|Me on the Summit of Mount Machebeuf|
All work and no play makes Nick a dull boy. Well we all know that line came from the movie The Shining, but there is some truth to it. Between school and work I haven’t been able to get out in about three weeks so I felt due for a climb. Wednesday would be my first day off of work and school in quite a while so I sent out a message to my Facebook cronies and Paul replied. I didn’t have much time to research anything much, since I really should be using my time for other things, but nobody said I was perfect.
Paul and I tentatively made plans for a Mount Guyot climb so we were getting somewhere. I picked Paul up about 7am, which was rather late for us, but we mountain climbers need our beauty sleep too. Things felt off from the start, primarily because the sun was out, and it felt like a late start. Somehow I convinced myself that the drive to Mount Guyot would take too long, so we started discussing closer options. I thought Mount Machebeuf would work out well for us. I had been in the area of the mountain a few times already this year; with the most recent being my climb of Mount Bethel; a neighbor to the west. After a pit stop in Georgetown for some Powerade, we made the decision to switch plans and were only a few exits away from our new TH of Herman Gulch.
|The Ascent Gully|
Herman Gulch TH is really easy to get to. Any vehicle that can drive to the divide can make it since there is pavement almost to the TH. Take I-70 West from Denver and get off at exit 218. Once getting off the freeway take an immediate right at the stop sign that turns onto an improved dirt road for about 100yards ending at the Herman Gulch TH. There is a restroom which is always a bonus and a large parking lot, which I would say fills up on most weekends. Before I get carried away with the climb I thought I would add a little history to this report. Mount Machebeuf is named after the first bishop of Colorado Reverend Joseph P. Machebeuf, he resided in Colorado from 1860-1889. There is your fun fact for the day, now on with the climb.
About half past 8am we were geared up and ready to go. Neither of us knew completely what was in store for us since we were more or less climbing on the fly. We took off along the trail heading to Herman Lake at a mellow pace. I’m glad that Paul hadn’t been knocking off mountains lately because it made my pace feel not so slow today. The trail is in excellent shape, I’m assuming most of the traffic is heading to Herman Lake. This is also part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), so I’m assuming the upkeep is a lot higher compared to the Watrous Gulch trail heading to the east. I have looked at climbing this mountain a few times, but not recently so we were kind of guessing on which route to follow. I know the CDT comes to the west ridge of Machebeuf, but I don’t think either of us was looking for trail hike today. It seemed as when we approached the first major gulley, we both looked at each other and said: Does that look good? It was funny, but that’s when you know you’re with a good climbing partner, your ideas are in sink even though nobody is really saying anything.
I can say this now that I have done the climb; my depth, height whatever perception you want to call it is crap. From the base of the gulley I thought maybe 1,000-1,200ft to the summit…not even close. When I got home and figured out the elevation on my TOPO program, it turned out to be more of around the 1,800ft range to the summit from the start of the gulley. For those of you familiar with Colorado climbs that is about the length of the Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak. I know a couple times I wondered if we were making any ground. About a quarter of the way up the gulley we took our first break. I was heating up pretty good at this point since it was more vertical gain than anything so I had to strip my outer fleece layer and suck down some water.
Everyone knows the answer to this. What happens almost the second you take a jacket, sweater or any layer off? The dam wind tries to freeze you out, that’s what happens. I hate it, but as I have found out in my years in the mountain, this is the way it’s going to be. Not too far up the mountain I was slinging my pack off, digging out my jacket and putting it back on. I’ll tell you what…sometimes, it’s a vicious cycles between the weather and your layers. The climbing was in your face steep, just the way I like it. It is like climbing natural stairs, and to tell you the truth I think it makes climbing mountains pretty easy. Lucky for the both of us we were in no hurry, so we took our sweet time heading up the gully. I would stay to the left of the drainage; it’s just easy climbing for the most part. We did hit some “kitty litter” scree around the 12,000ft range and the boulders were loose. This only lasted for about 100 vertical feet, so prepare for a little suffering. Hey, if you didn’t suffer a little, it wouldn’t be worth it…right. Ha-ha.
|Looking East-to-South Parnassus to Snictau|
Above the 12,000ft range there was a good hundred feet or so of 45+° climbing. I had to use my hands a few times, but the climb remains a class 2 in my book. Needless to say, it gets steep. Find the grass steps and all will be well. Paul decided to take a breather for some fuel, and I kept plugging along up the mountain. The wind was so chilly I kept telling myself, once I get to the summit I will pull out my down jacket and warm up. It wasn’t too chilly, but the wind was less than friendly. I soon realized the rocks we were climbing to were not the real summit, so I started a minor traverse. Just follow the gulley to the top of the ridge; from there it’s a simple hike to the true summit. As I arrived onto the main ridge I wasn’t exactly sure which was the true summit so I walked to the mound to the west then followed a faint ridge trail to the east to what I would call the true summit. The wind was just vicious on top, I didn’t have my wind meter but I would guess the winds were at least in the 40’s.
Once on the summit I didn’t know what to do. All that time in the windy cold I was saying to myself there would be a nice wind shelter built that I could use to escape from the elements. Well, that didn’t happen quite the way I had envisioned. There was nothing, a bare summit. I would call this mountain probably a hill in-between larger summits, so nobody ever excavated a wind shelter on top. That was disappointing because it was so cold, but that is life. I took the standard pictures all around. The pictures won’t bring out the chill but I would guess it was in the low 20’s.
I wasn’t on the summit for more than a few minutes when I saw Paul making his way to the mini saddle between the false and true summit. When he got there I was getting chilled having not put on my down jacket yet since there was no hiding place. I suggested we try and find some shelter to have a fuel break and warm up and he almost didn’t even stop on top. That must have been the quickest summit visit ever. There was nothing close to hide behind, so we went to the lee side of the hill and hunkered down as low as we could get. The wind was still howling, but it wasn’t unbearable. I was quick to pull out my down jacket and mittens. Oh, those mittens…if there is one piece of gear that is a must, it is the mittens. They warm you so fast; I don’t know why I spent so many years without them. I ate about half my PB&J and suggested we move somewhere “more friendly” lucky for me Paul was in total agreement.
|Mount Snictau in Black & White|
Since this whole trip was pieced together on the fly, we didn’t even know which way to go down. I knew I didn’t want to descend our ascent route, it was just too steep. The wind was blowing from the west so that ruled out the west ridge heading towards Herman Lake. Option 3: we work our way along the ridge and drop down to Watrous Gulch Trail. Beautiful, we had a plan. The route down was mellow and wide open. We kept saying how sweet a glissade would be, tons of slope and lots of run-out. I would love to come back this way in the winter just to play.
Once we made it to the first tree/bush, I’m not sure exactly what they were; we took a good long lunch break. Of course we picked a spot with a view; Torreys Peak was looking so impressive it was hard to look away. I finished my PB&J, some pretzels a beef stick that I would later regret and a hand full of anti-inflamitories. My right foot was getting sore (plantar flascitus), but not too bad. After the break I was feeling much better. The good thing was for once today I knew exactly where we were and had a good idea of how far it was back to the TH.
After we saddled up for the remaining descent, we dropped about 200 vertical feet and met up with the Watrous Gulch Trail. That was a nice feeling to be on a trail for the remaining part of our climb. We ran into a group of ladies a few minutes later, who thought I was a friend that they hiked with. Scarry, there are two of us running around out here. Ha-ha. On the hike out my foot loosend up and it was very enjoyable. For those of you that don’t know this trail there is clear views of Torreys Peak and Mount Snictau for the remainder of the hike. If that doesn’t put a shit eating grin on my face nothing will. It is an absolute beautiful end of the day. I love it, Paul and I had another excellent day in the mountains. Every day I get out I am thankful for. Get out and climb your mountain, hike your trail…whatever gives you that shit eating grin!
Starting Elevation: 10,300ft
Mount Machebeuf Summit: 12,805ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,600ft
Distance: 5.33 miles
Time: 3:20 moving, 2:00 stopped.
Climbing Partner: Paul