Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

Monday, September 9, 2013

Week in Review: September 2-8—Wrapping up the Elk Mountains



Monday, September 2nd
PM—8 Miles—3:25—3,000’—Geneva Lake and Snowmass Approach Scouting
After the long drive into the Lead King Basin from Carbondale all I did was sit around the Taco eating for most of the day. Finally, around 6pm I decided to throw on some shorts, pack up my Osprey Rev 6 with a few essentials for night/cold running, and head out for at minimum a scout of the approach to Snowmass and potentially a push to the summit. From Little Gem Lake (I think that’s what it’s called?) I headed up the horrendously loose boulder/talus field to base of some cliff bands. It was here I realized that I only had about 0.4 miles to the summit, but still had to ascend almost another 2,500 feet in the dark. So, I decided to turn around and get the summit in the morning. The entire run back to the trailhead had me in constant fear of a mountain lion encounter—I’m quite terrified of solo night runs. Soon I made it back to the safety of the Taco; thankful not to see a mountain lion. What do I see next to the Taco? A friggin’ mountain lion…

Tuesday, September 3rd
AM—9 Miles—5:54—4,750’—Snowmass Mountain (14,092’) and “North Snowmass” (14,020’)
Pretty easy effort on the approach up to the base of the cliff bands. After poking my head around for a few minutes I found a pretty easy 3rd Class ascent path through some wet, loose rocks. Almost all of the ascent was on loose boulders and talus, which sucked. I maybe threw in a couple 4th Class moves on the ascent. After summiting, I did a quick out and back to the summit of the unranked 14er North Snowmass. The descent was all done at a casual effort due to the excessive amount of loose rocks. It wasn’t possible to take a step without the rocks giving way below. When I got back to the trailhead I just sat in amazement at how much effort this 3rd Class summit route just demanded from me. I was completely physically and mentally spent. 

Wednesday, September 4th
PM—6 Miles—1:30—1,150’—Capitol Approach Scouting
The original plan was to ascend Capitol Peak this morning. However, I woke up late battling some pretty extreme fatigue. So, I just sat around eating the entire day in an effort to get some energy back in me. I headed out on the Ditch Trail around 4pm to scout out the first few trail junctions for the approach to Capitol Peak. There were 3 or 4 times I was certain I would be attacked by cows as I ran through the open grazing lands. Somehow creatures as seemingly docile as cows must just get pissed off to no end when they see a shirtless runner in short shorts go by; I’m assuming the cows are from Texas…Once I got to the trail junction where the Ditch Trail joins the Capitol Creek trail I hopped on the creek trail to close the loop back to the trailhead. This trail was wetter, muddier, rockier, horse/cow crappier, destroyed by people riding in on horses, and it was punctuated by a 400 feet climb over the last 0.75 miles to get out of the creek bed and back to the trailhead parking lot. The Capitol Creek trail and the Ditch Trail were two alternative approaches to Capitol Peak. I already had a good idea that I would be taking the Ditch Trail, but this run confirmed that decision. 

Thursday, September 5th  
AM—17 Miles—6:35—5,300’—Capitol Peak (14,130’)
Felt pretty amazing when I hit the trail this morning. My legs just wanted to go. I disposed of the approach quickly and was standing on the 12,500’ saddle between Mount Daly and Capitol at 1:32 into the day. I took the scrambling sections pretty easy since I had very little confidence in the soon-to-be-thrown-in-the-trash shoes I was wearing. The worst part of the day was shimmying across the basin between Daly and Clark Peak that supposedly avoided some difficult sections on the ridge. This basin was a terribly loose boulder and talus field where I watched two major rock slides happen within 50 yards of me (think rocks the size of mini vans falling without explanation) and heard a third rock slide. When I gained the ridge near K2 I became disoriented (my sense of direction seemed to be off for most of the day) and began heading towards Clark Peak, which cost me maybe 20 minutes. I caught a glimpse of a bunch of climbers on K2 and realized I was heading in the wrong direction. On the way to Capitol I hit the summit of K2 for the hell of it then reached the infamous “Knife Edge” a short while later. At the Knife Edge I ran into Dan who I met at the trailhead the night before. He was returning down from a successful summit of his 58th Colorado 14er so congratulations were in order. I proceeded to straddle the short section of ridge and scoot my but across like a dog trying to wipe his ass on the carpet since I figured this exposed ridge wasn’t really the place to confirm how shitty the traction was on my shoes. From the Knife Edge to the summit was pretty easy going 3rd and 4th class terrain (maybe a few 5th class moves when I got off route?), which I took slow to avoid knocking rocks on the other climbers. At the summit I was treated to beautiful weather, which convinced me to linger for 45 minutes or so. The descent back to the 12,500’ Capitol-Daly saddle went by quick and from there I made it back to the trailhead in about 1:20 to cap off a longer than expected day.

Friday, September 6th
AM—12 Miles—6:52—5,550’—Maroon Peak (14,156’)
For some reason this peak just took it out of me. The climb from the creek to the south ridge was inexplicably exhausting. Once I gained the ridge I encountered my first real obstacle of the day—a rather hostile mountain goat that didn’t seem too thrilled at the thought of letting me pass. I spent about ten minutes trying to get around him; pissing him off enough in the process that he started charging me twice. Next, a series of route finding errors ensued as I continued to skirt along a ledge system rather than ascend up some steep, loose gullies. After skirting along the un-cairned ledges for a short while I turned back and found the gullies I was supposed to ascend. At the top of the gullies the route became a little more intuitive and I was able to more-or-less mindlessly cruise to the summit. My intent was to traverse to North Maroon Peak as well so I descended to the low point of the saddle between the two Bells. At this point I decided I just didn’t want to mentally commit to any real 4th or 5th Class terrain and turned back to descend the same ascent route. This ended up taking way longer than anticipated with the descent from the south ridge down to the creek bed being a never-ending series of slips, trips, and falls in my essentially traction-less 110’s. The worst of these being a fall that had me sliding about 15 feet down a steep, rocky portion of the trail. Ugh…I finally made it down to the creek bed and cruised the main trails back to the Taco thoroughly spent. Quite a bit of blood to clean up after this mountain…

Saturday, September 7th
AM—9 Miles—5:05—4,500’—North Maroon Peak (14,014’)
Woke up feeling surprisingly energetic this morning considering how shitty I felt after Maroon Peak yesterday. I disposed of the first few miles of the approach fairly quick then pretty much fell into power hike/scramble mode from the Minnehaha Creek crossing to the summit. The trail traversed along a ledge for a short period before ascending up a couple of gullies to gain the northeast ridge for the final summit push. While ascending the gullies I passed 4-6 people and chatted with them for a bit—I was in no particular hurry today for some reason. I disposed of the gully ascents quickly without ever really feeling like I was pushing it. The ascent could go considerably faster, but my main concern was not knocking any rocks loose on the people below me. The scrambling was ridiculously easy considering this peak is listed as “most difficult” on 14ers.com and Roach calls it “complicated, loose, exposed, dangerous.” There were very few times I felt I was even moderately exposed or in a position for a fatal fall and when I was in that position it was because I went off route to ascend the final summit pitch from the southeast. The sketchiest part of the ascent was just climbing a short section of soaking wet rock on the north face right before the final push to the summit and this was only semi-sketchy because I had on a shitty pair of shoes. Nearing the summit, I wrapped around to the southeast side of the mountain and found about a 15-20 feet tall exposed chimney full of loose rock that looked like a fun way to get up to the top. So I took it. The chimney topped out at some steep, loose scree for the last 20 feet or so to the summit, which I reached in 2:50’ish (I never stopped my watch while talking to the other climbers…my actual moving time was closer to 2:30). I surprised the hell out of the six people on the summit when they saw me pop up on the opposite side of the mountain from the actual route. It was a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky. So, I spent an hour or so on the summit chatting before taking off down the mountain with two other climbers. The descent was way easier than I anticipated, which made for quick progress down the mountain. In no time I was at the bottom of the top gully looking back up for the two climbers who began the descent with me. They hadn’t even reached the top of the gully yet. Near the top of the bottom gulley I ran into two climbers from Spain who saw that I was running without food or water. They asked how long it took me to summit and then said I was like Kilian Jornet. The talus field at the base of the mountain was by far the worst part of the day. I walked across it being careful not to roll my ankle. The last 2.5 miles back to the trailhead went by quickly as I dodged the flood of tourists hiking to/from Crater Lake. 

PM—4 Miles—1:39—2,200’—Green Mountain
After the long drive from Aspen to Boulder I had to get out and shake loose the legs. So I went straight to the Gregory Canyon parking lot and hit the trail a little after 7:15pm with a headlamp tucked in my shorts. It didn’t take long for everything to fall into harmony and the ascent to take on a near effortless feel—I ran when it made sense and power hiked when the trail dictated. I hit the Amphitheater-Saddlerock junction in 7:33, not a PR by any means, but pretty damn close and I wasn’t feeling anywhere close to spent like I usually would. Shortly after joining Saddlerock I had to stop for a 20-30 second piss break, but I kept the watch running. As I neared the Saddlerock-Greenman junction darkness fell and I likely should have busted out my headlamp, but I didn’t. I embraced the dimly lit trail and relied on my memory and running by “feel” to keep me from twisting an ankle or taking a fall. I eventually reached the SR-GM junction in 21:29 still feeling like I hadn’t pushed the pace at all. Visibility continued to fade and I continued to push on sans headlamp through some of the more technical sections of the front side route. I took the last few switchbacks leading to the summit fairly easy—as full-on darkness had nearly settled in—and arrived at the trail post on the summit in 38:07. I continued up to the actual summit rock and topped out in 38:21—a PR on this route I rarely get to run. I feel as though my effort was kept in check by my reluctance to break out my headlamp, which may have helped me push in places I’m typically too spent to push. Yes, I gave it a decent effort, but you can only go so fast when you can barely see the terrain beneath your feet. I’d like to give the front side a decent time trial effort on a day where I didn’t get up a 14er in the morning and refuel on nothing but potato chips, coconut water, and coffee. I stumbled back down the mountain in the darkness like a drunken idiot since I was constantly on the lookout for mountain lions. 

Sunday, September 8th
AM—6 Miles—3:46—3,650’—Second Flatiron, Green Mountain, Second Flatiron
When I rolled into the Chautauqua area a little before 8am it was already unbearably hot. Oh well…I put on my sticky rubber 110’s and headed up towards the Second Flatiron to see if I still remembered how to scramble on slabs. The climb up was ridiculously slow and took 1:12 from the base of the Flatiron to the walk off. I was pretty amazed at how difficult it was for me to put my faith in the super solid rock of the Flatirons after spending a week climbing on shitty, rotten rock in the Elks. I then bushwhacked up to the summit of Green; scrambling up some of the smaller, lichen-covered slabs along the way. I tried to keep the trip to the summit as much of a bushwhack as possible since I generally enjoy a good ‘schwack. With a few minutes of lounging on the summit under my belt I headed down the front side of the mountain to make my way back to the base of the Second Flatiron. At the base, I sat for a few minutes to empty rocks from my shoes and debate whether or not I really wanted to do a second lap. I did…So without much more thought I headed up the rock and soon realized just how miserably hot it was. When I was climbing I made quick, easy progress. Unfortunately, I had to stop and rest every 5-10 minutes in an effort to keep my hands reasonably dry for climbing. This lap still went much quicker with me walking off 40 minutes after starting. I thought about pushing for another Green summit, but treating my dehydration took priority. So, I meandered down the access trail dodging the tourist hikers and stoned CU students back to the ranger cottage. It felt great to get back on some solid rock!


Miles—71
Time—34 hours 51 minutes
Elevation Gain—30,100 feet



This was a fun, yet exhausting week that saw the completion of the Elk Mountains 14ers. The Elks proved to be more mentally demanding than I anticipated with near-constant attention being required on the loose rock. However, I can still say with certainty that the rotten rock of the Elks was not even close to as bad as the rotten rock on the sub-14er South Wilson. 

With completion of the Elk’s 14ers I am now left with the Sangre de Cristo’s 14ers to wrap up my summer 14er project. I’ll be heading down this week with the intent of knocking them off in 4-6 days. I have to admit that the sub-14er Northeast Crestone has me a bit scared. Terrified, actually. During the entire summer no 14er has reached out and grabbed my attention like NE Crestone. That being said, I’m 100% content with not summiting this mountain if I see it in person and feel like it’s way above my ability level. If it’s flirting with my ability level or within it then I’ll give it a go. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the actual climbing is somewhat easy, but the route just looks ridiculously exposed. I’ve yet to have any problems mentally with exposure, but it seems like this route has the potential for that to happen.

Who knows? All I can say right now is that I’m sort of glad to finally be wrapping up this 14er project. It’s been way more exhausting than I thought it would be. Still can’t believe Homie tried doing all of these goddamned mountains in ten days…

Driving into the Lead King Basin

Scouting the approach to Snowmass Mountain. Sunset over Lake Geneva.

The climb up Snowmass Mountain :)

Perfect day to be on Snowmass

View of Snowmass from North Snowmass

Descending Snowmass

Still descending Snowmass

Still descending Snowmass :)

This sums up my summer pretty well...

Day of rest at the Capitol Creek trailhead. Capitol Peak looming in the background.

Early morning start up Capitol Peak.

Nearing the actual ascent of Capitol Peak.

Descending K2. There's a figure coming down the summit. That's me! (Photo: Dan Kesterson)

Traversing Capitol's Knife Edge (Photo: Dan Kesterson)

The rest of the route up Capitol. Not as bad as it looks...

The Knife Edge. Just don't fall...

View of the route up Capitol with the Knife Edge leading the way.

Looking down while ascending Capitol.

On the summit of Capitol...I think...or maybe Snowmass. Who knows?

Capitol Lake on the Capitol descent.

Capitol Lake.

Mean ass mountain goat on Maroon Peak

View of North Maroon from Maroon Peak

Descending Maroon Peak

View of the route up North Maroon Peak

Standing on the summit of North Maroon

View of Maroon Lake on the descent from North Maroon Peak

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