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! ūüôā 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

A Saturday Morning on the Cristo

Despite being one of the easiest 14ers in the state and one we have been up and down countless times, its hard to beat Quandary’s south facing Cristo Couloir in terms of bang (ski descent) for your buck¬†(effort & time involved). Mikey & Kaitlin came up Friday night and stayed with us as Kaitlin would care for Sawyer and Rainie while Kona, Kristine, Mikey, & myself would go climb & ski the Cristo. Its a great route – very direct and a fun ski. One I try and do about every spring. After Sawyer ate a good breakfast and got accustomed to Kaitlin, we departed the house by 8am for the 1 hour and 15 min drive over to Quandary. We had to park at the gate to the Blue Lakes Dam as is typical and got going around 9:30am from my truck for the mile walk up the road to the dam and the base of the couloir. From here its 1 mile and 2,575′ straight up to the summit. Navigationally, it cannot get any easier than this. A great bootpack was established and up we went.

Up and up we go

Up and up we go

Kristine high in the couloir with Northstar Mtn behind

Kristine high in the couloir with Northstar Mtn behind

We topped out right about noon to several folks coming up the standard east ridge and some pretty blustery west wind.

Me, Kristine, & Kona on Quandary's summit (14,265')

Me, Kristine, & Kona on Quandary’s summit (14,265′)

Mikey joins in for a summit pic

Mikey joins in for a summit pic

After maybe 20 minutes on the summit, it was time to roll. We quickly transitioned to ski mode and started down the Cristo. The sun was in and out of the clouds all day, which tended to crust over some of the snow on the upper slopes, but overall it was a pretty decent ski down albeit a bit heavy since we were skiing it after noon this day.

Kristine

Kristine

Kristine skiing the upper  portion of Cristo

Kristine skiing the upper portion of Cristo

There she goes

There she goes

Mikey launching on his snowboard

Mikey launching on his snowboard

Snowboarders...have it easy

Snowboarders…have it easy

Mikey in the sun with the frozen Blue Lakes far below

Mikey in the sun with the frozen Blue Lakes far below

About halfway down the couloir, the sun was really out and it was pretty sloppy, heavy snow especially on my teles. Mikey seemed to carve it up like butter on his snowboard. Kristine skied it very well on her alpines.

Kristine & Kona

Kristine & Kona

Mikey

Mikey

Kristine

Kristine

And, a few of me that Kristine took.

Me trying to last through the heavy snow

Me trying to last through the heavy snow

A full-view of the couloir above

A full-view of the couloir above

And....that's a wrap

And….that’s a wrap

Back at the car around 1pm, we were home by 2:30pm after giving a few fellow skiers a ride back to the standard east ridge trailhead (which they had ascended to ski down the Cristo). Kaitlin & Sawyer had had a great day together and she had just awoken from her afternoon slumber. Many thanks to Kaitlin for shouldering our responsibilities for a few hours so we could go climb/ski something together.

Lastly, happy 9th birthday to Kona! Her birthday is today (May 17). She is the best companion we could have ever asked for. We all love you so much, Kona!

Kona on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross last summer (14,005')

Kona on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross last summer (14,005′)

Castle & Conundrum in Winter

The first time I climbed the Elk Range 14er Castle Peak was for my company’s 2004 Griffith Centers Peak Challenge. I organized it and selfishly chose Castle Peak as I had not hiked it.¬†Griffith Centers for Children sponsors 14er climbs every year we try and participate every year we can. Griffith Centers is a great organization that helps troubled children and their families primarily in Denver. Come to think of it Castle Peak¬†was Rainier and my¬†1st 14er in the Elks.

BGCE Peak Challenge summit pic on Castle Peak (14,265'). August 7, 2004

BGCE Peak Challenge summit pic on Castle Peak (14,265′). August 7, 2004

I then learned there was another 14er next to Castle Peak called Conundrum Peak (14,060′). However, back in those days Conundrum was not recognized as an official 14er of the list of 54 due to it not rising 300′ above the connecting saddle with its higher neighbor, Castle Peak. These days, I believe Conundrum is generally included in the 14er list. Rainier and I ventured up high into Montenzuma Basin in the spring of 2006 and climbed Conundrum just the two of us.

Brandon & Rainie on Conundrum Pk's summit (14,060')

Brandon & Rainie on Conundrum Peak’s summit (14,060′)

In late June of 2008, Kristine was on her quest to complete the Colorado 14ers and so we all went back up into Montezuma Basin and climbed both 14ers. We took more of a sporty line up Conundrum Peak this time via the steeper Conundrum Couloir. After we summitted Conundrum, we did the fairly mellow traverse over to Castle Peak. Montezuma Basin offers wonderful skiing and we skied from about 13,500′ all the way back down to the truck. It was a great day.

Kristine nearing the top of the Conundrum Couloir

Kristine nearing the top of the Conundrum Couloir

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060')

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060′)

Castle Peak summit (14,265')

Castle Peak summit (14,265′)

I’ve been skiing over in Montezuma Basin a few times since 2008 but never to go climb those two 14ers. My friend Natalie Moran is on her winter 14er quest and asked me if I would like to join her on these two. After our recent fun climb up Mt. Sneffels two weeks prior, I was itching to get back up on some peaks as well. And, the weather has been wonderful from a¬†winter climbing perspective., i.e. not much recent snow at all leaving stable snow conditions. Another friend of Natalie’s, Greg from Crested Butte, joined us as well and turns out¬†that these two 14ers were still left on his winter 14er list. Greg only has 6¬†or so more¬†winter 14ers to have climbed all the 14ers in winter. Pretty amazing stuff. Plus, Greg is one of the fastest people I have climbed with no doubt. I drove over to Aspen and turned onto the dark Castle Creek Road, went south to Ashcroft and the winter road closure, and parked next to Natalie’s car around 10:30pm. In winter, the route starts much lower with much more distance and vertical gain to climb than in the summer. I believe the roundtrip stats are¬†around 5,500′ and 16 miles in winter for both 14ers. You can cut that in half or more in the summer given how far you can drive up the 4WD mining¬†road in Montezuma Basin. After a rough and very short night’s rest in the back of Kristine’s Subaru Impreza, in which I certainly did not fit, we woke up at 3:15am and got geared up. Greg showed up at our cars and we all began up the road at around 4:15am with Natalie and I on our skis and Greg on foot with his snowshoes on his pack. We made good time the first few miles and eventually reached the point on the road where I had always driven my truck just before the Pearl Pass turnoff. Soon after the morning colors began to light the sky we entered Montezuma Basin.

Dawn breaks

Dawn breaks

Natalie skinning up Montezuma Basin

Natalie skinning up Montezuma Basin

Upper Montezuma Basin from the summer 12,800' 4WD parking

Upper Montezuma Basin from the summer 12,800′ 4WD parking

After another hour of skinning, we reached the 12,800′ 4WD summer parking area and looked up at the final headwall to the small glacier below the peaks. We noticed a skin track up this 600′ headwall and went for it only to find out that is was horribly icy and slick from a skinner’s perspective. At this point, I certainly wished I just had crampons or snowshoes to go straight up instead of slipping and struggling up the switchbacks.

Me skinning up the icy headwall skin track. Photo by Natalie

Me skinning up the icy headwall skin track. Photo by Natalie

We regrouped in the high 13,500′ basin below Castle’s north face and Conundrum’s east face. Our plan was to climb to the saddle between the two peaks, but it looked a bit loaded from a¬†snow accumulation perspective and perhaps a bit dangerous climbing it. I was honestly expecting it to be a bit drier. We then chose to climb the steeper north couloir of Castle leaving the skis and snowshoes at the base. The couloir was safe enough but definitely a bit demoralizing as it was littered with scree. Snow only covered a small portion of the couloir and it was a bit unconsolidated at that. Natalie and I were fighting our own battles in that couloir due to climbing in¬†ski boots on loose, steep scree. We soon topped out to find Greg lounging at the notch. After a quick snack and drink, we left for the summit only a few hundred vertical feet above along the northeast ridge.

Looking down Castle's North Couloir at Natalie with Conundrum Peak behind

Natalie climbing Castle’s North Couloir with Conundrum Peak behind

Looking up the couloir at Greg almost to the notch

Looking up the couloir at Greg almost to the notch

Greg & I going for Castle's summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg & I going for Castle’s summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg climbing Castle's northeast ridge

Greg climbing Castle’s northeast ridge

Natalie climbing Castle's northeast ridge

Natalie climbing Castle’s northeast ridge

Natalie a bit higher

Natalie a bit higher

Greg

Greg

Almost there

Almost there

Conundrum Peak from Castle's northeast ridge

Conundrum Peak & the Conundrum Couloir from Castle’s northeast ridge

We topped out on Castle around 11:15am making for an ascent time of around 6 hours. After maybe 15 minutes, we started making the traverse over to Conundrum.

Castle Peak summit (14,265'). March 5, 2016

Castle Peak summit (14,265′). March 5, 2016

Greg & I on Castle's summit. Photo by Natalie

Greg & I on Castle’s summit. Photo by Natalie

The othhr 5 rugged Elk Range 14ers to the west

The other 5 rugged Elk Range 14ers to the west

Upon reaching the saddle with Conundrum, we scoped out a possible descent back to the high glacier bowl between the peaks. This same route looked¬†more dangerous from below in the basin a few hours earlier in terms of climbing up it, but now looking down it, it looked like a viable route off these peaks instead of reclimbing Castle and downclimbing its north couloir. Plus, when you are descending a steeper snow route, obviously your time in the danger zone of going down it is much much less than climbing up it. We tested the snow and it definitely appeared stable with no deliberate slabs waiting to rip. We left our packs at the saddle and made the short climb up Conundrum’s south ridge.

Natalie climbing up Conundrum with Castle behind

Natalie climbing up Conundrum with Castle behind

Natalie on Conundrum's summit

Natalie on Conundrum’s summit

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060'). March 5, 2016

Conundrum Peak summit (14,060′). March 5, 2016

Greg & Castle

Greg & Castle

I was happy for Natalie as Conundrum had eluded her on her last winter foray up into Montezuma Basin. Though, at least she was able to summit Castle that day in late January of last year. We descended back to the saddle and one by one descended the steep powdery slopes to below the small cliff band. Then, in order to get down the slope quickly, we each had fun glissades for a few hundred feet. A quick traverse led back over to our skis and snowshoes at the base of Castle’s north couloir.

Greg descending the powdery slopes below the saddle to me below the small cliff

Greg descending the powdery slopes below the saddle to me below the small cliff

Greg

Greg

Natalie striking out across the slope below the small cliff band. This would have been a fun ski with good snow :)

Natalie striking out across the slope below the small cliff band. This slope would have been a fun ski as this was good snow ūüôā

Glissade tracks

Glissade tracks

Natalie back at our skis and snowshoes with our descent route from the saddle behind

Natalie back at our skis and snowshoes with our descent route from the saddle behind

After a snack and some Gatorade, we transitioned back to our skis and shoes and descended. Greg motored ahead while Natalie and I picked our way over to the slope we have both skied before. It was pretty tough snow to ski and I ended up alpining instead of telemarking (as much as I hate to resort to alpine turns) for fear of blowing out my knee. We actually got some nice corn turns down lower in the basin, which was much more enjoyable.

Me skiing the skiable headwall. Photo by Natalie

Me skiing the skiable headwall. Photo by Natalie

Me skiing lower down in the basin. Photo by Natalie

Me dropping my knee lower down in the basin on some nice corn snow. Photo by Natalie

Skate-skiing out the final 2 miles to Ashcroft passing horse-drawn sleighs along the way

Skate-skiing out the final 2 miles to Ashcroft passing horse-drawn sleighs along the way. Photo by Natalie

Natalie and I skied on out all the way back to the winter road closure at Ashcroft and our cars arriving by 1:45pm making for about a 9.5 hour day. Even though Greg was on snowshoes, he only arrived an hour after we did. He is fast. I had to take off soon after arriving at the cars in order to make a Costco run for the Chalk family on my way home and to catch the Duke-UNC game, of course. A wonderful day out with a fine crew. Happy that Greg and Natalie added more peaks to their winter list and that I could be a part of it. As for the winter 14er list for myself, I need to go back and count (if I am able to) which ones I have done in winter over the past 18 years. I always swore that I was done with lists. However, I guess never say never.

Mt. Sneffels in Winter

The boys and I had our annual Silverton ski trip this past weekend. Typically, we have been very lucky with snow conditions every year with massive amounts of powder and storms on this exact weekend. However, this year the mountain had not seen good snow in weeks and I felt like the conditions would leave¬†a lot to be desired. So, I decided to see about skiing on Saturday and climbing a peak on Sunday. I chatted up my friend Natalie and she soon had me convinced to attempt the 14er Mt. Sneffels with her as she had tried it in winter 3 years prior and had turned around at the 13,500′ Lavender Col because of unfavorable snow conditions. She is trying to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers in winter – a serious and very admirable undertaking. I always thought I was done with lists after the 7 Summits and I still claim that I am. However, climbing¬†Sneffels made me realize how I do enjoy being up high on a 14er¬†in the winter. Our crew did end up skiing on Saturday below gorgeous sunny bluebird skies and the snow on Silverton Mtn actually warmed up to acceptable ski conditions. It was a lot of fun with a good crew. Natalie showed up at our Wolf Haus late that afternoon and we all went to a great dinner that evening at Eureka Station in Silverton. We got to bed around 11pm and woke up at 3:15am for a 4am departure to the Sneffels winter road closure gate outside of Ouray. It was a great day to be up high in Colorado and things went about as well as they can on a 14er in the winter. I had climbed Sneffels maybe 6-7 times before all via the standard Lavender Col route and one trip via the Snake Couloir on the peak’s north face , but never in the winter. So, this trip was a special treat to see such stunning terrain in all its winter glory. Natalie wrote a nice little trip report here, which sums up the day well. Below are a few of my favorite pics from the day:

Me starting the steeper skinning up to Lavender Col above. Photo by Natalie

Me starting the steeper skinning up to Lavender Col above. Photo by Natalie

Natalie booting up the steeper slopes to Lavender Col with Gilpin Peak behind

After leaving the skis around 13,200′ (because the very icy and firm snow made the slope unskinnable), Natalie boots up the steeper slopes to Lavender Col with Gilpin Peak behind

Me booting up the Lavender Couloir. Photo by Natalie

Me booting up the Lavender Couloir. Photo by Natalie

Me on the upper face. Photo by Natalie

Me on the upper face. Photo by Natalie

Natalie forging ahead on the steep and exposed upper face

Natalie forging ahead on the steep and exposed upper face

Mt. Sneffels summit (14,150') on February 21,2016

Mt. Sneffels summit (14,150′) on February 21,2016

Natalie and I at the summer 4WD trailhead at about 12,400' on the ski out

Natalie and I at the summer 4WD trailhead at about 12,400′ on the ski out

It was about a 14 mile RT day with about 5,000′ of vertical gain is just over 9 hours. ¬†I kept thinking how fun and enjoyable¬†it would be to come back with Kristine and drive up to the summer 4WD trailhead and ski some nice late May/June corn snow on this peak and the surrounding terrain and other peaks. We’ll try and make that happen.

New 14er Dog Book

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.

Climbing Colorado's 14ers with Sawyer

Climbing Colorado’s 14ers with Sawyer

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 ūüôā 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.

The History of 14er Dogs section. Can you spot Rainie?

The History of 14er Dogs section. Can you spot Rainie?

Rainie's section

Rainie’s section. Click to enlarge

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 typical two page spread for each 14er. This one is dedicated to their climb of Wetterhorn Peak

A typical two page spread for each 14er. This one is dedicated to their climb of Wetterhorn Peak

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.

Ascending the Pyramid chapter

Ascending the Pyramid chapter

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,

Starting out with a view of the Maroon Bells. Photo by Caleb Wray

Starting out with a view of the Maroon Bells. Photo by Caleb Wray

Hitting snowline and she has her dog harness ready to go

Hitting snowline and she has her dog harness ready to go

The "Leap of Faith" move

The “leap of faith” move. Photo by Caleb Wray

The class 4 "Green Couloir"

The class 4 “Green Couloir”

Rainie on the summit ridge

Rainie on the summit ridge

Rainie and I on Pyramid's summit

Rainie and I on Pyramid’s summit

...and down we go. Photo by Caleb Wray

…and down we go. Photo by Caleb Wray

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.

BGCE Holy Cross Climb

Despite being the 14er in our backyard, I hadn’t climbed Mt. of the Holy Cross since the ¬†July 4 weekend of 2004. That weekend was an awesome steep snow climb up the Angelica Couloir on the north face of Holy Cross with Billy Larson, Matt Davidson, and Rainier. We descended down the¬†standard north ridge route and back to our camp down in the East Cross Creek valley. Before this holiday weekend in 2004, the first time I had climbed Holy Cross was a daytrip way back in the summer of 1997 with good friends Chris Zarek and Andrew Norelli on one of our typical half-summer road trips to climb peaks and be college kids.

Rainier & I climbing the Angelica Couloir. I think I should start wearing Patagonia Baggies shorts over long johns again. Photo by Matt Davidson

Rainier & I climbing the Angelica Couloir in 2004 on July 4 weekend. I think I should start wearing Patagonia Baggies shorts over long johns again. Photo by Matt Davidson

Billy, me, & Rainier on the summit of Holy Cross (14,005') in early July 2004

Billy, me, & Rainier on the summit of Holy Cross (14,005′) in early July 2004. Photo by Matt Davidson

Our engineering firm, Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers¬†(BGCE), 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. BGCE missed out on last year for various reasons, but now with Dan Koelliker at our helm he was determined not to miss another year. I organized this event for 8 of the 12 years I have been with the firm and so Dan and I agreed I should do it again. Not wanting to drive very far and knowing there were several new employees to the Vail Valley who had not climbed the local 14er, I chose Holy Cross. We had never done Holy Cross as a firm for this event before and probably for good reason. Its one of the bigger dayhikes of any of the 14ers. At 12 miles and 5,625′ of vertical gain roundtrip, its nothing to sneeze at. The Griffith Centers has great polypro shirts made for us every year in exchange for our donation and we all try and wear them on the climb and end up wearing them for years afterwards as they are great shirts.

We had a great crew from our Avon office making the climb and all made it up to a campsite at the Halfmoon Campground last Friday evening. It was such a fun evening of camaraderie and games (Hammer Schlogger). In fact, when Kona and I racked out in the back of my truck at 11pm, Billy said he was going to be back, but never showed. He, Dylan, and Trevor partied all night long and kept the fire going. Good thing too because I love having a warm fire to wake up to at 3am to send us on our way. Trevor is the best basecamp manager ever. And, Dylan is a heck of an intern. Too bad he has to go back for his senior year at Penn State. Holy Cross would be Dylan’s 1st 14er as it would be for Sam Gale and Kelsey McGrew. Also, Kona had never been up Holy Cross. A new 14er for her as well.

Some of our crew at our campsite

Some of our crew at our campsite

Playing Hammer Schlogger round the fire

Playing Hammer Schlogger round the fire

This is a fun game

This is a fun game

Just some nails, a wood block, and a hammer - that is all that is required

Just some nails, a wood block, and a hammer – that is all that is required

Up at 3am for coffee and oatmeal, we all geared up. Dan showed up just shy of 4am all bright eyed and ready to go. We finally got on the road/trail by 4:30am. Not too bad for a party of eleven and two dogs. It was  gorgeous morning and the sunrise to the east was brilliant. Chelsey decided to hang at Halfmoon Pass and watch the sunrise and leisurely stroll back to camp where Trevor was undoubtedly sleeping in.

Sunrise over the Gore: Zodiac Ridge front and center

Sunrise over the Gore: Zodiac Ridge front and center

Gorgeous light over the Gore from Halfmoon Pass. Photo by Shawn Wright

Gorgeous light over the northern Gore Range from Halfmoon Pass. Photo by Shawn Wright

Moon over Notch Mountain. Photo by Shawn Wright

Moon over Notch Mountain. Photo by Shawn Wright

First light on Holy Cross descending to East Cross Creek from Halfmoon Pass

First light on Holy Cross while descending to East Cross Creek from Halfmoon Pass

Mt. Jackson

Mt. Jackson

Dan and I (and Kona, of course), along with Tim, Brent, and Billy booked it down 1,000′ to East Cross Creek and folks grabbed a drink. I wanted to reach the others who were further ahead. Dan and I boogied up the lower section of the north ridge where the trail is so well-defined and a very nice trail at that. Much different than I remember 11 years ago where the trail was pretty faint. We caught up to Sam, Dylan, Billy, and Britta. Dylan then decided to hike with me at a brisk pace up the great north ridge trail to catch Shawn, Kelsey, & K9 companion Fitzy. Of course Dylan was right on my tail the whole time. He is a beast and a great athlete. He has also tried out as the kicker for Penn State’s football team and regularly kicks 60 yard field goals. Not bad at all. We reached Shawn, Kelsey, & Fitzy at about 13,000′ and all hiked together from then on to the summit.

The Gore Range and Notch Mountain from Holy Cross' north ridge

Looking north to the Gore Range from Holy Cross’ north ridge

Shawn & Dylan with Holy Cross' summit behind

Shawn & Dylan with Holy Cross’ summit behind

Dylan with Notch Mountain behind

Dylan with Notch Mountain behind

Fitzy with the summit of Holy Cross behind

Fitzy with the summit of Holy Cross behind

A few hundred feet below the summit, we peered down the ole Angelica Couloir. It would be a nice ski someday.

Looking down the Angelica Couloir

Looking down the Angelica Couloir

Arriving on the perfectly windless Holy Cross summit around 8:15am, we dropped our packs and soaked in the views every which way. I forgot just how amazing the views are from this perch. Its the only peak rising above 14,000′ for a long distance in every direction. From the Elks to the south, the Flat Tops to the northwest, the Gores to the northeast, and the TenMile and Sawatch to the east and southeast, the views are unobstructed.

Me taking in the views almost to the summit. Photo by Shawn Wright

Me taking in the views almost to the summit. Photo by Shawn Wright

Vail's back bowls and the northern Gore Range

Minturn in the valley, Vail’s Game Creek Bowl, and the northern Gore Range

The southern Gore Range

The southern Gore Range

Looking down the east-facing Cross Couloir over to Notch Mountain

Looking down the east-facing Cross Couloir over to Notch Mountain

Righ to left: The Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Castle Peak all visible in the Elk Range

Righ to left: The Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Castle Peak all visible in the Elk Range

Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain visible in the Elk Range

Right to left: Mt. Daly, Capitol Peak, and Snowmass Mountain visible in the Elk Range

Kelsey on her 1st 14er summit!

Kelsey on her 1st 14er summit!

Shawn & Fitzy on Holy Cross' summit

Shawn & Fitzy on Holy Cross’ summit

Dan, Sam, Billy, & Britta arrived about 9:20am and Tim followed around 9:30am. Brent had turned around on the north ridge at about 11,800′ just above treeline. Kona and I scampered back down to to just above the Angelica Couloir to make sure I didn’t seen Brent coming up. Who I thought may be him turned out not to be. We then hiked back up to the summit. There were lots of folks on the summit – maybe 30 climbers. Dan had asked one of the trail crews how many people were on the peak today and he estimated maybe 110 people. He said it was typical for a Saturday in the summer. Amazing. A decade ago, I bet that number would be less than 10 people. It was wonderful to see Sam so excited to be up there. It looked as if she had been doing these peaks for years. I broke out our BGCE company banner and we got the requisite group summit shot.

BGCE on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross (14,005')

BGCE on the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross (14,005′)

Me and Kona

Me and Kona

Dan and I on the summit of Holy Cross

Dan and I on the summit of Holy Cross

A cool summit panoramic of Vail's back bowls and the Gore Range by Shawn Wright. Click to enlarge

A cool summit panoramic of Vail’s back bowls and the Gore Range by Shawn Wright. Click to enlarge

Holy Cross summit boulder and USGS summit marker

Holy Cross summit boulder and USGS summit marker

We all left the summit around 10:15am and made our way down the boulders to the north ridge. Shawn, Kelsey, & Fitzy motored ahead to meet his parents as they were leaving the Valley the next morning to head back to Minneapolis.

Sam, me, Dylan, and Kona on the north ridge during the descent. Photo by Dan

Sam, me, Dylan, and Kona on the north ridge during the descent. Photo by Dan

Tim and Britta were together, Dan and Sam stayed together, and Dylan, Kona, & I made our way down the north ridge to East Cross Creek where we tried to wait for the others, but the mosquitos were just too bad. Though, we did refill with water and Kona took a much needed drink and swim to cool off. The three of us motored back up to Halfmoon Pass catching Billy along the way and we made it back to the campsite around 1:45 pm to find Brent, Chelsey, and Trevor sitting around the fire. The remaining folks all arrived by 2:30pm and we sat around for a bit and recapped the day. Kirby Cosmo’s BBQ Bar in Minturn was on tap for a post-hike celebration, so we quickly packed up and headed down the Tigiwon Road. Things worked out really well for our crew up on Holy Cross this day. From the weather, the group, the camaraderie, it was all so very enjoyable. Thanks to everyone for their positive attitude and excitement. Congratulations to all!

Celebrating at Kirby Cosmo's

Celebrating at Kirby Cosmo’s