Monday, July 30, 2012

Stevens Gulch - Grays/Torreys Approach

Nancy Midden and myself departed West Chicago Creek campground at around 5-6 am on July 28th, headed west on I-70, and reached the Bakerville, CO exit soon after.  We then experienced the epic drive up FR189, but decided to park halfway up before the real fun began.  My truck has decent clearance, but the ruts beyond our parking spot were some of the deepest, gnarliest I've ever I was glad not to put my vehicle through that kind of test.  After hiking uphill for a mile or so, we reached the Grays Peak trailhead, and joined hundreds of others toward the 14,270 foot summit.  Just above 12,000 feet, we decided to take a break in a meadow, and sat next to a shallow stream while watching other hikers pass by.  We then got back up, ascended a couple hundred additional feet, and ended up sitting on the side of a grass covered moraine.  What was intended to be a short break turned into a nap.  The goal of summiting became secondary in importance...instead, we were satisfied with the experience of sitting under the warming sun, relaxing beneath the surrounding peaks, and gazing up at the deep blue sky.  After an hour, a shower began to develop, so we headed back to the truck, and then drove to Vail for lunch.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

La Plata Peak - Standard Route

After attempting North Maroon Peak the day before on July 23rd, Cindy McCloskey, Chris Broyles, and myself decided our legs were too tired to stick with our original plan of ascending the Ellingwood Ridge route up La Plata Peak.  So instead, we decided to take the standard route.  The trail starts off by gradually ascending up through La Plata Gulch, which opens up into a beautiful meadow above 11,000 feet.  Next, a series of switchbacks are encountered, followed by an ascending traverse, which gives way to another series of switchbacks that leads to the top of the northwest ridge of La Plata.  We generally followed the ridge for the remainder of the route, with boulder hopping encountered near 13,400 feet.  After by-passing a false summit, I finally reached the top at around 10:15 am.  A family vacationing in the area joined me soon after, followed by Chris, and then Cindy.  We spent 30 minutes resting and taking in the view, and then began our descent back to the trailhead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

North Maroon Peak

Cindy McCloskey, Chris Broyles, and myself attempted North Maroon Peak on July 23rd.  After a stream crossing, we lost the primary trail and were side-tracked up a new trail that will eventually bi-pass an area of dense brush.  After realizing our mistake, we back-tracked and regained the correct path.  Soon after, Cindy began to experience nausea, and decided to turn around.  Chris and I continued on toward the Rock Glacier, and then trekked across a ledge system which gave access to the first gully.  As we ascended up the gully, Chris decided that he had enough with the unrelenting exposure, and to my dismay, decided to turn around.  I now found myself climbing one of the hardest 14ers in Colorado solo.  Regardless, I felt good about my chances of summiting, and so continued upwards.

I eventually reached the point where a traverse is required across a ledge in order to gain the second gully.  This second gully felt more exposed than the first...with a 50-60 degree slope, and a sweeping void located below your feet that leads directly to the valley floor.  With much effort and carefully tested hand-holds and foot placements up occasional 3rd class rock, I reached the top of the second gully.  However, I was off-route and reached a dead end beneath a 20-30 foot rock wall that was slightly overhanging in places.  It looked like low class 5 climbing, which I could easily tackle...except for the fact that the rock is incredibly loose and rotten, and one wrong move would likely have serious consequences.  Later I learned that I needed to scramble toward the right of the second gully up to the northeast ridge, which by-passed the rock wall that I encountered.  Unfortunately, I did not realize this at the time, so I had to turn around near 13,000 feet. 

Despite the dramatic exposure, at no point did I encounter anything that felt scary. With that being said, I don't want to come off as brash.  Tragically, a 31 year old paramedic from New York fell 500 feet while descending North Maroon a few days before my climb.  His body was found on the 24th of July.  In addition, two climbers became stranded on North Maroon while descending during a thunderstorm just a few hours after I hiked back to the trailhead.  They were rescued on the 24th as well.  More information can be found online at the Aspen Daily News website:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route

I summited Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route on Saturday July 14th.  Just above treeline, my climbing partner had to turn around due to altitude sickness.  I continued onwards, reaching the Keyhole just before sunrise.  I met another solo climber at the Keyhole, and we agreed to team up during the remainder of the route.  We traversed across the Ledges, and then made the grueling ascent up the Trough.  Wisely, I wore a helmet up the Trough, which almost came into use as a group ahead of me knocked a bowling ball size rock that came flying down the slope...stopping just short of where I was standing.  At the top of the Trough, I took the left side up and around the Chockstone, then met another group of guys that I joined across the Narrows and up the Homestretch.  All of the hype about the Narrows is a bit overstated.  The exposure is very mild and not even close to terrifying, as described in other trip reports.  The final pitch up the Homestretch went by quickly, and suddenly I found myself on top of the expansive summit plateau of Longs at around 745 am.  I spent the next 30 minutes resting, refueling/hydrating, taking pictures, and talking with the group of guys I ascended with.  The tough part was still ahead of me...descending the Homestretch, then the Trough, and then safely navigating back across the Ledges.  Despite my tired legs, everything went by without a hitch.  After departing the Keyhole for a second time, the long slog back to the trailhead was miserable.