Mt. Yale 14,196'
09 June 2012
My first fourteener. The quest for Colorado’s Hundred Highest has begun. Guinn and I got an early start: on the road at 4a; on the trail by 5a. We chose Yale as our first fourteener of the season, the first fourteener of our lives. The Colorado 14ers Initiative just completed a fixed site project on this peak last summer, and even won national recognition for their efforts. The work is outstanding, rock staircases upon rock staircases. We gained about 4,500 feet over just under 4 miles. My calves were burning during the entire ascent. We broke treeline around 11,200 feet and stood atop the summit at a respectable 14,196 feet.
It’s true that the trail is wonderfully maintained, but that doesn’t make it a walk in the park. As soon as we got out of the trees, the wind blasted us relentlessly all the way to the top. The trail contours the west face of Yale, and the prevailing wind in Colorado is out of the west-southwest. Cover was minimal and layers were few, making the last few miles uncomfortable. Once we topped out, we were able to drop down to the military crest on the east face where we warmed right up. We just stood there at the summit – alone – in awe of the scene before us. According to the guide book, we could see 30 of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners, but don’t ask us to name which ones. The snow-capped peaks seemed to go on forever. We snapped photo after photo, but nothing could do the scene justice. Those precious few moments will be forever burned in my memory. That’s not the kind of scene that’ll up and leave.
Before long, the hordes were upon us, so we headed down. As we descended, I might have mistaken our bounding strides for floating had my knees not screamed with every labored step.
As I compose this update, my eyes are getting heavy. Since the adrenaline has worn off, it seems the altitude has gotten the best of me. Until next time.
MT. BELFORD 14,203' AND MT. OXFORD 14,160'
15 June 2012
Hit the trail at 4a today – another alpine start – after just four hours of sleep. What a route. From the parking lot, the switchbacks climb nearly 1,000 feet after which the trail continues steadily up to 11,300 feet where the trees break and the basin opens up. It’s stunning. Shortly thereafter, the trail splits left where I encountered another set of steady switchbacks that took me straight to the summit. But I wasn’t done for the day just yet…
I was so close to Oxford. I couldn’t just turn around, so I pressed on. Though the elevation differential between the two peaks is less than 50 feet, I had to drop down considerably and climb back up to the Oxford summit. It was gorgeous, though a bit frustrating, especially the steep climb up on the way back to the Belford ridge. I imagine this sort of thing is par for the course, so I better go ahead and get used to it. After all, high points in Colorado only count as peaks if they rise at least 300 feet above the saddle that connects them to the nearest higher summit.
Bang, a two-fer. Three down, nearly there. I descended via Elkhead Pass, which allowed me to scout the split for Missouri Mountain. I would’ve liked to have tagged that peak as well, but I was in a time crunch.
I still can’t believe that I get paid to hike. As the Trail Projects Leader at the Colorado 14ers Initiative, I get to lead volunteer groups on over a dozen of Colorado’s illustrious fourteeners this summer. What better way to build endurance than to do heavy rock work (steps, staircases, and retaining walls) at 11,000-13,000 feet elevation for 40 hrs/week? Let’s see how many fourteeners I can get by September. So psyched.
During my jaunt today, I saw loads of wildlife, including 11 marmots, 2 ptarmigans, and 2 pikas. I know there are big horned sheep and mountain goats out here. Can’t wait to see ’em.
When I finally got back to the rig, I was certainly beat, but the altitude hasn’t rocked my world quite as hard as it had on Yale last week. It seems I’ve already begun to adapt to the thinner air by increasing my red blood cell count and lung capacity. Oh man, now we’re having fun!
First project of the summer in a few days on Missouri Mountain. Maybe I’ll hit the summit afterwards.
Missouri Mountain 14,074'
22 June 2012
It’s tougher than it looks. As I passed the split during my Belford-Oxford trek, I thought to myself “I wish I had more time, because I would totally tackle this guy.” Big words for a lil’ guy. That’s a serious hike, as they all are. And I must’ve been delirious, because I drastically underestimated the ridgline towering above me.
Jess and I decided that since we worked late Wednesday sherpa-ing up tools for next week, we could spend a few hours scouting the Missouri switchbacks this morning. It was supposed to be a short day anyways. We agreed that being so close to the summit meant we had to tag it. It was her first fourteener, and only my fourth. I’m so glad we could do it together. Just awesome.
There is definitely some work that could be done higher on the switchbacks. The last few hundred yards to the summit are sketchy, maybe not by 14er standards, but certainly by Ethan standards. Getting up was the easy part; getting down was mentally exhausting. It’s narrow, steep, windy, and without great foot and hand holds. It felt like the wind might’ve peeled me off the mountain at any moment. Still- I’m not discouraged. Quite the opposite; I’m invigorated.
MT. BIERSTADT 14,065' AND MT. EVANS 14,265'
01 July 2012
Whoa. Sweet. Bierstadt and Evans were pretty unimpressive in and of themselves, but the Sawtooth traverse between the two was awesome.
I tackled the relatively easy hike from Guanella Pass up to the Bierstadt summit, then dropped down off the east face, picking my way down a steep, sketchy slope. I’d already read enough about the Sawtooth standing between me and Evans to know that the traverse immediately ahead was child’s play compared to the crux. (Or was it?)
I’ve been intentionally working my way up in difficulty. The Sawtooth would be my toughest encounter yet, though only class III. This section was my favorite so far. The route splits at one of the gendarmes where I could choose either the high line or the low. You can imagine which I chose. Why go down when I’ll just have to go up again anyways? I did some scrambling and was rewarded with a great view of the Sawtooth looming ahead. I was filled with anxiety and briefly entertained the notion of retreating back over Bierstadt to the parking lot. That queasy feeling in my stomach took a moment to pass, but when it did, I was filled with resolve.
I crossed through the notch, marking the start of the Sawtooth traverse. It was daunting. To say I was intimidated would be a drastic understatement, but I kept my feet moving forward. As I got closer, I could see the line more clearly. It was considerably less technical and exposed than it had appeared from afar. Again I drove the idea of retreat from my mind. I took a moment to compose myself, then I worked my way across the talus field to the ledge.
It was exhilarating, the kinda thing I never would’ve even considered doing just a few short years ago. And today I cruised it with hardly a second thought. (Well, once I saw what I was actually in for.) The towering shear face is certainly more technical and exposed than Angel’s Landing in Zion, but I completed my traverse almost effortlessly. I stood alone atop the Sawtooth filled with pride. The top of the world today was neither Bierstadt nor Evans, it was the Sawtooth. And it was the most fun I’ve had hiking in a long, long time.
I began my ascent at 4a this morning with clear skies and brilliant stars. I watched the sun rise over Evans as I conquered Bierstadt. And – perhaps most importantly – I was leading the crowd. Well until I got to Evans, anyways. It was after 9a before I was able to tie in with the Mt. Evans trail, which by that point was hosting its own trekkers. Evans is one of those peaks where you can drive right up to the summit. It reminded me depressingly of Pikes Peak in the Springs and of Washington back east in New Hampshire. Now I’m not completely innocent. I drove to the Pikes summit during my road trip a few years ago, but I don’t count it as a bagged fourteener. I just can’t, since I didn’t hike it. I’ll get back there to do it right sometime.
I closed out my circuit today by dropping down a highly impacted, eroding gully and traversing an equally impacted bog. I felt guilty contributing to that impact, though I didn’t know its condition when I set out. My intention is to be better-prepared and more aware in the future.
There were more cars at Bierstadt this afternoon than I have ever seen at a trailhead that isn’t in a national park. The people were all kinds, big and small, old and young, prepared and not so. I couldn’t believe that people were still beginning their hikes as I was completing mine. It was almost 12p, mind you. And I could clearly see weather building overhead. Since the trailhead is basically right at treeline, you’d have to get all the way back to your car before you’d be safe from a lightning storm. No thanks, good luck and power to ya. The precipitation began as I neared the parking lot, almost as if on cue.
Mt. Elbert 14,440'
06 July 2012
Second highest peak in the lower 48, just 15 feet behind Mt. Whitney. Humbling.
I got an early start, again. The trailhead is literally right across the street from CFI employee housing. Our yurt rests on the shore of Twin Lakes with La Plata and Elbert towering above it. How fortunate I am to live and work in such a place.
I drove to save myself a few hundred yards. As I didn’t want to will my car up the “4WD recommended” road to the upper lot, I was already adding 3.5 miles to my round trip and figured I’d save as much distance as I could. A few cars passed me as I walked the road, but I passed most of them right back before I made the summit. I wasn’t the first up there, but I did have the place to myself for a few brief moments. And there I was, alone on top of Colorado. Cool.
I managed to snap a few quick photos before the fog rolled in on me. At one point, the surrounding view disappeared entirely. I didn’t mind; it didn’t compare to some of the other fourteener views I’ve enjoyed anyways. Besides, it was kinda cool to be up there shrouded in fog. Before long, I packed it in and started the trek down to my car. On the way down, I passed untold hordes, many of whom were charging up the braided trail, increasing the impact beyond the established trail. Ugh, frustrating. There will always be work to do out there; we don’t need the job security.
On a lighter note, I must admit that I get some sort of (twisted?) satisfaction from cruising down the trail while everyone else is laboring up in their basketball shorts and tennis shoes. Ah well, what are you gonna do? Everyone wants to conquer the biggest (insert challenge here). And why shouldn’t we?
TORREYS PEAK 14,275' AND GRAYS PEAK 14,278'
18 July 2012
In honor of our recent stint working on the front range peaks, I’m taking this weekend to tackle a few summits. I was a bit ambitious, leaving the trailhead this morning at 230a. I was expecting the hike to be longer, but I cruised right up to the base of Kelso Ridge (around 5 miles from the lower parking lot). Since I was still nearly two hours ahead of the sun, I took a nap. Or tried. It was chilly, and I hadn’t prepared for such an abrupt and time consuming stop. Ah well, it was worth the wait. I wanted some cool photos, since this was going to be the most challenging hike I’d undertaken so far.
First we should note that this is not the standard route for Grays and Torreys…it’s way better. It’s not for those inexperienced in class II and III scrambling. There is a short section with considerable exposure, so it can be nerve-wracking if you’re not comfortable making the moves. It’s a mini knife edge – a lesser version of the Capitol Peak knife edge. Class III scramble, class IV exposure…class V awesome! It freaked me out, but it was the next intentional step in my progression of climbs. I’m pushing my limits and increasing my tolerance. I can only imagine what kind of stuff I’d be doing now if I’d grown up out here. Ah well, I’m here now. And that’ll do.
On the way down from Grays – rising a whopping three feet higher than Torreys – I saw a mountain goat, my first of the summer. Hopefully the first of many.
Longs Peak 14,259'
19 July 2012
Rocky Mountain National Park is a bit of a hike (haha!) from Leadville, so when I checked the weather and saw that thunderstorms were likely over the next few days, I was discouraged. I’d planned to tackle Longs Peak, but I didn’t wanna drive all the way out there just to get run off the mountain before making the summit. Ultimately I figured life is full of uncertainty, and I can’t make every decision based on what kind of bad thing might happen to spoil it. What’s the worst that could happen, anyways? A “wasted” trip? Sure. So I bet $30 in gas money, because…why on earth not?
I timed my hike a little better this morning, leaving around 3a. I was still making better time than I expected, much better actually. I covered 7.5 miles in no time, passed dozens of hikers, and made the summit at 630a, shortly after sunrise. I had the whole plateau to myself for a few precious minutes. I was the first on Longs this morning which wasn’t my intention, but it was still pretty cool.
My descent was actually slower than my ascent. I figure I’ll bust tail and push myself on the way up, because I’m building muscle and lung capacity. On the way down, I take it easy(ish) in order to protect my joints. I wanna be doing this for a long time yet, and ten years of soccer and long distance running in cheap shoes have already taken their toll on my knees.
I also made a detour to Chasm Lake, which is nestled below the east face of Longs, also known as The Diamond. It was a dream of a place and only added a menial 1.4 miles to my trek. So worth it.
I might’ve made it down before 1130a, but I ran into a solo hiker sitting on the trail. He seemed to be in distress. Initially he blew me off when I asked if he was ok. As I passed, I asked again: “You’re sure you’re not hurt? And you don’t need any help?” He said he was fine, just a touch of altitude sickness. That was my cue. I started asking about his symptoms. He was obviously dehydrated, even if the altitude sickness had abated as he’d made his way down from 12,000 feet. I offered to walk with him, and he agreed, much to my surprise – and relief. He seemed to be struggling, but I wouldn’t call his demeanor ataxia. Still I was a concerned. I learned as we made our way down that this was his first fourteener. Longs isn’t really a walk-up. It’s kind of a serious undertaking, so it may have been a poor choice for a first, but who am I to say. Regardless, we made it down and parted ways. He was doing significantly better, though still not 100%. Hope he made it home ok.
All in all, it’s been a sweet weekend. Both hikes were exceptional, and I was pretty proud of (and totally shocked by) my stamina at altitude. Looks like the trail work is doing me some good. Tomorrow I’m sleeping in, watching movies all day, and straight loungin’. I’ve earned it.
MT. HARVARD 14,420' AND MT. COLUMBIA 14,073'
28 July 2012
So on Saturday, I got paid to hike. Well, I suppose “scout” is a more appropriate term. But call it what you want; I’m living the dream. I got my latest start so far this season, hitting the trail at 530a. I was up on time, but a breakfast stop and detour put me behind schedule. Still, 530a isn’t too shabby.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating. I summited Harvard under a dark, cloudy sky. On the way up, I had been mentally preparing myself to cut the day short and turn back without bagging Mt. Columbia, as I had planned. By the time I reached the Harvard summit, I was fully prepared to do just that, but only if the situation really warranted such a decision. Fortunately, I was on the highest point around, so I had a great view in all directions of what may be in store. After evaluating the existing conditions and the prevailing wind, I made an informed decision to continue on to Columbia rather than retreat directly to the trailhead. The traverse would only add an extra two and a half miles to my hike but progress would be uncharacteristically slow. The wind was out of the west and seemed to be bringing lighter, non-threatening clouds, at least in the short term. I went for it, but not out of so-called “summit fever.” I stopped and evaluated my situation, figuring I could always retreat to treeline on the east-facing slopes as a last resort.
The most direct route to Columbia included some pseudo-technical scrambling on an exposed ridge, which has recently become just my cup of tea. Normally I would’ve taken the time to explore this option a little bit, but with light weather a near certainty, I wasn’t interested in being caught halfway through a class III scramble over slick, wet rock on an exposed ridge. I took the more scenic route, which dropped sharply into a talus field and added over a thousand feet of elevation gain to my trek. Small price to pay for piece of mind. Gotta know your limits.
Columbia was cool, but Harvard was the highlight. I’m glad I tagged ’em both, but I could’ve done without the choppy descent on Columbia’s south-facing slopes. It was unpleasant: nearly 40% grade, extensive braiding, loose rock, and few structures. I can’t even imagine trying to climb that route. My descent was both physically and mentally exhausting. I mostly surfed the loose talus on the last few hundred feet. To be fair, that was actually fun…sorta.
Even after that experience, I’d say my biggest complaint today was the poor light, especially since the weather never materialized over me (though I could see rain over Harvard during my descent). I did manage to snap a good shot or two, the best of which is featured above.
There is definitely plenty of work to be done up there, but I found one high priority section. I’m pretty psyched to get up there and work it. The section runs about 200 feet, and it’s characterized by steep terrain, deep cupping, wide tread, few existing structures, and a good rock source. Let’s do this!
UNCOMPAHGRE PEAK 14,321'
02 August 2012
Officially, it was a scouting mission; unofficially, it was a summit bid. All missions – on and off the record – were accomplished. I was on the trail a little before 5a. The hike was pretty easy, compared to some of the others I’ve done. I reached the summit right at sunrise. It was pretty chilly up there for being early August. Ah well, I got to try out my new Melanzana. It was a big investment, so it was nice to sport it sooner than I’d expected. And I wasn’t disappointed. Not to mention that they’re handmade in Leadville, so it was cool to drop a few dollars to support a quality local business.
On the way down, I focused on the work. Coby was up here with some volunteers last week. They got a freakin’ ton done. I dunno how he does it. Well, I kinda do: he doesn’t work with campers, which of course means that he doesn’t have as much fun as we do. Still, it was impressive work. We’re going to be finishing up the timber checks they started and maybe doing a little rock work over the next few days. Should be fun!