High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Week in Review: August 12-18—Big Days in the ‘Juans

Monday, August 12th
AM—3 Miles—0:31—600’—Mill Creek Road
My legs were a bit tired and sore from TMR on Saturday. So, I just did an easy recovery run from the bottom of Mill Creek Road up to the gate for the water treatment plant and back down. Really mellow.

Tuesday, August 13th
AM—8 Miles—2:03—1,550’—Kilpacker Basin Approach
I suppose a little exhaustion finally caught up to me after capping off the last two reasonably high volume weeks with a 40 mile run at TMR. I slept in until 9 AM without waking up once. I haven’t done that in at least ten years. So, I ditched my plans to attack the Wilson Group and just scouted out the approach trail to El Diente. Another mellow day.

Wednesday, August 14th
AM—14 Miles—7:58—5,700’—El Diente (14,159’), “West Wilson” (14,100’), Mount Wilson (14,246’), and “South Wilson” (14,110’)
The intent was to knock out the entire Wilson Group in one go—two official 14ers, one unofficial 14er, and two 14er sub-peaks. I started early and disposed of the approach to El Diente pretty quick. The climb up El Diente went by fast with route finding never being an issue. The climbing was somewhat engaging in places but never difficult. I lost about 30 minutes in the initial descent from El Diente into the traverse to Mount Wilson. I somehow ended up in an area where I either kept getting cliffed out or confronted with exposed 5th class moves that had awkward entries I couldn’t really figure out. Finally, after snooping around a bit I found my ascent path and descended it to the low point of the ridge to begin traversing. With the exception of a few areas of loose talus I was pleasantly surprised with the solid rock on the ridgeline. At 1:40’ish, the traverse took about 25 minutes or so longer than I anticipated—likely the initial route finding errors. Eventually I popped around a corner to see two hikers with a priceless look on their faces. “Where the hell did you come from?” was a logical question when a half-naked guy comes out of nowhere on the mountain right before the last summit pitch. They seemed reluctant to begin the last pitch so I just jumped on, started climbing, and was on the summit in no time. In an effort to avoid what looked like a ridiculous downclimb on the ridge to South Wilson, I dropped down a considerable amount before beginning an ascending traverse towards the South Wilson summit. Nothing about the climb up to this sub-14er was good with the exception of the view from the summit. Steep, loose talus eventually gave way to steep 4th/low-5th class climbing on super shitty, rotten rock which continued pretty much all the way up to the summit. At one point, I pulled a chunk of rock loose the size of my torso and watched it go tumbling down the mountain. After what seemed like forever, my stupidity paid off and I was on the summit of South Wilson. I found a gully not far from the summit that descended in a nearly straight line down the face of the mountain all the way to the shitty talus field lining the bottom of the basin. This gully was full of loose rock (surprise, surprise) which I continually had to worry about due to the narrow gully serving as a funnel for falling rocks. After reaching the talus fields I began a death march back to treeline where I knew almost 4 miles of runnable terrain awaited. Sometimes I take for granted how good it feels to just run. Six hours of technical terrain, rotten rock, and talus hopping makes me remember real quick.

Thursday, August 15th
AM—9 Miles—4:04—3,700’—Wilson Peak (14,017’)
I started around 8AM from the Rock of Ages Trailhead. The trail was pretty unspectacular from the TH to the Rock of Ages Saddle—boring singletrack and talus’y roads that made my ankle tremble at the thought of running. So, I hiked up from the moment I hit the talus until I reached the summit with the few exceptions being the short sections of climbing. From the small saddle at 13,260’ I just started climbing above the route through some shitty, loose 3rd/4th class terrain with the hopes that the route would actually go and I wouldn’t have to downclimb. It went. I basically tried getting to the summit with as much scrambling and as little hiking possible to keep it fun. I walked pretty much the entire descent due to the never-ending talus.

Friday, August 16th
AM—9 Miles—2:38—4,600’—Handies Peak (14,048’)
After sleeping in downtown Ouray I headed up the hill intending to go to the American Basin Trailhead via County Road 18 (Alpine Loop?). One mile and 30 minutes later I said “fuck it” and turned around. The road sucked. A lot. So, I went to Silverton and made my way to the Grouse Gulch TH, which added about 3 miles or so to my run. I was surprised at how runnable Handies is. Even the climb up from Grouse is switchbacked enough to make the entire thing runnable. That being said, my legs felt pretty shitty so I didn’t push terribly hard on the ascent and found myself even hiking a good portion of the runnable terrain. I eventually topped out in 1:30, chatted with some people on the summit, then made my way back down. Of course, I decided to venture off trail a bit and ended up going pretty slow while descending a steep, grassy, rocky mix of a slope. Pretty hot day up high. After a couple days of more technical routes this route seemed a bit boring. I did appreciate the noticeable lack of talus, though…

Saturday, August 17th
OFF—I originally planned a quick and easy morning summit of Kendall Mountain in Silverton, but decided against it since Kendall isn’t a particularly stunning mountain. I figured a rest day with lots of calories would better serve me for Sunday’s Chicago Basin outing…

Sunday, August 18th
AM—40 Miles—14:45—11,200’—Chicago Basin 14ers: North Eolus (14,039’), Mount Eolus (14,084’), Sunlight Peak (14,059’), and Windom Peak(14,087’)
In an effort to expedite completion of the San Juan 14ers I decided to tackle the Chicago Basin group in one go. Even with a 3:15 AM start from the Purgatory TH it was hot as hell outside. I started shirtless and remained that way for all but 45 minutes of the day. The 15-mile approach to the Twin Lakes trail junction went by effortlessly, though not as quick as I had hoped—3:39. On the approach I realized that this was only the second night run I’ve done in the last two years or so. Sure I’ve ran for 30 minutes or so in the dark before day break, but I haven’t really spent multiple hours running in the dark. So I pussyfooted along trying not to roll my ankle again. The short climb up to the Twin Lakes Basin provided the first obstacle of the day—goddamn mountain goats. On this short stretch I saw no less than ten mountain goats and some of them were quite aggressive. I tried to go off trail and sneak around but there were two of them that kept cutting me off, lowering their head like they would charge, and stalking me. Eventually, I got around the goats and up to the basin with about 30 minutes of lost time attributed to “wildlife encounters and evasions.” Not too far into my ascent of Mount Eolus I decided to put my head down and take a more vertical route up the mountain versus following cairns that seemed to meander around a series of grassy ledges. In doing this, I realized that I was basically already at the summit of North Eolus and went ahead to tag it in 5:04. The traverse over to Mount Eolus was ridiculously easy. The Catwalk was more of a Cakewalk with essentially no exposure on either side (don’t listen to what casual hikers may try to tell you about this section being scary or exposed). After taking it easy on the traverse, taking numerous photos, and stopping to peek over the edge at the “exposure” I reached Mount Eolus in 5:21—a 17 minute casual traverse. The descent from Mount Eolus is where my second big chunk of lost time came from—about another 45 minutes. I opted for a straight down route on the descent off Mount Eolus, which resulted in numerous cliff-outs and 4th/5th class downclimbs. After poking my head around a bit I ended up downclimbing some somewhat steep slabs that dropped me into what I think was the bottom of the East Couloir (who knows, really?). A little talus was all that remained between me and Twin Lakes, which I reached in 6:32—ugh. Next up was Sunlight Peak. The cairned route seemed to follow some loose dirt/scree as it headed up to the summit. Usually this terrain isn’t a problem, but I was wearing some La Sportiva approach’y shoes that have crap for traction on this terrain. So I took a route that was more boulder hopping, scrambling, and easy climbing until reaching the ridge and re-joining the standard South Slopes route to the summit. Along the way, it began to rain enough to get the rocks near the summit wet. I spent about 15 minutes playing around the final summit blocks and even toyed around with the idea of going barefoot to the summit. Just as I was getting ready to turn back without summiting, the sun came out and the rain stopped. So, I waited around another 15-20 minutes to see how the sun would dry the rock. Fortunately, the rock dried super fast. So, I shimmied up a crack in the lower of the summit blocks before taking a few leaps of faith to reach the summit in 7:56. I descended down a route of my own in efforts to avoid the scree/talus crap and stay on bigger rocks with more traction. Ignoring the easy trip over to Mount Eolus from North Eolus, the ascent up Windom proved to be the easiest of the day. I didn’t mind this—I had already been moving for 8 hours on nothing more than one VFuel gel and three handheld bottles of water. Again, I chose a more direct route up to the summit. This route tended to be primarily broken sections of slabby’ish climbing that made for a somewhat quick ascent. I reached the summit of Windom, my last of the day, in 8:52. Great! Now all I had to do was get back to the Twin Lakes Junction and cover 15 miles back to the Purgatory Trailhead. This turned out to be much easier said than done. Once I reached some runnable terrain near Twin Lakes I fully noticed just how bad my feet hurt. I had already gone ten miles further in the La Sportiva’s than I’d ever gone and I still had 15 more miles to go. My feet hurt all over and my Achilles’ felt destroyed. Maybe wearing an approach shoe for only ~10 miles of somewhat technical terrain when you have ~30 miles of actual trail running was a bad idea? I hobbled down to Twin Lakes in 10:02 and then walked pretty much every step of the way back to Purgatory for a 14:45 finish. Ugh...The 15 mile return to Purgatory gave me mixed feelings at the time. On one hand, I got to see all of the amazing scenery that I could only imagine on the approach due to the darkness. On the other hand, I had to walk 15 fucking miles back to the Taco and it was hot as shit! Oh well, it was still an amazing day in the mountains and likely one of my Top 5 Most Scenic Runs Ever. If you’ve followed this blog at all you’d realize that I’ve ran in some pretty amazing places…

Time—32 hours 2 minutes
Elevation Gain—27,350 feet                                                               

After the Telluride Mountain Run I gave myself a couple of easy days to rest and recover. Turned out, I was pretty friggin’ tired. After some R&R, I set out on a mission to knock out all of the 14ers in the San Juans this week. I almost got them all. I’ll bag San Luis on my way back to the Sawatch and then the San Juans will officially be DONE. 

This was a great week for me. I sought out more technical routes on some already somewhat-technical mountains, which contributed a great deal to my overall time-on-feet. The main goal was to just get some practice with exposed 3rd/4th/5th class scrambling, especially on the loose, rotten rock of the Wilson Group. After that shit show I was happy-as-can-be to scramble around on the super solid rock of the Chicago Basin group without giving much thought to my hand/foot placements. 

The coming week promises to be great as well. I’ll wrap up the Sawatch Range 14ers with Tabeguache, Massive, and Holy Cross. At the end of the week I’ll be helping my buddy Ben with his Nolan’s 14 attempt. As of now, it seems that I’ll be joining him from Clohesy Lake to the North Cottonwood Trailhead—20’ish miles and 9k feet of climbing to hit the summits of Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia (at least I think that’s what Ben told me). However, plans aren’t finalized yet. Regardless, even if I don’t get out on any of the summits with Ben I’ll be stoked just to help him out in this huge effort. We did joke a little this morning about me joining him for the entire attempt. If he’s even remotely serious then I could very easily be persuaded to join…

My running-shoe-clad-climbing confidence is increasing faster than I could have imagined. This has me eager to wrap up my 14er project ASAP so that I have a few more weeks of summer to explore some more exciting, technical routes in the mountains. I’m currently projecting to wrap up the Colorado 14ers in the second week of September with the Sangres. As always, we’ll see how it all goes…

Oh, I also signed up for the Bear 100 Miler sometime in the last week or two. I’m not really sure that I want to run another 100 miler, but this is a qualifying race for the Hardrock 100. Hardrock is pretty much the only 100 on my bucket list…

Some relaxation in Telluride after TMR

Camping at the trailhead the night before hitting the Wilson Group.

The approach up to El Diente

Getting pretty close to the summit of El Diente

View of the traverse from El Diente to Mount Wilson. Taken from South Wilson.

My descent from South Wilson. What a shit show...

Driving to the Rock of Ages trailhead to hit Wilson Peak
View of the El Diente to Mount Wilson traverse. Taken from Wilson Peak.
Summit shot on Wilson Peak with the El Diente to Mount Wilson Traverse in the background.
This is what fuels most of my runs...It's also a great recovery drink!

Cruiser trail up to the summit of Handies.

Summit shot on Handies.

A rather unassuming start to one of the best routes I've done in Colorado yet.

A look at the infamous Catwalk from North Eolus up to the summit of Mount Eolus...

Me scrambling up to the summit of Mount Eolus. Look closely and I'm in there...

Some rain moving in as I neared the top of Sunlight.

Looking towards Windom from the summit of Sunlight.

Coming down from Windom after a long day in Chicago Basin. Still had over 15 miles to get back to the Taco...


  1. Solid solid week !!! Huge efforts on Sunday..what shoes were you using???? was really worth it?
    Love the face of people when you appear from the nothing half naked ahahaha

    Saludos !!

  2. Thanks, Max! I'm not sure of the name for the La Sportiva shoes I have. I typically use the LS shoes when I know there will be a decent amount of 4th/5th class terrain. If I do the run again I'll just use a pair of New Balance running shoes. I'm comfortable up to about 5.5 climbing in running shoes and can climb up to about 5.7 in them uncomfortably. Yes, it's always fun to surprise people who are wearing clothes, have back packs, food, and water. They're not prepared to see people like us in the mountains doing the things we do :)