Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mount Democrat

 It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month since I got out on my last 14er.  I got sick for a few weeks during some great weather and that was not very nice.  I knew I wanted to get out this week so I originally planned on a superfecta of 14ers that can all be done together. Unfortunately things don’t always go as planned.

The day started with the 2.5hr drive from home to the Kite Lake TH.  I took I-70 over the divide through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  Just as I got through I saw a bunch of emergency vehicles; a moose had been hit by a semi truck.  It was still before 6am, so now I had to really keep my eye out for game on the road.  The drive was nice on the other side of the divide because I haven’t been over there since our move in September, and new scenery is always good.  There were so many amazing mountains to look at; I wish I had more time and money to get over to climb them all.  Driving through Breckenridge I thought it was very similar to the Ketchum/Sun Valley area in Idaho.  I will have to bring Kristi over this way some time for a get-a-way weekend.

Once to the town of Alma (the highest town in the U.S.) the dirt road was 6 miles to Kite Lake.  Not as gnarly as driving to the Grays Peak TH, but it had its own set of obstacles.  I arrived at the trailhead just after 7am, making much faster time than Google Maps said I would.  I was going to meet up with another climber, but since he had done Democrat I thought I would meet him mid-mountain on the way to the other 3 14ers.  That didn’t end up working out due to wind issues, so now I feel bad.  Hopefully we will get together on another. 

I started up the trail about 7:15am, behind about 8 people I saw take off already.  This is already the most populated mountain I have been on in Colorado this year.  Throughout the day I saw well over 20 people heading up or down Democrat.  There is a decent trail leading to a saddle that splits Mount Democrat and Cameron.  I was feeling all of the steps; since I haven’t been out in a while I knew this one might hurt a bit.  The wind was consistently pissing me off.  I was hoping it would die for a bit and give me a break but that never happened.  With my wind meter I measured a consistent wind of 70mph at the saddle.  People couldn’t stand up it was so strong.  I saw a lot of people head back down, but I came to climb today and had gear for the elements. 
The saddle to the summit was the hard part, often called the crux of climbing.  But, it was only hard because of the elements.  There were switchbacks heading up the ridge, if you were going the correct way the wind was nice, it would push you up the mountain.  But, when you turned, you were screwed.  Each step took a significant amount of energy and balance.  I have never been so sore from a 4mile ~2,400ft climb before.  There was a lovely snow crossing just before the summit.  The reason I say lovely is, who doesn’t want to get ice chips blown at you at 70mph?  I just ducked my head and continued.

After 2hrs and 30minutes I was on the summit.  I went to the top raised my arms like Rocky then found a wind block.  On the way up I was able just to wear my micro fleece and not get too chilled; it was cold but while moving it was manageable.  Now in my wind block I got to break out my new down jacket and down mittens.  It was awesome being able to be warm and enjoy the views for a while longer than I typically would in such conditions.

There were 5 others on the summit when I got there.  Three guys that steam rolled by me earlier were on their way to climb all 4 14ers.  The other two were enjoying a wind block and then heading down.  I had my summit beer and a Snickers, took some pictures and was on my way down.  I was going to do a Happy Birthday picture for my nephew, but I couldn’t manage to hold the banner because of the wind.  So, hopefully next week I can get a picture for him.

I went slow going down.  I kept all my down on till I got past the saddle then I stripped a few layers.  It would have been nice to climb the others, but I can come back when the weather is much more pleasing.  There was a nice glissade, steep but enjoyable.  I love dropping 400ft on my ass rather than tear up my knees.  It was great to get back out after a month on the shelf.  Dad will be coming in a couple weeks and we have Elbert on the list.  That will be fun to have a new high point over Mt Rainier, even though it’s a trail walk to the summit.

Date: 5/30/2012
Starting Elevation: 11,900ft
Summit Elevation:  14,148ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,348ft
Distance: 4.42miles
Time: 2.5hr ascent, 30min summit, 1hr 45min descent
Climbing Partner: Solo, but there were at least 20 people on the mountain

Picture Link:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Torreys Peak

The plan was to climb Evans Peak today, but on I saw another climber from Denver was looking for a partner on Monday.  Jeff wanted to climb a couilor, but I didn’t know if I was up for such a challenge this early into the season.  He mentioned climbing the Dead Dog Couilor on Torreys Peak, so I said I’d be happy to go up there and would decide which route to take when we arrived.  On the approach hike in the view of Dead Dog was amazing, and it was very hard for me to decide if I should really challenge myself with this monster of a climb.  It’s very tempting to jump right in a make a fantastic snow climb, but I convinced myself it was too early for me to be tackling such routes.  Dead Dog is a couilor that climbs 1,800ft at a solid 45 degree slope all the way to the summit.  So a minor slip could send you hurling down the slope having to perform a self arrest, and that didn’t sound pleasing to me.  I want to do my first couilor snow climb with only about an 800ft vertical so I’m not jumping into the deep end too early.
We found a good spot to split up and stash some gear and water for the return trip.  Jeff headed off towards the couilor and I stuck to the trail heading up the standard route on the East Ridge.  I had been on this part of the trail three weeks earlier when I climbed Grays peak, and now there was much less snow and more actual trail.  I guess that was for the approach, after our split it did turn to glazed ice and snow.  After gaining another 300-400ft I decided it was time to put on the micro spikes to make travel more efficient.  The trail was much more beaten down since the weather has been so good and I imagine droves of people making their way from up from Denver to climb the peaks.  I kept my eye on Jeff’s progress as I was making my way up.  He was going pretty good, and I was hoping we would be summiting close together.  I set my goal of summiting at 9am which would be roughly the same time I made it up Grays in.  I felt a lot better and found myself moving better in the high elevation today. 
There is a split in the routes from Grays to Torreys, where the Torreys route traverses over to the saddle between the two.  This was a fun section; the trail was more of a boot print track which made it feel more like a climb than a hike.  The slope that I traversed was probably 30 degree’s, so there was deffinently that voice in my head saying: don’t slip.  I spotted a few options for glissading for the return trip, but thought I may need a little convincing from Jeff since I haven’t done a big glissade this year.  As I made my way along the traverse I lost sight of Jeff, but figured he was high up in the couilor by now.  It didn’t take too long to get to the saddle; from there I got a good view of the last 500 vertical feet to the summit.
Until I got to the saddle the wind was nominal, but soon the story changed.  From the saddle to the summit the wind was probably a solid 30mph.  My toes and fingers started getting cold.  I’m finding out that I may need to use mountaineering boots for these mountains and not just my hikers.  I kept moving my toes and fingers to keep them from going numb, but that helped little.  There was an off and on climbers route to the summit going in and out of the rock and snow.  About a half hour after attaining the saddle I was on the summit and let out as big of a yell as I could, which wasn’t much.  Jeff had not arrived yet and I looked at the clock and it read 8:30am! Sweet I beat my goal by 30 minutes!
The summit was small, nothing like it’s neighbor Grays.  There wasn’t much of a wind block, so I just sat as low as I could and put on my fleece jacket.  The views were amazing, the best yet.  I couldn’t see a cloud in the sky but that might have been the Space Needle to the west and the Statue of Liberty to the east…hahaha.  The crystal blue sky was absolulty beautiful.  I took a few pictures and had a snack.  Just before 9am Jeff was on the summit with me.  This was his 4th or 5th time on Torreys, but he has used many routes which is the nice thing about mountains in Colorado.  You can climb the same peak from a different route and it feels like a different climb each time.  I’m sure I will do the same as time passes.
I brought up a treat for us, summit beers!  Dales Pale Ale is becoming my summit beer so I asked Jeff if he would like one.  He said he couldn’t turn down a free beer…amen to that!  There we were, drinking a cold brew at 9am trying to stay warm and enjoying the views.  By the time we left the summit I had been there for almost an hour.  It was a bit more chilly than the other 14er summits I had been on, but the clear sky and good company was well worth it.
For the descent we took the route I ascended in part.  We met with another climber heading up not far from the saddle.  At this point I was starting to get some feeling back in my fingers; my toes were fine by now.  The burning sensation when you get that feeling back from frozen didgets is absolutely awful.  We made our way onto the traverse and discussed the glissade options.  Jeff took the first slide and It I passed on that one, a bit steep and I thought the first one I passed on the way up looked a bit more free of rock.  Soon I made it to my slide position.  Stuffed anything I didn’t want to lose in my bag, got out my ice axe and yahoooo I was off.  It was a good fun ride that dropped about 500 vertical feet and my knees said thank you very much.  The snow was perfect for it and at a few points I got a nice powder bath and couldn’t see anything.  I knew the wash out was clear and there was no possible way of hitting rocks, so I let the big dog eat and took the axe out of the snow and started cooking pretty good.  Man that was fun; I wish I found that line when I came down Grays Peak.
We made our way back to our gear stash and watched one skier come down Dead Dog.  That looks brutal; it looked like jump turns most the way.  There was a few people about to summit and then would start their ski descent but we didn’t wait for the show.  Too much rock fall for me to be in that skinny couilor even at 10am.  On our hike out we ran into 2 or 3 groups heading up.  It turned out being quite a popular place today.  It was a great climb; I met a great climbing partner and got my 3rd 14er!
Date: 4/30/2012
Starting Elevation: 11, 266ft
Summit Elevation:  14,267ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,001ft
Distance: 7.07miles
Time: 3hr ascent, 1hr summit, 2hr descent
Climbing Partner: Jeff