One of my most favorite activities is hiking up the ski mountain and swissbobbing down with Rainie. We’ve been doing this for years and have perfected her ability to sit on my lap while we rocket down the slopes. Its so much fun. She circles around me ready to hop on my lap when we reach the top and wouldn’t even consider hiking downhill. The older she gets, obviously riding down is better for her joints. And, she still gets the good cardio by hiking uphill. Joel Gratz, Lauren Alweis, and Megan Gilman joined us for her 13th birthday swissbob up on Arrowhead on January 11. J was going to as well but needed to descend with baby Raina as it was bitterly cold outside. Joel was so extremely helpful in skiing down beside us getting the “skier cam” perspective. I had J’s GoPro on my head for a bird’s eye view. Rainie & I have been up Arrowhead probably close to 1000 times in all seasons (skinning/skiing, swissbobbing, running, hiking) over the past 12 years, but had never videoed the fun swissbob descent. Well, this time we did. And, with the fantastic video editing by Thomas Oelberger, we have a fun video of Rainie swissbobbing down the mountain. Special thanks to Joel & Thomas. I hope you enjoy the video below and be sure to turn on the 720p HD setting:
Today is Rainie’s 13th birthday! To be able to say that feels so good considering the fall we have been through. We went through a few months of knowing Rainie had a splenic tumor and via ultrasounds and such we determined as best we could that it was benign. Yet, it was still a tumor and could rupture causing internal bleeding and ultimately death. And, it was getting larger. It was ultimately my call to put her through this surgery in order to have it removed. I was worried and worried and worried every minute of every day for weeks that it would rupture. Her belly was looking fairly distended as well. Knowing she was as healthy as an almost 13 yr old could be, I decided to schedule the surgery with Charlie Meynier knowing full well he would do his absolute best and take care of her. And, that he did. She was a rockstar and really did so well. She stayed overnight for monitoring, but her spleen and tumor were removed all together weighing almost 4.5 lbs. Imagine that in your gut! She has so much more energy now and acts like her old self once again. Hopefully, we have prolonged her life a bit longer.
Rainie has been by my side for 13 years. She is the best friend and companion a guy could ask for. I am so lucky to have had her all these years through the many adventures, tough times, and the happiest of times. She really is the best of the best. You know you truly love something when you love that something more than yourself. Here’s to Rainie and more happy times with us on this earth!
Kristine & I wanted to get another peak in together before the holidays and we’d always had ole Arkansas on our minds as a fairly quick outing especially since Kristine had not summitted this mountain before. I climbed this route a few years back in some fairly deep spring snow (report here) staying to the ridge proper adding some nice class 3/4 scrambling in mountain boots. Nevertheless, I was pretty excited to go back with Kristine. Good buddy Dillon Sarnelli joined us as well and it was awesome for the three of us to spend 6 hrs together up high in the alpine on a decently sunny December day. Our friend and my co-worker Chelsey Lange was gracious enough to come over at 8:30am and babysit Sawyer and look after Rainier while we went and did our thing. Dillon did a fun recap of the day over on his site at http://basecampcolorado.com/2015/12/22/mount-arkansas/, which I am sure you will enjoy. A few of my favorite pics of the day are as follows:
Happy holidays from all of us Chalks!
Typically, when a decent storm rolls into Colorado bringing snow, one would want to head for the slopes or backcountry for some powder turns. Well, Steve, Mike, and myself decided to head west to get out of the snow and onto some sandstone. It wasn’t looking too promising, but we pulled it off and got on some nice cracks and a tower to boot. However, it was indeed some chilly climbing (temps in high 30s at the warmest part of the day), especially in the shade and when the sun was not out. Our original plan was to head to the Fisher Towers to climb Ancient Art, but it is a teetering tower of mud and would not have been safe after a snowstorm (as it wouldn’t have dried properly) nor would have been good climbing karma to climb this tower so soon after it snowed. The harder sandstone near Grand Junction in Colorado National Monument was safer and in no way did we stand a chance of harming the rock.
Instead of driving to some trailhead in the dark and suffering through a cold night in the desert, the young Mike followed Steve and my lead and we all checked into the Comfort Inn in Fruita and had a comfortable night in a warm bed. Steve & Mike had never climbed Independence Monument, the 400′ free-standing tower in Colorado National Monument, via its moderate classic 5.9- route called Otto’s Route. I had climbed it twice, the first time with Jesse Hill and the second time with Kristine, and knew it well. The only issue with Otto’s Route was that the 1st three pitches were on the west side in the shade. It was to be very chilly on the fingers and toes. I was the 3rd wheel along for the ride taking pictures while Steve led pitches 1 and 4 and Mike took pitches 2 and 3. Finally, we got in the sun at the top of pitch 3 and it was a sunny and warmer pitch 4 and summit.
Two double rope rappels and we were down on the ground again around 1:30pm. We started hiking back down Monument Canyon and the high clouds rolled in and blocked the sun yet again. It got pretty chilly. Oh well, at least we had sun for the tower’s final pitch and summit. We wanted to go to the fun 120′ crack route called Wide Load (5.10) that I had climbed before, but a pair of climbers were on it. So, we bouldered around for 30 minutes waiting for them to finish up. Steve set up his phone and speakers to get the Broncos game. Climbing Wide Load seemed tougher than normal because of the cold but all good fun. However, listening to the Broncos game was not fun. Disappointing to say the least.
By 4:30pm, it was just too cold to stay out. Our fingers and toes were numb. We packed up and headed out to the trailhead. All in all, despite a less than favorable forecast, we made the most of our rock climbing weekend and got on some good stuff. I’m looking forward to hopefully another one or two winter trips to the desert.
Bottle Top Tower is a tower formation in Colorado National Monument with a top that, well, looks like a bottle top. I’ve walked by it half a dozen times climbing at Tiara Rado and have always wanted to climb its fun-looking 5.9+ route on its south side called the Bouncing Betty Route. Its only one pitch, but several hundred feet of fun class 3 to low 5th class scrambling leads up to the saddle between the tower and the mesa.
My buddy Ryan Marsters was on his week-long desert binge for Thanksgiving week and met me at the Gold Star Canyon trailhead around 9:30am on a Sunday morning to kick off his week. After maybe an hour or so of hiking and fun scrambling up the slabs, we made our way to the saddle and found the interesting crack on the tower’s south face which led to the summit.
The research we had done said it to be a nice “hand crack”. Well, yes, it was a hand crack of sorts for a portion of it, but the description failed to mention a good 15-20′ section of tough, sandy off-width climbing where you really had to jamb your body and bend you leg 90 degrees using your knee on one side and your foot on the other side. There was a hand crack in the back of this off-width, but was way too far back to utilize. I think at one point I used my hips as an actual jamb. This was definitely 5.9+ climbing and being off-width felt harder than that especially since I’m not all that particular good at off-width climbing. Nevertheless, Ryan was patient with me and I pulled the small hand crack roof move at the top of the off-width and got to a decent rest. It was then fairly smooth sailing to the summit anchors (nothing over 5.8). I was glad I led the route clean.
The two bolted anchors are on a great ledge a few feet below the summit cap. I then belayed Ryan up to me as he cleaned the route. Even though only one 80-90′ pitch of technical climbing, Bottle Top Tower was a great summit and a fun adventure.
It was about noon and we rappelled the summit pitch after a good 20 minutes up top. We then stowed the rope and scrambled down the slabs back to the trail, which would take us over to Tara Rado for a few pitches of climbing. Ryan had never been to Tiara Rado, so I was excited to show him a few of my favorites.
By 3pm it was getting pretty chilly and uncomfortable in the shade, so we decided to call it a day given we had a 45 minute hike back to the cars. All in all a great day out with Ryan and by 4pm I was heading back home and he was heading west to meet up with friends.
Sawyer had her 1st real Halloween this year. She was only 2-3 weeks old last Halloween. We didn’t trick-or-treat, but we did everything else: carved pumpkins, costumes, and a great Halloween party. Next year we will trick-or-treat.
Recovering from a fairly serious right elbow infection called Olecranon Bursitis brought on by dirt getting into a cut on the elbow joint’s bursa sac (as a result of off-width crack climbing), I was anxious to get out a bit longer than an hour hike or run. I couldn’t really climb, so Kona and I just went for a snowshoe up at Vail Pass. In retrospect, I should have brought the skis, but it was a good recon mission to the peaks north of Vail Pass, the highest of which is Uneva Peak (12,522′), which we frequent quite a bit in the snowy months. There was even another subtle 12er I had never visited dubbed “Sneva” that I thought I would pay a visit. Getting an alpine start of 11:30am, Kona and I followed a decent track up into the small bowl below Uneva Peak that provides very mellow and low-consequence backcountry skiing even during high avalanche periods.
With that little 5 hour outing up high in the snow, I am a little more excited for the winter months. However, I still want to do more climbing in the desert and get this elbow all better.
The Oelbergers came to town and offered to care for Sawyer for a whole day and even a night so Kristine and I could get away together. This is always so very nice of them and is so much appreciated. We took them up on their offer though we only made it a daytrip. I just think we hated to leave Sawyer and the dogs overnight when we really didn’t have a specific destination that required us to overnight. So, we all had breakfast together, played and fed the dogs, and jetted out of Edwards for Buena Vista around 8:45am this past Saturday morning. We were intent on climbing the awesome 6 pitch moderate traditional rock climb called the Carter Classic on the Davis Face. I climbed this Carter Classic route almost 3 years ago to the day and it was one of my favorite multi-pitch rock climbs I had done. It even has an alpine-like feel to it since its all climbing above 10,000′. And, the views looking west from the face at the snow-covered Sawatch 14ers is just amazing. I just knew I had to go back with Kristine as I thought she would really enjoy it. The crux of the climb is low on the 2nd pitch and involves surmounting a roof and goes at 5.9. The majority of the rest of the pitches are a bit easier than 5.9 ranging from 5.6-5.8+ with an exposed no-pro friction traverse rated at 5.4 on pitch 5.
We parked and made the 30 minute steep uphill hike to the base of the Davis Face and got on the rock before noon. It was such a beautiful day and the rock heated up quite nice throughout the day because of the southwesterly sun even though the air temperature never got above 55 degrees.
I have to admit though that the 5.9 crux “roof” move on pitch 2 is tough (for 5.9). Especially leading it with a backpack on with our tagline and jackets and water in it and my heavy camera binered to my harness. However, it was a good challenge and I led it clean and belayed Kristine from the awkward pitch 2 belay. Kristine climbed this pitch so smoothly that I think she surprised herself. She did so very well and was up to me at the belay in no time.
Pitch 3 is a short but nice 5.8 chimney and allows for some action shots of the follower:
Climbers have dubbed the short 5.8+ pitch 4 as the “mental” crux of the route. I guess because you are high off the deck and its a bit runout (like 8-10′ between placements) when leading the pitch. However, I was able to lead the pitch clean and then Kristine followed with no issues at all. The pitch 4 belay is a decent little ledge, but is fairly airy.
Pitch 5 has a 5.4 no-pro “friction” traverse to begin, which leads over to a fun 5.7 dihedral. The traverse is a bit “airy” and I seemed to not find any good crimper holds for my fingers to get to the ledge. I just sort of went for it and fortunately didn’t blow the small leap move. Kristine did this much better than I and just seemed to cruise it with no hesitation.
Pitch 6 is long but really no move over 5.8 and I belayed Kristine up from the nice two bolt anchor at the top of the face. I believe we topped out around 3:30pm or so and it was still fairly sunny though a bit breezy.
We busted out my new 7mm/60m tagline we had been carrying up in the backpack the entire route and I was curious to test this guy out. Its a much lighter option than bringing an a second full-diameter rope, but we weren’t overly impressed with it. With the tagline rope method, you rappel off your single full-diameter climbing rope as opposed to both full-diameter climbing ropes. I think I just don’t like the fact of the possibility of the knot pulling through the rappel bolts (though very unlikely) and then there is no way to pull the knot back through to get the ropes down. I think keeping a tagline on alpine routes that could potentially require a double rope rappel in case of retreat is a good idea, but for more multi-pitch routes that require multiple double rope rappels, I think we’ll stick with two full-diameter ropes. Enough about rappel methods. Everything went smoothly and in three double rope rappels we were back on the ground at the base of the route.
We were back in Buena Vista having dinner at one of our favorite little Mexican restaurants, Casa del Sol, by 6pm and then back home by 8:45pm. What a great time out together doing what initially brought us together in a gorgeous setting. An enormous thanks to Ken & Dianne for shouldering our responsibilities for a day so we could get out together – just us.
I always enjoy driving a few hours west of the Vail Valley to the high desert to crack climb. Its one of my favorite trips to do. No need to drive to Moab or Indian Creek or even into Utah for that matter. 2 hours and you can be in Colorado National Monument and then just shy of 3 hours you can be in Escalante Canyon. Mikey, J, and I did a daytrip to Colorado National Monument, specifically Tiara Rado, to hone our crack climbing skills in preparation for a few days in Indian Creek, Utah the following weekend. This was my 4th time at Tiara Rado, and while I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners (its easiest route is a tough 70′ cupped hands crack that goes at 5.9+), it is a great place in a nice setting and even gives you a 45 minute hike each way to/from the car.
Rainier, Kona, J, & myself were planning to head down to Indian Creek the next weekend since Sawyer & Kristine were heading to Dune Acres, Indiana on Lake Michigan for a girl’s weekend with all the Bates gals and their baby gals. However, the forecast was for a wet and dreary weekend in Utah, so that plan was called off. Fortunately, the Chalk ladies had wonderfully sunny weather on the shores of Lake Michigan. Sawyer just loved playing in the sand.
I kept checking the weather forecast for another of my favorite spots which was about half the driving distance as Indian Creek from Edwards. The weather forecast for Escalante Canyon, CO looked favorable with possible rain starting Saturday evening. Good enough! The dogs, J, Tamra, Trevor, & Chelsey all packed up and headed west in my car and Tamra’s car for some car camping and cragging. While its fun to try and climb multi-pitch routes, its much more important to me these days to spend as much time as possible with Rainier and have her with me at all times since she is getting up there in age at almost 13 years old. She gave us a scare last week with a mass on her spleen, but fortunately the tests confirmed it being non-cancerous. We have to figure out now if its worth removing or if she can live with it as long as it doesn’t get any larger. Doing single pitch routes at crags is a lot of fun and means I can have the dogs with me as well. I believe you actually get more climbing in doing single pitch cragging than multi-pitch climbs, though it sure is fun topping out on a tower after a few pitches of climbing. My friend Natalie Moran also joined us that morning as she is living close by in Delta going to massage therapy school. She had no idea Escalante was in her backyard and I think was pleasantly surprised. Anyway, we got to the canyon just in time for me to take J over to one of my most favorite crack climbs called Willy’s Hand Jive just before dark. I led it and then we both climbed it twice. He loved it. The next morning Natalie met us about 8am at camp and we all went out and had a great day of climbing. I know there are a lot of climbing photos below, but you should have seen how many I actually took
I then led Willy’s Hand Jive clean this time with no rests and set up to take photos of the crew from above. I pulled the rope up to me while J took the other rope and led the route as well.
Then, for the last 2 hours of our afternoon before we headed home, we hiked up to the Interiors Wall and climbed two fairly short routes we knew well.
A great 24 hours in Escalante Canyon with a great crew. Hopefully, we can get to Indian Creek later this year for some more crack climbing fun.
Well, after 7 years in the making and 11 years of climbing 14ers with his golden retriever named Sawyer, Josh Aho of Denver completed his wonderful coffee table-style book chronicling his and Sawyer’s 14er adventures together in an attempt to become the 2nd human/dog duo to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers. They were so close to completing their goal, but Capitol Peak, widely regarded as Colorado’s hardest 14er by its easiest route, eluded them. This book really is a one of a kind book and anyone who loves dogs and hiking mountains should buy this book.
Years ago Josh reached out to me inquiring about Rainier’s 14er adventures and climbs with me. He was planning on doing a section of his book dedicated to the history of 14er dogs who had climbed a significant number of them and had done some of the tougher peaks. I was honored that he thought to include her in this section. Rainie was honored too Rainie and I have spent a lot of time together exploring the Colorado 14ers (and countless other peaks and areas) and she really was my #1 partner for so many years on these peaks. All said and done she climbed 45 different 14ers (of 54) and probably 150+ total ascents of 14ers with multiple repeats. She has probably logged 25 ascents up Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge not to mention 3 summits of Snowmass Mountain, 2 of Wilson Peak, 2 of Mt. Sneffels, 2 summits of both Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak, the El Diente to Mt. Wilson traverse, 1 ascent of Pyramid Peak, 1 ascent of Wetterhorn Peak, and 1 of Crestone Peak just to name the highlights.
I cannot imagine the effort and dedication it takes to pull off a book like this and my hat (several hats) are off to Josh on a monumental effort and wonderful success. He initially had 1,000 of these books printed and shipped to his home and I have no doubt he can sell them all. There are so many hiking dog lovers all over Colorado and the country that would love every page of this book. The pictures are outstanding and Josh chronicles each climb with Sawyer and even has a “paw” rating for how dog-friendly the 14er may be.
A few chapters are dedicated to certain climbs that took multiple attempts and extraordinary effort. One such chapter details their climb of Pyramid Peak, likely one of the top 5 hardest 14ers. I haven’t reached this chapter yet in my dissection of this book, but I can’t wait to get there as I have fond memories of Rainier and I climbing this same mountain.
I have to throw in a few pics of Rainier and I climbing Pyramid back in August of 2009 as this was one of my most favorite days in the mountains. Good friends Caleb & Jennie Wray joined us for this climb. This was my 4th time up Pyramid and I had climbed it just two weeks prior to when Rainie and I climbed it just to make sure I knew the route without hesitation. I was so very proud of Rainie that day. Well, I am always proud of her no matter what. She really stuck by my side (right on my heels) on all of the treacherous 14ers and if there was a move she needed help with she just waited for my help either ascending or descending. That’s what the dog harness was for – to help her in tricky spots,
Anyway, back to Josh’s book. Weighing in at over 5 lbs, its a beefy book but is packed full of 350+ pages of wonderful photos and stories. As slow a reader as I am, its going to take me a while to read the entire masterpiece, but if you like mountains and dogs, you should order a copy. More details and ordering information can be found on Josh’s website at www.14ercanine.com.
Mom came into town to visit us 2 weekends ago (well, really to visit Sawyer) and we all had a great time together. I think we all felt she really bonded with Sawyer and Sawyer really got to know Mom. Mom came to Aspen with us for Joel & Lauren’s wedding and was super babysitter for Sawyer while we partied down at Buttermilk with all of our friends.
We all took a nice fall hike in Wilder Gulch at the top of Vail Pass one day and rolled over Independence Pass en route to Aspen to enjoy the awesome fall weather.
Then, our 6th year wedding anniversary was this past Saturday, October 3. Our good friend Sabrina was more than nice to come over and hang with Sawyer and the dogs while we had a 3 day activity planned. First was a trail run of one of our favorite trails accessible out our front door, the A10 trail, connecting Edwards and Arrowhead. This is a very popular mountain bike ride as you get a long 4 miles descent if biking from Arrowhead to Edwards. While we have both run, hiked, snowshoed this trail countless times, I have never really posted many pics of this fun loop. I believe the loop is about 10 miles Edwards to Arrowhead or vice versa with another 2+ miles on highway 6. I drove the car over to Arrowhead to leave it for us and ran the 2+ miles back home. Sabrina came over and Kristine & I departed up the trail around 11:45am.
This is such a great run with the first 4 miles from our house taking you up over 2,200′ vertical gain in about 4 miles to the high point of the trail at 9,425′. The views are outstanding of the Northern Sawatch Range and Lake Creek Valley.
We arrived at the car about 1 hour and 45 minutes after starting and quickly sped up to the Ritz Carlton Hotel at Bachelor Gulch for our 2nd activity for the day: a hour long couples massage that Kristine had set up! Let’s just say this was much needed and just plain awesome. We enjoyed the outdoor hot tub as well for 20 minutes afterwards.
Then, to top off our day, we changed, showered, and sped down to the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards to see the new Everest movie together at 4pm. We definitely wanted to see this together and actually really enjoyed it. Most other mountaineering-related Hollywood movies are a a bit far-fetched and unrealistic. However, Everest really seemed to be mostly spot-on with regards to the footage, camps, the story, etc. It is based on the 1996 Everest tragedy portrayed in Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. It was much more emotional for us than we thought. I think its a super sad story to begin with and the fact we have some attachment towards that peak, it was really tough and hit home seeing Rob Hall die just below the South Summit and leaving his wife and unborn baby at home in New Zealand. Makes you think about things no doubt. But, we thought it was well done and the footage was super cool. I think they portrayed the mountain’s aspects very well from Kathmandu to the the Khumbu Valley, basecamp life, to the upper camps, and the Hillary Step and summit ridge. Even the box on the summit and the mound of prayer flags on the summit was very realistic.
We had a phenomenal day together just the two of us as it should be on your anniversary. Thanks so much to Sabrina for watching the 3 other Chalks for most of the day! Love you, Kristine!