Monument Canyon Towers

My good buddy Steve (Stevo) Cizik and I have started making a habit of getting in a desert tower climbing weekend once in the spring and one in the late fall. We went way too late last year (as in mid December) and it was some darn cold climbing. Fun, yes, but cold. This year, we planned it about a month earlier when our schedules coincided and we recruited J to come with us and our good friend Mikey. Mikey had to cancel due to family health issues, but I recruited my young friend/co-worker Dylan Friday to come with us. Our thoughts were with Mikey and his family all weekend for sure. Dylan had never climbed a multi-pitch route, but he was a strong guy whom I climbed with all summer and fall around the Vail Valley. I knew he would do well. I had two towers and two routes in mind in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction: Fast Draw (5.10+) on Sentinel Spire and The Long Dong Wall (5.11) on the Kissing Couple Tower. I had researched the routes and had always wanted to climb them. Now in retrospect, I’d love to go climb them again. They were good.

We all rolled down in my Tahoe Saturday morning around 8am after dropping J’s 16 mo baby, Raina, off at Aunt Julie’s in Eagle. We decided to do Sentinel Spire first on that Saturday as it would require less time. The approach to Sentinel’s north face is exciting. By parking at the Book Cliffs Viewpoint near the Saddlehorn Campground, we walked down to the edge of Monument Canyon and fixed a rope to a tree and rappelled down about 100′ to a sloping ledge. We left my old rope fixed and scrambled down a few hundred feet to the base of Fast Draw (5.10+) and laid our eyes upon the intimidating tower.

Fixing my old rope to a steadfast tree

Fixing my old rope to a steadfast tree

J rappelling off the canyon rim with Sentinel Spire behind

J rappelling off the canyon rim with Sentinel Spire behind

Sentinel Spire's north face

Sentinel Spire’s north face

Scoping out the 1st pitch - a 5.10 handcrack with a 5.10+ crux off the ground to get into the hand crack

Scoping out the 1st pitch – a 5.10 handcrack with a 5.10+ crux off the ground to get into the handcrack

I took off up the crux leading for Dylan & myself and actually led the crux finger-layback clean, which was exciting. I enjoyed jam after jam of awesome climbing for 80′ to the airy pitch 1 traverse left to two old fixed pins. I set up my belay careful to not put all my bodyweight on the two pins. I just didn’t totally trust them – it was indeed an uncomfotable belay. Dylan then followed and cleaned my gear.

Me leading pitch 1 of Fast Draw. Photo by Steve

Me leading pitch 1 of Fast Draw. Photo by Steve

Dylan following. Photo by Steve

Dylan following. Photo by Steve

Dylan climbing pitch 1 of Fast Draw with the J/Stevo team below

Dylan climbing pitch 1 of Fast Draw with the J/Stevo team below

J then led for his team and as I know J loves a good handcrack, I don’t think he was disappointed.

J on lead on pitch 1 of Fast Draw

J on lead on pitch 1 of Fast Draw

Pitch 2 was the offwidth pitch. I had bought a #6 camalot specifically for this pitch and it worked well. It will come in handy in the future I am sure. This was a fun pitch with some stemming involved and nothing over 5.10a in my opinion. The belay ledge at the top of pitch 2 was a paradise compared to pitch 1’s belay station.

Dylan climbing pitch 2 of Fast Draw

Dylan climbing pitch 2 of Fast Draw

Pitch 3 looked like it would be a breeze from below, but gosh it reared its ugly face about halfway up and I thought one small section was pretty darn difficult during the bolted section. Nevertheless, I made it and belayed Dylan up to me.

Dylan climbing Pitch 3 of Fast Draw

Dylan climbing Pitch 3 of Fast Draw

Dylan about to top out on Sentinel Spire

Dylan about to top out on Sentinel Spire

J leading pitch 3 clean and smooth

J leading pitch 3 clean and smooth

Dylan on top of Sentinel Spire with the canyon rim and where we rappelled from behind him

Dylan on top of Sentinel Spire with the canyon rim and where we rappelled from behind him

Me on the summit of Sentinel Spire with Independence Monument behind

Me on the summit of Sentinel Spire with Independence Monument and Kissing Couple behind. Photo by Dylan

J then brought Stevo up and we had a ball on the summit for a good 20 minutes. Some nice folks on the canyon rim spotted us and took some phone pictures of us on the summit and sent them to me.

Stevo and his notorious summit "bolt"

Stevo and his notorious summit “bolt”

Me, Stevo, & J on the summit of Sentinel Spire

Me, Stevo, & J on the summit of Sentinel Spire. Photo by Dylan

Picture of us on top of Sentinel Spire taken from the canyon rim

Picture of us on top of Sentinel Spire taken from the canyon rim

A close-up of me and Dylan on Sentinel's summit and J belaying Stevo up the last pitch

A close-up of me and Dylan on Sentinel’s summit and J belaying Stevo up the last pitch

What a great afternoon, but we still had a lengthy out to the car despite not being very far away (as the crow flies) at all. After a single rope and then a double rope rappel to the bottom of the north side of the tower, we scrambled back up to the fixed rope. Stevo brought his jumars and aid ladders and ascended the dynamic fixed rope up to the canyon rim in excellent fashion.

Scrambling out. Photo by Stevo

Scrambling out. Photo by Stevo

Getting dusk and at the sloping ledge at the bottom of the fixed rope. Photo by Stevo

Getting dusk and at the sloping ledge at the bottom of the fixed rope. Photo by Stevo

Steve jumaring out to the canyon rim

Stevo jumaring out to the canyon rim

Feeling like the rest of us wouldn’t nearly be as efficient as Stevo ascending the rope, we decided to haul our heavy bags up one at a time after I tried to free climb the roof on belay from Stevo above. It was a tough climb and I should have put on my climbing shoes instead of wearing my approach shoes, but I didn’t. I finally pulled over the lip and we began hauling all three bags up to us from Dylan & J below. Dylan free climbed the pitch and then J was last as darkness really set in.

J climbing out to the canyon rim

J climbing out to the canyon rim in the dark

We packed everything up and a room at the Super 8 motel in Fruita was in order. After some hot tubbing and swimming we hit up our favorite El Tapatio for generous heapings of Mexican food and giant blue margaritas. It was a good day with my boys.

After a warm and comfortable night at the Super 8 and an average continental breakfast, we found ourselves hiking up the familiar Monument Canyon trail for an hour and 15 minutes to the base of the Kissing Couple Tower.

Sentinel Spire from Highway 340 the next morning en route to Kissing Couple

Sentinel Spire from Highway 340 the next morning en route to Kissing Couple

It was warm on the way into the Kissing Couple. Photo of me and Indy Monument by Dylan

It was warm on the way into the Kissing Couple. Photo of me and Indy Monument by Dylan

There was a bit of a boulder problem to get to the base of the Long Dong Wall route and we lifted each other’s packs up because it was too hard of a move with a 40 lb pack on! Finally, we were at the base of the route on the tower’s south side in the shade. It was chilly even though it was around 10am already. The first pitch was said to be the difficult crux pitch rated at 5.11a. However, I have heard because of the sandy and insecure footing and hands, it could feel more like 5.11+. I share that sentiment in retrospect. It was a tough pitch. I was sweating so much halfway through leading it, I had to throw down my jacket to the boys. The biggest challenge for me wasn’t so much the moves but the insecurity of the route with little to no footing and what footholds/edges there were sand completely covered them making them extra slick. Its a long pitch too – maybe 100+’. Once you got through the bottom half, the finger crack and hand crack went much smoother until you get to the top crux face move, which is protected by a bolt. Yep, I hung, but figured the move out without french-aiding on the bolt :) I would definitely think because these moves were so slick, sandy, and smooth, the move felt much more like 5.11+ to me. I then set up and belayed Dylan up to me cleaning the route and trailing another rope so J and Stevo could just top rope the pitch. I would love to go back again to lead this pitch 1 better.

Me starting the lead up pitch 1 of Long Dong Wall. Photo by Stevo

Me starting the lead up pitch 1 of Long Dong Wall. Photo by Stevo

Me high up in the handcrack portion of pitch 1. Photo by Stevo

Me high up in the handcrack portion of pitch 1. Photo by Stevo

Dylan on pitch 1

Dylan on pitch 1

Good perspective pic by Stevo of me belaying Dylan up to me on pitch 1

Good perspective pic by Stevo of me belaying Dylan up to me on pitch 1

J at the face crux move of pitch 1

J at the face crux move of pitch 1

Pitch 2 went well with some easier 5.7 chimney moves up to a very runout stemming chimney (5.9ish-5.10?), which was a very exciting lead for me. However, there was no place for gear and its about a 30′ runout to where I could plug a #2 cam in a hole to make the final mantle move to the anchors.

Dylan stemming up the chimney on pitch 2

Dylan stemming up the chimney on pitch 2

Again, we trailed a rope so J and Stevo could top rope this pitch to be more efficient. Next up was the no-pro class 4/low 5th scramble up to the base of pitch 4. Its easy to belay the follower if necessary from the pitch 3 belay anchors. Pitch 4 was a wonderful pitch. I’ve heard its the best 5.8 in the desert. I don’t know about that, but it sure was fun. J led this pitch for the J/Stevo team and loved it.

J a third of the way up Pitch 4 with Dylan higher up climbing up to me

J a third of the way up Pitch 4 with Dylan higher up climbing up to me at the pitch 4 anchors

Dylan stemming up the final 20' chimney to the top of pitch 4

Dylan stemming up the final 20′ chimney to the top of pitch 4

Dylan topping out on pitch 4

Dylan topping out on pitch 4

We were now in the center of the “belfry” between the two halves of the Kissing Couple that appear to be kissing if seen from a distance. It was a cool position. In fact, someone etched in the sandstone “Far Out!” at the belay. It was a fitting statement.

Pitch 4 anchors

Pitch 4 anchors

The Belfry

The “belfry”

Looking out from the pitch 4 anchors

Looking out from the pitch 4 anchors

Pitch 5 was the coolest pitch of them all as you climb up between the two halves of the Kissing Couple inside the belfry, squeeze through a small whole, and “voila” you are at the pitch 5 anchors 5 feet below the summit cap. The first 15′ of pitch 5 is rated 5.10c and is protected by a piton, but you can get a piece of gear in after that. Climbing up the crack then to a roof and traversing left under the roof is just so cool.

Looking up pitch 5

Looking up pitch 5

Dylan following across the roof traverse

Dylan following across the roof traverse

J leading pitch 5

J leading pitch 5

J squeezing through the small hole

J squeezing through the small hole

After a quick unroped 5′ move to the summit cap,, we took in the amazing views of Colorado National Monument from a new summit. I think it was around 2-3pm, but who knows. It was so warm and windless.

Stevo pumped to be on the summit

Stevo pumped to be on the summit

Me on the summit of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

Me on the summit of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

J and I on top of the Kissing Couple

J and I on top of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

Dylan's first two towers - not too shabby, my young friend!

Dylan’s first two towers – not too shabby, my young friend!

A panaorama of all of us on the summit of the Kissing Couple

A panaorama of all of us on the summit of the Kissing Couple

We then double rope rappelled from the pitch 5 anchors to the tower’s east side (not down through the belfry) to the top of pitch 3 and easily pulled the ropes down. We had heard horror stories of ropes getting stuck, but honestly I believe its only possible if you rappel all the way to the top of pitch 2 and try to pull them from that location.

Dylan's 1st double rope rap too

Dylan’s 1st double rope rap

We then did a single rope rap from the pitch 3 anchors to the pitch 2 anchors and did a double rope rap all the way to the route’s base from the top of pitch 2.

Stevo on the easy single rope rappel down to the top of pitch 2

Stevo on the easy single rope rappel down to the top of pitch 2

We hiked out at dusk and reached the trailhead right at dark. I love evening hikes out like this recounting the day’s fun and excitement and telling stories. What made the hike out even better was the full “supermoon” rising.

The Kissing Couple on the hike out

The Kissing Couple on the hike out

Beautiful

Beautiful

The supermoon and Independence Monument

The supermoon and Independence Monument

After another awesome burger at Red Robin in Grand Junction and catching up on our NFL football, we made the roadtrip back home arriving back in Edwards by 11pm. What a fantastic weekend of desert climbing. My shirt even proves that a good time was had, especially during those stemming chimneys on pitches 2 & 4 of the Long Dong Wall.

The aftermath of my beloved Black Diamond tech shirt

The aftermath of my beloved Black Diamond tech shirt

Kauai Family Trip

Our good friend Chase Lochmiller, whom we met in Antarctica on our Mt. Vinson trip almost three years ago, was getting married on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in late September 2016. Having never been to any Hawaiian island, Kristine & I decided to make this happen with Sawyer and immediately Ken & Dianne Oelberger were on board to come with us. And, from everyone we talked to, Kauai was the least developed, most mountainous, and exotic of all the islands, which sounded right up our alley. Also, our friends from London, Harry & Halla Koppel, whom we met on Mt. Vinson as well, were making the long trip over and so it would be a great opportunity to rekindle our fun friendship we had in Antarctica together. We were so excited to spend this vacation with Sawyer,Ken, and Dianne. Definitely a different kind of vacation for us, but it turned out to be so much fun and memorable. Kauai certainly did not disappoint. We rented a functional beach house in Wainiha on Kauai’s north shore between Hanalei Bay and the Kalalau trailhead. It was a perfect location and was a 5 minute walk to the famous Tunnels Beach, where we went about every day for swimming with Sawyer and snorkeling.

Sawyer en route to Hawaii!

Sawyer en route to Hawaii!

We flew from Denver to LAX and met Ken & Dianne there for the big flight direct to Lihue Airport on Kauai. We rented a van when we arrived and drove the hour+ up to the north shore and our beach house. It was an extremely long day with Sawyer, but we finally made it to the house around 4pm in the hottest part of the day. I think it was because we were all so beat from the travel and very tired and likely because the house had been closed up until an hour or so before we arrived, but we all sort of lost it when we arrived into the house due to the extreme temperature inside the house. I know I for one was thinking how the heck I could stay here, especially sleep at night in this hot of a house with no AC. It was unbearable. Ken and I immediately took off our shirts as did Sawyer to try and cool down. The property manager, however, did show us the portable AC units in a closet we could try and hook up to the windows at least to cool 2 rooms down. So, Ken and I jimmy-rigged one of the units in Sawyer’s room and it worked pretty well really cooling down her room to 70 degrees or colder. We did a less-inspiring engineering installation in the master bedroom where Kristine and I stayed, but it worked pretty well. It did cool down at night and was much more manageable. Ken and Dianne were stronger than us (me) and did well in the 3rd bedroom without an AC unit. Still, though, shirts off for the boys and Sawyer were still a staple for the week. Despite the initial shock of the heat & humidity, we adjusted and had a fantastic week.

Our house's back porch

Our house’s back porch

The backyard

The backyard

Sawyer & I adjusting to life in Hawaii

Sawyer & I adjusting to life in Hawaii

Sawyer on the way to Tunnels Beach with the front of our house behind

Sawyer on the way to Tunnels Beach with the front of our house behind

Walking to Tunnels

Walking to Tunnels

Awesome Tunnels Beach has a reef and is just perfect for swimming and snorkeling in calm waters

Awesome Tunnels Beach has a reef and is just perfect for swimming and snorkeling in calm waters

Sawyer loved it

Sawyer loved it

Ken & Dianne so happy to be back on Kauai after 25 years or so

Ken & Dianne so happy to be back on Kauai after 25 years or so

Sawyer & I at Tunnels

Sawyer & I at Tunnels

It was so much fun & special being with Sawyer here

It was so much fun & special being with Sawyer here

Kristine & Sawyer at Tunnels

Kristine & Sawyer at Tunnels

Rinsing off back at the house

Rinsing off back at the house

IMG_1724

Despite not having full AC in the beach house, this place really had about everything else. Toys for Sawyer, beach chairs, snorkel gear, etc, a downstairs outdoor shower, a master bedroom outdoor tub and shower, great views into the jungle, very private, and a great location. We soon learned from Chase that most of these beach houses do not have AC, anyway. One of the first afternoons during Sawyer’s nap, Kristine and I drove a few miles east to Lumahai Beach to check out some bouldering I had researched on the beach. It turned out to be really fun bouldering on volcanic rock with the soft sandy beach as a crash pad. Kristine doesn’t boulder very much, but I was extremely happy she went with me. We had brought our rock shoes and chalk bags with us.

Very scenic bouldering

Very scenic bouldering

Though after a bit, the volcanic rock really takes a toll on your hands

Though after a bit, the volcanic rock really takes a toll on your hands

Me on a line called Problem D

Me on a line called Problem D

Kristine on a line called Problem G

Kristine on a line called Problem G

Lumahai Beach (north) bouldering wall. Routes can be found on mountainproject

Lumahai Beach (north) bouldering wall. Routes can be found on mountainproject

A good afternoon together

A good afternoon together

That evening we took a drive to the Kilauea Lighthouse, but it was closed. That’s ok because we had a ball chasing roosters and getting some nice pictures in the evening light.

Sawyer chasing a rooster

Sawyer chasing a rooster

Good family pic with the Kilauea Lighthouse behind

Good family pic with the Kilauea Lighthouse behind

Cool shades, Sawyer

Cool shades, Sawyer

The sun going down on the drive back

The sun going down on the drive back

The next day we all decided to give the famous Kalalua Trail a try (at least the first mile or so) to get some views of the amazing Napali Coast. We actually made it just over a mile in depite how rocky and muddy and wet it was and Sawyer walked a decent portion of it. She was beat about halfway back and in the pack she went and fell asleep. However, it was gorgeous scenery.

Welcome

Welcome

Sawyer & K hiking the Kalalau Trail

Sawyer & K hiking the Kalalau Trail

Dianne's face says it all

Dianne’s face says it all

Ken & Dianne and the Napali Coast

Ken & Dianne and the Napali Coast

Kalalau Beach is the termination of the Kalalau Trail about 10 miles further down the Napali Coast

Kalalau Beach is the termination of the Kalalau Trail about 10 miles further down the Napali Coast

That evening we went over to Chase’s wedding party/friends house they rented in Hanalei Bay. Apparently, it was owned by the real life family depicted in the movie Descendants starring George Clooney. Also, the house in which the move was filmed on the beach was immediately across the street, which I definitely recognized. We had a great time catching up with Chase, meeting his fiance Devon, who grew up on Kauai, and checking out the home.

Sawyer walking around the home

Sawyer walking around the home

The amazing home

The amazing home

The Kalalau Trail (Napali Coast)

The next morning we all woke up around 6am and K and I got ready for our big adventure of the week: trail run/hike the Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach and back in a day, which turns out to be about 5,000′ vertical gain and 23 miles RT. Ken & Dianne were so nice to hang with Sawyer for the day and I think they had a really fun time together at Tunnels Beach. Ken dropped K and I off at the Kalalau trailhead around 7am (only 2 miles west of our house) and it seemed like we beat the majority of folks that morning to get on the trail. Armed with a water bottle, Gatorade bottle, a backpack water bladder, and trail bars/snacks in our pockets, we went light and fast. We brought iodine tablets to purify the stream water as we had to refill several times throughout the day.

The Kalalau Trail map along the Napali Coast

The Kalalau Trail map along the Napali Coast. Click to enlarge

We tried to slowly run the first 4-5 miles of the trail, but much of it is so rough, rocky, muddy, and wet it was pretty dangerous to do so, especially on the down. Good thing is there were no people on the trail to try and get around. I had never sweated as much as I did on the Kalalau Trail with all of the humidity. I looked like I had already swam in the ocean. Anyway, the morning hours were relatively cool and in the shade as the sun had not come overhead yet.

Early morning mud

Early morning mud

Kristine

Kristine

Beautiful

Beautiful

Near the beginning of the trail

Near the beginning of the trail

Crossing Hanakapi'ai Stream

Crossing Hanakapi’ai Stream

2 miles and 30 minutes in we came upon Hanakapi'ai Beach

2 miles and 30 minutes in we came upon Hanakapi’ai Beach

And leaving Hanakapi'ai Beach

And leaving Hanakapi’ai Beach

One thing about this trail is it is A LOT of up and down. As soon as you get comfortable going up or down, the trail switches and you do the other mode. Miles 2-4 were some slow miles because of the overgrowth onto the trail and slick mud and rock. We came upon a lean-to shelter at mile 4 and I left my shirt hanging there as it was completely soaked with sweat. We chatted with a grizzled man at the lean-to laying on the bench from Oahu who had hiked this trail countless times in his 30 years of coming to Kauai.

Typical mountainous terrain along the Napali Coast

Typical mountainous terrain along the Napali Coast

Kristine and a view. Kalalau Beach is still a good 5-6 miles out

Kristine and a view. Kalalau Beach is still a good 5-6 miles out

A boat en route back from Kalalau Beach

A boat en route back from Kalalau Beach

We reached Hanakoa Valley at mile 6 (halfway point) and after that the trail really opened up, became much more runnable, and the views opened up as well. It was great.

Hanakoa Valley

Hanakoa Valley

Me and the mountains

Me and the mountains

Cruising along and still all smiles

Cruising along and still all smiles

Kristine

Kristine

I think around mile 7 was the fun and interesting portion of the trail that was pretty exposed down to the raging surf several  hundred feet below.

One of the more exposed portions of the trail

One of the more exposed portions of the trail

Kristine chugging along

Kristine chugging along

A panorama of a neat section of trail

A panorama of a neat section of trail

The trail opening up after mile 8

The trail opening up after mile 8

Getting close. Kalalau Beach can be seen right of center in the distance

Getting close. Kalalau Beach can be seen right of center in the distance

I see you, Kalalau Beach!

I see you, Kalalau Beach!

Another one

Another one

Nice meadows close to Kalalau Beach

Nice meadows close to Kalalau Beach

The home stretch

The home stretch

So, after about 4 hours on the trail, we reached Kalalau Beach. It was such a treat to be there. Many campers were camped in the trees just south of the beach and were beginning to come out to the beach. It reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio and the island dwellers all going to the secret, remote beach in the older move The Beach. In fact, many folks were in the nude heading into the surf. We decided to not join the ranks of the nude.

Kristine and Kalalau Beach

Kristine and Kalalau Beach

Panorama of Kalalau Beach

Panorama of Kalalau Beach

Happy to be here together. Someday, we'll have to come back with Sawyer and camp a night

Happy to be here together. Someday, we’ll have to come back with Sawyer and camp a night

We ate one of our denser, larger snack bars we previously bought and rested for 20 minutes or so. We also gathered a few special coral pieces and rocks from the beach to remember it by. We said our goodbyes and began the slower return run/hike back the way we came.

The long way, but beautiful way home

The long, but beautiful way home

Coming back along the fun, exposed portion of the trail

Coming back along the fun, exposed portion of the trail

A quick little video of Kristine on the exposed portion of the trail:

On the return trip, we decided to take a detour and go check out Hanakoa Falls, which said only a half mile off the Kalalau Trail. However, it was a rough and slow trail consisting of some bushwhacking and we began to think if we’d ever see this waterfall. Finally, we reached the falls and I guess it was worth the detour.

Hanakoa Falls

Hanakoa Falls

The last few miles were slow and we were hiking by then. Lots of folks on the trail once we got back to mile 2, but fortunately the trail had dried out quite a bit so it was much less slick. We were back at the trail by about 4pm with tired legs and feet, but feeling good about our adventure. We walked the road back to our house trying to thumb and hitch a ride. We were finally picked up by some nice folks we met along the trail and drove us in the back of their pickup the rest of the way back arriving around 4:30pm just in time to see Sawyer waking up from her nap. I immediately went out to get us some much needed ginger beers and guava drinks from the Wainiha General Store as we (me) were craving these the last few miles.

The Remainder of the Week and Chase’s Wedding

We all did some more swimming and snorkeling on that Thursday and Kristine & I made it to Chase & Devon’s welcome part at the St. Regis in Princeville that evening.

Sunset over Hanalei Bay from the St. Regis

Sunset over Hanalei Bay from the St. Regis

At the St. Regis

At the St. Regis

The next morning we all went to Lumahai Beach for some exploring and swimming.

Lumahai Beach

Lumahai Beach

Sawyer scoping out the rocks and pools

Sawyer scoping out the rocks and pools

Waves against the rocks

Waves against the rocks

It was a good swimming hole

It was a good swimming hole

The gals loved it

The gals loved it

Happy girls

Happy girls

Not often do you get to stand at the end of the rainbow :)

Not often do you get to stand at the end of the rainbow :)

Harry & Halla had arrived late Friday night and came over Saturday morning to visit. We all went to Tunnels Beach and swam and snorkeled. It was so great to see them again. Its almost like we all had never skipped a beat! We definitely need to get together with them and their year old daughter soon on another vacation.

All of us at Tunnels Beach

All of us at Tunnels Beach

That evening we got ready for Chase & Devon’s wedding and drove ourselves to the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens  for the wedding and reception. It was a great celebratory evening and was super fun to hang with Harry & Halla all night.

All dressed up as much as we ever do

All dressed up as much as we ever do

Another

Another

The ceremony

The ceremony

Chase & Devon

Chase & Devon

The reception

The reception

The four of us on the beach at the reception

The four of us on the beach at the reception

We did one more quick Tunnels Beach trip early morning to say our goodbyes. Sawyer was a tired gal after a big week.

At Tunnels

At Tunnels

One more of the three of us

One more of the three of us

After watching some early Sunday morning NFL games and a good Sawyer nap in my arms, we all loaded up the van and made our way to Lihue Airport. Little did we know that we were all in for a 2 day adventure to get back to Colorado. In a nutshell, due to limiting weight on the airplane because of turbulence, American decided to bump 20 folks off the plane. Kristine & I being two of them because we didn’t check-in the night before or early that morning. Ken & Dianne, however, did check-in the night before. So, after 6 hours at the airport that afternoon and a lot of tears and frustration, we were put up in the Marriott with food vouchers, we each got a $1,000 voucher on American, including Sawyer, and left the next day. We got home an entire day later on Tuesday evening. Ken & Dianne could have gone on without us and gotten home Monday evening, but we appreciated them so much hanging with us. Nevertheless, it was an adventure with a 2 year old, but really Sawyer did so very well. It was fun in retrospect to go through that adventure with her.

Sawyer loving her bus ride at LAX

Sawyer loving her bus ride at LAX

And, finally, we landed at DIA

And, finally, we landed at DIA

In conclusion, what a phenomenal family trip to a wonderful island. We would highly recommend this kind of trip and the island of Kauai to anyone looking to get away from the more developed islands. It was beyond special to share this trip with Ken & Dianne and especially to be able to bring Sawyer along and have so much fun with her.

Goodbye Kauai

Goodbye Kauai

Sawyer having a ball after eating at the Kilauea Fish Market

Sawyer having a ball after eating at the Kilauea Fish Market

Center Route, Cynical Pinnacle

My good buddy Mikey has repeatedly urged me to come climb Center Route (5.9+) on Cynical Pinnacle with him in the South Platte over the last year. Well, he had good reason. Frequently regarded as one of the best, if not the best, crack routes in Colorado for its grade, I have to say I now agree. Its wonderful. Great crack climbing, great gear, steep, sustained, long pitches, and super fun. Even better, we were the only ones on the route all day. I would bet the 45 minute approach and 1,200′ vertical gain deters the crowds. Mikey took the 1st pitch (5.9) and then I took the crux 2nd pitch (5.9+) and the 3rd offwidth pitch (5.9+). I was happy to have led them both clean and can honestly say following on the 1st pitch with our 2nd rope on my back was tougher than leading the 2nd and 3rd pitches :)

Cynical Pinnacle on the approach. Center Route literally climbs the crack where the sun meets the shade in the center of the pic

Cynical Pinnacle on the approach. Center Route literally climbs the crack where the sun meets the shade in the center of the pic

Mikey leading pitch 1

Mikey leading pitch 1

Pitch 1

Pitch 1

Mikey stemming on pitch 1

Mikey stemming on pitch 1

Looking out over the South Platte from the top of the 2nd pitch

Looking out over the South Platte from the top of the 2nd pitch

Mikey on pitch 2...sustained 5.9+ for 125'

Mikey on pitch 2…sustained 5.9+ for 125′

Just awesome crack climbing

Just awesome crack climbing

Mikey having fun in the sun

Mikey having fun in the sun

Looking down at Mikey at the 2nd belay from a rest up pitch 3

Looking down at Mikey at the 2nd belay from a rest up pitch 3

Mikey high on the 3rd pitch

Mikey high on the 3rd pitch

Finishing off Center Route

Finishing off Center Route

We topped out on Cynical Pinnacle’s false summit. There was still a 5.11b (old school rating) crack/sport climb to the actual summit of Cynical Pinnacle and I attempted to free climb this final pitch, but I could not get secure enough to climb to the 1st fixed piton and fell twice on my 0.4 camalot. It was hard. I could have pulled on gear and made it, but I decided to lower and forgo the summit pitch. C’est la vie. We came here for the crack climb (as the 3 pitch Center Route officially ends on the false summit) and decided to leave the goal of reaching the true summit for another time.

False summit of Cynical Pinnacle

False summit of Cynical Pinnacle

We then double rope rappelled from the false summit to the hanging belay bolts and then did a 2nd double rope rap straight to our backpacks below.

Mikey on the 2nd double rope rap

Mikey on the 2nd double rope rap

As some extra credit, we hiked around to the west side of Cynical Pinnacle and climbed the 100′ 5.9+ crack called Hand Job Direct to get one more long pitch in before we hiked down to the truck.

Hand Job Direct as seen from below. The 1 pitch climb tops out at about the midpoint of the picture

Hand Job Direct as seen from below. The 1 pitch climb tops out at about the midpoint of the picture

Mikey nearing the anchors on Hand Job Direct

Mikey nearing the anchors on Hand Job Direct

A super fun day with Mikey followed by some ice cream and me arriving back in Edwards by 7pm to see Kristine, Sawyer, and the dogs. Nice little Sunday.

Freya & Thor Towers

I’ve been a fan of Norse mythology for awhile now and everyone knows I’m a Gore fanatic. When J and I climbed the intimidating northern of the two east ridges called Asgard Ridge up Mt. Valhalla over two years ago, we always gazed upon the lower 12,000′ towers to our left while ascending Asgard. These towers are called Freya and Thor. There is a tower further on up the southern of the two east ridges of Valhalla called Loki, but honestly didn’t look nearly as interesting as Freya & Thor. I figure the next time we are up on Valhalla’s summit, we can go check Loki out. But, Freya & Thor looked like the real prizes in the basin in addition to the obvious Asgard Ridge. The veteran Gore hardman Stan Wagon from Silverthorne details his climb up Thor on his website and pioneered a one pitch 5.6 route up from the west col to Thor’s summit. Stan also details his west ridge climb/traverse up to Freya’s summit on his website as well. Stan gave me some approach beta on the simplest route to these towers via the Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne. J and I approached Asgard Ridge via Boss Mine and some steep and pretty intense bushwhacking. I think the better approach to Asgard Ridge proper is to leave the Gore Range Trail and bushwhack south-southwest for a few miles outlined in the route marked below:

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

Approach to Asgard Meadows, Freya, & Thor

While Ryan, Mike, and I were targeting Capitol’s NW Buttress route on this spectacular fall day, 3 people on such a serious route with potential rockfall just didn’t seem like a good idea. So, I dug around in my mind for an alternate adventure and remembered these towers deep in the Gore at the head of South Rock Creek Basin. I was excited to get back in there for a visit. Mike needed a big day back in the mountains and it was a treat for Ryan and I to get out together in the Gore with a rack and a rope and see what we could do. We all met at the Rock Creek TH late Friday night and left the TH by 6:30am Saturday morning headed south on the Gore Range trail. We had Ryan’s 70m/8.4mm rope, an alpine rack, set of nuts, draws, and plenty of slings and biners. However, we did choose to leave behind the rock shoes in favor for just our approach shoes. I can tell you next time I will definitely be bringing rock shoes. It was not too bad bushwhacking at all for a few miles up to the grassy meadow slopes on the south side of Asgard Ridge. We descended a few hundred feet down loose rock into a small basin at 11,600′ called Asgard Meadows: a beautiful grassy/bouldery meadow-like basin with a creek running through it and granite towers rising above. It was perfect.

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture

Ryan shooting me shooting South Rock Creek Basin and Freya & Thor Towers still a distance away on the far right in the picture. Photo by Ryan

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Freya Tower is down low on the left. Thor Tower is in the center of the picture. Mt. Valhalla is the high summit

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Freya in the center and Thor on the upper right

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Asgard Meadows with Thor at upper left and Asgard Ridge in the distance

Thor's east face is mighty impressive

Thor’s east face is mighty impressive

I do look forward to coming back to Asgard Meadows and setting up a basecamp to do a full day or two of alpine rock climbing. We were debating on what to attempt first as it was only 9:15am. I told Ryan & Mike Freya’s east ridge direct looked mighty tempting and that I’d like to give it a shot. Based on no prior information that I could find on the east ridge itself and in talking with Stan, we were not sure it had been climbed before. But, it looked doable even in approach shoes – we hoped.

Looking up Freya's east ridge from the base

Looking up Freya’s east ridge from the base

Getting set up

Getting set up

It looked like we could scramble up 50′ of 4th/low 5th class rock or so into a southeast facing dihedral, which seemed like it lent feasible passage up to perhaps a small ledge 80′ above.

Ryan on the initial scrambling

Ryan on the initial scrambling

I started up a crack system on south-facing rock east of the dihedral and soon realized I would prefer the comfort of a rope especially with approach shoes. It was getting into mid-5th class with big exposure. I downclimbed 15′ back to a small ledge and we roped up. I took off up our 1st roped pitch. It was indeed a pretty awesome pitch and after a 5.8 move on the face I made my way into the dihedral and definitely pulled a 5.8 move or two up to the small grassy ledge. I placed mostly nuts but a cam at each of the two cruxes. I set up an anchor system at a convenient grass ledge and brought Mikey and Ryan up to me all the while I scoped out how pitch 2 would go above me.

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Me into the dihedral on pitch 1. Photo by Ryan

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Mikey and Ryan following pitch 1

Ryan took the lead on pitch 2 up a 5.8 corner to the right. I hoped in the back of my mind that it went somewhere because it looked to be our only option with some protection to be had. He did awesome and found a nice belay ledge at the base of another headwall above to belay us up.

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

Ryan setting off up pitch 2

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan's feet

I thought this was a cool picture: my head, Ryan’s feet. The grassy meadows on Asgard Ridge’s south side we used on the approach can be seen in the background

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Ryan climbing the right-angling crack into the unknown

Mikey following

Mikey following

I took the 3rd pitch lead which began with a funky unprotected stemming chimney for 25′ to a small ledge. I then balanced my way onto a very small corner on the right and was able to get a small Alien into a small pocket, but it definitely wasn’t reassuring. However, there were no other options. I then made a committing face climb move or two to the left and got a good jug and stance in order to get a much better #1 cam into a solid crack. It was then fun 5.6 climbing up to the top of the headwall and I built an anchor to bring the fellas up.

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Mikey climbing the headwall up to me on pitch 3. Photo by Ryan

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Another view by Ryan. The stemming chimney is immediately behind the large slab of rock in the foreground

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Mikey on pitch 3 with Ryan below

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

Young Ryan making quick work of pitch 3

A wider shot

A wider shot

I belayed Mikey around the small tower I sat upon for the pitch 3 belay to a very small col just west of me. I lowered Ryan down to this same col and then after gathering my anchor gear, I downclimbed the 15′ to the saddle. We all scrambled up another 100′ to the base of our pitch 4. It looked to be a nice angling hand crack and Ryan took the reins.

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

Ryan coiling the rope after pitch 3

The scramble up to pitch 4

The scramble up to pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Me belaying Ryan on pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

Ryan getting into the meat of pitch 4

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

I think we agreed there were some 5.8 moves on this hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

Mikey making his way on the right-angling, slightly overhung hand crack

From the top of pitch 4, it was easy and fun class 3/4 scrambling to the 12,121′ summit of Freya.

Ryan almost to Freya's summit

Ryan almost to Freya’s summit

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Mikey almost there. It had been awhile since Mikey had scrambled, so he was back in the game by this point

Summit of Freya (12,161'). Photo by Ryan

Summit of Freya (12,121′). Photo by Ryan

Looking due west from Freya's summit down its "standard" west ridge to Thor

Looking due west from Freya’s summit down its “standard” west ridge to Thor

Summit of of Freya (12,161'). Man, what a day!

Summit of of Freya (12,161′). Man, what a day!

Looking down Freya's east ridge from the summit

Looking down Freya’s east ridge from the summit

Well, whether someone had climbed the east ridge before or not, just not having any prior beta or even knowledge that it would go was exciting in itself. Plus, it was a solid 4 pitch alpine route on granite in a spectacular setting. Hard to beat. Here is a route overview of our route:

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

Freya East Ridge route. Red designates our unroped scrambling sections

What was almost equally as fun and exciting as our east ridge route up Freya was the descent down Freya’s standard “west ridge” to the Freya/Thor col. This is the route Stan Wagon and his partners climbed in 2010 rating the one crux move at 5.6. We didn’t rope up for this ridge, but it sure was some awesomely exposed scrambling. Makes Capitol’s standard knife-edge look like a catwalk and not very exciting. This was the best scrambling of the day by far.

Mikey heading off on Freya's west ridge

Mikey heading off on Freya’s west ridge

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Mike and I approaching the knife-edge portion. Photo by Ryan

Freya's knife-edge

Freya’s knife-edge. Photo by Ryan

Such a great ridge

Such a great ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya's west ridge

Mike and Ryan on Freya’s west ridge

Meke on a very exposed downclimb

Mike on a very exposed downclimb

Ryan at the same spot

Ryan at the same spot

Easy walking

Easy walking

One final climb up on the west ridge

One final climb up on the west ridge

Finishing up Freya's west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Finishing up Freya’s west ridge. Photo by Ryan

Looking back

Looking back with Asgard Meadows down to the left

We took a well-earned break at the Freya/Thor col for a PB&J and some Gatorade. I am not sure what time it was, but maybe between 12-1pm. Anyway, we decided to go for Thor Tower as well. We took Stan’s route up the loose southeast-facing couloir to the saddle west of Thor’s summit. What really excited me about coming back to this area were some of the seemingly solid 300′ crack routes on Thor’s south face visible on our approach up the couloir. Rock shoes and a bigger rack are a must on the next trip.

This large dihedral on Thor's south face was especially interesting

This large dihedral on Thor’s south face was especially interesting

Climbing up Thor's southeast couloir. Freya's west ridge can be seen behind

Climbing up Thor’s southeast couloir. Freya’s west ridge can be seen behind

Then, we traversed north along ledges to Stan’s 5.6 crack route. Ryan decided to scope out a different route to the right (south) of Stan’s route and described it as an airy 5.4 pitch. I tagged the rope on my harness and climbed Stan’s 5.6 crack, found his old webbing and rap ring at the top, and belayed Mikey up to me.

Ryan on his airy route

Ryan on his airy route

Me climbing Stan's 5.6 crack

Me climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Me belaying Mike up. Photo by Ryan

Mike climbing Stan's 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Mike climbing Stan’s 5.6 crack up Thor Tower

Stan's old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

Stan’s old webbing and rap ring. Ryan added another piece of webbing through the rap ring.

It was then easy scrambling to the summit where we saw Stan’s cairn and small glass jar with his card in it.

Stan's card

Stan’s card

Their summit register

Their summit register

As I didn't have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up "Expedition" just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

As I didn’t have a pen, I added a patch off of my pack. Its a made-up “Expedition” name my dad thought up just for fun as our mountain cabin in NC is called Chalk Hill :)

Looking down Thor's east ridge to Frey'a west ridge below

Looking down Thor’s east ridge to Freya’s west ridge below

The Valhalla amphitheater from Thor's summit

The east amphitheater of Mt. Valhalla from Thor’s summit

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

The section of ridge between Valhalla & Hail Peak I have yet to scout

Summit of Thor (12,500' or so)

Summit of Thor (12,500′ or so)

We stayed on the summit for a good 20-30 minutes and enjoyed the wonderful views and weather.

Ryan rapping

Ryan rapping

Me rapping

Me rapping

We descended down the other side of Thor’s west col towards the beautiful lake at about 11,900′. While loose in spots, it wasn’t too bad at all. Then, we continued to descend another 300′ of boulders back down into Asgard Meadows.

The small lake at 11,900' between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

The small lake at 11,900′ between Asgard Ridge and Thor Tower

Back in Asgard Meadows

Back in Asgard Meadows

I so wish I had these mini-10' walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

I so wish I had these mini-10′ walls in my backyard for Sawyer to learn on :)

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

Ryan spotted this northwest buttress on Rain Peak across the valley. Maybe a future climb

We refilled with water and relaxed for a bit. It was 3pm now and we (at least me) should be probably heading on out. We reascended 300′ or so back up the scree/boulder slopes to the grassy meadows along Asgard Ridge’s southern flanks and cruised on home arriving back to the trailhead by 5:30pm for an 11 hour RT day. Thanks to Ryan & Mike for helping to make this day one of my most memorable Gore adventures in a long time.

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000'

Cruising beautiful Gore meadows at 12,000′

Soaking it in

Soaking it in

Pyramidal Traverse

I have always had a few of the red, rugged, and rotten traverses in the Elks in the back of my mind to hopefully climb one day (other than the Maroon Bells Traverse, which I have done a few times) and when my friend Natalie suggested she wanted to do the Pyramidal Traverse, I was interested. A huge plus would also be to get into the Elk Range on a gorgeous fall day. But, mainly I just wanted a new ridge traverse. The Pyramidal Traverse traverses the 14er Pyramid Peak (14,018′), the centennial Thunder Pyramid (13,932′), and the bicentennial Lightning Pyramid (13,722′). Natalie wanted to scope out the non-standard northwest ridge route up Pyramid in preparation for a winter ascent. This sounded fun as well as I had never been up the NW ridge route. I had been up and down the standard NE ridge route 4 times in the past, the last one being with Rainier and Caleb & Jennie Wray in August 2009. While the loose rock of the Bells, Pyramid, and surrounding peaks is not my favorite rock to scramble on and doesn’t instill much comfort or confidence, it is still very unique rock and offers challenging scrambling even if only low 5th class, especially on the downclimbing aspects. Several climbing buddies had suggested we traverse south to north as we could climb up most of the low 5th class crux sections, but we wanted to climb Pyramid’s NW ridge route for a recon of the winter route, so it looked like we would be downclimbing all of the cruxes. And, it was a lot of downclimbing. I brought my 30m/8mm rope, webbing, harness, slings, biners, nuts, and a few cams in hopes to set up a rappel if needed, but it turned out everything just stayed in my pack. I always believe its better to have it and not use it than to not have it and need it. So, after Sawyer was in bed and Kristine & I had dinner, I zipped over in the Subaru to the Maroon Lake TH parking lot and got a few hours sleep in the back of the car with the tailgate open. Natalie showed up around 5am and we departed the TH around 5:30am. It was to be just about a perfect fall weather day except for the fairly stiff west wind that was supposed to subside by around 9am, which it fortunately did. We made quick work of the approach up into the amphitheater below Pyramid’s north face and then veered off south west on steep grassy slopes and loose scree to the northwest ridge at around 12,700′.

Pyramid's north face

Pyramid’s north face

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid's NW ridge

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid’s NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small saddle at 12,700' on Pyramid's NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small col at 12,700′ on Pyramid’s NW ridge

Looking up Pyramid's NW ridge from the small col at 12,700'

Looking up Pyramid’s NW ridge from the small col at 12,700′

We followed the northwest ridge route pretty much “to a T” up through the Keyhole Couloir and then further up the fun class 4 slab/chimney above. It was a gorgeous morning except that we were climbing in the shade and the wind was pretty stiff. I was chilled as I normally get considering my hefty plethora of body fat :)

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

The Keyhole Couloir

The Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

We then just sort of traversed ledges and slight aretes until we both found ourselves into the upper bowl/amphitheater below the summit block.

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

We climbed this fun little chimney which Ntalaie said is dubbed the "JP Sneak"

We climbed this fun little chimney which Natalie said was dubbed the “JP Sneak”

Natalie climbing the "JP Sneak"

Natalie climbing the “JP Sneak”

Once on the summit ridge, it was a short scramble to Pyramid’s summit arriving around 9:15am.

Natalie almost to Pyramid's summiut

Natalie almost to Pyramid’s summit

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018')

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018′)

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

I was a little worried about my timing as I needed to be home by 7pm (back to car by 5pm), nut Natalie convinced me we would be ok with timing. So, we began the traverse south to the centennial Thunder Pyramid in what would be the “meat & potatoes” of the day.  The downclimb of the class 4 pitch on Pyramid’s south ridge was lots of fun and then it was pretty cruiser class 2 walking for several hundred yards until we started doing some pretty mellow class3/4 downclimbing with not much exposure on the ridge crest.

Descending Pyramid's south ridge

Descending Pyramid’s south ridge

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid's south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid’s south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Natalie on the same dihedral

Natalie on the same dihedral

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

We tried the west side of the ridge to actually get down to the lowpoint several hundred feet below, but it didn’t go anywhere. We backtracked slightly and headed on the ridge top or just slightly east and found the top of the crux low 5th class downclimb with some big exposure that we had heard about. Well, there was only one way down. I was considering setting up a rappel, but there was just no good place to set up an anchor.

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Me beginning the downclimb

Me beginning the downclimb. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

The last bit down to the lowpoint

The last bit down to the lowpoint

I had gotten down to the lowpoint and was scouting the next portion of the traverse when Natalie thought she could just drop her pack the remaining 10 ft down into the top of a steep, loose couloir down the west side. While it looked like the pack would just plop down and not roll from Natalie’s perspective, it indeed took off down the couloir. We both looked and thought it would stop, but just went over a steep crux and into oblivion. Natalie went down after it, but triggered a small rockslide, which didn’t make either of us very comfortable. She searched for a good 20-30min, but to no avail. She came back up to the lowpoint and we would both have to get by with my half nalgene of water and half liter of Gatorade for the rest of the traverse and the descent down to West Maroon Creek. I felt awful for Natalie as she had some valuable gear in there including her Delorme. I mean that pack could have been close to her lowpoint or rolled to the couloir’s bottom. Who knows. She would later get in touch with Delorme and they would track it to be resting at 13,300′ or just below her lowpoint. And, Natalie would go back 2 days later, ascend Thunder Pyamid via the standard White Gully, and traverse over to retrieve her pack. Very admirable and impressive determination, Natalie!

Anyway, we continued along the traverse south from the lowpoint, which was now significantly easier with some class 3/4 and nothing all that exposed.

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below. Photo by Natalie

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Even with the delay for the dropped pack, we still made the traverse in just under 2 hours. It was my first summit of Thunder Pyramid and another centennial for myself. It was a nice summit.

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid's summit

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid’s summit

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932')

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932′)

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

I believe it was around 12:15pm when we left Thunder Pyramid’s summit for Lightning Pyramid. Easy class 2+/3 downclimbing at first quickly yielded class 4 downclimbing to get down to the lowpoint between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid.

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

I dropped my pack with all the gear at the lowpoint saddle between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid and in 15 minutes over easy terrain we were on Lightning Pyramid’s summit at approximately 1pm.

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid's north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid’s north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Almost there

Almost there

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722')

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722′)

Our descent off this ridge was via the awfully steep and loose west side couloir between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid accessed from the lowpoint saddle. Not looking forward to it, we navigated it pretty well going one at a time for several pitches ensuring we don’t knock rocks down on one another. It could have been the worst couloir I’ve descended. I don’t know. However, I do know I will never touch it again.

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

More steep nastiness

More steep nastiness

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Light at the end of the tunnel - the apron

Light at the end of the tunnel – the apron

Natalie coming out of the gully

Natalie coming out of the gully

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

It was wonderful to get down into the grassy Len Shoemaker Basin and take a break and guzzle our remaining fluids. We then made our way on grassy ledges and rock gullies to get down another 1,200′ to the West Maroon Creek trail.

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

We finally hit the West Maroon Creek trail, filled up with water and iodined our nalgenes, and cruised out the remaining few miles back to the Maroon Lake TH arriving just at 5pm. Natalie’s car keys were in her lost pack, so we hurried quickly down to 82 in the Subaru to get cell service so Natalie could call Geico and get some roadside assistance. After everything was settled, I was drove back to Edwards just in time to see Sawyer before bed, which was my goal all along. I later learned that Natalie’s spare keys were not in her locked car, so someone drove them up from Denver apparently and she finally got into her car later that night. But, my hat is certainly off to her for going back up Thunder and over to the couloir to retrieve her pack 24 hrs later. So happy it all worked out.

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie's pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie’s pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right to the lowpoint saddle between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Lastly, thanks to Natalie for a great day and a solid idea for an Elks traverse in the fall. Its exactly what I needed having not been in the area in years. I don’t get on 14ers too often anymore, but Pyramid will always be one of my favorites. I guess total stats are something like 5,500′ vertical gain in 12.5 miles and 11.5 hrs RT. Our little Pyramid loop is shown below:

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid's NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid’s NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Avalanche Peak North Ridge

I first noticed this cool looking peak with a few towers on its north ridge during our traverse between the Harry Gates hut and the Peter Estin hut this past April. Then, I come to research it a bit and find out it is named Avalanche Peak. However, what intrigued me were the towers along its north ridge.

Avalanche Peak from the Lime Creek plateau area as seen this past April. The two prominent towers on its north ridge are visible

Avalanche Peak from the Lime Creek plateau area as seen this past April. The two prominent towers on its north ridge are visible

I recruited my very young friend and new co-worker, Dylan Friday, who just graduated from Penn State, to come exploring with me. I was also excited to climb at Lime Creek Canyon afterwards. Being young and 22 years old and having not previously scrambled all that much, Dylan was up for anything I had in mind. We left my house at 4:30am and were hiking up the Eagle Lake Trail from Woods Lake maybe by 6:30am. The most wonderful aspect about this area is the remoteness and lack of people. In fact, there was not a single other soul we saw once we left the trailhead. I don’t have too many stats for the day as I really don’t follow that info very closely nor track it, but I always have a mental picture of what distance we traveled and how much vertical gain. The Eagle Lake Trail was good to Eagle Lake and then faded out somewhat. We lost the trail a few times and had to find it again, but the minimal trail certainly made for faster progress than not having any sort of trail at all. After some bushwhacking and maybe 4.5 miles of trail, we made it to Fairview Lake at around 10,700′. I really knew nothing of this ridge as I cannot find any previous beta on it. But, that makes it more intriguing to me and, to put it simply, more fun. Accessing the ridge from Fairview Lake looked to be semi-straightforward up loose gullies, ledges, and class 3/4 rock.

The towers on Avalanche Peak's north ridge come into view from the Lime Creek Valley

The towers on Avalanche Peak’s north ridge come into view from the Lime Creek Valley

The north ridge as seen from a higher plateau above Fairview Lake

The north ridge as seen from a higher plateau above Fairview Lake

It was around 8:30am now when we began bushwhacking up the lower flanks of the north ridge ascending loose gullies and grassy ledges. We ascended around the northeast buttress of the ridge for easier passage than directly up the northern cliff bands. Armed with only helmets, we had to keep the scrambling at low 5th and below, unfortunately. In retrospect, I wish I had brought a small rack and my 30m/8mm rope. Usually I do take some gear for unknown ridges, but I dropped the ball on this one. Oh well. Next time.

Dylan with Fools Peak in the distance

Dylan with Fools Peak in the distance

You gain vertical very quickly. Fairview Lake below

You gain vertical very quickly. Fairview Lake below

Steep gullies with fairly solid granite ensued

Steep gullies with fairly solid granite ensued

Some fun scrambling on mostly solid rock up to the ridge proper

Some fun scrambling on mostly solid rock up to the ridge proper

Dylan on the ridge

Dylan on the ridge with Fools and Eagle Peaks in the distance

We hit the ridge and were welcomed by a chilly west breeze. I always love trying to stay on the ridge proper and we scrambled up to almost the next small tower’s summit until I realized there was no way to get down the other side without a rappel. So, we downclimbed and went around the first small tower to the east.

The view looking at the potential rappel down the south side of the first small tower. I can't imagine how long that large rock has been teetering there on that ledge

The view looking at the potential rappel down the south side of the first small tower. I can’t imagine how long that large rock has been teetering there on that ledge

We scrambled up to a small saddle and viewed the route up the first of the two large towers that can be seen from the trailhead and beyond.

1st large tower

1st large tower

Dylan scrambling up the north ridge of the 1st large tower

Dylan scrambling up the north ridge of the 1st large tower

Really fun, solid stuff

Really fun, solid stuff

Everything was great until we reached a ledge and a 20′ tall headwall that easily went mid-5th class with questionable rock and absolutely no way around either side. Darn! Would have been very doable with an alpine rope, gear, and some sticky rubber approach shoes. But, with only running shoes and a helmet – nope. We downclimbed the north ridge of the 1st large tower and bypassed it on steep ledges to the east and up to the saddle between the 1st & 2nd large towers.

The 2nd large tower comes into view

The 2nd large tower comes into view

The south ridge of the 1st large tower, which appeared to be definitely downclimable

The south ridge of the 1st large tower, which appeared to be definitely downclimable

On the way up the north ridge of the 2nd large tower

On the way up the north ridge of the 2nd large tower

Bypassing a gendarme en route up the 2nd large tower

Bypassing a gendarme en route up the 2nd large tower

Easy but fun scrambling

Easy but fun scrambling

Looking over at Avalanche Peak's true summit from the top of the 2nd large tower

Looking over at Avalanche Peak’s true summit from the top of the 2nd large tower

We descended easy slabs and scrambled up class 2+ terrain to Avalanche Peak’s summit.

Reaching Avalanche Peak's summit

Reaching Avalanche Peak’s summit

Beautiful high alpine lakes and rugged peaks looking east in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Beautiful high alpine lakes and rugged peaks looking east in the Holy Cross Wilderness

Looking down the north ridge from the summit

Looking down the north ridge from the summit

Lime Creek Canyon from Avalanche Peak's summit. I looked forward to a few routes here in a few hours time

Lime Creek Canyon from Avalanche Peak’s summit. I looked forward to a few routes here in a few hours time

Avalanche Peak summit (12,803)

Avalanche Peak summit (12,803)

After maybe 20 minutes, we followed what I believe to be the “standard” route up Avalanche via its mellow west ridge. No trail at all, but easy boulder-hopping and grassy fields.

Looking back at Avalanche Peak from its mellow west ridge

Looking back at Avalanche Peak from its mellow west ridge

The large towers along its north ridge

The large towers along its north ridge

We followed the west ridge below treeline and bushwhacking through heavy timber until we came to a limestone cliff and descended a steep gully for 700′ back to the Eagle Lake Trail. For pretty much the entire descent we were off-trail, but it went fairly quick. We then hiked the remaining mile and a half back to the trailhead on the good Eagle Lake Trail arriving around 1:30pm, just about 7 hours after we began. I do look forward to going back and exploring this ridge more in depth.

Avalanche Peak and the two large towers as seen from the trailhead

Avalanche Peak and the two large towers as seen from the trailhead

Our approximate journey. Maybe 10 miles RT and we probably did 4,000' of vertical gain

Our approximate journey. Maybe 10 miles RT and we probably did 4,000′ of vertical gain. Click to enlarge

After a sandwich, we rolled over to Lime Creek Canyon and climbed a few routes. However, I really didn’t think climbing a peak would wear me out for climbing afterwards. I was wrong. I guess I’m not 22 anymore. I felt better that Dylan was tired climbing as well. I was definitely not on my A-game, but led a 5.10c and then led one of my favorite routes there called Tears on the North Wall (5.11a). Dylan did great to follow both routes.

Me leading Tears (5.11a)

Me leading Tears (5.11a)

Anyway, it was nice to climb a few routes in the afternoon at one of my favorite cragging areas. I guess I never realized how even a 7 hour peak climb tires me out until I try and climb 5.11 immediately following said climb. I’ll chalk it up to gettin’ old :) Back in Edwards by 5pm to go to the playground with Sawyer, Kristine, and the dogs. It was a good day.

BG Massive Hike

Our engineering firm, BG Buildinworks, formerly Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers, tries to participate in the Griffith Centers for Children sponsored 14er climb every year we can. Griffith Centers is a great organization that helps troubled children and their families. I have led this fun event for 12 of the 13 years I have been with BG and always enjoy the planning and getting folks to participate. This year I chose Mt. Massive, Colorado’s 2nd highest peak, and only an hour and 15 minute drive from the Vail Valley. The southwest slopes route is a good hike with almost 4,000′ of elevation gain in 4 miles to the summit. I hadn’t been up Massive since the day we returned from climbing Denali in June 2007 and wanted to get back on that mountain.

Mt Massive Summit (6-30-07). Left to right: Derek, Devon, J, Megan, Mikey J, with Rainier & myself kneeling

Mt Massive Summit (6-30-07). Left to right: Derek, Devon, J, Megan, Mikey J, with Rainier & myself kneeling

Kona & I didn’t arrive at our big group campsite along the North Halfmoon Road until almost 10pm, but everyone was gathered around the fire as usual beers in hand and laughing. I was up way too late because of some of the young guns and Kona and I crawled into our sleeping bags around 3am. However, I couldn’t stop laughing at Trevor, Dylan, Billy, & Tim around the fire and its quite possible we never went to sleep. Billy called it quits at 5am. I do know, for a fact, that Trevor & Dylan did not go to sleep. Out of our bags at 5:30am, we all piled in a few 4WD vehicles and motored up the 2 miles to the 4WD trailhead parking. Joel Lauran, & Alec joined us that morning as well as none of them had hiked Massive yet. It was fantastic having them along. The hike went well for everyone and a few folks summitted their 1st 14er ever!

Left to right: Dylan, Joel, Seth, Tim, Lauran, Britta with Mt. Oklahoma behind

Left to right: Dylan, Joel, Seth, Tim, Lauran, Britta with Mt. Oklahoma behind

Lauran, Tim, & Seth heading up the southwest slopes of Massive with the Independence Pass area peaks (Grizzly Peak just right of center) behind

Lauran, Tim, & Seth heading up the southwest slopes of Massive with the Independence Pass area peaks (Grizzly Peak just right of center) behind

Alec making headway

Alec making headway

Goats

Goats

We reached the final summit ridge after maybe 3 hours, but wanted to wait for the rest of the crew. So, Kona & I & Alec took a long break while Joel and folks went up to the summit. I ran back down the trail a few hundred feet to see where everyone was and was delighted to see Billy & Larisa, Eric, & Brent, etc making progress up the mountain. I would guess everyone was on the summit together by noon.

Joel & Lauran and Massive's final summit ridge

Joel & Lauran and Massive’s final summit ridge

Its always wonderful having Kona looking over me

Its always wonderful having Kona looking over me

Billy & Larisa on the summit ridge

Billy & Larisa on the summit ridge

BG on the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421')!

BG on the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421′)!

We probably spent 30 min on the summit of Massive and we certainly were not alone. Many other groups and families were on the mountain, which was great to see. It was a gorgeous day with not much of a chance at all for storms even later in the day (per Joel Gratz, of course).

Everyone was excited

Everyone was excited

Seth, Britta, & Tim

Seth, Britta, & Tim with the Gratzes photobombing this pic as they love to do

Billy & Larisa. This was Larisa's 1st 14er in 8 years well before her 3 young boys. I was very proud of her

Billy & Larisa. This was Larisa’s 1st 14er in 8 years well before they welcomed any of their 3 young boys into this world. I was very proud of her

The two goofballs, Eric & Brent

The two goofballs, Eric & Brent. Massive was Brent’s 1st 14er

The Gratzes

The Gratzes

Alec & the Gratzes

Alec & the Gratzes

And last but not least, Kona & I. This was Kona's 1st summit of Massive

And last but not least, Kona & I. This was Kona’s 1st summit of Massive

My mom also came into town this same weekend and was understanding in my going away for 18 hours for the Mt. Massive hike. However, she had a wonderful time, especially with sweet Sawyer. Here are a few pics of our time together:

Down at the river

Down at the river

Mom & Sawyer

Mom & Sawyer

Me, Kristine, Sawyer, and Rainie at the Scherr's home in Minturn for a Sunday night dinner

Me, Kristine, Sawyer, and Rainie at the Scherr’s home in Minturn for a Sunday night dinner

Mom & I on the same hammock at the Scherr's home in Minturn (before Rainie and I broke it - so sorry Diana & Matt)

Mom & I on the same hammock at the Scherr’s home in Minturn (before Rainie and I broke it – so sorry Diana & Matt)

Kristine & Sawyer enjoying the awesome food

Kristine & Sawyer enjoying the awesome food

Thanks for coming out, Mom. We all love you!

Eiseman Hut & Lime Creek

Well, its been over a month since our family Eiseman Hut trip in early July, but it was a great time and had to share some pics of the fun experience with all of the young babies/kids. Thanks to J for spearheading this hut trip. I had never been up to Eiseman in the summer (always in the winter and a long 9 mile skin in), but it sure is nice to just drive the 4WD road to within 100 yards of the hut in the summer. However, despite only being literally 10 miles north of Vail Village, the feeling of being at Eiseman in the winter is something special and one of remoteness. The skiing is phenomenal in the northwest-facing bowls behind the hut a mile or two. A few pics from way back in April 2008:

 

Eiseman Hut

Eiseman Hut

A motley crew (Joel Mikey J, and J)

A motley crew (Joel, Mikey J, and J)

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Kristine & Tim on the ridge

Rob Schnare & myself

Rob Schnare & myself

Tim, me, Mikey J

Tim, me, Mikey J

Kristine dropping the knee

Kristine dropping the knee

And, then 4 years later in April 2012:

Me & K

Me & K

Nico and the Gores

Nico and the Gores

Kristine swissbobbing

Kristine swissbobbing

The crew this trip

The crew this trip

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy CRoss

The view of Vail Mountain & Mt. of the Holy Cross

Sawyer just loves 4-wheeling and didn’t mind at all the 45 minute bumpy 4WD road up to Eiseman. We had a blast with all of our friends and their little ones, though lots of babies and adults in the same bunk room doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sleep. Some pics of the fun 18 hours up at Eiseman:

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Joel, Kona, Lauran, & Celeste hanging on the deck

Chuck & Hudson

Chuck & Hudson

Megan, J, & Raina

Megan, J, & Raina

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Sage, Sawyer, & a squinting Rainie

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Hanging out in the new Cizik tent

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

Sawyer is already a Bronco fan

The Ciziks

The Ciziks

The Chalks

The Chalks

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Rainie getting in on the playtime

Dinnertime

Dinnertime

Out for a stroll

Out for a stroll

A gorgeous sunset

A gorgeous sunset

Sawyer waking up sporting her "bear hat"

Sawyer waking up sporting her “bear hat”

Breakfast on the deck

Breakfast on the deck

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this one of Rainie, Kona, Sawyer, & Clara

I love this little girl :)

I love this little girl :)

A few days later, Kristine & I took a half day and drove out to one of my favorite sport climbing areas called Lime Creek Canyon. Its about an hour and 15 minute drive from Edwards, but man its so worth it. Just wonderful limestone cliffs above the flowing Lime Creek.

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine climbing Old School (5.9)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine leading Crowd Control (5.6)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Sweat (5.10b)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Kristine climbing Rafting with Rednecks (5.10c)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Me rappelling off of Born on the Fourth (5.10a)

Fun day together at Lime Creek

Fun day together at Lime Creek

It was a fun July with a few more trips to Lime Creek, lots of quality time with Sawyer & the dogs, some good trail runs, and enjoying the wonderful summertime that living in Colorado affords.

Quandary’s Inwood Arete

No matter how many times I have climbed the 14er Quandary Peak, there always seems to be new terrain to discover. The remote north face of Quandary harbors a semi-technical route that ascends an arete for 2,000′ to 13,800′ on the broad east face. Kristine & Sawyer were back on the coast of Maine visiting her folks for a week and so my friend Reid Jennings and I made a plan to hit this route as it would be a short half-day climb and not too much time away from Rainie & Kona back at the house. Plus, it would be a nice Independence Day scramble. I had been wanting to check this route out for some time and is even featured in David Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles book. Reid & I met at the main Quandary Peak TH at 7:15am and after driving the 2 miles or so on the dirt access road to the 11,000′ McCullough Gulch TH, we set off hiking up McCullough Gulch around 7:45am. It was very nice to leave the hundreds of folks at the main Quandary Peak TH, who would be hiking the normal standard east ridge, and have the entire north side to ourselves. I brought my 7mm tag line as our lightweight rope and a half rack of nuts and cams for the fun-looking initial 100′ 5.7 crack pitch. We both brought our harnesses, helmets, and rock shoes as well. After about an hour, 1000′ of vertical gain, and a delicate creek crossing, we reached the base of the route at the nice looking 5.7 crack.

Reid and the creek crossing

Reid and the creek crossing

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

The Inwood Arete. The 5.7 crack is in red and the remaining route denoted in blue is all 3rd, 4th, and low 5th class scrambling

Now there are 4th class and maybe low 5th class ways around this initial 5.7 crack, but what’s the fun in that?

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking up the initial 5.7 crack

Looking down at Reid at the crack's base

Looking down at Reid at the crack’s base

I placed 4 cams in about 90′, so its pretty easy climbing, but definitely adds a bit of fun to the route. I made an anchor at the top and brought Reid up to me. He enjoyed the pitch as well. We stowed our gear and traded climbing shoes for trail runners and took off up the class 3 scrambling.

Above the initial technical pitch

Above the initial technical pitch

I think the best part of the route and the most fun was the several hundred feet of class 4 and low 5th class scrambling on solid slabs above this initial class 3 scrambling. It was great. Very solid and fun climbing using various crack systems. This took us up to the base of the 1st tower.

Reid on the slabs

Reid on the slabs

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down McCullough Gulch

Reid on a section of friction climbing with a great view down to McCullough Gulch

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

More scenic climbing shots of Reid on the slabs

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

The cracks in the slabs really provided a nice route to the top

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

Reid almost to the top of the slabs

The towers would have been fun to hit head-on, but we just found the small gully up between the 1st & 2nd towers from the east and scrambled around just to the west of the 2nd & 3rd towers. These towers aren’t really all that impressive – mere bumps on a not so well-defined arete.

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

Reid coming up the gully which bisects the 1st & 2nd towers

More scrambling awaits

More scrambling awaits

While the Inwood Arete is really not a sharp ridge as you’d think an arete should be, the scrambling is still fun and worthwhile, in my opinion. The route does sort-of meander up the remaining arete between steep, loose gullies and small cliff bands to the top at about 13,800′.

Reid up high on the route

Reid up high on the route. The three towers can be seen over his left shoulder down below

We then saw the hundreds of hikers marching up and down the standard east ridge. Another 450 of vertical gain and 20 minutes later we were sharing the summit of Quandary with probably 75 folks of all ages. Definitely not unexpected, but we didn’t stay very long.

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Looking down from the top of the Quandary Couloir and Inwood Arete to its right

Final push to the top

Final push to the top

Quandry Peak summit (14,265')

Quandary Peak summit (14,265′)

We descended the standard east ridge route until about 12,600′ where we veered northeast along the north edge of the large east-facing bowl in order to make a beeline for the car. While it was some steep off-trail talus hopping, bushwhacking, and grass slope descending, we amazingly popped out literally right at the car. Now, that’s some good navigation! :) It had taken us about 4.5 hrs roundtrip car-to-car and there were now well over a hundred folks at the McCullough Gulch TH. It was quite the scene with people trying to get to and depart from the TH via the narrow dirt road. We sat in some traffic waiting for people to backup their cars, but eventually got out. After all, it was July 4 and Breckenridge was nearby and obviously very busy and crowded. Back home at 2pm to take the dogs to the river, it was a nice half-day adventure with Reid.

Meanwhile back in Maine, my two favorite gals were having a wonderful visit:

Boating

Boating

Dressing up for parties

Dressing up for parties

And driving tractors

And driving tractors

Final 2016 Spring Ski: Pauite Peak

Well, despite some early spring wet weather, which always seem to coincide with just about every April weekend, the month of May turned generally warm and dry we we were able to get a few spring skis on the books. The weather really heated up in June and a few weeks of downright hot weather was quickly melting the snowpack. Derek sent out an invite to come down to his “neck of the woods” in the Indian Peaks west of Boulder and hit the 13er Paiute Peak (13,088′) he had been wanting to climb & ski. This was also to serve as a prelude to our good friend Jesse Hill’s 16th annual summer solstice party in Wheatridge. J, Kona, & I drove down in Megan’s 1999 Volvo late Friday night to the Brainard Lake winter closure parking lot arriving around 10:30pm. Neither of us (nor Kona) had been in the Indian peaks so this was a new adventure for all of us and worth going east through the “tunnel”.

The Indian Peark as seen from Brainard Lake on our way out later in the day

The Indian Peark as seen from Brainard Lake on our way out later in the day. Pauite’s snowy southeast face is on the far right

Derek & his Australian Shepherd, Maude, were already there as was Derek’s friend, Russell, and our friend, Natalie Moran, all in their respective cars. J, Kona, & I slept in our bags next to the Volvo and each had a restless few hours mainly due to the mosquitos nipping at our heads every so often. I think Kona & I maybe got one good hour of sleep before my alarm went off at 3:30am. More good friends Mikey Santoro & Mr. Joel Gratz himself arrived at around 4:15am. Several folks had brought their bikes for the 3 mile ride up the paved road to the Mitchell Lake TH past Brainard Lake, but J, Derek, me, Maude, & Kona walked it. We regrouped with the bikers about an hour later at the Mitchell Lake TH and packed skis and boots on our backs to start up the trail in trail shoes. Natalie, Russell, Mikey, & Joel had locked their bikes at the TH. We hiked maybe a mile before the snow became a bit too much and we all decided to trade our trail shoes for ski boots, skins, & skis. Somehow, we ended up losing the already faint trail among the snowdrifts and ended up doing quite bit of tedious bushwhacking as well as shouldering skis across marshes and small creeks and boulder fields for a few hours. It was inefficient to say the least :) Nevertheless, it was what it was and we persevered. At around 8am, we reached Blue Lake. We briefly considered going to ski nearby Mt. Toll as Pauite was more distance and Derek skied Toll only a few weeks prior, but in the end no one had ventured to Pauite and that was the goal.

Making our way to Pauite (right). Mt. Toll is on the left

Making our way to Pauite (right). Mt. Toll is on the left

Getting closer to Pauite. Its steeper southeast face is dead ahead withe the Curvaceous Couloir on its right (left in pic)

Getting closer to Pauite. Its steeper southeast face is dead ahead with the Curvaceous Couloir on its right (left in pic)

After some more shouldering of skis up boulder fields interspersed by snowfields, we finally reached the 11,800′ high lake below Pauite’s steep southeast face. The intended climbing & ski route called the Curvaceous Couloir was melted out at the bottom and not continuous, but we all decided to climb it anyway and ski either the couloir or the steeper southeast face back to the small lake at 11,800′.

Booting up the lower snowfield above the 11,800' lake

Booting up the lower snowfield above the 11,800′ lake

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

J towards the top of the Curvacous Couloir

Natalie

Natalie

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Mikey still in his snowshoes on 40 degree snow

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

Derek & Russell with Mt. Toll behind

We left our skis at maybe 12,900′ where the snow ran out and a few of us scrambled up to the rocky summit arriving sometime late morning (honestly cannot remember when). The view of the Indian Peaks were spectacular and all new scenery for me, J, Mike, Natalie, & Kona. We saw a familiar friend to the north in Longs Peak.

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

J on top of the summit block of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Mike on top of Pauite

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

Me with Longs Peak in the far distance on the left

Hotter than heck in Denver, but a nice temp at 13,000'

Hotter than heck in Denver, but a nice temp at 13,000′

Close-up of Longs

Close-up of Longs

Group shot on Pauite's summit (13,088')

Group shot on Pauite’s summit (13,088′)

Me & Kona

Me & Kona

After maybe 20 minutes, we scrambled down the 200′ to our skis and Derek, Maude, Joel, & Russell. A few of us elected to ski the Curvaceous Couloir, but several of us went over to the steeper southeast face to check it out. J guinea-pigged the face and made it safely to the bottom. Russell went next and after Natalie and I saw him safe with J about 1,000 below, I went and Kona followed. It definitely felt steep for me maybe partially because I was nervous for Kona as she kept sliding some and then arresting herself. I was nervous for her as I didn’t want her to get in an uncontrolled slide over a rock band. She did very well, though, and Natalie came down behind us making great turns on what felt like a 45 degree upper face.

Me & Kona making our way out onto the face

Me & Kona making our way out onto the face. Photo by Natalie

Me & Kona on the upper face

Me & Kona on the upper face. Photo by Natalie

Kona on the upper face with the 11,800' frozen lake below. J & Russell can be seen way down on the right as well

Kona on the upper face with the 11,800′ frozen lake below. J & Russell can be seen way down on the right as well

Natalie

Natalie

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Natalie in good form with Mt. Audobahn behind

Me lower down with Kona a bit behind me

Me lower down with Kona a bit behind me. Photo by Natalie

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

The lower face afforded much more fun turns for me

Derek, Maude, Joel, & Mikey all skied the Curvaceous Couloir, which I am sure was super fun. I sort wished I had skied that line instead of the southeast face, but c’est la vie.

Joel took this pic of Derek & Maude skiing the Curvaceous Couloir

Joel took this pic of Derek & Maude skiing the Curvaceous Couloir

We all regrouped at the 11,800′ lake and continued the long, inefficient descent all the way back to Brainard Lake with likely 20 transitions between skiing, shouldering the skis, skis on packs, and skis and boots on our packs in exchange for just trail shoes.

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

One last look for Mikey of Mt. Toll

Back to Brainard Lake around maybe 1:30pm, the bikers left us walkers in the dust, but after only maybe walking 1/3 of the paved road down to the winter closure, Mikey came to pick me, Kona, Derek, Maude, & J up in his pickup. That was a time savior for sure as we needed to get to Jesse’s summer solstice party! A quick bite to eat in Boulder, J, Kona, & I met Kristine, Sawyer, Rainier, Megan, & Raina at Jesse’s house in Denver. Again, Jesse outdid himself and it was all outstanding as usual. Amazing he has done this for 16 years. He really has transitioned the party with the times. 16 years ago it was basically a big frat party at their “Brady Bunch” type house in Lakewood with 150 single and young early 20 somethings. Now, its much more low-key and family-oriented with a bouncy castle for kids, games, the street is blocked off, etc. But, Jesse still does the festival of meats, a whole pig, beverages, etc as he has always done. That has not changed. Rainier has been to 13 of the summer solstice parties. I have been to 12, I believe. Rainie has 1 up on me because we climbed Denali in June 2007 and were just getting off the mountain. But, Rainie sure didn’t miss the party! J flew home immediately after Denali while Kristine & I stayed in Anchorage to make the party. That is dedication.

Anyway, I highly doubt I will ski something else this spring. Just not enough now down low to make it worthwhile (for me) to haul skis that far. Plus, its full-on summer now and time for summer activities. Thanks to Kona, Derek, Maude, Mikey, J, Joel, Natalie, & Russell for a fun and adventurous final spring ski in the Indian Peaks.

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