A climbing trip can sure take a 180 pretty fast due to the ever-changing weather forecast. With Kristine & Sawyer back in Minneapolis visiting her sister & family, the dogs & I were planning on heading to the desert for some crack climbing. However, a planned trip to Indian Creek quickly turned to a local skin/ski of a nearby 12er called Outpost Peak in the Gores due to a wet forecast for the Moab area. It was all good & dandy though and good buddies Shawn Wright & Sylvan Ellefson joined me for a nice ski tour of Outpost Peak, which turns out to be a relatively accessible Gore peak from the Pitkin Lake trailhead even in winter conditions. I had circumvented and passed by Outpost Peak more than a half dozen times on several Gore outings, but had yet to crest its summit. Plus, I wanted to peer down its northeast face/bowl and scope it out for a potential spring time ski descent. A larger snow storm was to move in starting Saturday afternoon, but the morning was forecasted to be nice and sunny. After swapping Rainier for The Gus Dog with our good friends who just welcomed their baby boy into this world a week ago and running into buddy Elliot Halverson at the Pitkin Lake trailhead who I had not seen since last spring, we all set out booting up the Pitkin Lake trail at around 8:30am. Shawn & Sylvan’s good friend Zac joined us as well plus Shawn’s pup, Fitzy. About 400 vertical feet up the trail where it starts to flatten out, you leave the trail heading initially west and then northwest and bushwhack your way up Outpost’s broad south ridge through Aspen forests and shrubs. The morning was superb, and while the lower forested terrain was thin on snowpack in spots, which made for interesting skinning, above 10,000′ the snow was much more plentiful allowing for more efficient travel.
Skinning up through the lower Aspens on Outpost’s broad south slopes
Grand Traverse Peak
Its always a treat for me to head into the Gores. I love this range. You can be all alone with your little crew on a peak in the Gores yet look over at Vail Mountain where 20,000 folks are gracing its slopes. It was a fun and mellow skin up through the forested south slopes of Outpost Peak, which eventually narrows into a well-defined ridge. At around 11,000′ the heavily forested terrain gave way to open fields and glades, which afforded us our first real views of the day.
The boys skinning in one of the large open fields along Outpost’s south ridge
We crested over Point 11,637′ along the south ridge and then made our through more beautiful glades along the ridge towards Outpost.
I was having some serious skin adhesiveness issues (or lack thereof) the entire day. My skins are at the end of their life expectancy and honestly I didn’t think I would be skinning peaks this early in the season. Nevertheless, after my duct tape failed and they just fell off for the last time 200′ below Outpost’s summit, I just left my skis & skins in the snow and booted the rest of the way.
The final few hundred feet to Outpost’s summit
Sylvan reaching the summit of Outpost Peak
I believe we reached Outpost’s summit about 12:45pm and you could definitely feel the wind picking up, high clouds building, and a storm brewing in the distance to the west. Our bright sun and bluebird skies had given way to those pre-storm skies. Nevertheless, it was a nice summit and wonderful views. I think all of us enjoyed the perch.
Outpost Peak summit (12,362′)
All of us enjoying this Gore summit – maybe except for Kona giving me the “I’m cold and let’s get out of here” look :)
Shawn & Fitzy with the Partner Traverse behind
Sylvan doing the “Lyndon”
Peering down the northeast face of Outpost. Looks like a very steep entrance, but an awesome bowl down to the Pitkin Creek drainage below. Hopefully, this spring
We then descended after maybe 20 minutes on top, strapped into our ski setups, and made our way down the south ridge sticking close to our skin track for the dogs’ sake so they could use it. I loved the views of Bald Mountain and its northeast facing bowl as well as Vail Mountain.
Bald Mountain & the Vail Valley
Sylvan skiing Outpost’s south face
Shawn & Sylvan
Shawn in the fun open glades along Outpost’s south ridge
Mt. of the Holy Cross made for a scenic backdrop here for Sylvan
Shawn & Fitzy
We eventually made it back down to the cars around 3pm for a RT time of about 6-1/2 hours. I believe the RT mileage is maybe 6-7 miles with close to 4,000′ of vertical gain. Outpost’s south ridge made a for a very nice ski tour in very safe terrain. Thanks to all the boys and dogs for making it a memorable day. Of course I missed Rainier on this outing, but post-holing in deep snow and uneven terrain for close to 4,000′ is just not for a 12 year old golden retriever. I think she understands, but probably not. I am already looking forward to going back in the spring to ski Outpost’s northeast face/bowl.
Well, little Sawyer is now officially 1 month old and we celebrated by taking her on a 4WD adventure in my Tahoe and hiked up to one of our favorite campsites we have dubbed “Top of the World” at 11,710′, her personal altitude record thus far in her short lifetime. Its only about a mile and 600′ vertical gain to the campsite from the parking spot, but man what a view of all of our favorite Gore peaks to the north, Tenmile Range peaks to the east, and Northern Sawatch peaks to the south.
Sawyer on the hike to “Top of the World”
Kristine & Sawyer – I didn’t even realize that Zodiac Ridge made it into the picture in the distance between the trees
A gorgeous day to be up high
Raindog enjoying her first snow of the season
Family Pic at the “Top of the World” campsite
Left to right: Mt. Silverthorne, East Thorne, Zodiac Ridge, & Red Peak
Outer Mongolia Bowl and the northern Gores
Left to right: The Grand Traverse, Palomino Point, Mt. Valhalla, and Snow Peak
At about 2-1/2 weeks old, I took Sawyer up Arrowhead ski mountain with the dogs for her first time up this very familiar spot – one which she will undoubtedly go up and down on foot, skis, & swiss bobs hundreds and hundreds of times. She did so very well and seems to always love to be “on the move”. Its comforting for her. And, she didn’t fuss about being hungry until we got back to the car. Its about 2 miles and 1,700′ of vertical gain straight up the ski slope to the top of Arrowhead. This little first adventure for Sawyer allowed Kristine to finish her paper for her master’s class.
Top of Arrowhead (9,100′)
Then, the day before Sawyer turned 1 month old, Mike Santoro and I headed back down to Tiara Rado in Grand Junction for some more crack climbing.
Me leading 100′ Hands again…just so good
Me leading 100′ Hands
Mike on the lower corner system of 100′ Hands
The feet are good on 100′ Hands
After a cruxy roof move, I gave this route called Large Surprises a try…it was interesting
Me in the thick of this offwidth crack…ugh. I had to aid my way up the final 20′ using two #5 cams because I could not figure out how to make upwards progress. I think I will stay clear of offwidth cracks from now on
Mike on the initial roof move of Large Surprises
Mike laying back to the small ledge
Sawyer is definitely getting bigger, able to hold her head up, and growing on Rainier & Kona.
On October 12, 2014 at 6:45pm, our sweet little daughter, Sawyer Elizabeth Chalk, was born on her due date. At 7 lb 8 oz and about 19.5” long, she was a great size. Sawyer speedily came into this world as we arrived at the Vail Valley Medical Center at 5pm and Kristine gave birth an hour and 45 minutes later.
Sawyer Elizabeth Chalk
Apparently, Kristine was having contractions a lot of the day even though we both really had no idea what to look for in a contraction. At 3:30pm, her water broke and the apparent contractions were getting fairly painful soon afterwards. We then headed to the VVMC in a rain storm and our wonderful nurse, Andrea, measured Kristine at 9.5 cm dilated – “almost complete”, they said. Dr. Samuels arrived 20 minutes later, scrubbed up, and after some very painful contractions in which I tried to be her support stand, Kristine started pushing around 6pm to deliver sawyer 45 minutes later. Even if Kristine wanted an epidural, which she did not, it really wouldn’t have even had a chance to take effect as she was too far along and Sawyer would have likely already been born.
Kristine exactly 7 days (to the hour) before Sawyer arrived
It was a pretty evening down at our local Eagle River Preserve
We like this one
Kristine had done it. She did phenomenal and Sawyer was just perfect. I went out and got us cheeseburgers and fries afterwards per Kristine’s request just like we would get after a long day of climbing. However, I think Kristine would say having a baby, especially with no pain relief, was tougher than any climb.
At the VVMC
Baby Girl Chalk
We spent almost 48 hours at the VVMC and were then discharged on a Tuesday afternoon. We went and picked up Rainie & Kona from Sarah & Keith’s house and again were all home together with our new family member. Ken & Dianne came into town late Tuesday night and met their first granddaughter and stayed the night with us. They then left Wednesday on their 5 day road trip to Utah and the Moab area. This gave Kristine & I some good time together to try and get used to life with a baby before the real help from Ken & Dianne came our way. They had a wonderful trip visiting Arches National Park over several days and Colorado national Monument outside of Grand Junction on their way back to Vail. They arrived back at our house just in time for all of us to catch the Broncos whoop the 49ers and to see Peyton break the all-time TD pass record. Kristine, Sawyer, Rainie, Kona, & myself had a nice 5 days together and took walks down to the river and down to Wolcott for some bouldering. Sawyer really seems to enjoy the fresh air. It was definitely an adjustment period for all of us, and will be for some time now, but all for the better. I think Rainie & Kona still think we are essentially “babysitting”.
All five of us back home together
Trying to do my part
Sawyer’s first little outing on Day 3 down by the river
She’s cute, but I’m biased
Me and the little lady
Kristine & Sawyer at the Wolcott Boulders on Day 4
Ken & Dianne were a huge help, especially to Kristine, the following week while I was back at work. It was wonderful having family here. They then left this past Saturday to head down to the Front Range and then back to Maine this week. I feel like that had an excellent trip between their Utah & Colorado high desert road trip, seeing their granddaughter, and giving us so much support & help with everything.
Ken & his granddaughter
Sawyer & myself
Watching the Broncos
Nap time for all three gals
Ken, Dianne, & Sawyer
Now, its just the five of us figuring things out as we go. I’m outnumbered 4 to 1 (females to males), but wouldn’t have it any other way. So, from here on out, we’ll have this blog for all of our climbing adventures as always but also for our adventures with the new lady on the block, Sawyer.
One local trail run I really got to doing fairly often this year is up the 11er Red & White Mountain north of Avon. I just wanted to post a few pics of the route and view from the top. I can’t think how many times we have visited its summit in summer and winter, but its always a gorgeous vista of the Gore Range, Northern Sawatch, Elk Range, Tenmile & Mosquito Ranges, and of course Vail & Beaver Creek ski mountains. I honestly cannot imagine a better view from an 11,000′ peak. Always looking for the buster trail run of lots of uphill and vertical, I thought of running the Red & White Mountain road from Wildridge earlier this Spring. Indeed, it turned out to be tough and by the time I crested the summit, I almost collapsed in exhaustion. But, oh how I do love that feeling. Its a superb run with 2,700′ of elevation gain in about 4.5 miles one way to its summit. There are a few flat sections, but for the most part its at a steady incline with the obvious steeper sections including the final 500′ from treeline up Red & White’s bald spot to the summit, which is barely run-able as its pretty steep. I’ve run this route twice in the last week and just love it. The round trip trail run from my car to summit and back down takes me right at about an hour and a half (if I’m feeling pretty good).
Route up Red & White Mountain as seen from Arrowhead ski mountain. Click to enlarge
View to the Gores from Red & White’s summit on an overcast October 11, 2014 day. Yes, one day before Kristine gave birth to our daughter, Sawyer
View south down to the Vail Valley from Red & White’s summit the same October 11 day. I had my phone on me and could be down fairly fast as I was on call for a birth :)
I also hiked up Arrowhead ski mountain with Rainier & Kona and got some pictures of the fading fall colors this past week. The weather sure has been beautiful out here in Colorado this October.
Rainier looking very “golden” in the fading daylight with Red & White Mountain behind
Heading down Arrowhead
Ripsaw Ridge in the Gores
Left to right poking above the timbered ridgeline: Eagle’s Nest, Mt. Powell, Peaks C, C’, D, E, F, G, & H all in the Gores
Looking east to the Grand Traverse and other Gore peaks from Arrowhead
Jesse and I returned to our new favorite desert crack climbing crag in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction this past Saturday. Its a very nice day trip for me from Edwards while a much longer drive for Jesse from Denver, but its all worth it.
I led the familiar Short Cupped Hands (5.9+) and then Jesse jammed it very well
Jesse higher on Short Cupped Hands
Temperatures were in the mid 70s and the weather was just about perfect. We saw two other fellas heading for Oompah Tower, whom we later saw on the Tower’s summit, but that was it the entire day. This place is a real gem. We went onto attempt the classic line called 100′ Hands, which goes at around a 5.10a/b. It was a very enduring pitch for me to lead, as it was just so long with not many rests at all, but I led it clean and was happy with myself. It definitely ate up the gear – a lot of gear goes into a 100′ hand crack.
Me beginning the lead of 100′ Hands (5.10a/b)
Getting my first piece of pro
Getting out of the corner and onto the face about 20′ up
Karate chop jams
So good and fun
Close-up of me plugging away
A long route
Jesse on 100′ Hands
Jesse in the corner of 100′ Hands
Jesse hand & foot jamming
Jesse nearing the final portion of 100′ hands
I then top-roped 100′ Hands and had a good time swinging around on the way down
We checked out the route called Singles (5.10a) next door to 100′ Hands, but we did not have any #5 cams, so next time. We scoped out a few more future climbs and then concluded with the familiar Dirty Martini (5.10).
Me leading Dirty Martini (5.10)
After climbing Dirty Martini, Jesse had to stem up and summit this tower
Then, I had to do it, of course
On the hike out, the two locals we met on the hike in had topped out on the Oompah Tower. The scenery is spectacular and we really felt like we were understanding our surroundings better on this second trip to the area.
The two climbers on top of Oompah Tower as seen from the Tiara Rado crag
Oompah Tower (far right), Jolly Tower (middle), Terra Tower (far left) as seen from Tiara Rado
Incredible Hand Crack of the Monument (5.10+) center of picture as seen from Tiara Rado
A few more routes of Tiara Rado can be seen here including the awesome looking perfect dihedral called Large Surprises (5.10a) left of center
Bottle Top Tower
Definitely looking forward to many more trips to Tiara Rado with Jesse & friends, Kristine, & our upcoming new little lady.
Rockinghorse Ridge is a smaller section of the main spine of the Gore Range connecting the 12,965′ Peak P and its taller 13,041′ neighbor, West Partner Peak. The difficulties of the ridge are probably no more than a half mile in length, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in quality scrambling in the heart of the Gore Range. It is one of the classic ridges of the Gores and gets its name from a large tower along its ridge crest dubbed The Rocking Horse. A few years ago in July of 2012, our little crew consisting of myself, J, Baba, & Chuck descended towards Upper Piney Lake from the ridge en route to West Partner Peak from Peak P’s summit before the real complexities of Rockinghorse Ridge. This descent was due to several reasons: 1) because it was later in the day and boomers were starting to build, 2) we had no tent, there was a fire ban, and we had bivied in the Upper Piney Basin the night before in the worst mosquitos documented since the Great Gore Mosquito Influx of 1808 (this event is not real – the mosquitos were just pretty horrendous), 3) because we did not have mosquito repellent, and 4) because we did not want to stay out another night with no tent nor mosquito repellent and a fire ban in absolutely terrifying mosquito country. We had climbed Peak H that day, traversed The Saw to Peak J, onto Peak P, and we were en route to West Partner Peak when the decision was made to descend. Needless to say, The Rocking Horse has been always in the back of my mind ever since.
Rockinghorse Ridge connecting Peak P (left) to West Partner Peak (right) as seen from the summit of the Spider (12,692′) in mid-October of 2011 on a climb of the Fly & the Spider from Booth Lake
View northwest of Rockinghorse Ridge and all of our favorite peaks from the summit of East Partner Peak (13,057′) in July of 2012 before one of my Partner Traverse trips
Fast forward to last weekend and I thought Rockinghorse Ridge may make for a nice fall day trip from the Booth trailhead in East Vail. A few usual partners in crime joined me for the ridge including seasoned Gore enthusiast Brian Miller & recent Gore convert Dillon Sarnelli. Friends Jason & Becky Blyth with their golden retriever Taj joined us for the hike in and branched off to climb West Partner Peak via its manageable west ridge from just south of East Booth Pass. It was just perfect fall weather. The Aspen colors were really about in their prime and the Booth trail is always a nice hike. We got hiking around 6:30am or so and leisurely took our time chatting and catching up with one another. The plan was fairly simple: head up to East Booth Pass, descend/traverse over to a point below the Rockinghorse Ridge saddle, climb up to the ridge, summit Peak P, traverse Rockinghorse Ridge to West Partner Peak’s summit, and then continue south along the ridge over to Outpost Peak’s summit. Outpost was a requirement for Mr. Miller (and me too) as this low 12er is one of the few Gore peaks we have yet to top out on. Unfortunately, with the late day storms rolling in and thunder very close by, we chose to descend before tagging its summit. Nevertheless, Outpost’s northeast bowl will be a great spring ski for which we have already started game planning.
Our Rockinghorse Ridge loop from the Booth drainage. Red is the approach up and over East Booth Pass and traverse to Rockinghorse Ridge. Green is the quick trip up to Peak P. Yellow is Rockinghorse Ridge and West Partner Peak’s south ridge.
Mt. of the Holy Cross from the Booth trail
All the Blyths & myself en route to East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon
Brian and the beautiful secluded lake just south of East Booth Pass
Becky, Jason, & Taj broke off for West Partner’s west ridge a few hundred feet below East Booth Pass and we said our goodbyes. I always love looking down onto the rarely visited Upper Piney Lake basin. The view down from East Booth Pass surely didn’t disappoint.
Upper Piney Lake from East Booth Pass. The Saw is the skyline on the right connecting Peak H (center) to Peak J (out of picture on the right)
Brian mentioned he and Mike Rodenack had traversed from East Booth Pass across the west facing slopes below Rockinghorse Ridge years ago without dropping all the way to Upper Piney Lake and it had worked out well albeit they were on snow.
Brian explaining the traverse over to a point below the saddle low point of Rockinghorse Ridge from East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon
The route looked very doable and we made our way northeast across slabs with some class 3/4 scrambling thrown in for good measure.
Brian on the traverse from East Booth Pass
Brian on a fun slab portion of the traverse. East Booth Pass can be seen on the far right
Brian on a nifty little dihedral
Dillon took a higher road than Brian & myself for some reason and ended up topping out on Rockinghorse Ridge to the south of the deep notch marking the low point of the ridge. Brian & I made it over to the steep grass gully we were aiming for and climbed straight up to the ridge. We heard Dillon calling to us and waiving a map. He was stuck. Nowhere to downclimb to join us on the north side of the deep notch. I felt bad as he wanted to climb Peak P, but honestly downclimbing into the notch was low 5th class terrain and he was better off just staying put and relaxing a bit until Brian & I came over to him. At this point, we saw Jason Blyth on the summit of West Partner Peak and I think he saw us. Brian decided to cook up some pasta with pesto on the ridge proper (talk about brunch with a view) and I decided to just boogie up to Peak P. I love the views from Peak P. I feel like I’m really in the center of the Gore Range.
Upper Slate Lake basin as seen from the summit of Peak P including the four tiers of lakes, Peak Q on the right, and Peal L in the distance on the left
Looking north to Peak J and the northern Gores
Rockinghorse Ridge to West Partner Peak as seen from the summit of Peak P
A few minutes on top and a few pics later, I scampered back down to Brian and he offered me some of his feast. Yum.
Dillon shot this zoomed-in pic of me coming down from Peak P
Brian’s kitchen on Rockinghorse Ridge with Peak Q looming in the distance. Photo by Brian
We then packed up and made our way south to the first deep notch inn the ridge. Fun scrambling down and out of the notch ensued and soon we were heading onto the second deeper notch which had stopped Dillon in his tracks.
The first notch. We reclimbed right up the center (maybe class 4)
Brian downclimbing to the first notch
Brian climbing out of the first notch
Brian & I were both looking to take the reclimb out of the second notch head-on to meet up with Dillon. I attempted the lower portion directly, but really came to an impass which required me to surmount a small roof with some big exposure in trail running shoes. No thanks. I circled around to the east side of the ridge to find a nice class 4 dihedral which accessed the low 5th class upper portion of the ridge proper. Brian found another low 5th class route about 20′ to the west of the ridge proper.
Me attempting the lower portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch before backing off and going around to the left. Photo by Brian
Me climbing the upper portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch. Photo by Dillon
Brian topping out on his line out of the second notch
Looking down Brian’s route
We both topped out and met up with ole Dillon. Was good to meet back up with him. We continued south on Rockinghorse Ridge to The Rocking Horse tower. Some fun scrambling led up to the fairly mellow class 3 north ridge of The Rocking Horse.
Brian & Rockinghorse Ridge leading up to Peak P behind him
Brian & Dillon scrambling to the north ridge of The Rocking Horse
Me on a cool little catwalk leading up to The Rocking Horse. Photo by Brian
Brian climbing The Rocking Horse with Upper Piney Lake down below
Dillon shot this pic of me scrambling up the north ridge of The Rocking Horse
Where the ridge really got exciting was after (south) of The Rocking Horse starting with the downclimb off The Rocking Horse’s south ridge.
Coming down off The Rocking Horse
Dillon starting the catwalk
Me on the catwalk. Photo by Dillon
Little did we know that Mad (Dad) Mike was coming down off Peak H at this same time (noonish maybe) and saw us on the catwalk after The Rocking Horse and shot a very zoomed-in picture of Dillon & myself. Thanks, Mike! Mike had traversed Ripsaw Ridge from Peak C to Peak H this same morning.
Mike’s zoomed in shot of Dillon & myself from the slopes of Peak H. The Rocking Horse is to our left
We downclimbed off the catwalk and then a few more towers presented themselves. While one could likely skirt most of these complexities with 3rd class scrambling a hundred or more vertical feet lower on the ridge’s west side, we stayed fairly ridge proper and encountered plenty of class 4/low class 5 scrambling.
The downclimb after the catwalk and a few more towers to go up and over
The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the catwalk
We even found one nice looking crack up one of the towers that I was determined to climb. It looked oh so good. This crux could definitely be skirted to the ridge’s west side via class 3 ledges and join up with this more direct route on top of the tower.
Me heading up the good looking crack. Photo by Brian
Me at the top of the crack. Photo by Brian
It was a tough move with some air below, but as long as you could get a toe in the crack as a foothold and a right hand/arm jam in the crack it was manageable (if 5.4-5.5 is manageable in trail shoes).
Dillon crack sequence pic #1
Dillon crack sequence pic #2
Dillon crack sequence pic #3
The scrambling to the top of this tower didn’t end there as there was an exposed traverse, a small knife-edge, and still some 4th class moves to be had.
Dillon on an exposed traverse above the crux crack
Dillon almost topping out on the tower
The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the top of this tower
It was then a mellower downclimb off to our next set of towers, which mostly could be skirted ever so slightly to the ridge’s east side. Though, one could climb these towers as we did on a few occasions (ya know, for the views).
More awesome towers everywhere you look on Rockinghorse Ridge. Photo by Dillon
The terrain then eased off into more “hikeable” slopes and we made good time up the remaining north ridge of West Partner Peak to its lofty Gore summit.
Dillon & Brian making their way up West Partner’s north ridge with the difficulties of Rockinghorse Ridge behind them
West Partner Peak was a new summit for Mr. Sarnelli. It was familiar ground for Brian & myself, but always good to be back here especially having climbed a different route up this peak other than the class 3 south ridge or 2+ west ridge.
Me on West Partner Peak’s summit. Photo by Brian
West Partner Peak summit (13,041′) with Peak Q behind to our right. Photo by Dillon
Rockinghorse Ridge to Peak P from the summit of West Partner Peak
Outpost Peak from the summit of West Partner Peak, our next destination
I think it was maybe 1:30pm or so and thunderheads were definitely already starting to build to the west and north. We then descended the class 3 south ridge of West Partner Peak en route to Outpost Peak. This south ridge is a nice scramble in itself and is featured in David Cooper’s book Colorado Scrambles.
West Partner Peak’s south ridge
I kept looking west at the building storms and then when we had reached maybe the halfway point along the ridge to Outpost, the thunder let loose and it was close. We decided to retreat back down to the Booth drainage via a steep grass gully and save Outpost for another day (hopefully, this spring as a ski-mountaineering outing). I believe the grass gully we used as a descent route is the ascent gully Cooper describes to access West Partner Peak’s south ridge in Colorado Scrambles.
Descent gully into the Booth drainage from the West Partner Peak-Outpost Peak ridge
The views down valley into Vail and of Vail ski mountain with Holy Cross behind were phenomenal.
Fall colors down the Booth drainage and into the Vail Valley
Booth Lake as seen from our descent gully
We soon joined up with the Booth trail and hiked the 4+ miles back out. As we descended into treeline, it sure was hard not to stop and take pictures of the gorgeous fall foilage. Brian & Dillon did a wonderful job at capturing the views.
Aspens. Photo by Dillon
Me on the hike out. Photo by Brian
Booth drainage hillside. Photo by Brian
We met up with Kristine for high-end mexican food at Maya in the Westin and topped off a great day in the Gores with margaritas, IPAs, numerous tacos, and brisket nachos. Solid day, fellas! I’d rather be in the Gores than just about anywhere. I think the same could be said for Brian. Dillon? Well, he’s getting there.
Its so nice to have some high quality desert crack climbing within a 2 hour drive of Edwards. Yes, the mecca of desert crack climbing is still an additional 3 hours drive in Indian Creek, Utah, but Grand Junction’s Colorado National Monument area does just fine for our needs. Jesse Hill and myself had been eyeing this obscure cragging spot called Tiara Rado for some time now and we made it happen this past Saturday. J and I drove down for the day and met Mikey and Jesse for some desert fun in the sun. Yes, it was hot. Temperatures up on the rock approached maybe 95 degrees and my feet were burning under the black climbing rubber. Fortunately, we had some good shade and realized the “Rado” may be more of an afternoon spot due to less direct sun as it faces more southeast.
Me leading the easiest route at Tiara Rado – an awesome cupped hands route called Short Cupped Hands (5.9+)
Short Cupped Hands may be only 50-60′ in height, but it surely doesn’t disappoint. Just awesome cupped hand jamming
To keep some anonymity regarding this crag, I’m not going to disclose specific directions, but it took us a good 2 hour hike to actually find the crag, but now we know the “more efficient” route of getting to the crag.
J on Short Cupped Hands
Mikey on Short Cupped Hands (5.9+)
Even on a Saturday in September there were zero other folks at the crag. Hopefully, this is a common occurrence. All we could hear was the loud speaker from the Tiara Rado golf course down below. I then led a fairly grueling 100′ 5.10 route next door to Short Cupped Hands called Dirty Martini. My feet were burning on this one as I was in the sun the entire climb. I could have used another #1 cam as I had to lower 15′ en route to pick up one and place it higher. So, not a clean send, but good beta for next time.
Jesse nearing the top of Dirty Martini (5.10)
J laying back the crux section of Dirty Martini
Jesse & J had fun stemming between the main face and a tower next to Short Cupped Hands as well.
Jesse climbing Short Cupped Hands as seen from Dirty Martini
Jesse on stem
J figuring out Short Cupped Hands
J jamming up Short Cupped Hands
J doing the stem
By 3pm, we had pretty much gone through all of our water and Gatorade and it was still really hot. We had climbed these two routes a few times each and then called it a day as we still wanted to find a more efficient approach route. I checked out the route called 100′ Hands (5.10a/b) and contemplated leading it, but honestly I was so thirsty and we pretty much had nothing left to drink. Save it for next time. Honestly, we cannot wait to go back to Tiara Rado and climb more awesome cracks hopefully sooner than later.
The next day was a bit dreary with overcast skies and rain, but Kristine, the dogs, and I did one of our favorite little local hikes/runs – the A10 Loop from Edwards to Arrowhead. The A10 Loop is maybe 6-7 miles in length and it was a great 3 hour outing. Even at 37 weeks pregnant, Kristine still does superb and can crank on the uphill. The downhill is a bit uncomfortable, so maybe next time we will pick a hike with more up than down. Isn’t that how we always like it, anyway?
All the Chalks on the highpoint of the A10 Loop (9,400′) looking back into the East Lake Creek Valley
With our little gal due in just about a month (October 12), I’m staying fairly local not to be gone all weekend (meaning day trips). And, what all that equates to are more adventures in our own Gore Range. Kristine has been absolutely wonderful in wanting me to get out and climb. Just because she cannot climb and scramble right now, she doesn’t want me not too as well. She’s quite amazing. We keep telling each other its good recon for me so we can do these trips together at a later date. Definitely. Its been a stellar spring, summer, and early fall of ski-mountaineering, hiking, and rock climbing trips, and this past weekend’s venture on the classic Eagle’s Nest – Mt. Powell traverse in the Gores was a phenomenal day out on terrific terrain with great buds. This was one of the few traverses J and I had not yet attempted in our Gore escapades and has been on the list for years now. Despite us both having summitted the Gore Range’s highest peak, Mt. Powell, a few times via its standard route from Piney Lake, we had never climbed the Gore Range’s second highest peak, Eagle’s Nest, and certainly never linked the two monarchs. This traverse, dubbed the Gore Range Traverse, is listed in David Cooper’s book Colorado Scrambles and is probably the longest traverse with most vertical gain described in his book.The cruxy ridge between the two peaks looked challenging yet at the same time very fun and we were excited. In Colorado Scrambles, Cooper describes the route as starting at the 8,600′ Surprise Lake Trailhead in Summit County near the Green Mountain Resevoir and ending at Piney Lake on the west side of the Gores north of Vail. A few good friends and fellow climbers have urged us to make a loop out of the two peaks all from Piney Lake in order to avoid a lengthy car shuttle, but this option doesn’t allow for a good adventure along the very lengthy east ridge of Eagle’s Nest. Personally, one of the reasons for doing the full traverse is to explore the east side of Eagle’s Nest as I had never done before. In the end, it was worth the car shuttle. It was to be a big day at about 16 miles and 7,100′ of vertical gain, but the weather looked pretty decent and we had a strong crew of four including our friends Rick Thompson and Marc Barella. It was super fun to have Rick and Marc join J and myself in doing what we absolutely love to do – scramble in the Gores.
The Gore Range Traverse from Eagle’s Nest to Mt. Powell shown in red
J and I drove over to the Surprise Lake Trailhead later Saturday evening arriving at 10:30pm while Rick & Marc came from Denver and arrived at about midnight. We cowboy camped at the trailhead and we woke up to frost covered sleeping bags in the fairly chilly pre-dawn air at 4:30am. After some coffee and oatmeal, we set off across the footbridge at 5:20am illuminating the trail with out headlamps and we were shedding layers shortly afterwards. At 2.6 miles or so, the route takes a right onto the Gore Range Trail, and after 3 or so miles, the route takes a left on another trail leading to Upper Cataract Lake. At about 4 miles and 7:00am, the sun had risen above the horizon and we no longer needed our artificial light. We took a short break and then headed left into the woods bushwhacking our way to treeline and up the steeper north facing slopes consisting of beautiful tundra hiking and some boulder hopping. The breeze picked up as we crested treeline and felt fairly sustained once we reached the enormous 12,400′ plateau at the beginning of Eagle Nest’s east ridge.
The boys heading up above treeline with Lower Cataract Lake behind (essentially where we began a few hours prior)
The north face of Eagle’s Nest as seen from the northern slopes leading to its east ridge
J & Marc cresting the enormous 12,400′ plateau
The east ridge of Eagle’s Nest from the 12,400′ plateau leading to its summit (far right) with Mt. Powell’s summit just peaking over left of center
Once we reached the beginning of Eagle’s Nest’s ever-narrowing east ridge, Mt. Powell’s north face came into view with the wind dying down a bit blocked by the east ridge itself. We made our way up the now much more defined east ridge gaining altitude fast up to Point 13,091′.
Mt. Powell’s north face. Some fresh snow on its summit plateau!
Upper Cataract Lake from the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest
The traverse from Eagle’s Nest (far right) to Mt. Powell (far left) as seen from the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest.
However, what vertical we had gained in the last half hour, we then lost after Point 13,091′ and then proceeded to go up and over several minor bumps along the east ridge. Thus, the nature of Eagle’s Nest east ridge. But, the views were incredible and it was fun to be up high with a great crew.
Descending off of Point 13,091′ in the morning sun
Got to enjoy the awesome tundra while it lasts!
Mt. Powell’s north face and the extremely secluded and rarely-visited Cliff Lake below
Rick & J on the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest. Point 13,091′ is the far summit along the ridge
We then came to the crux downclimb off of another 13,000′ point, which can be descended on class 3/4 terrain on the ridge’s left (south) side though we stayed a little closer to the ridge crest and spiced it up with just a few low class 5 moves.
Downclimbing the crux of the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest
Rick can be seen right of center while J is dead center above him checking out the view. Marc is hidden from view between the two of them
Moon over Eagle’s Nest
After descending maybe 200′ down the crux, we ascended the same vertical on the other side of the small col and continued upwards. We hopped on a small knife-edge, which is definitely not necessary, though it afforded nice views down the north face and good photos.
The boys on the knife-edge with our route down the crux point along the east ridge shown in red. Notice the cool looking peep hole as well
Gaining lost vertical again
Rick & Marc and the east ridge extending out to the east behind them
An interesting little traverse we found to overcome another point along the east ridge
Rick making the moves
We continued to scramble up and over a few more sub-summits before arriving on the summit of Eagle’s Nest around 10:30am.
The boys approaching the summit of Eagle’s Nest
Marc taking in the views
Rick & Marc with Mt. Powell behind
Eagle’s Nest summit (13,420′)
After some snacks, gatorade, and photos, we were off again down the much mellower south ridge of Eagle’s Nest to the low point of the ridge with neighboring Mt. Powell. It was a beautiful Fall day yet the west wind was fairly stiff the entire time on the ridge, which made things just a bit more difficult and taxing.
Descending the mellow south ridge of Eagle’s Nest
Looking ahead at the connecting ridge to Mt. Powell
Starting at the low point of the connecting ridge, the challenges of the ridge presented themselves right away. The first in a series of impressive gendarmes reared itself up in earnest and a fun 4th class crack provided passage just right (west) of the ridge proper. Once could stay maybe 100-200′ down below the gendarmes on the ridge’s west side the entire way and keep the difficulty at maybe class 3. But, where is the fun in that? We came for some scrambling and hopefully we would get it.
A little exposed move on the ridge’s left (east) side to kick things off
The 4th class dihedral on the right(west) side of the ridge proper to surmount the first gendarme
After the top of the first proper gendarme, the downclimb was a 25′ overhanging drop, so we backtracked just a bit and downclimbed around and back up to the ridge proper via a nice low 5th class crack.
J on the low 5th class crack
Rick coming around a small tower with Eagle’s Nest behind
One of the numerous downclimbs, none of which were really all that exposed
We tried to traverse the gendarmes as close to the ridge proper as was feasible (without getting into mid-upper 5th class climbing) and were able to find some pretty cool lines that went at maybe 5.3 or low 5th class. The downclimbs seemed to always be 4th class, which definitely made things a little faster. On one gendarme, J and I climbed a line that maybe went at mid-5th class, but it was such an elegant stemming chimney that it was hard to resist.
J stemming his way up the chimney
Looking down the mid-5th class chimney
Another non-exposed downclimb
Making progress over to Mt. Powell
It was really a “choose your own adventure” ridge traverse. The ups and downs continued as did the stiff west wind. We then came to the 5.3 crux upclimb section that our bud Ryan Marsters describes on MountainProject. This was a nice pitch on solid rock. From a layback to a mantle, it was great fun.
Rick on the layback of the 5.3 crux upclimb
Rick pulls himself over the top of the 5.3 crux pitch
Then, another easy downclimb to the next gendarme
It was after noon by now and the clouds were building to the west accompanying the stiff west wind. However, storms were not threatening. It was just chilly. Layers went back on. A nice little 4th class crack system on the next gendarme was great fun and then easier scrambling ensued.
Marc & J approaching the next gendarme
J climbing the crack
Close-up of J
Rick in the same spot as J in the picture above
J approaching the end of the series of gendarmes
The boys scrambling
I took a little video of Rick & J nearing the end of the nice scrambling:
We took a much needed break at this point and refueled with some snacks and gatorade.
Me taking in the views of Eagle’s Nest and the ridge traverse. Photo by Rick
We then reached the end of the crux ridge traverse difficulties and it was more steep talus hiking for a little while. We meandered our way on the ridge’s right (west) side through some class 4 difficulties without losing any elevation and soon enough crested the ridge proper one more time.
J and Marc
J and the remaining portions of Powell’s north ridge
J and Marc leading the charge
Rick downclimbing a bit on the ridge proper
Rick almost done with the traverse
A few more hundred vertical feet of class 3 scrambling on the ridge proper landed us on the large plateau leading up to Powell’s summit block. We saw another climber on the summit ridge waiting for his partner and we all soon caught up with those guys and ascended the familiar Powell summit block consisting of about 100′ of blocky scrambling.
Marc on some fresh snow approaching Powell’s summit block with the traverse laid out behind him
I think it was maybe around 1:30pm when we topped out on Mt. Powell and we could definitely see darker clouds and snow showers to our north. We got down out of the wind and ate our sandwiches. It was great to be on the summit of Mt. Powell again and be off the traverse especially with weather moving in. The views are absolutely amazing to the south with the entire Gore Range spread out beneath us. So many familiar peaks were visible and so many more since the last time J and I had climbed Mt. Powell (June 2008).
J reaching Powell’s summit
Marc & Rick on the summit of Mt. Powell
Mt. Powell summit (13,580′)
Eagle’s Nest from Mt. Powell
After 25 minutes on the summit, we boogied down Powell’s standard south slopes route for about 2,000′ and reascended 200′ or so to Kneeknocker Pass. It snowed on us on the descent and the views of Peak C’s north face in the snow were pretty cool.
The always inspiring Peak C
Peak C’s snowy north face from below the east side of Kneeknocker Pass
Peak C’s north face is a route I hope to climb at some point. I believe the face already has one established line at 5.7, but has the potential for more lines which would likely go at mid-5th class and up. Kneeknocker Pass definitely lived up to its name as our knees were “knockin'” on the descent down its east side. We took a nice break in what I like to call “Kneeknocker Meadows” and ate some food, re-filled with water from the stream, and chatted away with one other. It was a fine day. We finally had 4 miles or so of nice trail out to J’s volvo at Piney Lake, which our friend and J’s employee Kristin had so nicely left for us the day before. Thanks, Kristin!
J descending Kneeknocker Pass with Piney Lake, our final destination, beyond
We finally arrived at the volvo around 5:10pm for a total time of just shy of 12 hours since we departed that morning from the Surprise Lake Trailhead on the east side of the Gores. Our legs were definitely feeling it a bit. My quads, especially. All in all, a good tired and we were all so happy the day worked out so well. After another few hours of car shuttling, picking up cars back at the Surprise Lake Trailhead, eating Chipotle in Silverthorne with the boys, I finally arrived at home around 10pm.
Thanks to J, Rick, & Marc for a super memorable day in my favorite range. It was awesome to finally complete the Eagle’s Nest to Powell traverse and have a blast on it to boot thanks to the wonderful camaraderie and positive attitude. Cheers, fellas!
Well, I guess it was a fitting morning in terms of the name of this high 12er in the Gores. It certainly hailed on Reid & myself on Hail Peak. However, hail was not what was forecasted, which was a bit of a bummer.
The night before, Kristine & I had a great car camp dinner up at one of our favorite camping spots on Red & White Mountain. Hot dogs, burgers, and corn were our dinner items cooked over an open flame campfire. It was delicious. Then, Kristine, made us some awesome s’mores for dessert. She really needs to enter a s’mores-off contest.
Me and our dinner roasting over the campfire
A tasty dinner
Now, that’s a s’more!
A gorgeous sunset topping off a great evening
One of the many great things about this campsite is we just packed up when we couldn’t see anymore and drove down the 4WD road to Wildridge and back to Edwards and were home 20 minutes later around 9 pm.
I had yet to summit this reclusive Gore peak called Hail Peak, so the next morning my buddy Reid Jennings from Denver met me around 8:30 am last Sunday morning to go out for a nice trail run up Gore Creek. The first 4.5 miles to the Recen brothers grave site is a superb trail run. Fairly mellow and flat, it only gains around 1,500′ in 4.5 miles. Reid’s knee was acting up, so we hiked it from the grave site north up the steeper trail towards Gore Lake. Our first wave of wind and hail came on this steeper trail and it was only 10am. Interesting when the forecast was for mostly sunny and 20% chance of storms. After turning north off the Gore Lake trail on an extremely faint climber’s trail and enjoying some bushwhacking through moist meadows, we reached the high basin containing Snow Lake and chose our steep ascent gully full of talus. We actually got on some nice class 3 rock to the gully’s west side to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face.
The ascent gully/slabs to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face
It actually cleared up and got sunny for the remaining class 3ish boulder field scramble up the final 600′ to Hail’s 12,904′ summit, which was pleasant and pretty fun.
Reid on Hail’s summit ridge with Mt. Silverthorne behind
The views were great from the summit after topping out around 11:15 am (2 hours & 45 minutes after we started).
Snow Peak & Snow Lake below from Hail’s summit
Grand Traverse Peak basking in what sun there was
The weather over the northern Gores looked really nasty …Asgard Ridge and its towers (in the darker shadows) can be seen leading up to Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla (far left) in the foreground
Reid & myself on the summit of Hail Peak (12,904′). It was nice to go super light for this peak (as in a bottle of water, a few snacks, and a rain jacket)
Weather was definitely moving in from the west and so we boogied after only maybe 10 minutes on top. We got hailed on descending Hail’s boulder-strewn southeast face and by the time we reached the creek draining from Snow Lake it was a full on hail storm. I had wanted to continue a trail run up past Snow Lake, over Snow Pass, down to Deluge Lake, and back to the Gore Creek trailhead to make a nice loop out of it, but the weather dictated our descent path. We beelined for treeline and descended the way we came in. Reid’s knee was still acting up so we just hiked fast the entire way back to the trailhead. All in all, a memorable 13 mile run/hike up Hail Peak with about 4,500′ of vertical gain. It took us about 5 1/2 hours roundtrip, so back in time to watch some football and the Broncos. I’ll have to go back to trail run that loop with Kristine at some point.
Despite a not so ideal weather forecast and some initial hesitation on crowds on the routes, we had a great Labor Day weekend up in the “middle of nowhere” Wyoming on this absolutely insane rock formation called Devil’s Tower. This was a long overdue trip that we had been wanting to put together for a year or more. Devil’s Tower certainly did not disappoint. Its an amazing rock formation with the highest concentration of quality crack climbs anywhere in the country. I believe there is something like 220 different routes on the Tower. At first I thought the rock had the look and feel of granite, but its actually molten rock or magma formed 50 million years ago via a subterranean volcano. Over the millions of years the sedimentary rock eroded away exposing this awesome formation that rises almost 1,000′ above the surrounding meadows and rolling hills of northeast Wyoming.
Devil’s Tower surrounded by low clouds. Photo by Derek
J and I made the 7-8 hour drive from Vail Friday evening rolling into the KOA campground around 1:30am to find our good buds Jesse, Andy, & Derek beginning to set up their cowboy camp by their car as they had just arrived about 30 minutes earlier from Denver. Nico & Celeste and their two small kids Blake & Clara had rented a tiny one room cabin and we all basically camped in their yard out front. It worked out nice. Since Saturday was the good day of weather, we decided to climb the classic Durrance Route to the top as this was our main priority for the weekend. Despite being one of the two easiest routes to the top on the Tower, the Durrance Route is listed in the text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America by Steck & Roper. The Durrance Route was first climbed by Jack Durrance & Harrison Butterworth in September 1938 and was the second free ascent of the Tower following the first ascent by Fritz Weissner in 1937 up the Weissner Route. Durrance has 6 main pitches though we did a 125′ “direct start” to this route by default. That is, we missed the primary approach route to the base of the “Leaning Column” Pitch 1 in the pre-dawn light and found our way up to the base of the Tower’s southeast corner always having the “leaning column” in our sights. Nevertheless, this gave us an extra pitch of technical climbing so we were all glad we missed the approach route to start. We all really thought we would be fighting the crowds on the most popular Durrance Route, but we were the first ones on the route that Saturday morning and we only saw one other team of two behind our three teams of two the entire day.
Devils’s Tower’s Durrance Route is pitched out on the left side of the picture. Two other climbs we did, Soler & El Cracko Diablo, are shown on the Tower’s east side. Click picture to enlarge
After a 4:30am wake-up call, some breakfast, and coffee, we were at the base of the direct start by 6:30am. Derek and I teamed up as did J/Nico and Jesse/Andy. Derek has not done a lot of lead climbing, especially trad, so I was happy to lead every pitch. However, one note about Devil’s Tower rock climbing ratings. They are stiff! A 5.7 anywhere else, in our experience, would be at least a 5.8 here at Devil’s Tower no doubt. They are old school ratings and I heard the term “cowboy” ratings several times this weekend by several climbers. J & I believed we would be getting on several 5.10 trad climbs at the Tower, but there was no way, especially when we were not familiar with the rock, routes, or ratings. Maybe another trip up there. Though, who knows. 5.10s at the Tower are serious undertakings and are easily 5.11s or higher anywhere else. Durrance is rated as a 5.7 climb with a few easier 5.4-5.6 pitches, but we all thought the hardest pitch, the Durrance Crack, was easily 5.8 based on our collective experience. Plus, the rock was smooth and slick attesting to the fact that this route gets a lot of traffic.
Base of the “direct start” up Durrance
Team J & Nico set to go
Derek & myself
Our “Direct Start” Pitch 0 went smoothly and I belayed Derek up from a tree at the base of the “leaning column”. The “Leaning Column” Pitch 1 was fun yet fairly smooth & slick and protected by a few pitons. I think I placed one cam on Pitch 1.
Derek at the base of the “leaning column”
Devil’s Tower’s morning shadow on the landscape
Derek belaying me up Pitch 1
Derek climbing the “leaning column”
Derek working the column with J and Nico below
It sure was fun looking down on our entire crew as we ascended this awesome tower. The Durrance Crack was next and it looked challenging. However, once I got in the double crack system and got a few pieces in, it went fairly smoothly. However, it definitely felt a lot tougher than 5.7. I kept thinking to myself – “cowboy” ratings
The 70′ crux Durrance Crack from the nice bolted belay atop the “leaning column”
Looking down on the Durrance Crack and the boys from the belay
J & Derek at the belay atop the Durrance Crack
Derek cleaned the pitch well and we combined the next two pitches, The Cussin’ Crack & The Flake Crack (Pitches 3 & 4), into one pitch. The 30′ Cussin’ Crack had a legit move or two to begin with protected by a nut in a flake to a ledge and then has an 8′ off-width chimney in which there was no protection up to the belay. However, there was an easier crack around to the right, which made more sense and I passed the word along down below. The 40′ Flake Crack above was pure fun, nice folds, and smooth movements.
Derek rocking the Flake Crack
We were at the base of the Chockstone Crack (Pitch 5) and again this was solid climbing with protection to be had deep in the crack.
Me set for the Chockstone Crack. Photo by Derek
Me enjoying the lead of the Chockstone Crack. Photo by Derek
The crux was mantling the chockstone at the top of the crack, which was pretty fun. The views and pictures down the route from the top of the Chockstone Crack were amazing.
Looking down on Derek shooting J sending the Flake Crack
J at the belay ledge atop the Flake Crack
J & Nico
Nico belaying J leading the Chockstone Crack
We had two choices for the remaining climb to the summit. Either do a “jump” traverse looker’s right to the “Meadows”, a larger angled ledge on the Tower’s east side from which a exposed 4th class route leads to the summit or an additional direct pitch of technical climbing called Bailey’s Direct to the summit. We chose the technical pitch and soon I was off on this lengthy 150′ 5.7 pitch directly to the summit.
Looking down on Derek & J while leading the final Bailey’s Direct Pitch 6. The “Meadows” is the grassy ledge system on the left side of the picture
I am so glad we did this direct finish to the Tower’s summit. In my opinion, it is much more aesthetic and fun than a “jump” traverse and scramble. I finally topped out at a nice belay ledge and two bolt anchor and belayed Derek up to me. J was on Derek’s heels leading the final pitch and soon enough he and Nico were up with us as well.
Nico finishing off Bailey’s Direct
Ready to roll to the summit
We hung around for a bit, went to the summit itself, and came back down to the top of Bailey’s Direct hoping to scope out Jesse & Andy coming up the last pitch. They soon appeared and I got some video footage of Jesse leading the final section up to the belay ledge:
It was great seeing these fellas top out on Durrance.
Jesse belyaing Andy up Bailey’s Direct while Derek is relaxing taking photos
Andy finishing off Pitch 6. The other team of two was close on Andy’s heels behind him
We were all soonon the summit of Devil’s Tower around 10am this awesome Saturday morning. Sadly, we did not see any evidence of alien activity as in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What was funny is that our KOA campground played this movie every night at 8:30pm. Pretty funny.
Derek & I on the summit of Devil’s Tower (5,112′)
Jesse strutting his stuff on the Tower’s summit
Me on the summit of the Tower
Our crew on the summit of Devil’s Tower, WY (5,112′)
Such a picturesque summit. Just a relaxing grass meadow which happens to be close to 1,000′ off the deck
The KOA campground from the summit. Photo by Derek
J and the hefty summit register
Since Derek & I had topped out, we spent close to 2 hours on the summit, which was just awesome. And, our crew had the summit all to ourselves – pretty special. The team of two who were moving extremely fast up Durrance behind us soon topped out. The leader had no helmet and he seemed to have maybe 3 pieces of gear on him. His wife was extremely nice and offered to take our pics. They didn’t have a second rope for the descent rappels so we gladly offered them an extra one of ours since we had three. His wife then told us her husband was John Bouchard and to “google” him. We looked him up later and found out he is a pretty legendary rock climber and alpinist in his own right and is the founder of Wild Things mountain gear and equipment. They currently live in Portland, OR and are on a roadtrip across the country with their children, who apparently don’t climb. John and his wife had not climbed Devil’s Tower in 20 years or so and they seemed happy to be back on it. It was great to meet them up high on the Tower. No wonder John had no helmet and probably placed three cams the entire 600′ of the Durrance Route.
We made a double-rope rappel off the summit plateau to the Meadows and then traversed right to the beginning of the Bowling Alley rappels down to the base of Durrance.
Jesse rapping off the top
The first of three double rope raps led us to a small ledge at the top of one of the thousands of hexagonal towers that comprise the Tower. I landed first, but then soon realized 6 climbers is going to be extremely tight on this ledge. It will no doubt get comfy. Nico came next, then Andy, Derek, and followed by a simul-rap of Jesse and J.
Andy on the first double-rope rap
It was tight yet fairly entertaining. The tourists down below who by now had gathered along the Tower Trail to watch the climbers must have thought it a strange situation.
Party of six (my helmet is lower left) on the rap ledge. Photo by Derek
Nico & I on the rap ledge. Photo by Derek
We then pulled the ropes and Jesse and I flaked out the two ropes, fed one through the bolts and re-tied our figure eight follow-through. Nico & I simul-rapped down and then the other four rapped down behind us to the last rap ledge and two bolt anchor.
Looking up the Tower from the base of Durrance once we finished the rappels
Soon enough we were all safe and sound on level ground at the base of the “direct start” to Durrance where we had started approximately eight hours earlier (4 hours of climbing, 2 hours on the summit, and 2 hours to rappel). It was a great day and I think we all felt fortunate Durrance had worked out for us. We met up with Celeste and the kids back at camp and actually hit the swimming pool to cool off and refresh ourselves. Andy cooked up awesome fajitas for dinner and we actually turned in fairly early due to the short night of sleep the night before.
Back at the KOA
J had brought his mega-tent and we all slept in there except for Jesse who thought he was too good for us and slept in his car. Nico’s clan was in their cabin. Sleeping in Sunday morning felt great and we got up and decided to check out a few other climbs on the east side, which has the same approach as Durrance, so it was not entirely foreign to us and we new essentially where to go. The route El Cracko Diablo (5.8) was highly recommended to us the day before from two very nice local climbers and so we headed in that direction. The other recommended route was Soler (5.9), but there were groups on that route and others lined up for it. The weather forecast was really the deterring factor for the day, but we felt lucky El Crack Diablo was open. J and I were off running on it and J led the first 100′ 5.7 pitch up to a two bolt anchor.
J leading Pitch 1 of El Cracko Diablo
J in the crack on El Cracko
The easiest route on the Tower is called Tad and is located just left of El Craacko Diablo, but climbers have to build their own belay after Pitch 1. So, Jesse, Andy, & Derek decided to follow J and I up El Cracko as a 3-man team. I then followed J with a second rope on my back up to him at the belay, we swapped leads and exchanged the rack quickly, and I was off leading the lengthy 150′ second pitch. This 5.8 pitch was more like my version of 5.9. Great moves and hand/fist jams with plenty of great protection, but the length of the pitch made it fairly strenuous and more of an endurance climb. I remember really only one good rest in 150′ of climbing, but after some grunting and heavy breathing I topped out at the two bolt belay. I then belayed J up and after Jesse saw me putting forth some serious effort on this 5.8 pitch, he decided to just belay Derek and Andy up to him for a climb of the first pitch and rappel down from there. J topped out just in time as it started to rain/hail and get fairly cold.
J finishing up Pitch 2 of El Cracko Diablo
J working the final moves of El Cracko
J & I at the top of El Cracko Diablo
Two other Colorado climbers who had just topped out on Soler had two 70m ropes and we thought we could get to the base of the route with one double-rope rap with their 70m ropes. So, they traversed over to us and we set their ropes up and began the rap. It turned out we were a bit short and so we got off their ropes and used the final 30′ of Jesse’s rope to get to the base of the climb.
J on rappel
Looking down between my legs on the rappel
Jesse & Derek at the top of Pitch 1 with Any and others at the base ledge below them
Derek & Jesse at the top of Pitch 1 as seen on my rappel
Derek rappelling down from Pitch 1
It was a fun rappel though sort of a bummer that the weather moved in and soaked the rock. Several other climbers up high on the Tower used the same ropes to get down in the rain storm and soon we were all down at the base of the Tower again after some very sketchy and slick down-scrambling to the base of Durrance. As fate would have it, the skies cleared up and the sun came out as we reached the cars at the Visitor’s Center. C’est la vie. We didn’t feel like going through the motions of getting back to the base of the climbs, so we all decided to go for a trail run around the 3 mile loop, which circumvents the Tower. Mainly, we all wanted to get different perspectives of the Tower from every direction. The views surely didn’t disappoint.
Southeast side (Durrance area)
Close-up of southeast corner. The Durrance Route goes up just left of the corner. The “leaning column” is barely visible
Back at camp around 3pm, we ate a late lunch, and then the thunderheads really moved in. Fortunately, we had J’s mega-tent and we moved all the chairs and table inside the tent and played cards.
In the mega-tent
The rains ended as fast as they began and we were soon making a campfire and enjoying J’s pasta for dinner and Celeste’s s’mores for dessert. Not to mention a few beers and some whiskey. It was a fun evening. While we were relaxing in our chairs before dinner a super nice fellow from New Hampshire named Geoff came over to our little camp as he and his older friend were staying in a cabin next to Celeste & Nico’s cabin. Geoff was inquiring as to the ratings of El Cracko Diablo and if, by chance, we had climbed it. J and I told him that we had actually just climbed it and told them it was a bit “stiff” for the 5.8 grade By this time, Geoff’s older friend was present and introduced himself as George from New Hampshire as well. Super nice fellas and we told them what we could about El Cracko regarding what gear was used, etc. J and I told Geoff & George we will hopefully see them up on the east side the next day as we hoped to attempt Soler right next door to El Cracko.
The sun came out after the rain and we had a great evening
Devil’s Tower crew 2014
Alpenglow on the Tower from our campsite
Close-up of the Tower on fire
Up at 6am, J and I wanted to go try one more climb, Soler, before we headed out hopefully no later than noon for the long drive back to Vail. The weather didn’t look like it would hold out long, but we motored to the base of Soler to find Geoff & George racking up for El Cracko 10′ away. J racked up for the lengthy first pitch of Soler at 5.8 while I chatted with Geoff as George was starting his lead up the first 5.7 pitch of El Cracko. George was amazing just sending the same crack J led the day before so delicately and meticulously. Geoff saw my wonderment on my face and proceeded to tell me about George. My jaw dropped as Geoff spoke. George Hurley was 79 years old and is one of the legends of our sport. Still going so extremely strong after 50 years of climbing. He put up 4 new routes on the Diamond on Longs Peak, has the first ascent of the Titan via Fingers of Fate in the Fisher Towers of Utah, among numerous other first ascents in El Dorado Canyon near Boulder. The list goes on and on. He has guided for most of his adult life from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides to doing his own private guiding in New Hampshire. He was really good friends with the legendary Layton Kor as well and was an integral member of that whole early pioneering effort up these towers and big walls in the 1960s. Geoff said he hired George years ago as a guide and they have been good buds since and do a lot of climbing together in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was so very neat to see George climb. And, so very inspirational. J had started up Pitch 1 of Soler and was doing a phenomenal job placing gear and cruising this long 120′ pitch.
J leading the 5.8 Pitch 1 of Soler
J leading Soler on the left and George on the right at the belay ledge for Pitch 1 of El Cracko
J working Pitch 1 of Soler. Such a great route
J reached the hanging belay and I started up with the second rope on my back. At about the same time, George was belaying Geoff up El Cracko’s first pitch. We seemed to be the only four on the entire Tower. Maybe folks knew something we didn’t. And, then it came – the rain. It actually started to sprinkle the last 15′ of my follow up to J and I could tell it was super slick and made the climbing much tougher and dangerous. I was pretty bummed as I was looking forward to hopefully leading Soler’s 5.9 Pitch 2, but there was no possible way with it being soaked.
A soaked Pitch 2 of Soler from the hanging belay
J & I at the hanging belay of Soler when it started to rain harder
Unfortunately, our only option was to double-rope rap down to the ledge. George & Geoff were doing the same. It was disappointing, but it is what it is.
George rapping El Cracko
Nevertheless, the camaraderie and stories with George & Geoff once we all reached the east bench below made us forget the disappointment fairly quickly. It was great. Story after story of first ascents, how they did what they did 40-50 yrs ago, what types of protection they used – we could have asked questions and chatted all day, i.e. if George would be up for it He was the nicest most humble fellow I have ever met. We had a great time and scrambled across the drenched and exposed slabs down to the Durrance area and then hiked out together. It was a real treat to meet and spend some time with both Geoff & George. Furthermore, George’s ability to be humble, do good, stay positive and healthy, and still be doing what he loves at his age (and doing it very well) is so very inspirational. J and I were definitely “punch-drunk” with admiration and inspiration.
J, George, & myself
J & George on the walk out: New school meets old school
We said our goodbyes, exchanged contact info, and told them if we ever get to the White Mountains again, we should definitely get together. Same goes for if they come to the mountains of Colorado. J and I got on the road shortly afterwards and were off. Geoff & George were heading to the Needles area near Mt. Rushmore to climb for an additional few days.
The Devil’s Tower area is such a fantastic playground for climbers and sightseers. I’m so glad we finally made it up to northeast Wyoming to get on this awesome magma formation. I would really like to try and make it back to the Tower every few years (or more often) to get to know it better and climb many more routes. We only scratched the surface – not even the surface. But, we do know our way around much better than if we hadn’t gone at all. Should make a next trip easier to find what we are looking to climb. Its also a great family camping area at the KOA campground and so very convenient to the Tower. Looking forward to many more trips back with Kristine next time, good friends, and our little gal.
Adios, Devil’s Tower. Until next time. Photo by Derek