Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak
Quandary Peak has been on my list all summer but I have been avoiding the crowds for as long as I could.  I’ve heard horror stories of the hundreds of people that hike this mountain on the weekends because it’s within 2hrs of Denver and any vehicle can make the trailhead.  Brian had already climbed this peak and was out climbing with his Dad this week, so I now had a good opportunity to make my summit bid.  I haven’t done a solo hike since before Brian and I met so I was unsure how my motivation would be today.  When the alarm went off at 3am I kept saying to myself just keep sleeping, but thankfully that didn’t last too long.  I made myself get up and was out of the door by 3:30am.

The drive over was quite boring by myself.  I played some Eric Church and Luke Bryan on the stereo and drank a thermos of coffee to keep myself awake.  The drive over to the TH took around 2hrs, which isn’t too bad for a 14er from the Denver area.  When I arrived at the TH there were two rigs already there where people had camped the night before.  I woke everyone up, unintentionally but that’s what you get when you sleep at the TH.  It was pitch black and I wanted to get up the mountain and down in a reasonable time so I put my headlamp on and within 10minutes I was off on the trail.

Navigating the trail in the dark wasn’t too hard.  I have a Princeton Tec Headlamp that puts out a pretty good beam and was more like a spot light for the first 20minutes or so.  The only issue was the trail starts out up this rocky gauntlet and searching in the dark for the route and spotting rocks at the same time was a little bit difficult.  After an initial climb the trail is really nice, gradual in spots and you seem to climb without noticing it.  That is one thing I love about starting in the dark, it never seems so bad. 

About 40 minutes after I started I got passed buy a guy who was moving pretty good.  Just as he passed I noticed some deer just below the trail.  There were three or four of them and two were bucks, and of course I couldn’t get a good picture in the early morning light.  Switchbacks up the ridge soon started and the tree line was thinning.  I noticed a lot of goat hair in the bushes and trees along this point, so I was hopeful for another Mountain Goat sighting today.  For the time being I just kept making my way up the trail, which now had turned to rock.  Brian warned me about this route telling me how much he hated the rock so I was a little worried about the rock going into the climb.  There was about 2miles of rock each way, but nothing worse than we have seen this year already.

The ridge seemed never-ending at times, but the good thing was the summit was in sight.  Just as I made it up onto the main ridge another guy came blazing up the trial behind me and I watched him create quite a gap between us in no time at all.  The wind on the ridge kicked up and I had to put on a fleece and my gloves so I made a two minute pit stop before my final push up the last 1,200ft.  I started memorizing the rock layers up the last section of the mountain so I could tell how much progress I was making then I took off.

After the first 500ft I had made it past the white layer and was now in the black rock layer.  There was one layer left the rust layer then the summit.  I notice the first person that passed me early in the morning was sitting on a rock for some time and I finally caught up with him.  I asked if he was o.k., because I rarely catch up to people on 14ers.  He was in tennis shoes and his feet weren’t doing so well and he was contemplating turning back.  I convinced him to join me and told him we were close.  His name was Nick so we already had something good going for the both of us.  It was nice talking to him, he is about to head off to boot camp in the Navy so we chatted about my family history in the Navy for a while.  This was also his first 14er, so I was happy I was able to convince him to head up before his journey in the service starts.

The upper trail was perhaps the best part.  Tight winding switchbacks in hard packed dirt, it was nice to get off the rock for a bit.  In no time at all we made the summit.  At almost exactly 3hrs since I started it was just before 9am.  I was able to go over my 1,000ft per hour rate so I was very happy with my progress today.  There were three others on the summit which is a pretty open summit from what I’ve heard with this peak.  The views to the West were smoky, I was guessing from the fires in Idaho since there isn’t any significant burning in Colorado right now.  I was able to get some good recon on some nearby peaks I want to do in the future as well.  I spent maybe a half hour on top then started making my way down.

Decalibron Mountains to the South
The trail down was quite crowded; I would say there was close to 100 people on the mountain throughout the day.  The first 2,000ft flew by quickly as I was making my way down the rock at a much better pace than the mountains we have climbed lately.  Just as I got to the switchback section I saw a large group of Mountain Goats.  I would say there were about a dozen of them and that didn’t surprise me after all the goat hair I noticed on the ascent.  There was a group of three right on the trail just a bit further down and they had no intent on moving.  They didn’t seem to mind people, but I did drop off the trail about 10ft to give them some room.  I always love goat sightings, and this was only my second encounter in Colorado so far.

Mountain Goats
The rest of the trail down was pretty uneventful.  I just had to keep getting out of peoples way as they made their way up.  I never really stopped and just kept moving.  I made the descent to the car in 2hrs and it was just past 11am when I made it back to the car.  I love being able to climb a mountain and be back to my car before noon, it doesn’t happen much so I’ll take advantage when I can.  There were no storms or anything to rush me down, I just wanted to get home and relax before my work week starts on Wednesday.  I would rate Quandary as one of the easier 14ers right behind Sherman and the Decalibron.  This was a nice hike and the scenery and wildlife was great.  My schedule at work changed so I doubt I will get out as often as I have been, but I hope to put out trip reports a couple times a month at least.

GPS Track
 Date: 8/21/2012
Starting Elevation: 10,850ft 
Quandary Peak Summit: 14,265ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,450ft
Distance: 6.91 miles
Time: moving 4:40,  stopped 1:00

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Twin Sisters Peaks

Eastern Sister on Left and South Sister on Right
The weather forecast for Monday was less than desirable over most of Colorado.  Originally I wanted to get a climb up La Plata back in the Sawatch Range, but with 50% chance of thunderstorms and another 2am wakeup call it was time to look for something a bit more close to home.  Rocky Mountain National Park has a lot of mountains to choose from, all the way from class 1 trail hikes up to rock climbing the North Face of Longs Peak.   Last week Mount Massive destroyed my knees and ankles, so I was looking for an easier hike with great views of Longs Peak.  Twin Sisters Peaks automatically came up on the radar.  There is a nice trail all the way to the summit with about a 2,000ft gain; this was my kind of hike.

For once Brian and I got the chance to sleep in.  I met him in Broomfield at 6am and it was just over an hour’s drive from there to the trailhead.  The trailhead parking is along the road which was surprising to me since I think this is a very popular hike being in RMNP.  There were two cars and one mini van parked when we arrived just after 7am.  After a quick change into our hiking shoes we were off on the trail.  I let Brian lead the way which could have been a mistake since he is so fast out of the gate usually.  Today I was willing to keep the pace at a higher rate since our elevation was lower and the mileage and elevation gains were less than what we have become accustomed to.  It was nice being able to breathe normally at the lower elevations!

The first 100yards of the trail heads up an old dirt road till meeting with the TH sign.  For the most part the trail stays at a mellow grade with stone steps every now and then.  I like the way it was done because there would be a good gaining section then a section of near flat for recovery.  We had caught up with the first family of hikers from New York within the first half hour.  They were out enjoying the views not in a march up the mountain like us.  There was a great traverse that brings you around the Crags then the switchbacks start.  The switchbacks lengths were short and the gain was quickly and not too difficult.  Before we knew it we made our way to the upper saddle between the Crags and the Twin Sisters.  

We were moving very well, never breaking the entire way up and keeping a pace that was comfortable for conversation.  Soon we found ourselves on the upper switchbacks passing another group of two men.  From here on up Brian was leading the way.  Not long after these switchbacks start we cleared tree line and made our way onto the rocky road.  Boulder fields have become typical for us during our recent climbs, but the trail here was nice and still comfortable on my feet wearing hiking shoes.  After a few tight switchbacks we were at the point in-between the Twin Sisters.  Our ascent time was only about an hour and a half, which made me feel good being able to keep my pace up.

I don’t know of names differentiating the sisters so I simply referred to the one on the East as the Eastern Sister and the one to the West as the Western Sister.  If you keep following the ridge to the South there is another peak that people refer to as the South Sister.  We decided to hike over to the Eastern Sister first since I think it is the true high point of the twins.  From here to route turns to an easy class 2 climb up to the summit.  I would say a 5-10minute climb from where the trail ends to get you over and up to the summit.  There was a benchmark, but no elevation or mountain name information was stamped on it, which is something I have never seen.  With a staff stuck into the rock we knew we were on the true summit.  We just needed a flag to place on our newly found flag pole.

Our Route up the Western Sister
The views over to Mount Meeker and Longs Peak were amazing.  Both of us brought up our binoculars but we couldn’t make out anyone on the summits.  The wind had picked up on the summit, but we found a nice block to hide behind for a snack.  The weather was not ideal, staying overcast most of the day.  It would have been nice to have a clearer look at the big mountains but we were not complaining.  We thought about hiking over to the South Sister then decided against.  It was nice to have a relaxing hike rather than our grueling 8-10hr days.

We gathered our gear and made our way to the Western Sister.  I spotted a much more exiting route down, still a class 2 but we took some fun shots playing on the rocks.  When we got back down to the saddle between the summits we scouted out a short class 3 route to take up to the Western Sister.  This was a very short section, but it was a lot of fun to get a bit of scrambling in.  Brian took my camera and got a picture of me making my way up the rock.  A few minutes later we were on top.  There were two people up there and apparently the summit was there’s because they had no intention of letting us up to the true high point.  We enjoyed the views of Longs again and started on our way down.

Meeker and Longs
Just as we were starting down the New Yorkers were making their way up the last section to the summit.  The trail was busy heading down; the ants were making their way up the mountain.  I would say we saw at least 30 people along the trail all in all.  The hike down was nice unlike how it usually goes.  We both had stashed our trekking poles when we were scrambling on the rock earlier, so that allowed for increased mobility on the way down.  My knees and ankles weren’t hurting and for the most part I was able to keep up with Brian.

In no time at all we were down the trail.  We reached the car at 11:45am, not even lunch time yet.  This is a great hike that anyone could do.  We were able to do it in about 4hrs round trip and we were by no means running up the trail.  The views are worth the effort since you can see all of RMNP from the summits.  Instead of summit beers we decided to drive to Lyons and stop at the Oskar Blues Brew and Grill for lunch.  I highly recommend it, great food and great beer.  I hope to get up to the park for one or two more trips this fall.  With any luck Brian and I will make a trip up Longs for our September birthday celebrations.

GPS Track
Date: 8/13/2012
Starting Elevation:  9,148ft
Twin Sisters Summit: 11,428ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,280ft
Distance: 7.51miles
Time: moving 3:38,  stopped 0:40
Climbing Partner: Brian

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mount Massive

Mount Massive from Colorado 300
Mount Massive, the name is self-explanatory.  This is the 2nd highest mountain in Colorado and the view of it from Leadville is quite amazing.  As Gerry Roach says in his book Colorado Fourteeners: “If Massive were truncated at 14,000 feet, the area of the resulting plateau would be nearly half a square mile!  No other peak in the 48 contiguous states has a greater area above 14,000 feet.   By this measure, Massive reigns supreme.”  This has been on my list since hiking Mount Elbert a few months ago, so I got a hold of Brian and we made plans for another hike in the Sawatch Range.

The 2:30am wake up was less than satisfactory, but I do like the comfort of a bed rather than sleeping at the trailhead the night before.  I met Brian at the T-Rex Lot at 3:30am and we were off to Leadville.  From the Park and Ride Lot to the North Half Moon Creek TH took about 2.5hours.  After leaving the pavement from road Colorado 300 onto Lake County 11 the driving went very slow.  It was still pitch black and the wash board was pretty bad.  At a few points I wondered if my Blazer would hold itself together.  I never put my rig in 4WD, so just high clearance will do for now. 

At 6:15am we hit the trail and were finally on our way up Mount Massive.  I enjoyed the first 1.25miles on the trail since you only gain about 700ft, it gives your body some time to warm up before the steeps start up.  There was a lot of dew and rain drops on all the plants and trees from the previous night, and at some points the trail goes from a nice forest hike to a in the jungle hike.  I really enjoyed the changes along such a short section, because soon all changed to rock.

Mount Elbert
By the time we hit the trail turnoff for the summit trail the sunlight was hitting Elbert with a great light.  The view was amazing, so the tourist in me had to stop and take a picture or two.  I knew the easy part was over and the trail would be nothing but up, up, up for the rest of the day.  The steeps start quickly, almost directly off the main trail.  Before we knew it we were in the first boulder field making a bend around a large rock rib.  The trail work was pretty amazing, almost stairs all the way through the boulders which was great on the way up and on the way down.  It’s always nice knowing you can trust a rock not to move on you, so thank you trail crew for all your hard work!  We took our first break above the tree line and the boulder field somewhere around 12,000ft.  I didn’t get any pictures of the Pikas in the boulders but the chirping was constant.  They were hard at work gathering grass for the winter.  Between the Pikas and Marmots it was a busy day of wildlife along this route.

Elbert and the Collegiate Peaks
After the initial boulder field the trail mellows out quite a bit.  Not so much rock and lot more dirt which is always nice in my book.  I’m not saying it was any easier, because now we were getting higher on the mountain and I could tell by every breath.  There are a couple long traverses with nicely cut switchbacks that made it not so painful, but still hard as hell if you ask me.  The hard part about this route is you never really see the summit till you are there, so it’s little goals all the way up.  At one point we took a breather somewhere in the 13,500ft range.  Brian noticed what he thought was a White Marmot which I had never seen before.  The marmot was a ways off, but I did get a picture of it in my photo album.  See if you can find him in the rocks.

Summit Ridge
As we continued up the mountain I see we didn’t research the route information as much as we should have because on the upper portions we ended up directly assaulting the mountain after we missed the switchback heading to the West.  It came at a point where there were a lot of smaller trails heading directly up and we ended up following a couple of those till we found they ended.  It was nice climbing on the grass and rock and it was still pretty mellow, a little more heart pumping going on but I enjoyed hiking directly up the ridge till I stumbled upon the trail again.  You can kind of see this on the GPS Track just below the 14,000ft contour.

I remember looking at my GPS and seeing I was above 14,000ft and I still wasn’t on the summit ridge yet.  A couple youngsters were on their way down and said it wasn’t far and you will make it.  I hate that, just say have a good hike.  There is nothing worse than false hope, and what may not be far for you seems like eons to me.  After getting to the summit ridge I could see Brian ahead of me again.  He probably had 10 minutes on me, so I didn’t feel too bad.  There were about 6 other people on the true summit which you can’t really see till you get on the false summit.  So, be prepared for some false hope.  The summit ridge wasn’t bad other than the fact that you are above 14,000ft for so long.  It took me quite a while but it was a very enjoyable section.  The ridge stays class 2, but for the most part it’s a class 1 trail hike all day.

Summit In The Distance
The summit views were great.  It was a cloudy day, but at least no thunderheads in sight yet. I stayed on track at 1,000ft and 1mile per hour reaching the summit in just about 4hrs from the TH.  Not too bad for a 270 pounder, it hurt but it was a good hurt.  Right after I sat down on the summit Brian handed me my summit beer.  Today it was an Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner.  It was a great summit beer because the alcohol content was only a 4.7% so you don’t get too loopy up high.  Brian gulped his down…at least it seemed that way, I am a slow drinker on the summits, but get me down to 5,000ft and that story changes.  It’s funny that we are becoming beer testers at 14,000ft this year.  So far its been a different beer at each summit, it’s nice testing out the Colorado water up high.  As usual I had a great PB&J, had to deal with a couple begging dogs and enjoyed our little time on top after a great climb.  We decided not to linger too long just in case a storm starts brewing, so somewhere around 11am we started down.

As we were heading down the ridge we could see hoards of people heading up the standard route.  As I like to call them: Colorado Ants.  The standard route seemed almost like an amphitheater, because we could hear their conversations 1,000ft below us.  It was nice once we dropped back over our side of the ridge, we were now on our own again.  My knees were starting to ache as were my ankles because I was in my hiking shoes not my hiking boots today.  I am seeing that it is going to take a while for me to get used to hiking shoes because I have been a boot guy all my life.  Nothing that some medication can’t solve for now.

It was a slug down the mountain.  It took us about the same time to go down as it did to go up.  I was really slow in the rocky sections, but made it eventually.  We were able to stay on the trail the whole way down and made note of where we lost the trail on the way up.  At one point a trail runner came buzzing by us, he made it look way to easy.  Nothing really unique happened on the way down.  There were a lot of Marmots sun bathing on the rocks and a couple didn’t care for a few humans to walk by them.  The view on the descent is amazing.  All of the Collegiate Peaks are right in-front of you till you are down to the main trail.  I was in heaven when we reached the main trail again.  It was so nice to be off the rocks, the stairs on the way down were nice but being back on dirt was bliss to my knees and feet.

With just over a mile to go my body was glad the day was about to end.  I got a few more pictures of some wildlife and was able to walk a bit faster for once.  Brian was nice and never got too far ahead so he had a lot of patience for my slow slug down the mountain.  I was so happy to get back to the car and take the shoes off and put the sandals on.  Overall it was a great day.  I did enjoy this route even though it was so hard on my body.  I would do this route over the standard 13.5miles again if I ever did it again.  Maybe take next week off, maybe not.  It’s all about how fast I can recover, but I will always have that urge to climb another mountain.

GPS Track
Date: 8/7/2012
Starting Elevation:  10,500ft
Mount Massive Summit: 14,421ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,950ft
Distance: 7.8 miles
Time:  6:36 moving, 1:51 stopped 
Climbing Partner: Brian

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hyndman Peak

Hyndman Peak
Hyndman Peak is the 9th ranked Idaho 12er standing at 12,009ft.  Having lived in the Boise area for the last 8 years I have made plenty of excursions to the Pioneer Mountains and to this day this is still one of my favorite areas.  Hyndman has become one of those peaks that I climb almost every year, if I don’t summit I always enjoy the wonderful wildflower hike into the upper basin.  Now that I reside in Colorado the trip to the Pioneers is a bit more difficult, but with Kristi’s folks living in Hailey it makes for an easy entry way into the mountains.

I ended up getting together quite the crowd for this hike.   The original plan was for my friend Harsha to climb his second 12er after doing Borah last year and also try to get Michelle to the top on her second attempt.  I invited a few other climbing friends; Mike, Loren and Jeff, and it turned out to be much more of a social outing which was nice.  The night before the hike I drove up to the trailhead and met up with Harsha and Mike and kicked back with a few beers and told stories of my climbs in Colorado this year.  I brought everyone some beer from Colorado called Colorado Native Lager; a beer made of 100% Colorado products and only sold in Colorado.  So, I smuggled a 12pack on the plane.  It was great to catch up with old friends and we all looked forward to a great hike the next morning.  After a bit I headed back to Hailey where I would bed down for a short sleep before the 4am wake up.  The only problem is when I got back to town I kept drinking good old Ninkasi and ended up not hitting the sack till almost midnight….oh well.

I never have a problem rising when I know I’m heading into the mountains, but I was much more sluggish today.  Michelle had the coffee ready; we tossed the packs into the rented Chevy Cruz and were off to pick up Lisa.  It was still pitch black out and a little breezy by the time we made it to the trailhead.  Everyone was up and getting their final preparations done as we arrived.  I got a head count of 9 people and we were off on the trail by 5am with headlamps donned.

So usually I can fight through the hang over, but the Ninkasi Total Domination did just that to me..domination.  I wasn’t feeling the best but still trucked on up the trail.  The lead kept changing as people would constantly be shedding layers or adjusting packs, somehow I ended up in front.  I am still used to hiking solo a lot and found myself getting far in front of the pack at times.  When we got to the split to Big Basin we made sure everyone was still with us and did our introductions since we could now see faces in the early morning light.

I tried eating some food, but that didn’t go so well, so my plan was to sweat out the booze.  I took off up the hill heading to the first mosquito pond.  The grade here seems steeper every year, but I would rather have it in my face than dragging out miles of no gain like the previous two miles.  Somehow I always find another gear hiking the steeps, I think a good mix of a rest step and establishing a rhythm is the key.  From hiking the 14ers in Colorado this year I found this is the most efficient way to get up the monsters.  I made it to the pond by an old camp site and waited a while for everyone to re-group for a rest.  Unfortunately the mosquitos were out and they wanted that sweet nectar from the IPA in my blood.  I had a good sweat going, and I thing I dried up my food and water resources in my body but was able to eat a granola bar and a shot block.  I was still a bit queasy but doing better….dam beer!

Upper Hyndman
Up the “levels” as I like to call them we all spread out a bit more.   This was a nice social section of the trip where I got a chance to talk with pretty much everyone.  The wildflowers were out and they were amazing.  I always love this hike because of the great Geology and the magnificent wildflowers.  At one point I was in the back hiking with Michelle and Lisa and we noticed Mike was coming down the trail.  He said he was done.  After climbing mountains the two previous days his legs were starting to cramp up so he was heading to the car.  We said adios and continued up.  Not 10 minutes later Lisa looks down the trail and said: Is that Mike coming back up?  It sure was.  Typical Mike, he just couldn’t turn around on such a beautiful day.  Mike is always good for a laugh out in the mountains.  The four of us were a bit separated from the others at this point since we were talking more than hiking.  I must note this now that Mike and I are the only ones up here to previously climb Hyndman.  So, we knew the route and didn’t have as much desire to climb as the others did.

I think Jeff was in the lead at this point and we noticed everyone was following him up a boulder field in-between the snow chutes.  Michelle had a good idea this wasn’t the way since she had been high on the mountain before, so she waited for me to catch up.  I pointed everyone in the right direction and we all found our way down to the standard trail except for Loren who was tackling the boulder field on his way to the ridge.  We found a nice trail heading up to the saddle and in not too much time we found ourselves an excellent view.

I had made it clear on the way up this was a “saddle day” for me.  I fear that I imbedded a bug into everyone.  We took a good rest at the saddle and nobody else had enough desire to climb the ridge to the summit.  So, we all watched Loren climb like an ant on a hill.  Once he figured out we were all lazy and were calling it a day he took off like a jack rabbit up the mountain.  A few of us had “saddle beers” instead of “summit beers” at 10am, took many beautiful photos of the Pioneer range and enjoyed the great weather we were having.  We thought we could see Loren summit and we hooted at him, but later he told us our hooting was a little premature.  But, like I told everyone this is like a Himalayan Expedition, we all worked together to get one of our team to the summit.  Haha, not really but it made us feel better inside by saying that.  While at the saddle Jeff stumbled upon an ammo box with a register saying something to the effect that they got tired and left a register here.  Like Loren said after the climb, this is one register that can be taken away.

Pioneers to the North
We started down the mountain after what seemed like an hour and all of us were constantly searching for Loren up in the rocks.  After we dropped a few levels we all took a nice nap on the grass as we waited for our lone summiter.  Jeff and his crew took off once we could see Loren was almost to us.  Lisa and Michelle took off about the same time as Mike, Harsha and I waited for Loren.  He told us of the great views and talked a bit about the upper mountain then we were off.

Upper Lake Surrounded by Wildflowers
The hike down was more of a scenic walk.  I was in no hurry, so I took the chance to have more conversations and get photos of all the wildflowers.  I always dread that last two miles where it becomes much more of ground pounding, but the scenery is still so good I never let that leg of the race bring me down.  Once I got down to the creek I dunked my head in the cool water and was refreshed again.  Somewhere around 2:30 I made it back to the car.  Jeff and crew had already left, Harsha was packing up his camp then Loren gave me a beer.  I took the beer and headed to the creek to dunk my feet in for an ice cold bath.  Man, once I put my feet in my arch cramped up…ewww didn’t enjoy that part at all.

The rest of us sat around Mikes car had some beers and sodas and talked about the trip today and other trips we had done this year.  Not long after CAPS LOCK DOUG showed up with Spider Legs from their climb of Old Hyndman.  This was my first meeting and I think he speaks with CAPS LOCK on as well.  We finished off what I had left of the Colorado Native Lager and Loren got me hooked on Deschutes Twilight, by 3:30 we called it a day and headed back into town.  We had a BBQ to get to and if there is one thing I love like the mountains its good BBQ!

GPS Track
Date: 7/22/2012
Starting Elevation:  7,040ft
Hyndman Saddle: 10,800ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,760ft
Distance: 11.8 miles
Time:  6:32 moving, 4:09 stopped 
Climbing Partners: Michelle, Lisa, Harsha, Loren, Jeff and Crew
Picture Link: