Monday, October 22, 2012

Mount Edwards

Mount Edwards

I needed to get out on a climb, so once again I contacted Brian and we decided on Mount Edwards.  Edwards is a high 13er measuring at 13,839ft and located close to home in the Front Range.  We didn’t want a long drive, so with Edwards only about an hour and a half’s drive from home this worked well for both of us.  A few days prior we both were able to see an Ed Viesturs presentation and I think that gave us an added bug to get out into the mountains this week.

We met at the T-Rex lot off of I-70 at 5am and made it to the Grays Peak TH around 6am.  There were two other cars in the parking lot; I was anticipating a lot more since the weather was supposed to be clear today.  We stepped out of the car and it was brrrr cold.  The wind was blowing pretty hard, so I was already taking layers out of my pack and putting them on.  The sky was dark black and littered with stars.  Unfortunately I was unable to capture a picture of them with my point and shoot camera, but maybe someday I will upgrade.  By 6:20 we were all set and started up the trail.

The TH we used is the same one used for hiking Grays and Torreys Peaks so I had been here twice this year already.  I knew what to expect till we hit the main ridge heading towards Edwards, but that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to it.  It’s a good thing the views are so amazing back here or the trail would get old fast.  We were lucky enough to hike in the darkness for the first 30-40 minutes; I always enjoy hiking in the dark for some reason.  As light was coming into the valley we were arriving at the large sign for Grays and Torreys; about 1.5miles in.  The wind was still blowing pretty hard, probably gusting in the mid 30’s but with light coming so does heat.  From the sign the view of Torreys was amazing.  There was a gentle dusting of snow that made all the contours and cracks really stand out.  I then noticed something moving up on Mount Kelso out of the corner of my eye; there were at least 10 mountain goats high on the mountain.  The day is getting better and better and we are still in the flat land.

As the trail made its way towards the rib heading up Gray’s north face we started seeing a lot more snow on the trail.  We both packed micro spikes in but didn’t put them on during the ascent since we were not slipping at all.  In no time at all we passed the group of three that we saw in the parking lot.  I must say it’s rare when I pass people out here, so I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a small smile on my face.  As usual Brian was about a football fields length ahead of me, maybe not that much but that’s what it felt like.  Now that we were getting into some of the tight switchbacks we knew our cutoff to the main ridge was near.  There are all kinds of trails heading in the direction we needed to go, so eventually we took one following along the edge of the Lost Rat Couloir.  Once on top of the main ridge we saw how much work was still ahead of us.  It looked like miles to the summit all on a roller coaster ridge…lovely.

It was nice to see there was a faint trail heading in our direction.  I suspect this is from the traffic of Continental Divide Hikers not people heading to Edwards, but who knows maybe others like this punishment too.  We headed down our first descent along the ridge and all was going well at first.  I typically hang on the top of ridges just so I can better scout trails and I think that is where the route here is meant to be followed.  Brian on the other-hand dropped down on another trail too far down where it becomes more side-hilling than anything.  I definitely recommend staying on the high part of the ridge, there is a visible route most of the way, once you lose the ridge kiss your footing goodbye.

On the second hump we both were down way to far from the ridge and I caught up to Brian sitting.  I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the traverse and he didn’t know where to go.  Looking back the easiest thing to do would have been to climb back up to the crest and follow that, but I continued to do the side hill traverse.  It was unpleasant to say the least.  I just kept moving till I made it to the low point before the final climb up to the summit.  Brian was quite a ways behind me so I sat there and had a fuel and water break till he arrived.  Unfortunately when he arrived he was ready to call it a day.  It was disappointing, but a smart choice.  Those are the hard decisions to make and everyone knows their own limits.  Brian said he would hang out while I went to top, so I ditched my pack to speed up the process and I was off.

New Friends
The last 300ft was the worst part of the whole climb.  If you could stay on solid rock it never lasted long.  There was a route heading up here, but I think it was more of a goat trail not a human one.  I slowly made my way up to another false summit and right when I was about to hang my head I noticed some white furballs making their way up the mountain.  Mountain Goats!  Immediately my spirits were lifted as I raced to get my camera out and snap a couple pictures.  There were three goats; a papa, a mama and a youngling.  As they climbed over the crest of the ridge I found myself in pursuit up the mountain.  I got to the crest and was disappointed when I realized I still had a couple hundred yards to go still before reaching the summit.  I gave up on the goats and got back to business finding a nice trail that brought me to the summit at last.

Grays and Torreys and the Ridge
The winds were calm and the sky was as blue as I have seen it all year.  This was a peaceful summit, and I may be a rare visitor to this 13er.  As I looked over to Grays I could see a hoard of people on the top.  This brought a smile to my face, since I got to enjoy this summit by myself.  I didn’t stay up there for more than a few minutes.  I took in the views all around and took a bunch of pictures then I was off down the ridge again.  I was without my pack and I never like doing that, but I’m sure it sped up the process of getting up there.  My goat friends were a rib on the north side of the peak just chilaxin.  There was five or six of them, I took another picture then was on my way.

This next part was by far the worst part of the whole day.  I got too far off the ridge and into some really loose rock that was awful trying to navigate through.  My balance was that of a drunk man and I really wished I had my trekking poles.  Every now and then a boulder would make its way sailing down the mountain, not by choice.  I was just glad it was the rock and not me.  It seemed like hours since I had left the summit, but was probably about 20 to 30 minutes till I made it back down to my pack.  I sat down and had a rest for a few minutes then made my way up the middle hump where Brian was patiently waiting for me.

Brian led the way and we stuck to the ridge and the route was much better on the descent across the ridge than the ascent was.  It was slow going as my legs and energy were on the decline.  The roller coaster of humps wasn’t helping but step by step I finally made it back to the Grays trail.  I was spent by the time we were back on the solid trail so we had a nice long break to help recover.  My feet were sore as hell in my tight leather boots, and for a minute I thought about taking them off.  I knew if I did that I would cry putting them back on for the last three miles.  We decided once we hit snow on the trail the micro spikes were going on.

I was moving at a snail’s pace on the rocky trail, I saw the snow and told Brian it’s time for the spikes.  Once I had my spikes on I gained a step.  I love spikes on the snow I was almost in a trot for a little bit.  Just enough cushion that the bottoms of my feet had some time to relax.  It wasn’t too long till the snow ran out…I almost cried when I saw the rock.  We had about two miles left and most only about one-thousand feet yet to descend.  Once we made it back to the Grays and Torreys sign from the way up we had another break to shed some fleece layers since it was so hot.  After draining the last of our water we took off on the last mile and a half to the car.  It was a tedious process, but eventually me and my aching dogs made it back to the car where Brian was waiting.

Today was one of those tough but rewarding climbs.  We spent a lot more time out on the mountain than we wanted, but that’s how it goes when you get off trails and onto routes sometimes.  Even though it was painful at times I still enjoyed the day.  I wish we both could have summited, but things in the mountains don’t always go as we want.  It was a beautiful day and I love the high mountains with a dusting of snow.  It won’t be long till we are bundled up in down and climbing in snow shoes…and I can’t wait!

GPS Track

Date: 10/21/2012
Starting Elevation: 11,243ft
Mount Edwards Summit: 13,839ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,523ft
Distance: 8.53miles
Time: 6:29 moving, 2:30 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Brian

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