Posts Tagged ‘Brian’

Another Boulder 3 Banger

August 7, 2011

His Majesty, The Brian

I know, I know. Who cares about a hike in the foothills above Boulder. Well…I do. While not an achievement of note, it is a beautiful way to spend half a day, when no other exercise is available.

Brian had a sore back (born of unusual circumstances) and could not carry a pack or even wear a climbing harness, so we decided to do another Boulder 3-Banger hike. It had been almost 6 years since we did our car-shuttle 4-Banger and even longer since our last round-trip 3-Banger. It felt like the right plan.

My Boulder Foothills History

  • 06/96 – 1st ascent of Green Mountain
  • 11/96 – 1st ascent of Bear Peak
  • 05/98 – 1st ascent of S. Boulder Mountain (and Bear Peak; 1st 2-Banger)
  • 12/98 – 1st 3-Banger (Green, Bear, S. Boulder)
  • 11/05 – 1st 4-Banger (Green, Bear, S. Boulder, Flagstaff)

We agreed to start hiking at 6am, and I was only 5 minutes late (which was long enough to miss the bear romping through the park).

Green Mountain

To spice things up a bit, we decided to head up the 1st Flatiron descent route and then cut over toward the Green Mountain summit. From there, we followed an old trail (along the way I got a cool photo of Brian silhouetted against the dawn sky) to reach the NE Ridge Trail that we followed to find the Greenman trail about 1/2 mile from the summit. By 7:45am, we reached the summit of Green Mountain. It wasn’t a fast time, but we stopped several times to explore.

A view of Bear and South Boulder peaks from the Green-Bear trail

Disappointingly, it was too early for a snack. After gazing longingly at my peanut butter pack, I joined Brian in climbing on rocks and admiring the views, both east and west. I also finished off my 2nd liter of water with the confidence of finding water in Bear Canyon along the way to Bear Peak.

Bear Peak

We descended toward Bear Peak, taking the Green-Bear trail. Once we reached the creek that runs down Bear Canyon (oddly named, Bear Canyon Creek), we found a trickling brook just deep enough water to mostly fill our bottles while mostly avoiding visible biological matter.

Hiking back up the other side of the valley on Bear Peak’s West Ridge, we began the long trek toward the summit of Bear Peak.  We both remembered that it was a long way….and it certainly looked to be a long way off (it was 1.8 miles).

A small sample of the plague of lady bugs (actually 'multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles')

As we approached the top of Bear Peak, we decided to go up the scrambling approach below the summit rather than hike along the ridge.  Unfortunately, I could not quite find the right spot and took us off route a bit. It was still fun, perhaps it was better than the

Brian laughing at my lovefest with the ladybugs

regular path, but our path took me on a collision course with zillions of ladybugs.

As I scrambled up, I had to crawl beneath a small pine tree to reach a section of rock that I could climb.  As I grabbed the tree, I heard a slight tinkling sound, like pine needles falling onto the ground.  Once I crawled through the tree, I knew that the sound was not from pine needles.  It was ladybugs falling out of the tree.  And now 100’s of them were on me.

I was too busy scrambling up to deal with the bugs.  Once I pulled up to the top, Brian (who had taken a more direct and faster path) said something like:

“Oh, Joe. You are covered in bugs….it’s like a horror movie!”

When I asked him to brush them off my back, he replied:

“Oh, that wouldn’t help.  You need to take of the pack and the shirt.”

I look off the pack to find a solid layer of ladybugs covering nearly the entire pack.  It took a few minutes to shake them off, during which time Brian reminded me that I needed to take off my shirt to remove the rest to avoid crushing several hundred additional bugs.

After disrobing and shaking the bugs loose from my shirt, I refused to put that cold, wet t-shirt back on for the remaining 50 feet of scrambling.  I wanted the fresh shirt in the pack, but would wait until we reached the summit, which we reached at 9:30am.

Dang!  It was still too early for a meal, but I could not longer resist.  One peanut butter pack, one bar and one liter of water ceased to exist in rapid fashion.

Joe finally free of the ladybug embrace (I definitely need to get more sun).

South Boulder Mountain

We decided to continue to South Boulder Mountain, but refused to descend via Shadow Canyon.  It would add just too many miles of boring hiking along the Mesa Trail.  We decided to return to Bear Peak and then descend via Fern Canyon, between Bear and Green.

The hike to South Boulder Mountain went quickly (0.7 miles), which was a good thing (as Forrest would say) since the day’s temperature was climbing rapidly. As we stewed in our own juices, we reached the summit amid a forest of raspberry bushes.

I thoughtfully called my wife to check in while Brian passed time by gorging on the berries missed by the Bears (who were down in Chautauqua Park looking for yummy trash).

It was only 10:30am, so once again we could not eat lunch yet.  So back down the trail we went.  And, once again I regretted not having sufficient excuse for a peanut butter snack.

Descent

View of South Boulder Mountain from Bear Peak

The hike back was mostly downhill, but it was a lot of downhill.  The Fern Canyon trail is quite steep and a steady down, down, down for over 2,500′ feet.  I’m sure my quad’s will be angry for a couple of days.  I will not even speak of my knees.

But, finally, we stopped for lunch at 11:30am when we reached the intersection with the Slab trail.  I ate my two remaining peanut butter packs and my 4th liter of water for the day.  It was fantastic!

We reached Chautauqua Park an hour later, for a 6.5 hour, 10 mile, 4,000′ elevation gain round trip.

It was a nice hike (unfortunately, the news of the day was rather shocking).

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Petit Grepon: 14 Years Later

July 27, 2011

Me (right) and Mark (left) and Jim on the Sharkstooth summit in 1992, shown here instead of the 1993 Petit summit photo which has been lost to the ages.

Ah, The Petit.  It was the second rock climb I ever did in RMNP (07/04/1993), back when I lived in the Flatlands and dreamed for 12 months at a time for my next high peaks adventure. I climbed the Petit with my Chicagoland friends, Mark & Jim (summit photo lost to the Ages) after a high altitude bivy beneath the stars .  It was a scary, wonderful experience that weighed heavily on my decision three years later to move to Colorado.

I repeated that climb in 1997 as a part of a bargain with Brian who wanted to climb the Petit while I wanted to climb Northcutt-Carter.  We agreed to do both to further our mutual progress on the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

And, then, out of the blue, fourteen years later, Brian said, “I’ve been thinking about doing the Petit again.”  Hell, yes!  Why haven’t we been back?  It was a plan.

I remember back in the pre-internet days, route information was hard to come by.  But these days, the trick is sorting through the noise to find the information.  In this particular case, I had only to dig out my old trip report to confirm what I already knew….the key to climbing The Petit Grepon, 17 and 14 years ago was to arrive before the crowds show up to climb one of the most popular climbs in North America.

Early Bird Tenet: early starters get the best parking spots, the best trail and snow conditions, the most comfortable temperatures for exercising hard, the least lightning, and the highest success rates

~ CliffsNotes: Rules, Laws, etc.

A view of Petit Grepon and South Face (5.8) route. Taken after descent.

My old trip report indicated that we started hiking at 4am, which today meant leaving the house at 2:30am, and rolling out of bed at 1:45am. And then I remembered why we haven’t been back to the Petit in 14 years. Ugh.

Oh well.  The only thing worse than getting up at 1:45am to do a rock climb is getting up at 1:46am, committing to a 10 mile hike, waiting on the rock for hours for slow climbers to move, and then having to bail because of weather.  I set two alarms and then woke up 10 minutes early.  July 23rd, 2011 had begun.

We left Boulder right on time (for a change) and arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 4am to find a 1/3rd full lot.  As if we needed reminding, it was time to haul ass.  We pushed hard the entire way, passing 2 parties along the way to Sky Pond. To match my previous efforts (done in a 35-year old body), I had to put my full spinning-induced fitness to work.

As we neared the Petit Grepon in the early light, we could not see or hear anyone ahead of us.  Our ‘start early and hike fast’ plan worked again.  The old strategies are the best strategies, it is said.

1st Pitch (“Why Bother?”):

Brian approaching the top of the 4th pitch

Since the bottom part of the climb was wet, and not very interesting looking in any case, we decided to skip it and hike up the left side of the Petit to reach the ‘1st Terrace’ (a big grassy ledge at the bottom of the giant chimney).  It was rather easy route finding, but the climb was quasi-technical in my boots.  I’d call it hard 4th class.  But it was fast.  We reached the bottom of the giant chimney at a little before 6am.

That’s when we noticed the climbers already 2 pitches up.  Now that was an early start.   They were far enough ahead that we didn’t figure they’d factor into our day, and we were almost right.

2nd pitch (“The Giant Chimney”):

I took the giant chimney pitch so Brian would have the crux pitch without interrupting our pitch swapping.  The “chimney” was big, cavernous and chilly in the early morning, and the climbing was mostly dodging around chock stones or steep face moves on the left side.  It appeared dirty looking but the holds were solid and clean from frequent use. The pitch finished by passing the second of two large chock stones to the left, and setting a belay on top (approx. 150′).

The holds were so positive (5.6), in fact, that I was tempted into hauling legs rather than stepping up. It was a mistake possible to make on many of the pitches on the Petit, and one that would pay dividends for me later it the day.

3rd pitch (“The Bombing Range”):

Brian took the 3rd pitch, climbing up the left side of chimney and exiting the top of the chimney to the left (dodging the roof), into a steep hand crack (5.7). The crescent crack was offwidth-sized, but there was little need for crack technique.  Its jagged interior was  a source of fun holds to go with the foot edges on the wall to the left.  It soon turned into a steep but easy chimney which spit us out onto the second terrace.  Like most of the belay ledges, this one was shaped like a drain, designed to funnel plentiful loose rocks directly onto the pitch below.

I followed and made ready for leading the 4th pitch when a sharp whistling sound arrived an instant before a big rock (about 12 inches cubed) falling from far above hit like a bomb 15 feet from us.  It scared the crap out of us and spooked us with the reminder that random death was so close.

It is criminally negligent for climbers to knock down big rocks that would mean instant death (as Brian pointed out, “Helmets wouldn’t have helped with that rock”).  We’d have to be extra careful, until Beavis and Butthead were no longer overhead.

4th pitch (“The 2-Pin Belay”):

Brian at the top of the 5th pitch with Sky Pond far below

I took the 4th pitch, which started up into a roof-less chimney through which I could see the knife-edge summit ridge.  This had 20 feet of easy chimney, but then returned to STEEP.  Never hard, but a sustained face.   Near the top, the line angled right to reach a right-facing dihedral below the left edge of a shallow, sharp-edged roof. From the dihedral, I followed a short ramp to reach a belay below the right edge of the roof, where I found two pitons. The belay ledge was nothing more than a sloping ramp with room for one belayer, one itinerant climber and no guests.  But at least it was clean.

5th pitch (“The Crux”):

The crack overhead (5.9+) seemed obvious, but we followed common advice and 14-year old memories to the run-out right.  Slabby feet and hard-to-see finger edges took us right, then up and back over the belay to the first pro:  a flaring TCU hole and small stoppers.  Yuck, but only 5.6.

Better holds and a vertical finger crack brought us to the “v-slot” where another clean crack separated two smooth walls.  A couple crack moves later we pulled out of the slot onto flatter ground followed by the belay ledge.  This had the usual funnel-shape, and it would be the last of the grassy ones.

I had strong memories of the crux section…that might have been from my first climb 17 years earlier.  It was really the only thing I thought I remembered from either previous climb. But my memory was nothing like the climb, and the climbing was also harder than I remembered. Heck, I was grateful to not be leading it.  

When I crawled out onto the grassy ledge on the east side of the pinnacle, I was careful not to repeat the rock fall that the earlier team has produced.  This looked to be the source, with lots of loose rocks, small and large.


A view of the upper pitches (photo taken on descent)

6th pitch (The “Pizza Pan Belay”)

The 6th pitch was mine.  Once again I had zero memory of it. The route description said to go up and right and then go back left to reach the arête. So, I started up and right, following the easy ground.  After I passed below a large detached flake, I decided it was time to start back to the left.  I was torn between moving back over the flake or climbing the off-width crack formed by the right edge of the flake.  Even though the off-width crack looked dirty, it looked interesting plus I thought I could work back left after the flake.

It worked, although was a bit thinner I expected as I worked to reach a crack that led to a small ledge that extended to the arête.  I wasn’t sure that this was the ‘pizza pan’ belay at first but stopped because it was a good spot for a belay.  Later, I noticed the triangular ledge jutting out from the ridge (at my feet) that was approximately the area (but not the shape) of a large pizza, and finally noticed the piton above my head that I had failed to use in the belay anchor

Brian says:

We were now on the east side of the PG and would only occasionally visit the south face again, as it changed from a narrowing face into an overhanging arete.  Like most of the next 3 pitches, we had to wander through the wide east face following out-of-sight handholds and brief weaknesses, hoping to find the next belay ledge.  Joe’s lead seemed a bit far to the right, jamming the right edge of a huge detached flake before sliding over thinner face moves to attack the pizza pan belay hanging on the arête.  Restacking gear while dangling 800 feet over Sky Pond was a challenge.  Joe offered to surrender the big cam out of the anchor, but I preferred to have him in as solid as could be.  The cam also turned out to be holding 100 feet of rope stored in loops.

7th pitch (“The Sacrifice”)

The view of Pitch 7 from the 'Pizza Pan'

Back on the arête, the wide edges were gone, replaced by nubbins, hooky points, cracks and stems, all clean, solid and steep.  After 20 feet the route dodged left into a crystal-filled chimney that took us back onto the east face.

Brian took the 7th pitch which was supposed to be longest pitch on the route Brian noticed that the team below us was catching up and would soon be joining me at the Pizza Pan belay (where there was absolutely no room).  I think this factored into his thinking to shorten the pitch to 100′ when he arrived at the 1st good belay ledge.

The climbing was once again hard as the start felt like a 2nd crux, although now the problem was my hands were giving out after hours of leg hauling. Still, the position was spectacular:  almost 1000 feet of air below my feet, climbing along the knife-edge arete.

8th pitch (“The Knife Edge”)

This is the part everyone sees from Sky Pond and can’t believe that it’s the route.  When you’re on it, it’s too steep to plan your line, and there’s no major features to discern except up.  But the holds are all there, often thick edges, many times positive, sometimes requires deft sidepulls.  Pro gets a bit thin, and the route touches the arête near the top

A quick calculation confirmed that I could finish the climb on the 8th pitch; adding the 60′ of the normal 7th pitch to the standard 80-90′ of the 8th pitch meant I would have the longest pitch of the route.  I was delighted while also hopeful that my arms would hold out. Surely the climbing difficultly would ease, right?  No.

The pitch started with a 10-foot lay back finger crack that I took a few minutes to figure out.  When I finally committed to it, I counted on finding a hold to pull myself up to stand on top of a large (12″ square) platform but found nothing.  So, I was left with a balancy move that I regretted needing.

Joe enjoying a moment of satisfaction on the Petit summit

From there I moved straight up to a nice ledge below the ridge line (after it flatten out), which I figured was the normal 7th pitch belay.  I stepped up to continue directly to the ridge (as I thought proper) but paused to noticed that there was no pro or holds above me. Out of self-preservation, I decided to down climb a bit and then move right to find better ground.  This area was passable and led me to the ridge line which I followed to the always spectacular summit, which turned out to be the only thing on the entire climb that I remembered.  Oh, the ravages of age!

The summit (“The Teeny, Tiny Platform in the Sky”)

I brought Brian up and we once again marveled at the uniqueness of the Petit’s summit.  Over the years somewhere I misplaced my fear of heights; so this time the summit did not feel like it was about to fall over or that I might simply fall off.  But it is really something to experience every few years.

Brian on the 'far' end of the summit

It was approximately Noon, so we had taken 6 hours to do 8 pitches.  Not bad, but 6 hours is a long time in the high country without a drink of water.  We couldn’t stay long, and didn’t try.

The Descent (“Let’s Leave the Boots”)

A rappel descent is always a 2-edged sword:  little or no physical effort is always attractive, but the added risks of rappelling error, anchor failure and failure to find anchors makes for a bit of extra stress.  A 6-part rappel makes the problem larger by somewhere between 6 times and to the 6th power.

We made it and can recommend the rap route highly.  It was put together very well, but the necessarily twisting route means that the anchors are not simply below you.  We found it important to review the directions for finding each anchor just prior to each rappel.

The only problem we had was the infuriating tendency for the ropes to tie them selves into knots when tossed.  Fortunately, we noticed the knots before becoming stranded while dangling in mid-air, and we resorted to feeding the ropes over the edge.  The ropes didn’t often make it far down the wall, but they no longer became tangled.

Still, it took us 2 hours to descend the 6 rappels.  It was the longest continuous rappelling effort of my life.

We did pause briefly on the 1st Terrace to pack up & drink our water.  We had gone without water for 8 hours at that point.

There could be no delay in the consumption of water.

The rappel route from the summit of the Petit to the base...leave your hiking shoes and pack on the ground

We took our time getting out.  We started with a dash for a water fill-up and then ‘skied’ down a snow field to Sky Pond that we skirted to link-up with the hiking trail.  We took some photos, admired the beautiful rocks of the area, and eventually worked our way down long enough to allow the iodine pills to dissolve.  We stopped at 3pm below the waterfall marking the transition to the Loch Vale level to eat lunch and consume every drop of liquid we felt confident wouldn’t make us sick.

The hike out went easily for a change.  We reached Brian’s truck at 4pm for a 12 hour round trip….only 1 hour longer than our time 14-years earlier.

Brian gazes upon the Petit after acquiring more water

Thus ended another great day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  And, a big ‘Thanks‘ to Brian for contributing mightily to the story.

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Chaos Canyon Loop

May 14, 2011

May 14, 2011

The weather forecast was iffy for snow climbing…rain/snow after noon with higher temps.  We chose Flattop Mountain to give ourselves some options for choosing a descent after we see the conditions.  My guess was for Brian to drop down from the Flattop summit toward Notchtop via the Ptarmigan Glacier into Odessa Gorge and then circle back to Bear Lake via Lake Helene trail to Fern Lake trail to the bottom portion of Flattop Mountain trail. I liked having the option of simply returning via the Flattop trail.   Of course, my personal decision would be based on how I felt, the weather conditions, and the condition of the snow.

Brian picked me up at 5:30am and we headed up to Estes Park…for the 3rd weekend in a row. As we drove up, a solid wall of dark clouds blocked our view of the mountains….and even extended down to the tops of the foothills.  It was not going to be a nice day. But that was okay; I came for the exercise.

Flattop seen from Hallett. The trail approached from right to left.

The closer to RMNP and the higher we got, the darker the sky became; at the same time, we could tell the temperature was unusually warm.

Hello Spring.

Eventually, we got high enough to reach the cloud bank; we were driving inside a cloud. As we neared the Bear Lake parking lot in RMNP, we could see, to our surprise, that there were blue skies above the cloud bank. Suddenly we realized that we were going to get a lot of sun, at least until the after noon weather arrived.

As we pulled into the parking lot, Hallett Peak looked as beautiful as I have ever seen it.  And, once out of Brian’s truck, we could tell there was not a bit of wind for the first time in the 2011 season.

The plan for the ascent was to skirt Bear Lake (9450′) which sits at the mouth of Tyndall Gorge, taking the Flattop Mountain Trail for 4.4 miles to the top of Flattop Mountain.  The trail ascends the long north slope of Flattop that rises between Tyndall and Odessa Gorge.

We started up around Bear Lake at 7am…the snow was perfectly frozen hard, somehow.  My snowshoes were needed to grip the trail, not float on the snow. We made great time. I felt good enough that I took the lead and kept up a fast pace all the way to tree line without a break.  It was hot as Summer. At tree line, we stopped to put on sunscreen and admire the solid bank of cloud cover below us.  I had only ever seen it once before.

It was a spectacular day: blue sky, warm temp, no wind.

The great views from Hallett Peak. Longs Peak is the big peak pictured; the fog below can be seen to the left.

As we neared Flattop’s summit @9am, we decided to keep going to Hallett Peak, 1/2 mile and 500′ of elevation gain away.

Hallett Peak (12,713′) sits on the Continental Divide between Tyndall Gorge (on the north) and Chaos Canyon (on the south).

I arrived first, for a change; Brian had to stop to remove & put away his skis, and I kept going in a fit of competitive furor.  I cannot remember the last time I beat Brian to a summit.  The Spinning continues to deliver a high level of fitness.

It was only 9:45am, but I decided to eat my lunch.  I wasn’t hungry as much as I couldn’t think when I’d have another chance. It didn’t seem fair to have to wait until returning to the car.

Even on Hallett’s summit there was no wind.  Brian spoke of the conditions being perfect for spray painting….absolutely zero wind. It was truly spectacular.

Joe on top of the world! Not really....Estes Park is buried beneath the fog in the background.

After the obligatory summit photos, I asked Brian how he was planning to descend. He shocked me by saying he was going down Chaos Canyon.

I had zero interest in that Chaos Canyon.  But Brian did make a good point when he said we needed to use these perfect days to try new things. I wavered.

I got up and walked toward Otis Peak so I could see the Chaos Canyon and Chaotic Glacier which links the canyon to Flattop.

The glacier looked steep; I thought ‘no’….too dangerous without an ice axe. But then I remembered Brian’s comment and got back on the fence.  I wanted to find a way to agree, but I didn’t want to die being stupid.

I moved back to Hallett’s summit where Brian and my gear were awaiting my decision.  I said that I wanted a closer look before deciding.

A view of Chaotic Glacier from the southern flank of Hallett Peak

We hiked down the southern side of Hallett; I took particular note of how firm the snow was on that side.  Once I could see more of Chaotic Glacier, I could see that it was way too steep if the snow was hard.  No way.  I said out loud that it would be plain stupid for me to descend something that steep with nothing to arrest my slide.  Brian gave me hope by offering to let me use one of his ski poles that had a plastic pick extending from the handle.

I agreed to continue to the top of the glacier to see how the snow felt.  If the snow was hard, I planned to turn back toward Flattop and descend the way we came up.

Once we reached the glacier at approximately 11am, the snow felt promising.  It was soft in spots, sometimes as deep as 6-8 inches; I decided I would descend Chaotic Glacier and then hike out Chaos Canyon to Emerald Lake and back to Bear Lake.  I had never descended that way before; it would be an adventure!

A view of the descent into Chaos Canyon

I traded Brian for one of his poles, per his earlier offer.  After fiddling around with the two poles, I decided that I would be better served with just the pole with the pick.  I figured that if I really needed to self-arrest, I was likely to drop both poles if I was fumbling around with two.  Then we walked together down the top of the glacier to reach the part where the slope increased dramatically.  Too dramatically. And, the steeper snow was not soft.

Was I really going to do this?  Crap.

The angle was terrible, but there were no obstructions below.  Even if I lost control, I wouldn’t hit anything.  At worst, I’d get injured.  But I didn’t want to get injured.

What was I thinking?  Okay, I would do it.

Brian started down and stopped after skiing about 50 feet to wait for me to start down.  I sat in the snow and got used to the new pole.  I envisioned how I’d use the pick to self arrest and did a practice roll over.  The pick was made of plastic and so was made thick so not to break.  The thick material didn’t want to sink into the snow and so the pick tended to roll to the side when I weighted it. Crap.

I couldn’t do it.  Could I?

Damn.

I tried going down face in with both hands on the pole with the pick buried.  It was working!  I was able to get the toes of my boots into the snow and then reposition the pick lower, and then repeat.  As long as the snow didn’t become frozen at some point below me, I would live. But now I was committed.  And that’s when it occurred to me that the pick could break-off at any moment.  These poles were 10 years old and made of plastic.  If it broke, I was going for a long, fast slide.

But I got lucky.  The lower I got, the softer the snow became.  I would live…with my parts unbroken.

Brian in a whiteout on Chaotic Glacier

I decided the snow was soft enough to glissade, and so I turned around to begin.  Suddenly, I couldn’t see anything.

The cloud bank beneath us had rolled up the canyon and now completely obscured our vision.  It is not a good idea to start sliding down steep snow without being able to see what I might hit or fall into.

I’d just have to trust that my last view of the glacier, which showed nothing to worry about, was accurate.  And, so I started.  Down I went….woohoo! And then it was over.   I made it.

But now we couldn’t see anything about where to go.  If we had to rely on simply going downhill, it was going to be a hard escape.

Then I noticed the tracks again.  I could follow the tracks.  And, if these folks could see where they were going when the hiked out, then the tracks would lead us out.

Down and down, we followed the tracks down Chaos Canyon and past Lake Hayhafa.  Visibility as still poor, but I figured we just had to keep following the tracks out toward Dream Lake, which was the only exit from Chaos Canyon, right? Keep reading.

Once past Lake Hayhafa, the terrain looked less and less trail-like. After some distance of plunging through tree branches where sunglasses were necessary as protection from poking, Brian stopped and said, “do you know where we are?”

I said I did not, but indicated that I assumed that the tracks had to lead to Dream Lake.  Brian then said, “well, we’ve been heading right (south) instead of left (north) for a while now….I think we are headed toward Glacier Gorge.”

Glacier Gorge!  He might as well have said ‘The Moon’.

I said I didn’t think it was possible to go to Glacier Gorge from Chaos Canyon.  Brian said he didn’t think so either, but that where he thought we were going, possible or not.

We looked around and couldn’t see anything beyond 100 yards.  We certainly had no way to see any landmarks to guide us. We were screwed.

Then I remembered that I had brought my smartphone, and that I might be able to figure out where we are…if I could get a satellite signal.

It worked.  Of course the screen was almost entirely unreadable in the weird light conditions, and Google Maps is not designed for optimum readability on tiny screens. But I was able to make out that we had indeed been heading SSW, toward Glacier Gorge. I pointed toward Dream Lake and then Bear Lake. Brian didn’t think turning north toward Bear Lake would work as there could be cliffs and other obstacles between it and us. We either had to backtrack or continue toward Glacier Gorge and hope we could find a path to join-up with the winter trail next to The Knob.

The Knob seemed to be the easiest choice, but, even if it was successful, we’d have to loop back to Bear Lake.  Crap.

For some reason, we stayed with the tracks that had led us to the middle of nowhere, but the tracks did seem to head in approximately the right direction.  Heck, either they made it or we’d find their frozen bodies along the way.

Another 30 minutes in and our situation hadn’t improved.  I decided it was time for another direction check.  We were still in the middle of nowhere. And, then I noticed that my battery was about to die.  I gave Brian a heading and then we stayed with it until we finally joined up with the well-established trail.

Our approximate route looping from Bear Lake to Flattop to Hallett toward Otis and then down Chaotic Glacier and Chaos Canyon, where we got lost. The line east from Chaos Canyon does not reveal the unpleasant wandering involved in such a bushwack.

We plodded along, happy to know where we were for the first time in a while.  By 1:30pm we reached the Bear Lake parking lot.  It was over.  We had taken 6.5 hours to hike approximately 11 miles while gaining and losing 3200′ plus a 100-250′ needed to wander from Chaos Canyon to the Glacier Gorge Winter trail and back up to Bear Lake.

On the drive home, Brian told me about a tale he heard from a fellow who took a bad fall skiing down Lambs Slide.  This fellow used the same poles as Brian, with the plastic picks.  When he fell on Lambs Slide, both picks broke off, sending him to serious injury.

It is plain stupidity for me to fail to bring an ice axe when venturing high in the mountains, especially given my apparent inability to refuse an opportunity for adventure.  I’ll not forget again.

Another great day in RMNP!

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Andrews Glacier Season Kickoff

May 1, 2011

April 30, 2011

I had been trying to kickoff my 2011 climbing season each of the last 4 weekends, ever since the ski season ended for me at the end of March. My recent passion for

Andrews Glacier from Glacier Gorge TH

Spin cardio had left me with a hip so sore that I couldn’t imagine 10 miles of hiking in soft snow.  I have been a poor climbing partner to Brian lately.

A slight modification to my technique left my hip feeling good enough to give it a try.  We picked Andrews Glacier as a nice starter adventure; well, it was a season kickoff for me anyway.

The glacier was named for Edwin B. Andrews, a relative of Abner Sprague. These two men climbed to the glacier in 1897, and Sprague named it for Andrews since he was one of the area’s best fishermen. Sprague settled in the Park in 1875, was an early landowner, hotel owner, guide, and Estes Park historian. Several features in the Park are named for him. (Source: High Country Names by Louisa Arps and Elinor Kingery)

Brian picked me up at 6am and we did the slow Bronco drive to RMNP.  We arrived at the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 8am and found the expected cold snowy conditions (approx 3 inches of new snow at the trailhead, but much more fell up high). I was well and truly sick of the cold after a long Winter, but this was the hand I was dealt.  An accurate weather forecast allowed me prepare properly, e.g., full Gore-Tex outer layer, slight insulation on for hike in, extra insulation in pack for more severe conditions up high).  Bundled up like Arctic Explorers, we started up the snowy trail toward Loch Vale.

Brian hiking toward Loch Vale

My hip felt good and allowed me to make pretty good time up the snowy trail: me on snowshoes and Brian on his tele-skis. I was pleasantly pleased to discover my gym-based conditioning to be very high; my spinning cardio plus weight-lifting workouts have kept me in good shape despite a lack of outdoor work.

We took the standard winter shortcut up the creek where we found 6, and then later, 8 inches of new snow.  The trail was not yet packed down, but had been clearly marked by a few earlier hikers. We were lucky to find footprints for much of the way.

The wind was strong, even in the trees; it foretold of terrible winds up high.

We passed one group as we approached Loch Vale and then continued to follow the footprints across the frozen Loch Vale (a lake).  The route-finding to Andrews Glacier vs. Sky Pond is always tricky after a heavy snowfall; I wondered which of the two was the destination of the people ahead of us.  After a while, we passed the exit that 1 or 2 people had taken toward our objective; but it seemed to early so we continued to follow the better trail with hopes that it went the entire way.  The new snow at our feet was by that time around 12 inches; we knew it would be murder to break trail or even follow poor tracks.

Unfortunately, just as we neared the group ahead of us, we also noticed that we had already gone too far toward Sky Pond.  Crap.  We’d have to backtrack and then crawl up the deep snow.

A view through the trees toward Sky Pond with Powell Peak in the background

A short way back we found the creek bed that marks the Summer trail cut-off; it was a slight concave shape in the deep snow.  And, up we went. Brian took the hard duty, but since we had different equipment, his efforts didn’t save me much effort.   Fortunately, Brian’s nose quickly led him to a set of tracks that aimed in the right direction and packed the snow down enough to make a difference. It turned out to be a far easier hike than we deserved under the heavy snow conditions.

As we exited the trees below Zowie, we could see and feel it was time to cover as much skin as possible to hide from the wind.  We could also see 2 more parties ahead of us, breaking trail. Right on!

We continued up the valley toward Andrews Glacier and caught up with the people ahead at about the turn-off point toward Sharkstooth.  It was our turn to break trail, and this time it was on a steeply sloping traverse….in a freezing strong wind. Yuck.

The traverse ended with slippery tip-toeing over the top of a steep couloir.  A slight avalanche tried to claim Brian, but we eventually made it across to the Andrews Tarn level (the lake below Andrews Glacier). Naturally, the lake was frozen solid, which enabled us to walk across to finally reach Andrews Glacier.

A self portrait with the top of Andrews Glacier in the background

Up we went, the low angle slope allowing rapid progress. Once we reached about 1/2 way up the glacier, the visibility was reduced to zero.  But all we needed to do was go up hill; it wasn’t too hard to find our way.

The higher we got, the colder it got.  From previous visits and experience with Hurricane Andrew (coincidentally), I knew that once we exited the glacier, it would be hurricane winds.  With close to freezing ambient temperatures, the wind chill would be deadly.  I knew that I’d have to get the rest of my gear on before I stepped into that wind.  About 100 yards from the top, I stopped to put on a down insulating layer beneath my wind jacket, a facemask, and a wool cap beneath my hood.  I felt like an astronaut stepping onto an alien world.

Brian skiing down Andrews Glacier

When I arrived at the top of the glacier around noon, Brian was already freezing. He didn’t want to stay long but agreed to let me have a quick drink and snack.  With my extra insulation, I was able to tolerate the cold wind.   I wasn’t able to tolerate the cold ground I was resting on, so I hurried along for both our sakes. We agreed to stop for a full lunch once we got to treeline.

We started down blind. I squinted desperately to see a hint of the snow rolling down hill in front of me.  I was looking for any possible clue to an impending step into oblivion.  I have no idea how Brian managed to ski.

Conditions started to clear a bit as we got lower.  Once we were about 1/2 down, the visibility improved dramatically.

Approaching Andrews Tarn on the descent

And then I could see Andrews Tarn.  We were almost at the bottom of the glacier.

We continued plodding until reaching the steep couloir below the tarn level.  With so much snow, we some concerns about avalanche….but not enough to prefer retracing our steps on the long traverse.  So, down we went.

The snow was not heavy, but there was so much I could not glissade.  I was able to work out a sort of skiing technique (using snowshoes) where I faced uphill and used my arms to push as my feet slide down.  It was weird, but it worked.

Once at the bottom of the couloir, I was able to follow the tracks of earlier parties that had turned around at that point.  Brian skied ahead and found a nice (read:  not deadly) spot for a full lunch.  I caught up with him at about 1pm and enjoyed my standard peanut butter and cherry bar lunch.  Dee-lish!

The hike out was uneventful and strangely non-strenuous.  I should have listened to my wife, Susan, about the benefits of cycling a long time ago.

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The Flying Buttress

March 23, 2011

A view of Mt. Meeker's Flying Buttress

Brian & I had been climbing in the Park for weeks. We decided to push it a bit and try out the imposing, intimidating, Flying Buttress of Mt. Meeker. It had been on my goal list since I first climbed Mt Meeker the December before.

On September 12, 1998, we hit the trail  at 4am.  The rain started at 4:30am. Crap.

Determined to not to lose the weekend, we pressed on and hoped the rain would let up. We made good time as we hiked past the Ranger Hut and turned toward Mt. Meeker and the Flying Buttress. We weren’t sure of the best approach and so just followed our noses as we aimed for the impressive, steep, narrow, western-most rib of rock on Meeker’s North Face.  It promised amazing exposure and great views in nearly every direction.

The rain did stop, but the skies didn’t clear. We managed to get up three pitches before the rain started coming down hard enough to convince even the hard-headed to go home.

Flying Buttress topo

And while that was not my hoped for accomplishment, it was a first.  After 5 years of climbing in the Park, I finally had to bail on a climb.   We took an awesome 145′ rappel to an escape ledge and then made the long hike out in a steady rain.

7 Days Later (9-19-98)

Once more toward Mt Meeker, and once again we hit the trail at 4am.

This time the skies were clear. But our late season effort delivered a cold, windy day.  We once again approached the Flying Buttress, aiming for the right-most of the rock ribs protruding from Mt Meeker’s north face.

I did have some warning about the weather and brought a heavier jacket and some down mitts, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the freezing temps and 50 mph winds  My toes were numb for an entire week after the climb.

1st pitch

I took the first lead.  We took the easiest line up the right most dihedral on the east side of the rib that finishes up a 5.8 chimney.  At the belay, to stay warm, I changed into my hiking boots and put on my mitts.  It helped a little.

2nd pitch

Brian took the 2d pitch, a 5.8 dihedral around the corner of  a 5.10 line directly up the obvious line on the prow. The protection (or lack thereof) allowed me to follow the 10a variation just for the practice. I took a fall before reaching Brian at a nice belay ledge with a couple bolts.

3rd pitch

The Neck-Stretcher

This was the 5.9 roof pitch; I was delighted for Brian to take it. But after sitting in a freezing wind tunnel for 30 minutes, I was a popsicle.  Still, I enjoyed the excellent pitch, right up to the moment that I became tangled in a sling right at the crux.  It somehow got wrapped around my neck during my unsuccessful efforts to remove the #4 Camalot.  But I couldn’t get it out and my arms were giving out.  I needed to rest, but being so entwined, I couldn’t back-off nor could I yell over the heavy wind-noise for Brian to take in the rope slack.  I had to get that piece out or die by hanging. Shit.

With the proper motivation, I persevered to success. I continued up a short distance to reach Brian at a nice ledge.

4th pitch

I took the 4th pitch.  It was generally an up and rightward traverse over moderate ground.

5th pitch

I also took the 5th pitch, which turned into a difficult adventure.  Pulling though a 5.8 crack I found myself below a crusty roof.  instead of risking the dirty direct path, I decided to traverse around a bulge to the right and began a miserable rope drag struggle. It was a mistake.

Finish

Looking back at the top of the route

After bringing Brian up and apologizing for my messy line, we started talking about the rest of the day.  We had planned to do the entire ridge, including the upper section to reach Mt Meeker’s summit ridge, but the day was old.  As it was, we’ figured we’d barely make it back to the car by dark if we started down right away.

Brian spotted a line to scramble off the buttress which we followed, scrambling (3rd-4th class) across the exposed top of the rib and moving right when possible. We eventually exited the Flying Buttress and reached a horizontal break on Meeker’s north face, from which we were able to scramble down to the base to recover our gear.

Another long hike out and the day was over after a 15 hour effort. I went home satisfied with the day, but still wanting to come back someday to finish the entire ridge.

But 13 years later, I’m not so certain of the inevitability of that success.

Our approach, climb & descent routes

Lost Again on Hallett Peak (Hesse-Ferguson)

March 1, 2011

Our Route

I wanted that big, giant roof.  You know, that imposing structure jutting out to the right of the Englishman’s Route. And, since that roof was on the last of the major routes on my tick list for the 2nd buttress of Hallett Peak:  Hesse-Ferguson (5.9).

I HAD to do it.

Brian was game, naturally, but even more so having failed to get past the 3rd pitch on his earlier effort due to route finding difficulties.

“I’ve never NOT been lost on this rock!”

~ Joe, shouted at no one in particular while on Hallett’s 2nd buttress in the vicinity of the Hesse-Ferguson route

On August 29, 1998, we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 5am and, after a brisk 2.5 mile hike in darkness, started climbing at 7am.

The climbing promised to be hard, so I left my food and water at the base to save on weight. It was good to not have a pack weighing me down and trying to pull me off the mountain, but I just didn’t think about how long it might be before getting a drink of water.  Think 2,000 year old mummy, when I later describe how dehydrated I became on this long, long climb.

Our Climb

1st Pitch (5.6)

I took the first lead and began as for the Love Route, climbing through a pink band of rock left of a big, right-facing dihedral. I continued up a dirty, right facing dihedral to reach a good ledge with a good anchor after ~160′.  The entire pitch was very easy with good pro (5.6).

2nd Pitch (5.7)

Brian took the second pitch in which he went straight up the dihedral from the belay ledge to reach a left facing dihedral below a white roof that blocked the way above. Brian climbed to just below the roof where he set an uncomfortable belay.

As I watched, I thought the correct dihedral for Hesse-Ferguson was further to the left, to allow for the roof above us to be defeated to the left (per Rossiter). But the party ahead of us blazed a path past the roof to the right and, I suppose, Brian was still smarting from his recent route-finding challenges. So, with a long day ahead of us, I just had to hope the guys ahead of us knew the way.

3rd Pitch (5.8s)

To my great relief, I turned the white roof to the right rather easily.  But, having lost sight of the group ahead, I decided to pick my way left to get to the large left-facing dihedral capped by the big, giant roof, which was, after all, the goal for the day.  But that was easier said than done.

To get to the large left-facing dihedral below the big, giant roof, I would have to climb up and over some seriously run-out, slabby, dirty 5.8 rock.  Yuck. I proceeded slowly, checking out every hopeful indentation.  I got stuck in a spot where I was sure I could get in some protection only to abandon the effort after burning 30 minutes in the attempt.  I then found the courage to proceed after spying another ‘certain’ placement that turned out to be good only for ‘psychological‘ protection (read: almost certainly worthless).

Brian recalls:

You were stuck forever (it seemed) on that section.  When I followed, I could see why:  it was thin, slabby, and the only relief that could be seen ahead was thin, slabby, and covered with grass.  The one piece of pro that I cleaned was absurd.”

After the longest 50-foot climb of my life, I reached the dihedral and safety, at the cost of burning up my reserves of energy and courage for the day.  I finished the pitch by ascending the dihedral to near the roof where I set my anchor, leaving the terrible-looking crux for Brian (the best climber on our team).

Note: many years later I figured out that we’d gotten onto the ‘Right Dihedral‘ route that would skip the big, giant roof. It was fortunate that I lost sight of the party who’d led us astray.

4th Pitch (5.9)

With all due excitement, Brian took off to figure out how to escape that big, giant roof…which turned out to be a fiendishly hard trap we’d been so careful to get into.

Brian recalls:

“From the distant ground, the giant roof appeared to have a hand-jam crack slicing through it along the right wall.  But after reaching it, I saw that the hand jam was much larger:  more like a bomb-bay chimney – just wide and deep enough that one could scrunch into it and inch toward the roof’s edge, with good placements in the narrower crack above and the vast Tyndal gorge below.  Turning the roof edge to regain the face was stunning.

I watched with amazement and dread as he crawled up into the bomb-bay chimney and shimmied his body further and further out over Tyndal gorge.

“How was he going to get out of there and onto the face?”, was my big question, as I looked at the blank wall below him.  He threw down a lay-back to reach past the blank wall and grab the face climbing holds that took him out of my line of sight.  It was beautiful.

I followed and found the moves to not be too technical or strenuous, but wildly awkward.

2nd Buttress of Hallett Peak, Hesse-Ferguson route

 

5th Pitch (5.8)

The next pitch was described as 5.7 serious…it was both.  And I was tired.  But since it was only 5.7, I figured I could manage.

I started by climbing straight up from the belay, aiming for a small roof.  I was able to find pro until I reached the roof, but then the pro ran out.  My choices were to continue up over completely run out face climbing to a belay on a flake (official route) or traverse 40 feet, up and right, to join a left facing dihedral on the Culp-Bossier route.  The Culp-Bossier route had good pro.  As I was completely exhausted and had already burned through my entire supply of courage, it wasn’t a hard choice.

I climbed as far as the rope let me, not quite reaching the top of the Culp-Bossier dihedral.

We were off route again, but I was alive. It was a good trade.

6th Pitch (5.8)

When Brian came up, I mentioned that I was tempted to stay on Culp-Bossier, since we knew the route and the day was old.  But Brian wanted to get back to Hesse-Ferguson, and it was his lead.  So, he traversed left to reach the flake belay atop the run-out section before realizing that the Hesse Ferguson route then moved up and right to a point directly above my belay. We could have just gone straight up to get back on route, but all we lost was a little more time.

7th Pitch (5.8)

After bringing me up to get a full rope, Brian continued climbing up to the base of a white band (face climbing) and belayed on a nice ledge we shared with a couple of guys who insisted they were on Culp-Bossier.  I couldn’t swear I was actually on Hesse-Ferguson, but I sure I wasn’t on Culp-Bossier route, at least not the route I’d climbed twice. But they were nice guys and Halletts can be forgiving for that sort of error, if you’re willing to work for it.

8th Pitch (5.9)

My lack of water (and courage) was taking a toll. I was too tired to lead anymore, so I let Brian finish the route. He climbed up the left side of the white band through some small, fun roofs and a shallow right-facing dihedral. It was a great pitch; it started hard (steep with good holds) and then became harder (move under roof without feet) and then ended with a thin, blank traverse to reach the top at 5pm.  It had taken 4 hours longer than expected.  Ouch!

Since we’d left our packs at the base, there was no reason to stop for a rest.  It took us another hour before I could have my first drink of water since 7am. I’ll just say that I was seriously dehydrated.  Brian went without a drink as long as I did, but he is unnaturally immune to dehydration.

After a long rest, we packed up at got back to the parking lot at 8pm.

What a day! Despite my fatigue, I thought Hesse-Ferguson was a great route:  far better than merely a way to climb that big, giant roof.  It was a classic Hallett climb.

Hallett Peak, 2nd Buttress

And, now, 14 years later, I’m amazed that that was the last time I did a rock climb on Hallett’s 2nd Buttress.  At least it was a good one.

“This is my favorite route on Hallett Peak. It is demanding both physically and mentally. The run-outs epitomize what climbing on Hallett Peak is all about, and it has some burly, physical cruxes.”

Mountain Project (Hallett Peak, Hesse-Ferguson Route)

 

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No Love on Love Route

October 17, 2010

Brian and I were near the end of a run on the major Hallett Peak rock climbs.  The year before we had climbed Northcutt-Carter (5.7), Culp-Bossier (5.8), and this year we had already climbed Jackson-Johnson (5.9). Brian picked the Love Route (5.9) for what would turn out to be our last high peaks preparation for our upcoming attempt on the Casual Route (5.10), Longs Peak.

The weather wasn’t perfect, but we’d had great weather luck for many weeks in a row. I figured my luck would continue to hold.  I was wrong.

On August 1, 1998, we set off for Hallett Peak a little later than usual. The day before, in a flash of stupidity, I reasoned that if we could do Jackson-Johnson after starting at 8:30am (after a false start), we certainly could climb the Love Route with a 7:30am start (6am sunrise) in the face of poor weather.  This would allow for a 4:30am departure from Boulder instead of the normal 3am. One and one-half hours of sleep was the difference between 3.5 hours and 5 hours of sleep. Apparently, I was willing to gamble a lot to exchange a miserable night sleep for a mere bad one.

Brian wanted to be flexible, I suppose, and he didn’t argue the point. Perhaps he also looked forward to a few extra winks.

As planned, I felt much better than usual when Brian showed up for the drive to RMNP. And, after hiking to the base of Hallett in the dawn light instead of the pitch dark, the day was officially off to a grand start.

Pitch 1:

To the left of the Cup-Bossier start is the dihedral start to the climb.  Rossiter says, “Climb the pink wall 20′ right of the smaller dihedrals and 80′ left of the big dihedral”

A 160 foot 5.6 climb up the grassy, right-facing dihedral leads to the 4th class gully (the big dihedral) that leads to the top of the triangle buttress.  We started up the route at 7:15am.  I took the 1st pitch to allow us to switch off pitches (not counting the 50-foot ‘move the belay’ pitch) and leave the crux pitch to Brian.

Pitches 2 & 3:

The 2nd and 3rd pitches were only 4th class. The only interesting event on this section of the climb was Brian’s apparent attempt to drop his car keys to the bottom of the buttress.  The rock didn’t cooperate and snagged them only 50 feet below where Brian was able to collect them.

But the rock was very wet. It is quite common for have wet rock early in the day, but we’ve been able to rely on the wind to dry off the rock before long.  But not this time.  Not with overcast skies.

Pitch 4:

Brian led the 4th pitch up some wet, but good 5.6 rock through the white band for about 160 feet.

Pitch 5:

The 5th pitch was mine and was very bad…wet and runny. I started up, angling right. I was supposed to stay in a right leading crack for 90 feet then angle left and up. I was in water the entire time, and every time it looked like the route could go left, the path required friction moves over slime. No way.

According to Rossiter’s guidebook, there were no routes between Love Route and the Englishman’s Route, which was far to the right.  But the weakness in the rock and the only safe climbing went right. I had to try something.

I stayed right, picking my higher and higher. But every step was in mud, and every hand hold was in water. And I was unable to find any good pro for long stretches. At one point I was 15 feet over my last good pro before I found a good placement. It was a foregone conclusion that I was not going to get back to the route; I had passed up all changes to traverse back to the line. I was probably screwed. I just hoped I could find a safe belay before running out of rope.

It was turning ugly, but at least the weather had held despite threatening otherwise.

Looking up, I spied a potential belay and could see a line to get there. Thank God.

Just below the ledge, I had to pull up on and then step on two loose hand-sized rocks wedged into a shallow crack.

But I made it.  I had 5 feet of rope left.

The ledge turned out not to have much pro or space, but it was a satisfactory belay given that I was out of rope.

As I brought Brian up, he was whining about how far off route I was and how I should be more careful. Yeah, whatever. I was just glad to be alive. I told him we’d be back on route if he’d go up to the lower angle rock and then head left to get below the roof.  He said he’d try; what more could I ask.

 

The upper route topo. Red line is our route. Green line is the true Love Route. Blue line is the Better Than Love route, unknown to us at the time.

 

Pitch 6:

He made it.  The climbing was moderate, but the pro continued to be scarce. Still, it was another possible path to take when The Love Route was runny and slick. We were back on route.

It turns out that I wasn’t the only one to think so.

In the years since our climb of the Love Route, another route emerged into general knowledge between the Love Route and The Englishman’s Route.  It is called “Better Than Love” and follows the line we used except for continuing to the top while remaining to the right of the Love Route. See Gillett’s High Peaks guidebook 2001 version.  Apparently the climb was done many years ago; but since it wasn’t in my 1997 Rossiter guidebook, it might as well have been classified Top Secret by the US Govenment.

 

Brian approaching the top of the 3rd pitch

 

 

Pitch 7:

We took a moment to study the 7th and crux pitch.  And then it started to rain and hail. Shit.

It was bad. We’d never bailed before but this maelström did not look like the ‘take prisoners’ kind of storm. But Brian thought he could aid the crux, and since the top was a lot closer than the bottom, we agreed to push on.

It was so slippery. He had to aid the roof then then pulled off a couple unprotected traversing moves in a waterfall to make it. It was well done; one of his more heroic efforts of all time.

When it was my turn to step around the roof, I didn’t think I’d make it.  But I had a top rope, so I had to try. Sticky rubber is sticky even wet.

Pitch 8:

I took the last pitch, which was thankfully short and only 5.6. And by the time I reached the top, the rain had gone.

Our perfect record was still intact.

Lucky again.

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Poor Teamwork on Mt Columbia

September 23, 2010

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we play atop the high peak alone, we have only our own interests to consider.  It is a simple matter to set a goal and build a plan to accommodate our interests, skills, fitness and tolerance for risk.  When we are alone, we can enjoy the high peaks the way we want without any compromise.  But it is simply more fun to adventure with people we like and trust.  And as an added bonus for team-based adventuring, a collective effort can minimize the risks inherent to playing in a dangerous environment.

But a team is not a group of individuals acting in their own best interest.  Members of a “team” demonstrate cooperative and supportive behavior in a common effort to accomplish hard goals.  Good team members value a relationship built over time and expressed in mutual understanding, honesty, sympathy, empathy, and loyalty.  And, the knowledge of one-another within a team allows complementary abilities and coordinated efforts to generate synergy, which enables a “team” to be greater than the sum of the individuals.

A good team offers safety by being supportive and trustworthy.  A bad team doesn’t.

This trip report is about a bad team, of which some of the members successfully summited on Mt. Columbia on May 5, 2000.

Trip Report

On Saturday, May 5th, Brian, Susan (my girlfriend of 4 months and future wife), and I set off from the N. Cottonwood Creek trailhead to climb Mt. Columbia.

Brian (Climbing Partner) and Susan (girlfriend of 4 months) preparing for early start on Mt. Columbia (Colorado)

Brian and I had hiked past the full length of Columbia two years prior when we climbed Mt. Harvard via its South Ridge starting from the N. Cottonwood Creek trailhead; we felt we knew the area well enough to skip a full-on planning effort to climb Columbia’s West Flank and South Ridge. We were right to be confident that the two of us could figure out a way.

But we were wrong to remain confident once we added an inexperienced member to the group.

In the week before the attempt, Susan expressed an interest in joining me on one of my trips. Without thinking, I invited her to join us on the upcoming Mt. Columbia’s climb, and she accepted. If I thought anything, I suppose is was that any difficulties that surpassed her skill set would be at the end of the hike, and so would allow her to simply wait below for a short time if we could not protect her. When I told Brian of the addition to the team, he agreed it would be okay.

We were both wrong in assuming that adding Susan, an inexperienced 14er hiker, to the group would pose no significant problems.  But, I would stand alone in blame for the biggest leadership mistake of all.

We drove up Saturday night for a pre-climb car-camp. It would be a long day (Dawson estimate was 11 hours) so we needed a very early start from a trailhead a long way from home.  It was a beautiful night for sleeping under the stars, with clear skies and moderate temperatures. We enjoyed a couple hours of camaraderie before turning in for a short night’s sleep.

The next morning we hiked in the pitch dark and soft snow.  I had brought snowshoes for Susan, so she was fine; but I had skis, which I put on and took off multiple times as soft snow and exposed rocks competed for my attention. As the trail approached Columbia, snow started to fall and the wind picked up.  It was getting cold.  But going uphill kept the furnace burning hot, and we continued along following Brian who I assumed knew the way to go.

It was hard to see our destination through the trees, but eventually Brian said we should leave the trail. We turned toward Columbia and made our way closer to the West Flank that looked steeper that I expected. He stopped hiking on a pile of talus under a steep, icy gully and took off his pack. I asked if we were taking a break; Brian said this was it.

I couldn’t believe it! I stared at Brian in disbelieve that he would think this route would work for Susan, and then I looked at Susan.  She had a pleasant smile, and was expecting the best of a great day.  Oh shit!

I didn’t bring crampons for either of us, and I didn’t bring an ice axe for Susan; and she didn’t know how to use such equipment, anyway.

“What the heck, Brian? Isn’t there an easier way up?  Susan can’t climb that!” I communicated to Brian in another glance.

“I think this is it,” was all he said.

We stood there, freezing in the wind, for another moment.  Then I told Susan the bad news.  She couldn’t continue and it wouldn’t be smart to wait in a cold wind for 5 hours.  I told her that it would be best if she went back to the trailhead, where she could get protection from the wind (in my 4Runner), and even catchup on a little sleep.

Columbia from Yale: our route vs. standard

Susan was agreeable, as always, but she didn’t know the way back. I assured her that it would be easy to simply follow our tracks in the snow, and if she did get lost she could simply listen to find the river, and then she would keep it on her right and follow it back to the bridge crossing to find the trail. I pointed her in the right direction and she left.

Susan adds…

Joe was always going on some adventure or another on the weekends.  I thought I’d like to go along, and he said yes.  We started hiking so early it was dark, but I just followed behind.  We stopped hiking below a very steep snowfield, and Joe said he hadn’t known it was so steep.  I was a little upset that I couldn’t finish, but more so that I would have to hike back alone.  I was worried about getting lost because I hadn’t paid attention to the trail during the hike in.

Brian put on his crampons and disappeared up the steep, icy gully.  I followed by kicking creases in the ice & frozen snow where Brian had weakened it with his steps, and I hauled on trees wherever possible.

Progress up the slope was slow, for obvious reasons.

Once we reached the South Ridge, I hoped we were close so we’d be able to head back soon.  But no.  We still had a lengthy ridge traverse to reach the summit. And the wind became brutal.  With the skis acting as sails, we were tossed around like toys.  Brian even took a spill into some rocks after a big gust. But we made it.  And, although it was a bit late for snow safety, the cold wind gave us confidence.  We hurried back down the South Ridge past our ascent path to reach the a major gully, which probably would have been a better ascent path. (note: the standard ascent path would have been even better; see route photo.)

The ski descent was excellent. The snow was mostly in good shape, except for an unseen slushy spot that initiated a spectacular tumble by me.  And rocks were falling from above. But it was a wonderful period of joy that allowed no thoughts of what might have gone wrong for Susan on her retreat.

As we started back, I was surprised at the extent the trail had melted out.  It meant we could not ski out very well, and it meant the trail might have been hard to follow. I started wondering about Susan’s fate.

Columbia route map

We trudged on and steadily ate up the trail. Shortly after we crossed the creek, we saw Susan hiking toward us. She was delighted to see us as I was delighted to see that she had made it back.  I figured she had gotten bored and was coming to meet us.

But I was wrong.

Susan explained that she had not yet made it back to the trailhead.  She had been continuously hiking up and down the trails, looking for something that looked familiar. She was actually delighted to see us because finding us meant that she wouldn’t die that day.

Susan adds….

I tried following the tracks, and I nearly made it to the trailhead before getting confused and turning around.  I hiked back and forth on the trail for many hours until I found the Joe and Brian heading back.  I was so relieved that I wasn’t going to die that I wasn’t even too mad.  I had a long day of quality time with myself.

I was amazed that the situation had spun so far out of control.  And I was embarrassed. It was entirely my fault, and it forced me to think hard about the proper behaviors for teams with unequally experienced members.  Very clearly, I had made two serious errors

  1. I failed to understand and/or assume responsibility for Susan, who completely trusted me to keep her safe because she could not fully manage her own safety in that situation
  2. I failed to abandon my personal goal (bag summit of Columbia) when it became incompatible with my responsibility for Susan’s safety

It became clear to me that, for a good team, we need people we know, people we trust not to selfishly, foolishly or ignorantly put us in danger or fail to respond properly to an emergency.  And, finding a group of people is just the first step.  We then need to turn our “group” into a “team” by continually strengthening relationships and learning about each other in the context of shared adventures that we choose for suitability to the current level of trust and experience among the members.  And, most importantly, the experienced members of a team must assume responsibility for the inexperienced members whenever they adventure together, even when it means to give up on the summit to keep a team-member safe.

This must be the first rule of teamwork.

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And all credit to Susan for finding a happy ending to the story. She stuck with me, after all; our 10-year marriage anniversary is coming up in 2011.

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Blitzen Ridge, At Long Last

September 6, 2010

Mt Ypsilon and its Donner (left) and Blitzen (right) ridges

Blitzen Ridge.  It has officially been on my Climbing Goals list since 1/1/2000.

Unofficially, it was added the day I climbed Ypsilon Mountain from Chapin Pass (a walk-up) and marveled at the majesty of the entire area on July 11, 1999 (see Mummy Range Weekend trip report).

One of the key problems in accomplishing this goal is I never get to see it; I’m always driving to Estes Park in the pre-dawn dark, and I’m always climbing in the Longs Peak, Glacier Gorge or Loch Vale areas which are far to the south.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

Still, every few years or so I’ve been reminded of it in some way.  Each time, I mentioned it to Brian for consideration and always get a similar negative answer, all of which boil down to: too much hiking for too little climbing. The fact that this statement is essentially true led me to never push very hard.

But in the year, 2010, I decided I would finish a number of my long-standing goals. I started my lobbying efforts early, and was unintentionally aided by the fact that our climbing skills have fallen far enough to severely limit our RMNP alpine rock climbing options.  Earlier in 2010, we’d done everything in RMNP we could think to do: Spearhead North Ridge, Notchtop Spiral Route, Hallet Great Chimney, Zowie Standard Route, Sharkstooth NE Arete, and we even bagged one of my long-standing goals, the Solitude Lake Cirque, a linkup of Arrowhead, McHenry, Powell and Thatchtop.  And, so, with a perfect weather forecast, Saturday, September 4, 2010, was the time to dedicate ourselves, finally, joyfully, to climb Blitzen Ridge.

Interesting story about the first ascent and naming of Blitzen Ridge

On about Sept 1958, a group of Yale students did the first ascent of the Blitzen Ridge. After a forced bivy on the summit, they walked down to Fall River Pass (where the RMNP Alpine Center is located) in the morning and hitch-hiked down. They named the two ridges “Donder” and “Blitzen” intending the names to mean ‘thunder’ and ‘lightening’.

~from a Charles Ehlert email published by Andy in the Rockies

Oddly, the ‘Donder’ ridge is now named ‘Donner’. It is impossible not to recognize the reindeer names, and a little research revealed to me that naming of Santa’s raindeers has changed over the years.  ‘Dunder and Blixem’ (Dutch) from the 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (i.e., “twas the night before…”) by Henry Livingston, Jr. became ‘Donder and Blitzen’ in later versions by other authors, and eventually became ‘Donner and Blitzen’ in the 1923 song Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  ‘Donner’ is the german word for ‘thunder’. Unfortunately, ‘Blitzen’ means ‘flash’ in german; it was used instead of ‘Blitz’ which is the german word for ‘lightning’ because of the need to rhyme with the name ‘Vixen’.  Still, it works for me.

The Plan

The plan was a simple one, and was designed to finish the ridge climb with the least amount of hiking possible.  It would also approximate the route used by the first ascent party in 1958, minus the hitchhiking.

The Blitzen Ridge route map

We would start from the Lawn Lake trailhead at the bottom of Old Fall River Road and hike to the bottom of Blitzen Ridge via the Ypsilon Lake trail spur.  We would climb the ridge and then descend from Ypsilon Mountain to Chapin Pass, where we would use a stashed vehicle to drive back to the starting point.  Yeah, driving would save ~4 miles of hiking and scrambling, but it would still be a hard day: 10+ miles of hiking & climbing from the Lawn Lake Trailhead (8540′) to the summit of Ypsilon Mountain via Ypsilon Lake and Blitzen Ridge to cover over 5000′ of elevation gain in 12 hours.

“Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road earned the distinction of being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park’s high country.”

~nps.gov (http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/old_fall_river_road.htm)

I also hoped to check out the ‘Louis R. Leving Grave’ that is indicated on my GPS map as situated on the Blitzen Ridge.

On 2 August 1905, Louis Raymond Levings lost his life on the face of Ypsilon Peak…his body is buried there and a bronze tablet was erected where the body lies, to his memory.
 
~ Estes Park Archives

The Day

We met in Boulder @ 1am and drove up to RMNP in single file order. We drove past the Lawn Lake Trailhead at 2:10am on our way up Old Fall River Road to stash Brian’s truck at the Chapin Pass Trailhead.  The road was in good shape, but still narrow and winding in places and so slow (and explaining why it is a one-way road). It took a little over 30 minutes to drive the 9 miles; then we dropped Brian’s truck at what seemed to be a parking spot (next to the sign forbidding overnight parking).  We then continued up the one-way road in my 4Runner to the Alpine Center and then down the new Fall River Road to complete a 30 mile loop to reach, again, the bottom of Old Fall River Road and the Lawn Lake Trailhead.

And so it began.

Position 1

I was delighted to start on-time.  I figured some part of my start-up plan wouldn’t work and we’d start late; I was glad to have the extra time.  We actually arrived 20 minutes early.  But my estimate of 1 hour to position the cars was actually low by 15 minutes, and that was with no traffic at all.

When we pulled into the Lawn Lake trailhead, the lot had half-a-dozen cars already parked.  I couldn’t believe it; we wouldn’t be first on the rock. Brian suggested some of them might be headed toward Lawn Lake; I agreed it was good to have hope.

I had expected a cold, windy day, based on a forecast for Longs Peak on 14ers.com. But it was not cold, nor was it windy, except for the occasional gust. I packed away my extra clothes against the chance that the weather might change once we got above treeline.  And at the last minute, to save on weight, I decided to leave behind my extra water and only bring 1 liter of water and an extra (empty) bottle.  My plan was to drink a liter and refill both at Ypsilon Lake.  I figured 3 liters would be too little water for a 12 hour hike & climb, but still enough to get me home.

Position 2

In my preparation for the trip, trying to remember my previous 3 visits many years ago, I couldn’t recall a cutoff for Ypsilon Lake from the Lawn Lake trail. I was worried that the Ypsilon Lake trail would be hard to find, and worried that not finding it would be a quick end to a long plan. I decided to bring my GPS primarily for the purpose of finding the cut-0ff in the pitch dark.

We started up the excellent Lawn Lake trail making good time in the pitch dark. At about 1 1/4 miles in, I pulled out my GPS to guide us. But it was all unnecessary. At 1.5 miles along the Lawn Lake trail, we came upon a small sign indicating the turnoff.

So far so good.

Position 3

The Ypsilon Lake trail started as a fine trail but eventually reminded me of the Knobs Shortcut to the Glacier Gorge trail; it was rough and dark. Still, I only lost the trail once as we worked our way past Chipmunk Lake and, finally, Ypsilon Lake at approximately 5am.  In the dark, Chipmunk Lake looked like a swamp; Ypsilon Lake looked magnificent.

In my preparation research, I could not find any certain evidence of a ‘best’ way around Ypsilon Lake to reach Blitzen Ridge.  Roach wrote of heading north from the east end of the lake, while Rossiter indicated to hike up a grassy gully on north side of the lake.  I guessed ‘clockwise’ but wasn’t sure.

Once we arrived at the lake, I decided to take a couple minutes to see if a trail went counter-clockwise; it didn’t. And we did find a climbers trail to follow clockwise. The plan was still working.  But at this point, I forgot to do something important.

Position 4

Our first view of Mt Ypsilon and the ‘Aces’ (see the shadows)

We followed the climber’s trail across a good bridge and for another 30 feet before completely losing all sign of a trail.  We continued hoping to find a trail, but willing to bushwack our way eastward, moving up or down depending on the obstacles. I was looking for a talus field that was supposed to mark Rossiter’s ‘grassy gully’ that led to the start of the ridge. In the dark, the talus field we found 1/2 way around looked more like landslide debris; but we took it.  It was very steep, but it went to the start of Blitzen Ridge, which we reached at 6am.  Still on plan.

But then I realized that I had forgotten to get water at the lake.  Shit.  One liter of water for 12 hours of high altitude exercise = bad day.  I started making an effort to breath through my nose instead of my mouth.

And, under the circumstances, I was glad to finally find the cooler temperatures and higher winds above treeline.

Position 5

It was still too dark to see any landmarks, but my GPS confirmed that we were on course.  The next step was to follow the ridge as it turns from a rounded hill to a sharp-edged ridge.  When we reached a point were we could see the Spectacle Lakes, the sun had come up enough to expose the scenery. Mt Ypsilon’s Y-Couloir and accompanying Donner and Blitzen Ridges are wildly spectacular; in my opinion, the area rivals Longs Peak, my favorite mountain in the world.

Brian examining the long way up Blitzen Ridge

The only odd thing was that we couldn’t see the Aces on the ridge.  Eventually, we saw the shadows of the Aces on the Donner Ridge wall, highlighted by the morning sun. By 7am, we arrived at the base of the 1st Ace; it was an impressive pinnacle.  To climb to the top of it would be a time-consuming undertaking.

Position 6

Our plan was to skirt the 1st two Aces. I took the 1st lead and did a descending traverse on 3rd and 4th class terrain to get below the 1st Ace and then continued with an ascending traverse over somewhat easier terrain to get by the 2nd Ace and to the base of the 3rd Ace.

Brian followed, arriving at 8am, and then prepared for his climb of the 3rd Ace.

Position 7

Brian’s lead of the 3rd Ace

The 3rd Ace was the one we had to climb, according to the route beta.  Brian, delighted for a chance at some real climbing, worked his way up the 3rd Ace, taking the hardest path when possible.

When I followed, the route felt a bit harder than 5.4, but that made sense.

When I arrived at the top, Brian indicated that he couldn’t find a rappel anchor. Now that was a bother, as we brought two ropes specifically for the 2-rope rappel off the 3rd Ace.

I climbed out to the ridge edge to see if I could find an anchor or a place to set one without leaving iron behind; I couldn’t. The going was easy enough that I shouted to Brian that I was going to down climb and place gear to protect his down climb. I admit it would have been better if I had taken the rack; I only had the 5-6 pieces I cleaned from Brian’s lead.

I continued down until running out of rope, but I could see it was going to work. Brian followed and then we scrambled the rest of the way to the saddle between the 3rd and 4th Ace.

Position 8

The plan for the 4th Ace was to pass it on the right.  I had read that the best path comes of climbing up for a bit before turning right.  Looking at the 4th Ace from high on the 3rd Ace, I couldn’t make sense of this advice; and worse, the rock looked hard to climb. But once up close, the obvious weakness in the rock started up and right, right off the ground. It was my lead so I started up, following the slight ramp to see where it would lead.

The climbing was easy but the protection was scarce. I worked far enough right to see a probable path around the corner about 50 feet away.  And then Brian yelled out that I only had 20 feet of rope left.  Shit.

I brought Brian over and then he finished the climb by turning the corner to find a nice walking and scrambling path to the foot of the Headwall. He brought me over and then we scrambled to the Headwall, which would be Brian’s lead.

And then I forgot to look for the brass plate marking Louis Raymond Leving’s grave.  Oh well, I guess it will wait for me.

The Blitzen Ridge ‘Headwall’

Position 9

Brian indicated that he’d read that climbing the white pillar was the best start to the Headwall.  I didn’t think he meant ‘easiest’…he didn’t.

Brian’s lead up the Headwall 1st pitch

He started up the SE corner and found the hardest climbing of the day.  It was a balancey climb in a strong wind. I was surprised to be able to make it without a fall; I’m sure Brian was pleased with himself.

But we had another 125 feet of steep rock to reach the top of the Headwall.  I ran the rope out 75 feet up some 4th class rock and then led a 50-foot pitch to reach the top of the Headwall near a notch in the ridge. Brian came up and then we unroped, based on the advice we’d read (but absolutely not based on the look of the rock).

Position 10

The first 50 feet or so were wickedly exposed, but the rock was good.  The key was to get to the top of the ridge as quickly as possible. Once on the ridge, the difficulty was primarily past.  It was mostly 2nd & 3rd class movement; the hardest part was avoiding the overhanging rocks just out of sight that jumped out to bash my helmet at any moment of weakness.

The last 100 feet was the easiest terrain since before the Aces.

Position 11

Ypsilon summit: enjoying our first break after 10 hours of hiking and climbing

I reached the summit at 1:30pm and sat down for my first official break of the day. I had saved 1/3 liter of water for my lunch. I was surprised that I didn’t feel dehydrated, but it had not been a hot day (so far, I should have realized).

I found Brian trying to use the sun to melt some found ice into his water bottle.  We sat and chatted about the day; I insisted that the Blitzen Ridge was a great idea.

Brian asked if we were behind schedule; he thought I had mentioned a plan to summit at noon. The weather had been so good all day that I didn’t pay any attention to the time.  I dug out my trip plan and found that our 7 hour climb was the high-end of my predicted range (5-7 hours).   We decided to stay awhile and enjoy the views.

I claimed that we could have gone faster if we hadn’t tried to make the technical climbing portions interesting. I was probably right, but it was all good. A good climb and a good plan.

After a 30 minute break, it was time to head down; but not before stopping to appreciate our path over the many obstacles on the Blitzen Ridge.

Position 12

I had a mind to find the best compromise between shortest line between two points and avoiding losing any altitude that I’d have to re-climb. I followed a cairned path much of the way as I bypassed Chiquita and aimed for the saddle between Chiquita and Chapin, finding and losing the path at least a dozen times.

Brian had the energy to bag Chiquita on the way past.  I skipped it since I had already done these peaks on my Mummy Range Weekend adventure some years ago.

Once at the saddle, the trail became excellent and we made good time back to Chapin Pass, finally seeing other people for the first time in the day.  But it finally started getting hot, and I started feeling thirsty.  I wished I had stashed some water in Brian’s truck; now I’d have to wait for the long ride through RMNP.

As we approached the trailhead, the sight of Brian’s truck (13 hours after leaving it) was a sight for sore feet.

We made it.

Panorama of descent path to Chapin Pass trailhead

All that was left was the drive back to my 4Runner at the Lawn Lake trailhead.  Naturally, the traffic was horrific with all the tourists gawking at the aliens dressed as elk.  But, as a mere passenger, I was permitted to sleep and catchup on the lost sleep of the night before (I only got 2 hours of sleep: 10pm to midnight).

And once back at my vehicle, I started home immediately, and I drank 2 liter of water as I drove home.

Another great trip.

Trip data (click for more details)

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A Quick Zowie

September 1, 2010

For August 28, 2010, it was another bad weather forecast.  This time we chose Zowie for its short approach (1.5 hours) and short climb (6 short pitches) that, combined, would allow us to beat the 40% chance of rain after noon.

The only problem with Zowie was the 5.8+ finish on the easiest route to the summit. There was a time when that was no problem; but, we haven’t climbed anything harder than 5.7 in a long time. Brian remembered that we could bail from the bottom of the crux pitch, so we decided to go for it.

Approach to Zowie & Wham

We started hiking at 4:45am on a clear night from a nearly empty parking lot.  The trail went faster than the week before, and so the sun didn’t come up until just before we left the trees.  Heading toward Zowie, we left the trail soon after leaving the trees; we turned left to cross the Andrews Glacier drainage creek, and then hiked uphill to the base of the climb.

I’d done Zowie at least three times before.  The first climb of Zowie (7.27.1997) was up the left side of the South Face with a true south face finish. I don’t know the route name; I just climbed where Mark indicated.  The second climb of Zowie (9.21.2001) was the standard South Face route (that ends on the East face), or, at least Brian and I thought so at the time. The third climb was in August 2003 when Brian and I redid the standard South Face route except for a variation on the last pitch where we traversed back to the south face to climb to the summit.

This time we’d repeat the standard South Face route although, this time we’d find a better path, that stayed on the south face until the final pitch.

We stopped at the base of the climb to eat a bit of breakfast. Oddly, neither of us could remember the actual start to the climb.  The topo didn’t seem to match the rock; but since we could see the big chimney that we had to climb to reach the big ledge, it didn’t matter.

I took the first pitch so that Brian would lead the crux pitch.  I traversed along a seam in the rock to get below the big chimney, and then belayed on a nice ledge below the “V”. It was rated 5.5 but felt harder in a few spots; I supposed I just wasn’t climbing well.

Brian then ran the rope up the chimney.  We took the lefthand part of the “V”.

Once on the big ledge, we moved the belay to below the dihedral/chimney. I used tricams to set the belay to I could have all the cams.  I had a feeling that I’d need all the cams on the climb.

The third pitch felt hard.  It was very steep with great holds, and since my hands were way out of shape, great holds on steep terrain eventually felt like bad holds on steep terrain.  At least the protection was good.

Once at the top of the dihedral, the ledge looked familiar. The topo showed the route continuing up the chimney, but it didn’t look familiar to me. I yelled down to Brian and he remembered traversing right. I thought I should follow the route this time and climbed up into the chimney to see if I could make it work. The only problem was my backpack and my big body (215 lbs) fitting into that tight space. But it went.

Brian wasn’t convinced that it was the real route, but if it wasn’t, it should be.

Brian took the 4th pitch.  He stayed on the south face, near the east edge; he climbed past one ledge and belayed on the second. The crux of his pitch was an excellent 20-foot off-width crack, where we found and cleaned a fixed nut.

I took the 5th pitch, my last of the day.  The topo said to traverse to the east side and then climb up cracks to the base of the ….  But when I traversed over to the edge and looked over, it didn’t look right. As I moved back toward the belay, I noticed a fixed nut near a giant flake about 10 feet above me, on the south face.  It struck me that I might be able to climb that flake and the rock above…and I could clean the nut.

It was a great pitch! The climbing was awkward, but otherwise easy (5.5ish). I stayed on the south face until reaching the bottom of the summit block; I climbed NE over some blocks to reach the normal belay below the crux.

Still, Brian had a big job to do.  He had to run the rope up to the summit, and that would take some doing for an old guy.

Remarkably, he did a great job.  He got all the way to the dead-vertical part, 10 feet from the top, before needing a rest.  After a short rest, he made it to the top. And, then it was my turn.

I started up the initial wall.  It looked hard, and was certainly harder than anything climbed on the day.  I made it up to the ledge below the hard crack, and then continued up past the pins and to Brian’s last piece of protection before succumbing to gravity.  My hands were gone.

I was surprised to feel the grip of panic as I hung from the ropes; out of practice, I suppose.  I was able to put it out of my mind and just focus on helping my hands recover. But they wouldn’t come back.

After a couple minutes, I decided I would just try to move up a a few feet.  I did this a couple times to reach the top. My hands were so bad I was worried I couldn’t hold the rope on rappel.

The weather, which had been good all day, finally turned ugly.  We rappelled into the backside without incident and then scrambled down to the final rappel with only the miserly of scrambling down loose scree.

We continued the scrambling down the gully to reach our packs, where we stayed to eat until a few drops of rain fell out of the sky.

The light drizzle continued for about 30 minutes as we made the 1.5 hour hike back to the trailhead.  We arrived at 3:30pm for an 11 hour round-trip.

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