Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Square Top Mountain

Square Top Mountain
Thunderstorm season is in full swing in Colorado right now.  Brian and I had troubles finding a mountain to climb while avoiding the storms this week, so we decided on a mountain not too far from Denver.  Square Top Mountain is a high 13er, with its summit reaching 13,794ft.  With the drive only being about and hour and a half from home we knew we could get up there before the 1pm thunderstorm predictions.  The trailhead is at the popular Guanella Pass, which is where most people start the climb of the popular Mount Bierstadt.

We met at the T-Rex lot off of I-70 at 5am and hit the Guanella Pass TH at 6am.  Within 5 minutes we were off on the trail.  There was only one other car in the upper lot at the time, but the lower lot (Bierstadt Lot) already had 7-8 vehicles present.  About 100yards down the main trail we happened upon a USFS employee who asked us to carry a GPS tracking unit with us today so they can get a good idea of trail usage in the area.  After that meeting we were trail blazing for the rest of the day.

Grays, Torreys, Argentine, Edwards
The trail is very good leading to the Square Top Lakes.  Unlike the other side of the road leading to Bierstadt and all the willow/mud bogs, this trail avoids the nasty and is in great shape.  The trail drops and gains a few times before reaching the lakes, but it maintains a low grade traverse not feeling like too much elevation gain is taking place early in the hike.  Once near the lakes there is a trail split and we headed to the left to the supposed “Square Top Mountain Trail.”  We followed the trail around the rib of the mountain to the south and started following a much less used trail that was marked with large rock cairns.  Soon we reached a sign telling us where to break off for Square Top.  As we checked out the route we noticed there was a large herd of Elk below us to the south.  They were on the move, and could probably hear me breathing a mile away. 

The sign pointed to west, so we started up the rib.  There was no obvious trail, but here and there an old beaten trail would emerge through the rock and grass.  The ridge does not waist any time, the steepness is in your face practically till you arrive on the summit.  It was a good calf burner, unlike any of the other mountains I have climbed this year.  Since there wasn’t much of a trail we were just heading straight up the rib.  There wasn’t too many cairns leading the way, on about every rise we could find one so not too many overall on the rib.

Summit Pic Brian and Me
Brian was off and he seemed to be moving pretty fast today.  I was huffing pretty hard since this was much more of a direct stair climb.  The sky was still blue and cloudless above the mountain, but I could see clouds building off to the west.  After what seemed like a couple hours but was probably not much more than one hour I had finally caught up with Brian on the summit ridge.

The conditions were still good but it was getting pretty breezy on top.  I had just shorts today and could feel the chill, but nothing too bad.  Brian was in his jacket and gloves waiting for me; after I met up with him we started the ridge walk to the true summit.  I would say it was about a quarter mile to the true summit from where we came onto the ridge.  The terrain turns to boulders and rocks unlike the hike up which was mostly on grass.  A little before 9am we were sitting on the true summit of Square Top. 

The view was still clear all around.  There were the clouds off to the west and the north, but nothing close to us.  Originally we were talking about combining Argentine Peak also, but after we discussed it we opted for just one mountain today.  The steepness really wore on us both I think, so an easy one peak day was welcomed.  We hung out on the summit for at least half hour, and enjoyed having it all to ourselves. 

Mount Bierstadt Clouded In
As we were heading down a few groups of people passed us on their way up.  We took our time since it was so early and weather was not a factor for a change.  There was a few geocaches on the trip down so we stopped and hunted for them and ended up collecting 4 along the rib.   The steep sections were less than enjoyable on the descent, but once we made it to the trail all was good.  My new hiking shoes love trails, but are a bit harder on my ankles and foot bed through the off trail sections.  I still enjoy wearing them over the boots, my feet don’t sweat like before and I love the increased range of motion.

I collected some more wild flower photos on the way out.  Slowly I’m trying to get a picture of all kinds; it is a way to help educate me while living in the new area.  The geology of the climb was really neat as well.  I think I found some mineral combinations while around the 12,500ft range, but am not positive on what I did find.  I think the mineral in my photo album is a plagioclase feldspar with quartz and muscovite.  I have yet to see any muscovite or mica type minerals while out in the mountains.  These are really neat and unique because they are thin paper like layers that flake off, they appear to look silver but there is a pinkness to the color.

After we made it back to the parking lot we both enjoyed our climbing beer.  Today is was a Colorado Native, which wasn’t too bad.  The parking lots were full and the road was loaded with vehicles.  The clouds by now had covered Mount Bierstadt, so hopefully everyone in those cars made their way down without any issues.  As I’m finding in Colorado, if you don’t get a early start just stay home.  Weather moves in quickly here and can be very dangerous if you can’t read it.

Next week I’m off to Idaho, so Brian and I will take a week off of climbing the mountains of Colorado.  My plan for next Sunday is to climb Hyndman Peak in central Idaho again.  This is one of my favorite places to climb, so I’m looking forward to getting back there. 

GPS Track
Date: 7/16/2012
Starting Elevation:  11,600ft
Square Top Mountain: 13,794ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,500ft
Distance: 6.96 miles
Time:  4:17 moving, 1hr stopped 
Climbing Partner: Brian

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mount Sherman-Sheridan-Gemini Peak

Mount Sherman
Colorado finally got a good week of rain and the state wide fire ban has now been lifted.  The recent week of monsoon type weather in the mountains left its share of damage.  Originally Brian and I wanted to make a trip up Mount Massive near Leadville, but the day prior a sink hole 100ft deep closed one of the highways into Leadville and we didn’t want to deal with road closures.  After a brief chat on the phone we decided on Mount Sherman for the week.   The weather looked good at only 20% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon and there was a chance at adding a few other mountains to this climb.  So, this actually started looking intriguing to me since there was an opportunity for multiple summits.  What I have read and seen on Sherman in the past months didn’t leave me too tempted to put this mountain up on my list, but now after being up there I was very happy we decided on it.

Sherman on right, Gemini behind
It was Brian’s turn to drive, so we were both hopeful that his Subaru would get us up to the main gate.  As our usual we met at the Meyer Ranch Park on hwy 285 at 4:15am to ensure we got a early start on the mountain.  On my drive up just before the interchange of 470 and 285 I saw two very large Elks with very large racks milling the ground on the side of the freeway.  So, technically I can put this in the book as viewed wildlife for this trip.  We met up at the car park and were off right on schedule.  We are getting very used to the drive over to Fairplay, which is a starting spot for most Mosquito Range hikes.  The crux of the drive was the 10 miles on the dirt/washboard road to the gate.  We arrived early, being the first to make it and the Subaru did great.  Any vehicle that isn’t a low rider could make it to the 12,000ft gate for this hike.   

In the recent weeks I have beat the hell out of my feet, so earlier in the week I found some North Face hiking shoes at REI and today would be the test.  It felt odd to leave the car in what felt like shoes when I’m so accustomed to using a boot.  But, as I have found out in Colorado when there is a trail there really isn’t a need for those heavy boots.  The shoes were perfect for the trip and my feet didn’t hurt afterwards which was a beautiful feeling.

When we got out of the car it was freezing!  I changed from shorts to pants and by 6:15am we were off on the old mining road up towards Sherman.  We could see a line of cars coming up the road and had a good idea this would be a busy mountain today.  I was surprised at the incline on the road right past the gate.  Like usual, I had the blood pumping early.  The first mile is all on an old road that meanders through a bunch of old mining buildings which were neat to check out on our way down.  The thing I really liked about this hike was that you could see Mount Sherman for most of the hike.  The hiking was really easy and before we knew it we were on the saddle that divided Sherman and Sheridan. 

Gemini Peak-center

Once gaining the ridge the route turns into a Class 2 trail through rocks.  The only issue we had was there was still frost on most of the rock so I found myself ice skating quite a bit.  With careful foot placement it wasn’t too bad, but I can’t imagine coming down this in the rain.  The ridge was long, and reminded me a lot of the ridge heading up Mount Cameron.  After a good climb you gain the top, but not the summit.  After gaining the plateau on top there is another ¼ mile to the true summit.  I doubt it was that far, but that’s what it felt like.  I think in a book I read a plane has actually landed up here, but don’t quote me on that.  We made the summit of Sherman a little after 8am, less than 2hrs from the car.  I was very, very happy with that time.  We had the summit to ourselves.  The sky was still crystal blue and the conditions were great.  We didn’t hang out too long; we wanted to climb one to two more 13ers while we were up here so we took off to Gemini Peak.

Pika on Gemini

Gemini is an unranked 13er, not getting the 300ft of prominence from Mount Sherman but it is a named and interesting looking peak.  We made it over to the base of the rocky mountain and what looked like a couple hundred feet to the summit was probably 80-100ft.  The rock was wet and somewhat loose, but I was able to maintain the class 2 ranking by just using my trekking poles for balance.  In no time at all we were on the summit.  I would say about a 30minute hike or so from Sherman’s summit will get you to Gemini.  Someone had put a lot of work into a large wind shelter on the summit; thankfully we didn’t need it today.  By this time we could see the first of many to summit Sherman.  I started to hear a little chirping and soon was able to locate a Pika in the rocks.  He was very much into whatever Brian had on his shoes and let us take many photos of him.  We actually thought he was going to follow us home at one point but he eventually retreated back into the rocks.

I can say I wasn’t looking forward to summiting Sherman again, but it was on the way back.  By the time we made it back to the summit there was probably 20 people up there.  We decided to take a break for a few minutes.  Brian being a Chicago native and me a life long Bears fan took in something you don’t see every day in Colorado; a man sporting a Butkus jersey on the summit.  He said he wears a Bears jersey on all his 14ers.  I just laughed, that’s true pride..haha.

It was somewhere around 10am, so we thought we better be on our way to Mount Sheridan.  Brian was moving very well down the ridge today.  He thinks he is just more comfortable in trail runners, and I would have to agree.  I was slower in my shoes today, in my usual boots I know they can take a lot more beating so I am more free to let gravity take over.  Today I was the slow poke on both ends of the trip.  In no time at all we were back down to the saddle making our way across to the base of Sheridan.  From the saddle it is about a 600ft gain to reach Sheridan’s summit.  What a slow rocky road to the top too.  Not as well beaten, because few people probably venture up Sheridan with Sherman right there.  But the views from Sheridan were the best of the day.  It was amazing looking towards Elbert and Massive then all the way around to Sherman.  I highly recommend anyone heading to Sherman to at least put in a little extra effort to get up Sheridan.  The wind shelter on top someone could have lived in.  I think a brick mason may have started the project.
Mount Sheridan from Sherman

We didn’t linger long on Sheridan.  After my last two weeks of dodging thunderstorms I had no desire to make it a third.  Clouds were forming but nothing bad, it still being only around 11:30am we had a good amount of time to descend.  We decided on a more direct descent into the mining area where we knew there were a couple old roads we could connect with.  This section was tough with the shoes, the one part of the day I wish I had my boots on.  It didn’t take too long to hook up with an old hiking trail.  This trail didn’t appear to get much use, more of a boulder trail I would say.  It lead us through the higher mining structures and onto the road.  A leisure walk down the road checking out the old shacks and before we knew it we were back to the car.

After our hike today I would call Sherman the easiest 14er thus far.  It was not as rocky at Democrat, a hair longer but overall easier.  I enjoyed the views immensely and would plan to come back for a winter climb sometime.  I’m loving the fact that my body does not feel broken the day after.  So, it only takes 15-14ers to get broken in…hahaha.  I guess for some people.  The big thing is wearing proper gear for the conditions and trails.  If I were in hiking shoes most of this year I may still have a few toe nails left.  Let’s hope for Massive next week, if not there we will be hiking something out there.
GPS Track

Date: 7/10/2012
Starting Elevation:  12,000ft
Mount Sherman Summit: 14,009ft
Gemini Peak Summit: 13,921ft
Mount Sheridan Summit: 13,743ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,025ft
Distance: 7.1 miles
Time:  4:57 moving, 1:10 stopped 
Climbing Partner: Brian

Picture Link: http://s282.photobucket.com/albums/kk243/nickkarl72/Mount%20Sherman-Gemini%20Peak-Mount%20Sheridan/

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton
I’m hoping to get back into the one 14er per week routine again, or at least one summit per week.  After seeing massive Mount Princeton last week while driving through Buena Vista I knew it would be a great climb for the following week.  About a month prior I climbed Mount Evans with Brian and thought it would be good to get out with him on another mountain.  We set plans to leave the metro area around 4am on Monday morning, and my next 14er was now scheduled for the on deck circle.

Brian met me at the Meyer Ranch car park just after 4am and we were off on the road to Buena Vista.  It seemed like a fast drive over early in the morning.  I love it because we were basically the only ones driving West so there was no traffic to speak of.  A little before 6am we were driving through Buena Vista heading up the road to the Mount Princeton TH.  The sun was starting to rise over the valley and the view was amazing.  Still a blue cloudless sky we headed up the 4WD road to Princeton’s upper TH.

About a 3 mile drive up a dusty, mildly rutted road will get you to the radio towers where most people park for the upper TH.  The road is narrow, but I actually thought it was going to be worse than it was.  There were about five cars parked in the vicinity of the radio towers where there are a few campsites available to those that are interested.  We found a spot big enough for the Blazer and parked since we weren’t sure there would be anywhere to park further up the road.

By 6:45am we were off up the road.  This was great; our plan was to be on the trail up by 7am so we were ahead of schedule.  There were two other hikers on the road ahead of us, so as usual we wouldn’t be alone in the Colorado Mountains.   I must put this into my report for those of you who didn’t read my Evans report.  Brian is a tri-athlete, so with that being said we all know there is no way of keeping up with him.  He set the pace heading up the road, not quite in a run but we were moving pretty good.  It was just about the right pace for the grade, you know not to give me a heart attack before 7am.  No, it was actually nice giving me some motivation to move faster than I typically would.  I knew the forecast was unpleasant for the afternoon, so mentally I prepared myself to move faster than normal.

TH from the road
From reading TR’s on 14ers.com I had a good idea of where the TH starts from the road and what to look for.  There is a small cairn and a stair case that leads up and over an initial ridge before traversing to Princeton.  The two guys ahead of us were deep in conversation and walked past the TH.  We picked it up right away and tried yelling to them, but they were too far ahead.  A Ford Explorer made it to the TH where they must have had fun turning around on the narrow road.  I told Brian we should write “Cheater” on the dust of their back window.  Hahaha, hell I would have parked there if I knew there was a spot.  Like Jim Gaffigan says: I’m not training for the Olympics here.

We found the trail and headed up and over the quick section of dirt and grass before the route turned to a Class 2 rock fest.  Once on top of this small rib you can see most of the route heading all the way to the summit.  As we were making our way up the first half mile of rock we noticed another climber heading down to our trail from high on the ridge, he must have missed the TH too.  So, keep your eye out while walking the road it will save you a lot of boulder hopping.  The grade was nice; you couldn’t even feel the elevation gain yet.  And what I’ve always thought being nice with class 2 rock is you are constantly concentrating on your foot placement you forget for a minute that you’re breathing hard.  So either I enjoy this type of climbing more and find a way to place a mental block on my fatigue or I’m getting better adapted to climbing 14ers.  Who knows, I just know these routes beat the hell out of a dirt trail to the summit.

After we passed a few gullies we decided to have a fuel break.  Just about an hour into the climb we were over my average of 1,000ft per hour which was a good feeling.  It seemed that Princeton was so close all day.  I love this feeling compared to when I was on Yale last week and couldn’t see the mountain for the first two hours.  I had some Sharkies (and electorlite energy chew) and gorp (trail mix: Great Old Raisins and Peanuts) and noticed my bag of chips was close to popping from the elevation gain.  As we were getting ready to start again we noticed two climbers making their way quickly up the route towards us.  They caught us within the next half hour and I was more than happy to let them pass.

There was a blockade of the old trail that keeps traversing directly towards Princeton and the trail started switch-backing towards the ridge line.  The trail here had a really nice grade making its way up tight switch-backs making the elevation gain add up rapidly.  I think this was a route cut in by the Colorado Fourteener Initiative (CFI) like most of these 14er trails, hard work for them but I do appreciate it.  It didn’t seem like we were hiking too long at all before we reached the ridge line.  The views of Mount Antero were amazing, the sky was still clear and we were still on our climbing schedule; all was good with the world.

From the ridge on it was a solid class 2 climb to the summit.  There were multiple routes with cairns all over the place.  I found the best option was to stay up high on the ridge where it seemed to be a well used route.  We had just over 1,000ft left to go, and with the summit looming over you it gives you more motivation to keep climbing without resting.  Once we started climbing Brian got out in front of me by about 100yds as I tend to slow my rate of ascent as I get higher on the mountains.  A few people were on their way down by now, and it really didn’t seem long till I was near the summit.  About 100ft below the summit was a metal plaque bolted onto a rock.  A lady in the 90’s lost her life at this point due to a lightning strike.  That immediately made me look to the weather.  Still looks good, so on I went.

Princeton Summit
Brian was there to greet me on the summit.  With a 3hr 15minute climb from the car to the summit, I was very pleased with my performance today.  The air was smoky in almost all directions, but the views were still amazing.  It was Brian’s turn to pack summit beers, so he pulled out a New Belgium beer called Shift.  I said this is still cold!  Brian said, well I did pack it in ice.  Now that’s the sign of a good climbing partner.  I must say this was the first for me having an ice cold beer on the summit of a 14er, and it was amazing!  We had lunch took the standard pictures of everything and started to get ready to head down.  Then another climber was just reaching the summit.  This was one of the guys that was ahead of us on the road early in the morning.  Another guy from St. Louis, we talked for a few and he decided to head down with us as we could tell the clouds were starting to turn ugly.

Summit Beer
Our descent was eventful to say the least.  After we got down the loose rock and pebbled dirt from the summit we could see the weather developing very quickly.  There was a massive cloud of darkness hitting Antero and we had a good idea it was on its way to us.  We got down to where two climbers from Texas were debating on weather to turn around or not and we advised them to head down with us.  At this point Brian said he can feel the electricity in his trekking poles, and I just heard them zap and was like this isn’t good.  We headed off the ridge immediately.  At about the same time the rain started drizzling on us, which really makes traveling across granite a laborsome chore.

As we were crossing the rock slides I went to place my left foot on a rock and it moved on me cramping up my left calf muscle.  Awesome!  Nothing like having a calf cramp at 13,000ft during a thunderstorm.  I stretched it for about 20 seconds and soldiered on; I really didn’t have a choice.  We had to keep moving.  After we dropped a bit further the rain started pouring so we stopped put on jackets and packed our lightning rods (trekking poles) away.  At one point we discussed ditching them all together, right when the thunder was on the ridge.  I made the call that we were good now, and Brian trusted my judgment.  I’ve been though some nasty weather out in the mountains so I like to feel I have a sense for what is going on.  But, weather is unpredictable and there is always a gamble involved.  This is why starting so early is such a necessity in Colorado.  This storm was hitting at 11am, which is pretty nutty if you ask me.

Traverse Trail
Slowly but surely we made our way across the slick rock and gained the trail again.  By now the Texans were on a run and probably to their car by now, and “Slide” as I called the man from St. Louis was waiting to make sure we made it onto the trail.  I nicknamed him slide because three or four times heading down from the summit he slid right onto his butt in the loose rock.  We thanked each other for the help we gave each other during the descent and I told him he could take off.  Once on the main trail I think nerves settled down and the storm seemed to pass over.  We could still hear some thunder here and there, but at least it wasn’t above us.  The tail end of the cloud was passing us and we both decided it was time for a rest after such a scamper across the wet boulder field.

From here on out it was a typical uneventful descent.  The weather around us was clear and the only dread we had was the drive down the narrow 4WD road to Buena Vista.  Now that Brian and I have been on two climbs together I think we have a good grasp on each others capabilities.  He is the ascender and I am the descender.  We work well together and plan to do many more mountains together in the future; hopefully Mount Massive next week.  This is just another account of a trip that could have gone horribly wrong, but through experience, staying clam and working together we made it out injury free and I still put it up there as another great Colorado climb.

I’m really hoping to get all the Colligate Peaks done by the end of the summer.  I still have three colleges to go, which shouldn’t be a problem.  But in a place where there are so many mountains to choose from it’s easy to move onto another goal before finishing the one you were working on.  I love the diversity in the mountains and the ease to get to them here.  I’m up to 25 this year so half way to my main goal of 50 summits in 2012. 

GPS Track
Date: 7/2/2012
Starting Elevation:  11,000ft
Mount Princeton Summit: 14,197ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,200ft
Distance: 6.6 miles
Time:  3hr15min ascent, 3hr descent 
Climbing Partner: Brian