14er Reports

14er Report #37: Uncompahgre Peak (Very Late Summer Conditions, South Ridge Route)

Uncompahgre, #12. Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado, 2017
Uncompahgre, #12. Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado, 2017 (In the red light of an autumn sunrise.)
 
“Uncompahgre” – From the Ute word for “red water spring” or “red lake” or “dirty water”, take your pick–or ask a Ute elder, to be sure.

 

After a day of resting our bones (see the September 15, 2017, Handies Peak Report) and checking our phones in the bustling berg of Lake City (population 500, counting dogs and cats), Rik Fritz and I were ready for our next 14er objective. Again, we talked of Wetterhorn, but yet another brief dusting of snow up high the night before made us reconsider. Fickle autumn! So, to avoid any chance of a Fritz-Joder epic (see my post “The Fall” for an extreme example of just such an “epic”), we chose the relatively easy trail up Uncompahgre Peak for the adventure o’ the day.

If you happen to be in this area in mid-September, by the way, plan for a day of hanging out in Lake City as their Lake City Uncorked Wine and Music Festival takes place then. A fun event! Also, the leaves will likely be changing (as they were for us), so it is a fine time to be there. Bring both a jacket and short sleeves–it will be chilly in the shade, but hot in the sun!

Also, of historical and, perhaps, gastronomical interest in this land of many gold and silver mines, is the strange 19th century tale of Alferd G. Packer. He and five prospector companions found themselves snowbound here in the San Juans one winter and only Alferd came out alive when the storms cleared–apparently, thanks to a bit of cannibalism on his part. He was eventually convicted of murder for his acts, although there is a good chance he was railroaded and was simply a “creative survivor” of a tough situation (not unlike the Donner Party (1846-1847) and the Uruguayan rugby team (1972).

Some morbidly humorous Alferd Packer trivia: I remember eating at the Alferd G. Packer Memorial Grill at the University of Colorado back in the 70s (Since renamed the “Alferd Packer Restaurant and Grill”, apparently–spoilsports!). I think they had a “Cannibal Burger” on the menu then.  Some of the slogans I have heard related to this eatery…”Have a friend for lunch!”…”Serving humanity since 1874″…and, “He ate the only two Democrats in Hinsdale County!”

But enough raucous levity. Let’s get back to the topic at hand–the trip report of our ascent of Uncompahgre Peak in late summer/early fall/light snow conditions. May you find it useful and/or entertaining.

 

…Click here for the complete report and a couple of dozen images to stimulate your retinas!

14er Report #36: Handies Peak (Very Late Summer Conditions–Snow!, East Slopes Route)

Handies, #3. San Juan Mountains, CO, 2017
Handies, #3. San Juan Mountains, CO, 2017 (Both autumn and winter are approaching at the same time!)
 
Memories made in the mountains stay in our hearts forever.
–Anon

With a pending move to Barcelona this year, I thought I might get motivated and finish the basic list of 58 14ers this year but, alas, ’twas not to be. Rock climbing seemed to be the outdoor priority for me this year. So, I guess I’ll be back from Spain for a month or two next year with the remaining 14ers in my sights! Who wants to join me?

This particular trip up Handies (and the one to follow, up Uncompahgre) was special in that I was able to team up with a very close friend from way, way, waaay back in junior high and high school days–Rik Fritz. In fact, he called me up and got me going back to the big mountains on this trip instead of the local rock climbing crag.

Rik is an amazing guy and really needs to write a book about his exploits with rattlesnakes, on Yosemite big walls, on long, high altitude, cross country flights in his hang glider, and on his seriously salty sailing adventures. He is definitely a man who has lived life to the fullest–and continues to do so. (See my near-death blog post from June 27, 2017, “The Fall” to catch a bit of what I mean.)

It was great to catch up with him and talk about all that “Back In The Day” stuff! Ahhh…the stories…the stories…and all included at least 10% truth!

Our initial goal for the 3-4 days we had available was to haul our fannies up Sneffels, Uncompahgre, and Wetterhorn, starting with the Class 3 scrambling route on this last one, “Weather Peak”. Handies wasn’t even on the list. But, ah, the best laid plans…In mid-to-late September in the Colorado Rockies, weather can be tricky and fickle pickle, as we quickly discovered.

A pounding, hours-long, cold rainstorm the night before–as we camped at the Wetterhorn/Matterhorn Trailhead–made us rethink things. There would surely be snow above and, sure enough, morning revealed a heavy coating on the high peaks tapering off finally at about treeline. Hmmm…best not to do exposed Class 3 scrambling on icy and snowy rock without the proper gear and attitude, we both said. So, instead of Wetterhorn, off to Handies we bounced in our 4×4 pickups–Handies would be a much easier peak, even with a wet, white blanket o’ schnee.

What follows, then, is what eventually transpired, to the best of my sometimes-faulty recollection, along with my usual merry montage of inspiring images…

…Click here for the rest o’ the story!

14er Report #35: La Plata Peak and “East Plata” (Very Late Summer Conditions, NW Ridge Route)

Sunrise. La Plata Peak, Colorado, 2016
Sunrise. La Plata Peak, Colorado, 2016

 

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow…Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow…

 

The day after a full moon I get titillated and motivated about the possible photo ops from the top of some high point, ideally a 14er. Why? Well, you get the near full moon setting just after the sun comes up. Having the sun and the moon up at the same time avoids the contrast problem (excessive “dynamic range“, ya know) when you try to shoot the too-bright moon when the sky is still inky dark.

…And, you can hike the night above treeline sans headlamp strapped to the ole cranium, which is a truly surreal, magical, and existential experience.

This trip was also a return to a peak I had done in what were basically winter conditions last spring (although not official “calendar” winter). Then, I had wanted to scramble over to “East Plata” as part of my quest for the 74 named 14er summits, but the snow made things way too scary for my then skill set and equipment. [For a trip report on that Spring 2015 climb, go HERE and compare those much more frigid images with those in this near-autumn post.]

At that time, I justified my retreat from the traverse to East Plata by saying I would come back to climb East via Ellingwood Ridge–except, I wasn’t up for such a massive undertaking this particular weekend. And the possible summit sunrise/moonset photo possibilities were just too seducing for me (I won’t carry my heavy camera gear up Ellingwood Ridge ever). So, maybe next year for Ellingwood…and Kelso Ridge…West Ridge of Quandary, Wham Ridge…Iceland…Nepal…summits in the Pyrenees…the Moon…Mars…and a million other things that seem to get added to the unending, ever-growing, big, bad, and bulging, bucket list.

So, this time up La Plata, the positives: I would get to see the summer trail for the first time, possibly make a few nice photographs from the summit at first light through dawn, and also check out the nature of the rough-looking route over and back to that poor, oft-ignored pile o’ rocks known as East Plata.

There turned out to be an additional bonus I hadn’t counted on: the autumn leaf show in the Independence Pass area! Since I was hiking by headlamp and moonlight on the way up–monochrome vision, essentially–I wasn’t able to fully appreciate Pachamama’s Kodachrome production until the light of day. If you are a golden leaf guy or gal, better get out there this coming week–it will surely be “Peak Week to Peek” in these parts! I am thinking it came a bit earlier than normal this year due to our late August cold snap and snow flurries.

Now, for the full trip report, along with my usual merry montage of inspiring images…

…click here!

14er Report #34: Capitol Peak via K2 (Summer Conditions, NE Ridge from Capitol Lake)

Sunrise on Capitol Peak. Colorado, 2016
Sunrise. Capitol Peak, Colorado, 2016
 
“Capitol, has been called Colorado’s hardest Fourteener. Many dispute that claim, but Capitol is certainly one of the hardest.”
 

 

Yep, I’d certainly agree with Mystic Mountain Master Gerry Roach! (Although I have yet to climb up the infamous bowling alley they call the “Hourglass” on Little Bear…)

And, yes, Capitol Peak was this last weekend’s (Sunday/Monday) big project.

For me personally, there are three aspects which make this mountain one of the most difficult of the 14er summits I have done so far:

  1. The long approach. You’ll need to backpack in to the foot of the peak (unless you are an incredibly fit marathoner/scrambler and can suffer the entire enchilada in one looong day).
  2. The difficulty of the route-finding and the rock scrambling from K2 to the summit and back to K2.
  3. The mental strain of staying laser-focused for 4-5 hours on sometimes sketchy and gravelly-loose rock, with some ultra-spicy exposure, at elevations above 13,000′.

So, save this one until you have honed your “cat feet” to an edge as sharp and fine as Capitol’s famous “Knife Edge”.

Even though I haven’t finished all the 14ers, I am still going to go out an a very narrow and exposed ledge and call this my all-time favorite of Colorado’s big mountains. But…since I still have 17 summits to go, I reserve the right to adjust that statement slightly. I have a hunch I probably won’t change my mind…

For this rather serious mountain, going solo didn’t seem to be particularly wise, so I teamed up with Brad, an experienced 14er climber, otherwise known as “Mountain Ninja” (and appropriately so!). He is currently only 18 summits away from finishing all 58 peaks for a second time and has done a fair number in winter, so my only worry was whether I could keep up with him!

Also, he had been up Capitol before, so his navigation skill through the talus and rock-snow gullies at black cat-dark 3a.m., and his navigation nose up the puzzling scree and exposed rock ledges on Capitol’s imposing southeast face, were to be be most welcome. Indeed, I found him to be a delightful and very positive-karma kind o’ companion–and extremely fit for such adventures. Thanks for a great trip, Brad!

For the full report, along with a mini-mountain montage of images…

…click on, fellow adventurer!

14er Report #33: Snowmass Mountain and “North Snowmass” (Summer Conditions, East Slopes Route)

The Upper Mountain. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado, 2016 (NEVER put the subject in the center of a picture!)
The Upper Mountain. Snowmass Mountain, Colorado, 2016 (NEVER put the subject in the center of a picture! Or so they say… For the curious, Snowmass Mountain is the second major high point in from the right while North Snowmass is farthest right. We are aiming for the ridge just left of the cliff band in the center of the picture, the standard East Slopes Route.)

 

“When we tire of well-worn ways, we seek for new. This restless craving in the souls of men [and women!] spurs them to climb, and to seek the mountain view.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

And what a view it was for our restless souls!

It requires burning a separate mountain of calories, but the joy I feel as I climb above treeline and into the high tundra world of delicate-but-fierce wildflowers, random sculpted boulders, and laced fields of melting snow, is a joy that knows no bounds. The ever-expanding view of a crazy world left behind, the clean and crisp air (albeit with a lower oxygen content!), the warning shriek of the fat and furry marmot, the rivulets of pure mountain ice water…the sharp rocky ridges which seem ever so much sharper and well-defined as they pierce the dark blue, high-altitude, sky…

It all conspires to make the heart sing! (Thus “The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music“, right? Oops, sorry to ruin the mood.)

But it is indeed true–one feels so much more alive and in the moment in such special places!

The objective of this particular trip–beautiful Snowmass Mountain–protects herself quite well from the Vibram soles of us human beans. Off in the middle of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the peak is not readily seen from any major paved road–you must be prepared to walk a fair (or unfair, depending upon your perspective!) distance if you want the best view of its namesake ramparts.

To climb to the summit via the “normal” route in the typical fashion initially requires just over an 8-mile backpack up to a camp at 11,000′. The next day, to gain the very tippy-top, you’ll have to contend with head-high willows that whip you in the face, bountiful sections of boulder-hopping, slip-sliding away on steep scree, and titillating Class 3 scrambling on loose rock along an airy ridge. The long descent from the top of Snowmass Mountain back to your car is greater than the drop into the bottom of the Grand Canyon…oh, the sore feet!

It is no wonder, then, that Snowmass Mountain is often found somewhere near the top ten on the various lists of the most difficult Colorado 14ers.

For this adventure, and for safety and camaraderie, I teamed up with Frank, a new-found rock climbing buddy, expert skier, Outward Bound instructor, and spouse of a photographer friend. You’ll have to ask Frank, but I think we made a good team!

For the full report, along with a scree pile of images…

…click on, fellow adventurer!

14er Report #32: Redcloud and Sunshine (Very Late Spring/Summer, Northeast Ridge/Traverse)

Moonrise, and Redcloud Peak Shadow. Redcloud Peak, Colorado, 2016
Moonrise, and Shadow of Redcloud Peak. From Redcloud Peak, Colorado, 2016
“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”
Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

 

“…a momentary negligence…look well to each step…” Yep, that was it. Not paying attention. Complacency. Luckily, it wasn’t near the scale of accident that Ed Whymper suffered on the slopes of the Matterhorn. Still, it could easily have been much worse.

But, more on that later.

For this first 14er trip of the season, I thought the Redcloud-Sunshine combo down south in the San Juan Mountains would be just the ticket. The standard route is not particularly difficult, not too torturously long, and you get two for a bit more than the price of one. It sounded like a nice motivational way to get started after nary a big Colorado mountain ascent since last fall.

It turned out to be quite the adventure, with some spectacular sunset and sunrise photo ops from my overnight solo bivvy above 14,000 feet, and even an unusually eventful return to Boulder after the hike…along with the little “incident” alluded to in the first paragraph, of course.

 

Here is the full report, along with 38 images to help you plan your own trip into the sensational San Juans…

Click here for the report and images!

Aerial View of the Crestone Group, Sangre de Cristo Range

Last Light on Crestone Peak. Colorado, 2015
Last Light on Crestone Peak. Colorado, 2015

 

On a return flight from Tucson to Denver, we happened to be at the just the right place over Colorado (and I happened to have a window seat on the correct side of the plane!) to make the above image right at sunset. It’s not often you get good views like this of the big peaks. Usually, even if I do get the window seat and see the mountains through the clouds, I have a hard time picking out specific 14ers because of the more unusual perspective of 30,000+ feet.

In this photograph, the most obvious pyramid-shaped peak painted by the brightest bit of fading sunlight is Crestone Peak. Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak are to the left of Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle might be obscured just behind the Peak. Humboldt is in shadow now, just behind (left).

You’d think this would fire up the old 14er desire inside me since it has been a while, but…I have already climbed most of the easier 14ers, so a winter ascent of one that I haven’t yet summited will likely not happen. Too uncomfortably cold, and quite possibly too scary and dangerous–and very often the best/closest trailheads are inaccessible due to the snowpack. So, the ones I have remaining will probably have to wait until next spring-summer-fall.

Well…I might, however, get out to one of the easier 14ers I have already done–most likely Quandary due to the low avy hazard and short round trip hike–for a sunrise or sunset photo session. That is, as long as the temps aren’t below zero and the wind isn’t howling at 90 per!

NOTE: For a list of tips on how best to take pictures through an airliner window, see my blog post, Aconcagua (and shooting through airplane windows), April 16, 2014.

14er Report #31: Southeast Longs and Mt. Meeker (Late Summer, Loft Route)

Chasm Lake View, Late Summer. RMNP, Colorado, 2015
Chasm Lake View, Late Summer. RMNP, Colorado, 2015 (SE Longs is the middle of the high points of the Longs Peak massif, left of The Notch and The Diamond)

 

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
John Muir, Our National Parks

 

And that includes me, John, thanks! If he said that over 100 years ago what would he think about our plugged-in, zoned out, frenetic society of today?

Now, on to today’s story…

The mountains seem to be hovering in a state of suspended animation these late summer days…these lazy, hazy (forest fires out west), days of summer. The snow has been reduced to a few dirty stains on the northern slopes, well above treeline…the thunder and lightning spirits have run out of scream for this season…and the nights carry a nip and tuck of colder air, a portent of the coming autumn and a very likely El Niño snowball winter.

The mountains, hovering and waiting–a brief pause in the cyclical natural drama of eons–and, of course, a good time for “going to the mountains” to get their good tidings, thought I.

But, wait, you so rudely interrupt! This is supposed to be a 14er report and you certainly have never heard tell of Southeast Longs (also known as “The Beaver“)–and you already know that Meeker is a mere centennial 13er, shy of the almighty 14er mark by a whopping 89 sized-12 feet, right?

OK, to explain. I am looking at the longer Gerry Roach list of 73 14ers as my personal, arbitrary and ultimately meaningless-to-the-universe, framework on which to hang my myriad beautiful mountain experiences–and Southeast Longs (SEL) figures on that list.

Mt. Meeker? Well, it is right across the “Lofty” saddle from SEL, it is reputed to have a very sexy, granite, summit ridge, and I have been wanting to get my fanny up there for some time as I have never been. All yet more excuses for further exploring the beautiful Chasm Lake-Longs Peak area of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

Combine all that with the need to stay close to home this weekend and what do you get? A trip up to the “Loft in the Sky” and a SEL-Meeker combo.

Here is a full report with a scree pile of several dozen titillating images for your enjoyment–and for planning your own trip up there…

Click here for the complete report and a couple of dozen WONDERFUL images of this epic adventure!

14er Report #30: [South] Maroon Peak (Summer, South Ridge)

Maider, Maroon Peak South Ridge. Colorado, 2015. Looking up the route to the pyramidal summit crown. (Snowmass and Capitol are visible on the left, and Maroon Lake on the right.)
Maider, Maroon Peak South Ridge. Colorado, 2015. Looking up the route to the pyramidal summit crown. Snowmass and Capitol are visible on the left, and Maroon Lake on the right.

 

“Wilderness itself is the basis of all our civilization. I wonder if we have enough reverence for life to concede to wilderness the right to live on?”
Margaret Murie, the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement”

 

Back to the Elks! This time with the hope of summiting Maroon Peak, the highest of the two famous peaks you see from Maroon Lake (although set farther back and to the left, it actually appears lower than its northern sister).

This time we came as a small group–my wife and her good friend from Basque Country, Spain, Maider L., and me.

The plan: a leisurely drive to Aspen from Boulder on Saturday, then my wife would hang out in Aspen on Sunday while Maider and I would hopefully climb the peak.

For Maider, it would be her first “difficult” route and her fourth or fifth Colorado 14er. With her long-distance running and gym climbing background, I was pretty certain she should have no issues with the Class 3 choss that we would have to negotiate, despite her slight nervousness about the whole affair.

The biggest doubt was the weather. All week long, the weather forecast kept getting worse. At one point it was up to 70% chance of thunderstorms and rain. Normally, that’s when you decide to pick another day or another destination, but our plans were fixed. We figured we would start early and make a final go/no-go decision once we gained the south ridge of Maroon Peak.

I figured we had a 50/50 chance of getting to the top…it would depend a lot on the vagaries of Tlaloc and Thor.

What happened?

Well, a full report and a pile of pretty pictures follow…

Click here for the complete report and a couple of dozen WONDERFUL images of this epic adventure!