Alpine Ventures

Outdoor adventures in Colorado and beyond

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Mt. Sneffels (8/13/10)

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Dallas Peak and Blue Lake

Heading into the second week of August, I had three straight days off from work (Thursday through Saturday), so that meant it was time for a little bit of a road trip.  My main goal of this trip was to head down to the San Juans and climb a 14er, then backtrack back to Gunnison, where my friend, Jay, lives, and then we’d all hit up Crested Butte for some world-class mountain biking.

My friend, Matt, decided to join me since it would be his last weekend in Colorado before heading back to school in California.  We met up in Golden around 10:30 on Thursday morning, then headed west.  There was a summertime cold front moving through, so we drove through some heavy rain showers and thunderstorms, but luckily, the weather forecast was calling for completely clear weather for the next few days with no thunderstorms… and unusual treat for midsummer in Colorado.

Our plan was to end up in Ouray, then drive to up to Yankee Boy Basin and camp at the trailhead for Mt. Sneffels.  On the way out, though, we decided to take a little detour and stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This was well worth a side trip (even with the $15 entrance fee), as the canyon is very dramatic and awesome to see, and the variety of vegetation is cool too, with lots of scrub oak and deciduous plants to go along with the fir trees.  We parked at the visitor center and went on a short hike around the rim of the canyon to get some exercise and get a little taste of the Black Canyon.

Due to the afternoon lighting, my pictures don’t really do the canyon justice, but I highly recommend a visit to anyone who’s in the area.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
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After leaving the Black Canyon, we drove to Ouray, with the dramatic view of the San Juans, highlighted by Mt. Sneffels, greeted us as we drove south from Montrose.  This was the first time I ever visited Ouray, and it’s definitely one of the cooler mountain towns that I have visited.  It’s situated right in the middle of a deep valley, and has a friendly, old-school western town feel to it.  We ate at an Irish pub there, then headed up to Yankee Boy Basin to camp.  We couldn’t have picked a better night to camp in the San Juans as there was a meteor shower going on at the time.  We both slept outside under the amazingly star-filled sky, and it was pretty cool watching the display of shooting stars in the crystal clear sky.

We set our alarms for 5 a.m., and woke up to frost on the ground during a surprisingly cold summer morning (of course, we were at about 11,000 feet).  Due to a generous starting elevation, we didn’t have a long approach ahead of us, unlike some of the other fourteeners I’ve summited this summer.  We hiked up through Yankee Boy Basin as the sun rose, aiming for Blue Lakes Pass, from which we’d pick up the class-3 rated Southwest Ridge Route.

The spectacular San Juan Range presented itself to us as it got light outside.

Gilpin Peak
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Blue Lakes Pass, looking up at the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Sneffels
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The southwest ridge ended up being a fun, mostly straight-forward route on mostly good rock.  Following cairns, the route up the left side of the ridge is pretty easy to follow initially, and the only part that’s kind of tricky is when you have to cross over to the right side of the ridge.  At this point, when staying left would pretty much force you to be cliffed out, you drop into a larger gully on the right side, scramble up the gully (which is fairly loose) for a little ways until picking the ridge back up again.  From here on out, the rest of the route to the summit is pretty obvious.

Matt checking out the route
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Looking west at Dallas Peak
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Wildflowers growing out of the rocks
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The notch that we crossed before dropping into the aforementioned gully
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This gully was the only nasty part of the route, but fortunately we didn’t have to stay in it for long
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More solid terrain awaited us upon exiting the gully
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Looking southwest at the Wilson Group and Lizard Head Peak
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Just before the final pitch to the summit, the route traverses under the summit and then ascends up the right side of the peak.  It’s tempting to just go straight up, but as we found, it was easier and quicker to just stick to the route and follow the cairns.

Matt looking at the final stretch to the summit
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Final push to the summit
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We reached the summit at 8:15 a.m., breaking a personal record by 15 minutes of the earliest I’ve ever summited a mountain (Longs Peak and the Crestone Needle were tied for my previous record, at 8:30 a.m.).  It was a good thing this route was short and we made it to the top early, too, because I left my sunglasses in the car… something you should NEVER do in the mountains!

As expected, the summit views were phenomenal.  We had total bluebird skies on what was really a fall-like day.  The monsoon season had hit southwest Colorado brutally hard in the prior weeks, too, so we were really lucky.  A couple of locals we saw said it was the first clear day the San Juans had seen in over three WEEKS.

Summit views, looking back over Yankee Boy Basin
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Matt enjoying the views
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Looking north, Uncompahgre Valley in the distance
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Dallas Peak, with the Wilsons (Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente Peak) in the background
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Where are my sunglasses??
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With the sun higher in the sky, the views on the way back down the mountain were awesome, too.

Another wildflower growing out of the rocks
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Lizard Head Peak
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Looking down at Blue Lakes Pass
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Blue Lakes and Dallas Peak
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Looking back up at Sneffels, still wishing I had my sunglasses
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Wildflowers on the hike out
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Teakettle Mountain (I think)
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Yankee Boy Basin
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We got back to the car around 11, and since we still had a long day ahead of us, we drove back to Gunnison and met up with my friend, Jay, to hit up some of Crested Butte’s world-renowned singletrack that afternoon… continuing what turned out to be a pretty epic weekend.

Written by Alan

September 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point (8/7/10)

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Willow Lake Falls

Two weekends ago, my friend from work, Nick, and I headed down to the Sangre de Christos for a one-day assault of Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point via Kit Carson’s classic north ridge.  My camera batteries died early on in the day, so all of these photo credits belong to Nick, who was generous enough to loan me his excellent pictures from the day.

We both only had one day off from work, so we left Friday afternoon and drove down to the Willow Lake Trailhead, where we slept for a few hours before a super-early alpine start due to the length of the approach.  We set our alarms for 1:30 a.m… except I accidentally set mine for p.m., so Nick’s alarm was the only one that went off.  It was an obnoxious ringing noise and he didn’t seem to know what was going on, so we were both very confused as we tried to wake up.  Naturally, the first thing that popped into my head was a line from the movie Grandma’s Boy, so I half-coherently said, “What is that ringing noise?  Do I have a tumor?”.  Then I said to Nick, “Dude, are you going to turn that thing off?”, to which he replied, “Oh yeah, I didn’t realize what was happening.”

Otherwise, the morning went smoothly.  The temps were comfortable at our 9,000 foot starting elevation, and after breakfast and energy drinks, we were on the trail by about 2:15.  Surprisingly, we passed a couple of other parties on the way up who had started hiking even earlier than us.  The hike wasn’t bad at all in the dark.  The elevation gain was steady, and enough to get us sweating, but it was a good warm-up for what was to come.  We made it to Willow Lake (where most people camp, and do these peaks as a multi-day trip) around 4:30 and it was still pitch-black out, so we decided to wait a little while until we had some light and could see the remaining route, as the trail pretty much faded out at the lake.

Hanging out in the pre-dawn hours
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We hung out near the lake with two other guys we met on the hike up, then once we just began to see a little bit of light, a ton of headlamps started making their way past us.  Clearly these mountains were going to be popular today, but we had chosen the lightly-traveled and more challenging north ridge route on Kit Carson, so it wouldn’t be long before we would leave the crowds.  We followed some of the groups with headlamps and were eventually able to find a faint trail again that took us around the upper part of the lake, over a creek, and into the alpine basin below Kit Carson and Challenger.

We didn’t cut off for our intended path soon enough and had already started hiking up the route to Challenger when we decided to cut left and continue to the base of the north ridge.  We were high enough up, that it involved a bit of boulder-hopping to reach the cliff bands we were aiming to skirt around at the start of the route.

Kit Carson Peak
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Our route continues left of the cliff bands in the left side of the photo, before going up
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“RED BULL!  YEAH!  LETS GO CLIMB SOME MOUNTAINS!” – Nick
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I don’t normally drink energy drinks during day-to-day life, but I’ve actually found that Red Bulls help to wake me up on climbs like this if I’m sleepy, so I guess they’re a replacement for coffee.  Definitely not good for you typically, but they help in these situations.

Once we made our way past the aforementioned cliff bands, we begin scrambling up and over some ledges, angling right toward the north ridge.  There was one other group in front of us who seemed to be a little in over their heads.  One guy got freaked out and turned around, while the other two guys were yelling down to us asking whether or not we knew the route.  They were staying left of the actual north ridge, which was the intended route, and eventually went out of view.  Fortunately, they ended up making it safely, but later that day a couple of other people told us they had seen these same guys on the way down and that they described their route as “scary”.  Glad they were alright, and I in no way mean to insult these guys, but more I want to point out the importance of staying on-route in difficult terrain.

We angled right here up a series of ledges to ridge the north ridge, as seen in this photo
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A little bit of scrambling to reach the ridge
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Sangre views upon reaching the north ridge
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Alan ready to climb the north ridge
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Nick ready to climb the north ridge
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The climb up the north ridge was awesome and exhilarating!  The exposure was pretty intense, but the rock was very solid for the most part and the route-finding was very straight-forward.  Overall, the north ridge is a blast to climb, but it does require lots of focus and attention on every move as it involves about 1,500 vertical feet of solid class 4 climbing.  Toward the very top, on one of the last pitches, a few of the larger rocks were loose, so I found it was better to climb up the right side of the ridge.

Nick on the Kit Carson’s north ridge
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Alan on Kit Carson’s north ridge
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Columbia Point in the background
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Looking up at the final climb to Kit Carson’s summit
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Nick ready for the final push
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We reached the hard-earned summit at 9:30 a.m., with the Crestones staring us right in the face.  Unfortunately, cloud cover over the Crestones prevented any good picture taking opportunities of the famous view, but it was still awesome to see nonetheless.  We took a well-deserved break on the summit, but eventually had to go because clouds were building very quickly and we still had to drop back down before gaining more elevation to reach Challenger Point.  We met a younger dude on the summit, Sam, who was hiking alone so we invited him to hike down with us… we figured we’d both be better off – he wouldn’t have to hike down alone, and he already knew the route down Challenger which would help us out.

Famous view of the Crestones (unfortunately, with poor lighting)
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Great Sand Dunes and the Blanca massif
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Awesome Sangre views
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Alan (left) and Nick (right) on Kit Carson’s summit
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The traverse over to Challenger involved more uphill than my legs wanted, but that’s the way it goes when you want multiple summits in one day.  I expected to be hiking down Kit Carson Avenue instead of up, but luckily the final climb up to Challenger wasn’t as bad as it looked from Kit Carson Avenue (hey, when you’re tired from climbing one 14er, 500 vertical feet of uphill does look kind of brutal!).

Ready to head down from Kit Carson’s summit
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Kit Carson Avenue
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Challenger Point
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We reached the summit of Challenger around 10:30 a.m. and took another nice break while sharing the summit with several other people.  Then it was time for the only part of the day I wasn’t looking forward to – the loose and steep descent down Challenger back into the valley.

Challenger Point summit
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More awesome Sangre views
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Nick with Kit Carson and the Crestones in the background
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The descent down Challenger was, in fact, one of the shittiest of shitty descents of any peak I’ve been on recently… right up there with North Maroon Peak (although, not nearly as long as North Maroon… fortunately I avoided the notorious South Maroon descent, but I’ve heard stories!).  Luckily, after we finally reached the valley, the rest of the hike out was actually really nice.

Looking back up at Kit Carson Peak… the north ridge is the one on the left side of the peak
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One nice thing about hiking up in the dark, is that you get to see everything for the first time on the way back when it’s light (assuming you’re on a nice trail anyways).  Willow Lake and the waterfall flowing into it are simply stunning.  We found a nice spot above the lake and near the waterfall where we took a nice break and enjoyed the amazing scenery.

Willow Lake
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Awesome waterfall flowing into Willow Lake
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Chillin’ above the lake
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The rest of the hike out was great.  Sure we were tired, but the hike was beautiful and it was cool being able to hike through different vegetation zones while looking down into the San Luis Valley.  We made it back to the car around 3:00 – a long but awesome day.

San Luis Valley
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Being all gangsta on the hike out
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Looking back up
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Looking back at the Sangre de Christos on the way out
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The north ridge route on Kit Carson is a great option for those looking for an adventure.  The class 4 climbing is serious, though, and the exposure is fairly intense, so I wouldn’t recommend this route to someone with little experience on class 3/4 terrain.  That being said, for those who are experienced and looking for a classic route that’s off the beaten path, I highly suggest taking a look at this route.

I have to say that even for those who aren’t into climbing mountains, the hike to Willow Lake is a worthy destination in of itself.  I imagine this area is especially beautiful in the fall when the aspens are changing and the peaks are dusted with snow.  Looking forward to my next trip to the Sangres as always.  Thanks for reading!

Written by Alan

August 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm

The Citadel and Hagar Mountain (7/24/10)

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My friend, Sarah, and I decided to climb a couple of lightly-traveled “13ers” in the Front Range, choosing the Citadel and Hagar Mountain based on it’s central access from Denver (where I was driving from ) and Fraser (where Sarah was driving from).  Access to The Citadel is from Herman Gulch and Herman Lake, a beautiful but extremely popular area.  We started hiking at 7 a.m., before the crowds showed up, and considered hiking down the trail-less Dry Gulch, if feasible, on the way out.

With the wildflowers seemingly at their peak, the scenery on the hike to Herman Lake was awesome on the beautiful summer morning.

Columbine in full bloom
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Pettingell Peak
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The Citadel (left) and Pettingell Peak (right)
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Alpine meadow filled with Indian paintbrush
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Herman Lake
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After reaching Herman Lake, the trail came to an end, so we hiked west across open tundra, dodging willows along the way, as we made our way up to “Fortress Pass”.  Once we made it across the open alpine basin to the steep mountainside, we found a faint trail that took us the rest of the way up to the pass.  The alpine wildflowers continued to impress.

Indian paintbrush
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Hiking toward Fortress Pass
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Aster
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More columbine
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Closer look at The Citadel
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Once we reached Fortress Pass, we hiked along the steep ridge until reaching a formidable wall of rock, from which point we traversed to the left until reaching a Class-3 gully that leads to the summit.  The gully itself was fairly steep, so Sarah and I climbed up the left side, where much more stable rock and solid handholds could be found.  From the top of the gully, the summit block lay right in front of us, requiring just a quick scramble.

We traversed left at this wall of rock to reach the Class 3 gully to the summit
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Preview of the ridge scramble over to Hagar Mountain
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Gully leading to the summit… stay left for slightly more difficult, but much more stable and enjoyable climbing
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Sarah making her way up the gully
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Summit block
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We reached the summit shortly after 10 a.m. and enjoyed beautiful views of the large expanses of Front Range alpine tundra.  The weather was fantastic and we still felt strong, so continuing on to Hagar Mountain was a no-brainer.

Looking at the route to Hagar Mountain from The Citadel’s summit
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Looking northwest toward the Gore Range
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Alpine basins to the north
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The ridge hike to Hagar Mountain wasn’t as strenuous as I was expecting, and after some easy walking, we came face to face with some exciting Class 3 and 4 scrambling, all on good rock.  This ended up being the highlight of the day.  The scrambling was fantastic and wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as the Maroon Bells traverse just five days earlier!  We even got to scramble across an awesome mini-knife edge just before reaching the summit (mini, compared to the knife edge on Capitol Peak, that is!).  I would definitely rank the final scramble to Hagar’s summit as one of my favorite Class 3/4 scrambles on a mountain thus far.

Right where the fun begins just below Hagar Mountain’s summit
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Closer look at some of the climbing difficulties
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Sarah enjoying the awesome scrambling
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We weren’t expecting a knife edge ridge, but it was pretty sweet!
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Just after crossing the knife edge we reached the summit.  The weather was so nice, and wind-free for the second weekend in a row, so we must have chilled out for almost half an hour.  Surprisingly, a couple of other climbers joined us on this relatively seldom-visited summit just before we headed down, after coming up the opposite direction from Loveland Ski Area.

Myself on the summit
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We decided to descend via Dry Gulch and make a big loop of the day rather than backtrack.  We scurried our way down loose scree into the vast alpine basin, then bushwhacked the rest of the way out until eventually hitting a trail about a mile and a half from I-70 and the Loveland Pass/Loveland Ski Area interchange.  After the initial steep descent, the rest of the way out was pretty cool, the bushwhacking wasn’t too difficult and it was nice walking through a beautiful, remote valley. Not surprisingly, the wildflowers were awesome here as well.

Looking back up at the Continental Divide while descending Dry Gulch
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Primrose
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Indian paintbrush
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As we exited Dry Gulch, we had a longer walk back to the trailhead than we realized.  We had to hike west a little ways along a dirt road paralleling the interstate to reach the Loveland exit, and from there, we picked up a newly-built bike-path and hiked east to reach the exit for the Herman Gulch trailhead.  At this point, we were walking on a paved path parallel to a noisy interstate, which I supposed pretty much canceled out the bushwhack through a remote wilderness valley we had just completed!

Of course our bushwhacking wasn’t quite finished as it turned out.  We missed the junction with the Continental Divide Trail that would have taken us right to our cars, so we decided to bushwhack through frustrating willows and marshes a short distance to the parking lot.  When we were almost there, we reached a creek and couldn’t find any obvious ways to cross without getting our feet wet, but decided it wasn’t a big deal since we were just about to reach our cars anyways.  This was the second time I had worn my new and lightweight La Sportiva Exum Pro trail shoes.  I love these shoes so far, they’re much more comfortable and breathable than hiking boots, but the only trade-off is that they aren’t waterproof.  So between drenching them in this creek, and wearing them on the Maroon Bells epic, these shoes have been through a lot on their first two days in the mountains!

The parking lot was packed once we returned, but amazingly enough, we had only seen two other people all day since passing Herman Lake that morning (well, except for crossing the interstate and Loveland Ski Area, obviously).  Our route up and around these two 13,000 foot peaks proves that you CAN in fact find solitude in the Front Range on a Saturday!

Written by Alan

July 31, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Maroon Bells Traverse (7/19/10)

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Last week, I decided that I wanted to climb a difficult Fourteener, after being turned back just shy of Crestone Peak’s summit a couple of weeks earlier.  Originally I had thought about joining my friend, Jon, from work on Capitol Peak, but he and his friend were going up on a day I had to work.  So out of nowhere, I thought “Hey, why not give the Bells Traverse a shot?”  So I mentioned it to my buddy, Matt, and he said he was down.  Then I asked Jon if he and his friend wanted to go, even though they were climbing Capitol the day before, and he said he was down.  So it was a go.

Part of me was excited, while part of me was thinking, “what the hell am I getting myself into?”  The Bells Traverse, after all, has a few Class 5 pitches on it, but the rock is bad enough up there that roping up is not a good idea since (1) ropes can knock down a lot of loose rock, and (2) there are really no good places to set anchors.  Nevertheless, I felt like we had a good, experienced group heading up there (Jon and Chris both skied from the summit of North Maroon around Memorial Day), so I took on the “Bring it on!” mindset.

I took off from work just after 3:00 on Sunday, picked up some food, and swung by Matt’s place in Golden, just a few blocks from where I work.  We left around four and drove to Aspen, stopping in Glenwood Springs for some delicious barbecue at the Rib House (they had mustard-based sauce and pulled pork… a win in my books!).   I didn’t get in touch with Jon until we left Glenwood Springs, as he and Chris had just gotten off the trail after a 14-hour day on Capitol Peak.  However, they were still down to ring the Bells, so we all met at the trailhead around dark.  We didn’t wake up insanely early since Jon and Chris needed some extra rest after climbing Capitol, so we set our alarms for 3:30 and set off from Maroon Lake shortly after 4:00.

Looking at the Maroon Bells from the start of the trail at Maroon Lake (taken later that afternoon when we got back)
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After an easy 3.5 mile hike from Maroon Lake, we found the odd-shaped tree, which is the landmark for the turnoff to the route up South Maroon Peak.  From here it was time for the section known as the “2800 feet of suck”.  We had to hike up an insanely steep trail through grass and, higher up, loose rock to the ridge line, gaining 2,800 feet in a mile.  While it was certainly a tough hike, I felt like it would have been worse going down.

Hiking up the “2800 feet of suck”
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Jon doing a little bit of scrambling

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Nearing South Maroon’s ridge

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Looking west into Fravert Basin from the ridge
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The “2800 feet of suck” was the most difficult part of South Maroon.  From the ridge line at about 13,000 feet, it was a fun scramble up to the summit.  I didn’t find it to be nearly as hard as it’s made out to be, and the four of us did a nice job of route-finding.  The excellent route description from 14ers.com, which I had printed out, certainly didn’t hurt either.  Shortly after continuing past the ridge, we dropped onto the left side of South Maroon and scrambled up a fun Class-3 chimney.

Matt (left) and Jon (right) climbing up the first chimney
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Chris climbing up the chimney
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View of our remaining route to the top of South Maroon
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From here, we traversed across the mountain until reaching a snow patch that appeared to be the start of one of the two “nasty and loose gullies” described on the 14ers.com route description.  We had the option of climbing either gully.  I believe we climbed the first gully described, and it was pretty loose and nasty, but we made it through this section very quickly.  We actually ended up climbing too far up the gully, but were able to work our way around to some ledges to the left.  By this point, the rock was much more tolerable and enjoyable.

Entrance to the gully we climbed
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Matt, shortly after exiting the gully
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Jon (left) and Matt (right) checking out the views to the west
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After some more traversing, we scrambled up a gully between the summit and sub-peak 13,753′ to the right.

Working our way up the mountain
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Not far from the summit, we reached some ledges that were awesome to scramble across.

Traversing across an exposed ledge
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Jon climbing just below the final summit ridge
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Chris traversing one final ledge before the summit ridge
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After rounding the final corner shown in the picture above, we quickly reached the summit ridge, with a short, easy scramble separating us from the top of South Maroon Peak.

Final push to the summit
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Jon (above) and Matt (below) approaching the summit of South Maroon Peak
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We reached the summit at about 9:30 a.m.  Even though our day was just beginning, the feeling of standing atop one of the Maroon Bells was incredible.  There’s nothing quite like standing atop one of North America’s most iconic mountains (similar feeling to the Grand Teton, which not coincidentally, is the most photographed mountain along with the Maroon Bells).

We didn’t hang out for long, though.  A few clouds were starting to form, but the weather still looked like it would be good for a while and the temperatures were some of the warmest I had experienced on a Fourteener in quite some time, so we decided to go for the traverse.  The connecting ridge to North Maroon was certainly intimidating looking, and Matt actually decided it was too much for his comfort level, so he opted to turn around.  I was caught off guard at first – I really wanted to do the traverse, especially with good conditions and a good group of climbers, but I also didn’t want him descending South Maroon Peak alone.  He assured me he would be fine, though, and told me not to pass up the traverse, so I decided to continue.  However, the rest of the day I found myself second-guessing my decision.  In hindsight, I won’t ever leave someone behind in an area like that again (unless they are able to join another group or something) even though he insisted I should continue.  Fortunately, he has good mountain sense and made it down without any problems, but admittedly, the guilt crossed my mind a few times the rest of the day.

From the summit, we had a daunting view of what lay ahead of us.

North Maroon Peak, seen from the summit of South Maroon Peak
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The down-climb to the saddle between the two peaks was relatively short, but it was a pain in the ass.  With loose, metamorphic rock, we had to be careful on the descent.

Chris downclimbing
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Once reaching the saddle, the route became serious.  There were three main “difficulties”, according to the route description, with the first one laying just ahead of us.  The first difficulty involved a climb up a dihedral, which was mostly Class 4, with maybe a couple of low Class 5 moves.  It wasn’t too bad, though… it was kind of fun, actually, and certainly easier than what was to come.

Jon scaling the first of three difficulties of the traverse
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Chris following Jon up the dihedral
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Shortly after scaling the dihedral, we reached the second of three difficulties.  This one seemed to have several challenges, and was by far the most demanding part of our day, both in terms of climbing and route-finding.  We first climbed a solid Class 5 face just to the right of the ridgeline.  By this point, we were all realizing that this route was no joke, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t a couple of sections that spooked us a little bit!  The first face we climbed on this section was definitely exciting!

Jon making a tricky Class 5 move
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Nearing the top of the pitch
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After topping out on the first pitch of the second difficulty, we were scrambled up onto an exhilarating ridge with awesome exposure!

Chris and Jon making their way across an exposed ridge
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We exited the ridge pretty quickly and came face to face with the most difficult part of the entire route.  There was no obvious way to scale the next face that lay in front of us.  We kept looking for routes on the left (west) side of the ridge, but there was just nothing we felt comfortable with being un-roped.  I even tried a face I thought looked reasonable at one point, but then hit a section less than halfway up with a move I just didn’t feel comfortable making without a rope, so Jon guided me as I climbed back down, and then we continued to look for a good way.

I eventually went back around the more exposed right (east) side of the ridge and found a reasonable option.  I called Jon and Chris over, and Jon also found a a climbable gully a little farther beyond the one I had found… honestly, I can’t remember which one we decided on, as there was a lot going on in our minds in a short period of time.  Right before we climbed this section I remember taking it all in, thinking about how small I felt in an exposed area surrounded by huge mountains… it was actually a pretty awesome feeling.

Chris traversing the east side of the ridge just before reaching the gully we climbed
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Pyramid Peak dominates the view to the east
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Chris led the way up the gully we decided on, then I went next, followed by Jon. There was one handhold that seemed great until I noticed it was kind of loose as I worked my way past it. While Jon was making his way up this section, he asked me what move I made, and I said, “Man, I hate to say it, but I didn’t notice that rock was loose until I was in the process of making the move, so I honestly don’t know”. I tried to help him, but fortunately, he figured out a way past it. We had to climb one more short section to reach the ridge again, but it wasn’t too difficult. Regardless, I think all three of us were glad to have this part behind us.

Chris climbing up one of the pitches on the second difficulty
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Jon scaling a section on the east side of the ridge
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We still had one more difficulty to deal with, and more route-finding issues lay before us at this point.  Although exposed, we traversed along the exposed east side hoping to find a reasonable way to scale the final difficulty.  However, we continued to follow a path along the east side that was reasonable to walk across, in spite of the exposure, and eventually we reached a saddle and realized we had inadvertently bypassed the third difficulty!  From here, it was just a straight-forward scramble to the summit of North Maroon

Traversing along the east side of the ridge to the saddle below North Maroon Peak
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From here, it was a relatively short Class 3/4 scramble to the summit (which was pretty easy compared to what we had been on!).  We had seen a couple of other people on the summit, but they were gone by the time we made it to the top.  Since it was a Monday, we didn’t see anyone else on the Bells all day.  After gaining about 500 vertical feet or so, the summit of North Maroon greeted us at 12:30 p.m.  It had taken 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete the traverse (I was expecting no more than 2 hours), but knowing that we had just “rung the Bells” was an awesome feeling!

Final scramble to North Maroon’s summit
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Jon gives a well-deserved victory cheer just before reaching the summit
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North Maroon Peak summit!  – looking back toward South Maroon Peak
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Summit self photo
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Woohoo!
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The three of us on the summit – Jon (left), Alan (center), Chris (right)
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Skies were beginning to threaten a little bit while we were on the summit, and we still had a long descent down North Maroon, so we didn’t hang around on the summit too long, in spite of the comfortable temperatures and calm winds.

Jon hiking down… we had to make it back to the far side of the lake just right of center
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Right as we were downclimbing the crux of North Maroon’s standard route, a short Class 4 section, it began to thunder and lightning.  This was not good since we were still at least 13,000 feet high.  Just as the three of us finished down-climbing this section, we saw a huge lightning strike right in front of us (in the valley below us, as seen in the above picture) and an almost-instantaneous BOOM of thunder.

“Oh shit, here we go,” I thought.  We decided to hunker down and wait it out, which is about all you can do when you’re caught in a storm that high on a mountain.  We saw several more big lightning strikes that were a little too close for comfort, but all we could do was wait.  It then started to pour down hail on us, and strong winds pelted us with hail as it covered the ground within a minute or two.  In a way it was kind of cool to see the power of a thunderstorm from where we were, but at the same time, I don’t really like seeing lightning on the side of a mountain at 13,000 feet!

After about 10 or 15 minutes, the storm moved on, and we were able to continue moving down the mountain.

Looking at the storm cloud as it leaves us and passes over Pyramid Peak
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The hike down pretty much sucked to honest. Already exhausted, we lost the route at one point and probably lost an hour trying to figure out where to go. I remember at one point, all three of us had different opinions on the best way to go, and as it turned out, none of us knew what the hell we were talking about. Eventually, we negotiated our way down some ledges on a cliff and regained the route lower down.

The rest of the way down involved me slipping and taking a big gash out of my hand on a rock (why you should always take a first-aid kit with you!), crossing a huge “rock glacier” with lots of large, loose boulders, and losing the trail and bushwhacking, all the while muttering lots of foul language as a result. Really, I’ve had worse hikes out, but when you’re tired, hiking down a steep mountain can be frustrating!

Fortunately, we had some nice views on the way down.

Pyramid Peak looks HUGE from the flanks of North Maroon Peak
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It rained off and on a few more times, but we got to see a cool rainbow as a result
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After finally making it back to an actual trail, the rest of the hike out was quick and easy.  We made it back to the trailhead at about 6:00 where Matt was waiting for us (he had made it back a few hours earlier and had been relaxing all afternoon).  It was a long, 14 hour day, but it was totally awesome!  The Bells marked my 24th and 25th Fourteeners, so I still have a long way to go before climbing all 58, but two of the most difficult ones are now completed.

I’d like to give a big shout out to Jon, Chris, and Matt for being awesome climbing partners… having a strong and knowledgeable group of mountain climbers on a route like this is important… and to Matt for being so cool about descending South Maroon by himself and encouraging us to continue the traverse without him.  By the way, I found out later that this was just Matt’s third Fourteener climbed… doing one of the hardest fourteeners (some people say that South Maroon is the hardest) as just your third total is pretty impressive!

Check out Jon’s account of the day here

Written by Alan

July 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

First Fourteeners and Other Adventures in July of 2007

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RMNP (Part 2) 11

Exactly one year before moving to Colorado, my brother, Ellison, and I embarked on an epic road trip to Colorado and Wyoming, where we camped and hiked for two and a half weeks.  The summer before, I had lived and worked in Jackson Hole, WY, and wanted to return out west the following summer as a result, even though I would be spending it in Greenville, SC (my hometown).  I had one semester of college left and a summer job working for a newspaper with flexible hours, so I decided this would be one last hurrah before college graduation.

Little did I know that I would move to Colorado just one year later.  I already had plans to move to Jackson Hole after graduation to work at a ski shop for the winter.  I knew I wanted to live out west and had a strong desire to move out of the South, having spent my whole life up until that point there.  I wasn’t sure how long I would live in Jackson, but I knew it was a great opportunity to land me in the Rocky Mountains.  As it turned out, I fell in love with the West once again, which wasn’t a surprise, but what was a surprise instead was that I ended up in Denver.  After applying for and getting accepted to a writing and publishing course at the University of Denver, I moved to the big city in July, and upon completion of the course, decided I liked Colorado so much that I would stay… plus the job opportunities would be better (or so I thought).

As it turned out, our country collapsed into a recession, the publishing industry collapsed, and finding steady employment became difficult.  Fortunately, having just celebrated my two-year anniversary of living in Colorado, I’ve found myself in a job I enjoy, even if it is not the most well-paying, career-oriented job.  Regardless, I’m happy to be back in the outdoor retail industry with a wonderful company, and have become redetermined to get my writing career on track (while also searching for other career options and possible graduate programs).

Anyways, enough of my life story.  The long trip that Ellison and I took to this great state introduced me to my first Fourteeners and a taste of where I would be living (both in Colorado, and for the short term, Wyoming).  We left Greenville in the early morning hours of July 13 and made the two-day long drive out to Denver.  We stayed in Boulder the first night, and hiked Green Mountain the next morning as an acclimation hike.  This is still one of my favorite metro area foothill hikes, and proved to be a great start to the trip for us.  (Unfortunately, no pictures from this hike since the ones that are already posted online are in a condensed version)

That afternoon, we drove up to Estes Park and set up camp in the shadow of many 12,000 foot plus peaks.  The next day, we drove up to Bear Lake to do the tourist hikes, which to be fair, are still beautiful even if crowded.  We hiked to Dream and Emerald Lakes, then made our way over Lake Haiyaha and Glacier Gorge.  We wanted to check out a few other lakes, but it started thundering early in the day so we decided to skip the Loch Vale, which is more exposed.

The “tourist shot” of Dream Lake and Hallet Peak
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Lake Haiyaha
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In keeping tradition with our “tourist day” in Rocky Mountain National Park, we drove out from Bear Lake in a lightning storm, and then made the drive up Trail Ridge Road to check out the scenery.  We then walked up a short trail above the Alpine Visitor Center to check out some awesome views.  The tundra scenery contrasting against the dark rain clouds was spectacular.

Rain on the tundra
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We cooked dinner at a picnic area in Moraine Park that night and were able to get some cool sunset photos.

Longs Peak sunset
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The next morning, we continued our altitude acclimation process, and hiked to the summit of Flattop Mountain.  While also popular, this was still a spectacular hike.  The open expanses of flat alpine meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park amidst towering, glacially carved peaks is just totally unique and awesome.

Alpine meadows
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Hallet Peak
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We had originally hoped to summit Hallet Peak, about a mile away from Flattop Mountain’s summit, but storm clouds quickly began to form to the west, so we decided not to risk it.  Our decision to head back down turned out to be a good one, as we heard plenty of thunder on the way out.

After arriving back at Bear Lake, we drove to the western side of the park where we would camp for one more night before heading to central Colorado.  We enjoyed meeting and hanging out with other people camping at the Timber Creek Campground, and even met another family from South Carolina.

One of the coolest parts about our three days in Rocky Mountain National Park was the variety of wildlife we saw.  Included in our wildlife sightings:  deer at our campground outside of Estes Park, bull elk in the alpine meadows on Flattop Mountain, bighorn sheep at Poudre Lake, and a moose at our campground at Timber Creek.

Buck outside of Estes Park
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Bull elk on the flanks of Flattop Mountain
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Bighorn ram near Poudre Lake
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Moose in the Timber Creek Campground (photo quality is poor on this one, unfortunately)
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The next day, we took our time and made our way down to Summit County.  We decided to split a cheap hotel room in Frisco that night before attempting both of our first Fourteeners the next morning – Grays and Torreys Peaks.  Although they rank among the easier Fourteeners out there, it still proved to be a big task having never been that high before.

We woke up at 5 a.m. and drove east on I-70 to the trailhead, getting on the trail shortly before 7 a.m.  Having been to this area a few times now, I must say that, in spite of the crowds, this hike is beautiful no matter what the season is.  We were treated to a beautiful display of wildflowers on the hike up through Steven’s Gulch.

Indian Paintbrush flowers with Grays Peak in the background
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Ellison with Torreys Peak in the background
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As we began to switchback up the slopes of Grays Peak, we ran into more wildlife – this time, a mountain goat.  The shaggy fella didn’t seem too afraid of us, which allowed for some great photo ops at first, but then when he kept following us we had to make a wide circle around him, wondering why he was so interested in us.  Sure, he looked friendly, but we didn’t want to take any chances with an animal that has both sharp hooves and sharp horns!

The mountain goat
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mountain goat 2

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On the way up, shortly after the goat encounter, we cut across the slope over boulders and talus to the saddle between Grays and Torreys.  I decided early on in the hike that I wanted us to summit Torreys first because “it looked more badass”.  Upon reaching the saddle, we made the short but steep scramble to the summit.

Ellison approaching the saddle
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Approaching the summit… apparently we stashed our packs at the saddle, which looking back on it, was kind of dumb
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The feeling I got when reaching the top of that first fourteener was unreal. Something about being that high up and earning it for the first time was truly special. Little did I know, at the time, that shortly after moving to Colorado a year later I would make climbing all 58 Fourteener’s before turning 30 one of my biggest goals.

Summit Views
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After living in the moment for a little while on the top of Torreys Peak, we headed back down to the saddle so we could quickly ascend Grays Peak before the inevitable thunderheads popped up.  The traverse between the two peaks isn’t all that long, but we were definitely feeling the altitude by the time we reached our second 14,000 foot peak of the day.  The clouds were starting to look nasty once we reached the top, so we didn’t stay for very long, but we still had to get some summit shots.

Dark clouds moving in
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Smith brothers on top of Grays Peak
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Woohoo!!  An epic victory cheer by the bro
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On the way down, it began thundering and hailing on us, but fortunately the lightning seemed to be hitting on the opposite side of the divide from us.  We celebrated our first Fourteeners with a meal of champions at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco… big juicy hamburgers and delicious Colorado microbrewed beers.  Then it was off to the western side of Independence Pass, where we would be camping for the next three nights.

Even though it was just off to the side of the road, our campsite was awesome and beautiful.  Unfortunately, it also poured down rain on us all three nights we were there, making for a very wet camping experience.  The first morning, we woke up to overcast skies and a soaking wet campsite, but regardless, headed down to Aspen and went for a hike to Buckskin Pass in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.  Skies remained fairly overcast for our hike, but it was beautiful nonetheless.  The wildflowers on the steep ascent up to the pass were amazing.

The tourist shot of the Maroon Bells at Maroon Lake
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Ellison hiking just below the top of Buckskin Pass
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Pyramid Peak
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Snowmass Mountain
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After a relaxing afternoon back at the Lost Man Campground below Independence Pass, we endured another night of heavy rain and thunder.  The forecast called for nasty weather the next day, so we took a break from hiking and spent the day bumming around Aspen instead.  The next night, we turned in early and prepared for our last hike in Colorado, which would be another Fourteener – Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado, yet one of the state’s less technical Fourteeners (the only “technical” part is the four-wheel drive road to the trailhead!).  You would never guess it was the highest point in the state just by looking at it, but it is.

Fortunately, we woke up to a beautiful morning and were on the trail, after packing up our soggy camp, around 7 a.m.

The unimpressive, yet highest, summit of Mt. Elbert on a bluebird morning
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View of La Plata Peak on the hike up to Elbert
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The toughest part of the hike was at the very beginning, a brutally steep trail up to about treeline.  From there, it was a long slog the rest of the way up, but never as steep.  The weather held up nicely for us all morning, and soon enough, we made it to the highest point in Colorado.

Summit shots – ADizzle and E-Money!
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We celebrated a Fourteener summit at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco yet again.  Afterward, we continued our trip north, as we would be leaving Colorado and spending a few days up in Jackson Hole.  We drove to Steamboat Springs and found cheap lodging at the Bunkhouse Lodge, for a much needed good-night’s sleep in a bed after three consecutive wet nights of camping.  After an enjoyable and relaxing evening in the Yampa River Valley, we got a big breakfast the night morning and made the 6-7 hour trip north to Jackson Hole.  After spending the summer of 2006 there the year before, it almost felt as if I was returning home, and I got goosebumps as we rolled back into town.

We camped in the southern part of Grand Teton National Park that night, near the Gros Ventre River.  I remember that day and night were really hot… by far the hottest weather I had ever seen in Jackson, including two summers I have spent there.  It was in the 90’s the day we arrived (that is HOT for Jackson), and amazingly, it did not cool off much that night.

The next morning, we headed up to the park for a hike I had done before and wanted to show Ellison – Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes.  Less than a mile into the hike, we came across our first black bear of the trip!  Few things are as exciting as seeing a bear while hiking (assuming (1) it’s not an angry grizzly and, (2) it’s not raiding your campsite).  This particular bear minded his own business as we watched him mosy through the forest.

Black bear on the Garnet Canyon Trail
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After 4.5 miles of mostly steep hiking, we reached the lakes and chilled out for a little while.  These two alpine lakes are spectacular situated amidst the towering Tetons.  Disappointment Peak rises right above Amphitheater Lake, but the mighty Grand Teton looms just beyond, though it’s out of sight at the lake itself.

Amphitheater Lake
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Disappointment Peak
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SURPRISE! (lake)
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We were able to get a camping spot at Jenny Lake for the next few nights as well.  Even though it was a crowded national park service campground, it was still a pretty scenic location, with views of Mt. Teewinot from our site.

Mt. Teewinot
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The monsoonal flow seemed to follow us from Colorado up to Jackson.  Our hike the next day got rained out just a couple of miles into it.  We had planned to hike up to Bradley Lake and then up to a couple of remote lakes up Avalanche Gulch, but the bottom dropped out on us, so we turned around and hiked out soaking wet.  Some of the storm clouds in the valley looked pretty cool once it cleared up later that afternoon, though.

Storm clouds
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Since the day was rained out, we headed into town and I was able to take care of some business.  I met up with Michael Adams, one of the managers at Jack Dennis Sports whom I had met the previous summer, and talked to him about a winter job in the company’s ski shop.  He basically offered me a job, and I knew immediately that I was going to take it.  Moving out to Jackson Hole for a winter?  What kind of powder lover could turn that down!?

The next morning, we went to the southern end of the park to hike in one of my favorite areas – Death Canyon.  Our plan was for a very long hike (almost 8 miles one way) to the summit of 11,000 foot high Static Peak.  As we hiked by the scenic Phelps Lake we saw another black bear.  We had to wait a while, though, because this bear was sitting right in the middle of the trail eating huckleberries and did not have any interest in moving out of the way for us to pass.  Still, it was a cool to watch.

Black bear near Phelps Lake
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Shortly thereafter, we nearly ran right into a moose, who was busy munching away on grass and didn’t even seem to notice.

Moose
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About halfway through the hike, we picked up the Static Peak Divide Trail and were treated to beautiful views of the green hillsides of the Teton Range.

Looking west towards Fox Creek Pass
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After another mile and a half past the trail junction, Ellison began complaining of foot pain from slicing the bottom of his foot on a rock while dipping it in a creek earlier in the hike.  He decided he was done hiking uphill for the day, and decided to hike down and wait for me at the patrol cabin.  I continued hiking up the steep trail solo, while enjoying dramatic views once reaching the ridgeline.  I reached Static Peak Divide just as some nasty looking clouds were starting to move in.  Even though Static Peak’s summit was only a half mile further, I decided to turn back here rather than find out if Static Peak was true to its name.

Wildflower-lined creek
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Views near Static Peak Divide
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Static Peak
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This was the our last big hike of a completely awesome and epic trip.  The next day, we went for a short hike near Colter Bay, then slowly made our way back to South Carolina.  From there, we decided to be tourists for the day and checked out a few geyser basins in Yellowstone.  Even amidst the crows and the fact that I had been to the same area before, the geysers and hot springs were still a cool and totally unique sight.

We spent the night in Cody, then headed east, stopping at Mt. Rushmore, before continuing back to South Carolina in one very long push.  It was a trip to remember, and a preview for life out west.  I feel fortunate to have been able to live in both of these beautiful areas, and hope to be in Colorado for a long time as I am very, very happy here.

– Alan

Written by Alan

July 15, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Crestone Peak attempt (July 3, 2010)

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Climbers: Alan, Nick

Route: Red Gully (standard), class 3

Max Elevation: 13,800 feet (where we turned around due to dense fog)

Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet

Round-trip Mileage: 12 miles

For several weeks, I had been longing to make a trip down to the Sangre de Christos.  I only had one day available, so I decided to go for the 13 mile, 5,700 vertical foot climb of Crestone Peak in one push.  For most of the preceding week, I had trouble finding a partner for this climb, but at the last minute, I was able to get my friend and co-worker, Nick, to join me.  I headed straight home after work on Friday to quickly pack, and after picking up burritos for the road at Chipotle, we were on our way from Denver shortly before 8 p.m.

We arrived at the South Colony Lakes Trailhead late, and went to sleep in my 4-Runner around midnight.  Our alarms went off at 3 a.m., and after eating some breakfast and drinking Monster Energy drinks, we were on the trail by 3:40.  The hike through the dark was peaceful, but it wasn’t without a little excitement, such as when we had to crawl over a log to cross a stream.

Nick crossing a river in the predawn hours
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As we made our way up to the South Colony Lakes, we were treated to an incredible sunrise over the Wet Mountain Valley to the east as the clouds and fog began to break up a little bit.

Sunrise over the Wet Mountain Valley
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Fog rolling over the top of Humboldt Peak
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After stopping to take pictures and admire the awesome sunrise, we finished the rest of the easy hike up to the South Colony Lakes, where we were treated to more incredible views of the Crestone Needle, a peak I had climbed the previous summer, right in front of us.  The surroundings reinforced my belief that this is one of the best areas in Colorado (which is saying a lot!).

Crestone Needle
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Yours truly
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Lower South Colony Lake
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Once we passed Lower South Colony Lake, the hike quickly became more challenging as we made our way up to Broken Hand Pass.  The trail went from mostly dirt to all rocks rather quickly, and we later crossed about four snowfields before reaching the pass.  The first three were easy traverses, while the last one involved a short climb.  There were good steps kicked in, so we didn’t use our ice axes on the way up, but we did on the way down that afternoon once the snow was a slushy mess and keeping our balance was more difficult.  Around this section, we saw several bighorn sheep running around.  Those are some pretty cool animals!  We donned our climbing helmets for the last section up to the pass, since it was loose and steep.  Towards the top of the pass, there were a few fun class 3 moves we had to make, which was just a preview of what was to come.

Nick hiking above Lower South Colony Lake
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Some of the easy snow crossings that will probably be melted out pretty soon
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Nick hiking up the last snowfield
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Approaching Broken Hand Pass
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Upon reaching the pass, it got very windy and cold.  Luckily, we had thrown on some more layers just before the pass so we were ready.  There was another big group headed for the Needle that made it up there about the same time we did.  We talked for a few minutes and took some pictures, then decided to head down to Cottonwood Lake, from which point we would start climbing the Red Gully on Crestone Peak.  I remember both of us thinking on the way down to the lake, “Man, this is going to suck having to hike back up here on the way back!”.

Broken Hand Pass views
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Looking down the other side of the pass toward Cottonwood Lake
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Upon reaching Cottonwood Lake, it became obvious that we were going to have some fog to deal with.  On our way up to Broken Hand Pass, it seemed as if it were clearing off, but clouds just kept rolling in, and Crestone Peak was completely socked in.  On the bright side, none of the clouds were showing signs of turning into thunderheads, so we decided to hike up through the fog since it was still early, and keep an eye out for growing thunderheads.  Amazingly enough, I had climbed the Crestone Needle in very similar conditions last summer, except I was able to summit then.  Maybe one of these days I’ll catch the Crestones on a clear day!

The route from Cottonwood Lake continues for a little ways below the lake, before turning to the right and heading up Crestone Peak’s lower slopes.  The terrain gradually becomes steeper and rockier before reaching the gully, from which point the route turns into an extended class 3 climb.

Crestone Peak is somewhere up there
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Looking at our route up the Red Gully
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Neighboring peaks to the south, enveloped in fog
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The route up the Red Gully was pretty awesome.  It was an extended class 3 scramble with some challenging, but fun moves.  The entire middle of the gully was wet from snow melt, and some parts were still covered in snow, but we actually deviated off the main route (we didn’t realized this until we were going back down), instead climbing up just to the right of the gully.  There were cairns marking this route, though, and I found it to be a lot of fun and not really any more difficult than the main gully itself.  I wish I could give a better description of the way we took, but it was kind of confusing in the foggy conditions.  I do know we weren’t far off from the main gully, though.

As we made our way up, the fog only got worse.  The routefinding (on the side route we took) was pretty straight forward for most of the way up, until we hit about 13,800 feet.  Then, things got very tricky in the dense fog.  There were a couple of other climbing parties up there, but we all lost each other in the fog, and nobody really knew where they were going.  It was pretty much just mass confusion.  There was a big snowfield just to the left of us, that a climber on the way back down said we were supposed to take.  However, neither one of us wanted to kick steps into the hard snow without crampons, and not knowing where it would lead us (we could not see very far at all in the fog).  So instead, we continued following cairns to the right of the snowfield, and eventually the cairns led us horizontally across the mountain.

Pictures from the climb up the Red Gully
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From here, we knew we had to gain a ridge, which we couldn’t see above us.  All we could see above us was a long snowfield, and there were no obvious ways to avoid it in the low visibility.  The fog really was getting nasty at this point, and we were starting to lose track of where we actually were.  So almost simultaneously, we came to the realization that we would probably be better off turning around, even as close as we were.  It was definitely a disappointing feeling at first, but after resting for a few minutes and looking around us, we really had no other safe option.  The route was anything but obvious in the dense fog, and it would have been very easy for us to get off route and potentially get stuck in some dangerous terrain.

So after sitting on it for a few minutes, we put our disappointment behind us and decided that we should view our decision in a positive respect – knowing that we used good judgment and knew when conditions warranted us to turn around.  My theory is that the mountains aren’t going anywhere, and besides, the Crestones are such an awesome area that I would have no problem coming back.  Really, what Nick and I had wanted to do was the Crestone Traverse, from the Peak to the Needle.  So plans are in the works for us to head back in late August or early September, and hopefully catch a good weather window.

Socked in by nasty fog, not long before we decided to turn around
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We decided to take the gully the entire way down (which is when we realized that we had taken a slightly different route up), and did have one snow crossing, so it was good that we had ice axes with us.  The rest of the way down was fairly slow, but uneventful as we gradually left the dense fog behind.

Some shots taken while descending the Red Gully
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We chilled out near Cottonwood Lake for a few minutes, then made the push back up to Broken Hand Pass as thunderheads began to build.  Right as we started to hike back up to the pass, fatigue hit us hard for the first time all day, and hiking back up the steep trail to 12,850 feet was not easy.  We kept on pushing, though, because we knew we had to hit the top of the pass and start to go down before the weather turned stormy.

Cottonwood Lake
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Hiking down to Lower South Colony Lake from Broken Hand Pass probably took longer than it did going up, since our legs were pretty much toast at this point.  Surprisingly, the weather held out for us, though, and we didn’t stop walking, except to briefly chat with other hikers, until we got back to the car.

Wildflowers near the top of Broken Hand Pass
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Tricky Class 3 move on the descent from Broken Hand Pass
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Lower South Colony Lake
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Shortly after we passed the South Colony Lakes, we saw a large herd of bighorn sheep running around the backcountry campsites!  We kept looking for clearings so we could get some pictures.  At one point we had an awesome view of most of the herd, including several rams.  Right as we were snapping some pictures, I noticed a couple of the rams did not look very happy to have us taking pictures of them.  “Oh well”, I thought, “We’ll get a quick shot of them, and then roll out”.  As soon as I looked at my camera’s screen to see if one of the pictures turned out, one of the rams charged at us, stopped halfway, then turned around.  “Holy s***, that ram just bluff-charged us!  Lets get the hell out of here!”  We quickly retreated down the trail, but still were able to get a couple of good looks at the herd.  We were fortunate to see such cool animals in the backcountry.

Bighorn sheep around the South Colony Lakes campsites (notice the rams in the second photo don’t look very happy to see us!)
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The rest of the hike out on the old and rocky four-wheel drive road was tiring, as is usually the case on days like this, but I’ve had much worse.  We made it back to the car at 4:30, making a 13 hour day – long, but very satisfying.  I’ve never had so much fun on a day in which we didn’t make the summit, but we still completed most of the climb and spent a full day in a beautiful area, so it was a success in our point of view.  Plus, I can’t wait to come back to the area on a clear day to attempt the traverse between Crestone Peak and the Crestone Needle.

Thanks for reading, and of course feel free to contact me for additional beta!

– Alan