My 40th on Gannett Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

J, Billy, Kristine, & Mikey at the trailhead

Me and Wild Bill

Me and Wild Bill

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

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

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

The crew minus Kristine who was taking the pic

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

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

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

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

A nice dry section of trail out of the trees

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

Approaching Photographer's Point

Approaching Photographer’s Point

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

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

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

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

Crossing the clearing en route to Eklund Lake

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

Kristine & I

Kristine & I

Barbara Lake

Barbara Lake

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

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

Crossing the northern drainage creek from Hobbs Lake

"The Castle"

“The Castle”

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

The Chalks happy to be in the Winds together

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

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

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

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

Kev & Kristine having coffee the next morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Ryan and Seneca Lake. What a spectacular location

Fremont Peak

Fremont Peak

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

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

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

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

Me traversing snow along LIttle Seneca's southern shore

Me traversing snow along Little Seneca’s southern shore

Bonney Pass is visible in the center of the pic

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

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

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

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

"Lunch Rock"

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

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

Heading down to Island Lake

Heading down to Island Lake

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

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

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

High camp

High camp

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

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

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

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

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

J lounging at high camp that Monday evening

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

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

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

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

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

Marsters

Marsters

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

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

Titcomb lakes & basin from the top of Bonney Pass

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

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

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Gannett Peak from Bonney Pass

Me & Gannett

Me & Gannett

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

Kristine & Mikey descending down the north side of Bonney Pass

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

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

Me walking down the Dinwoody Glacier

The Dinwoody Glacier and cool spires

The Dinwoody Glacier and some cool spires

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

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

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

Good morning Winds

Good morning Winds

Me heading out to catch Billy

Me heading out to catch Billy

Billy on high speed

Billy on high speed

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

Ryan & Billy on the snow ramp to the Gooseneck Glacier

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

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

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

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

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

Billy stoked to be climbing Gannett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Marsters climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Me climbing above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

Kristine & Billy climbing steep snow above the bergschrund

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

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

Marsters shot this of me climbing with Gooseneck Pinnacle behind

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

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

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

Ryan climbing ahead of me into the abyss

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

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

Me passing the notch on the ridge to my left

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

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

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

The other team descending down to the bergschrund

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

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

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

Gannett summit ridge while we were climbing it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

Me & Kev in Upper Titcomb Basin on the way out

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

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

Passing by Upper Titcomb Lake on our descent

Passing by Middle Titcomb Lake on our descent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristine & I with Fremont Peak behind

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

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

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

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

Reascending terrain back up to Barbara Lake

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

After the storm at Barbara Lake

After the storm at Barbara Lake

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

Fremont Peak to the right and Upper Titcomb Basin at left

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

Me and my wonderful wife

Me and my wonderful wife

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

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

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Rob, Mikey, and myself

Group shot minus a Kev

Group shot minus a Kev

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

Barbara Lake had sure melted out a lot in 4 days

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

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

Morning at Barbara Lake drying out our tents

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

Bear track

Bear track

Goodbye Winds, until next time

Goodbye, Winds, until next time

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

Our single scoops

Our single scoops

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

Lunch with Nana

Lunch with Nana

Pool time

Pool time

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Horse riding at the Beaver Creek Stables

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Sawyer loves her neigh-neighs

Swinging with Papa

Swinging with Papa

My Rainie

My 14.5 year old Rainie

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

Chalk Hill Thanksgiving 2016

This year’s Thanksgiving was a special one as we headed back east to the mountains of North Carolina to spend 7 days at our mountain cabin, Chalk Hill. Sawyer had never been to Chalk Hill and Kristine and I had yet to see the finished addition of the large great/game room. The new addition is incredible and really adds to the livability of the cabin.

The new addition under construction as seen last December 2016

The new addition under construction as seen last December 2016

The driveway side front entry of the new addition as seen last December 2016

The driveway side front entry of the new addition as seen last December 2016

During the first 2.5 days in Charlotte, Kristine & I went to Charlotte Country Day School to have lunch with my niece, Harper, who is in kindergarten. My sister and I both attended CCDS and was so fun going back especially to see Harper. Gosh, last time I stepped foot on campus was when I gave the Cum Laude Induction Ceremony speech in February 2013.

Leaving Eagle for Charlotte

Leaving Eagle for Charlotte

Sawyer & Harper at Brixx on a Sunday night

Sawyer & Harper at Brixx Pizza on a Sunday night

Lunch with Harper at CCDS

Lunch with Harper at CCDS

It was so fun being with Harper at school

It was so fun being with Harper at school

Love this little lady

Love this little lady

Sawyer was so excited to be with the big kids that she lined up with the kindergarten class

Sawyer was so excited to be with the big kids that she lined up with the kindergarten class

We then drove to Chalk Hill later that day. I always feel right at home at Chalk Hill with dad and everyone.

In the new living room

In the new living room

On the front porch swing

On the front porch swing

Cuzins

Cuzins

Sawyer and the coyote

Sawyer and the coyote

Me & Sawyer

Me & Sawyer

Me and my gals

Me and my gals

Me, Sawyer, Wesley, & Harper

Me, Sawyer, Wesley, & Harper

Cuzins lounging on the back porch hammock

Cuzins lounging on the back porch hammock

If only we could get those pacifiers out of their mouths

If only we could get those pacifiers out of their mouths

Sawyer & Wesley

Sawyer & Wesley

Sawyer & Aunt Evon

Sawyer & Aunt Evon

Kristine and the little cuzins

Kristine and the little cuzins

My mom organized a 2 person bluegrass band to come over for 2 hours one evening and it was so fun especially for all the little gals.

We've never really had a personal show where we are the audience before this evening

We’ve never really had a personal show where we are the entire audience before this evening

Harper got to try out the banjo

Harper got to try out the banjo

My oldest niece

My oldest niece

Kristine & I went on a few trail runs up my old favorite Bullhead Mountain, the highest mountain in Alleghany County (3,862′).

On top of Bullhead

On top of Bullhead

Kristine running the road on Bullhead

Kristine running the road on Bullhead

Some of our best friends, Cashion & Eva, came up from Brevard for an evening to visit. It was absolutely wonderful to have them and everyone loved seeing them. Turns out Cashion & Eva have since moved to Carbondale, CO where Eva’s family is located. Again, it will be awesome to have them back in state and so close to us.

My dad, Maya, Cashion and their tenement on wheels, which always looks nice parked in the driveway :)

My dad, Maya, Cashion and their tenement on wheels, which always looks nice parked in the driveway :)

Wesley & Sawyer in the sprinter van

Wesley & Sawyer in the sprinter van

The crew with Cashion & Eva

The crew with Cashion & Eva

Kristine & Maya

Kristine & Maya

So awesome to have them up at Chalk Hill. Cashion originally helped dad and I clear hiking trails and camping in the eback in the early 90s before the cabin was ever built

So awesome to have them up at Chalk Hill. Cashion originally helped dad and I clear hiking trails and camp on the land in the early 90s before the cabin was ever built

My dad and brother-in law, Ransome, organized another fun hayride as well all throughout our property. Everyone had a blast.

All aboard the trailer

All aboard the trailer

Ransome was the captain driving the tractor, but Sawyer always seemed to find herself into the pics

Ransome was the captain driving the tractor, but Sawyer always seemed to find herself into the pics

Aunt Evon & Harper

Aunt Evon & Harper

The loving Foose dog, Finley

The loving Foose dog, Finley

Sawyer loved seeing the cows, aka "moo moos"

Sawyer loved seeing the cows, aka “moo-moos”

Moo-moos

Moo-moos

Sawyer & Gigi

Sawyer & Gigi

So fun having a picnic in the pasture with Bullhead Mountain in the background

So fun having a picnic in the pasture with Bullhead Mountain in the background

Horsing around

Horsing around

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Cap'n Ransome, Wesley, & Sawyer

Cap’n Ransome, Wesley, & Sawyer

After the morning hayride, Kristine and I put Sawyer down for her nap and zipped down the mountain plateau to Stone Mountain State Park to do some rock climbing. Dad and I had hiked this beautiful granite slab of a mountain maybe 25 years ago, but I had never been back. Little did I know it has some of the best rock climbing in North Carolina. So, Kristine & I had brought our harnesses, shoes, rope, gear from Colorado hoping to get out for an afternoon on Stone Mountain. While Stone Mountain is notorious for its extremely run-out friction climbing on slightly less than vertical slabs, the most iconic route is The Great Arch right up the middle of the south face. I’ve heard its one of the best 5.5 routes in the county, which is funny considering we are talking 5.5. Nevertheless, we climbed a long 150′ 5.8 pitch called Block Route to get to Tree Ledge where we began the 3 pitch Great Arch climb to the top. It was a gorgeous afternoon and really warm. We got behind a party of 4 at Tree Ledge and waited for an hour until we could get going after them. We ended up passing them on pitch 2 as the sun was setting. Then, the party of 4 decided to bail off the route rather than continue to the top and their last climber, a gal named Lila, really just wanted to go to the top. We offered to just put her on our rope for the 3rd pitch and hike down with us, so she did and was very appreciative. We got to the top right at dusk around 5:30pm and hiked down in the dark for 30 minutes to the car to cap off a really fun afternoon together. I will always bring our rock gear from now on every time we go to Chalk Hill. Stone Mountain is so close and has great climbing.

Kristine approaching Stone Mountain's south face. The Great Arch is the obvious dihedral up the center of the face

Kristine approaching Stone Mountain’s south face. The Great Arch is the obvious dihedral up the center of the face

Block Route pitch (5.8) to get to Tree Ledge

Block Route pitch (5.8) to get to Tree Ledge

Block Route pitch from above

Block Route pitch from above

Kristine balancing on the crux move of Block Route

Kristine balancing on the crux move of Block Route

The Great Arch from Tree Ledge

The Great Arch from Tree Ledge

Kristine climbing pitch 1 of The Great Arch

Kristine climbing pitch 1 of The Great Arch

Beautiful...climbing in the southeast on granite is pretty good

Beautiful…climbing in the southeast on granite is pretty good

Kristine climbing pitch 2 of The Great Arch

Kristine climbing pitch 2 of The Great Arch

Kristine taking in the beautiful sunset

Kristine taking in the beautiful sunset from the pitch 2 belay

It was a hundred or so vertical feet of easy slab scrambaling after pitch 3 to the summit

It was a hundred or so vertical feet of easy slab scrambling after pitch 3 to the summit

Stone Mountain summit

Stone Mountain summit

Happy to be together

Happy to be together

Beautiful NC mountains

Beautiful NC mountains

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving together with my family.

30 weeks on Mt. Washington, NH

Kristine & I recently returned from a wonderful 6 days on the coast of Maine and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the Oelbergers and good friends. We try and do an annual trip to New England every summer and each time it seems this trip gets better and better. This time around we took a 1 hour, 10 seat puddle jumper on Cape Air from Boston to Rockland, Maine, which is only 10 minutes from the Oelbergers house on the coast. This flight sure beat a 4+ hour drive from Boston, a bus to Portland with an additional 1-1/2 hour drive, or some combination of the two as we have done in the past. Its always so much fun and so relaxing to be at Ken & Dianne’s home on the water of the St. George River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Oelbergers home is on the peninsula just above picture center. The town of Tenant's Harbor is bottom center. Picture taken from the Cape Air flight back to Boston

The Oelbergers home is on the peninsula just above picture center. The town of Tenant’s Harbor is bottom center. Picture taken from the Cape Air flight back to Boston

On our first full day in Maine, we took a 4 mile hike on some new trails that Ken & Dianne worked on and were recently completed. Despite the mosquitos, it was great to stretch the legs with the family.

Kristine & I on the wooded trail

Kristine & I on the wooded trail

The next day, we road-tripped to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Ken & Dianne via back roads and towns as there is no direct east-west interstates in that part of the country. We rolled into the White Mountain School near Littleton 5+ hours later to visit our great friends Ryan “Baba” & Lizzie Aldrich, their two youngins, Avery & Colden, and golden retriever, Khumbu. They live in a old farmhouse right off campus and Ryan built a fire pit out back. I had never been to the White Mountains, but I was truly blown away by what this area has to offer. Its like a smaller version of what we have available here in Colorado: the small town country feel, trail running, mountain biking, skiing (inbounds and backcountry) and rock climbing all within a stone’s throw of their house. We spent two wonderful nights with the Aldriches and had a jam-packed full day of fun and adventure with everyone. While Baba & Kristine had been up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire’s highest peak at 6,288′, a few times, the rest of us had not, and so hiking up this state highpoint was on the agenda for all of us. After summitting Mt. Katahdin in Maine last year, the Oelbergers and Chalks are on a conquest of New England’s state highpoints together. Up at 6am at the Aldrich homestead and out the door around 7:30am, we all met at the base station for the Cog railway at 2,700′ on the mountain’s west side. Kristine & the Oelbergers started up the Jewell Trail as I waiting just a bit for Baba & Lizzie as they had to take Avery & Colden to daycare. There are numerous trails up and down Mt. Washington, but we all agreed upon the Jewell Trail, as it was reported the least rockiest. Yes, the mountains in Colorado are much steeper and higher, but I have to say that the trails in New England are much more hardcore. Tree roots combined with the boulders and rocks that seem to have a density of at last two large rocks for every square foot of trail make these trails tough and slower going. Trail running on these trails doesn’t come as easy as it does on the nice smooth dirt trails of Colorado. I can’t imagine being a trail runner in New Hampshire and never spraining/breaking your ankle. Nevertheless, Baba, Lizzie, Khumbu, and I caught up with Kristine, Ken, and Dianne, and enjoyed hiking all together up the nice Jewell Trail.

Kristine, Baba, & Lizzie

Kristine, Baba, & Lizzie

The cog railway huffin' & puffin's its way up Mt. Washington one ridge over

The Cog railway huffin’ & puffin’s its way up Mt. Washington one ridge over

Dianne & Ken

Dianne & Ken

Beautiful Mt. Washington forests

Beautiful Mt. Washington forests

I think Rainier helped Khumbu learn the ways of the "trail dog". She sure can hike and scramble, that's for certain

I think Rainier helped Khumbu learn the ways of the “trail dog”. She sure can hike and scramble, that’s for certain

Kristine, despite being now 30 weeks pregnant with our little lady, did so extremely well. We eventually broke through treeline and the valleys opened up around us.

Above treeline looking west. Our starting point, the Cog railroad station, can be seen left of center

Above treeline looking west. Our starting point, the Cog railroad station, can be seen left of center

The summit of Mt. Washington 1,500' above

The summit of Mt. Washington 1,500′ above

Kristine & Lizzie

Kristine & Lizzie

Baba & Lizzie

Baba & Lizzie

Kristine & I on a nice perch above treeline

Kristine & I on a nice perch above treeline

Ken & Dianne

Ken & Dianne

And on we go...

And on we go…

The Cog railway on a bridge with Mt. Monroe and the Lakes of the Clouds Hut behind. Baba, Khumbu, & I would descend by this hut on the Ammonusuc Ravine Trail

The Cog railway on a bridge with Mt. Monroe and the Lakes of the Clouds Hut behind. Baba, Khumbu, & I would descend by this hut on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Baba & Khumbu

Baba & Khumbu

The Jewell Trail climbs maybe 2,700′ in 3.7 miles before it intersects the Gulfside Trail above treeline below Mt. Clay and then heads south to the summit of Mt. Washington. Having Khumbu with us made Kristine and I feel much better about not having Rainie & Kona with us. Khumbu is the best golden retriever I have ever spent time with (except for Rainie of course), a well-trained and wonderfully tempered dog, and not to mention such a lover.

Khumbu & I

Khumbu & I

Khumbu standing guard

Khumbu standing guard

We picked our way up the Gulfside Trail and the views just got better and better of the surrounding Presidential Range and valleys.

Dianne

Dianne with the northern Presidential Range peaks behind

Lizzie & Kristine

Lizzie & Kristine

On the upper slopes on Mt. Washinmgton

On the upper slopes on Mt. Washington

Kristine looking and doing great

Kristine looking and doing great

The Cog railway track

The Cog railway track

Kristine topping out on Mt. Washington at 30 weeks pregnant

Kristine topping out on Mt. Washington at 30 weeks pregnant

Lizzie scooted ahead to try and buy a ticket and make the 1:30pm Cog railway down the mountain in order to pick the kids up by 3pm or so. We were able to see her off on the Cog and shortly afterwards Ken & Dianne arrived on the top of New Hampshire. We were all so proud of Ken & Dianne for their second New England state highpoint in as many years. The crowds on top of Washington were quite extensive due to the fact most folks take the Cog up or just drive up to the summit. We even had to wait in line to take a picture at the true summit with the Mt. Washington sign. Baba had brought up some “Baba Beer”, which we all enjoyed. Its the best black lager I’ve ever had. Dianne took a liking to it as well.

Kristine & Lizzie before Lizzie took the 1:30 Cog down the mountain

Kristine & Lizzie before Lizzie took the 1:30 Cog down the mountain

Baba & Lizzie

Baba & Lizzie

Me, Baba, & Khumbu with our "Baba Beer" on the summit of Mt. Washington

Me, Baba, & Khumbu with our “Baba Beer” on the summit of Mt. Washington

Despite being a lighter beer guy, Ken even enjoyed some "Baba Beer"

Despite being a lighter beer guy, Ken even enjoyed some “Baba Beer”

Summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288')

Summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′)

The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288') minus Lizzie, who was with us in spirit. At least she made the 1:30pm Cog down the mountain

The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′) minus Lizzie, who was with us in spirit. At least she made the 1:30pm Cog down the mountain

All three Chalks on top of New Hampshire

All three Chalks on top of New Hampshire

Mt. Washington USGS summit marker

Mt. Washington USGS summit marker

We spent a good hour on the summit before Baba, Khumbu and I started our trail run descent down a different route – the Gulfside Trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, which leads back to the base of the Cog railway. Ken, Dianne, and Kristine would hang around the summit for a bit and catch the 3:30pm Cog down the mountain hopefully giving Baba, Khumbu & I enough time to get down. Baba & Khumbu relaxed at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut while I did a short run up to the summit of Mt. Monroe (5,372′), which afforded more spectacular views.

Looking north to Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe's summit

Looking north to Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe’s summit

Looking at the southern Presidential Range from Mt. Monroe's summit

Looking at the southern Presidential Range from Mt. Monroe’s summit

After some steeper scrambling down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for 3 miles, we arrived back at the base of the Cog around 4pm. It was some solid trail time with Baba after a good year hiatus from hiking together.

Beautiful waterfalls coming down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Beautiful waterfalls coming down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

We arrived at the base only to learn that the 3:30pm trail was delayed due to mechanical issues. It was soon fixed and Kristine, Ken, & Dianne arrived at the base around 4:45pm. Apparently, Kristine overheard a group on Washington’s summit talking about some pregnant lady hiking up Washington. We all thought that was funny. Baba then took us to an awesome river spot for some cliff jumping. The cliff itself was likely only 25′ high, but boy was the water cold. I don’t think Baba had done this jump before so I was glad to do it with him.

Me dropping the cliff. Such a cool swimming/cliff jumping spot

Me dropping the cliff. Such a cool swimming/cliff jumping spot

Baba launches

Baba launches

Baba mid-air

Baba mid-air

Baba walking on water

Baba walking on water

Good buddies

Good buddies

The next day (Saturday) Lizzie competed in and placed 2nd in her age division in the local Top Notch Triathalon! She really did extremely well and was very impressive. As I cannot bike or swim well at all, I asked her if she wanted me to run along with her up Cannon Ski Mountain as the third and final leg of the triathalon. Lizzie thought that would be a great idea and that she would love for me to be alongside her for support and motivation. So, that’s what I did. I held her water bottle and some energy gels and ran with her up the 2,000′ of vertical gain to the finish line at the ski mountain’s summit. It was an honor to be with her and was very fun. I hope me being there beside her helped her to go a bit faster. She didn’t need me at all. It was just fun to be with her. As we didn’t really know if a “pacer” was legit with the triathalon’s rules, I ditched out before the finish line and met her up top. Baba, Kristine, and the kids took the tram up to the summit and we all congratulated Lizzie. We even ran into the really good friends of the Oelbergers, the Muchards, at the race as their daughter and son-in-law were competing as well.

After saying our goodbyes to our really good friends, we left for Maine and the Oelberger Residence arriving at around 8pm that Saturday evening. Sunday was a relaxation day and we had a great cornhole tournament with Ken, Dianne, and three of their good friends in the afternoon. On our last day in Maine, Kristine & I got up early and drove an hour to Booth Bay Harbor to catch a ferry to Squirrel Island and visit our great friends Chris & Kate Danforth. Chris & Kate spend their summers at the Danforth house with their kids Harper & Afton. Harper is now 8 years old and is a climbing monkey. I had never been to Squirrel and visiting this fairly private and secluded island was a special treat. Kristine had visited Kate here before. There are only about 100 homes on the island, a small post office, ice cream store, a library, a few tennis courts, and a church. That’s about it. The island is pretty small with a perimeter of about 2.5 miles around the shoreline that resembles the body shape of a squirrel facing west. Pretty much everyone walks everywhere and everyone seems to know everyone. It was the kind of small community I just love. Houses rarely come on the market and they are passed down generation to generation. I believe there is only one lot for sale too. Chris’s parents actually met on Squirrel Island as both of their families had homes on the island. It is really a special place.

The beautiful Danforth homestead on Squirrel

The beautiful Danforth homestead on Squirrel

Chris took me on his daily ritual – his island “rock hop” run around the rocky/slabby coastline of Squirrel. It was so much fun following Chris on this awesome run. Its basically a combo of trail running and scrambling over rocks for 2.5 miles. I think we did it just shy of 30 minutes, which was a decent time considering we were moving pretty fast yet still chatting and he showed me a few cool spots including a cliff jump along the way. After building a good sweat, we met Kate, Kristine, Harper, and Afton on the beach area and went for a much needed swim. Its too bad Chris and I live across the country from each other. I think we all feel like the two of us are like peas and carrots. Its great. Chris & Kate cooked us an awesome lunch of BBQ chicken and caprese salad. Yum. We then went on a boat ride with Captain Kate at the helm and then walked over to the cliff jump.

Boat ride

Boat ride

Kate, Kristine, & Afton

Kate, Kristine, & Afton

Apparently there was a dead seal near the cliff jump, but we didn’t see it. Anyway, Chris and I jumped while the ladies and Afton watched. It was a great jump into the ocean. Two videos of Chris and I jumping below:

Chris and I after the cliff jump

Chris and I after the cliff jump

Later on that day, Chris and Afton took the boat around the island to the cliff and saw the seal carcass. It was literally 10 ft from where we jumped in. Glad we didn’t see it at the time! After some more beach time, we showered up and caught the 5:40pm ferry back to Booth Bay harbor. Again, it was sad to leave our good friends and such an amazing place, but feel fortunate we were all able to spend a great day together. We look forward to future adventures and time together with Chris & Kate and their awesome kids.

All in all, one of the best trips back to New England we have done. Seeing family, reuniting with great friends, and experiencing great places all helped to make this a special trip.

Wheeler Peak, NM

It had been awhile since the Chalks had tagged a state high point and with my friends’ Ben Conners, Brian Miller, and Dillon Sarnelli’s recent trip down to climb and ski New Mexico’s highest peak, Wheeler Peak (13,161′), Kristine and I were motivated to give this peak a shot and get out of Colorado for a brief stint. What was extra special was that Wheeler Peak was a mountain we could take Rainier on since the route was relatively short (around 7 miles) and only about 3,000′ of vertical gain. We felt Wheeler was something the 11 1/2 year old Rainier could still do and have a ball on. We planned to do this Wheeler Peak trip a week prior, but the weather thwarted us and we postponed it to last weekend. The weather last Saturday turned out to be absolutely stellar bluebird skies with warm sunshine the entire day. Wheeler Peak is in the southern Sangre de Cristo range, which extends down from Colorado and is located near the Taos Ski Valley about a 30 minute drive from the actual town of Taos. My family had visited the state of New Mexico including Taos and Taso Ski Valley probably 20 years ago or more and I had not been back since. I still remember that day when my family went sledding on the lower ski slopes of Taos Ski Valley. Kristine had never been there. Taos Ski Valley is a quaint little ski resort in the heart of the southern Sangres and about a 5 hour drive due south of Vail.

Wheeler Peak at far right in the distance as seen from Taos Ski Valley (on the drive out Saturday afternoon)

Wheeler Peak at far right in the distance as seen from Taos Ski Valley (on the drive out Saturday afternoon)

While this southern end of the Sangres doesn’t typically get the snow Colorado gets nor the cold temperatures, we were hoping we could still skin and ski most of the mountain. We arrived at the Williams Lake trailhead parking lot around 8:30pm Friday evening and set up camp in the back of the Tahoe. This trailhead is about 1,000′ above Taos Ski Valley up a rougher 2WD dirt road. We woke up around 6:30am and got going on the dirt trail in our trail runners with skis/boots on our packs around 7:30am. It was a bit chilly to start out yet warmed up quickly. We soon hit continuous snow on the Williams Lake trail after passing the Bavarian Restaurant and then the bottom of a chairlift and were able to put the skis on our feet and skin on up the well-broken trail. This trail proceeded for about 2 miles slowly gaining altitude towards Willams Lake.

Rainier & Kona enjoying the beautiful morning on the trail towards Williams Lake

Rainier & Kona enjoying the beautiful morning on the trail towards Williams Lake

Kristine skinning on the Williams Lake trail

Kristine skinning on the Williams Lake trail

We then took a hard left up into the steep treed terrain at a sign on a fence post/tree trunk before Williams Lake towards Wheeler Peak. We followed the semi-broken trail through the woods using the blue dots on the trees as trail marker. Yet, when the blue dots started leading us back downhill seemingly towards Williams Lake, we continued uphill and found a nice open chute leading us above treeline in the direction we needed to go towards the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter saddle.

Rainier on a rock showing us the way up the chute

Rainier on a rock showing us the way up the chute

Kristine and the fellow from Minnesota making their way up the chute to above treeline

Kristine and the fellow from Minnesota making their way up the chute to above treeline

The terrain really opened up above treeline and the views west across the valley to Lake Fork and Kachina Peaks were gorgeous. There was an old snowboard track down the gully and I was thinking in a few hours this chute would make for some nice corn skiing. We kept on skinning up the west face of the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter ridge.

Rainier standing guard on Wheeler's western flanks

Rainier standing guard on Wheeler’s western flanks

A beautiful day

A beautiful day

Great ski-mountaineering potential on Lake Fork Peak to the west. We could see several ski tracks coming off this peak's slopes

Great ski-mountaineering potential on Lake Fork Peak to the west. We could see several ski tracks coming off this peak’s slopes

Kristine was having some difficulties with her skins on the rock hard snow and so left her ski setup at around 12,500′ and booted from there.

Kristine booting up with the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley to the north behind her

Kristine booting up with the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley to the north behind her

I kept skinning another few hundred feet but ended up leaving my skis where the snow ended just below the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter saddle. We finally hit the saddle and made our way up the mellow summit ridge of Wheeler Peak.

Wheeler Peak summit ridge as seen from the saddle

Wheeler Peak summit ridge as seen from the saddle

Kristine approaching the top of New Mexico

Kristine approaching the top of New Mexico

The views were amazing and we topped out on New Mexico’s highest peak around 11am. The west face still had some softening up to do, so all we had was time. We hung out on the summit for 15 minutes or so and took pictures and had something to eat and drink.

Wheeler Peak summit plaque and summit register below

Wheeler Peak summit plaque and summit register below

Wheeler Peak USGS summit marker

Wheeler Peak USGS summit marker

The Chalk Family on the summit of Wheeler Peak (13,161')

The Chalk Family on the summit of Wheeler Peak (13,161′)

Kristine & I on top of New Mexico

Kristine & I on top of New Mexico

Me, Rainier, & Kona on the summit of Wheeler Peak. Very special for Kristine and myself to be able to bring these two on this little roadtrip

Me, Rainier, & Kona on the summit of Wheeler Peak. Very special for Kristine and myself to be able to bring these two on this little roadtrip

View to the north to Mt. Walter and Point 13,045' from Wheeler's summit

View to the north to Mt. Walter and Point 13,045′ from Wheeler’s summit

View down Wheeler's west face to the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley below

View down Wheeler’s west face to the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley below

Taos Ski Valley 4,000' below on a zoomed-in shot from Wheeler's summit

Taos Ski Valley 4,000′ below on a zoomed-in shot from Wheeler’s summit

Upon reaching the saddle on the descent, we realized the snow may need a bit more time to warm up. While Kristine descended to her skis to eat a PB&J and lounge in the sun, the dogs and I headed on up for a mellow ridge run over Mt. Walter’s summit to Point 13,045′ to get a glance down into the northern La Cal Basin, which wasn’t as snowy as I suspected. It was actually fairly dry for several hundred vertical feet off the north side of Point 13,045′.

Mt. Walter (left) and Wheeler Peak as seen from Point 13,045'

Mt. Walter (left) and Wheeler Peak as seen from Point 13,045′

The dogs and Mt. Walter

The dogs and Mt. Walter

Rainier did wonderful and just kept plugging away on regaining Mt. Walter’s summit on the return trip. Mt. Walter is really just a sub-summit of Wheeler Peak, but is considered the second highest peak in New Mexico.

Mt. Walter's summit sign

Mt. Walter’s summit sign

Rainier lounging on the summit of Mt. Walter

Rainier lounging on the summit of Mt. Walter

Rainier & I on the summit of Mt. Walter (13,141')

Rainier & I on the summit of Mt. Walter (13,141′)

The three of us then descended to my skis and skied nice snow back down to Kristine. I had my PB&J and we then clicked in and skied wonderful corn back down through the access chute, the woods, and finally back down to the Williams Lake trail. We stopped every 10 or so turns for Rainier’s sake, but man she did so well keeping up and persevering. I was very proud of her.

I never have many ski shots of myself, so Kristine was nice enough to take a few

I never have many ski shots of myself, so Kristine was nice enough to take a few

Rainier & I

Rainier & I

Great corn

Great corn

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Rainier making her way down after me

Rainier making her way down after me

We then took it slow down the Williams Lake trail and arrived back at the Tahoe around 2pm. We thought about heading into the town of Taos, but instead decided to get on the road and head back to Vail. We stopped by the sledding hill at the bottom of the ski runs in Taos Ski Valley proper where my family sledded together some 20+ years ago. It brought back some great memories.

The sledding hill

The sledding hill

With some passed out dogs in the back of the Tahoe, we made our way home but only after some awesome Mexican food at Casa del Sol in Buena Vista – my favorite. It was a wonderful day with Kristine and the dogs up on New Mexico’s highest peak and is always exciting to explore some new ground.

The Grand Teton

Its been a busy few weeks with my good friend Rob Schnare’s bachelor party out at Cannon Beach, OR over Labor Day weekend followed by a long overdue trip back to the Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, WY with my good friends Bill Larson, Reid Jennings, and Mike Santoro. The Grand is one of America’s most iconic mountains jutting over 7,000′ from the valley floor of Jackson Hole. The Grand holds a special place in my heart. It was in fact my first “real” mountain I ever climbed back in 9th grade or when I was around maybe 15 years old. My family always vacationed to Jackson Hole when my sister and I were in middle school & high school every summer for about two weeks at a time. This is where I fell in love with the mountains. My Dad and I would hike our brains out for two weeks during these wonderful summer vacations. Then, one summer, my Dad & I coupled with my good friend Art Pue and his father decided to do a father/son climb of the Grand Teton. We went guided through the highly respected & accomplished Exum Guides and took the one day rock climbing school before the two day Grand Teton climb. Unfortunately, Mr. Pue sliced his leg during the rock climbing school and couldn’t make the backpack into the Lower Saddle (11,660′). My Dad unfortunately got altitude sickness at the Lower Saddle during the night with a pretty bad headache and nausea and so remained at the Exum hut while Art and myself climbed to the summit via the classic Upper Exum ridge (5.7). It was the best day of my life thus far and it made me feel so good. We both couldn’t believe at the time we had climbed the Grand. It was like summiting Mt. Everest for us. This climb up the Grand really jump-started my passion for climbing and being in the mountains. Fast-forward to Labor Day weekend 2006. Kristine & I were good climbing buds at the time and we planned a trip to the Grand with other good friends J Weingast, Jesse Hill, & Lizzie Lokey. We climbed the really fun original Owen-Spaulding route (5.4) with Owen Chimney variation (5.5). The trip went very well with great weather despite the route being a bit crowded. It was after all a holiday weekend.

J, me, Kristine, Lizzie, & Jesse on the summit of  the Grand Teton on September 3, 2006

J, me, Kristine, Lizzie, & Jesse on the summit of the Grand Teton on September 3, 2006

Kristine & I on the summit of the Grand Teton together on September 3, 2006 before we started dating

Kristine & I on the summit of the Grand Teton together on September 3, 2006 before we started dating

My good friend Bill Larson, who is an engineer at Beaudin Ganze with me, had always wanted to climb the Grand. Bill does most of his work up in Jackson Hole so he has been up there at least twice a month for years now. Bill & I used to do a lot of climbing and mountaineering together back in the day when I first moved to Vail in 2003. Bill was even on our El Pico de Orizaba, Mexico trip in December 2004. He has since started a family and has two awesome young boys that have kept him pretty busy. Nonetheless, the Grand was always in the back of his mind and so we finally set a date and made it happen in September 2013. My good friend Reid was on board and Mike Santoro definitely wanted in as well. So, we would have two roped teams of two, which would be perfect. Since none of them had ever climbed in the Tetons, much less the Grand, we decided to do the original Owen-Spaulding route again with Owen Chimney variation since I knew it pretty well. Other than being a bit colder and perhaps more crowded, it really is no different than the Upper Exum from a technical perspective. It would work out well. Bill was already up in Jackson for work since Tuesday, so Mike & I left early Thursday morning from Vail and drove the 8 hrs to Jackson. Reid flew up from Denver and we all met out at the airport since Bill needed to return his rental car. We all shopped around town for last minute food and supplies and watched the Broncos & Peyton Manning demolish last year’s Superbowl champs at the Snake River Brewery. It was so very nice to be back in Jackson Hole since I have so many fond memories here with my family and friends. We all crashed at Bill’s Super 8 motel room and after a nice breakfast/brunch at the Bunnery in Jackson, we made our way to the familiar Lupine Meadows trailhead in the early afternoon. Billy had secured us two nights of backcountry camping at the Meadows (9,200′) about 4.5 miles in from the trailhead in Garnet Canyon. The backpack approach was great. The weather looked a bit threatening but held off until we were able to find a campsite and set up our tents. Apparently, bears have become more of a problem than I remember and everyone carries bear spray now and so Bill bought a bottle and kept it on him. Despite the fact that Billy wanted to see a Grizz (I sure as heck did not), fortunately any bears steered clear of us on the approach and on the way out.

The boys excited to enter Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton behind

The boys excited to enter Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton behind

Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton looming large

Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton looming large

Negotiating the boulder field with decent size packs en route to the Meadows

Negotiating the boulder field with decent size packs en route to the Meadows

The rain and hail (marble-size) let loose about 10 minutes after we set up camp

The rain and hail (marble-size) let loose about 10 minutes after we set up camp

Once at our camp in the Meadows, it hailed marble-sized hail stones for a good 10 minutes at which point I was concerned for my Bibler tent. It soon let up and just rained for a good hour or two. Mike & Bill came into my Bibler with Reid & I and we all played the card game Hearts to our hearts’ content. The weather soon cleared a bit and it stopped raining. We got out of the tent and were greeted with amazing alpenglow from the setting sun bouncing off the clouds and Tetons. It created a real “glow” in Garnet Canyon and was absolutely awesome and such a treat.

The Grand Teton shrouded in clouds

The Grand Teton shrouded in clouds

Awesome alpenglow looking up into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon and the South Teton

Awesome alpenglow looking up into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon and the South Teton

Looking down Garnet Canyon to the valley floor

Looking down Garnet Canyon to the valley floor

The Middle Teton

The Middle Teton

The boys admiring the view

The boys admiring the view

However great the alpenglow moment was, we soon heard the search and rescue (SAR) helicopter’s blades whipping the humid air coming up into Garnet Canyon. We knew there had been some sort of accident. The chopper made a pass at a small cliff next to the waterfall below the campsite called the Ledges about 300 vertical feet above us on the trail to the Lower saddle. It then landed in the Meadows and dispatched a few SAR guys who quickly hiked up to the base of the small cliff. They were all there for a good two hours with us wondering what was going on.

The chopper circling the Ledges campsites and the Grand behind

The chopper circling the Ledges campsites and the Grand behind

The SAR chopper preparing to land at the Meadows to drop SAR members off

The SAR chopper preparing to land at the Meadows to drop SAR members off

Finally, two SAR guys walked past us and told us the poor guy had “pitched off” and did not make it. We really didn’t know what that exactly meant and obviously did not ask the SAR fellows, but we did read two days later that the 40 year old fellow from Boulder had been searching for a campsite in the same hail storm and had fallen off the small cliff. Unfortunately, he did not make it. Its moments like these that really are so very tragic and make you realize the seriousness and unforgiving power of the mountains. And not just the Tetons – really, any mountains. We all have to be so careful. The accident definitely put a somber mood around our camp, but we soon tried to psyche ourselves up for the next day and be positive for our upcoming climb. We had gotten two nights of camping just in case Saturday turned out to be too stormy for a summit day and by 11pm that evening I think we all were beginning to think we would be going for the summit Sunday. The rain really came down for a good hour, which did not help raise our spirits too much. Nevertheless, it stopped, we all tossed and turned, and got up around 2am for a 3am start. It was clear out and we could see stars, so we decided to go for it. We made good time up the trail past the Ledges and into the North Fork of Garnet Canyon in the dark by headlamp. Its a steep trail, that’s for sure, but everyone did well. Routefinding up this trail in the dark is never easy, but we found our way after getting off route once or twice. We made it to the fixed ropes, which are set up to provide an easy ascent of a 75 ft class 4/5 rock band. We soon hit the Lower saddle around 5am still in the dark no less. The wind picked up and Billy had a bad cramp in his leg so I quickly massaged his quad for him and I guess I had the magic touch as he soon after felt a lot better. There were definitely several other parties on the trail and stirring in the Exum hut at the Lower saddle and so we quickly headed up the trail to the Black Dike, a feature on the way up to the Upper Saddle. Now the route between the Lower & Upper Saddles is about as far from straightforward as it gets. It seems I go a different way each time I climb the Grand. Its especially tough in the dark. In 2007, it was light by the time we were heading up to the Upper Saddle which made things a lot easier. Nonetheless, we made our way up trying to avoid being too easterly towards the point where climber’s access the Upper Exum ridge. We followed a small climber’s trail between class 3 and 4 moves. I remembered certain features from before but again the dark really played havoc on our routefinding abilities. We then climbed a 10 ft class 4 slab onto a very loose scree field and followed another team of three up to a point below a 30 ft class 5 chimney up a very wet mini-waterfall of sorts. Sam, the leader of the group, ascended the chimney and I took off after him scoping it out for Billy, Reid, & Mike. I made it up and searched around, but did not remember having to make these moves at all from before, so I downclimbed the sketchy, wet chimney back to the boys. This downclimb was likely the most dangerous climbing I did all day. There was definitely a better way.

On our descent to the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle later in the day, I got a view of the class 5 rock I climbed and downclimbed (shown in red) in the dark early that morning trying to find a way through. Not recommended. We found a better way up the class 4 slabs I had ascended previously in 2007

On our descent to the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle later in the day, I got a view of the class 5 rock I climbed and downclimbed (shown in red) in the dark early that morning trying to find a way through. Not recommended. We found a better way up the class 4 slabs I had ascended previously in 2007

We descended 100 vertical feet or so back to the short class 4 slab. By that time, it was getting light enough that we could see storm clouds in the distance and it was ever so lightly spitting snow on us. This again did not inspire confidence in us continuing our climb. We called it off for all of about 2 minutes when we looked up and it all seemed to be clearing and the snow stopped. We turned around and headed up and now that it was light enough, we found the class 4 slabs/chimney (maybe a low 5th class move or two) I remembered climbing in 2007 just to the right of the waterfall chimney I had climbed and downclimbed a few minutes ago. Now this familiar route did inspire confidence.

Taken later that day on our descent, this picture shows the class 4 slabs/chimney (maybe a low 5th class move or two) we ascended early that morning on the way to the Upper Saddle. We found a better way down to the right in this picture

Taken later that day on our descent, this picture shows the class 4 slabs/chimney (maybe a low 5th class move or two) we ascended early that morning on the way to the Upper Saddle. We found a better way down to the right in this picture

We then all set off up the slabs/chimney for a few hundred vertical feet and topped out on more remnants of a faint climber’s trail, which eventually led to much easier access to the Upper Saddle.

Billy & Reid starting the class 4 slabs  to the Upper Saddle I remember climbing last time in 2007

Billy & Reid starting the class 4 slabs to the Upper Saddle I remember climbing last time in 2007

Mikey in an airy position

Mikey in an airy position

Billy & Mike climbing the class 4 slabs with a low 5th class move or two

Billy & Mike climbing the class 4 slabs with a low 5th class move or two

Reid making his way to the Upper Saddle

Reid making his way to the Upper Saddle

Once at the Upper saddle, spirits were high again and we regrouped, got something to eat and drink, flaked out the ropes, and racked up for the technical portion of the climb. The views were incredible, better than I remembered, and the rising sun’s rays on the other peaks of the Tetons and Idaho were unbelievable.

The sun hits the southern Tetons

The sun hits the southern Tetons

Clouds over Jackson Hole beneath Buck Mountain

Clouds over Jackson Hole beneath Buck Mountain

The Middle Teton and Idaho to the west

The Middle Teton and Idaho to the west

Reid & I were the lead rope team while Bill & Mike were the second rope team. I went off and only placed one sling around a rock horn to protect the first Belly Roll pitch. I quickly built an anchor and belayed Reid up. Now, it was chilly out, especially on the west side of the mountain which receives no direct sunlight until later in the day. I climbed without my gloves but belayed with them on. The plan was just to leave all my gear in so Mike could efficiently lead for the second rope team. This worked out pretty well.

Mike leading the Belly Roll pitch (5.4) of the Owen-Spaulding route

Mike leading the Belly Roll pitch (5.4) of the Owen-Spaulding route

We had to wait a bit for the team of three ahead of us. The longer we waited, the colder we got, but it is what it is. They were very nice folks and I chatted with them quite a bit as I was the closest one to them.

Bill coming up the Belly Roll pitch to the ledge between the Belly Roll & Belly Crawl pitches on the Owen-Spaulding route

Bill coming up the Belly Roll pitch to the ledge between the Belly Roll & Belly Crawl pitches on the Owen-Spaulding route

I set out across the very exposed yet easy Belly Crawl pitch placing 3 cams total for the Belly Crawl & Double Chimney.

Exposure on the Belly Crawl pitch

Exposure on the Belly Crawl pitch

Reid poking his head out from the ledge before the Belly Crawl pitch

Reid poking his head out from the ledge before the Belly Crawl pitch

I belayed Reid from on top of the Double Chimney and Mike soon followed Reid leading for his team. The climbing up until this point was at most 5.4. So, still technical with lots of exposure yet easy and fun climbing all the same.

Bill coming up the Double Chimney

Bill coming up the Double Chimney

Bill & Mike hanging out at the top of the Double Chimney

Bill & Mike hanging out at the top of the Double Chimney

Just awesome low-level clouds in the canyons below

Just awesome low-level clouds in the canyons below

Mt. Moran looking stately in the distance on the right

Mt. Moran looking stately in the distance on the right

I then told Sam to climb the awesome Owen Chimney instead of taking the Catwalk slabs around and they did just that. I hope they enjoyed it. I think they did. I took off up the fun 5.5 Owen Chimney placing two cams and clipping a fixed piton and set up an anchor at the top of the chimney and brought Reid up.

Looking down at the boys from about halfway up the Owen Chimney

Looking down at the boys from about halfway up the Owen Chimney

Reid climbing the Owen Chimney

Reid climbing the Owen Chimney

Mike was on Reid’s tail and then he brought Billy up.

Mike leading the Owen Chimney

Mike leading the Owen Chimney

Bill climbing the Owen Chimney

Bill climbing the Owen Chimney

I think we had a pretty speedy and efficient method going here for sure. From this point, we coiled the ropes, stowed them in our packs, and set off scrambling up Sargeant’s Chimney and then the really fun upper class 3 slabs to the Grand’s summit. The last few hundred vertical feet to the summit are really fun, low consequential scrambling.

Bill on the upper mountain a hundred feet below the summit

Bill on the upper mountain a few hundred feet below the summit

Mike & Reid scrambling up the upper mountain's fun slabs

Mike & Reid scrambling up the upper mountain’s fun slabs

I reached the summit around 10:15am and took a video of the boys topping out. It was a very special moment to see the three of them so excited and accomplished. I just love it.

Here is a short video of the boys reaching the Grand’s summit:

We stayed up top for a good half hour admiring the views, taking pictures, and soaking in the moment. The weather had really held off this day. We all felt very lucky and fortunate. It was a very pleasing summit.

The four of us on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770') on September 7, 2013

The four of us on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′) on September 7, 2013

The Grand Teton summit marker - I guess its 5 ft higher than I previously thought :)

The Grand Teton summit marker – I guess its 5 ft higher than I previously thought :)

Billy & I finally on top of the Grand together

Billy & I finally on top of the Grand together

Billy, me, & Mikey on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770')

Billy, me, & Mikey on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′)

Reid & myself on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770')

Reid & myself on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′)

Looking down at Mt. Owen (far left) and Teewinot (far right) from the northern edge of the Grand's summit

Looking down at Mt. Owen (far left) and Teewinot (far right) from the northern edge of the Grand’s summit

Lowly Teewinot from the Grand's summit

Lowly Teewinot from the Grand’s summit

We soon gathered our gear and I wanted us down to the Upper Saddle by noon to avoid any possibility of storms settling down on us while we were still on the technical portions of the mountain. The scrambling down to Sargeant’s Chimney rappel went well and I quickly set up the first “warm-up” rappel.

Billy starting the Sargeant's Chimney rappel

Billy starting the Sargeant’s Chimney rappel

We all then scrambled down to the main 120 ft rappel, which dumped you back at the Upper Saddle. There was no waiting in line here like we did for an hour back in 2007. Mike and I set up the double-rope rappel and I was the first to set off with Mike bringing up the rear. The exhilaration you feel and fun you have on the 90 ft free-hanging portion of the rappel is definitely one of the technical highlights of the climb. Its just so much fun. The guys loved it.

Bill having a blast on the free-hanging portion of the big 120 ft rappel to the Upper Saddle

Bill having a blast on the free-hanging portion of the big 120 ft rappel to the Upper Saddle

We then took a break, ate some snacks, drank some Gatorade, coiled and stowed the ropes, and de-racked our gear. We kept our helmets on for the descent to the Lower Saddle because of the potential for class 4/low 5th class moves and loose rock. No matter how hard we tried, I think we still got off route a bit and had to perform some class 4/low 5th class downclimbs and routefind quite a bit. Whatever. It is what it is. We eventually made it to the Lower Saddle and regrouped with some food and water. If the Tetons can’t teach you how to scramble, I’m not sure what mountain range can. If you can scramble here, I honestly believe you can scramble anywhere.

Middle Teton Glacier as seen on the descent from the Upper Saddle to the Lower Saddle

The Middle Teton Glacier as seen on the descent from the Upper Saddle to the Lower Saddle

Back at the Lower Saddle with the route to the Upper Saddle and Grand behind

Back at the Lower Saddle with the route to the Upper Saddle and Grand behind

The boys descending the fixed ropes below the Lower Saddle

The boys descending the fixed ropes below the Lower Saddle

We made it back to camp around 3pm, packed up, and started the backpack out around 4pm finally arriving back at Bill’s jeep around 6pm capping off a 15 hour day. Not too bad. I wanted us to head straight to Dornan’s restaurant’s rooftop deck in Moose for beers and dinner for good ole times’ sake. I always loved going here with my Dad and family and enjoying the great views of the Tetons. It did not disappoint. It capped off a wonderful 36 hrs in the Tetons with my great friends.

Cheers on the rooftop deck at Dornan's!

Cheers on the rooftop deck at Dornan’s!

Left to right: The Grand, Mt. Owen, Teewinot

Left to right: The Grand, Mt. Owen, Teewinot

The Grand: the birthplace of American mountaineering and the birthplace of my own mountaineering

The Grand: the birthplace of American mountaineering and the birthplace of my own mountaineering

We drove to Pinedale that evening after dinner, got a motel room and very quickly passed out, and then made the remaining drive home to Vail Sunday morning. It was good to be home, but sad to cap off a great trip with Bill, Reid, & Mike. I am so proud of these guys. It was an honor to be up on the Grand with them.

Mt. Katahdin

On the to-do list for some time now for the Chalks & Oelbergers has been to climb the highest peak in Maine together, Mt. Katahdin. At 5,267′, Katahdin dominates the surrounding terrain and is actually the northern terminus of the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail (AT). Thanks to Ken Oelberger and his fantastic expedition organizing skills in securing parking passes and doing the route research. As Ken & Dianne Oelberger have retired to their beautiful home on the ocean in Maine and thus becoming true “Mainers”, it was only fitting that they climb the highest peak in Maine. Kristine flew back to Maine on a Wednesday while I did so the following Friday. We all went sailing that Saturday, which was so much fun. Ken even let me handle the “rutter” of his pride & joy sailboat, which Thomas & I think he should name. Every sailboat needs a good name. I guess he trusted me somewhat even though I had absolutely zero sailing knowledge before I stepped aboard his boat. After some good quality time with all the Oelbergers (including Kristine’s sister, Carrie, her husband, Thomas, and 2 year old son, Kai), Ken, Dianne, Kristine, & myself packed up at the Oelberger residence on a Sunday and headed out for northern Maine and Mt. Katahdin. We took two cars as Kristine & I would continue on into Canada and Quebec City for a few days to visit our great friend, Rob Casserley, and his wife, Marie-Kristelle Ross. Rob & Marie-Kristelle (MK) met us at the Big Moose Inn in the small town of Millinocket at the base of Katahdin on Sunday evening. Rob & MK took the road less traveled from Highway 201, which comes down due south from Quebec City into Maine, on about 50 miles of dirt roads, but in the end they found their way to Millinocket. It was so fantastic to catch up with Rob & MK. It had been awhile since we had all seen each other. Ken & Dianne stayed at  the Big Moose Inn while the rest of us camped at the campground just next door. We had a big campfire and cooked our homemade Kristine burritos on the fire and had a good ole evening.

The alarm sounded at 5am and we met Ken & Dianne at the Big Moose around 6am. It was a dreary day and started to rain a bit on the way into the Baxter State Park gate entrance and the Roaring Brook trailhead. The rain and cold definitely didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Nonetheless, we headed out up the trail in the dismal rain and fog. We had an inkling that the skies could clear once we got to treeline due to the 40% chance of rain today for the area. However, once we reached Chimney Pond, 3.3 miles up the trail, the wind and rain picked up and the visibility was next to nothing.

Ken, Dianne, & MK posing with Katahdin in the clouds

Ken, Dianne, & MK posing with Katahdin in the clouds

There were lots of folks on the trail standing around at the shelter at Chimney Pond snacking and trying to get out of the rain and cold. We all decided to turn around and head down and to try again the next day (Tuesday) which promised a much better weather forecast. Now the trails in the northeast are significantly different than the trails out here in Colorado. They are not just your smooth dirt trails. They comprise boulders and rocks at about every step and are tough on the legs and joints. Some sections are so “bouldery” that I would be hesitant at all to trail run these trails. The slick nature of these boulders with the rain really added to the difficulty and considering what we climbed the next day beyond Chimney Pond, I am so glad we turned around this first day.

Rob, MK, & Kristine in good spirits on the hike out to the car despite the rain and cold

Rob, MK, & Kristine in good spirits on the hike out to the car despite the rain and cold

We made it back to the car around lunchtime and headed into Millinocket for come coffee and meandering around. We went to a cool little upstairs cafe for a few hours and ran into some folks who had just completed a thruhike of the AT in a little under 5 months. We were all very impressed by the thruhike achievement and when you think about it, it truly is so amazing. I have heard most people who set out to thruhike usually end up dropping out for one reason or another. Even Rob having 8 Everest summits under his belt and numerous other 8000ers and mountains around the world seemed very impressed. Rob, MK, Kristine, & I were later talking about how cool it would be to attempt an AT thruhike someday, but we wondered if we would get bored or if our joints would hold up for that. Who knows. I guess we’d never know until we tried.

We then headed back to the Big Moose Inn, watched Rob slither into his wetsuit and swim 2 miles in the lake next door in prepartrion for his upcoming ironman triathalon in Canada, and then had a nice dinner at the tavern adjacent the Inn.

The man, the myth, the legend - Rob Casserley looking good for his upcoming triathalon

The man, the myth, the legend – Rob Casserley looking good for his upcoming triathalon

MK & Kristine on the dock watching Rob swim

MK & Kristine on the dock watching Rob swim

Ken & Dianne retired to their cozy room at the Inn while the kids walked back over to the campsite to have a brief campfire with some crazy Canadian mega marshmellow roasting before retiring to our respective tents. 5am came way to early once again and we were quick to get on the road back up to the trailhead for round 2. Despite our strong percolated coffee, I think MK and I were definitely falling sleep in the back of Ken’s car on the way to the trailhead. We just couldn’t wake up. However, once we all got moving in the nice early morning weather, we all felt more energetic.

Mt. Katahdin model map showing the various routes at the Chimney Pond trailhead. Our route up then Saddle Trail is shown in red

Mt. Katahdin model map showing the various routes from Chimney Pond. Our route up the Saddle Trail is shown in red

This day’s weather was a complete 180 from the previous day’s weather. Moderate temperatures and sun had replaced the miserable rain, cold, and wind. It was great.

Gorgeous Maine streams and forests

Gorgeous Maine streams and forests

On the trail to Chimney Pond

On the trail to Chimney Pond

Newly constructed log bridges

Newly constructed log bridges

Mt. Katahdin from Chimney Pond was such a sight to see, one we did not have the previous day due to the socked in clouds and fog. For the east coast, Katahdin sure is a steep mountain on many sides. I’ve climbed many of the southern states highpoints (Mt. Mitchel in NC, Clingman’s Dome in TN, Brasstown Bald in GA, and Mt. Rogers in VA), but Katahdin really is so much more gnarly and thus exciting. I am sure there are some technical rock and ice routes up this peak. It would be fun to come back at some point and attempt a technical route on this awesome peak.

Baxter Peak on Mt. Katahdin from Chimney Pond

Baxter Peak on Mt. Katahdin from Chimney Pond

There were lots of folks on the trail this day due to the good weather and we noticed the hike to Chimney Pond was popular among families with kids. However, we saw several kids make it to the summit, which was great to witness.

The young gals at Chimney Pond

The young gals at Chimney Pond

The boys at Chimney Pond

The boys at Chimney Pond

Ken & Dianne at Chimney Pond

Ken & Dianne at Chimney Pond

After a nice break at Chimney Pond, we signed the ranger’s register and continued on up the Saddle Trail which took us up to the ridge and saddle between Baxter Peak (the highpoint of Mt. Katahdin at 5,267′) and Hamlin Peak (4,751′) to the north. The trail was very very “bouldery” and there were small sections of class 3 scrambling, i.e. using your hands for upwards progress. Ken & Dianne did wonderful on this scrambling despite having never been accustomed to this type of “hiking” at all in their lives. No doubt Rob, MK, Kristine and I were all so very happy to be here with Ken & Dianne. It took awhile to get up to the saddle, but we all did and took a nice break.

Dianne & Ken taking a break on the steep Saddle Trail with a gorgeous backdrop

Dianne & Ken taking a break on the steep Saddle Trail with a gorgeous backdrop

Rob "monkeying" around

Rob “monkeying” around

Beautiful Maine scenery from the Saddle Trail

Beautiful Maine scenery from the Saddle Trail

Dianne working the steep Saddle Trail

Dianne working the steep Saddle Trail

Scenic shots abound

Scenic shots abound

Dianne in good form on  a class 3 section

Dianne in good form on a class 3 section

The ladies

The ladies

The gals finish off the scrambling to the saddle

The gals finish off the scrambling to the saddle

We then continued the remaining 1 mile up Baxter Peak’s north ridge on a good trail, albeit “bouldery”, to the summit. The views along the ridge were phenomenal and we reached the summit around 1:30pm.

The crew heading up Katahdin's north ridge

The crew heading up Katahdin’s north ridge

The Oelbergers are excited!

The Oelbergers are excited!

Ken making his way

Ken making his way

Rob about 24,000' below his "normal" hiking altitude

Rob about 24,000′ below his “normal” hiking altitude

It was very exciting for me to watch Ken & Dianne top out on the top of Maine. They were very proud of themselves as they should be.

Dianne is so excited she seems to be levitating

Dianne is so excited she seems to be levitating

Mother & daughter on Maine's highest peak

Mother & daughter on Maine’s highest peak

The gals just before Katahdin's summit

The gals just before Katahdin’s summit

The views down Katahdin’s north-northeast face were awesome all the way down to Chimney Pond.

Looking down at Chimney Pond from the summit

Looking down at Chimney Pond from the summit

Chimney Pond zoomed in from the summit

Chimney Pond zoomed in from the summit

We could see climbers on the so-called “knife-edge” over to Pamola Peak (4,902′), a sub-summit of Baxter Peak. We were thinking of descending the knife-edge ridge over to Pamola Peak and down the Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond while Ken & Dianne retraced their steps down the Saddle Trail. However, we absolutely decided not to do this after experiencing the steep, complex, and scrambly nature of the Saddle Trail on the way up. I don’t think any of us were about to let Ken & Dianne descend that trail on their own. The knife-edge ridge and Pamola Peak can definitely wait another day in another year in the future.

People on the knife-edge ridge over to Pamola Peak. Another day in another year for sure

People on the knife-edge ridge over to Pamola Peak. Another day in another year for sure

We spent around 30 minutes up top enjoying the views of beautiful Maine with all its dense forests and countless lakes. We took several pictures with the famous Mt. Katahdin summit sign as well. I grabbed a summit rock for us and one for Ken & Dianne as well. It was also so fun and memorable to share another summit with Rob & MK.

The Oelbergers & Chalks on the summit of Mt. Katahdin

The Oelbergers & Chalks on the summit of Mt. Katahdin

The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Katahdin

The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Katahdin

Rob, MK, Kristine, & me on the summit of Maine

Rob, MK, Kristine, & me on the summit of Maine

Ken & Dianne on top of Maine

Ken & Dianne on top of Maine

Scenic summit shot of the countless lakes and dense forests of Maine

Scenic summit shot of the countless lakes and dense forests of Maine

Beautiful terrain

Beautiful terrain

I think we all knew the descent could take some time, so we got going. Ken & Dianne did extremely well on the steep descent down to Chimney Pond from the saddle. Rob, MK, Kristine, & I were not going to let anything happen to these two stellar mountaineers.

Coming down the Saddle Trail close to Chimney Pond

Coming down the Saddle Trail close to Chimney Pond

Typical trail terrain

Typical trail terrain

We all took a long break at Chimney Pond looking back up at Katahdin and then continued on down the Chimney Pond trail. When we passed the Basin Pond, I saw a good outlet through the thicket to the water’s edge and decided to take a dunk. Dianne wanted to check out the cold bath I was about to take and was nice enough to take a few pictures of me. Burr. It was a cold one. It took my breath away, but definitely was rejuvenating. Its always as if I just drank a pot of coffee. That’s how energized I feel.

Lake dunk in Basin Pond on the hike out. I'm always nervous at this point

Lake dunk in Basin Pond on the hike out. I’m always nervous at this point

Burrr.....

Burrr…..

We eventually made it back to the car around 7pm for an 11 mile and 12 hour roundtrip day with approximately 4,000′ of elevation gain. I know Ken & Dianne’s feet were hurting, as mine were, after such a long day on difficult terrain, but they had made it. We quickly departed the trailhead and headed back to the Big Moose Inn. We needed to get on the road to Quebec City as quickly as possible so we packed up camp, grabbed some coffee, and headed out around 8:30pm. I was sort of envious of Ken & Dianne’s relaxing evening of showering, a good beer, eating a nice meal at the Inn, and hitting the sack early. However, we wanted to get to Quebec with Rob & MK to maximize our time with them as we were to return to Maine on Friday.

After making it through border control, we finally arrived at Rob & MK’s wonderful new home on the south side of downtown Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River around 2:30am. Rob was so excited to have us there, he immediately got to baking a new loaf of bread until 3am. We had a great time in Quebec with Rob & MK. From biking around the downtown area, seeing the Ross family flat in the city where MK lived while attending university, visiting & hiking the awesome Montmorency Falls outside the city, going on an adventure run with Rob through cross-country trails and backroads while the ladies went to hot yoga, it was all good fun and quality time together.

The 275 ft high Montmorency Falls outside Quebec City

The 275 ft high Montmorency Falls outside Quebec City

Montmorency Falls

Montmorency Falls

Looking down Montmorency Falls from the suspended bridge above

Looking down Montmorency Falls from the suspended bridge above

Kristine, MK, & Rob on the suspended bridge

Kristine, MK, & Rob on the suspended bridge

Rob & MK

Rob & MK

Kristine & me

Kristine & me

Parting shot of the four of us

Parting shot of the four of us

We then left Quebec City and Rob & MK around lunchtime on Friday and made the 6 hour drive back into Maine and the USA and to the Oelberger Residence. Kristine & I then flew home to Colorado on Sunday after spending two more nights and a day with Ken, Dianne, Carrie, Thomas, & Kai filled with cornhole and lobster/crab roll sandwiches. Yum. All in all, a wonderful trip back to Maine & a new adventure for me at least up to Quebec to visit great friends. Maybe in the future we can join Ken, Dianne, Rob, & MK on more hikes and summits in New England.