Saturday, August 29, 2009

Colorado 14er bagging!

One of my favorite places in the country is the Rocky Mtns. of Colorado. After WY, MT, and the Dakotas, we spent a little over a week climbing 14ers. I've been picking away at the entire list of 54 (or 58, depending on whom you ask) since the mid 90s, when I ran the Leadville 100. Each of the 5 years I ran Hardrock, I'd climb a few more, starting with the easier ones. This trip I checked 7 more (hard ones!) off the list, all but one in the Elk Range near Aspen. Nasty weather on the 15th thwarted our attempts at climbing Castle and Conundrum, but clear skies allowed for successful summitting the next day. This is Conundrum from Castle. I was happy to have brought my axe: the snowfield glissade--the one on the left, not the couloir on the right!--was a blast.
The next day my goal was Capitol Peak, which some consider the hardest CO 14er. Different sections of the Class 4 ridge have been dubbed "K2," "the knife edge" and the like, so I questioned what I was getting myself into, especially since I was going solo beyond the Daly-Capitol saddle. I am not a rock climber, nor am I particularly fond of the adrenaline rush produced by fear; OTOH, I am not acrophobic either, so--following my usual mantra in such situations--I decided to go "as far as I felt comfortable with." The peak is breathtakingly beautiful!!
It was 17 miles round trip, and we decided to do it in one day, my reasoning being that one actually expends much more energy by schlepping in a tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. 17 Miles doesn't sound like much, but I knew I'd be slower on the techy parts. Chris hiked in as far as the Daly-Capitol saddle but thinks anything beyond Class 3 is insane. (Scary thought: I did stuff that Chris thinks is crazy. Huh.) I was really, REALLY glad he was along when we came to a dead cow at 11,000 feet (in a Wilderness zone, no less: apparently cattle crazing has been grandfathered in here--grrr!) So, we're hiking along and hear something in a tree overhead. Down drops Mama Bear, followed shortly by Baby Bear #1 and Baby Bear #2. On the ground feeding on the dead cow was Papa Bear and (?) Big Sister Bear, for a grand total of FIVE freaking bears ON THE TRAIL!!! (O_O) I am not one who is scared of a lone bear unless it's a grizz, but holy crap!, five of them stopped me in my tracks. Papa made some low growly sounds to protect his breakfast, and we were able to cut a switchback--as many others had done before us--and thus get around them. (Upon our return that afternoon, the cow was gone, the rancher apparently having taken care of the remains of the carcass.)
It would've been nice to say the bear incident was the scariest part of the day for me, but it would be a fib. I did summit the sucker (woo hoo!) but can't really boast about my style, or lack thereof: I straddled and crabwalked the knife edge; sorry, I'm just not into multi-thousand foot dropoffs on either side of me!! For lots of info, photos, trip reports, etc. on any of these peaks, check out the awesome www.14ers.com

Now that the "hardest" 14er was behind me, Pyramid and the Maroon Bells were next on the agenda. Certain words are associated with these mountains, among them "exposed, loose, and rotten" (in reference to the rock), the easiest routes on each being Class 4 or hard Class 3. The Bells are some of THE most photographed peaks in the world: if you've ever seen a Colorado calendar, you've seen them. At the trailhead were signs warning of "the deadly Bells," and in his 14er book, Gerry Roach rather nonchalantly mentions that a fall on the Pyramid summit ridge would most assuredly be fatal. Gulp. THIS guy, the Pyramid Welcoming Ambassador, wasn't afraid:
My impression of all three peaks was that they were, in fact, steep, exposed, and loose, but they were also beautiful, challenging, and fun. I did each of the three peaks separately (read: no Maroon Bells traverse here) so was able to enjoy each one individually. The mountain goats were amazing, completely nonplussed by the exposure over which they were maneuvering. These guys greeted me on South Bell. (Wished I'd brought my cat's brush; they needed it.)
Requisite dorky self-photo. :)
After completing the Elk 14ers, we gladly left Aspen ("gladly" due to the obnoxious, moneyed nature of the town as opposed to the beauty of the surroundings) and headed over Independence Pass for Leadville, deciding to take a day off and surprise friends at the Leadville 100. We procured a primo campsite at the first aid station, Mayqueen, where we cheered on several ultrarunning buddies. Later in the day we got to see most of them again as we hiked up Hope Pass en route to Hope Peak, a high 13er (oh boy, a new list), shy of 14er status by only 34 feet. It was a lot of fun, and we were both very happy to not be running the 100!

I'd hoped to pick up some 14er stragglers before we had to head back to California--we'd been on the road almost a month!--so we headed south to the spectacular Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ - oooh) range, specifically the Crestone Peaks. The town of Crestone is very, uh, unique:
After 3 previous attempts, the weather gods and goddesses finally allowed me to summit Kit Carson Peak via Challenger (must've been all that "praying" the day before). However, the next day nasty black clouds descended upon the entire area, so we packed and started heading back to CA but not before a foray into the canyonlands of Utah. I am now down to six 14ers: Wilsons & El Diente, Lindsey, Crestone Needle, and Culebra (which I probably won't climb because the landowners charge $100/person).

Campin' out with the cows yet again. Mooooo!
(The above photo was taken in the Montana Beartooths. Put it here by mistake...)

2 comments:

firepotter said...

Cool! nice to run into you both at Provn' Ground in Leadville.

Gary

Sunshine Girl said...

God damn, Sue! I love checking in with your blog periodically because you are ALWAYS out there, getting out and having one adventure after another. It's a good thing that I've been so busy having my own adventures all month, or might have reason to be jealous! You were in Medora? The Maa-Daa-Hey Trail is on my list, it sounds sweet and offers up something completely different for this mountain girl. And I can drive there!