High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Week in Review: July 29-August 4—Up is Where It’s at

Monday, July 29th
AM—14 Miles—5:00—5,900’—Mount Elbert (14,433’) and South Elbert (14,134’)
I’ve already hit Elbert twice this summer prior to this ascent. However, I had yet to hit South Elbert. The trip up Elbert was same old, same old. From the summit, I headed south on the ridge for a bit before veering southeast towards the South Elbert summit. Views along the way were covered by dense fog, sleet, and a bit of snow (not much). For some reason I decided to just start heading off trail to the north, up and over Elbert’s east ridge, and meander my way back to where the standard Northeast Ridge route exits treeline. This proved to be easier said than done as I had two basins to descend into and ascend out of in the process. If I do this route again I’m definitely going to continue down from South Elbert, connect with the Colorado Trail, and ride it back to the trailhead. Fun, exhausting, dehydrating day. 

Tuesday, July 30th
AM—13 Miles—3:47—5,300’—Mount Princeton (14,197’)
I started from the Mount Princeton Road TH at 8,900’. After knocking out the first two miles or so relatively quick the fatigue from yesterday took hold. I fell into a power hike for the rest of the road section up to 11,820’, which is entirely runnable. Leading up to the ridge between Tigger Peak and Princeton I was hit with some decent winds that left me anticipating how much pummeling I would endure once I actually reached the ridge. The winds were awful from the moment I gained to ridge all the way to the summit and back making it a little difficult to breath. Oh well, the views were worth the 30-45 minutes of misery in the wind. I took the descent really casual until rejoining the road at 11,820’ and then just cruised down trying to finish in sub-3:50. 

Wednesday, July 31st   
AM—9 Miles—4:01—4,700’—La Plata Peak (14,336’) and East La Plata (14,180’)
After a relatively sleepless night I decided to go ahead and get an early start on the day. My legs felt pretty crappy, I woke up starving, and I was probably still a little dehydrated. So, I wanted to get up and down pretty quick. I disposed of the first few miles up to treeline pretty quick, but had a little scare with my ankle less than a half mile into the run. Once I reached treeline the relentless switchbacks up to the northwest ridge of La Plata began. They seemed to go forever. Eventually I gained the ridge and was treated to a sight of the remaining route; about 1,500’ of climbing in mile or so. I just leaned into the climb and trudged along at a snail’s pace until finally reaching the summit in 2:03. Then I meandered along the Ellingwood Ridge for a bit to reach the summit of East La Plata in 2:39. I wasn’t really in much of a hurry on the ridge and just dicked around seeing what kind of 4th/5th class terrain I could get myself into. Probably had over an hour of additional time between summiting La Plata and returning to the summit of La Plata after East La Plata. I was tempted to descend via Ellingwood, but didn’t really want to commit to a longer descent route. Super slow descent on the standard route back to the Taco. Planning to get on the Ellingwood Ridge sometime in the next few weeks, hopefully. 

Thursday, August 1st
AM—7 Miles—2:54—3,550’—Torreys Peak (14,267’) via Kelso Ridge and Grays Peak (14,270’)
The weather forecast derailed my original plans for the Ten Mile Traverse. So, I decided to explore the Kelso Ridge on Torreys a bit. It didn’t disappoint. As I passed huge group after huge group on the main trail I became increasingly frustrated. Eventually I veered onto the Kelso Ridge and only saw three other people between the time I left the main trail and the time I reached the saddle between Torreys and Grays. The ridge will be my chosen ascent method from here on out. It’s shorter, more technical, and has way less people. After summiting Torreys I booked it over to Grays in a little less than 16 minutes (kind of slow due to my pussyfooting the Torreys descent) before casually running back down to the trailhead. Not a bad day at all. 

Friday, August 2nd
AM—12 Miles—3:28—4,000’—Longs Peak Keyhole Route Bailout
This day sucked from the very beginning. As I tried sleeping in the trailhead parking lot I was awaken by huge groups of hikers preparing for the big day out. At two o’clock in the goddamn morning! I finally got out of bed and ready for a 6:30 AM start and was greeted with an endless sea of people. I reached the Keyhole and spent about ten minutes waiting for people to get out of the way so I could cross. Some old lady almost tackled me when she was trying to get down from the Keyhole. Shortly after the Keyhole I had enough and turned around. First time I’ve ever bailed on a summit because I thought the conditions were too unsafe due to both the quantity of people in general and the quantity of inexperienced people on the route. 

Saturday, August 3rd    
AM—11 Miles—7:36—5,600’—Longs Peak (14,255’), Southeast Longs AKA “The Beaver” (14,060’)
Now THIS is how a day in the mountains should be! Today was a slow and steady day of exploring the Longs Peak area. Alan Smith was gracious enough to join me and play tour guide for the day. Neither one of us really cared to push the pace or anything, which made for a nice, relaxing day. The original intent was to ascend/descend The Loft route and tag Southeast Longs on the way. However, on the approach Alan suggested an ascent of The Cables route, which supposedly has some sections of 5.3-5.4 climbing. The ascent was a blast—engaging, easy enough climbing that free soloing was no concern, and a decent amount of exposure to spice it up a little. The technical portions near the bolts was pretty wet, which made for some fun climbing in a pair of beat up, old 110’s. So, I took it slow and made sure of my footing going into each move. After summiting we dropped down to The Notch for some awesome views then played around with the idea of shimmying straight up to the top of Southeast Longs via a route Alan had climbed a while back. In the end, neither of us really felt like that long of a near-vertical free solo climb. So, we dizzily slogged around and up to the Beaver before descending The Loft route. Just when I thought I was about to kill over from dehydration we came across a little stream. Water never tasted so good. I supposed that’s what I get for heading out for what I knew would be a 6+ hour outing without any water and only two VFuel gels? Regardless, I can’t wait to explore more challenging routes on Longs in the near future!

Sunday, August 4th
AM—10 Miles—4:19—4,000’—Mount Bierstadt (14,060’), West Evans (14,256’), and Mount Evans (14,264’)
Motivation was a hard thing to come by this morning. My legs and body were exhausted when I woke up and I was still noticeably dehydrated from yesterday on Longs. Oh well, I suited up and started up the mountain around 7 AM. There was an absurd amount of people death marching up Bierstadt so I snagged the first opportunity I had to get off the main trail and trudge straight up the mountain with essentially no switchbacking at all. The summit was a bit chilly so after a short chat with some other people planning to do the Sawtooth traverse I took off towards Evans. The Sawtooth turned out to be surprisingly easy. I’ve read about exposure and 3rd class terrain, but I sure as hell didn’t find either one. On the way to Evans I stayed true to the ridge to make sure I tagged West Evans since I had no clue which one it was. The return to the Guanella Pass TH was by far the worst part of the day. I descended Gomer’s Gully, which was great. However, after that I endured seemingly endless willows and bogs. At times, the mud was up to just below my knees. This slog combined with my dehydration/dragging ass to make for a super shitty end of the day. I reached the Taco in pretty rough shape. 

Time—31 hours 9 minutes
Elevation Gain—33,050 feet     

Well, that certainly was a fun week. New mountains, new routes, and a new PR for moving time for a week. I had originally hoped to sneak in a bit more vertical and get closer to 40k feet, but sometimes you’re just exhausted and can’t do everything you have planned. I’m still babying my ankle, which makes for much longer descents than usual and probably contributed an extra 5-6 hours total for the week. Maybe that’s where the exhaustion originated? 

I’m sure there’s much more thought-provoking words I could spew, but I’m tired and don’t really feel like thinking enough to come up with said words. So, here are some photos…

Heading up South Elbert on a foggy morning

View of Twin Lakes on the trip down South Elbert

At the bottom of a basin near Elbert

Ascending the last basin near Elbert

Heading up Mount Princeton on a windy day

The descent on La Plata

The beautiful Ellingwood Ridge

A mountain goat keeping watch on Torreys' Kelso Ridge

Ascending the Cables Route on Longs Peak (Photo: Alan Smith)

Just got done with a little wet rock on the Cables Route (Photo: Alan Smith)

Last technical move on the Cables Route. Shorts are soaked from the wet rock. (Photo: Alan Smith)

The stunning Longs Peak

Sweet view of Chasm Lake

Alan Smith shimmying on down

You know it's a tight fit when a 130 lb and a 160 lb runner have to squeeze through (Photo: Alan Smith)

Some spread-eagle down climbing (Photo: Alan Smith)

A little taste of The Beaver with Longs in the background (Photo: Alan Smith)

Chasm Lake with Longs Peak looming in the distance

My climbing partner for the first section of the Sawtooth traverse

Sawtooth Ridge leading up to Mount Bierstadt

Bierstadt off in the distance

Making my way back to the Taco. Still had a muddy, boggy nightmare between me and the Taco, though.

View of the Sawtooth Ridge

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