Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mount Harvard-Columbia Traverse

Mount Harvard
I’m trying to catch on trip reports, it has been a crazy summer and time is quickly escaping. Back on June 18th, Cole and I took on the endurance fest of Mount Harvard and Mount Columbia, two ranked 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. There is a large draw to these 14ers because Harvard is the 3rd highest mountain in Colorado, and there is a good opportunity to get a twofer in at the same time. Climbing these peaks takes some serious commitment and a really early start. In all, over 15 miles and over 6,000 vertical feet is covered in an adventurous class 2 route.
There are a few route options available for this combo, but we chose to keep it relatively simple and climbed the standard route which is referred to as the South Slopes Traverse route. This starts at the North Cottonwood Creek TH. Directions are to make your way to Buena Vista. Turn west on CR 350, which is near the center of town. Two miles down the road the road ends in a “T” intersection, turn to the north onto CR 361. After another mile turn west onto CR365, follow this road for about 5 miles till reaching the TH. We drove over the night before and found a nice place to camp about 100 yards away from the main TH parking area.
We arrived Friday evening and set up camp. Our plan was for a 3am wake-up and a 4am start. The forecast was actually good, calling for clear skies and warm temps. This was odd, since Cole and I tend to draw in the worst weather conditions. We attempted to get some sleep, but the full moon didn’t allow for much. We got a few winks and before we knew it our alarms were going off.
Unnamed 13er
Nobody likes getting up early, but when combining peaks in Colorado there is always a threat of thunderstorms even if they aren’t forecasted. The goal was to be on the summit of Harvard no later than 9am since the traverse to Columbia can be very time consuming. The second goal is to be on Columbia by noon, where a descent into the woods gives an opportunity for shelter should a storm develop. To work this schedule we left camp just before 4am. The moon was pretty much hidden at this point so we relied on headlamps for the first hour and a half or so. The trail is easy to follow in the dark, and I don’t recall hearing too many creatures going bump in the night.
In less than two hours we made our way to tree line in Horn Fork Basin. Light was starting to come over the mountains and we could see our first signs of alpenglow, which is one of my favorite experiences with these early morning climbs. The basin gets a lot of traffic, we saw multiple campsites. In our planning stage we thought about packing into the basin and camping overnight, but figured going light and fast was a better option for us. I would do it the same way if I did it again. The hike up the basin is one of the highlights of the trek, it was a beautiful area that I would like to come back to for another visit.
Horn Fork Basin
A way we saved weight was to pack minimal water into the top of the basin and use a filter to fill up before taking on the traverse. This was a great way to save weight and we got really cold and fresh mountain water. The downside is, I almost froze my fingers off in the ice pools filling up the water bladder. But overall, definitely worth it.
There is a trail leading through the basin and up the first boulder field. There was a large cairn and after that we were on a snowfield. Later in the summer there is probably a clear route through this section, but we chose just to hoof it straight up to the ridge line. Once on the ridge stick to it, we got a bit off the ridge and had to loop around a bit to the summit. You can see this in the gpx route. The summit is composed of very large blocks and a bit of scrambling might be required, but I would call this anymore than easy class 2+ to the summit. We summited Harvard at 8:30am, so we were a bit ahead of schedule. The summit is small and it was already crowded….damn 14ers!
Objective one is now complete. The trek to Columbia looks a lot longer from Harvard than it did in the photos online. From here if there is a hint of bad weather you bail, it was looking good so we started making our way down the ridge to start the traverse. There was one group of three that started along the ridge about the same time, but for the most part people were climbing Harvard and heading back to the TH.
Traverse to Mount Columbia
The ridge is pretty rocky, but there is a climber’s route that makes its way through the first mile or so. My advice is to stay on this climbing route as much as you can, but we had to get off of it a few times to avoid snow. Have a good idea of how the ridge works by researching it on Google Earth before heading out. We cut a few drops and gains by traversing boulder fields, which may or may not have been beneficial. You stay to the ridge until getting near point 13,516. From here there is a large drop through a steep gully. We took the long route around, but two of the three people in the other group near us took the gully. We made it down and around into the Frenchman Creek Basin in about the same amount of time, and our route was a safer option. Don’t descend the gully when there is a safer alternative.
There was a quite a bit of snow still in the basin, so we started to scout a route to Columbia that would avoid as much of it as we could. We took a nice break and I refilled my water bottles again with some nice fresh mountain water. Here is where we separated from the other group hanging on our heels. They decided to take a route around to the east on the grassy slopes, while we took a direct line up a boulder field that connected to the east ridge of Columbia. This was a nice stair-step ascent and in no time we made the main East Ridge. The typical route traverses higher in the basin, but routes change based on conditions.
Relaxing on Columbia
Once on the ridge there was a lot of huffing and puffing to gain the summit. The traverse took forever, almost 4 hours, by 12:30 we were on top. We did take a few breaks and had to lose/gain much more than the typical traverse. This summit was not as blocky as Harvard and was a lot larger which allowed us to get away from other climbers. The weather was great so we took our sweet time. I even took my boots off and I started to get too comfortable. Something worth noting is we were planning to camp this evening as well, so we were in no rush at this point. Unfortunately, we had the brutal descent of Columbia’s southwest slopes ahead of us.
Summit Photobomb
The descent was awful, I would hate to call it the crux, but it probably was. This was very steep, loose pebbly rock over larger rocks…no bueno! It was a killer on our knees getting to tree line, so we just kept moving to try and get it over with. Once at tree line, the heat was pretty unbearable. I had started in my alpine pants and by now had the legs rolled up and fly down for ventilation. I got a comment or two, but everyone should be glad I didn’t strip to my undies…I was seriously considering it.
From tree line there we needed to hoof it about 3 miles down the trail to the TH. I may have broken Cole a little on the march out, but I was thinking about my Hop Stupid beer in the cooler and I was done with this heat. We were almost in a run down the trail. Both of us had burning feet, but otherwise we were doing fine. In all it took us about 12hours to do the entire trip. It felt like we were moving good the entire time, so if you’re planning on a trip I would plan on about that much time for a round trip twofer climb of these peaks.
This is one of those epic climbs in Colorado. If your skill level is solid class 2+ and you have endurance to ride the roller coasters of ups and downs hours on end I highly recommend it. It takes a lot of mental endurance but this is in my top three Colorado climbs for sure, and might even be number one. Get out there and climb those mountains!
Cheers!

Date: June 18, 2016
TH Elevation: 9,900 feet
Mount Harvard Summit: 14,420 feet
Mount Columbia Summit: 14,073 feet
Total Ascent: 6,341 feet
Total Distance: 15.3 miles
Class: 2
Partner: Cole
Moving Time: 8 hours 21 minutes
Stopped Time: 4 hour 9 minutes

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Engelmann Peak 13,362ft, Robeson Peak 13,140ft, Bard Peak 13,641ft

Alpenglow on Robeson, Bard and Parnassus
The forecast for Saturday was looking good and there was a near full moon, so I started putting together plans for a sunrise summit. I knew this would require more of a nap on Friday night since the sunrise is around 5:40am this time of year, so I needed to keep the climb close to Denver.
Since I started climbing mountains in Colorado I had been wanting to do a loop of 13ers near the Urad Mine, which is just out of Empire, Colorado. In 2012 I had planned on doing it and found out the access was closed, so it has kind of been on the back burner for quite a while. This loop consists of Engelman Peak (13,362ft), Robeson Peak (13,140ft), Bard Peak (13,641ft), Mount Parnassus (13,574ft) and Woods Mountain (12,940ft).  Over the past few years I have climbed Mount Parnassus and Woods Mountain on separate occasions from Watrous Gulch from the south side, these are easily accessible peaks right off of I-70. For today’s climb I was going to approach the mountains from the north via the Urad Mine.
I wasn’t too hopeful on convincing anyone to join me on such an early climb, so I knew I would be climbing solo today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it meant I really had to be motivated to get out of bed at 1am to make the drive to the TH. Getting to the TH is quite easy and it doesn’t require 4WD. From Denver take I-70 heading west into the mountains. Head north on U.S. 40 that passes through the small town of Empire. Keep on this road till coming to the hair-pin corner where County Road 202 heads off to Henderson Mine. Follow this taking the second southern road which is County Road 203 heading to Urad Mine. This is all well marked so don’t worry about getting lost. I drove up near the mine where there was a pullout on the north side of the road just before getting to the TH.
I knew this would be a bit of a challenge getting motivated in the early hours of the morning, but I knew it would be good training for Rainier, which I have planned for later in the summer. I had to do a bit more research than I normally do since I would be navigating through the trees in the dark, but I was up for the adventure. I was at the TH and hiking up the old Ruby Creek road just before 3am.
The wind was howling pretty good from the start, but it was quite warm out. Once in the trees along the road the wind didn’t bother me too much. The only issue was the warm temps had me postholing in the snow 50 yards into the climb. I had to make my first gear adjustment of many for the day and put on my snowshoes. The full moon wasn’t helping me as much as I’d like through the trees, so I was having to rely more on my headlamp this morning. I would like to get a better headlamp in the future as the Princeton Tec one I use doesn’t give off the best beam. Lucky for me this is a pretty well used area and the climb started on a road.
An issue constantly on your mind while hiking solo in the dark are the creatures that go “bump in the night.” I don’t think too much about that stuff, but I’m always a bit more cautious when going solo. I’d say I only heard Sasquatch two, maybe three times. Haha, not really but an owl or some other large bird scared the crap out of me when it took off as I got close to it.
Engelmann Route Options
Getting back to the route, I wasn’t sure exactly which gully I was going to ascend on Engelmann. I knew that the main gully I tagged it to be Gulley 1 would not be a wise choice. This would be the steepest gully and it is the most direct route to the summit. Gulley 1 does come all the way down the road I was on, so I did contemplate using it at one point to avoid finding my way through the trees. I decided this would not be a wise ascent route being solo. There were three more gullies to choose from. Based on my Google Earth research I was shooting for Gulley 2 or 3. The gulley I ended up ascending was Gulley 4 which I think was a good choice. I was lead to Gulley 4 by some ski tracks, and I would buy that guy a beer if I ran into him at some point. Following the tracks was an efficient way through the trees. I got to the split where you could choose Gulley 2,3 or 4. The ski tracks went to Gulley 4, I still wanted to try Gulley 2 so I started up an opposite path of the tracks. Well that lasted about 10 seconds. I got off the tracks and next thing I knew I was waist deep in the snow. This wasn’t going to work for me so I quickly changed course over to Gulley 4 following the frozen ski tracks. From this point the gulley opened up and I was above treeline. I was about an hour into the climb, and I had planned on 2-2.5hours to summit Engelmann in order to make it for the sunrise.
Dawn to Dusk
Now that I was out of the trees the moonlight was really starting to help out. I could had shut off my headlamp, but I kept it on for quite a while. I had the heel ascenders up on my snowshoes and now it was just a climb up the snow filled gulley. The climbing was easy, thanks to the frozen ski track my snowshoes never broke into the snow. My body wasn’t responding too well this morning though. It’s hard to convince your body to work this hard at 4am with a couple hours of sleep. I’m sure I wasn’t taking in enough fuel along the way either. But, when push came to shove I just kept moving up the mountain.
Bard Peak
Along the gulley there are multiple options to head up steeper slopes to make the line more direct to the summit. I chose to stay in the gully as the steepness was just right to continue with my snowshoes on and not have to dig out my crampons. I followed the gulley to the ridge, and it did get quite a bit steeper as I got closer to the crest of the ridge. Once I made it to the ridge I took some of my first pictures you will see in the album with the moon and the glow of the sun rise. I still had a bit of a climb to get to the summit of Englemann, but I had a good 45 minutes before sunrise. The ridge is very broad and the light was good so I finally shut off my headlamp. At 5:10am I was on the summit of Engelmann, the first of three 13ers for today.
The wind was constant and it was freezing. I was on the summit and I had a good half hour till the sun came up. This wasn’t good. I took a few pictures and I started to search for a place to get out of the elements. Its wasn’t happening, there was nowhere to hide. I took a few minutes to dig out all my jackets and my warm gloves and I kept moving. I would keep my eye on the horizon hoping to watch the full sunrise, but at this point I was more frozen than anything, so I was focused on moving to stay warm.
Me on the summit of Bard Peak
I was making my way down to the saddle where I connected to the ridge and from there it was about 300 vertical feet to the summit of Robeson. Just before reaching the saddle I stopped and watched the sunrise. It was really neat to be able to see that, and I was never so thankful for the sun. I wasn’t even sure I was going to continue to Robeson at this point. The wind still never stopping, was wearing me down piece by piece. I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to head back, hell it was only 6am. I started the climb up to Robeson. As I started up the northeast slope the alpenglow caught my eye. This is when the first sunlight hits the mountain in the morning, and it’s quite the sight to see. It cheered me up a bit and I was convinced there was hope.
I’m not sure what time I was on the summit of Robeson, but the sun was up and my fingers were almost thawed out. I was so close to bailing and having to come back for Bard, but the sun saved me today. I figured about 45 minutes to the summit of Bard from Robeson. Bard is really the reason I am back here anyway, it’s the big boy of the three. I’ve been close to its summit before when I did Mount Parnassus a few years back. I’m extremely glad I got over the mental barrier and continued up Bard, It was a really fun climb from the small bump that was Robeson.
Robeson and Engelmann from Bard Peak
There was about 600 vertical feet to gain to Bard’s summit. I kept my snowshoes on, but there was a lot of rock bands to work through to keep the route as easy as I could. At 7:10am I was on my third 13er and the last one for the day, Bard Peak. The panorama view from Bard was one of the best I’ve taken in in Colorado. The sky was clear and the sun was not directly overhead for once, so I was hopeful some pictures might come out this time. I just use my iPhone so I don’t expect too much.
As I was making my way up the final pitch of Bard I had decided I would not continue to Parnassus and Woods. Their ridgelines would be much more time consuming. There were oodles of cornices and I felt the safe option was to return the way I ascended. I had previously climbed those mountains, so it didn’t take much for me to convince myself this was enough. I sent out a few texts to let people know I indeed did not get eaten by Sasquatch and was starting my descent.
Going back was going to be pretty quick. Everything was still frozen so that was a bonus for me. I took of my snowshoes and grabbed my ice axe and started plunge stepping down the north ridge of Bard Peak. I attempted to glissade a few times, but it just wasn’t working. I made a traverse around Robeson and found myself at the top of Gulley 4 at about 8am.
The gully was still in the shade so I knew a glissade could be quick. I figured I’d give it a shot. It was an unwise decision. You could get moving pretty good as the top section was steep, but it was ice, not snow. My ass still hurts from sliding over the old ski tracks. About halfway down the gulley I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and started hoofing it down on foot. I’m sure this would be a sweet slide/ski in the afternoon, but I wasn’t going to wait around that long.
Grays and Torreys
I started down just in boots with no traction. As I found myself getting off the track from my ascent line the snow was crusty and led to postholing. Soon I decided to put on my snowshoes, figuring they would work better than crampons as the temperature started rising. This was a good choice as I was able to make really good time down the route and in no time I was back to the trees. I had a goal of being back to my truck by 9:30am so now I had a little motivation. I kind of let gravity do most of the work for the route through the trees and I was almost in a trot at times. I made it back to the car around 9:10am.
This was a fun climb, I haven’t done a solo early morning climb in years so it’s good to test yourself mentally like that. I highly recommend this route, there are so many options, and I will come back to do the loop maybe during the summer time. If you go up think about bringing a helmet. I did see some rocks come screaming down the gulley as the sun started hitting the upper sections. Now it’s time for me to get some beach time in, and maybe a hike or two in California next week. Cheers!

Date: May 21, 2016
TH Elevation: 10,300 feet
Engelmann Peak Summit: 13,362 feet
Robeson Peak Summit: 13,140 feet
Bard Peak Summit: 13,641 feet
Total Ascent: 4,155 feet
Total Distance: 8.37 miles
Class: 2
Partner: Solo
Moving Time: 4 hours 32 minutes

Stopped Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Thursday, May 19, 2016

North Star Mountain 13,614 feet

Nick on the East Ridge
The weather has been cold, and windy…sounds like a great time to go climb a mountain. Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, I needed to get out and stretch my legs in a place other than the gym. I sent Cole a text around 7pm to see if he was able to get out in the next day. Lucky for me he said yes, and by 8pm we decided that North Star Mountain would be a good choice for a climb.
You may have all heard of me talk about North Star Mountain before. It is one of those mountains that is starting to become a nemesis. This isn’t because it’s a particularly hard mountain to climb; it just always seems to attract the worst weather. Well, this time is no different. North Star Mountain is part of the Ten Mile Range that is located near Breckenridge, Colorado. This is a relatively easy place to get to from Denver, so that’s probably why so many of my trip reports are from this range.
The Front Range
The TH is on the west side of Hoosier Pass. There are a couple ways to get there; we chose to take the interstate option. From Denver take I70 West turning south on HWY 9 following this road to Hoosier Pass. The other option is to take HWY 285 till it connects to HWY 9 in Fairplay. The drive was nice in particular today because I had the luxury of having Cole drive. I would plan on about an hour and a half from Denver to the TH.
The weather in Denver had been cold lately, so the high mountains weren’t going to be much better. We both knew we had a pretty crummy forecast, but sometimes you just deal with it. The drive in was pretty clear, with patches of fog here and there. By the time we arrived at the TH we were socked in the fog. This wasn’t the most ideal way to start the climb, but I’ve seen worse.
Once geared up we took off on the trail right about 7am. This was my third time on this trail, so I kind of feel like I have it engrained as part of my mental map by now. Well, not really, but this one doesn’t require advanced navigation. In the summertime the first few miles of this trail is an old road that some people drive part way. Today it was covered in snow, which lucky for us was pretty hard packed so we didn’t need our snowshoes quite yet.
Mount Lincoln
This is one of the higher THs in Colorado, starting you out at about 11,500 feet. The good thing about this is that tree line is about a 10 minute hike away. In this area tree line is 11,600 feet, so on a normal day you would have excellent views pretty much from the start of the hike. The first let’s say mile and a half, probably a little bit less, traverses on the south side of the continental divide till coming to a small saddle at the 12,100 foot elevation. This is the point you could drive your truck to in the summertime. After this point it’s kind of a free-for-all when the mountain is covered in snow. This is called the southeast shoulder, and following this shoulder up the mountain will connect you with the East Ridge. Not far from the saddle is an old gate that leads to a slew of mining roads. We made it to this point in about 45 minutes and decided to put on our snowshoes for the climb up the shoulder.
Quandary Peak
We didn’t need our snowshoes for floatation; we used them for the ascending heel lifts. This is one piece of technology I would upgrade to if you don’t have them yet. The ascenders ease the strain and stretch of your calf muscle and make it seem more like walking up stairs than on a slope. The snow conditions below our feet were great, the issues of visibility was an entirely different story. Once on the shoulder we were pretty much engulfed in a cloud of fog. We could barely see our feet, let alone each other at times. Luckily this route has no extreme drop offs and we were both familiar with the area. Once we reached the 13,000 foot level the fog finally dispersed and we could start to make out the rest of the route. Now that we could take in our surroundings a bit our pace picked up as we weren’t concerned about getting off route.
My history of this mountain has taught me a few things, and this one I will share with you. Looking at the mountain on Google Earth it has a label on the far east side, this is not the summit. The elevation at that point is around 13,400 feet. The true summit is on the other end of the ridge, a mile or so away at 13,614 feet. The point I want to make is don’t waste your time climbing this 13,400 foot point, traverse below it and save the energy…because you’re going to need it. If you download my gpx file you can load that on your GPS and see where we cut over. It’s pretty easy to figure out when you’re on the mountain. The traverse will eventually land you on the main East Ridge.
Cole gaining the East Ridge
Once on the East Ridge stay to the crest and follow the roller coaster ride to the summit. Typically this wouldn’t be a bad section, but there was a fair amount of snow with some lovely cornices here and there we had to deal with. The exposure level was pretty high and if you’re not comfortable with it, this could be mentally taxing. We both elected to take off the snowshoes and put on our micro spikes. I don’t think the spikes really did much, but I brought them so I might as well wear them. We pulled out our ice axes too, just so we could look cool.
The snow was still firm for the most part, here and there in the little dips we would break through to maybe knee height, but nothing too bad. The visibility was pretty much crap. It was almost a sleet-snow-rain, I’m not sure what you would call it, but we sure couldn’t see much. This is what made this route time consuming. I lead and tried to keep a close real in on Cole. I wouldn’t call it a white out, but it was close. We followed all the endless ups and downs, and a couple times we looked at each other thinking- is this ever going to end. It always seems longer and harder than it was, but the conditions are what makes it that way. It took us and hour and fifteen minutes to make the summit from the start of the ridge. We were on top within 10 minutes of my goal of 10am, so I was pretty happy with that.
East Ridge to the Summit
On the summit the precipitation was much more of a rain than a snow. This definitely isn’t the ideal conditions for hanging out for summit beers or anything like that. We both ate some food and took one or two pictures and started back along the ridge. The best views we had up there were of each other. We didn’t want to be out in that crappy weather any longer than we had to be. The trek back along the ridge we had even worse visibility. I’m assuming that’s because we were going downhill rather than uphill. We took our time making sure of each step. I didn’t time it, but it felt like we got back across the ridge in better time on the descent than on the ascent.
We could tell once we made it back to where we first intersected the ridge on the ascent and started making the traverse to the shoulder. Now we couldn’t see a damn thing. We were back in that complete white-out fog. After a bit I checked my GPS, as both of us thought we were dropping elevation too fast. We both agreed to drop to an old mining road and then boot it out from there. I really wanted to glissade, but I was hesitant at first. The slope was pretty steep with only a couple inches of soft snow covering a hard pack. After another hundred feet I convinced myself it was safe. We could have screamed down the whole side of the mountain, which would have been fun till we had to make our way out. We both controlled our glissade with our trekking poles and after dropping some vertical we got off the slide at the mining road we were eyeing from above.
I took my spikes off and we started hoofing it down the road. We could see now, but the wind was starting to blow pretty hard from the south. I needed to fuel up, so we found a spot near some rocks and tried to make a mini wind block so we could rest for a few minutes. It wasn’t that bad sitting down, but once you stood up you could really feel the cool mountain air.
We weren’t far from the gate and it was about noon so we were thinking about real food. Empire Burgers in Breck was on my mind. Maybe that gave us a bit of a boost.
Nick and Cole on the Summit
It was a hike out on the road at this point. The snow had softened a bit and we started to posthole here and there. We knew it wasn’t far to the TH, so we just pushed through. I was pretty happy with the stats on my GPS when we got back. The whole trip was about 6hrs with almost 2,400ft of elevation gain. I was hurting a bit since I hit the gym the day before not knowing I was going to go on a real climb. But now I know I can do that I guess. Cole did great, finally someone that can keep up, even if it hurts. Hahaha. It was a fun mountaineering experience in crappy weather, but we finally got the summit in and it feels pretty good. I have a long list of mountains to climb this year, so It’s nice to have a few early season ones in already.
I forgot to mention that today way my nephews 13th birthday. It feels pretty cool climbing a 13er on his 13th birthday. Next year we will have to do a 14er on his 14th birthday. Happy Birthday Gabe!
Date: May 15, 2016
TH Elevation: 11,540 feet
North Star Mountain Summit: 13,614 feet
Total Ascent: 2,346 feet
Distance: 7.82 miles
Class: 2
Partner: Cole
Moving Time: 4 hours 28 minutes
Stopped Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Mount Shavano 14,229 feet

Mount Shavano
A few weeks ago my climbing partner Cole and I tried to make an attempt on La Plata Peak after a week of solid snow fall. Needless to say it was an attempt and not a summit. The snow has been hitting the high mountains pretty off and on, and unfortunately when I have a chance to get out it is usually right after a big dump of snow. Well, you have to make the best of things and get out when you have the chance. I was in need of a rebound after La Plata’s attempt and I wanted to step foot on a summit.
My regulars wouldn’t be able to join me this week so I threw out an offer on the 14ers website to try and get a partner. Two guys; Bill and Kelan were up for a climb. The target was Mount Shavano and Tabeguache (Tab) Peak in the Sawatch Mountains. These are both 14ers and are most commonly climbed together. Shavano is the southernmost 14er in the Sawatch Range. Shavano has always interested me because it has a very unique feature called the Angel of Shavano.
This is taken directly from The Colorado Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs by Gerry Roach:
“The Angel of Shavano spawned the colorful legend of a Native American princess who prayed for rain at the base of Shavano during a severe drought. The princess sacrificed herself to the gods and reappears every year as the Angel of Shavano. As she melts, her tears send life-giving water to the plains below.”
I had done a lot of research wanting to climb the Angel of Shavano route, so that was the plan, ascend the Angel of Shavano and complete the traverse over to Tab. As I researched the climb and access road during the week I was put-off a bit by the news that the access road was blocked by a large chunk of ice. The reports were saying on a bend of the road a slab of ice about 50 feet long blocked the road about 2.5 miles from the TH. I figured we would take our chances and show up and see how really bad it was. Adding another 5 miles and 1,000 foot vertical wasn’t enough to turn me back.
In the Body of the Angel of Shavano
Shavano is about as far away from Denver as you can get in the Sawatch Range, so we knew we had to either drive over the night before or make it an early, early day on Saturday morning. It worked out that we had to do an early drive so our group met at the Meyers Ranch parking lot off of HWY 285 at 3:30am. That meant I had to get up at 2am which I wasn’t looking forward to, but I will make exceptions if I’m climbing mountains. To get to the TH from the Denver area we took HWY 285 almost into Poncha Springs. About a mile north of Poncha Springs is Country Road (CR) 140. Turn west on CR140, then turn north on CR250. Follow CR250 until coming to CR252. Turn slightly left here and follow this road to the TH, or as far as you can in our case. We had to start our climb from a small S turn in the road about 2.5 miles from the TH. We made pretty good time, arriving a little after 6am and on the trail (road) by 6:30am. The walk to the normal TH took us about 45 minutes, so it was a good wake-up…I guess.
The trail is easy to follow and well-marked with signs. If in question a gpx track can be loaded to your GPS or phone for you to follow. My gpx track is available on the link at the bottom of this TR. There was snow here and there in the trees, but no traction or snowshoes were needed for some time. Once around the 10,500 foot elevation we had to put on snowshoes. The trail was still well defined, but the post holing had begun. This left us all weary of our route choice. After post holing with snowshoes on for a while we decided to take the East Ridge route instead of the Angel.
Me on the Summit
The East Ridge route was not really set in, so it’s a bit harder to follow. We went along the trail for a bit till it started wrapping easterly around the southern rib. There was some clearings in the trees at the beginning so I decided it was time to hoof it straight up. From about the 11,300 foot mark to 12,000 foot mark is what I would call the crux of the day. This was slow going, trenching in areas, but our persistent progress finally got us up and out of the trees. A few times I sunk in almost to my armpits, and had to bear crawl in places. As we took a break near tree-line it started snowing pretty heavily. These intermittent cells of extreme weather would be in and out for the rest of the day, but for the most part it was warm out.
The main ridge still had a good amount of snow cover so I selected a bare line lower on the slope. I was able to make good progress heading directly to point 13,617. My climbing partners were having a tough go of it so I found a good area to wait for them to catch up. From this point I only had about 800 feet vertical to gain to summit Shavano. I wasn’t sure if we would have time to add on Tab, since the going was so slow. Once Bill and Kelan were within shouting distance I got to the go-ahead to continue up Shavano and decide if I was going to go for Tab.
The summit of Shavano
From the saddle that separated Shavano and point 13,617 I found a large boulder and stashed my snowshoes. There were many faint trails leading the 600 vertical feet to the summit. I made good time and finally made the summit of Shavano around 2:30pm. I knew it was too late to head over to Tab, so I was pretty disappointed about the amount of time it took to ascend. I decided that I had to settle with one summit and would have to wait for the others to join me. I found a spot out of the wind to have lunch and take some pictures. About an hour later we were all together again on the summit and were starting to make our preparations for the descent.
The quickest way back was to glissade the Angel of Shavano. From the saddle we could glissade about 1,500 feet vertically which would save a lot of time. The weather had kicked into a full white-out at this point. We all called our loved ones to make sure they didn’t send out search and rescue, this was going to be a headlamp descent. The snow wasn’t too fast, we didn’t even need ice axes, but once we got going it felt pretty good. In about 20 minutes we were down the “slide” and were back into a hoofing it out position. As we were gearing up with headlamps and snowshoes the wind really picked up and nearly blew us all over a couple of times. I wanted to get to the tree line as quick as we could. We followed the ski tracks that eventually met up with the main trail.
Tabeguache Peak
From here is was a walk out of about 3 miles to the normal TH, then an additional 2.5 miles to the car. Luckily I was feeling good so I just kept moving. Time was ticking by pretty quick and somewhere around 8pm we made it to the normal TH. The stars were out, so we at least had a good view. We got back to the car around 9pm making it almost a 15hr day on the mountain.
I would say if there wasn’t any extra waiting this route with Tab could have been done in about 9hrs car-to-car. I have to come back to get Tab, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m hoping to get back up there the last weekend of the month, and maybe tack on a few more mountains in the Sawatch before the summer climbing season begins.
A side note. I am using a new GPS App on my IPhone6 called Gaia GPS. So far I am very pleased with how it works, and it is very affordable in comparison to the Garmin software I had previously.  With this program my gpx and klm route can be downloaded and used on Google Earth or any other GPS unit. This is a nice new feature that I like being able to share with other climbers. The data on this climb is a bit skewed because I drained my battery. While I was waiting I found myself messaging and Facebooking quite a bit..which I know is a big no, no in the mountains. Oh well. Haha

Date: April 9, 2016
TH Elevation: 9,000 feet
Mount Shavano Summit: 14,229 feet
Total Ascent: 5,410 feet
Distance: 13 miles
Class: 2

Partners: Bill, Kelan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Flattop Mountain

Flattop Mountain
In order to avoid the heavy mountain traffic that I70 was bound to have on a holiday weekend, Cole and I decided we should head up to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) for a climb. I have only been to the park in the summer months, so I was looking forward to seeing the mountains covered with snow.
There are a few ways to get to RMNP, we chose to take HWY 36 that goes through Boulder into Lyons and Estes Park before coming into the park’s East Entrance.  Pay the $20 park entry fee or bring your pass. Just after entering the park turn south onto Bear Lake Road and drive to the end of the road parking at the Bear Lake TH.
We arrived at 7am, and there were only three or four vehicles parked in the lot. The temperature gauge on my truck was reading -7°F, so neither of us was really eager to go outside at that point.  We faced the music and started gearing up. It takes a bit longer to get ready when it’s freezing outside, so by the time we had boots and all of our layers on we were quite frozen, at least in the fingers and face. I suggested we warm up in the truck so we didn’t start off frozen.  As we heated up in the cab, I started my Jetboil just outside of the door so I could bring some hot tea up the trail. The temps were too cold and the gas wasn’t flowing to well so I brought it in the cab with us and the water boiled fairly quickly in the warm surroundings. I ate the last of Kristi’s pumpkin bread and then we made our way out to the trail a little before 8am.
Trail Near Bear Lake
Conditions didn’t change in the last twenty minutes, but at least now we were moving. We started on the Bear Lake Trail that makes its way around the east side of the lake. The trail was hard packed snow that has seen a lot of traffic so we didn’t need our snowshoes yet. The cold air didn’t seem to affect either of us as we were making what felt like good time on the first stretch. Within about a half mile of the start there is a trail junction, head left or west onto the Flattop Mountain Trail. Once on this trail you make your way onto the Bierstadt Moraine, but you don’t realize it’s a moraine until you are high above it later in the day. After about thirty minutes or so we both had to make a layer adjustment. I had a light prima loft jacket on and I wanted to remove it before I drenched it in sweat that froze into icicles. At this point I tried to mark a waypoint with my GPS App, but screwed it up, so there is a random point that is closer to the lake than our actual position.
Fern Lake Trail was the next intersection along the trail. From here the Flattop Mountain Trail switchbacks to the south west and we could immediately tell the difference in the boot pack along this section. Fewer people head up this trail and the snow was starting to get a lot softer. We managed up the first five or so switchbacks before getting the Dream Lake view point. This was about an hour in for us. We took a few minutes to put on sunblock and have a snack, and I chose to put on my snowshoes instead of caring them on my back.
Morning View of Longs Peak
The snowshoe decision seemed to pay off because after about 50 yards or so the snowshoe track we were following veered off the main trail in a more direct route through the trees. We followed it because the soft snow would have been a serious ass kicking even with snowshoes on. After gaining a little elevation, I noticed the trees were starting to thin out so we were nearing tree line finally.
As we came out of the trees we could see the large east slope of the mountain and one snow shoer making his way across the slope. We took another break here and the vies of Longs Peak were amazing. After a bit of jerky and some fluids we were off on the trail. We caught up to the snow shoer we saw as he was making his way down. He said the wind was too much for him, we hadn’t felt much wind so we continued on. About a hundred yards later and the trail vanished and the snow covered boulder field opened up for us.
We had to remove the snowshoes through this section. I brought crampons and chose to leave them off while Cole put his micro spikes on. I re-laced my boots and froze both hands, and it took quite a bit of time to get the feeling back. While I was shaking the hell of out my hands we started slowly making our traverse through the boulders. I had my eye on a landmark that turned out to be a hitching station for horses. We would cross what looked like the summer trail here and there but just kept to our line. There was a mess of cairns all over the place, so don’t count on them as an aid if you find yourself in our situation.
Summit Area
Once we got near the hitching station we could see tracks from a goat or a sheep. Cole was curious and followed them as they dropped off the south face. We were able to get a glimpse of a few sheep that were probably running from us. We attempted to get a picture and soon gave up and made our way up the last small incline towards the flat summit.
Me and Cole on the Summit
The cairns were starting to get really big and you could at least see they were aligned heading towards what we considered the summit. There was a trail marker where the cairns kind of terminated and we called that the top. We wanted a better view so we headed to the south edge that gave great views of Hallett Peak and Longs in the distance. Just before noon we summited after a gain of almost 3,000 feet.
We had talked about adding Hallett Peak since it would only add another mile and a half or so. I told Cole I didn’t want to head over today. My toes were cold and I didn’t want to be completely exhausted. The sun is also a factor in the winter and the days are short and we would have a long hike back to the car from Hallett’s summit. I really wish we got there a bit earlier, but I have no problem saving Hallett for another day.
We were both remarking how perfect the weather was today. I know we both had our doubts at the TH with car reading negative degrees. The sun was out, and there were no clouds are barely any wind. I think we got very lucky with conditions today. I wished I had brought my binoculars that were in the truck. I knew somebody had to be up on Longs and we both wish we were there as well. After we had a bite to eat Cole spotted a ewe and two lambs walking across the flats behind us. They were on their way to Hallett I guess. Soon we decided it was time to get our gear together and start down.
Hallett Peak
The ridge route looked good to us in order to avoid most of the boulder field. As we started we could see hordes of people making their way up. Not like 14ers hoards, but there were maybe 20-30 people all together that were on the route at some point above tree line. Heading down we found a maze of trails left by people heading to the summit. Just before tree line we stopped for a short break. I saw my first bald eagle flying overhead. I tried to get a picture, but he had his own plans. After that we just hoofed it down the trail making it back to the car at 2:45pm.
It’s hard to beat a day like this in the mountains. Sometimes the crux of the climb is opening the door of your truck when you know it’s going to be damn cold out there. This could be the last climb for me for some time as school is about to start again. I hope that’s not the case, but at least I finished 2015 on one of the best days I had in the mountains all year. Cheers!

Date: December 27, 2015
Bear Lake TH Elevation: 9,464 feet
Flattop Mountain Summit:  12,348 feet
Total Ascent:  2,956 feet
Distance: 7.8 miles
Moving Time: 4hrs 12min
Stopped Time: 2hrs 53min
Total Time: 7hrs 6min
Moving Speed: 1.8mph
Average Speed: 1.1mph
Class: 2
Partners: Cole


Sunday, November 22, 2015

“Notaubuon” and Mount Audubon

Mount Audubon
September was a long time ago. Between a wedding, taking classes and making it to work each day I have not had the time to get to this report, much less find the time to get back into the mountains. It’s been a crazy fall, but I’m itching to get back outside while I have a little bit of a break. As you can imagine this report will not be too detailed as a lot of time has passed and my memory isn’t what it once was.
Mount Audubon is one of those peaks that have been on my list since moving to Colorado. It is located in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, not too far from Ward, Colorado. Whenever I feel like climbing this peak it’s usually in the winter and that adds quite a bit of mileage to the climb.
Audubon on the Left and Notaubuon on the Right
Paul and I didn’t have much for plans going into this one. I remembered we both wanted to get out, and I gave him a deadline to let me know by 8pm the evening before if he was in. In true fashion he called me about 8:10 or just after. Paul and his roommate Andy were up for a hike the next morning, so our plan was Mount Audubon. I knew how to get there and that was about it.
The trailhead we used is accessed from the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The main trail departs from an upper loop road 1122C. Here are the driving directions:
Make your way to north side of Boulder. Take Lee Hill Drive off of Broadway. Follow this road (don’t miss the first switchback) to Lefthand Canyon Drive. Not far from Ward, Lefthand Canyon Dr. turns into Indiana Gulch Road, follow this through to the Peak to Peak Highway. Once on the highway take the first left (comes up quick) to Brainard Lake Road and follow this up to the lake. There is an access fee of $10, so bring some cash with you.  We made it to the trailhead around 8am and there was no parking available, so we started near the Pawnee Campground in the large lot next to Brainard Lake. This added a mile or so of walking on the road to get to the real Mount Audubon trail.
Me and Paul on the Summit of Audubon
The trail turns from dirt to large cobbles pretty quickly. There are a few photos that will give you an idea of what it’s like in the photo album.  I would recommend boots, but we did see trail runners up there so it’s more of personal preference. The first section of the trail goes through the trees along a few switchbacks before breaking tree line. Once above tree line we were greeted with the high winds that we would be fighting for the remainder of the day.
Minus the element of wind this would have been a really simple hike, but it’s never fun trying to power through that stuff. We kept trying to find an advantage in the fight but kept losing. It was so bad that Paul and I decided to head up Notaubuon first just in case we didn’t want to deal with the elements for the entire day.
We broke off the main trail and followed the East Ridge while constantly getting sand blasted with all the fragments flying around in the air.  The wind made it pretty cold at times, but we decided what the hell and kept going. Once on Notaubuon we sat behind a small wind block and fueled up for the push up Audubon. It took a good push, but I remembered the wind being worse getting up Notaubuon. 
Indian Peaks Wilderness
There were maybe 10-20 other idiots out there that day with us, so we were not alone at least. There are lots of trails making it up the last 500 feet. Once we got to the summit we scouted the closest wind shelter that was vacant. It was hard taking pictures up there as the wind blew my hand holding the camera all over the place. We didn’t linger too long, just enough to grab a bite to eat and take in the views.
The decent was quick; perhaps the wind was pushing us for once. Once we made it back to the lake area we saw a crowd of people with their phones and cameras out and saw there was a large Bull Moose grubbing in the willows near the lake. I guess we can count that as wildlife viewing, I don’t recall seeing anything else. It was a full day by the time we got back and we were pretty spent. This was about three months ago and the last time I was able to get out. I’m hopeful for a hike during Thanksgiving weekend, so hopefully there will be a new post coming shortly.
GPS Track


Date: September 6, 2015
TH Elevation: 10,360 feet
“Notaubuon” Summit: 12,680 feet
Mount Audubon Summit: 13,209 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 2,937 feet
Distance: 9.9 miles
Moving Time: 4hr 45min
Stopped Time: 1hr 25min

Partners: Paul, Andy

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Witter, Eva, Parry and Bancroft Loop

Mount Eva
As I watch the summer fly by, I am starting to realize I’m not getting very many peaks in. I wanted to get out on something that would be off trail and would have options for multiple summits. I tossed around a few ideas and started developing a plan for the group of Witter Peak, Mount Eva, Parry Peak and Mount Bancroft. I had previously climbed in the area with climbs of Mount Flora and James Peak so I had a good idea of what to expect. After doing a little research on trailhead access, I was set for an early Saturday morning adventure.

I chose to mirror a route I found on 14ers.com. The route starts from Fall River Reservoir and does a loop heading up to Witter then to Eva, Parry and Bancroft and finally descending back to the reservoir. From what I gathered the loop looked pretty straight forward and not too difficult for a solo outing. 

Witter Peak
Directions to Fall Creek Reservoir (39.819219, -105.689151): Take I-70W to exit 238, taking the first right off of the freeway onto Fall River Road. Follow this road for roughly 7 miles, then turn northwest onto Rainbow Road (39.804178, -105.641762). This is a dirt road that comes off of a large switch back corner from Fall River Road. Follow Rainbow Road to Fall River Reservoir. There is a fork in the road (39.815276, -105.677364) with about a mile to go; stay to the right. If you go to the left it will take you to Chinn Lakes, which could be a starting point as well if that is what you would like to do. I recommend a high clearance 4WD as the road gets pretty nasty in a few sections. Driving the dirt road portion is about 3.5 miles and takes about a half hour, so plan some extra time for the bumpy ride.

I arrived at the reservoir at 6:30am and the parking area was already pretty packed from people camping for the weekend. By 6:50am I was off on the trail that makes its way south around the reservoir. There are many small trails that make their way up to Chinns Lake; the one I took was around these coordinates: 39.819512, -105.691522. It is only a 5-10 minute hike to the first lake. Once I connected with the Chinns Lake Road I followed it around the lake to the south looking for a good point to start a traverse onto the east ridge of Witter Peak. I started up the first major clearing that I came across (39.815654, -105.694899), which was a large boulder field. The traverse across the boulders was simple and quick; I kept an eye on a grassy patch in-between the trees. Once on the steep grassy slopes I followed the natural path between the trees until tree line ended, and I was then on the open tundra just off of the east ridge of Witter Peak.
Witter Peak Summit

I was making great time gaining quite a bit of elevation. It was around 7:45am when I made it on to the ridge. Along the ridge there was one section of ledges which were very easy class 3 just below the summit. That would be the only real climbing section for the day. The summit was marked by a large rock cairn. I was feeling pretty good with the first 2,000 vertical feet behind me, now it was time to head over to Mount Eva.

The tundra hiking was a nice recovery after the climb up Witter. There was never any trail I could make out, so pretty much the entire route was cross country. At 9:15am I was on top of Mount Eva. This was only a couple hundred feet ascent above Witter, but there was a fair amount of distance in between the two peaks. Near the summit there was an old building that has been out of commission for quite some time, and I could see a few wind blocks made out of the debris. I just passed by it and went directly to the summit. From here the climb down and up Parry Peak looked like it was going to take some work, so I just kept moving.

Mount Eva Summit
The north ridge of Eva was pretty rocky unlike the climb up from the south. Once at the saddle between the two mountains the south ridge up Parry turned to grass. I started up and about halfway I was running on empty, so I took a short break and ate some jerky. That gave me a good pick-me-up and in no time at all I was on Parry’s summit. It was 10:30am, and now it was time for my lunch. Nothing like a good old PB&J with a bottle of Gatorade to energize my body. A cookie would have hit the spot, but I was good today and didn’t bring any junk food. The views from Parry were the best I saw all day. James Peak looks amazing from the southwest. I rested for about 10 minutes on the summit then got ready for the last roller coaster of the day leading to Mount Bancroft.

The ridge heading to Bancroft was the rockiest of the day so far, but easy going. A couple hundred feet climb from the separating saddle is all it took to get on my fourth summit of the day. It was around 11am and I only had my descent back to reservoir left. I would have been up for adding James Peak, but I had no desire to make the long trek back to my car after going out of my way for another summit. I knew it would be a steep drop back to my car so I can’t say I was looking forward to it.

Parry Peak Summit
The descent seemed like the longest leg of the day. There were some very large and steep boulder fields I had to make my way through that became time consuming. I wondered a little close to the cliffs along the ridge a few times and found myself traversing more boulders than I needed too. I kept to the ridge till I could see a main gully heading towards the parking area of reservoir. From there the terrain got really steep, but there were some game/climbers trails heading down intermittently. After dropping a few hundred feet in elevation I had made it back to my truck at 12:15pm.

Today was a beautiful day of solitude in the mountains. I didn’t run into anyone till getting back to the parking area. Those climbs are hard to find in Colorado, so I tend to really enjoy them a lot more. I love solo hiking and adventuring off the beaten path. With any luck I will get a few more days like this in before the seasons change. I’m starting to scout out a five peak loop in the Front Range that has a lot of potential.

GPS Track
Date: August 1, 2015
TH Elevation: 10,776 feet
Witter Peak Summit: 12,854 feet
Mount Eva Summit: 13,130 feet
Parry Peak Summit: 13,373 feet
Mount Bancroft Summit: 13,250 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 3,350 feet
Distance: 6.77 miles
Moving Time: 4hr 21min

Stopped Time: 45min