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Monday, August 27, 2012

Lincoln via Quartzville

Date:   August 25th, 2012
Mission:  Family climb of
Mt. Lincoln (elevation 14,286 ft.)
Who:  Myself, my wife Siona, my daughter Delaney, and my two huskies (Altai, and Miliya)

Length:  About 6.5 miles from the Quartzville trailhead

Elevation gain: 2800 ft.

Late last November I had hiked Democrat, Cameron and Bross, but had bailed on Mt. Lincoln due to insane wind conditions.  With my recent hikes re-aggravating my right knee, I decided an nice easy hike up Lincoln sounded like a good way to "rest" my hurt knee.  My wife and daughter decided to join for this one.  We also took the dogs with us.

We left the house at 3:15am and arrived at the Quartzville trail-head at 5:45am.  The Quartzville area is a maze of dirt roads.  Pay close attention to directions when navigating this area.

We were on the trail and making our way up Lincoln with our normal alpine start to avoid t-storms, crowds, etc.

Alpine sunrises never get old.
My daughter and her famous half smile.

At the beginning of our climb it was pretty chilly, probably <  40 degrees with a slight wind that would chill you to the bone.  We were however geared with hats & gloves to start the day.  It did warm as the day went on.  

We weren't in any rush to the summit and took our time and took time to enjoy the journey and spend some time together.  We also took many short breaks to water the dogs. 

The trail from Quartzville is not the standard route up Mt. Lincoln.  The standard route is from Kite Lake.

My beautiful wife taking in the sunrise.

The Kite lake route is probably slightly more interesting in my opinion, but I did that in November with a decent amount of snow out there too.  

This summer Saturday, my main concern was avoiding crowds.  People that know me also know that I'll go to great lengths to avoid crowds, people, traffic, and anything that represents a sea of humanity.  Thus, the reason we were hiking up from Quartzville. 

The climb was pretty uneventful, so I'll just let the pictures do the talking.

This trail is easy.

Every time we stopped, Miliya would pout and whine.  She hates not moving.

When we reached this gate in the road, we just went left (up) and made our way thru trail segments to the summit.

Delaney with a challenge in front of her.
Near the summit, my wife took the dogs and split off from Delaney and I.  Delaney and I took a direct class 2 route up to the summit, while my wife took the trail around the back of Lincoln.  My wife apparently decided to take a stroll over to Mt. Cameron (elevation 14,238 ft.) too.  I'd already been over to Cameron last year, and my daughter didn't want to go, so we just hung out on the summit of Lincoln, eating snacks, taking pictures, and having fun.  We were on the summit at 9:00am.

Delaney on the summit of her 4th fourteener.  She tells me that she doesn't like hiking 14ers even though I can see how proud she is of herself on every summit we've been to.
Me on the summit of Lincoln.
My wife on the summit of Mt. Cameron with a couple other people.
My wife making her way up to the summit of Lincoln.

Family summits are always better than ones I get by myself.

After eating a bit, the crew is refueled and ready to go.
My wife smoking me down the mountain as usual.  My bad knee = slow descents.
I'm a proud Daddy what can I say.
An old mineshaft.  Take a wide step around these guys.
On the bottom right you can see our silver truck.  It's at this point on every hike my daughter triumphantly yells "Civilization!"

On the way home, we stopped in Bailey for lunch.  Then as we were getting on C-470 from 285, right as we merge onto the highway, the car in front of us locks up his brakes.  Smoke is flying everywhere and then we see him go off the road, through a huge street sign at the 285 southbound off ramp.  

We stopped and made sure the driver was OK.  He was fine, although his car was totally fubar.  It was just another reminder that life is short, and everyone should live every day like it may be your last.  Don't ever delay in giving your kids a hug, or telling your wife how much you love her.

I've been getting several of these reminders lately.  Witnessing the car crash on Saturday, followed by nearly crashing my motorcycle on Sunday, and then finding out Monday that a well respected member of my family died in a rock slide on Hagerman Peak.  RIP Rob.

I told my family of this and my daughter said "But Dad, you don't have to worry, because you are invincible."  The funny thing is, I used to believe this up till a couple years ago.  I am having doubts now though.  Guess I am officially getting old.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Keys to the Castle

Date:   August 18th, 2012
Mission:  Climb Castle Peak (elevation 14,265 ft.) and then traverse over to Conundrum Peak (elevation 14,060 ft.)

Who:  Myself, Joel Snow, and Tim Harris

Length:  About 8.5 miles from our campsite at 10,750'

Elevation gain:  4300 ft. (which includes a 2nd ascent of Castle Peak after summit of Conundrum Peak).

Hazy day on the summit of Castle Peak

Creek crossing (photo by Tim Harris)
Myself and two of my friends at work quietly sneak out of the office at 2:30pm hoping nobody notices the three of us are gone 2+ hours earlier on a Friday afternoon.  We beat most of the normal Friday evening traffic and are drinking a beer and eating some bad tacos in Leadville by 5pm. 

We took my Jeep so we could navigate the 4-wheel drive trail that awaited us at the Castle Peak trail-head.  After navigating Independence Pass and cruising thru Aspen, we made it swiftly up the Castle Creek road and over the creek crossing which my lifted Jeep handled with ease.

We drove up the 4-wheel drive trail to a campsite with a couple waterfalls behind it somewhere near 10,750'.  A deer was across the trail as I pulled in and parked.  We set up camp quickly and were off to our tents by 9pm, trying to get enough sleep for our 4am start.

Adventure begins when things go wrong. 

As I am retrieving a water bottle from the Jeep, I lock the doors and close the drivers door.  As it's swinging shut, I realize the key is still on the drivers' seat.  


The door is shut.

My brain already knows, but tells my hands to feel my pockets anyway.  No key.  Now my brain goes deep into the east coast curse word thesaurus and after quickly shining my headlamp into the Jeep to confirm my suspicion I erupt into a volcano of curse words, all directed at myself.  

I've haven't felt so dumb in a long time.  I just locked my keys in my Jeep, 15+ miles away from Aspen and the nearest cell phone signal.  

Tim and Joel are quickly out of their tents and trying to help me assess the situation. 
  • Most of Joel's gear is in the Jeep.  
  • All of Tim's water is in the Jeep.  
  • All of my gear and water are in my tent (except for my food which is in the Jeep). 
  • Nobody has had a cell signal for at least 10 miles. 
  • I have a SPOT on me, but I'll be damned if I am ever hitting an SOS other than for a dire emergency.  This is not a dire emergency, just a major pain in the ass.
I briefly think of sending my wife a "custom" message on the SPOT, but she'll likely not know what it means since we never really discussed the purpose of the custom message.  I just usually send her OK messages on a certain schedule.

So quickly it's determined that a locksmith will cost a couple hundred minimum and require a 15 mile hike down Castle Creek Road in the dark, and I question whether the locksmith will even get up the 4-wheel drive trail to where we are at. 

Plan B was:  hike till I get a cell phone signal and call my wife and have her (and the kids) drive up 5 hours one way to Aspen in the middle of the night to bring me the extra key.  Yep that's not happening.  Plan B sounded like shit too.  

Plan C is break a window.  Obviously from the picture to the right, you can see that plan C was a success.

We're off to sleep at 10pm.  4am arrives quickly.  

After taking a while to wake my partners, and eat a little grub, we are on the trail by 4:50am.  

The hike up Castle Creek is easy to follow in the dark with headlamps and before we know it we are at the upper 4-wheel drive trail as day is breaking.

At 12,800' the jeep trail ends and the fun begins.  

Morning @ 12,800'

My favorite part of any 14er.  The sunrise!

Joel (closest) followed by Tim make their way across a talus field
Playing talus ping pong, we pretty quickly lose the trail at 12,900' and have to scramble up a very steep, sketchy, scree slope with a bunch of loose rock.  It was only maybe 30 or 40 feet up, but it was a pain in the ass, and a bit scary with the moving rocks underneath.  This was my first introduction to the loose and shitty rock in the Elk range.  This is where I put my climbing helmet on.

I can tell that my friends, whom were on fourteener # 2 or # 3, were not happy with this slope.  I think they were silently wondering if it was going to be this way all the way to the top.  I think their nerves calmed a little when we re-discovered the trail we had lost and were back on somewhat solid ground.

We rocked the trail from 13,000' up to the ridge at 13,700' without an issue.  The last 300' of this climb to the ridge is steep, but goes quickly. 

Tim (left) and Joel (right) make their way up the trail around 13,400'
Somewhere around 13,600' or slightly after this the trail turned into a scramble up to the ridge.  

Joel scrambles up brief class 3 section to gain the ridge
Me trying to do my best to look like the route I am on is more difficult than it is.  (photo by Joel Snow)
Joel on some class 2 rock under the ridge.
Once on the ridge there are two trails, one which stays on the top of the ridge.  One which ducks below the ridge to the climber's right.  We choose to go up the latter.  We discovered that this was the more difficult route later.  I would recommend that anyone facing this decision, just stay on the ridge.

The route below the ridge involved some steep / loose rock spots, a few minor class 3 moves, and rock fall danger from the ridge above to the left.  This is about 13,700'.  This is where Tim decided the route was out of his comfort zone and turned around.  Joel and I continued.

This lower route was not hugely difficult, but the ridge proper is certainly easier which we learned on the way down.

Regardless, we navigated the talus, the loose rotten Elk range rock, and some class 3 climbing and ended up back on the trail at about 14,000'.

Myself (left) and Joel (right) taking a quick break.  (Photo by Tim Harris)
Joel and regaining the ridge with people on the summit in the background on the right.  (photo by Tim Harris)

At 14,000' we just stormed the summit with a fury and before long we were enjoying the beautiful weather and snapping summit pictures.

Joel gaining the summit.

Myself and Joel on the summit of Castle Peak!

Me relaxing a bit before heading for Conundrum Peak. (photo by Joel Snow)

Joel (left) and I (right) on the summit of Castle Peak as seen from 13,500 or so.  (photo by Tim Harris)
Joel tells me he is not interested in Conundrum, so I set out on this short 1/2 mile traverse by myself.

Making my way down to the ridge off of Castle Peak (photo by Joel Snow)

Just a walk in the park (photo by Tim Harris)

This ridge is easily 10 ft wide, but you can't tell from this picture. (photo by Tim Harris)
Me on the summit of Conundrum Peak
I hustle on my way up Conundrum since Joel is waiting for me on Castle.  This route has some tricky class 3 moves during the last 100 ft.  I gain this summit long enough to have another person on the summit snap a photo of me, and I am off, back to Castle Peak.

On my way back up Castle Peak, I got slightly off trail and this is something you do not want to do in the Elk range.  

I quickly found myself in loose and moving rocks on a steep slope on the backside of Castle.  I realized my mistake and could see the trail, but to get to it was still a challenge.  Every step I took, rocks were moving, a lot of them.  I finally just pushed through it all quickly sending a few loose ones down the back side of Castle.

Believe the hype, the Elk range is shitty, loose, and rotten rock.

Back on the summit of Castle, I was beat, but I could see my buddy was itching to get off the summit so we continued down to the ridge before stopping for some food.  

We met a nice couple from Austin, TX and shared the descent with them off and on the way back to camp.  

The descent in the daylight revealed some beauty we missed by hiking up in the darkness.

This waterfall was just above our campsite.
Our camp and my Jeep with it's broken window.  (photo by Tim Harris)
The collapsed mine.  (Photo by Tim Harris)
Joel and I met back up with Tim at camp and apparently he'd gone exploring around the old collapsed mine that was up above the trail around 12,500'.  Amazing this even still exists after winters and endless rockfall.

The drive home was a blast.  We shared stories, jokes, and stopped in Leadville for dinner and a beer at a hidden gem just outside of town called "The Grill".  Best Mexican food I have eaten in Colorado.  Get the sopaipilla.

I dropped everyone off and leaving Joel's house en route to mine, I catch the remaining light as it disappears behind Longs Peak.  What an appropriate ending to a great day.

Sunset with Longs Peak looming reminding me that it'll be my 58th and final 14er when the time comes.




Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvard & Col-f*%#ing-umbia

Date:   August 11th & 12th, 2012
Mission:  Climb Mt. Harvard (elevation 14,420 ft.) and then traverse a long ridge to Mt. Columbia (elevation 14,073ft.)
Who:  Solo
Length:  15.5 miles
Elevation gain:  6500 ft.

The climb of Harvard is your normal, somewhat difficult, but not terrible class 2 fourteener.  After reaching the summit of Harvard, the traverse to Columbia is a very arduous undertaking which will have you questioning whether it'll ever end.  By the time you reach the summit of Columbia, you'll be feeling like a battered talus monkey.  

Then, the descent of Columbia is a steep, scree filled mess, where any step may send rocks flying down the mountain.  The descent is this way from about 13,500' to the tree line at 11,900' or so.

After descending a couple hundred feet from the summit of Harvard, the ridge route to Columbia is viewed.  Columbia is the tallest peak in the top right of the photo (about 2.75 miles away).

My tent hiding in the trees.
My adventure started Saturday afternoon around 3:00pm, with a 3.5 mile backpack into a camp near the tree line at 11,500' in the Horn Fork basin.  This was my first time backpacking into a camp on a fourteener.  I had set up camp by 6:30pm and was rocking my new Mountain Hardware Direkt 2  four season tent.

I met a nice father & daughter from Oklahoma who flew out to Colorado solely to hike Mt. Columbia and catch some of the meteor shower.  A word of advice for others from out of town.  If you come to Colorado solely to hike a fourteener, choose a mountain other than Columbia.  

After, setting up camp I hiked away from camp to cook my dinner, a bit of freeze dried chicken vindaloo.  After eating, I hung my food and trash in a bag in a tree to keep away from the bears.

I made my way back to camp and was asleep by 8:30pm.  I woke several times in the night, due to a poor choice of tent placement.  A bunch of uneven ground makes for an uncomfortable night's sleep.  

I finally got up and hit the trail around 4:30am.  

On the trail for maybe 10 minutes, I reach a creek where I fill one of my empty water bottles and treat with some iodine tablets.  I had agreed to send my wife a "OK" message on the SPOT when I started out.  So, it's at this point (about 4:45am) that I send my wife this message.  She apparently never received this message....more on this later.

Hiking up Harvard, I stop occasionally and kill the headlamp.  I just stand in the darkness looking skyward.  I only saw one meteor the whole time.

The moon and a lonely star above the Rabbit Ears on the ridge.
I move up through the silence of the night with a steady pace and by the time the sun is peaking over the ridge, I am already around 13,000 ft.

Morning is here.

I see the first hikers I've seen all day as the sun rays crest the ridge to the east.  This picture does not do this sight justice.  Myself and the hikers below me stand and just watch the sun rays fill the mountains for a couple minutes.

Sun coming over the ridge to the east.  Hikers Alan and Stacey seen below.
The views in the mountains when the sun is first rising are amazing.
The route to the top of Harvard gets more difficult above 14,000'.  The trail sort of disappears 100' below the summit and it's a rock scramble to the top.  I scramble up to the summit and just as quickly duck just below the summit to get out of a very cold wind.  

Summit views!  This picture almost looks like it was taken from a plane.
Sharing the summit with a couple of other hikers.

My wife called Chaffee County SAR

It's here, on the summit of Harvard, that I stop eat some breakfast and send my wife another SPOT message.  A few minutes later I realize that I have a cell phone signal, so I just call her.  She answers and I know immediately from her voice something's wrong. 

She tells me how worried she was that I didn't send her a SPOT message when I was starting out.  I explain that I did in fact send one around 4:45am.  Apparently it never went through.  I find out later when I got home, that she was actually on the phone with the Chaffee County sheriff's office about ready to send a SAR team looking for me when she received my SPOT message from the summit of Harvard.  Well, at least nobody was deployed.  I am glad the timing worked out like it did, but now I have questions about the reliability of my SPOT device.

The ridge over to Mt. Columbia.
Anyhow, with clear blue skies as far as the eye could see, and it only being 8:00am.  I set off on the route to traverse a 2.75 ridge which drops you close to 12,800' before re-ascending Mt. Columbia at 14,073'.

The traverse route does not really stick to the ridge proper.  It's ducks behind the ridge and drops much lower than you expect.  I won't even bother trying to describe the route.  The route is described best here.

I will say that it's tougher than I anticipated, longer than I anticipated, and there is so much talus.

This traverse is tremendously long and tiring, but offers some amazing views.

Views along the traverse.

A mountain wildflower.

The backside of the rabbit ears (seen earlier at dawn from the east).  Did I mention the talus?
Views of Bear Lake along the ridge.
On the ascent of Columbia, I thought for a while that I would not make it.  I was totally spent.  I had zero energy.  I had food and tried to force down a couple snacks, but I just wasn't hungry either.  I finally just started counting steps.  It's something I do when I am totally burnt.  1....2....3...  all the way to 20 or 30.  Rest.  1....2....3...  Repeat.

Eventually I reach the summit of Columbia.  I am 100% worn out.

Views from the summit of Mt. Columbia.
Me with Harvard in the background.  I am too tired to even stand at this point.
I spend probably 20 minutes on the summit of Columbia and send my wife the promised SPOT message again.  I meet a nice fellow named Dale on the summit of Columbia and we begin our descent together. 

A moving 500 lb boulder?

Maybe 100ft below the summit of Columbia, I go to take a steep step down from one rock to another.  There was a huge rock the size of a small coffee table up on end on the high side on my right.  I step with my left leg first, with my right hand on this huge rock.  I wasn't putting ANY weight on it, and it just starts to move.  I yell, "Holy Shit!" and immediately retrieve my left leg from the path of this huge rock while I *hold* this rock in place with my right hand.  Dale looks back at me, and I, still holding this giant rock, ask him, "What the hell should I do, this thing is going to fall if I let go?"  He shrugs.  I look around and make sure his dog is out of harms way.

I let go of the rock.  Nothing happens.




The rock falls... CRASH!  It literally shook the ground I am on when it fell.

This rock falls about 30 ft. down a gully on the back side of Columbia.  As I restart my descent, I think to myself how lucky I was to not get crushed by this huge boulder.    

Dale and I hike down the scree filled trail together sharing stories of various mountains that we've hiked.  Columbia was his 24th, likewise it was my 24th fourteener too.  

Lost hiker?

About halfway to the tree line, I hear a scream and look down the mountain and see a solo hiker waving her arms.  This is usually a sign that someone needs help, unless they are just being an idiot.  I pick up my descent pace to try and reach this person as soon as possible, thinking I may have to use the SPOT for an SOS message.

The hiker needing help is seen as a little black dot on the bottom left of this picture.
I reach this person and discover a lady who's in a bit of a panic.  She claims to be lost, even though she was standing / sitting 10 ft. away from the trail.  She says that she got separated from her group, and then she tried hiking down into the trees to look for the trail, but got lost and started hiking back up for some reason.  She starts telling me she was going to hunker down for the night beneath some rocks with her rain jacket.  

This is when I realized that the panic here is not normal.  Not to mention, the trail was very visible from where we were standing.  I assume she was having some altitude sickness which will occasionally cause one's mind to go haywire and cause panic and poor decision making.  It's a very dangerous condition if you're by yourself.  

Nobody in their right mind would talk about spending the night above the treeline with simply a rain jacket, not to mention it was only 2:30pm.

She asks if we will take her to the trail head and of course we agree.  Dale and I look at each other and don't even have to say anything.  We both know this lady needs to descend altitude more than anything right now.

We descend almost to the tree line when she stops and claims she sees her two friends descending above us.  She says that she'll wait for them, so we say our goodbyes and receive a thank you for our help, and we're on our way.

Back in the trees, Dale and I split up to go to our separate camps.  I break down my tent with quickness and I am back on the 3.5 mile backpack out by 3:30pm.  

The descent through the forest.
I ran out of water at 4:30pm, making the final mile or so of my descent through the forest even more miserable.  Reaching the truck at 5:30pm, I chug an entire Gatorade I had waiting.  I take off my boots to reveal a few blisters.  My entire body hurts, some parts more than others.  I change clothes, hit a Subway for some food,  and make the drive home in under 3 hours.  

Upon arriving at home, I realize that I have serious bruising on the inside of my right ankle.  Go figure, apparently the talus left it's mark.