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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Crowds suck - a summer weekend on Bierstadt, Sawtooth, and Evans.

Date:   July 20, 2013
Mission:  Summit Mt. Bierstadt (elevation 14,060') then traverse the Sawtooth to Mt. Evans (elevation 14,264')
Who:  Myself and my friend Raj
Length:  9 miles
Elevation gain: 3900 ft.

A baby mountain goat on Mt. Evans.

Raj and I met at the Guanella Pass trailhead at 4am.  We were not really surprised to find at least a couple dozen cars already in the parking lot.

We made decent time up to the summit of Bierstadt, particularly considering this was the first 14er that Raj has hiked in several years.  The views on the way up as the sun began to rise are always worth the early start.

Raj making his way up to 13,300 or so on Mt. Bierstadt.

After a quick and fun class 2 scramble, we are on the summit.  

My third summit of Bierstadt, and maybe my last.
On the summit, I picked up at least 6 pieces of litter.  A granola bar wrapper, a banana peel, a hair tie, etc.  People that do not adhere to the Leave No Trace principles really piss me off.  To add to my annoyance, there is someone blasting music from their phone at the top of the summit.  I love music just as much as the next guy, but you will never see me blasting tunes from anywhere in nature.  It just seems to kill the silence and peace that so many, including me, strive for when being in nature.

Raj decided to skip doing the Sawtooth and was just going to descend Bierstadt.  I continued onto the Sawtooth by myself at about 7:30am  trying to escape the growing posse of tourists and ill-prepared city folk that hike Bierstadt each Saturday. 

A look at the Sawtooth ridge from Mt. Bierstadt.

The route across the Sawtooth is basically a difficult class 2 scramble with a couple of short class 3 sections.  The route can be made more fun, or difficult depending on how you look at it, by staying closer to the ridge line.  I followed the route that drops a bit lower on the east side for the most part, but definitely had some class 3 fun along the way. 

On the way up Bierstadt I had started to notice that I was possibly getting a couple of blisters.  This is fully what I deserved for taking a brand new pair of boots on a 10 mile hike without breaking them in.  Now, halfway across the Sawtooth, I am not just noticing these blisters, they hurt, and a lot.  Add to that the fact that my recovering ankle is bothering me and my pace slowed significantly.  I was still having fun though, chatting with the occasional person I would meet and just soaking in the nice weather. 

If you zoom in on this photo, you can see a crowd forming at the summit of Bierstadt.

The worst of the exposure on the Sawtooth, it's really nothing crazy when dry.  I could probably rollerblade down this ledge.

Looking back at Bierstadt from the ledge pictured above.

After making it across the Sawtooth, my blisters were bad, and my ankle was worse.  This was not a good sign either since this was supposed to be a warm-up hike for the next weekend when I had committed to doing Longs Peak with a member of  Either way I knew I had a good buddy that would come get me from the summit of Mt. Evans, so I wouldn't have to descend.  So I called my friend Joel from somewhere on the west ridge of Mt. Evans and he kindly agreed to meet me on the summit and drive me back to Guanella Pass to get my car.   For those that do not know, you can drive to about 13,900 on Mt. Evans on most days in the summer. 

Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from Mt. Evans.

As I reached the summit parking lot of Mt. Evans I realized my plan to have Joel meet me up there had a major problem.  The road was closed for a bicycle race.  I tried to call my friend Joel to cancel my friend-taxi but of course in typical Verizon style, I had no cell signal now.  Go figure.  I had a signal at 13,700' or so, but not at 14,100'.  Anyway I talk to some race officials and discover that the road will open at 2pm.  It is only 11:45am.  I decide to just start walking down the long road in hopes of hitchhiking down with one of the race vehicles, a ranger, etc. 

I walked for almost a mile and a half as many bicycles sped by me at probably close to 50mph.  I finally managed to get a van to stop.  This van was full of bicyclists who did not want to ride their bikes down the mountain.  The driver told me I could sit on the floor in between the van door and the seat or the wheel well.  I opted for a small piece of floor space.  Some kind Russian guy in the seat next to me offered me some water and I quickly accepted since I had run out of water about an hour prior on the west ridge of Mt. Evans. 

My ride down the mountain was a blessing, but to be met at the road closure by a friend who was patiently still waiting was even better.  Joel drove me back to my car and I retrieved my car from a Guanella Pass trailhead that was now 100% full.  In fact the road going up from Georgetown had cars parked on both side for at least 2 miles.  Insane crowds.  Bierstadt is not for the person seeking isolation, solitude, or any semblance of a nature experience.  It's really sort of sad that crowds litter and destroy such places.

Anyhow the day was a sad one from many perspectives like the litter, the crowds, the blisters, and the ankle.  Looking on the bright side though, it was a great day from other perspectives, like hiking with a friend Raj, having friends good enough that will drive 3 hours round trip to pick you up on a summit, kindness from random strangers in giving me a ride down Mt. Evans and some water too. 

Life is really how you choose to see it sometimes.  On this day, I chose to see both, but I'll remember the good stuff and the negative stuff fades quickly from my memories.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Antero - 10 years of learning

Date:   July 13, 2013
Mission:  Mt. Antero (elevation 14,269 ft.)
Who:  Siona (my wife), Liam (my son), and I
Length:  7.25 miles
Elevation gain: 2500 ft.

About 10 years ago, I made an attempt on Mt. Antero.  This was back when I was in my mid-twenties.  At that time I knew very little about climbing 14ers and in fact I was a totally different person.  I had only climbed Mt. Yale once at that point and Mt. Antero was my second 14er attempt ever.  To summarize my attempt in 2003, I started at the 2WD trailhead.  I made it to maybe 13,600' before turning around due to looming afternoon t-storms and pending darkness, since I didn't even make it to 13,600' until 5pm or so.  I was a total newbie and learned a lot of lessons that day in 2003. 
  • Buy a headlamp.  It's a fixture in my pack now.  It's a must have on all 14ers regardless of whether you think you'll need it.
  • Buy water wicking clothing.  Don't hike a 14er in sneakers, jeans, and a cotton t-shirt.  Just trust me on this, but if you don't believe me read about the dangers of cotton.  Just Bing or Google "cotton kills".
  • Quit smoking.  I was a smoker in 2003 and it certainly was a factor in slowing me down back then.  Over 5 years ago I quit.
  • Start early.  Early, at least for a 15 mile hike for a guy my pace, is not 7:30am.  7:30am is LATE.  Example:  I am hiking a different 16 mile hike this coming weekend, and I am starting no later than 2am in attempt to beat the afternoon t-storms.
  • Get in shape.  Being in shape is not a requirement for climbing a 14er, but it will definitely make it more enjoyable.  At age 28 in 2003, I was "in shape", but not aerobically.  I sucked wind all the time.  I'm in better aerobic shape at age 38 than I have been my whole life. 

This 4x4 road is pretty easy.
Anyway, let's take the time machine back to July 2013.

Siona, Liam and I decided to get up early and make the 3 hour drive out to Mt. Antero on Saturday.  We woke at 2:45am.  It amazed me how easily my 11 year old son woke and jumped eagerly into the Jeep at that hour. 

We were on the Mt. Antero 4-wheel drive road at 6am and made our way to the tree line.  We could've easily taken the Jeep to the end of the road at about 13,800', but we all wanted to hike most of it.

So we parked just above the tree line at about 12,000' and began our walk up the 4x4 road. 

A word of advice, if you have to start at the 2WD trailhead, start really early.  The hike is not hard, but it is long. 

Before 13,800, the hike up is mostly gradual and on a 4x4 road, except for this short section that cuts one switchback.

After an enjoyable hike up the road, we are at 13,800 and ready for some talus hoping fun across a ridgeline to make it to the summit at 14,269'. 

At 13,800, Liam with a smile and Siona enjoying the views.

The short ridge to the summit.

The talus was both fun and a bit scary for my 11 year old, since this is only his 3rd 14er and the others all had trails to the top.  After a bit though, he is having a blast.  Before you know it we are on the summit and enjoying the beautiful morning.

I always love these moments.

Celebrating the summit with a nap.

Liam holding the crystal he found right on the 4x4 road.

We hung out on the summit and did the normal summit things.  Take pictures of others summiting, eat, smile, smile some more, and then it was off to beat the already building clouds. 

For those that do not know, Mt. Antero is one of the few mountains you can still find gem quality Tourmaline.  I mentioned this to my son on the drive up, and he apparently had his eyes peeled all day. On the way down he found a crystal/gem.  We're not really sure what it is, but it made his day for sure.

Can you see the Jeep in this picture?

We took our time on the way down after the weather that looked like it was moving in passed.  We enjoyed the wild flowers, the views and chatted with a bunch of other hikers.  

We made it back to the Jeep, and had an uneventful drive down the 4x4 road.

About two minutes after getting off the 4x4 road and on to the dirt road, Liam was sound asleep for most of the ride back to the Boulder area, a sure sign of a good time had.

I spent the drive home reflecting on not only how I was on this mountain 10 years ago, but how as a person I have changed so much since.  I even learned lessons this time too, but these may just be lessoned learned in the last ten years.

  • Take nothing for granted.  I cherish every smile I see from my wife, every hug from my daughter, and every high-five with my son.
  • Take time to kiss a dog.  Someone on the summit of Antero brought a husky to the top.  This dog gave me kisses for about 2 minutes straight. 
  • A bad day in the mountains beats any day not in the mountains.  I am not the first to say something like this.  Whomever said it first, cheers to you.  You understood it 100%.
  • Religion is bull shit.  However, love and random acts of kindness are not bull shit and have direct impacts on those around you.  Try it, I dare you.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Crestone Peak - Nemesis mountain?

Date:   July 4th & 5h, 2013
Mission:  Crestone Peak (elevation 14,294 ft.)
Who:  Siona (my wife) and I
Length:  10 miles
Elevation gain: 3000 ft.

Hiking up to the lakes with the 35lb pack.
The normal trip up Crestone Peak is 13 miles and 5700 ft. of elevation gain.  At the top of Broken Hand Pass at around 12,900', we decided to cut our trip short due to some issues with my ankle.  This trip was just a reminder that it's about the adventure, not the summit.

Day 1 

We arrived at the 4x4 trailhead at 1pm or so on July 4th and was pleasantly surprised to find a not too crowded parking area.  We slowly made our way to the South Colony Lakes. 

Carrying a 35 lb. pack was a bit harder on my recovering ankle than I thought it would be.  By the time we reached our campsite, I was already questioning whether my ankle would be okay for the following day when we were to attempt to summit Crestone Peak.

My beautiful wife!

After setting up camp, we walked down to the creek and I took my boot off and stuck my right foot in the creek as a good substitute for ice.  The water is still very cold and was just what the doctor ordered for my ankle.

After icing the ankle in the creek, my wife and I just hung out, stared at the trees, listened to the birds, sat in the shade of a tree, and just enjoyed each other's company. 

We ate our camp dinner of homemade cold pizza made the night before.  For the record, as a former chef, my pizza rocks and it tastes even more awesome when you are 10+ miles from the nearest town. 

We went to sleep before the sun even set.  By the time darkness hit, a light rain started and I fell sound asleep for about an hour and a half.  After that, we were both just in and out of sleep for the rest of the night.



Day 2

Sunrise over Humboldt Peak's east ridge.
We were already lying awake when the alarm went off at 3:30am.  We packed up our gear while discussing the fact that both of us had nearly no sleep.  We then had a quick bite to eat and were on our way by 4:15am or so.

The hike from our camp at 11,650' was still going to be a long day.  We were going to ascend Broken Hand Pass at 12,900'.  Then the next goal was to descend to Cottonwood Lake at 12,300' before hiking up Crestone Peak's red gully to 14,294'.   So our early start was necessary to ensure we were down to camp and out of the thunder storm risk area before the afternoon came around.

In the dark, following the trail up to Broken Hand Pass, I missed a switchback and we had to scramble over some loose steep rock before traversing some more talus and eventually regaining the trail.  This killed a little bit of time for us, but we were still greeted with a stunning Sangre De Cristo sunrise.

My wife and I made our way slowly up the steep scree & snow mixture.  About three quarters of the way up Broken Hand Pass there is a short but legitimate class 3 climbing section.  On this day, this section was made a bit more complicated with lingering snow & ice.  We both broke out our microspikes for some additional traction.

My wife making her way up the tricky section on Broken Hand Pass.

As we arrived on the top of the pass at 12,900' my ankle was already very sore.  I was discussing turning around with Siona when my wife let me know that she was also having some issues with numbness in her hands and feet, which is a phenomenon that happens to her occasionally at altitude ever since she was diagnosed with Lupus.

My wife is a my hero.  She has pushed through so much pain on hikes like this, just because she loves doing this stuff.  For those that do not know, my wife lives with pain from both Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  She has probably experienced more pain than I will ever know from my broken ankle and some bad knees.  She is one tough and stubborn Irish girl that refuses to let anything stop her.  

That being said, I can usually tell when she is pushing herself too much, and this was one of those moments.  Add in some clouds that looked to be building already at 7:00am, and a growing presence of smoke from a forest fire about 50 miles away and we were sold that turning around here was the right choice.  

We snapped some shots from the top of Broken Hand Pass before heading down.

I love the Crestones, but today was not my day.

My wife at the top of Broken Hand Pass

The down climb of that same tricky section was fun but a little sketchy.  I slipped once on the snow and my left knee hit a rock causing some significant pain that would last for the rest of the hike back to the Jeep.

Down climbing the class 3 section with snow and ice.

We took our time on our hike down and enjoyed the views of the lakes, wildflowers, and the warming sun.  We joked about how nearby Humboldt Peak probably had something to do with me turning around since I have attempted Humboldt Peak three times, all in winter, and have had to turn around three times.

Humboldt attempt # 1

Humboldt attempt # 2

Humboldt attempt # 3

We also realized that this was the first mountain my wife has turned around on.  Mountaineers joke about mountains that they've been turned back on as their nemesis mountain.  Humboldt Peak is clearly my nemesis mountain.  Crestone Peak is now Siona's nemesis mountain.  She can't wait to go back, and neither can I.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Uncompahgre Peak is paradise

Date:   June 29, 2013
Mission:  Summit Uncompahgre Peak - the first 14er summit since breaking my ankle on 2/22/2013
Who: Solo
Length:  7 miles
Elevation gain: 3000 ft.

The Uncompahgre National Forest has a natural beauty that rejuvinates my soul every time I visit.  Wildlife, the aroma of the thick pine forest, countless wildflowers, numerous butterflies, beautiful waterfalls, sun glistening creeks, unparalleled mountain views, and add in an alpine sunrise and this place is just heaven.

Uncompahgre Peak in the early morning light.

I skipped out of work midday on Friday to make the 6+ hour drive down to Lake City.  After stopping in town for some decent cajun BBQ, I made my way to the Nellie Creek 4x4 road that leads to the trailhead.  This 4x4 road might be a bit rough on stock SUVs, but the Jeep handled it without a problem.  If you watch on the drive up, you can catch a good view of a waterfall to your left.

Waterfall along the Nellie Creek 4x4 road.

I picked out a nice campsite, even though I had not even packed a tent for this adventure.  I was just sleeping in the Jeep. 

This hike is just so beautiful that words themselves cannot convey the beauty.  My pictures do not even do it justice, but pictures are probably better than words.


Alpine Sunrise!

Alpine sunrises are a great reason to wake up at 4am.

Just before the sun peaked above the ridge.



The yellow bellied marmot.  These guys will steal your gear, and likely eat it, if you leave it alone for too long.
Deer won't eat your trekking poles, therefore I like them better than marmots.

Mountain views!

The San Juan mountain range is just breathtaking.

Clouds & sun make for interesting lighting.

Views looking NW near 13,700'.

View from the summit looking west.
Looking over the cliff near the summit facing NE I believe.

The hike up Uncompahgre Peak was relatively uneventful.  My ankle was hurting a bit off and on. It was very tender and sore when I finished, but this is a normal part of the recovery process for torn ligaments.  I did meet a cool guy Ben around 13,400', and we shared some good conversation on the summit.  We have plans of tackling the Maroon Bells together in August which would be the exclaimation point at the end of the statement that says my ankle is recovered.

I'll leave you with what I consider to be one of the coolest summit photos ever.  Thanks Ben for the great summit photo!

When people ask why I climb mountains while recovering from a broken ankle.  This picture is the answer.

Bring on the Bells!