Sunday, September 11, 2016

Longs Peak

Longs Peak
When you think of the mountains of Colorado, Longs Peak is usually at the top of the list. I’m not sure what the allure is about the mountain, perhaps that it’s a lone giant, the long history of ascents or that it is simply part of Rocky Mountain National Park. Living in the Denver metro area, Longs Peak is a part of the skyline to the north I see each day. Climbing Longs has been considered a classic and put on the list of many climbers, even before moving to Colorado I was aware of the allure of the mountain and was drawn to the idea of summiting it one day. I have been in Colorado for five years now and have for a long time contemplated the idea of Longs, on Thursday I convinced myself it was time to attempt the giant.
Longs Peak in no way is an unobtainable mountain. In fact through this report I hope you see that it is not a hard or technical mountain to climb at all. I think the naming of many of the features such as the ledges, or the narrows that create a lot of concern for people. I’m not sure exactly why I put it off so long, but I like to tell myself it was because of the route being nearly 15 miles and having to start around 2am. Over the past two weeks I couldn’t decide what mountain to climb, but the idea of Longs was always there. Late in the week I texted Cole and told him I decided on Longs and he agreed to join me, even though that required a midnight wake-up.
The Keyhole
The Longs Peak parking lot is notorious for filling up before 2am on any weekend. Even though the weather was going to be clear, we wanted to avoid as much of the traffic on the trail and still be able to park in the main lot. We decided a 3am start would work for us. I left my place at 12:30am and picked up Cole. The TH is located off of HWY 7 that runs in-between Lyons and Estes Park. We arrived around 2:30 am and snagged the last spot in the main parking lot.
As we were gearing up at the TH the temps were very cold and the wind was breezy. I decided to pack my heavier parka instead of my light one, which was a wise decision. We didn’t take too much time and were off along the trail by 2:45am. I was feeling pretty good considering the hour and lack of sleep. I told Cole to let me know if my pace got out-of-hand, he never complains and always keeps up. I had set break points along the route so I could ration my water/food, wanting only to carry only what was necessary.
The pace was more on the fast end, where we hit the Chasm Lake junction in an hour and half covering about 3 miles and 2,000ft. We took ten minutes to take in some fuel/water. The parkas were much needed as the wind was howling. The one bonus were the stars, you could not quite see the full Milky Way, but with a little less headlamp pollution it may have come through. I could not get a picture to come out showing the headlamp trail from all the climbers, but it looked like I70 on a ski weekend in the dark.
The next break was the Keyhole. The Keyhole is where the trailed section of the trip ends, about 6 miles into the climb. My goal was to be there for sunrise at about 6:30am, so far we were moving better than expected so I was confident we would make it to the Keyhole for the sunrise. From the Chasm Lake junction there is a long traverse to Granite Pass. From the pass there was almost a paved path of granite slabs, quite unusual, but made our travel very efficient. Not long after the pass the boulder field starts. We could gauge where landmarks were in the dark based on the line of headlamps in front of us. There is a trail through most of the boulder field, but good luck keeping to it in the dark. We probably made better time hiking more directly towards the headlamps just under the Keyhole than staying to a meandering trail anyway. We arrived at the Keyhole about 6am and the winds were howling at what felt like at least 40mph.
The Ledges
There is a memorial shelter just below the Keyhole and it was packed with people. I found a hole for us to crawl into so we could take in some calories. We started to freeze from the wind almost instantly, I wanted to see how Cole was feeling about moving along the route. He decided to stay at the Keyhole and I would push on the summit by myself. I knew I needed to get moving before I got any colder. Even though I wanted to stay and see the sunrise I knew I had to get a move on it. I put on my helmet and took off on the ledges.
For the scramble part of the route I had an idea of what to expect, but you never really know what it’s like till you are there. I figured it was a thousand feet over about a mile, so I planned on about an hour and a half to get to the summit. There are four sections: The Ledges, Trough, Narrows and The Homestretch. I started out along The Ledges with nobody in sight as most people were apprehensive to continue with the windy conditions. There are bullseyes along the route to follow which takes a lot of the challenge of a class 3 route away. Since I was running solo, I was almost on a trot during some sections as I didn’t want Cole to have to wait out the cold winds longer than was necessary. I’ll be honest, The Ledges are a cakewalk. But bear in mind I have quite a bit of experience, for someone that is more accustom to trails they would not see it as I do. For the most part I thought there was a trail, where you would occasionally pull yourself up over a rock, nothing to get concerned about. I would say The Ledges took me 10-15 minutes max, and this section leads to The Trough.
The Trough
The Trough is as bad as the word sounds. By far the worst part of the climb. It was not difficult or dangerous, just annoying. As one would expect with a high mountain gully there was a lot of loose rock to deal with. Lucky for me there was only one group a few hundred feet above me and nobody below me. I would recommend a helmet just in case someone knocks down rocks, but I didn’t have to worry about that in my case. The crux of the climb in my opinion is the climb up the rock that takes you out of The Trough. It’s not that difficult, but it is something that you should take care with on the ascent. Once over the crux The Narrows begins.
I want to say I was looking forward to The Narrows. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s a disappointment, or at least it was for me. This section reminded me of the hype for Chicken Out Ridge on Mount Borah in Idaho. A lot of hype, but when you get there, it was nothing more than a ridge climb. I caught up to the three guys taking a break before starting The Narrows, I chose to keep moving. For the most part The Narrows are not so narrow, there is a crack that is about a foot or so wide that you can walk in or the surrounding rock that gives plenty of room (many feet) to walk. To give you an idea on my descent I passed people breast-to-breast and didn’t even think about exposure. Stay on route and there shouldn’t be any issue. The Narrows leads to The Homestretch which is the last 300 feet of the climb.
I can handle exposure, climbing crappy rock, but the one thing I hate is slick rock. In my mind that was what The Homestretch was. As Lee Corso says: not so fast my friend. The rock is slick, yes, but very manageable. There are many cracks that flow directly to the summit to ascend. This section is steep, but for the most part you can climb upright with a hand down here or there for balance. Don’t get intimidated by the hype yet again. I spent maybe 10 minutes ascending this section. This leads you right to the summit.
On the Summit
At 7am I reached the summit, from the Keyhole it took me about 45 minutes. I had the summit all to myself, which I though was amazing considering the amount of people on route. The summit area is huge, a football field at least. I’m not sure what it was, most likely a huge sense of accomplishment, but summiting Longs gave me one of the best feelings I’ve had on a summit in a long time. I think it’s been one of those mountains I’ve wanted to climb for so long, and mentally I probably thought it was beyond my ability. Not so much I guess. What a great climb, and a rewarding summit. I gave Kristi a quick call to let her know I was on the summit, guess I woke her up . The guys I passed on the narrows summited maybe 5 minutes after me. It was nice having my few minutes of solitude up there, but I enjoyed chatting with the group of three while I was up there. I walked around enjoying the views, I only wish I could take a decent picture, but I still have all the clear ones in my head. I was able to text Cole and let him know I was on top, so there is cell service (AT&T) at the summit.
Summit Benchmark
After about 20 minutes I started down. I wanted to beat the conga line down The Homestretch. I got lucky and there was only about 10 people on the ascent through The Homestretch, I was easily able to avoid them. Keeping your weight over your toes is the trick to not slipping on the slick rock. This worked for the most part, but I sure wouldn’t do this if the rock was wet. I almost wish I had a clicker to count the crazy amount of people along the route leading back to the Keyhole. Everyone wanted to know how far, how long, how scary it gets. I tried to be helpful and gave what information I could. The Trough was the busiest section. I had no problem passing people along the route, and I thought that would be rather difficult. Somewhere around 9am I made it back to the Keyhole and found Cole.
We had a good time talking about my climb, and I took the time to eat and drink up. The hard part was over and we only had a 6 mile hike out. After a good rest we started our descent. This was one of the better descents I’ve had in a while, there was great conversation with a good friend and the sense of accomplishment that fed me energy. We made good time and were back to the TH just after noon. Both of us had cold beer and pizza on our minds so maybe that was some added motivation to get back to the truck.
Longs Peak is a great climb, if this is something on your list don’t get intimidated by the feature names. Get out there and give it a shot. The purpose of adventure is to live and learn, build your skills and then test them. The mountains are there for us, and they do give us a sense of freedom when we let them. Enjoy it…till next time.
Date: September 10, 2016
TH Elevation:  9,400 feet
Longs Peak Summit: 14,255 feet
Total Ascent:  5,043 feet
Total Distance:  14.7 miles
Class:  3
Moving Time:  6 hours 45 minutes
Stopped Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Climbing Partners: Cole
GPX Track
Photo Album

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier - From Paradise
Plans to climb Mount Rainier started to materialize about a year ago when my friend Harsha extended me an invitation to join him. I previously climbed Rainier in 2008 with my Dad as part of the Summit for Someone program. I couldn’t head back up there without asking my Dad to join us; he immediately said yes. Harsha planned on using the Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI) guide service, which was the same guide service I had used previously. I was more interested in doing a non-standard route, but with this being Harsha’s first climb on Rainier we selected the standard Disappointment Cleaver (DC) Route. Our climbing team would be composed of six other climbers that we would meet on our first day of the program.
Over the year leading up to the climb, getting into climbing shape becomes the priority. Throughout the year I kept to my same workout routine, and would try and get my boots on the dirt as much as could on the weekends. I have the advantage of living in Colorado at an elevation of about 5,700 feet, so my primary concern was not the elevation on the mountain, but rather the technical elements that a glacier climb presents.
We arrived in Ashford on the first of four days with RMI on Monday August 15th. On this day we met our guides and the other team members in the group. There is an overview of what will take place over the next few days, then there is a gear check to ensure each climber is adequately outfitted to climb the mountain.  We found out our lead guide would be Jake in which he would have two assistant guides; Jesse and Megan. Jake was an assistant guide on my trip in 2008, so it was nice to see a familiar face. The rest of our team would be composed of the Callaway family.
The Team 
Before I get too carried away with this report there is another aspect of the climb I would like to mention, and that is the development of relationships with our fellow teammates, the Callaways. The family included Mike, the father; the four siblings: Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy and Neil which is Amy's husband. The family is from Arkansas and a couple of them live in Kansas City, so they are very much flat landers. The Callaways have a great history of doing adventures together; previously they have climbed Mount Hood, Pikes Peak and the Grand Teton, all very difficult challenges. I knew right away we were all going to get along and have a great experience together. I enjoyed getting to know them as we climbed the mountain together.
Day two was mountaineering school. This was basically the introduction to techniques of mountaineering. I had been through this last time on the mountain, but it was good to get a refresher. You learn how to walk all over again, there are various walking techniques that make you more efficient on the mountain. After you have learned to walk, it’s time to learn to fall…in style as Jake would say. Learning to self-arrest is what can save your life on the upper mountain should you fall. You get a lot of practice falling in different ways. The remaining time is used working with rope travel. This shows you how to ascend and descend switchbacks and the proper length to keep between you and the climber in front of you. While you are in school you take a few 10 minute breaks throughout the day to get you prepared to manage yourself of the mountain. Time goes quickly, so you learn to eat, drink, medicate, and adjust layers and gear during these quick breaks. The climb to Muir is tomorrow, so the rest of the evening in Ashford is used re-packing bags, fueling and hydrating our bodies.
Climbing the Muir Snowfield
Day three is all about making the ascent to Camp Muir. The climb starts from Paradise and covers about five miles and about 4,500 feet of vertical gain. We loaded up our big packs and hit the trail out of Paradise sometime after 9am. The first hour and a half stays on the trails surrounding Paradise, so some people chose to wear an approach shoe. I chose to climb in my mountaineering boots to avoid having to do a change during the ascent. The pace was very moderate, keeping to about 1,000 feet of vertical gain per hour. We took a ten minute break about every hour. This gave us enough time to fuel and hydrate up for the next stretch. We hit the Muir Snowfield after our first break and would remain on the snow for the remainder of the day.
The goal of the day was to climb to Muir “in style.” This was an opportunity to work on all the techniques that we learned the previous day. The more efficient we could climb today, the easier our summit bid would be tomorrow. I’m not sure how long it took us to get to Muir, but I would guess we arrived around 2pm. We had about an hour to rest and get moved into the sleeping hut before the guides came in to give us the low-down on how the rest of the day and tomorrows climb would be played out. With temperatures being fairly warm we knew we would have an early wake-up. The warmer temperatures heat up the ice which dislodges boulders down glaciers, so this is the reason to get more of the climb done while the mountain is ‘sleeping’. After packing for the summit climb we needed to fuel/hydrate, and try to get a nap in before the early wake-up.
Most of us tried to fall asleep around 6pm figuring we would be up around 11pm for a long day. It didn’t sound like too many people got much sleep if any at all, but I felt like I got a few hours so I wasn’t feeling too bad. The guides woke us up at 11pm and we had one hour to fuel/hydrate and gear up for the day. It wasn’t too cold out, but as the night progressed we would be working into the coldest part of the night just before summiting. Jesse was guiding me and my Dad. Harsha unfortunately decided not to join us on a summit bid. He will be back at another time though. We met up with Jesse a little before midnight and soon started along the first stretch of the route.
Camp Muir and the Upper Mountain
The climb starts by crossing the Cowlitz Glacier, and then ascends Cathedral Gap leading to our first break on Ingram Flats. This section is a bit over an hour long, and covers about 1,200 vertical feet. The crossing of the Cowlitz Glacier is a nice warm up before hitting the rock/dirt path up Cathedral Gap. Or the “brown stuff” as Will called it. I heard rock/ice falling a few times as we ascended. This keeps you very attentive even when your body is used to being asleep. Once we hit the rock we short-roped through the gap till reaching the Ingram Glacier. You go short-roped in order to prevent snagging and abrasion to the rope. This is a good idea, but also presents some difficulties when you are working your way through the boulders. Once we arrived at the Ingram Flats break I pulled out my parka and had my pop-tart waiting for me in the pocket. During the breaks the guides talk to each climber individually to monitor how they are doing. I found out the Amy and Neil had decided to turn back just before we were set to leave. On the way up to the flats Amy and Neil were on a rope with Mike which was guided by Megan. There was some swapping, where Megan became our guide and Mike was added as our anchor.
Harsha, Mark and Me
The next stretch was the ascent of the DC, this is the crux of the climb in my opinion. This starts by traversing the Ingram Glacier to the base of the cleaver. I would say it was about 1:30am when we set off from the first break. Climbing the cleaver is no joy ride. You ascend wearing crampons climbing over 1,000 feet of crumbled rock. We were short-roped through this section, just like the Cathedral Gap section. Mike was having a rough go of it and at times I would be pulling the rope along with him. Megan could see this going on and when we got to the top of the cleaver for a break Mike had to make the decision to continue or descend. After he talked it over with the guides Mike made the decision to turn back. This broke my heart a little; I know how hard each of us train for a climb like this, and it’s hard to make decisions like that when you are so close to attaining your goal. He made the decision, but in the end he chose what was best for the team and himself, I have a lot of respect for someone that can make that call. From the DC our team now consisted of the Arkansas boys, and me and the old man along with Jake and Megan. It was starting to get colder and windy, so I added on my third layer then we took off for high break, another hour and a thousand feet to go.
Sunrise from the Crater
On the way to high break you climb on the upper mountain. The route was steep and there was significant exposure as the boot pack wasn't even wide enough for a mountaineering boot to fit across. I recall three or four running belays that are placed for added protection in zones where a fall has a higher probability or there would be no chance of team arrest. At one of the belay points I remembered looking over the edge into a crevasse that had no end. After a few belays we came to our first ladder crossing. Now, for all of you that have seen pictures of these from Everest, it wasn't like that...but that doesn't mean you don't pucker up a bit. The crossings were maybe 6-8 feet across a crevasse with a couple of 2x6 boards attached onto the ladder to walk across. There was a rope to hold for balance, but if you fell you were going into the crevasse and your rope team was the only line of defense.
After an exciting hour of steep climbs, running belays and ladders we made it to high break.
High break is at about 13,500 feet on the face of the mountain. This was by far the coldest break. None of us were doing a good job of consuming calories at this point. It's difficult when you are cold and tired to force any food down so we ate what we could. I chose to leave my parka on since it was so cold.
The Team on the Summit
About 30 minutes after leaving from the break I was heating up as the wind died down. I started unzipping what I could as we kept moving. This section went the fastest for me. I felt pretty good considering the situation. I recognizing the protruding crater rim rocks from my previous climb, so I knew we were close. A look behind us, we could see the deep red color on the horizon. Sunrise was within minutes. Our team made it into the crater we tossed our packs on the snow, let a few screams out and watched the sunrise over the horizon. I have seen my share of sunrises, but there is nothing that gets even close to experiencing one on Mount Rainier.
We all took in the moment and the high fives and congratulations were making it though the team. I went over to the Arkansas boys and said: “Not bad for a bunch of guys from Arkansas.” These guys are climbers, no doubt in my mind. What an accomplishment! We made our way to the true summit, which is called Columbia Crest. We signed the register as we climbed to the high point, it was neat being able to write down that this was my second summit.
The Descent
On the true summit we had the sun rising to the east and the moon setting to the west. That was something I had never experienced before.  We took 10 minutes up there taking pictures and enjoying the surrounding views. We need to get back into the crater to our packs to fuel/hydrate as the climb was only half over. The descent can be the dangerous part when the mountain heats and becomes alive. We had about an hour on the top of the mountain so it was time for us to start making our descent.
The trek down the mountain seemed to go by pretty fast. We didn’t take our first break till we reached the top of the DC. With the sun out we could get a good idea of what we climbed up during the dark hours of the early morning. Some of the crevasses that had ladder crossings had views of blue ice with no end. One area we crossed under a fairly large serac, and I thought to myself about the “motivator” that Ed Viesters describes from K2. It was neat walking through this area, but I was glad to be out of what I considered an area of danger.
Once we were on the DC, we took our crampons off for the descent to make our travels more efficient. This was a pretty nasty section, must like the ascent, but in about a half hour we had made it down to the Ingram Glacier where we put our crampons back on. We followed Megan’s zig-zags through the crevasse field till we made it to our break at the Ingram Flats. This was our last rest till getting back to Muir. We were able to swallow down the last of our water since we knew we had water waiting at camp.
Mount Adams from DC
The last leg of the trek to Muir took about 45 minutes. We dropped over Cathedral Gap back onto the Cowlitz Glacier. As we got closer to camp we could hear the cheers of our fellow climbers that were waiting for us. It was nice to see our friends/family back at camp. They all made a tough decision to end their summit bids early, but I would not consider their attempts as failures. Each climb presents new challenges that you have to overcome, for a lot of people these are simply mental barriers. I think everyone got something out of this experience that they will be able to build off of for their next adventure. After chatting with everyone we had to get prepared for the next leg of the trip. We had an hour to get our big packs loaded up before heading down another 4,500 feet to Paradise. I took my boots off for what time I could. All my socks were damp or wet at this point so my heel blister needed taping again. I crammed all my gear into my bag, it was a mess.
On our way down the Muir Snowfield we tried to ski-glissade when we could. The snow was pretty snow-cupped so it was a bit difficult to slide for too long. After a while we came across some glissade chutes, so I grabbed my garbage bag out and made a diaper out of it. This way I could cruise as far as possible down the mountain. The rest of the hike down to Paradise was more of a march. My feet and body were beat so it was all about getting off the mountain and unloading the heavy pack from my back.
It was a relief to be off the mountain, summit day is one of the more exhausting experiences I’ve had in the mountains. In all you gain near 5,000 feet and descend about 9,000 feet that day. Once we got down to Ashford our group dove into a 12-pack of beer I had waiting in the truck. A nice luke warm beer and a cheeseburger sure hit the spot. It was nice to sit and talk with the others in our group about their experiences for the day and unwind a bit before the drive back to Portland.
Ingram Glacier
This climb I was in much better shape than I was eight years ago, but the mountain was much more difficult than I remembered. The route seemed narrower and steeper. The technical nature of the mountain was higher as the crevasses were more open requiring multiple ladder crossings and running belay protection points. So even though I was in better shape, this climb was more taxing and more rewarding at the same time. I was very thankful to be able to climb the two highest volcanoes in Washington over the week. I’m motivated to keep in shape to continue climbing mountains back home in Colorado.

A few times with different people during this trip we discussed the types of mountains we enjoy climbing the most. I did enjoy climbing Rainier, and am grateful to be able to climb it twice successfully, but in the end I do not prefer this type of mountaineering compared to what I do in Colorado. Though climbs like this may be more rewarding, I feel a lot of the experience is spent looking at a rope, and not enjoying the surroundings as much as I would like. I enjoy self-reliance as opposed to group-reliance, and being able to adventure more freely. I probably will not climb Rainier again, or even do roped mountaineering travel, they are just not my cup of tea. I am perfectly content with climbing mountains in Colorado and Idaho, there are plenty of challenges I have yet to face. Get out there and climb, and If you would like come climb with me, I am always in the search for a new adventure.

Date: August 15-18, 2016
TH Elevation: 5,440 feet
Camp Muir: 10,080 feet
Mount Rainier Summit: 14,410 feet
Total Ascent: 9,352 feet
Total Distance: 12.6 miles (TH to summit back to Camp Muir)
Class:  glacier climb
Moving Time: 9 hours 50 minutes (Add at least 2.5hrs for descent from Camp Muir to TH)
Stopped Time: 6 hours 41 minutes
Climbing Partners: Harsha, Mark, Mike, Andrew, Matt, Will, Amy, Neil, Jake, Jesse, Megan
GPX Track
Photo Album
RMI Guide Blog Post

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mount Adams - Washington

Sunrise on Mount Adams
                 Mount Adams is the second highest volcano in Washington, standing at 12,276 feet. I previously climbed Adams back in 2009 on a trip with my Dad in which we also climbed neighboring Mount St. Helens; and Mount Bachelor and the South Sister in Oregon. I was invited on a trip up Mount Rainier that is planned for later in the week, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a warm-up climb on Adams. The crew heading up the mountain was my Dad, Mark and my friend Loren (LT) and Cédric which is LT’s exchange student from France.
                We chose to climb the standard South Climb Trail that begins at Cold Springs Campground. This climb requires the Cascades Volcano Pass that costs $15 and can be picked up at a self-serve station at the Mount Adams Ranger Station in Trout Lake, Washington. I flew into the Portland International Airport and had my Dad pick me up there. To get to Trout Lake from Portland drive east on I-84 taking exit 64 in Hood River. Use the Hood River Bridge to cross the Columbia River, there is a toll of $1 for using the bridge each way. Follow WA-141 for the next 24 miles into Trout Lake. The ranger station is along WA-141 on the west side of the town. Pick up your permit and start making your way up to the TH. To get to the TH, drive back into town turning north on Mount Adams Road. After about 5 miles take a slight left onto NF-8040, this road will turn into NF-500 another 5 miles down the road, follow this to the right for an additional 3 miles to the TH/CG. This area is chaotic and parking sucks. Try to find a spot; we arrived about 11pm so there were a few available spots, but if you came in the morning I doubt you would have luck finding a spot especially on the weekend. Expect about a 45 minute drive from Trout Lake to the TH.
Climbing the Snowfield to Lunch Counter
                We arrived at the TH around 11pm. Instead of digging out tents we just slept in the back of the truck. We didn’t crash before having a few social beers and taking in the meteor shower that was in full effect. Throughout the night/early morning there was moderate activity with people arriving and heading up the trail. Since we were doing this as an overnighter staying at Lunch Counter, we weren’t in a hurry to get up the trail too quickly on Saturday morning. Lunch Counter is the name of the flat feature where most people camp and it represents the halfway point, to get there it is a 4.5 mile climb of about 3,800 vertical feet. After getting our gear together in the morning we finally hit the trail at about 9am.
                This was my first time backpacking in almost two years, so my pack was feeling quite heavy. I guess if I left the beer in the truck that would have shaved some weight off, but what fun would that be? I considered doing this climb as a day trip in order to lessen the load on my back, but in the end we decided this would be a good chance to test out the gear we would be using on Rainier later in the week. The trail starts in an old wildfire burn-out area from the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire. The trail is fairly wide, and very dusty. After gaining the initial 1,000 feet you finally will be out of the burn zone and will see Mount Hood to the southwest.  
Climb from Camp to Pikers Peak
                Crossing Morrison Creek was the last chance to fill water bottles from a flowing source until reaching Lunch Counter. After the creek the trail splits into several paths that others have created. Follow the large cairns with the poles and you will stay on route. There is a traverse leading to the main ridge that you will be ascending for the remainder of the day. Once on the ridge you are reminded that this is a volcano as you see all the volcanic rock (scoria) at your feet. As you ascend the ridge there are several makeshift campsites that use the available rock to build wind shelters. There is still 1,000 vertical feet to climb to get to Lunch Counter. Somewhere around 8,400 feet we finally hit the snowfield, this is what’s left of the Crescent Glacier, but it is a snowfield and there are no crevasses to worry about. From here to Lunch Counter the travel would all be on snow, you can stay on the rib in the rocks if you wish, but the snow seems to be the easiest mode of transport.
Sunset on Mount St Helens
                Once on the snowfield I elected to put on my crampons. You could easily climb the snow in boots, but I felt I could move more efficiently with a solid purchase of the surface. The sweat started dripping off me as the albedo from the snow and lack of wind made me pant like a dog. I tried to put on sun block a couple times during the ascent, but I’m sure most of it just sweat right off of me. Now that I had arrived at Lunch Counter my task was to find a good campsite for the night. I had two requirements for our campsite: near running water, near snow to cool our beer. It took a bit to find the running water, and I would call it more of a trickle than running. There was a small runout of water from the main snowfield heading up the mountain that we were able to filter from. It took some time, but it was better than melting snow or carrying up all the water we would need. We were surrounded by smaller snowfields, so the cooler was not hard to find. Dry bags filled with snow make nice portable coolers as well. Our camp was set up around the 9,400 foot elevation and I would say we arrived there around 1:30pm.
Mount Adams Benchmark
                We had ample time to relax and explore the area. The best part about our chosen campsite was the view. As the sun was setting the colors on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens were amazing, I don’t think our photographs were able to capture the true color we were seeing. We all stayed up till the light started to fade, then we hit the sack. Our wake-up alarms were set for 3:30am.
                It was rough waking up early, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. After getting out of my tent I could see a number of groups already on the mountain. We took in some breakfast and were on the route by 4:30am. The goal was to see the sunrise from at least Pikers Peak which is a sub summit of Mount Adams.
                I was feeling pretty good from the start and had the direct line of ascent in mind. I followed one group up the first 300-400 vertical feet, as they stopped for a break I took the opportunity to get ahead of them. I saw I was losing my group, but I wanted to keep the pace going. At 5:37 I was on Pikers Peak, just before sunrise. In just over an hour I was able to climb 2,200 feet. I love these steep ascents where you just gain vertical elevation. Since the sunrise was close I continued to a high point in-between Pikers and Adams to watch the morning come in. I figured I’d have a bit of a wait for the rest of my group so after the sunrise I found a large boulder to sit on where I would see them come up the trail.
Summit Crew: Me, LT, Cedric, Mark
                As I saw LT ascending the main route, I started making a move up the ridge instead of dropping down to where they were. There was maybe 500 vertical feet to the summit. I met up with everyone about 100 vertical feet shy of the snow filled structure (I’m not positive this was a fire lookout or a mining structure). We all crested about the same time and the first thing you see is the dramatic view of Mount Rainier. Most climbers hung out near the structure, we made our way east to the true summit which is marked by a USGS benchmark. Just past 7am we were all on the summit of Mount Adams.
                We took maybe an hour on the summit. LT proceeded to make us all breakfast in the form of salami, cheese, crackers and a communal beer. He never disappoints, I guess that’s why I invite him…haha. We explored the eastern side of the mountain where nobody else was and the glaciers get pretty intense just of the edge.
Cedric Wandering
                As we started our descent we could see the sun was already softening the top layer of snow. From Pikers down the southern face it is pretty steep and the snow was a bit slushy. The glissade chute from the top still seemed a bit iced over, so we descended maybe 600 feet before attempting to slide. These chutes resemble more of a bobsled track as they are fairly curvy and can get up to three feet deep. I jumped in without changing to my Gore-Tex, and I slid just fine. It didn’t take very long to get down the remaining 1,500 feet near the rocks by our camp. My knees appreciated the slide I’m sure.
                Once we made it back to camp it was time to pack it up and hit the trail back to the trucks. I wasn’t looking forward to this part, so it was more about getting it over with at this point. On the hike out we took advantage of sliding on the snow as much as we could. I got a decent amount of snow into my boots making my socks wet, as we continued down the trail I developed a nice dime sized blister on my left heel. I could feel it pretty good over the last mile or so, but at that point it was a march to the truck.
                Now that the Adams climb was behind us, my Dad and I had a day of rest before the climb of Rainier was to begin. This is a fun climb, but the trip ends on a dusty trail that is a less than pleasant ending. This is a busy area, not as busy as Colorado 14ers, but I would guess there was at least a hundred people up on the mountain if not more today. Now that the climb was over it was time for mending the body with a cold beer...cheers!
               
Date: August 13-14, 2016
TH Elevation: 5,600 feet
Lunch Counter Camp: 9,400 feet
Mount Adams Summit: 12,276 feet
Total Ascent: 7,140 feet
Total Distance: 13.9 miles
Class: snow climb
Moving Time: 7 hours 26 minutes
Stopped Time: 5 hour 29 minutes
Climbing Partners: Mark, Loren, Cédric

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Pacific and Atlantic Peaks


Quandary and Pacific Tarn
The Tenmile Range near Breckenridge hosts many 13ers that are worth exploring. Over the past few years I have been slowly ticking peaks off my list from the range. This area is close to Denver, and unlike Quandary the local 14er, solitude can be found on many of the surrounding peaks. Last year I came across the East Ridge Route description for Pacific Peak on the 14ers.com website and decided this would be a fun option for this weekend.
                The McCullough Gulch North TH is accessed off of HWY 9 near the Quandary Peak TH. From Breckenridge travel south on HWY 9, turning west onto Blue Lakes Road 850. After the main parking lot for Quandary take the first right onto McCullough Gulch (851) Road. Drive over a mile and a half reaching a junction, stay to the right and follow this road till it ends at just over 11,000 feet. High clearance would be desired for this road, but it is not a full 4WD road. There is limited parking near the TH, and I almost drove into a bunch of people camping there, so proceed with caution if arriving in the dark.
Early Morning Solitude
                I had another early morning departure from Denver and arrived at the TH around 4:30am. I wasn’t necessarily planning on a sunrise climb, but since this is an east facing route the opportunity is there to catch the morning sunrise anywhere along the ridgeline. The morning air was a bit chilly, but I was good to start in shorts and a t-shirt. I knew the initial climb through the aspens would be brutal and I would quickly have my heart rate up, so starting a tad chilly was a good way to do it today.
                There wasn’t a true trail, but through the trees in the dark I could spot signs of climber/animal trails that helped me through the trees. The gain was really steep, so when in doubt just go straight up and within 5-10 minutes you will clear the trees. I would recommend loading a gpx track if you do this in the dark as the ridgelines are not clearly evident. I just kept trying to follow the southern edge of the ridge, but the ridge is quite wide so a few times I would check my gps to make sure I was on the right track. After the initial gain in the first half hour, the main East Ridge becomes more evident, so just start making your way towards the rocks.
Sunrise
                In the first hour I gained 1,850 feet and at this point I was beginning the rocky ridge. I was feeling pretty good, and keeping an above average pace. I took a short break after my first hour since I had already burned my morning fuel supply. The sun would rise in about half hour so I wanted to step it up a notch to get a better view of the sunrise higher on the ridge. I kicked it into high gear as I started up the boulders.
                The ridge narrows pretty quickly and the roller coaster of ups and down soon commences. This first section is mostly class 2, but the more you stay true to the ridge the more difficult it gets. If you stay on the ridgeline it soon turns into solid class 3 terrain, but easier routes can be found to the southern side off the crest. I wanted to have some fun so I stayed true to the ridge and soon was packing away my trekking poles and putting on my scrambling gloves.
Pacific Peak
                The scrambling is pretty sustained for about a mile, maybe a bit further. There is a midpoint along the ridge that is the unranked point 13,238. My goal was to reach that point for sunrise. There are a few really fun sections to scramble up gaining the point. I nearly made it to the top of the point as the sun was cresting the horizon. I took a seat on a rock and enjoy the moment with a handful of gummy bears.  
                After taking a few pictures I was off again continuing up the ridge. By staying true to the ridge I had to back track a few times as the notches between rock towers drop off dramatically as you progress up the ridgeline. If you stay off the ridge by about thirty or forty feet you won’t have to worry about it, but the view down there isn’t as good. Soon you will get to a point where you need to be on the ridge crest as couloirs come in on the northern side. Just past this area is where the standard route ascends from the Mohawk Lakes area.
                A few weeks prior I tried ascending from the Mohawk Lakes, but I didn’t have the right gear that day so it became a day of basin and lakes exploration. I think that route would be more efficient if you wanted to get up to Pacific quickly, but there wouldn’t be that much scrambling involved, so where’s the fun in that? I started making my way off the ridge, dropping into the flat area near the Pacific Tarn. From here I took a break to lather on some sun block and gobble some crackers.
Me on the summit of Pacific
                My goal was to summit Pacific within a half hour from my last break. I was feeling good even for being above 13,600 feet, I just kept trucking up the pyramid block and was on the summit 20 minutes later. The vertical gain didn’t seem too bad along this route because you start out with a huge gain then it mellows into a roller coaster scramble. It was a fun route, and I would recommend it if you want to up your game into class 3 terrain. After taking a break for a few minutes on the summit I was off to Atlantic Peak.
                There was no reason not to make a twofer out of the day since it was only 7:30am. From Pacific to Atlantic the terrain stays class 2 the entire way. There are climber’s routes through the boulders so the going was pretty quick. About a half hour or so after being on Pacific, I was already on the summit of Atlantic. It would have been nice to be able to continue on the ridge towards Fletcher, but that ridgeline quickly turns to jagged rock spires and is not climbable….at least for me.
Pacific from Atlantic
                At about 8:30am I was starting back. I chose to descend the same ridge, a lot of people will drop into McCullough Gulch and hike the trail out, but I was up for some more scrambling since I had a great day for it. I reconnected to the main East Ridge next to Pacific Tarn. I should mention that Pacific Tarn is the highest lake in the U.S., I guess I can check that off on a list somewhere as well.
                On the descent I took my time along the ridge. I tried to avoid a lot of the major ups and downs by traversing further down on the ridge on the south side. There were lots of fun options, so the playground was in great shape today. I spent about three hours on the descent, steadily moving for the most part. Once clearing the rocks I took a final break before the drop down the ridge to the car. It was interesting to see how steep the terrain was I came up in the dark. I would try and stay more south on the ridge early on as opposed to my route that loops to the north. But other than that, I enjoyed the route and would definitely do it again.
                I had one stop on my schedule…Broken Compass Brewing. This would be my last climb in Colorado before heading to Washington. This Saturday I’m climbing Mount Adams, then mid next week I make my second summit attempt on Mount Rainier. I will try and put together some trip reports for those when I get back home. In the meantime, I hope you guys are finding some time in the mountains. Get after it! Cheers!

Date: July 30, 2016
TH Elevation: 11,060 feet
Pacific Peak Summit: 13,950 feet
Atlantic Peak Summit: 13,841 feet
Total Ascent: 3,872 feet
Total Distance: 8.3 miles
Class: 3
Moving Time: 5 hours 9 minutes

Stopped Time: 2 hour 13 minutes

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tenmile Peak

Grays and Torreys 
One of the epic Colorado climbs I have wanted to do has been the Tenmile Traverse. To complete this traverse you begin in the town of Frisco, climb to the first peak of Mount Royal, then follow the ridge south till reaching Peak 10 in Breckenridge. If you are able to complete this traverse you will have summited 12 peaks of which 4 are ranked peaks, gained over 8,000 feet in elevation, and trekked about 16 miles. To make this task a bit more difficult, from Tenmile Peak to Peak 4 is all class 3 climbing.
On Friday evening we made our way to Breckenridge just as the sun was setting. We had to park one vehicle up on the Breckenridge ski hill so we wouldn’t have an additional 3 mile hike down a dusty road into town at the end of the climb. Peak 9 Restaurant is where most people park a vehicle. To get there, make your way to the Beaver Run complex. Take Village Road off of HWY 9 in Breckenridge, and pull into the large parking lot on the south side of the road. Make your way through the parking lot and find the entrance onto CR 751 which is a dirt road near the chair lifts. Form here it’s about 3.5 miles to the restaurant. Stay on the main road, near the stables area stick to the right. We drove another half mile past the restaurant because I didn’t want to leave a vehicle parked there overnight. There are a few pull-offs further up the road that work for parking. You don’t need 4WD, but high clearance would be preferred especially if you are planning to drive past the restaurant.
Sunrise on Mount Royal
After we dropped of Cole’s rig we made our way back down to Frisco. We ended up camping for the night near the Rainbow Lake TH. We had just barely crossed the boundary into the national forest so we weren’t squatting on private land. This was a busy area, but it worked in a pinch and it was free.
We woke up at 4am and made our way to the TH for the start of the adventure. I’m not positive what the TH is called that we started from, but if you take 2nd Avenue to its southern most point it ends at the TH. There is no overnight camping or parking allowed here, which is why we had to camp in a different location. We arrived about 4:45am, and were soon on the trail under the cover of darkness.
Peak 1
The first peak, Mount Royal, is a steep introduction to how the morning would progress. In about a mile and a half you climb nearly 1,400 feet. This is a dusty steep trail, but it gets you up the mountain pretty quick. Just before 6am we hit the summit of Royal. Unfortunately, this summit is covered in the trees, so there wasn’t a great view of the sunrise, but we knew it was happening out there somewhere. From Royal there is a climbers trail that runs around the northwest side of the ridge, then climbs directly up and to the south before hooking back up to the Peak 1 trail. This section of trail may be one of the steepest trails I’ve been on, there was plenty of huffing and puffing going on.
Cole and  Frisco 
The next peak was unranked Mount Victoria. It was quite a distance from Royal, and near the edge of tree line. There is a radio tower up there, then you gain a few hundred more feet and a rock outcropping will place you on Victoria. We took a good break here and noticed a few groups of trail runners making their way up the ridge. They were moving fast and carrying practically nothing. It seems that we are on a popular route and are were carrying way too much stuff. On to Peak 1 we went, this would be our first ranked peak of the day.
By 8:30am we were on the summit. We had ascended 4,000 vertical feet and were finally able to see most of the ridge composing the Tenmile Traverse. This would be enough to call it a day for a lot of people, but we were off to our fourth peak; Tenmile Peak.
We were leaving the alpine tundra and the landscape was tuning into more and more rock. Between Peak 1 and Tenmile the difficulty stays at class 2, maybe class 2+ for a few short sections, but nothing more difficult. There is a clear climber’s route through the rocks, so it’s easy to stay on route. Once summiting Tenmile Peak the conditions change almost instantaneous. We took some time on the summit to talk about the route options and even got some beta from another climber that had done the traverse a few days earlier. We figured it was time to keep moving so, we started dropping down the ridge in-between Tenmile and Peak 3.
As we were descending there was a steep wall ledged system that was covered with unconsolidated pebbles. This was less than pleasant for us. We took some time to consider our options, and after some thought we decided that summiting 4 peaks was good for both of us for today. Next we had to choose our descent route. Rather than climbing back over the roller coaster we had ascended I chose to descend a gully leading to a tarn below.
The Tenmile Traverse
                This was not the best idea I’ve ever had, but we made progress down the steep gully and after a bit of butt scooting, we made it to the tarn and had some lunch. From here we got a full view of the gnarly ridge that crosses “The Dragon” on the way to Peak 3, it was pretty jagged, so I will have to come back for that at another time. We could see the Colorado Trail cutting across the ridge to the south, and decided that was our route back to Frisco.
                We started cross country down the basin following the creek. It didn’t take long and we intersected the trail. From there it was a march out of six or seven miles on a heavily trafficked area. I would avoid this area, it’s loaded with mountain bikers and it’s a pain in the ass dodging them. We were both pretty spent at this point and were ready to be done. We found our way back to our starting TH without too much difficulty. It was so hot, we both just wanted to sit in the truck and crank up the air conditioner.
The Nasty
                This route takes some serious commitment. We could have pushed ourselves through the ugly stuff, but it wasn’t fun at that point. Never be afraid to bail once you’re not enjoying yourself. Mountains are supposed to be fun, you are supposed to learn something on each trip…I learned that big appetites can soon be filled. I had my fill and was fine with how the day ended, and I look forward to my next trip.
                This weekend I’m planning to climb in the Breckenridge area again, this will be my last training hike before Rainier in a couple weeks. I’ve been fortunate to get out so much with school, work and family…but soon things will change. Time to enjoy now. Cheers everyone, keep climbing strong and safe.

Date: July 16, 2016
TH Elevation: 9,100 feet
Mount Royal Summit: 10,485 feet
Mount Victoria Summit: 12,135 feet
Peak 1 Summit: 12,810 feet
Tenmile Peak: 12,930 feet
Total Ascent: 4,253 feet
Total Distance: 11.8 miles
Class: 3
Partner: Cole
Moving Time: 6 hours 1 minutes

Stopped Time: 2 hour 59 minutes

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