooth and fast, though the winds remained strong. Down in the trees again, things were better of course. The run down highway 24 was stressful, but we could maintain a speed of nearly 40 mph and it was over quick. We cruised back to the car, arriving 5h57m after we left. I hit the at 4m02m, including the 20 minute wait at the gate and all stops. It was a rough four hours. At the summit Buzz called the hardest ride of his life, after 25 miles. This is a guy who had ridden the 100-mile White Rim Trail in day, unsupported many times. Lots of Type-2 fun on this ride. Some Type-1, but lots and lots of Type-2.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 1

Descending off the Hippo Head

The 2017 Tour de Flatirons started with a huge turnout for stage 1. Twenty-five scramblers toed the line at the Lower Skunk Canyon Trailhead and reigning, but injured, champion Matthias was on hand to be the starter and timer. The course was a classic linkup, but with a new extension, and linked four rocks (Regency, Royal Arch, Fifth Flatiron, and the Hippo Head) in the longest continuous climb ever in a Tour stage. This stage was heavy on the tricky down climbing and it paid to have all of these wired. The level of competition is high enough where lots of scramblers do extensive previewing. This is in the true spirit of the Tour - learning and loving the Flatirons. Oh, and to suffer mightily. 
Winner Kyle Richardson trailed by Cordis Hall
Will Porter was second last year and perhaps he thought, with Matthias out, it was his turn, but a couple of youngsters proclaimed their intentions. Loudly.  t was clear almost from the gun that this was going to be a battle of youngsters. Kyle and Cordis, good friends and frequent adventure partners, were now arch rivals. Kyle took the lead early and held it all the way to the wire, though Cordis remained close the entire time and finished just ten seconds back. The battle for Tour Champion is going to be fierce. Will finished comfortably in third, but three minutes down on the young guns at 56 minutes. Darren and Greg duked it out for fourth and fifth and provided a great comparison of the descent routes, for Darren took the bushwhack south of the Regency and Greg took the Woods Quarry/Kohler Mesa trails. Watching on Strava Flyby the times appear near identical. Frequently podium finisher Ryan Franz was the last one to break an hour.
Starting Stage 1
As with last year, we had some first time Tour entrants, the fastest of which seems to be Jason Kilgore. He finished 7th and just barely over an hour in 1:00:15. My son Derek is in the Tour for the first time. He just started scrambling last year and college classes prevented him entering last year, but I think that was a wise choice anyway. Before entering the Tour you really need to be a very experienced scrambler. Derek started off strong, but the length of stage took its toll on him. Jason Well caught and passed Derek on the Royal Arch and I closed the gap by the summit of the Royal Arch. On the west side down climb of Royal Arch we found Jason trying to talk newcomer Craig Randall through the moves. I climbed down to Craig and observed for just a few moments before I told Craig to climb back up and go down the East Side. Apparently Craig had been there for awhile. This brings up a point I want to emphasize. Scramblers should be racing stages that they don’t have wired. If you cannot move continually on all the terrain in a stage then you shouldn’t be in the stage. Period. This is not the time to work out the moves to anything.

The last newcomer was Colleen Powers and she appears to be a serious threat for the women’s title as she took the first stage. At least four women are entered in the Tour this year including another newcomer Caitlin Ryan joining Angela and Sonia.

Danny Gilbert stepped up his game and was in a group with Dylan and Stefan for the most of the stage. Stefan is still somewhat hobbled from a serious injury to his foot while glissading in the Indian Peaks. If there was a Hall of Fame for Flatiron Scrambling, Stefan would be in it, along with Bill Briggs, Buzz Burrell, Dave Mackey, and Matthias Messner. He’s never not finished on the podium and has won the Tour five times. Not to bet against Stefan, but with his injury and the incredible competition this year, its going to be extremely difficult to extend that streak. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

LA Freeway Attempt with Derek

Traversing the complex ridge to Paiute

The Continental Divide, in Colorado, houses incredible peaks, exposed, technical ridges, and high altitude adventure. The most spectacular terrain lies in Rocky Mountain National Park and its adjacent southern neighbor the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Gerry Roach wrote how Karl Pfiffner envisioned a traverse on the Divide from Milner Pass, on Trail Ridge Road in RMNP, to Berthoud Pass, but never attempted it. Gerry eventually did a 2-week backpacking trip that started and ended in those locations, but avoided all the technical climbing on the Divide itself and strayed significantly from it. He named it the Pfiffner Traverse.
Heading up Longs Peak at the start of the LA Freeway
In July 2011 Mark Oveson modified the route slightly, calling it the "Pfast Pfiffner" and did the entire traverse in one monster 37h44m push. I think Mark might still be the only person to do this in a single go. I know Andrew Skurka has developed a guide package for it and he might have done it as well. I was with Mark on his first attempt on this ono July 6, 2001 and we got halfway before incessant rain caused me more misery than I could take.

Still inexperienced at massive projects like this, John "Homie" Prater, Lou "The Loobster" Lorber, and I attempted the "Pfiffner Direct" over July 22-23, 2002. Over 1.5 days we made it from Milner Pass to Buchanan Pass where 12 hours with no water weakened us to point of abandoning. Along the way we stood atop every peak on the Divide. To my knowledge this is the only attempt at the Pfiffner Direct, and it highlights the biggest problem of this traverse: water. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. Being directly on the Divide leaves you scant chance of finding much water. The terrain is technical enough where you want most snow-free conditions, but then you have the water issues.
Descending off Pagoda
The other major problems with the traverse are the length and the technical difficult. The technical difficulty is concentrated in the middle with the northern and southern portions being primarily high mountain tundra and ridge hiking. In 2002, Buzz Burrell did a 2-day traverse from Longs Peak to South Arapahoe Peak and called it the LA Freeway. All but the first two peaks, Longs and Pagoda, are on the Continental Divide, so this consists of the technical crux and center section of the Pfiffner Direct. Buzz dropped down off the Divide to sleep for his one night and to restock on water. Doing this traverse, which is roughly 35 miles and 22,000 feet of vertical gain, in just two days requires an extremely fit endurance athlete, considerable technical climbing skills, and extensive route knowledge.
Still smiling on top of Chiefshead
The LA Freeway had not been repeated until 2017 when Peter Bakwin put in a very impressive effort over two days only to bail due to weather and route finding difficulties on the Kasparov Traverse from Shoshone to Apache, more than 85% done with the traverse. A couple of weeks later uberfit mountain runner Matthias Messner, after extensive reconnoitering, did the entire LA Freeway in less than 17 hours! It is impossible to appreciate this achievement without intimate knowledge of the terrain.

Being friends with all the parties above, my interest was rekindled in this traverse and my son Derek, as gungho as only the naive can be, wanted to give it a try. Hence, we picked Labor Day Weekend, as we had the time and hoped for good weather. When the reports looked like stellar, clear, warm weather, we finally committed the night before. It felt strange to pack for something so audacious in just an hour.
Heading toward the Hourglass Ridge on Mt. Alice
Our lack of planning and forethought hurt our chances, but it added to our adventure. I was over confident because I had previously covered almost all of the terrain. The only portion I hadn't before was from Arikaree to North Arapahoe, probably about a single mile of travel. But it had been a long time since I'd been on the tricky sections and my confidence in my memory was misplaced. My lack of respect for dehydration, despite my previous experience on this same terrain, seems irrational and ridiculous.

We each carried Ultimate Direction Fast Packs (thanks, Buzz), Derek a 20-liter and I a 30-liter. We each had a sleeping bag, pad, long pants, long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, shell, headlamp, and food. We had sunscreen, a SPOT locator, our phones (primarily as cameras), and a tiny 2-man tent. But our biggest mistake was that Derek started with just 84 ounces of fluid and I with 70 ounces. This was just plain dumb. Which is embarrassing to admit for guy with the experience that I have. I know Anton does monstrous outings with little water and Kilian Jornet climbed Denali, round trip on a liter of water (which is the most amazing feat of adventuring with little water that I've ever heard of), but I know that I cannot do that. Yet, I still carried so little. Why? I didn't want the wait and stupidly hoped we'd find some water, despite knowing the chances of that were nil. I'd say "live and learn", except that I've proven that I don't learn. Live, screw-up, and repeat the same mistakes is more accurate in my case.
Derek climbing up the crux pitch on Isolation
I remember Peter telling me that he had no desire to do any of this traverse in the dark. That sounded good to me, so Derek and I started hiking at 6:20 a.m. We took the lower shortcuts on Longs and then followed the Keyhole Route to the summit. Normally we'd have taken the North Face route, but heard it was seriously iced up. We made the summit in about 3h15m and, after a quick photo, descended and headed for Pagoda.

I didn't find the easiest descent but went directly to a 5.4 downclimb that I was familiar with. Derek followed me down and he was solid. We traversed over to the low point and then up tiring talus to the summit. I finished my first 20-ounce bottle on this summit. Twenty ounces in 4+ hours of difficult terrain. That isn't enough. We were trying to conserve and we needed to conserve, but we were heading for disaster, though we didn't know it yet.
Taking a break on the slopes of Isolation
After another photo we headed down the West Ridge. This was going to be the trickiest route finding for me. I'd done some version of this before, three times, but always different, once the opposite direction, and never got it wired. Peter had told me to head down the first rib and we were down there looking off both sides and trying to decide what to do when along comes our friend Cordis. He had Peter's GPS track from his Wild Basin traverse and with that to guide us we eventually found the right way down. We lost at least 30 minutes here, I'd guess.

Cordis zipped off and we followed. Down the 3rd/4th class terrain to the horribly loose talus ledge that heads down and back to the east. Then down a steep but easy downclimb to the key ledge that cuts all the way back to the Pagoda/Chiefshead col. We toiled up endless talus and felt the effort. We could see Cordis ahead of us, nearing the summit of Chiefshead and were only 15 minutes behind probably. But when we got to the summit and peered over towards Alice, we didn't see him. He disappeared. That kid moves awfully fast.
Endless moderate terrain on the way to Buchanan Pass
We took a photo and had some food and water and were moving on in less than 5 minutes on the long traverse over to Mt. Alice. As we neared the saddle we could see someone on top of Alice. Obviously it has to be Cordis. Impressive!

Toiling up Alice was when I first knew my dehydration was seriously affecting how we moved. We moved continuously up Alice, but it was slow. Very slow. Over the course of the next 24+ hours we would never recover and never fully hydrate again. Our pace never picked up.
Our campsite on the edge of the ridge
We headed down to Boulder-Grand Pass and bypassed the first of many summits. Tanima sticks way out to the east and in our tired state we already concluded that we needed to conserve as much energy as we could to just make Buchanan Pass. We skipped it. But we did not skip the Cleaver. On my only go at the Pfiffner Direct I was in the lead and zipped by this tiny summit enroute to the north face of Isolation. I was the rope gun for Isolation and we were losing the light. I got to the base and was pulling my harness and flaking the rope when Homie comes up to me and says, "Did you get the summit of the Cleaver?" I asked, "What's the Cleaver?" Fifteen years later, as Derek and I scrambled to the top I realized that I passed within 60 seconds of scrambling from this summit. Those 60 seconds had taken me fifteen years to complete.

We got to Isolation's north face just before 3 p.m. Peter Bakwin told me about a sneak that involved descending 200 vertical feet on the west side, but we opted to tackle the 5.5 pitch out of the notch. I'd done it once before, with a rope. We went slow and solid and I felt the climbing here was the best we did on the traverse. The rock is really good and the climbing not very continuous. It was one of the most fun sections of the entire trip.

Working along endless tricky sections on the ridge from Algonquin to Paiute
Once we got to the more gentle slopes higher up, we took our first and only extended break, though it only lasted about 15 minutes. I had hoped to get from here to Buchanan Pass in three hours. My buddy Mark, watching our Spot track, said the same to Sheri. But we both didn't factor in our massively weakened state due to dehydration. We did find a couple of pools of standing water by Ouzel Peak and we drank out of them and filled some containers. We trudged onwards.
One water source we used.
Towards the end of the day, while making what we thought was a beeline to Buchanan Pass we came to a giant valley. We had to turn 90 degrees to our left and stay on the winding ridge. It looked so long. Derek said, “I think we should pull the cord.” We still had 30 or 40 minutes of light and we could have continued via headlamp, but new disappointment was too much in our tired, dehydrated state. We bivied. We pulled out our 2-man, 2-pound tent and found the only flat spot within miles, perched right on the edge of a steep slope. We secured the tent with rocks and our trekking poles, inflated our pads and crawled inside for some badly needed rest. We’d remain there for 11 hours, yet hardly feel rested the next morning. Derek estimated that we recovered about 15% of our strength.
Beautiful morning light on the traverse north of Buchanan Pass.
We didn’t get moving the next morning until past 6:30 a.m. It wasn’t that cold but it also wasn’t that light out. We dropped down the steep, rock-studded grassy slope into the saddle and then dropped further to get around some rock towers. And then up. And then down and then up and one final down to Buchanan Pass. We were going to bail here due to fatigue and dehydration but we found some more standing pools of water. We drank heartily and filled our containers. Our thirst sated, but still weak, we decided to continue over Paiute, mostly because Sheri was over that side in the next drainage. We sent her another text message to meet us at the Audubon Trailhead and started the arduous traverse, skipping the summit of Sawtooth, over to the top of Algonquin. From there the view is daunting to say the least. A very exposed, technical, extremely complicated, rocky ridge sculpted a tortured path over to the saddle below Paiute. I’d done this section once before and forgotten nearly everything about it. I led us astray a couple of times, wasting time, but more importantly wasting precious energy. It took forever, but we eventually arrived at the saddle.

This was the only part that I had remembered from my previous trip. We scrambled easily up to final headwall, which is quite daunting. My one time up here before, I found a 30-40-foot steep section that was probably 5.6 or 5.7 with some rests, but tricky, insecure climbing in-between. When I did this before I had a rope and belayed my partners up it and hauled up my pack. This time we had no such aids. I went first and made the top, though a bit concerned with the difficulty of the climbing, which is much harder than the climbing on Isolation and more insecure. Derek had some trouble. Enough to get me concerned I climbed a bit higher to more secure ground, took off my pack and dug out the three slings I’d carried to secure the tent. I looped them over a secure rock and dropped them down. It would only help, if at all, on the final crux. Derek’s poles were sticking high out of his pack, as they couldn’t be collapsed much and in the way. I was so stressed and nervous watching him work it out. I could do nothing to help him. He didn’t rush and he took his time to work out the moves that felt solid to him and he got up it.
Highly complex and technical ground enroute to Paiute in the background.
Relieved, we continued up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the summit. Our last for this attempt. We relaxed for a bit, ate, and drank. We saw Sheri's text telling us that she'd meet us at the trailhead. We descended to a saddle and then descended loose, skiable terrain down into the cirque. We emptied our shoes and trudged to the trailhead. We found Sheri waiting with the most impressive spread of food and drink that I've ever seen at a trailhead. And she had carried the entire thing into Pawnee Pass for us! My buddy Mark had made us fresh bread and delivered to our house at 5:25 a.m. I was overwhelmed by the love and support, but disappointed that we'd let them down. Our support was first class. We were not. At least on this attempt.

Feeling bad about bailing on the LA Freeway, I moved this boulder onto these rocks as a final workout.

Despite our failure, Derek was very excited about the attempt. He'd never done anything like it before and now he knows a lot about the LA Freeway. He had an incredible adventure and found his limits. I had a tremendous weekend bonding with my son.

Blue Lake. We are nearly down to the first real trail since leaving the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak
The peaks you are supposed to climb on this traverse with the ones in bold being the summits we actually hit:

Longs Peak
Pagoda Peak
Chiefs Head Peak
Mt. Alice
Tanima Peak
The Cleaver
Isolation Peak
Ouzel Peak
Ogalalla Peak
Peak 12277
Red Deer Peak
Sawtooth Peak
Algonquin Peak
Paiute Peak
Mt. Toll
Pawnee Peak
Shoshoni Peak
Apache Peak
Navajo Peak
Arikaree Peak
North Arapaho Peak
South Arapaho Peak

Wow. That looks pretty lame. Lots of room for improvement, I guess. Good thing we didn't make it as that would be a pretty significant asterisk. Derek was up for doing it "right" and I somehow convinced myself that we didn't need the summits. If we'd done them all, we might have bailed at Buchanan Pass. A great father-son adventure and learning experience.

What we learned and what we'd do differently:

When I finished this adventure I could hardly imagine even hiking again and was absolutely sure I'd never try this again. Yet, just a day afterwards, Derek and I were brainstorming how we'd do it differently. First, intimately knowledge of the route is key as tons of time and effort can be wasted finding the correct passages. This effort doesn't just drain you physically, but does as much damage to you mentally.

Next, we should have started much earlier and did almost all of Longs Peak in the dark. This would have saved us hours of daylight that we needed to make Buchanan Pass.

Third, we envisioned the ideal support plan. While the LA Freeway has been done unsupported (currently only by Buzz), it can be made considerably more doable with support. Dropping below the Divide to get water adds time and effort to an already epic undertaking. We'd start with 120 ounces of water each and plan to drink it all by Boulder Grand Pass. At the same time that we'd start from the Longs Peak Trailhead, Sheri would start from Wild Basin and hike into Boulder Grand Pass (9 miles one way) and leave 200 ounces of water. She'd then hike back out and then, with 4WD support, hike into Buchanan Pass with two gallons of extra water where she'd meet Derek and I for the night. Maybe she'd even carry in our sleeping bags, pads, and tent. The next day, she'd hike out, certainly with our overnight gear, and then hike into Pawnee Pass with more water and food for us. Finally, she'd meet us on South Arapahoe Peak with final snacks and drinks. This would be a grueling weekend for Sheri as well, but I think she'd be into it.