Sunday, July 26, 2009

Andrews Glacier, Flattop Mountain

Ann, Nick, Laurel, and I got up early Sunday morning for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. As we were driving through Estes Park, we saw a mountain lion running away from a campground and into someone's front yard. This cougar was huge!

We continued into the park and started our hike at the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead. Not too far along the trail we decided to take a smaller side-trail that would bypass Alberta Falls and potentially save us some time getting to Andrews Glacier.

The weather was overcast and damp and it had recently rained. As we hiked through the dense vegetation our pants got pretty soaked. Back on the Andrews Glacier Trail the weather began to improve and we started to dry out. For an hour or two it was a beautiful, hot, sunny day.

At the glacier, Ann and I chose to hike directly up the snow, while Laurel and Nick skirted around the side and labored through a scree field instead. The snowfield ended in the Andrews Tarn. This small lake only exists due to snowmelt from the glacier. There were no streams flowing into or out of it.

The slope of the glacier by the lake was rather shallow, so there was little risk of slipping and sliding into the lake, especially with an ice axe. As we ascended the glacier the slope increased and we began to switchback. There was an inch or two of soft surface snow/ice on top of the hard ice of the glacier so our ice axes did not penetrate very deeply.

The glacier widened towards the top so there was a part that Laurel and Nick had to ascend on snow too. Once on top of the glacier there was a short scramble up to the alpine meadow, where we saw a few elk grazing.

Thunderstorms were imminent so we forwent summiting Otis and Hallett Peaks. After a short while we got onto trail, lumped over the top of the unspectacular Flattop "Mountain", and began our descent. Although we thought the weather too risky to remain above treeline for long, there were plenty of people ascending Hallett and coming up the trail to Flattop too.

The descent to Bear Lake was long. The closer we got the more RMNP tourists we saw -- surprising at first since we saw none at the start of our hike (but of course that was before 6:30 AM). From the Bear Lake trailhead it was a short hike back to the car. For the day, we hiked around 12 miles in about 8.5 hours. See our trek in Google Earth or Google Maps.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No climbing today

A variety of neighbors woke me up multiple times Friday night. I didn't really get to fall asleep until 4am, so by the time I woke up it was too late to climb a Flatiron. Instead Laurel and I went for a great bike ride and checked out some houses with for-sale signs. After the ride we went to see the new Harry Potter movie -- pretty good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing

Saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

First Flatiron, East Face North Side

We got to Chautauqua at 8am -- an early start considering yesterday's trek. By 9am we were climbing up the East Face North Side route of the First Flatiron. This was the very first Flatiron route we ever climbed, almost exactly two years ago. This time we started in the right place. Maybe.

The Gerry Roach book describes the climb in 5 pitches. We did it in 4, each one almost a full rope-length. After the first pitch we realized we were on the wrong side of the giant gully described in the book. To correct this we traversed across to the north side of the gully on the second pitch. The climb was supposed to go "straight up" to a walk-off.

Believe it or not, we went straight up for two more pitches and actually finished right at the walk-off! Usually on these big Flatiron climbs we end up 50-100 feet off to the side of where we're supposed to be.

Our plan was to continue on to the summit (another 6 pitches) but the weather looked iffy. We waffled for a bit then finally decided to head back down. Naturally, once we were halfway to our packs the weather had improved. Time to climb the Spy again.

I led the climb in three pitches today, since doing it in two pitches is really a stretch. You know the expression "Every cloud has a silver lining"? Well, the silver lining for today's clouds was made of aluminum and shaped like a Tricam. Along the way I spent a few minutes retrieving my pink tricam! It sure has seen better days. Some animal has been chewing on it since October. I think I can replace the sling. Look at how happy we are to have our pink tricam back:

On the hike down the access trail we saw the deer that hangs out around the First Flatironette and also saw a glossy snake. Based on its demeanor, the deer is almost certainly the same one we saw when we climbed with Sean, and possibly the same one we saw two years ago.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pikes Peak

We got up early this morning to hike Pikes Peak with Tim. The Barr trail is 13 miles one way, so we took a different one. The Devil's Playground Trail starts from a trailhead at 10,100' and climbs Pikes Peak from the northwest, up to the 14,110' summit. The one-way distance is somewhere between 5.5 and 8.5 miles, depending on which source you look at, so we hiked around 11-17 miles today. It felt closer to 17 and considering it took us almost 9 hours it may have been.

We were above the clouds for most of the hike up. Once on the summit we could see the weather forming on the other side of the mountain. It looked suspicious so we didn't stay up top for long.

It was a very long day -- it took us 4 hours just to get back to the car. Our next hike will have to be an easier one. Hopefully this was good preparation for Tim, who will be attempting Rainier in two weeks. Good luck, Tim!

A Columbine flower along the trail

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Second Flatiron-Free for All 5.6

Pullman CarOops, we forgot the camera today. But, no worries. I'm sure you recall our climb of the Second Flatiron from October. Today we started at the same spot as last time and followed the same route for a pitch and a half. Then, instead of heading to the north (right) we went to the south, ended up underneath the Pullman Car and then went up between the Car and the South Block. Unfortunately, we were not able to do the last pitch which went up the east side of the Pullman Car because it started thundering and then proceeded to rain. We were very fortunate that we were at a spot where we could scramble up the gully, climb a couple of moves and then walk off onto the trail. Overall, we did 7 seven pitches in 5 1/2 hours--not bad!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kelso Ridge

Today we summited Torreys Peak via the Kelso Ridge -- a class three climb that gains 2,000 feet. Our friend Tim from the WTS class was looking for hiking partners as he is training for a Mount Rainier summit bid at the end of the month. We were very eager to join him on the Kelso Ridge because it caught our eye last fall when we were in the area climbing Grays Peak.

The day started at 2:45am -- that's right, 2:45. The alarm went off, we got dressed, had a little breakfast and headed out the door. We met Tim in Morrison at 4am and then proceeded to the trailhead. When we started hiking the sun was just beginning to rise behind us. We hiked the main Grays/Torreys trail for about 2 miles and then headed off the trail to the base of the ridge 200 yards to the north. This small saddle is also the home of an old gated-up mine entrance and shelter which are cool to explore.

The first part of the ridge included some hiking, scrambling, and loose, sandy rock. In fact, most of the ridge was just like that. We gradually made our way up as several other teams passed us. We had the biggest, and undoubtedly heaviest, packs of anyone we saw. We had our ten essentials (and then some)! There were two somewhat sketchy parts on the ridge. The first was a 30-40 foot fourth class scramble up a nice block. Apparently, there was a way around it, but we couldn't find it. The second spot was the 30-foot knife edge traverse and subsequent granite block. The knife edge had enough foot and hand holds, but it also had a great deal of exposure. We summited Torreys at about 10:20 -- 5 hours after the start -- and joined about 40 people up there.

After the requisite pictures, snacks, water, register-signing, and gear re-shuffling, we headed down the standard route to the saddle between the two mountains. We were amazed by the number of people on the trails (many of them ill-suited for the mountains). As we headed towards the summit of Grays, the clouds were getting larger and a bit threatening. We decided to bail and traversed a snowfield to pick up the Grays Peak trail. We got back to the car at 1:15 -- 8 hours after the start. It was a long, but really fun day!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mt. Toll

Tougher hike than expected. We planned to hike up to Pawnee Pass on the Continental Divide, follow the divide north across Pawnee Peak, Mt. Toll, and Paiute Peak, then bend east to Mt. Audubon. With a 6am start we thought we could be descending Audubon by noon.

Reality check: First, getting to Pawnee Pass took longer than anticipated. At the pass we left trail and the hiking slowed considerably. We summited Pawnee Peak around 10:30. It was late and there were clouds in the sky but nothing too threatening. We descended a snowfield on the north face of Pawnee to the saddle between it and Toll. At that point we reevaluated the weather and decided to ascend the scree field leading up the south face of Toll.

The north face of Toll is all exposed 5.6 climbing so we descended back south. On the way down we decided the snowfield would be a better descent than rock-hopping loose talus. It certainly was easier if not any faster. Around 12:30 we were back down to the saddle.

From there a snowfield descended all the way to Blue Lake. Halfway down there was another flat area. We weren't sure if the weather would allow us to continue on to Paiute and Audubon but either way we had to get to the flat spot.

Once there, the clouds seemed to be clearing. We rested for a bit by a rock island before deciding whether to continue to Paiute or search for the Blue Lake trail. Some blue skies were showing through the clouds so we decided to see what we could do about Paiute.

We contoured along the east and northeast sides of Toll. Along the way we passed a mini-crevasse and I couldn't help but think of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. We reached a rock outcrop that looked like it could be scrambled up to the ridge between Toll and Paiute. Perhaps if our boots weren't wet from the snow and if it hadn't just started drizzling the route would have gone.

At that point (2:30) we decided we had pushed our luck far enough. Traversing the steep snow had tired us out. We glissaded down to another flat area and started our trek to the north side of Blue lake. It was around that time that 30 MPH hail started pelting us. Luckily we didn't have to hike into the hail. It stung when it hit our faces.

Circling around the lake was not simple! First we had a tough time finding a way onto the snow field -- cliffs blocked our path at one point. Along the way there were a few streams running down the slopes, exposed in places and snow-covered in others. We decided it would be safer to cross the stream where we could see it exposed than to trust the stability of the snow above it. The waterfalls were beautiful and loud.

We traversed snow and rock above Blue Lake. The bottom of the snowfield had broken away, clearly delineating the edge of the lake. I was extra careful on this slope -- although I had done a few self-arrests on other slopes, I didn't want to risk slipping into the freezing lake. Finally, around 4:00, we reached solid (and flatter) ground. There were still streams to cross but that was the end of the steep snow.

Once on the southeast side of the lake, we slogged through the mud and runoff posing as a trail. Our boots were soaked through. After an hour of that we had had enough. The sun was out so we stopped to change socks. They stayed dry for a while and we were more careful to step on rocks instead of just walking through the stream/trail.

Around 5:45 we were back at a trailhead, but we still had a mile to walk along the road to get to the trailhead we started at.

By the end of the day, 12 hours later, we had covered around 10 miles (map) and probably gained/lost 3000' elevation. Wet and miserable but definitely worth it -- we saw a lot of neat things and learned about the terrain. Next trip to that area we will hike trail up to Audubon, traverse to Paiute, and see what we can figure out from there about getting over to Toll.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July Wildflowers

Weather was iffy for our planned Mt. Toll hike today so we postponed it until Sunday. Having nothing else to do I went for an arbitrary bike ride (11 miles), then hiked up Green Mountain and came back down Bear Canyon (11 miles), with some trail running mixed in too. I took pictures of every kind of wildflower I saw in Bear Canyon and along the Mesa trail -- probably about 40 varieties. Click the collage to see individual pics.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Scouting Mission

After breakfast this morning we packed up our bags for a day of climbing. Unfortunately, as we were literally walking out the door it started raining. The skies looked like we could have rain all day or that it could clear up. Based on the forecast, we thought it best to put the climbing gear away since wet rock is not really fun to climb on. We made the wrong decision. It turned out to be a beautiful day and didn't start storming until about 4:00, so we could have gotten some good climbing in. Oh well, the rock will still be there tomorrow.

We put our hiking boots on and headed to Chautauqua. Dan had two spots he wanted to check out. The first was a piece of rock called South Amphitheater Pinnacle. There are not really routes on this piece of rather crappy rock, but it is quite high and can be seen from various areas around town. We hiked up to the Spy and scrambled along a ridge to get to it. We did find it and despite all the steep scree fields we managed to get to it. Dan climbed to the top and rode what I dubbed "the dragon head." As he was exploring the summit, Dan startled a peregrine falcon which proceed to screech at him for 15 minutes--from another rock, of course.

Since the weather was still good, we headed on to point of interest #2. This was a cave that Dan read about in the Gerry Roach book all the way in Bear Canyon. We hiked the 3+ miles over there and started scrambling around rocks called the Dinosaur Eggs. Surprisingly, we actually were able to find the cave despite Gerry's usually challenging directions and our lack of familiarity with the area. It was very cool even though there was quite a bit of poison ivy around.

After we climbed out of the cave we noticed a little hole in the base of the rock, described in the book as so: "Small people with large imaginations are best suited for entering a peculiar passage a few feet west of Bear Cave." Getting in and out of this mini-cave was interesting. The cave was larger than expected on the inside.

As we hiked back there was quite a bit of thunder and a curtain of cloud off to the east. It was very surreal looking and if we still had battery left in the camera we would have taken a picture.