Capitol’s Northwest Buttress

Where to start with this one. This route has been on my radar for years. My good pal Jesse Hill and I attempted this route in late July 2015, but little did we realize what late afternoon downpours would do to the first 2 pitches the following day. We got shut down, but I salvaged the day by taking a run up neighboring 13er Mt. Daly. That whole account can be read here.

Capitol’s Northwest Buttress Route shown in red as seen from Mt. Daly’s south ridge in late July of 2015

Anyway, I had heard the Northwest Buttress up Capitol was a bit “loose” and objectively dangerous because of rockfall, but honestly now having climbed it I can say only one small 100′ section gave me any pause with regard to loose rockfall potential. I think any climber who may think this a “death route” probably spends most of their time in climbing gyms, at crags, and not in the alpine. If you are a rock climber and regularly climb peaks, especially in the Elk Range, and are used to loose rock being just a part of climbing mountains, then this route likely wouldn’t feel too objectively dangerous. I extremely enjoyed this route and think it is potentially the best alpine adventure I have done. I would definitely do it again and plan to do the Early Times (5.10) initial headwall variation next time.

J and I were trying to make this happen all summer, but schedules and weather forecasts kept getting in the way. I knew we needed a great forecast within a dry spell so as to not repeat my previous mistake. I kept thinking we needed to wait until the fall and the bluebird days of September. However, this is when J and Megan were expecting their second daughter, so it may not work out timing-wise. Fortunately, good pal Chris Baldwin was taking on this whole climbing activity full-throttle like he did everything else and said he would love to go with me. I’m so happy Chris and my paths crossed earlier this summer as he has been a super friend and climbing buddy. I have so enjoyed “showing him the ropes” so to speak. Anyway, unfortunately for J, we targeted Friday, September 14, which was Megan’s due date. He understood, but was obviously bummed. However, I promised him we’d go back and do the 5.10 variation. Chris and I would attempt the original 5.9 Northwest Buttress.

After a 4 year old birthday party at the park with Sawyer and a lost key incident in the Baldwin family, Chris and I were on our way in my Tahoe to the Capitol Creek TH late Thursday night. We arrived at the TH around 11pm and promptly got some shut-eye. Up at 2:50am, we had some awesome glazed croissants and Nescafe instant coffee courtesy of Mr. Baldwin and set out up the Capitol Ditch trail around 3:35am. I had my 60m/9.8mm rope in my pack while Chris had my alpine rack in his. We cruised to Capitol Lake in about 2 hours via headlamp under the still night sky. We took a pit stop at the shore of Capitol Lake en route up to Capitol Pass for a quick water refill and a bathroom break. It was chilly out for sure and a bit breezy, but we reached Capitol Pass maybe 7-7.5 miles in around 6:30am. The wind was really making things rather chilly and after scrambling up 400′ to the base of the initial headwall we took shelter on the leeward side among some rocks. We racked up, flaked the rope out, and had some PB&J again courtesy of Chris’s chef skills. We probably waited until 7:30am before we started climbing just to see if the wind would die down and for the outside air temperature to rise a few degrees. It was still chilly. We made our way out the ledge and I set off up the 1st pitch.

Me setting off up the 1st pitch. Photo by Chris

After 50′ of climbing I came to a nice stance on a ledge and the old pin I bailed off of 3 years ago when the route was essentially a waterfall. I slung the pin and moved off across the wide horizontal crack, which I basically laid back and really ran it out as the crack was too large for any gear I had with me. I then plugged a #3 cam and moved vertically into the crux “off-finger’ crack which went for 30′ to the anchors. This remaining crux felt harder than 5.9 to me. I’d give it a 5.9+. Usually, an “off-finger” crack is not 5.9 and the cold and wind only further sandbagged the rating. Nonetheless, there are a few facial features for the toes especially on the left side of the crack, which helped, but it was so slick given how chilly it was out. There is a small “thin hands” pod that is a nice hold, but other than that its poor face features for your feet and finger holds. I led it cleanly to the anchors (only one pin, really) and had a good stance where I set up my self-equalizing anchor with the help of two #2 cams. I shouted down to Chris and he was ready to climb. He really really did well having not much experience at this. The crux finger crack section gave him pause and a few issues, but he pulled the moved and made it to me just fine. He was a bit frustrated because he hung on the rope thinking he wasn’t ready for this, but I did my best to settle the good lad down by saying that the pitch was a lot tougher than the 5.9 rating.

Chris down low on the 1st 5.9 pitch

Chris making the tricky moves before the final rest stance below the finger crack

Chris in the thick of it!

Chris stoked to be with me at the pitch 1 anchor

I gathered my gear and slings from Chris, he put me on belay, and I set off up pitch 2 (5.8). It was a fun 5.8 move to get into the chimney and then it was cruiser climbing for a good 90′ to where the angle eased off and I set up an anchor to bring Chris up.

Chris climbing pitch 2

Nearing the top

I think Chris felt much better about things after pitch 2. He goes “see Brandon, now that’s much more in my wheel-house.” He is a funny one. Anyway, we stowed the rope in Chris’ pack and set off up the super fun and enjoyable class 4 scrambling for 600′ up and around to the right of the base of Unicorn Spire.

Good scrambling!

Me making my way on the 4th class rock. Photo by Chris

Chris moving around on looser rock to the right (west) of Unicorn Spire

The nastiness of the route really only reared its head in the final 100′ or so of climbing to get to the ridge crest above Unicorn Spire from the west. It was definitely low 5th class climbing on boulders seemingly held to the mountain only by sand. Chris took one line and I took another. Each of us securely tested each hold and came out alright up top on the ridge proper. What lay before us was probably the best and most fun climbing of the entire route. About 700′ of 5.0-5.7 simul-climbing up an exhilarating and airy arete that can be seen from the Capitol Creek TH!

Ready to take-off up the arete! Photo by Chris

Making my way up. Photo by Chris

Airy exposure looking down

Chris doing his thing. What amazing climbing

We reached the top of the 2nd tower and got our first sunshine of the day which felt oh so nice and rejuvenating. We de-roped and scrambled across the ridge above what was left of the heart-shaped snowfield over to the base of the 5.7 upper headwall pitch.

Chris on the 4th class ridge

A short walk/scramble to the base of the final headwall

There was a pin at the base of the headwall likely to protect the belayer because the first 50′ of the pitch is pretty run-out with no gear. I believe I climbed the small roof more to the right (west) than other folks have noted in their pics, but it felt more solid to me. I set up a belay about 30′ above the roof where I could still see Chris.

Chris on the upper headwall 5.7 pitch

We then decided to simul-climb the rest of the headwall above us. I set off and finally got into the glorious sunshine again.

Setting off on our simul-climb of the remaining upper headwall. Photo by Chris

Chris simul-climbing the upper headwall on mostly solid rock

Its a long way down

Chris said he really loved this climbing

Chris almost to me on the ridge

Chris reached me on the ridge and we literally only had 30′ to the summit. We were both pretty ecstatic with everything (the weather included) and we de-roped and scrambled the rest of the way to Cap’s summit.

Chris shot this of me on Capitol’s summit

So happy to have climbed the Northwest Buttress – finally!

We summitted around 11:30am so it took us close to 4 hours to climb the route. We saw no one on the summit or for that matter on the entire mountain this day. Unbelievable to me, really. We spent close to an hour on the summit relaxing and taking in the sunshine and the moment.

Relaxing and texting Kristine we are all good. Photo by Chris

Capitol summit (14,130′)! This was Chris’ first time up Capitol, which was extra special

Looking out towards Snowmass Mountain, the Bells, and Pyramid

Capitol Lake about 2,500′ below

The fire north of us near Steamboat

We figured it was time to roll around 12:30pm and so reluctantly we departed the summit down the familiar knife-edge standard route. It was super fun cruising down the standard route with no one else on the mountain.

Me taking the ridge-proper down the northeast ridge. Photo by Chris

Chris descending the standard route

And out across the knife-edge. I think he really enjoyed the standard route as well as he wants to go back at some point

We took a sigh of relief on top of K2, stowed our helmets, and let Kristine and Kimberly know we just had the slog out now. We made our way down the never-ending boulder field that I hadn’t been on in years and over to the Capitol-Daly saddle to reach the most welcomed trail. After a refill of water and a snack/sandwich at Capitol Creek just below Capitol Lake in the warm sunshine, I guess we had to motivate to hike the 6 miles out. It was pretty darn hot and my Lowe Alpine pants were heavyweight. So, I decided to take em off and hike out in my boxers. I mean my Patagonia silkweight boxers look like shorts, right? Hopefully, I didn’t embarrass Chris, but this wasn’t my first rodeo in just my boxers. He just had to get used to it. We arrived back at Capitol Creek TH around 4:30pm for a total time of 14 hours, but we did take several breaks on the way down and a good hour on top. So, maybe not all that shabby. We packed up, stretched out our backs (we ain’t so spring chickens anymore, that’s for sure) and made the trip back to Edwards. We met up with Kimberly and the Baldwins’ friend Patrick as well as Kristine, Sawyer, & Kona at the Craftsman around 7pm in Edwards for some celebratory beers and dinner. This was a fun day.

All in all, I just plain loved this route. I can’t wait to go back with J and climb Early Times (5.10). Maybe next September. I’m just so glad it finally worked out before our second child (yep, Sawyer will have a baby brother) enters this world come Halloween. Thanks again to Chris for a fantastic climb.

Hail, Sleet, then Snow!

In an effort to get back to some blogging, here is one on a pretty cool and new traverse we did in the Gore a few Saturdays ago. Having done many of the ridge traverses down the central spine of the Gore Range, there was still one spicy section of ridge that I always wondered about. It was a gnarly looking section of seemingly rotten towers interspersed with some sections of good Gore granite between Hail Peak and a minor summit called “Sleet”, a name coined by Stan Wagon. I had gazed upon this small section of ridge for years from all different angles and wondered if it would go through. I inquired with Stan about possible  completed traverses of this section of ridge which he knew of none. Finally the weekend before, I decided to trail run the same loop in which I would attempt the ridge, but just remained in the small basin containing Snow Lake immediately to the south of the ridge. I did some decent recon on this ridge from below and from up higher on Snow Pass and Snow Peak all the while having a great run of a loop I’ve always wanted to run. I even met a Great Dane named Merlin on the summit of Snow Peak, quite the treat as I didn’t know 160lb+ dogs climbed obscure Gore 13ers. It made me miss my numerous Gore summits with Rainie and Kona.

Merlin and I atop Snow Peak with the Hail to Sleet Traverse above our heads in the picture

It turned out that J and good pal Marc Barella could join me. Also, Caroline Kurio, a friend of Marc, would also be joining us as I met her skiing Torreys Peak back in June. We departed the Gore Creek TH maybe around 5:45am and motored the almost 5 miles east up the Gore Creek Trail to the junction with the Gore Lake trail at the familiar Recen Brothers grave sites. We then set off north up the Gore Lake trail past the unmarked turnoff to what we call “Zodiac Pond” and eventually left the Gore Lake trail and bushwhacked up into the Snow Lake basin and up Hail Peak’s boulder-strewn southeast face. I had climbed Hail Peak before a few years ago with Reid Jennings running the trails and hiking the off-trail boulders, so I knew the ascent to Hail at least.

J and Marc on Hail’s southeast face with Snow Peak above J’s head in the picture

Caroline ascending the steep eastern ridge of Hail with me up above. Photo by Marc

Marc and Caroline doing some fun, but unnecessary scrambling up Hail towards the summit

Hail Peak summit (12,904′)

The Traverse to Sleet and then Snow Peak at far left as seen from Hail’s summit. Snow Lake is below

The traverse to Sleet with Mt. Vahalla in the background to the right

I believe we arrived on Hail’s summit around 9am or so. Only staying up top for maybe 15-20 minutes, long enough to get a snack and water, we descended Hail’s west ridge for some nice, moderate scrambling on pretty solid rock.

Descending Hail’s west ridge

More of the fun west ridge of Hail Peak

Caroline with Deming Mountain and West Deming in the distance

J on some nice, exposed downclimbing

A nice perch

We reached what appeared to be the last crux to get to the low point of the traverse. We sought out a few different downclimbs but wanted to keep the rope and webbing in my pack. We finally decided on a low 5th class, decently exposed downclimb which worked out quite nice.

Descending down to the crux downclimb. Photo by Marc

Marc descending the short, low 5th section with Caroline out left

Some nice scrambling ensured up and over a few towers and everything was going pretty smoothly.

Looking ahead to the seeminlgy cruxy, rotten towers

Easy downclimbing to a higher saddle before the final few towers

Caroline and I took a direct route up this rotten tower while J and Marc went to the right in this pic up a gully

Caroline topping out on the on the rotten rock

Marc coming up after the rottenness

Looking ahead at the top of the rotten tower

We saw a sliver of a ridge lead to the next tower and decided to take it. Otherwise, it would have been some nasty rappel into a deep slot.

Caroline almost to the top of the next tower on which we saw a cairn on top! Marc and J seen behind on the narrow ridge

I traversed on over to the summit of the next tower trying to find a downclimb, but it was a no-go. I backtracked and found a nice little bypass under the tower on the ridge’s north side.

Looking back at the non-downclimable north side of that tower

There was one more tower that I went up to and beyond to find a downclimb but again would have needed to rappel it. Instead of wasting webbing on a rap anchor, I just went back down and continued on the north side ledge traverse

Looking head to Caroline on the nice traverse over to the final upclimb out of this rotten tower/gully system

Caroline & Marc on the final upclimb

Me out of the cobwebs of the Hail to Sleet Traverse

We then hiked up to the ridge proper west of Sleet’s summit and then back east to the summit.

Sleet summit

We still had some distance to cover over to Snow Pass, so we got moving.

Setting off again to the west

Most of the remaining ridge over to Snow Pass was some pretty cool and very solid class 3/4 scrambling. Super fun.

Scrambling to the west on the west ridge of Sleet. The minor summit of Sleet is behind

One of the small downclimbs along this section of ridge

We had seen a herd of goats far off near Snow Pass earlier in the morning only to find them on the last tower of the scrambly portion of this ridge. This was such a treat.

Goats and Grand Traverse Peak

Zoomed-out to show the whole Grand Traverse

I always love running into these guys up high in the alpine

One more

We made it over to Snow Pass, dropped the packs and gear, and jetted up Snow Peak since Caroline and Marc had not been up it. It was a good way to finish up the day.

Snow Peak summit (13,024′)

Looking back at the ridge to Sleet and then onto Hail

A sunlit Zodiac View in the foreground, a shady Zodiac Ridge behind, and a sunlit East East Red to East Red and then Red Diamond Ridge in the back all as seen from Snow Pass

We quickly descended back to Snow Pass and then down to Deluge Lake for a nice dunk in the cold, refreshing water with a  sandy bottom for the toes. Man, that felt nice! the walk down from Deluge was hot and smoky, but we arrived at the Gore Creek TH by 3:15pm.

Our approach in red, traverse in blue, descent in green

It was a good day out with a great crew. Always feels good when you have no previous knowledge of a section of ridge yet it all goes through and works out nicely. There have been a few of these types of adventures for me over the last 15 years in the Gore and I do cherish them.

Book of Thor

Its been forever since I have posted something due to various reasons – buying and selling homes, moving, settling-in, work, no notable trips, and just life in general 🙂 However, I need and want to get back to some blogging. I need to play catch-up a bit. Last weekend I finally got back into my beloved Gore and climbed a line I had spied 2 years ago while deep in the remote South Rock Creek drainage below Valhalla Peak’s east face. This is the location of the beautiful Asgard Meadows flanked by Vahalla’s two eastern ridges: the north being the infamous Asgard Ridge and the southern being the locations of Loki, Thor, & Freya Towers.

Hiking along the southern flank of Asgard Ridge into Asgard Meadows with our destination being Thor Tower

I got a close-up of this guy and its web with a blurred Valhalla Peak and Thor Tower (with its shaded north face) in the background

I recruited my super strong, young, triathlete buddy, Dylan Friday to go with me and he was excited as well. Dylan hasn’t led anything in his life (yet), but he would follow me up anything and is a great partner. We left the North Rock Creek TH around 6:15am and did the normal approach via the southern flank of Asgard Ridge into Asgard Meadows in about 2-1/2 hours with loaded packs of climbing gear.

Looking down on Asgard Meadows

Profile of Freya Tower

Looking up at the mighty Thor Tower from Asgard Meadows

So, close to 2 years ago, after Ryan Marsters, Mike Santoro, & myself made the first ascent of Freya’s east ridge, we contoured around to the south of Thor Tower to head up and climb Stan Wagon’s western 5.6 route up Thor. Upon our contouring, I spied a nifty, clean-looking dihedral on Thor’s south face that grabbed my attention. I knew I had to go back and try and climb this line.

The dihedral

This picture is borrowed from Stan Wagon and is taken from Rain Peak to the south. It shows well the southern faces of the towers and our line up Thor is drawn in red

Dylan and I scrambled our way up to the Freya/Thor col and then scrambled around to the south to the base of the dihedral. The base of the dihedral was full of snow, so we decided to scramble up some 4th class/low 5th solid rock to the left to gain a small ledge 40′ up to begin the actual climbing.

Dylan climbing the fun 4th/low 5th rock to the left of the dihedral proper to avoid the snow at its base

We reached a small ledge and racked up. Dylan, being the strong ox he is, put my backpack in his backpack on his back to lighten my load significantly. I took off up our 1st pitch on some fun 5.7 climbing for the first 50′ or so placing two pieces. One thing I do look for in lines to climb is always the objective danger, i.e. falling rocks, and one of the alluring aspects of this dihedral was the apparent absence of potential rockfall. There were a few 5.8 moves and then a nice section of 20-30′ of 5.9 climbing towards the end of our first pitch involving some finger layback moves. I was running out of rope and looked up ahead, but there were no obvious belay spots with the upcoming roof crux. I wasn’t on a great ledge or anything, but figured it would do since I had a good crack to build my anchor to the left and at least a few tiny ledges to put my feet on.

Looking up the dihedral from our small belay ledge for pitch 1

Looking down our pitch 1

My anchor at the top of pitch 1

I put Dylan on belay and he followed up pitch 1 cleaning my gear. He really climbed well especially given his loaded backpack.

Dylan on pitch 1

Dylan on the 5.9 portion of pitch 1

Dylan reached me, swapped the cleaned gear back over to me, and he put me on belay for the seemingly harder pitch 2. I was hoping and pretty sure I could reach the ridge crest of Thor and set up a belay.

Looking up at the crux roof of pitch 2 above from the top of pitch 1

The first 30′ off the belay was some interesting and thought-provoking 5.10 climbing. Especially getting into the dihedral and stemming below the roof and pulling the roof into a super thin seam where I could only get a nut to protect the moves. The right face was slick, lichen-filled granite, which didn’t inspire confidence when laybacking. All in all, I did it clean and made my way onto easier climbing above and moved right to the base of a pillar. I placed a small 0.5 cam at the base of the pillar, slung it, and climbed up maybe 5.7 rock for a good 25′ feet before getting another cam in a solid crack to the left. I reached the ridge after another 10′ of climbing and set up a belay. Dylan climbed it well and reached me at the ridge.

Dylan on the final moves of pitch 2 below the ridge crest

Dylan excited to be at the ridge crest and close to the summit of the elusive Thor Tower

The terrain from the top of pitch 2 to the east looked a bit spicy, so I kept the rope on and led out and up to the east across some 5th class terrain. I didn’t place any gear, but soon reached much easier terrain on the ridge crest and belayed Dylan up to me. Just not wanting to de-rope and all I just continued onto the summit and Dylan followed me.

Dylan beginning the traverse over to the summit

Dylan ridge walking

Dylan on the summit of Thor! And via a new route at that!

Once on the summit, we took in the views and opened the small summit cannister where Stan’s business card and a patch from father’s and my made-up “Chalk Hill Expeditions”. I would highly doubt anyone had been up here in the 2 years since I was last here – at least there was no evidence that I could find.

Valhalla Peak from Thor Tower’s summit

Thor Tower summit (12,500′ or thereabouts)

One of the fires near Winter Park to the east was noticeable

We then descended a bit down to Stan’s rappel webbing and I threw our rope down to rappel.

Dylan on the short rap

Dylan rappelling with a portion of Asgard Ridge as a backdrop

We then stowed the rope and our climbing gear and traded our TC pros for Hokas. The descent down the north from the small col was loose as always but relatively short-lived until we reached what I have come to call “Asgard Lake”. Its a beautiful, completely clear, glacial blue lake.

Asgard Lake with Valhalla Peak on the far left and Asgard Ridge trending down to the right

Making our way down the boulderfields and back through Asgard Meadows was a treat and then we ascended back up to the southern flank of Asgard Ridge. We made it back to my car by 3:30pm for a roundtrip time of 9 hrs and 15 minutes. This was a great day and I’m so grateful that it worked out. Always nice when things come together. Special thanks to Dylan for partnering up with me for this adventure. On the way out, Dylan was asking me what a “dihedral’ really stood for and I explained essentially it was a rock feature in the shape of an “open book”. Then, he suggested “why don’t we call the route ‘Book of Thor’?” Perfect. Book of Thor (5.10) it is.

Sister Superior via Jah Man

Been awhile since I posted anything, but the boys and I had a superb day up on a tower in Castle Valley, Utah near Moab two weekends ago that I thought I would share. The weather has been just so amazing this fall – warm days and cool nights with very little precipitation. Perfect for rock climbing and, in particular, desert crack climbing. J and I had been climbing when we could at Wolcott and doing a few days down in Grand Junction at Tiara Rado. I had always wanted to climb Sister Superior Tower’s classic Jah Man route which goes at 5.10c. It looked like an amazingly exposed crack line up a seemingly impossible face. And, at 5.10c, I figured its well within our capabilities.

Sister Superior Tower in Castle Valley, Utah. Jah Man pretty much climbs the lower left part of the southwest face and then in the center part for the upper three pitches.

We recruited Mikey Santoro and old Steve Cizik, some of our fellow crack buddies who love towers. We all rolled down late Friday night and cowboy camped in some dirt cul-de-sac near the access 4WD dirt road. Unfortunately, a few parties of two got early starts and started hiking the dirt 4WD road well in front of us. It was still pretty cold and we decided to just relax and drink coffee and sort gear. It was a relatively short route and we had all day and the weather looked to be spectacular. We got in my Tahoe and drove the rough 4WD road, which is really a wash at the bottom of a valley, as far as I felt comfortable in driving. I then carefully turned the Tahoe around and parked it. We hiked for an hour uphill to the base of the tower and observed three different to-man partied on it. No matter, though, as they were all pretty proficient and efficient. We really only waited 30 minutes and befriended the nice duo in front of us from Boulder and Salt Lake City.

Steve at the turn-off the wash to go up to the Sister Superior Group

Mikey and I teamed up as did J and Steve. I started up the pretty cool short 1st pitch (5.9) linking it together with the great 2nd pitch (5.8) dubbed the Sister Squeeze. It was a super fun pitch of chimneying up between too fairly featured walls.

Me starting up the short 5.9 1st pitch

Me at the top of the Sister Squeeze 2nd pitch

Next up was the crux 3rd pitch at 5.10c. The crux was short but strenuous. I think if and when I could climb it again, I would lead it clean, but its thin hands to a traverse left out with decent holds and once you can get the sequence down its much easier as with anything. The exposure definitely adds to it as well and plays a few tricks on your psyche. Nonetheless, I made the traverse and pulled over the lip and followed the easier sloping crack up to the anchors. I brought Mikey up to me and he agreed it was a tough crux section.

Looking down at J at the top of the Sister Squeeze 2nd pitch and Mikey following the crux 3rd pitch

J leading the crux 3rd pitch

Stevo climbing the 3rd crux pitch as seen from J at the belay ledge

The 4th pitch was pretty tough as well, but very cool thin hands and a lengthy pitch at that. I ended up at a nice belay ledge just below the summit and brought Mikey up to me.

Mikey finishing up the 4th pitch. I think this pitch would be a 5.10b or so

Finally, we were set for the short 5th pitch (rated maybe 5.10a or so). It was a bolted pitch with only 3 bolts and sort of a one move wonder. It was fun.

J leading the 5th pitch

Stevo following the 5th pitch

I am not sure what time we were on top, but man what a summit it was and the weather was just perfect. We probably spent 30 minutes on top taking it all in.

Mikey on the summit of Sister Superior

Me on top with the Rectory and Castleton in the distance

Group summit shot

We then single rope rappelled down to the top of the 3rd pitch and it was a struggle to get to the bolted anchors. I’d recommend rapping to the top of the 4th pitch anchors first and then to the top of the 3rd pitch anchors with a single 60m rope. Or, a 70m rope or a double rope rap from the summit to the top of the 3rd pitch anchors. A single 60m rap from the top of the 3rd pitch anchors to the top of the 2nd pitch anchors went fine and then a double rope rappel to the ground from there.

Me on the double rope rappel to the ground

Stevo on the last double rope rappel to the ground

We hung around at the base of the tower and packed up and took pictures. The alpenglow was amazing on the Rectory, Priest, and Castleton.

Alpenglow

We hiked down and returned to my Tahoe right at dark for the fun drive out the wash. Back in Junction we went to our staple Red Robin for burgers after any tower. Mikey and Stevo cruised back to the Front Range late that night while J and I lapped S-crack (5.10d) in Escalante Canyon the next morning. We were hoping to get on our favorite Willy’s Hand Jive as well, but a crew from Boulder and the Front Range were camped out on it all day and wouldn’t let us get on. C’est la vie. Poor ole Escalante ain’t so much a hidden gem anymore when hoards from the Front Range are weekend tripping it to this secluded canyon. It is what it is, though a bit sad. However, we are all part of the problem. I’ve definitely been in that big group camped out on Willy’s before so I am not one to say anything. Climbing S-crack 4 times was a work out in itself, so we had fun and were back in Edwards mid-afternoon. I definitely have better beta now to lead it maybe clean next time.

J finishing up the cruxy fingers portion of S-crack

J getting into the offwidth portion to the anchors

Always wonderful to do a desert weekend and towers are a special experience. I would definitely go climb Jah Man again.

Petit Grepon

One of the most famous alpine rock climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) happens to be also considered one of the fifty classic climbs in North America. This climb is of the standard South Face (5.8) up the Petit Grepon. My good buddy Steve Cizik does something every year for his birthday and this year he wanted the Petit. J and I really never go to RMNP at all or to the front range in general for that matter, but we had to make an exception for this. It looked like a solid climb and any chance to hang with Steve, Nico Cizik, and Matt Reigner in the mountains was a bonus for us. Plus, the weather looked really good and I researched the harder Southwest Corner (5.9) up the Petit which could be an option for J and I. Matt also suggested we do the Southwest Corner as he had done it 15 years ago.

The Petit Grepon (center tower left of the tallest tower visible) above Sky Pond.

The Petit Grepon (center tower left of the tallest tower visible) above Sky Pond

J and I drove down in his car, got our bivy permits at the ranger station, and hit the normal Trail Ridge Road tourist traffic. The crowds and tourists and traffic reminded me why I never come down here, but by the end of the trip with the alpine rock climbing available, man this place is pretty awesome. I  ended the trip with a newfound respect for RMNP. J and I left the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 5pm and rolled into our bivy camp at 7pm with the other boys fishing in Sky Pond. Its such an easy 5 mile approach that the climb totally makes sense to day trip this tower as well. We met two college kids from UT Austin and invited them to hang out with our rowdy bunch. They were gunning for the South Face as well.

Hanging out at dusk on our large bivy rock with the Petit behind

Hanging out at dusk on our large bivy rock with the Petit behind

I slept horribly for whatever reason, but woke up at 5am ready to put the night behind me. However, it sure was fun to sleep out under the stars in my sleeping bag without a tent. We all downed some coffee and oatmeal, got water, and racked up. The college kids left before us and went on up to the start of the South Face.

Hiking up to the tower's base

Hiking up to the tower’s base. The Saber is the tall tower right of center and the Sharkstooth is to the left of the Petit seemingly lower in elevation in the picture when in reality its higher

Matt and the Cizik brothers started up the low 5th class pitch 1 of the South Face ahead of the college kids while J and I scrambled up pitch 1 of the Southwest Corner to the base of pitch 2.

1st pitch up the standard South Face

1st pitch up the standard South Face

Me leading up the easy 5.6 pitch 2 of the Southwest Corner

Me leading up the easy 5.6 pitch 2 of the Southwest Corner

J led the equally as easy pitch 3 up to the upper terrace ledge and belayed me up. We had a 2nd rope with us for the descent and the follower always carried that rope on his back.

J up and away on pitch 3

J up and away on pitch 3

I think we missed the proper 5.7 pitch 4, but I took a line closer to the actual southwest arete itself, which was definitely a bit harder than 5.7. The airiness and exposure of the route definitely heightened the higher and higher we climbed.

Me leading our pitch 4

Me leading our pitch 4

J finishing up pitch 4

J finishing up pitch 4

The top of pitch 4 was a large belay ledge on the southwest arete proper with some old slings around a rock. We then swapped leads and J took off up the lengthy 5.8 pitch 5. J rocked this pitch and brought me up to a tiny belay corner with some slings and rap rings around a chockstone.

J leading the pitch 5 corner

J leading the pitch 5 corner now on the well-defined southwest arete proper

Then, came the crux 5.9 roof pitch. J gave me the gear and I took off. It was definitely a bit exhausting at almost 12,000′, but I led the pitch clean and pulled the fun roof placing a #1 cam under the roof. I managed to gather myself at a stance and then led up an additional 15′ hand/finger crack to a 12″ wide belay ledge. J cruised the roof pitch very well and got up to me pretty quick.

J after pulling the 5.9 roof on pitch 6

J after pulling the 5.9 roof on pitch 6

Now, per the route beta, we could have done a traverse pitch right (east) to meet up with the standard South Face route at the so-called “pizza pan” belay or we could do another 5.9 pitch and meet up for the last two pitches of the standard route. I chose the 5.9 pitch and away I went up a nice double hand/finger crack. The middle of the pitch was more easy 5th class and then a nice top out to the belay ledge for the 2nd to last pitch of the standard South Face route.

J finishing up the 5.9 pitch 7

J finishing up the 5.9 pitch 7

At this point we could see team Reigner/Cizik about 250′ below us around 2 pitches behind.

J taking off up the fun 5.7 2nd to last pitch

J taking off up the fun 5.7 2nd to last pitch

J took this while on the 2nd to last pitch. You can see my head at the belay and Matt and the Ciziks well below me

J took this while on the 2nd to last pitch. You can see my head at the belay and Matt and the Ciziks well below me

J belayed me up to an amazing belay ledge and I took off for the final easy 5th class summit pitch.

Me ready to top out on this tower

Me ready to top out on this tower

The final pitch

The final pitch

J on his exposed belay ledge. What an airy position, though!

J on his exposed belay ledge. What an airy position, though!

J and I topped out around 11:45am and lounged for awhile. Like an hour and a half while 🙂 But, we got an amazing view of two rockstars crushing the Southwest Corner (5.10a/b) of The Saber next door.

Stephen Schilling and his partner climb The Saber's Southwest Corner as see from the summit of the Petit

Stephen Schilling and his partner climb The Saber’s Southwest Corner as see from the summit of the Petit

Stephen also got a pic of Steve belaying Nico up to the “pizza pan” belay as seen from The Saber.

Steve & Nico

Steve & Nico

Steve topped out about an hour and 15 minutes after we did and we welcomed him. I had already set up the rappel and J and I boogied after we got a picture with the birthday boy.

Steve, me, and J on the Petit's summit

Steve, me, and J on the Petit’s summit

J and myself

J and myself

Stephen shot this pic of J and I on the summit of the Petit Grepon as well from The Saber

Stephen shot this pic of J and I on the summit of the Petit Grepon from The Saber

Also, a nice fellow named Reid Gurnee took a few dramatic pics of J and I on the Petit’s summit from their descent of the Sharkstooth.

Me & J on the summit

Me & J on the summit

And, a more zoomed out pic

And, a more zoomed-out pic

We then did 6 double rope rappels fairly smoothly straight to the base of the route and grabbed our approach shoes.

Me on rappel 3

Me on rappel 3

J on the 5th rappel

J on the 5th rappel

Back down at Sky Pond around 3pm, we swam and packed up. Minus our hour and a half stay on the summit, we were moving for about 6.5 hours RT to climb the Petit and descend back to the base. We wanted to wait around for the other boys, but we needed to get going having a 3.5 hour drive back home.

Zoomed-in pic of the college kids from UT Austin rappelling off the summit as seen from Sky Pond

Zoomed-in pic of the college kids from UT Austin rappelling off the summit as seen from Sky Pond

Happy to have climbed this tower in a new area for me

Happy to have climbed this tower in a new area for me. I’d love to come back for that Southwest Corner route on The Saber now!

After some subpar grub from some pizza/sub shop outside of Estes Park, J and I arrived back home around 10pm. Fortunately, we didn’t get sick from the food, but we didn’t feel so hot. Nonetheless, this trip opened our eyes to the alpine rock climbing world of RMNP and I think we’ll venture down there more than once every few years from now on.

My 40th on Gannett Peak

When asked by Kristine 8 months ago what we should do for my 40th birthday, I had an idea in the back of my mind to again attempt the one mountain I’ve been turned back on in my life: Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s state high point at 13,804. Gannett is literally only about 30′ higher than the more famous Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, but in my opinion Gannett is a different beast altogether given how far it is to just get to the base of the mountain to make a summit attempt. For my birthday when I was in 10th grade while my family was out in Jackson Hole, WY for 2 weeks one summer in the 90s, I was given a guided climb with Exum Mountain Guides to Gannett by my parents. While I was the youngest in the group of 5 clients by far, it was a wonderful mountaineering experience, especially since I shared a tent with a 69 year old man named Reinhold for a week. And, no he wasn’t Reinhold Messner 🙂 Reinhold Ulrich was a doctor from LA. Unfortunately, on summit day, we turned around at Dinwoody Pass, commonly referred to now as Bonney Pass, at around 13,000′ due to deteriorating weather. It was a bit heartbreaking to turn around, but we all understood why. Our guide, Susie, made a good decision. For this guided trip, what was super nice was that we had pack horses and a wrangler shuttle all of our heavy gear the 18 miles into and out of Upper Titcomb Basin. This was a monster help to us and really made the trip very enjoyable and non-stressful except for summit day.

Nonetheless, I’ve always wanted to go back for another attempt. So, what better way than to bring in my 40th birthday than to try Gannett again 25 years later from my first attempt. Its hard to believe for me that so many years have passed between attempts. My idea was to have a nice leisurely stroll into Upper Titcomb B asin with the use of pack horses for our heavy gear, but it became apparent that because of the 400% of average annual snowfall that occurred in the Wind River Range this winter this was to become more of an adventure than any of us anticipated. With access to the Elkhart trailhead just opening up in early-mid June and given we were scheduled to drive up to Pinedale on my birthday, June 24, we were looking at a lot of snow left in the Winds and on the lengthy and convoluted approach. I had originally planned this birthday week so we could avoid the brunt of the hoards of mosquitoes that inhabit the Winds yet still take advantage of a dry approach with pack horses, which is usually the case at the end of June in typical snowfall years. Well, not this year. We had a lot of work cut out for us with heavy packs and route-finding from the trailhead to our high camp. I had planned to bring some rock gear as well for some alpine rock if we were to have horses, but we left it all at home given everything would be on our backs. Sure, it would have been ideal to postpone this a month, but with Rob and Kevin’s flights already booked and Kristine’s folks already set up to come out for a week to stay with Sawyer and the dogs, it was just not practical nor considerate to move the trip. We were all still in and wanted to give it a shot. Our crew consisted of me, Kristine, J Weingast, Rob Casserley, Kevin Vann, Billy Larson, Mike Santoro, and last but not smallest, Ryan Marsters. Despite having summitted Everest 10 times and a few other 8000ers, Rob had never gotten in the good ole Rocky Mountain wilderness. And, despite having only done the 7 Summits (Kevin climbed Vinson in Antarctica with Kristine and myself for all of our final of the 7 Summits), Kevin was more than excited and decided to postponed his Carstenz Pyramid trip this fall to come join us in the Wind River Range. And, we got to celebrate Kevin’s 58th birthday on the trip as well. All the rest of the crew are just shameless peak baggers and climbers, but they are good pals of mine and us Chalks and we’ve all done many adventures together. It was a wonderful crew of eight. Kristine’s parents, Ken & Dianne, were so wonderful to come out and stay at our home in Edwards for a week to be with Sawyer, Rainie, & Kona. It was so extremely hard for me to leave Rainie as she has seemingly been on the decline for awhile now and I didn’t want it to get worse with me leaving her. But, it was the best thing to do. She would want me to go and have fun for my 40th. I think she was trying to get me to understand that she would be alright until I got back. Yes, I worried extensively about her, but was able to shut it off for a majority of the trip except when we were in communication with Ken & Dianne via our satellite phone.

So, Marsters picked up Rob & Kev at DIA while Kristine, Billy, J, & myself drove up from Edwards. Mikey had a wedding and would end up driving up solo late that Saturday night and meet us at the Elkhart trailhead in the morning. That Saturday evening we visited the Wind River Brewing Company for some dinner and some birthday cupcakes and a giant cupcake for me made by my wonderful wife. It was a great birthday dinner with all of these awesome folks.

The Wind River Brewing folks even let me wear their cowboy hat

The Wind River Brewing folks even let me wear their cowboy hat

We all then caravanned to the trailhead and slept out under the stars in the very empty parking lot. Mikey showed up promptly at 9:30am and we packed and prepped for what seemed like a long time. Nonetheless, we were in no hurry. Our first day was to just make progress for as long as we felt like it. Here is a pretty nice route map of the entire approach and climb of Gannett from the west:

Click to enlarge. I think the whole route is maybe 42 miles RT

Click to enlarge. I think the whole route is maybe 42 miles RT

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

Me and Wild Bill

Me and Wild Bill

Kev & J. The mosquitos were actually pretty bad at the trailhead which motivated us to hit the trail and keep moving

Kev & J. The mosquitoes were actually pretty bad at the trailhead which motivated us to hit the trail and keep moving

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

A grizzled, older Pinedale resident showed up with his son and daughter-in law, I believe, and asked where we were from and what the heck we were doing here. We replied that we were from Colorado and going for Gannett. He said “we’ll glad to see ya come and we’ll be glad to see ya go. I hope you brought your snowshoes!” But, as soon as he found out that Billy was a Wyoming boy from Rawlins, he really took a liking to our crew. Thanks, Billy. We finally geared up and started hiking the dry trail before hitting snow patches only 1/2 mile up. Let the slow, tedious process of dealing with off and on snow patches begin.

Kristine & Rob traversing around downed trees on the Pole Creek trail

Kristine & Rob traversing around downed trees on the Pole Creek trail

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

Because of the snow covering the trail we took a slight detour down to Miller Lake, but realized we had made a mistake so Marsters got us back on course pretty fast. The scenic view area of Photographer’s point came around early afternoon and we decided to eat some lunch at this point 4.5 miles into the approach.

Approaching Photographer's Point

Approaching Photographer’s Point

Fremont Peak (Wyoming's 3rd highest and right of center) and the Winds as seen from Photographer's Point. Still, a long way to get in there

Fremont Peak (Wyoming’s 3rd highest and right of center) and the Winds as seen from Photographer’s Point. Still, a long way to get in there

We eventually hit more consistent snow but remained in our trail runners as they were sort of already wet and it was super warm out. It was getting sloppy, however, but the snowshoes and skis remained on our packs.

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

On the descent down to Barbara Lake, some of us decided to don the snowshoes to help with flotation.

Kristine & I

Kristine & I

Barbara Lake

Barbara Lake

We were able to hit sections of dry trail from Barbara Lake to Hobbs Lake, which was a nice reprieve from the sloppy snow. Marsters and I were talking about how it would be nice to reach the north side of Hobbs Lake for a camp. We wouldn’t make Seneca Lake until after dark, which was fine, but would be nice to get on the other side of Hobbs Lake. He found a really cool campsite atop a 10′ high relatively flat rock that we dubbed “The Castle”. It was  a perfect site and a bit elevated which made us feel better about  a bear not zipping open our tents at night and saying hello.

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

"The Castle"

“The Castle”

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

J brought his saw and we were able to cut some nice, dry, dead trees and have an awesome fire most of the night. It was much needed as we dried out most of our socks and trail runners. We hung our bear bags after some funny rock throwing antics to get the ropes up into the trees and got some good sleep. Rob & Kev slept out on the rock under the stars while J and Billy pitched their tent 10′ lower down on the ground. So, if anyone were to be eaten by a bear, it would be Billy & J.

Kristine, me, & Rob and the jelly beans Rob's wife, Marie-Kristelle, sent all of us. Thanks, MK!

Kristine, me, & Rob and the jelly beans Rob’s wife, Marie-Kristelle, sent all of us. Thanks, MK!

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

The crux of the entire approach seemed to be crossing the drainage river from Seneca Lake only a 1/2 mile after leaving camp on day 2. Ice axes and crampons came out to traverse the steep snow sloping down to the raging river. After heading upstream for 10 minutes on the steep snow, J & I found a snow bridge that was hearty enough in these early morning hours to take the weight of us. So, we all stepped across it one by one.

J and the crew traversing the snow on the south side of the drainage river from Seneca Lake

J and the crew traversing the snow on the south side of the drainage river from Seneca Lake

Thanks to Marsters’ excellent navigational skills, we made our way another 2 miles through ravines and around ponds up to the beautiful overlook of Seneca Lake.

Ryan and I looking out over a frozen Seneca lake and Fremont Peak beyond

Ryan and I looking out over a frozen Seneca Lake and Fremont Peak beyond

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Fremont Peak

Fremont Peak

We then found remnants of the trail traversing the west side of Seneca’s steep shoreline and made it around to the north side. The sun cupped snow was in full force now as was the heat of the sun. It was hot.

Kristine & Billy catching a water break on the north shore of Seneca Lake

Kristine & Billy catching a water break on the north shore of Seneca Lake

We made our way up to Little Seneca Lake and traversed its southern shores and then climbed up to a small saddle where we could see a much closer Fremont Peak now and even Bonney Pass, which was exciting! We would go up and over Bonney Pass on our summit day.

Me traversing snow along LIttle Seneca's southern shore

Me traversing snow along Little Seneca’s southern shore

Bonney Pass is visible in the center of the pic

Bonney Pass is visible in the center of the pic above Upper Titcomb Basin

It was blazing out and we all needed some shade. At Indian Pass I found a great boulder which provided shade and water, so we all did a lunch break here.

"Lunch Rock". I think Kristine is playing an air guitar

“Lunch Rock”. I think Kristine is playing an air guitar

"Lunch Rock"

Kristine, Mikey, and Rob ready to depart “Lunch Rock”

After a good break and some food, we descended Indian Pass down to the beautiful Island Lake and traversed its northeastern shores.

Heading down to Island Lake

Heading down to Island Lake

The heat was really getting to me and Kristine as well, but finally some clouds rolled in and provided some relief. We snowshoed into Titcomb Basin and made our way north to Lower Titcomb Lake. Around 4pm, it looked as if dark clouds were likely to threaten us, so we found a nice flat rock to pitch our tents and set up high camp. It wasn’t as far into Titcomb Basin as we would have liked, but the consensus was to just stop now and not carry the large backpacks anymore than we have to. It would just lengthen our summit day by a bit of mileage. Plus, selfishly I wanted to set up camp in case the storm hit us. However, it never did.

Ryan, Billy, & J at our 10,500' high camp in Titcomb Basin

Ryan, Billy, & J at our 10,500′ high camp in Titcomb Basin

High camp

High camp

High camp as seen from the top of our high camp boulder

High camp as seen from the top of our high camp boulder

I had to scramble up our designated camp boulder in my long johns of course

I had to scramble up our designated camp boulder in my long johns, of course

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

It was good to get our high camp set up before 5pm so we could relax and get some rest before our summit day. Joel texted our satellite phone saying Tuesday should be clear with possible afternoon thunderstorms. We had also checked the weather forecast before we left and Tuesday looked pretty good. Up at 1:30am, we left camp by 2pm or shortly afterwards. The weather seemed a bit strange to start off with. A freak little wind and rain storm swept across our camp at about 1:15am and then cleared out and we could see stars. As we made headway north up Titcomb Basin past Fremont Peak and past Middle and Upper Titcomb Lakes, it rained on us ever so slightly a few times and then cleared out again. It was strange weather. It was maybe 5 miles one way to Bonney Pass, but once we started gaining some vertical up Bonney Pass I know I at least felt better about the distance we had to cover. We donned crampons around when the gully steepened and J put his skis on his pack. It was fun climbing to the top of the pass.

Looking down at Marsters, Mikey, Kristine, Billy, & J coming up to Bonney Pass

Looking down at Marsters, Mikey, Kristine, Billy, & J coming up to Bonney Pass

Kristine swapping leads puts the booter into the top of the pass

Kristine swapping leads puts the booter in to the top of the pass

Marsters

Marsters

Billy topping out on Bonney Pass with Mount Helen behind to the south

Billy topping out on Bonney Pass with Mount Helen behind to the south

Titcomb lakes & basin from the top of Bonney Pass

Titcomb Lakes & Basin and Elephant Head (on the left) from the top of Bonney Pass

The views were tremendous from the top of the pass to the north & south. I remembered this view of Gannett from 25 years earlier from the top of Bonney Pass. We had a 1,200′ descent down the other side of Bonney Pass before the 2,000′ climb up Gannett itself.

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Me & Gannett

Me & Gannett

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

J had a nice descent as he skied all the way down to where we started the ascent. The rest of us cruised down enjoying the views and the awesome spires. At this point we were a bit ahead of Rob & Kev, but they Kev kept plugging away and Rob stayed with him. Kev may not be the fastest mountaineer on the planet, but he sure can go on and on and on. Kev did so well.

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

The Dinwoody Glacier and cool spires

The Dinwoody Glacier and some cool spires

At our low point with Bonney Pass behind before our ascent up Gannett

At our low point with Bonney Pass behind before our ascent up Gannett

We regrouped at our low point and started the climb up to the Gooseneck Glacier via a slick little snow ramp/ridge. Billy was on fire and led the way.

Good morning Winds

Good morning Winds

Me heading out to catch Billy

Me heading out to catch Billy

Billy on high speed

Billy on high speed

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

Marsters was admiring my red jacket here. Gooseneck Pinnacle can be seen above me in the clouds

Marsters was admiring my red jacket and 2006 Koflach plastic boots here. Gooseneck Pinnacle can be seen above me in the clouds

Kristine took this of J silhouetted against the morning clouds and sun

Kristine took this of J silhouetted against the morning clouds and sun

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

We met a team of four climbers coming up from their high camp on the east side of the peak. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way up the steep snow.

Our two teams climbing steeper snow to attain the Gooseneck Glacier and bergshrund

Our two teams climbing steeper snow to attain the Gooseneck Glacier and bergschrund

After another 30 minutes or so of more mellow snow climbing, we wrapped around to even steeper snow on the left and located the bergschrund or at least what we could see of it. We didn’t feel the need to break out ropes or anything. I just used my ski poles.

Making our way up to the bergschrund. The skies were definitely darkening by now and the summit was enshrouded in clouds

Making our way up to the bergschrund. The skies were definitely darkening by now and the summit was enshrouded in clouds

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

Now, it was definitely getting dark and the clouds had enveloped the upper mountain. We were climbing in a cloud and it graupeled every so often. We kept chatting with each other about how it was only 8:30am and that these clouds would burn off because the forecast was for a clear morning. Also, the clouds allowed for nice, cool temperatures for climbing. It was great. We did switch to ice axes once on the ridge since we were traversing snow slopes above a 400′ cliff.

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey climbing the steep snow into the clouds

J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey climbing the steep snow into the clouds

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

The wind seemed to be picking up as was evident when we passed the notch in the ridge, but it quickly subsided on the snow slope.

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

Our team making our way in the cool, seemingly nice climbing conditions

Our team making our way in the cool, seemingly nice climbing conditions

At this point it was maybe near 9am. Rob & Kev were behind us maybe an hour or so having descended the north side of Bonney Pass. The other team of four was behind our crew of six. I remember Marsters and I chatting about how this is such pleasant climbing and how we only have about 150′ vertical to go and a 5 minute easy stroll across the summit ridge. When, all of the sudden, there was a mega flash in the ski (which somehow I didn’t see – maybe I blinked) and a huge crack of thunder enveloping us almost instantaneously after the flash. Marsters saw the flash. We were “in” the lightning cloud. It was absolutely terrifying. I was thinking to myself “how is this happening to me again!” Nonetheless, our fight or flight instincts took over and we were running down in our crampons with our ice axes in hand alerting J, Kristine, Billy, & Mikey to turn as they were preparing to do anyway. Mikey asked me if he thought his snow picket was buzzing and I replied “yes, buddy, its buzzing. Get going”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that J had to transition to ski mode, so he obviously took longer to start going down. But, once he got going, he was gone. To ski 40 degree snow above a 400′ cliff in a lightning storm, ummmm no thank you. But, J did it without a hesitation. The other group of four climbers obviously turned as well and we passed them on the way down above the bergschrund. They had asked if we had summitted only to reluctantly say “no, but oh so close”.

The other team descending down to the bergschrund

The other team descending down to the bergschrund now out of the cloud

We descended as fast yet as safe as we could trying to get to lower ground. We eventually made it back to our low point and took a much needed break. It was so super scary to be up on the summit ridge in a lightning storm, but we all felt better now. Rob recalled that as soon as he and Kev saw and heard that lightning and thunder almost 2,000′ above, they got down and threw their packs and everything metal 20′ away. This was Rob and Kev’s view of the summit ridge while we were climbing it (though I don’t think being in it was as bad as this pic makes it look):

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

A close-up. We all agreed it looks like the typical Everest plume of snow

A close-up. We all agreed it looks like the typical Everest plume of snow

After regrouping, collecting our thoughts and, settling down a bit, we started the long 1,200′ ascent back up to Bonney Pass. The clouds were definitely still present and it was scary to have to reascend back up to 1,200′ just to get out of here back to our tents. Kristine led the way setting up a nice booter and she was off. Marsters and I couldn’t catch her. She was on cruise control. Once back on Bonney Pass the southern skies looked equally as nasty.

Looking south from Bonney Pass for the 2nd time this day

Looking south from Bonney Pass for the 2nd time this day

Billy, J, & Mikey were behind me, Kristine, & Marsters as we descended Bonney Pass pretty fast to Kevin and Rob down lower. The threatening weather had abated for the time being and we all felt better. J skied down Bonney Pass again and was gone down Titcomb Basin back to camp pretty quickly. Ahhh….the advantages of skis. Still, I do not regret not bringing my skis due to that awfully long approach. Marsters and Rob made it back to camp fairly quickly on foot as well, but me, Kristine, Mikey, Billy, & Kev took our time. My old Koflachs were really digging into my calves and ankles and blistering the heck out of them, which hindered my speed for sure. Time for new mountaineering boots!

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

Enjoying a break in the weather on dry ground en route back to camp

Enjoying a break in the weather on dry ground en route back to camp

Passing by Upper Titcomb Lake on our descent

Passing by Middle Titcomb Lake on our descent

Unfortunately, wave after wave of thunder/lightning storm came in from the west and hammered us every hour. We waited until we heard a crack of thunder preceded by a flash and we immediately threw our packs and metal away from us and crouched down on our helmets. It was terrifying and brought me back to being in that lightning storm on the Tahoma Glacier on Rainier in 2009. We eventually made it to with a few hundred yards of camp when another wave filtered into Titcomb Basin. We left our gear and ran as best we could in the 6-8″ sun cups to camp and into our tents for shelter. I knew that we weren’t completely safe but felt mentally safer than being out on a glacier with nowhere to hide. Finally, we were able to relax a bit and let the anxiety leave our bodies. It was around 12:30pm-1pm for a summit day RT time of 10-11 hours. However, starting around 2pm, the next wave of storms started to roll in and these were even worse than the mornings and magnified tenfold. These were the biggest hail/thunder/lightning storms any of us had experienced. They were definitely terrifying – maybe more for me as I am terrified of lightning. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with lightning. At one point I had gone over to Rob and Kev’s tent to chat and got caught in a storm in their tent leaving Kristine alone in the Bibler. Poor Kristine thought the boulder was going to get struck, split in half, and fall on the Bibler and her leaving Sawyer without a mother. I never left her and the Bibler again until the evening when things really quieted down. We all finally emerged from our tents to enjoy the evening.

Kev emerging from his tent that evening happy to be alive :)

Kev emerging from his tent that evening happy to be alive 🙂

Well, so much for weather forecasts. I don’t think they could have been more wrong. C’est la vie. The Winds really do seem to create their own weather. Joel had told us that snow showers were expected the following morning, so a summit attempt was likely out. Kristine went back to retrieve all of our flung gear later that evening with Billy’s help completely filling her pack with snowshoes, axes, etc. I never cease to be amazed by her strength. And, the next morning, we all awoke at 6am to nasty clouds and weather rolling in. Time to get the heck out of dodge. Marsters, me, Kristine, & Mikey sat out a storm consisting of thundersnow behind a rock almost at Island Lake hoping lightning would not be involved. Fortunately, we didn’t see any flashes. We had all had our fill of lightning to last a long time. As we rounded the southeast corner of Island Lake the sun came out and our fears were lifted. It was glorious. We ascended back to Indian Pass to see the rest of the crew rounding Island Lake and making their way just fine.

Marsters' view of us ascending up to Indian Pass after the storm cleared

Marsters’ view of us ascending up to Indian Pass after the storm cleared

We really made good headway this day 4 and we made it all the way back to Barbara Lake for a nice camp on our final night. I think we were all motivated to get out and definitely get below treeline.

Kristine & I with Fremont Peak behind

Kristine & I in our Sawyer hats with Fremont Peak behind. Sawyer is never far away from us 🙂

Rob and the team crossing the raging drainage from Seneca Lake again this time across big boulders

Rob and the team crossing the raging drainage from Seneca Lake again this time across big boulders

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

The storms left us alone for a good few hours during the middle of the day, but reared their intense heads yet again as we were rounding Hobbs Lake. Barbara Lake couldn’t have come soon enough as we had a severe hail, thunder, and lightning storm as soon as we got our tents up and I had built a small fire. Waiting this storm out for about an hour in damp clothes and socks and shoes was not too pleasant. But, it cleared and we resumed the fire building and my fire had survived the storm.

After the storm at Barbara Lake

After the storm at Barbara Lake

The sun came out and we had a roaring fire and started to dry our shoes and socks out again. Man, it was so good to see the sun. J and Billy hiked up to this small highpoint behind Barbara Lake and our camp and immediately came down to tell all of us to come up. Kev was still napping in his tent, so he didn’t join us, but the views were outstanding in the alpenglow.

Fremont Peak to the right and Upper Titcomb Basin at left

Fremont Peak to the right and Upper Titcomb Basin at left. Bonney Pass can be seen on the far left

Me and my wonderful wife

Me and my wonderful wife

Great pals for a decade now with Rob ever since that fateful day on Denali

Great pals for a decade now with Rob ever since that fateful day on Denali in June 2007

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Group shot minus a Kev

Group shot minus a Kev

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

Morning came and the sun dried us out as we packed up for the few hours out back to Elkhart Trailhead.

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

It was a nice deproach in great weather until the mosquitoes joined us once the snow stopped. We fortunately had no encounters with bears on this adventure, but we did see evidence of bears in the area. However, Billy was always ready with his bear spray canister holstered tight on his belt ready for a duel.

Bear track

Bear track

Goodbye Winds, until next time

Goodbye, Winds, until next time

We reached the trailhead by noon and relaxed and unpacked for a bit. Mosquitoes were present so we didn’t dilly-dally for too long. We decided to all head back to the Wind River Brewing Company for a hearty lunch. It was great to cap off such a great trip with an amazing crew and tell stories and laugh. We then decided to stop at this mercantile store in Farson, Wyoming, which Billy knew to have the largest ice cream scoops we had ever seen. OK, Billy, let’s do it. These ice cream scoops were ginormous. Most of us got the single scoop and my gosh, it was way way too much for me. Billy finished his single scoop off quickly as did Kristine. Billy had to help me with mine. Rob didn’t get any as I think he was just too intimidated. One young kid got a double scoop cone and it was about a foot tall. It probably weighed more than his head.

Our single scoops

Our single scoops

After gorging ourselves, Mikey left to go back to Denver while Marsters decided to come to Vail and give Rob & Kev a ride to our neck of the woods. We got back around 9pm that Thursday evening only to miss seeing Sawyer to bed, but absolutely loved seeing Ken, Dianne, Rainie, & Kona. Rainie held on for me and I think perked up quite a bit upon my return. Marsters, Kev, & Rob slept at J’s house. We took them rock climbing Friday afternoon and Marsters, me, Mikey, and Rob wanted to give Rob another taste of Colorado so we all climbed the Cross Couloir on Saturday morning for a fun 7 hour outing. Rob had a blast. We had to get him at least one summit while out in the Rockies! Meanwhile, Sawyer and the Oelbergers had so much fun in our 5 day absence:

Lunch with Nana

Lunch with Nana

Pool time

Pool time

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Swinging with Papa

Swinging with Papa

My Rainie

My 14.5 year old Rainie

It was an unbelievable 40th birthday week for myself with my wife and close friends. Special thanks to Ken & Dianne for again shouldering our responsibilities at home so Kristine and I could get out together. Even though we fell short of the actual summit of Gannett, we climbed 98% of the mountain in tough travel conditions. So, I’m 0-2 on Gannett now 🙂 Gannett is the only mountain I have tried to climb and been unsuccessful still. So, I will just have to go back. We’ve done it the hardman way. Next time, we’ll go in August/September, get some pack horses for a leisurely cruise into Upper Titcomb Basin, bring skis, alpine racks and ropes, and have a blast. Maybe for my 41st birthday. We’ll see.

Top of the Rockies with the Horvaths

After 6 months of planning, our good family friends from Charlotte, the Horvaths, came to the valley. Their main objective was to climb their very first 14er. I chose Mt. Elbert because why not! Its the highest in Colorado and the 2nd tallest mountain in the contiguous USA. This trip was initially a surprise from Steve & Kathy Horvath to their sons, Stephen & Charlie, for their birthdays. Steve, Stephen, & Charlie rented a cool little home in Minturn for the weekend. They hiked up to Lionshead Rock for their first acclimitization hike and I took Stephen & Charlie climbing at Homestake that afternoon while Steve went and got a massage and hit the Westin spa.

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

Stephen climbing the awesome 5.9+ at Homestake

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

And, Charlie. These guys did so well having not climbed outside for a long time

Then, I picked them up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning and we headed south to the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead for Mt. Elbert’s standard northeast ridge route. I brought my skis along on my pack hoping to ski the Box Creek Chutes on the descent while the boys hiked down the trail. We had a great hike and it was exciting watching Steve, Stephen, & Charlie hike to the highest elevation to which they had ever been.

The Horvaths

The Horvaths

Steve motoring long below treeline

Steve motoring long below tree line

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Steve getting above tree line and the views opening up

Mt. Massive (14,421'), Colorado's 2nd highest, to the north

Mt. Massive (14,421′), Colorado’s 2nd highest, to the north

Steve & Charlie around 13,000'

Steve & Charlie around 13,000′

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

Steve making great time up Elbert on the final couple hundred vertical feet

We probably reached the summit only 3 1/2 hours after we left the trailhead, which is incredible for these lowlanders. A brisk west wind greeted us at the top, so we didn’t dilly-dally too long. However, it was an absolutely gorgeous day.

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

The boys relaxing below the summit on the leeward side of the mountain

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert's summit!

Steve reaching Mt. Elbert’s summit!

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433')

All four of us on the summit of Mt. Elbert (14,433′)

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

The Horvaths on top of the Rockies

Steve & I

Steve & I

Looking west to the Elk Range

Looking west to the Elk Range

And, one more summit pic

And, one more summit pic

We then headed down and Stephen wanted to follow me down the Box Creek Cirque. He had an extra pole to help him control his glissade down the roughly 40 degree bowl. He did well and had a blast.

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Looking down the upper east slopes, which was a stellar ski, leading into the steeper Box Creek Chutes

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Reaching the rollover point where it gets steep

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen glissading the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Looking back at our tracks down the Box Creek Chutes

Stephen and I visited the small lake at the bottom of the Cirque and then hiked back up to the trail, took a small nap, and waited for Steve & Charlie to reach us. The rest of the descent was uneventful yet very hot. We reached the trailhead around maybe 1:30-2pm and headed into Leadville to eat some good lunch at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.

Our crew back at the trailhead

Our crew back at the trailhead

Celebratory lunch

Celebratory lunch

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

This fitting canvas was on the wall above our table

And, we had a nice view out the door

And, we had a nice view out the door

Steve and the boys took Kristine & I out to dinner that evening to cap off a great weekend. Congratulations on your 1st 14er, Horvaths. Hopefully, we can do it again!

No Name Canyon & Mudflap Girl

Over the last month or two we have been visiting the fun, little No Name Canyon for some nice, granite crack climbing. No Name Canyon is a spur canyon at the No Name exit off of the larger Glenwood Canyon. Its accessibility (can bring the dogs and Rainie in her wagon on the nice dirt/gravel road) and quality granite cracks make for a nice place to spend some time.

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon - just the two of us

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon – just the two of us

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110' route

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110′ route

I had my eye on a bigger route in the Grizzly Creek Canyon (one canyon east of No Name) called Mudflap Girl on the Mudwall. Mudflap Girl was the one route that went to the top of the Mudwall and was 9-10 pitches in all and over 700′ of technical climbing. Our own big wall rock climb right in Glenwood Canyon! Though Mudflap Girl is the easiest route on the Mudwall, it is no walk in the park climb. It goes at 5.10+ and 4 pitches of 5.10 climbing. We left Edwards at 4am and were hiking by 5am up the Grizzle Creek trail. It was warm out – supposed to get into the 80s in Glenwood Springs. There was an interesting Tyrolean traverse across the absolutely raging Grizzle Creek that made for a fun and exciting start to the day.

J on the traverse

J on the traverse

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

It was then roughly a 1,000′ boulder hop up to the base of the Mudwall following cairns. We found the base of the route by its namesake sign and racked up. We were climbing by 6:15 – 6:30am or so. J led off up the awesome 110′ 5.8 1st pitch placing 4 cams.

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

J then led the next pitch combining pitches 2 & 3. J did awesome pulling the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch.

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

The top of pitch 3 was a nice ledge and we swapped gear so that I could lead the next few pitches. Pitch 4 was a really fun and long 5.9+.

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

Pitch 5 (5.9) was our least favorite as it was over looser rock and broken terrain and a bit wandering.

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

We came to a big ledge at the top of pitch 5 and now the sun was out in full force and heating us up.

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

I took the lead up pitch 6 (5.10) on what was my favorite pitch. It was long and continually interesting with solid 5.10 crack moves. I eventually came to a single bolt belay below the roof and backed the bolt up with a solid #0.5 cam.

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Top of pitch 6

Top of pitch 6

Pitch 7 (5.10+) was the crux pitch of the entire route consisting of a tough sequence of moves over a roof with no feet. I think the last few pitches of climbing caught up with me in making the few tough moves over the roof. I had to rest and hang – between the heat of the sun and being tired from leading the previous 3 pitches, I just didn’t have the strength in my fingers 🙂 Oh well. I eventually made the necessary moves and topped out on pitch 7’s large ledge.

Me under the pitch 7 roof

Me under the pitch 7 roof

J made the roof moves no problem and joined me on the ledge. The heat was really getting to me now by this point.

Top of pitch 7

Top of pitch 7

J then took the lead up the last 5.10 pitch 8. This was a long pitch as well – maybe 100′. He led it beautifully and belayed me up.

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

My strength was failing me and I grunted up this pitch even on top rope. I made it to J and then wanted to get back on the horse and decided to lead pitch 9. I led the tricky 5.9 pitch 9 clean and soon belayed J to me. I felt better in the shade a bit climbing pitch 9. J then led the final easy 5.7 pitch 10 to the top and belayed from a tree.

J setting off on the final pitch

J setting off on the final pitch

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

When I finally reached the top with J, we were in the shade. I felt much better in the shade and started to get my energy back.

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Now, we didn’t bring a second rope to double rope rappel the route in hopes of finding the north gully descent. Through a few published descriptions online and from my Western Sloper guidebook, we found the inconspicuous black webbing around a tree about 100 yards east of the head of the steep north gully. From then on, it was 4-5 fun single rope rappels over cliff bands and steep talus downclimbing between.

First rappel

First rappel

Second rappel

Second rappel

J looking up at me at the bottom of the first rappel

J looking up at me standing at the bottom of the first rappel

Me on the second rappel

Me on the second rappel

The steep and loose north gully

The steep and loose north gully

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

Then, we hung a right at the base of the gully and within 5 minutes we were back at our packs at the bottom of Mudflap Girl. We saw a climber on a harder single to two pitch route on the Mudwall on the hot descent out.

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

We scrambled back to the river and dunked our faces, which felt oh so good and refreshing. We then reversed he Tyrolean traverse and surprised a few hikers on the Grizzly Creek trail. Back at the car shortly after 2pm, it was about a 9 hour day car-to-car. J had two beers in the car and we toasted each other to a good adventure climbing day on the Mudwall. Maybe not soon, but I would like to go back and climb this route again now that we know it as well as the descent down the North Gully.

Escalante Canyon 2017

A little behind in our blog entries, but the whole Chalk family made our annual trip down to Escalante Canyon, CO on Friday, May 19 for some camping and crack climbing with friends. Always fun to get down there in the Spring and Fall as the Summer is just too darn hot. Sawyer slept most of the 3 hr drive, which was great, and we arrived finding a nice campsite around 5pm. All of our friends trickled in over the evening and next morning hours.

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

The next morning in the tent vestibule

The next morning in the tent vestibule

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

It was chilly at night, but once that sun hit Saturday morning, things really warmed up nicely.

Rainie on point

Rainie on point

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Most of us then went off to the Cabin Wall and likely our favorite route, Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10+). I led up Willy’s and set up the top rope for folks.

Grayson climbing Willy's with the gals in the foreground

Grayson climbing Willy’s with the gals in the foreground

Grayson again on the amazing Willy's

Grayson again on the amazing Willy’s

Kristine on Willy's

Kristine on Willy’s

Me and the Sawyer

Me and the Sawyer

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s :)

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s 🙂

Jesse & Natalie each took a turn to lead up the imposing Rusty’s Cave route (5.10-) next door to Willy’s. They did awesome, but the crux is the cave at the top where it got wide. Its a bit weird for sure. I finished it off for them and set up the top rope for everyone.

Me leading the last part of Rusty's Cave

Me leading the last part of Rusty’s Cave

Jesse on the Cave route

Jesse on the Cave route

Me taking a lap on Willy's

Me taking a lap on Willy’s

Me higher up on Willy's

Me higher up on Willy’s

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy's

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy’s

Dylan on Willy's

Dylan on Willy’s

I then took my camera and climbed up Willy’s again and anchored myself to take pictures of Jesse and Natalie climbing.

Jesse digging hard

Jesse digging hard

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie at the crux pod

Natalie at the crux pod

Cranking hard

Cranking hard

We wrapped it up and headed back to camp around 4pm. Sawyer was able to nap for an hour on Kristine’s back as she walked up and down the road. I then took Rainie and Kona down to the creek to let them swim since it was pretty hot outside. I drove them down to the Cabin Wall and parked on an incline. The automatic rear door lifted up so slowly that before I could grab Rainie to lift her down she had jumped out and went down hard on her right front leg and laid sprawled out in the dirt. I was terrified and grabbed her and felt around…It seemed that nothing was broken, but she was in pain and could put zero weight on it. I carried her to Escalante Creek and soaked her legs hoping it may help. I then carried her back to the Tahoe and we drove back to camp. Everyone was worried and gave their medical opinions on what to do and if it were broken or not. Eventually, I just made the decision I wanted to drive back to Edwards and see our vet later that night. So, we packed up everything and loaded it all into the Tahoe. However, before we left, good buddy Steve Cizik had set up this awesome zip line for his kids and Sawyer gave it a good crack. I think the video speaks for itself:

We hated to leave Escalante and the whole gang, but I had to get Rainie looked at. Its all I would think about until I could do so. We arrived back in Edwards around 9:30pm and saw our vet at 10pm. After some x-rays and an examination, nothing was broken. She had likely sprained her ankle. They gave her some morphine for the night and sent us home. It took a few weeks to really heal (or close to heal), but she is doing much better now. Always scary when a really old loved one hurts him or herself. Fortunately, she was able to bounce back for the most part.

Dune Acres Reunion

The Chalks ventured to Dune Acres, Indiana on Lake Michigan for a fun-filled weekend at the spectacular home of the Spences. The last time I was here was for Kelly & Paul’s wedding in September 2009, so it was pretty cool to be back. This weekend was organized by the four Batesies Kristine, Kelly, Carrie, & Glynnie. Only this time all of the husbands came along with the kids. I have to be honest, I don’t think of much when I think of Indiana, but Dune Acres is pretty amazing and very scenic. Kristine, Sawyer, & I flew to Chicago and rented a car for the hour and a half drive east to Dune Acres. Between 8 adults and 7 kids under the age of 5 (2 newborns included), it was busy at times though so much fun.

All the kiddos eating dinner

All the kiddos eating dinner

Walking down to the beach on Lake Michigan in front of the Spence home

Walking down to the beach on Lake Michigan in front of the Spence home

Sawyer loving the feel of sand on her toes

Sawyer loving the feel of sand on her toes

Beach time!

Beach time!

Liv, Liam, & Sawyer gathering rocks to skip on the lake

Liv, Liam, & Sawyer gathering rocks to skip on the lake

The Spence home

The Spence home

I love the spiral staircase

I love the spiral staircase

Sawyer out cold :)

Sawyer out cold 🙂

Sawyer & Olivia at this awesome, old-school playground in Dune Acres

Sawyer & Olivia at this awesome, old-school playground in Dune Acres

Kristine & I each went on our own respective trail runs around the awesome hilly trails of Dune Acres of which Kelly’s dad hiked and recorded and with Paul’s help created nice little maps of the trail systems complete with approximate mileages. On Saturday, Kelly laid the foundation for an adventure to the local state park to attempt the 3 Dune Challenge! While the course summits the 3 highest dunes above Lake Michigan in only 1.5 miles, it would be a challenge for all the kids. We had a lot of fun and after summitting the last dune, we had a nice lunch and then descended.

And go! Sawyer is off to the races

And go! Sawyer is off to the races

Me, Liam, & Sawyer

Me, Liam, & Sawyer

Up the first dune

Up the first dune

Sawyer finding a walking stick

Sawyer finding a walking stick

Sawyer wanted a lift for the final vertical up to the first dune

Sawyer wanted a lift for the final vertical up to the first dune

Mt. Jackson summit!

Mt. Jackson summit! Sawyer is ecstatic!

The kiddos

The kiddos

The summit of the 2nd dune, Mt. Tom

Sawyer, Kristine, & Paul on the summit of the 2nd dune, Mt. Holden

En route to the 3rd and final dune

En route to the 3rd and final dune

Sawyer on a mission

Sawyer on a mission

The summit headwall :)

The summit headwall 🙂

And, we're here! Summit of Mt. Tom

And, we’re here! Summit of Mt. Tom

Dune information

Mt. Tom historical information on its formation

View west

View west

Lunch time

Lunch time

And, a final group shot on Mt. Tom

And, a final group shot on Mt. Tom

Saturday evening we all grilled out and enjoyed a spectacular sunset on the front deck overlooking Lake Michigan and Chicago skyline in the distance. What a great weekend with everyone (Paul, Kelly, Glynnie, Rob, Carrie, Brett, & of course Kristine) and all the kids as well. We are so looking forward to the next Bates reunion.

Cooking out with a view

Cooking out with a view

Sunset with the Chicago skyline to the west

Sunset with the Chicago skyline to the west

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