Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pyramid Peak Trip Report - Sept. 2011

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells taken during a climb of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells - Prints Available

Date: September 4, 2011
RT Length: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft.
Partners: James and Brad

Pyramid peak was an exciting and challenging peak to climb.  We arrived at the trailhead hours before dawn and began hiking from Maroon Lake in the dark.   The turnoff for the Pyramid Peak trail was difficult to locate in the dark and we missed it the first time.  After backtracking, we left the Crater Lake trail and started up the steeper trail until it ran out in the Amphitheater.  This area is essentially a very large field of talus to cross below the north face of pyramid.  The sun rose and we had some breakfast.

Sunrise on Colorado 14er  Pyramid Peak
Sunrise on Pyramid Peak

Sievers Mountain sunrise during a hike of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Looking back down with Sievers Mountain behind

We traveled to the edge of the amphitheater and reached the base of the steep slope fondly referred to in the 14er community as the "Thousand Feet of Suck".  I feel this is an accurate description.  This section consists of steep "hiking" with loose sand, scree and rock making for a torturous up two steps, down one step kind of climb.  We had to be very careful here not to lodge any rocks loose from their position because they could fly down the hill with increasing speed putting any climbers below us in danger.  James made it part way up the slope and decided that this was a little beyond his comfort level.  He headed back down and waited while Brad and I continued up.

Colorado fourteener Pyramid Peak taken during a climb
Pyramid Peak from the ridge - Prints Available

Once on the ridge, we started up the next 1000 ft. to the summit.  Now the climbing begins!  The first obstacle we encountered is called the "Ledges".  Here you basically walk/cross a thin ledge while hugging the rock wall next to you with a drop off under you.  There are no real physical difficulties here, but the exposure is dramatic and requires steady nerves.  In fact I would say that there are maybe only a couple hard moves on the entire route.  Most of the challenge is mental.  While walking along the ledge we came to a gap in the ledge where you are forced to either jump across to the other side or make a long step across.  Some call this the "Leap of Faith".  We didn't think it was quite as intimidating as some reports had made it sound, but definitely required careful execution to cross.  Brad actually stretched his body across the gap to show how far the jump is.

crossing the ledges section on Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak with dropoff below
Ledges - photo credit: Brad

leap of faith on Pyramid Peak
Jumping over the Leap of Faith

Brad stretching across the leap of faith on Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
Brad stretching across the leap of faith

Once past the ledges section, the rest of the climb involves route finding up steep rotten rock. We focused on keeping three points of contact at all times. There were more than a few "no fall" spots to keep you awake and alert.

Part way up, we met a couple who were climbing their second to last 14er and planning on finishing the next weekend. As we were visiting with them, the husband was standing on a rock that suddenly came loose underneath him, and he fell to his butt on the edge of a drop off. His wife instinctively grabbed his backpack and helped prevent him from falling. It gave us all a good scare and reminded us of the unforgiving nature of the mountain…how easily something bad could happen if not taken seriously.

Pyramid has one of the best summit panoramas of all the 14ers. The Maroon Bells dominate the view, and the valley below them is just dramatic. One unique feature at the top is called the "Diving Board" where brave (or crazy) people step out on to this plank of a rock that sticks out the side of the mountain over a cliff below. Brad stepped out on to it with no fear. I crawled out on to it briefly with a lot of fear.

Panorama from the summit of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak with Maroon Bells Capitol and Snowmass Mountain
Summit Panorama

The Maroon Bells from the summit of Colorado 14er Pyramid Peak
The Bells form Pyramid - Prints Available

Brad  on the diving board

Excited to be up there, but eager to get back to safety, we began our slow and careful descent back down the mountain.

climbing back down the green wall on Pyramid Peak
Climbing down - photo credit: Brad

We finally met James back in the amphitheater who had taken a pleasant four hour nap while waiting for us.  The sense of accomplishment and the feeling of being back down away from the difficulties was awesome.  We were the only ones at Maroon Lake in the early morning hours, but there were hundreds of tourists at the lake when we returned that afternoon.  Pyramid Peak is considered one of the most dangerous 14ers in Colorado due to its poor rock quality, significant exposure, and class 3/4 scrambling moves.  It is one of the most difficult on my list for sure.

Parting shot of the Bells

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mt. Lindsey - Northwest Ridge

Date: June 12, 2011Elevation: 14,042 ft.
Distance: 8.25 miles
Route: Northwest Ridge
Partners: Kenton, Daniel, Brad

Daniel and Kenton with Blanca behind.

This was an awesome trip with some great friends.  We spent the weekend at the lot fishing at Lathrop State Park capped off with a hike to the summit of Mt. Lindsey, one of the 14ers that we all had left to check off our list.

For years my family and I took trips to the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan trying to catch huge northerns and walleyes.  We would always come back with some nice sized fish, but I'd never caught anything over 10-12 lbs.  Nothing that would be considered a trophy size northern.  Who would have known that all I needed to do was throw out a giant daredevil in the Horseshoe lake down in Walsenburg to catch the biggest fish of my life.  I was just goofing around in the afternoon and decided to throw out one of my "Cananda" lures more as a joke than serious.   I saw a giant shadow in the water I thought was a big log.  I thought, "maybe there are some big fish under that log."  Turns out the log was a 16 lb. Tiger Musky!  I put my lure right in front of it and it took the bait.  Lucky for me, Kenton had recently bought a huge fishing net at the local pawn shop before we went fishing.  We were giving him a hard time and making fun of him because the size of the net was overkill for the tiny rainbow trout we were catching.  I don't think I could have brought this monster in without using that net.  I take back the jokes, Kenton.

16 lbs.

The fish was the same length as Molly!

We later had a fish fry and fed the entire 20's/30's group at our church with this bad boy!  It was yummy!

Anyway...on to the mountain.

The next day we drove down to the Lily Lake trailhead in Kenton's truck.  The ride up there is pretty rough and was fairly uncomfortable squeezed in between the two of them in the truck that was really only meant to hold one passenger.  We had fun though!

Daniel actually fell asleep while Kenton drove up the 4 wheel drive road.  I was watching him as his head would rock back and forth as we hit the bumps and wondered how he could possibly stay asleep through that!  Some people just sleep hard I guess.

Brad's plan was to meet us down at the trailhead that night to camp out before we hiked the next day.  Daniel, Kenton and I set up our tents and got ready to sleep when Brad pulled up as the sun was setting.

He said, "Hey'm almost out of gas."

Apparently he had misjudged how far the ride would be and thought there might be a gas station closer along the way.  We asked him how much he had left.

"I'm about on 'E'"

We discussed what we should do and how to get out of this pickle.  Could we siphon out some gas from Kenton's truck into Brad's?  We couldn't find a tube.  Could we take Brad in the back of the truck back to town and then bring him back up once we get some gas?  That would take forever!  There was one other truck at the trailhead, but no one there.

About 10:00 at night, here comes this random old lady walking out of the woods to her truck wearing a headlamp and a backpack.  Brad went up to her to ask if she had a siphon or some extra gas or something.  She looked at him funny.  He asked her again and she motioned to him that she was deaf. So now Brad had to try to explain to her that he was out of gas using hand motions.  This was ineffective.  He came back and we found some paper and a pencil so he could write the conversation down on paper.  Finally, she looked around in her vehicle and found a plastic emergency siphoning tube!  We gave her $10 and thanked her for saving us.  It's always interesting the kinds of people you can run into in the backcountry.

We decided to go ahead and hike in the morning and worry about siphoning out the gas the next day.  It was getting late.

Blanca  from the trailhead

The next morning we headed out early along the standard route to Lindsey.  The trail to the saddle is nice and easy other than a stream crossing that had no bridge.  We had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot.

Daniel and Kenton crossing the river.  WOOOH!  COLD!
Easy going!

The first views of Lindsey don't come until you are almost to the saddle.  Then the entire route up the peak is visible from here.

Huerfanito, Blanca and Ellingwood from just below the saddle.

The remaining route.

From this point we split up and met at the summit.  Brad and I wanted to do the Northwest Ridge route which was steeper climbing, but stable rock.  Daniel and Kenton stuck to the standard North Face route.  Here's an image from that shows the different routes.  Our route is in purple/orange and Kenton and Daniel's route is in blue:

Scrambling along the ridge

This would be my first class 4 climb.  I was a bit nervous, but felt confident with an experienced partner.  Little did I know I was in for more climbing than anticipated!  As we followed along the ridge we apparently didn't drop along the side like we should have before reaching the crux.  We accidentally stayed too high on the ridge and ended up having to down climb some steep spires.  At one point I remember having to hold on with my arms as my feet dangled above a drop off searching for a foothold to get down.  This was terrifying.  Anyone looking to climb this route should study this image from carefully.  Our route up the crux is the middle orange line.  Those sharp points along the ridge with the yellow arrows....yeah...try to avoid those:

Once we were past the spires and back on route at the base of the crux, we took a break to get our wits about us.  What I mean is we took a break to get MY wits about me.  The near death experience we just had didn't seem to phase Brad.  Actually, it kind of made him more excited.  Different people have different limits.  Well, the good news is that the crux seemed easy in comparison.  Actually, it was a blast!  The climbing was fun!  It didn't last long though, and we were past the wall in no time.

Brad starting up the crux.

4th Class climbing

After the climb the route eases out again.

The remainder of the hike to the summit is easy and fun.  The feeling of accomplishment as we neared the summit was awesome!  We joined up with Kenton and Daniel and reached the summit at the same time.


Blanca and Ellingwood

I decided to descend the standard route with Kenton and Daniel.  Brad wanted to practice some more climbing and descended the way we came up.  The standard gully was nasty.  The rock was loose and made the going slow.  Many prefer the Northwest Ridge route, and now I understand why.


Once back at the trucks, it was time to siphon the gas from Kenton's truck to Brad's truck.  Brad was able to suck some gas through the tube to get it going.  The gas was dripping through the tube very slowly.  It took forever to fill up a couple 2 liter bottles so we could transfer them to the other truck.

Brad siphoning gasoline.
Eventually we had enough to get us back to town so Brad could fill up.  We followed him back to town just to be sure.  It was a great trip!  Thanks guys!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Semi Epic - Grizzly Peak D in a Blizzard

Date Climbed: March 30, 2011
Hikers: Clayton and I
Round Trip Mileage: It was supposed to be 5.5 miles, but we unintentionally covered more ground than that.

First off, I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures as my camera froze and I had to use my cell phone (not that it would have mattered much as we couldn't really see anything).

I don't know why we decided to climb Grizzly Peak when we did. The weather forecast said 80% chance of snow with wind gusts of up to 65mph. I knew that this was a fairly simple/straightforward hike. Clayton had done it before in the winter and he said that most of it followed a ridge line. But the one thing we didn't take into account was visibility, or lack there of.

We parked the truck at the loveland pass trailhead and just sat there thinking, "this is crazy" (at least I was thinking that). It was a blizzard. Very windy and snowing. We bundled up and headed toward pt. 12,915. It was fairly easy to know where to go on the way up because you are always heading toward the next highest point. The way down, however is where we would later get confused. At one point on our way up, we had to scramble up a rocky low class 3 ridge to avoid a cornice and before we knew it we were on top of Cupid. At times the snow would provide us a window just long enough to see the shadow of Grizzly. Clayton asked,"should we go for it?"  

can you see it?

Once we reached the top, we sat down next to the wind shelter. We ate our sandwiches and slim-jims trying to keep our hands warm. I pulled out my camera that didn't work because it was too cold, so I snapped some shots with my phone which worked only because it was in my pocket and used my body warmth. There were no views.   The wind was intense, it was very cold and I decided that this was the least satisfying summit ever. 

At the top.

As we left the summit I noticed that it was a little less steep than when we were climbing. We quickly realized we were going the complete wrong direction and had to resummit to get back on the right track. The problem was that the visibility was so times maybe 30 ft. or so. With nothing to see and no way points to keep track of, we often got disoriented. All we could see was white. We couldn't even tell where the sun was at this point. Sometimes there were snow ledges that we would walk up on and we would have to look really hard to tell the difference between the snow and the sky. We headed down toward the Grizzly/Cupid saddle. 

We finally resummited Cupid at about 1:30. We kept going down until we were at an open area that we didn't recognize. We couldn't tell which way to go. We tried my compass, but it was not working well as it had a big bubble in it. At this point we had to stop and make some choices. We decided on the direction we should go and climbed down the mountainside to the bottom of a saddle to somewhere. However, as we descended, we noticed that we were crossing deeper snow than we had crossed coming up. Could the storm have dumped that much snow over the fairly dry trail we had just crossed only hours before? After stopping, thinking, and talking it over, we decided that we were not where we were supposed to be. We considered just trying to head west which would eventually bring us back to Hwy 6 sooner or later, but again, my compass wasn't very reliable and we didn't know what kind of terrain we would run into. Our other option was to just re-climb the mountainside we just descended. We chose to hike back up to where we came from and pick a different direction from there. 

Both of us were getting a bit nervous at this point and trying to think clearly about our situation and trying to make the right decisions. I was getting very frustrated at the poor visibility and the relentless wind. At times it was very hard to tell which direction we were going and which direction we came from. I was beginning to have worries that we were going to have to build a snow cave and huddle together all night for body warmth and how miserable that would be (no offense Clayton ") We also thought that we were losing daylight fast, but the truth is, it was only 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. the snow was just blocking out the sun and making it dark which made me worry more. Then I was having thoughts of our wives worrying about us and search and rescue coming out to find us and the embarrassment that would cause us, not to mention the price it would cost. I have always heard that it is important when you get lost to not panic and stop to think straight. That is definitely good advice. I would add to stop and pray as well is equally important.  

We reached our high point and chose a different downhill direction. Once we thought we were on the right track, we would keep moving forward hoping the direction we were taking would lead us to something we recognized. Every so often we would lose our place and would have to stop and think about where we were and what our next moves should be. We got disoriented multiple times and had to back track multiple times just like this. This went on for a good 2.5 to 3 hrs. Finally we found a few wind shelters along what seemed like to be more like a ridge. Getting more confident (or just more hopeful) we continued. Finally, Clayton yelled, "Trail!" and we found the trail. We were'nt even sure if this was OUR trail, but at least we knew that the trail was going to lead somewhere!

It seemed to take much longer than it should have on the way back up to pt. 12,915. Finally on our way back down toward the road the winds picked up to the extreme! I have never felt such a strong wind in my life. I felt like if the wind was any stronger it would have literally lifted me up into the air like a human kite. We tried our best to cover our faces and keep warm as we moved against the uphill gusts. We had to battle to move DOWN HILL! Clayton guessed that the winds might have been up to 80mph. I don't know if that's true, but it was pretty stinkin' powerful! I would really like to know exactly how strong the wind actually was by measurement, in whatever way people measure the wind in miles per hour. Though this was the most uncomfortable part of our climb, we were so relieved to know that we were heading back to the road. 

I kept my face mask (bandanna) on most of the day. Though one area must have been uncovered as I had a small spot of mild surface frostbite on my cheek. Clayton's face was uncovered more often than mine and his frostbite was much worse, but still only mild and didn't cause any permanent damage.  

ice sickles on the face

Having Fun!

We were so happy to be back at the truck! We were amazed at the 60 degree weather driving back through denver that evening. This trip was a good and scary learning experience. Even an easy summer hike can be quite difficult in winter conditions.

A few lessons Clayton learned on this hike:

1. Next time bring a GPS 
2. Keep important things such as water bottles and electronics close to your body so they don't freeze
3. Bring a map of the area
4. Bring a lightweight snow shovel in case you get lost and need to dig a snow cave to stay the night in
5. Cover your face completely when hiking in brutal conditions. 
6. Make sure you have friends with slim-jims to share. 
7. Make sure your compass and other equipment are in good condition
8. Make sure you are more familiar with the area if your going to hike with poor visibility

A few lessons I learned on this hike:

1. If it's snowy and windy, don't go hiking