Saturday, August 29, 2009

Utah: Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, & Escalante

We spent the last four days of our trip in the incredible canyonlands of southern Utah, specifically some areas we'd never explored, including Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments, the ever-receding (yay) Lake Powell, and Capitol Reef National Park, as well as a place new to Chris but one I'd visited a few years ago: the wonderful but relatively seldom visited Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The rock formation and coloration, natural bridges and arches, hoodoos, slot canyons, cliff dwellings, and life were just awesome. My neck almost got whiplashed from rubbernecking the colorful rock. :) This pretty gal posed for us:
At Natural Bridges, it was a lonnng drive to get there, and a lonnng drive outta there but worth every mile. The park loop road is 9 miles, one way. I want to go back one day and run it early in the morning or under a full moon...
Fun trail to one of the bridges. I read "ladders" and said "We're doing this trail!" :)
I like it here.
Easter Island? Nope, Devils Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, GSENM.
Upper Calf Creek Falls. The end of a great vacation. :) :) :)

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

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...)

The Dakotas

My sweetie 'n me in Custer State Park, near the South Dakota high point, Harney Peak:
Amidst the din of Harleys in the Black Hills of SD--and hundreds of miles in all directions--we found a peaceful oasis at which to camp for the night.
Did I mention it was Sturgis Bike Week? We are not motorcycle people but just HAD to spend a few hours checking out the scene and had a great time. Some beautiful pieces of artwork there.
Needless to say, quite interesting people, too. This dude has "HARD" tattooed on his right hand. I made sure I asked permission before photographing him. :p
We headed north into the other Dakota so I could climb my 48th high point, White Butte, located in a geologically interesting, very sparsely populated area. The ~3 mile hike was pretty cool, but en route we passed two deserted farmhouses, which I always find sad.
Who lived here? Did the isolation finally get to these folks? The wind and weather? Large-scale farming? The stories that could be told if only the walls could talk...

Before heading to Montana, we did a quick drive-thru of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Yes, there is a national park in North Dakota! The best coffee of the entire trip, "Cowboy Kicker," was discovered at a coffee shop in Medora. Who knew?

Road trip: WY

The Honda Element is the balls for car camping: back seats removed, Big Agnes pads, double sleeping bag, everything in plastic tubs and outside at night, solar shower... I could live like this a long, long time! This photo was taken the first night, pulled off on a dirt road near Beaver (teehee!), Utah. SO happy to be in road trip mode! :)
After climbing Gannett Peak in Wyoming, we checked out the Bighorn Mtns. and Devil's Tower, arriving just in time for a whopper of a hail/lightning storm. This thing always reminds me of mashed potatoes for some reason. Hmm...While in Yellowstone, the navigator naively directed the driver to a parallelling, one-way scenic route. This was a mistake. A male bison (are they called bulls?) blocked the narrow road for over a half hour. We were near the front of the line. These sickos challenged us to challenge the beast, hoping for shots of a bison with a Honda grill in his horns. "NO GUTS, NO GLORY!" chanted the sickos. Alas, our vehicle was not a rental, so we stayed put until a crazy testosterone-poisoned Swiss national took charge of the situation.Some people just like living on the edge, no? This guy was nuts, but he was also successful in shooing the bison off the roadway.I had to use the facilities, but there was a line.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Granite Peak - Montana's high point

Southwest couloir route, center of photo:
From whence we came:
On top of Montana!

Hokay, I'm even more psyched to have summitted #49 - Granite Peak - yesterday, the hardest high point after Denali. Woo hoo!!! No time to post much right now--we're on our way to Yellowstone--but here's a report of the much less commonly used route we used. We had quite a bit more icy snow in the couloir so it was technically more challenging for us. Lots of really fun Class 4 and easy 5 rock scrambling and perfect weather conditions were a real treat. I am a very happy camper today. :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Road trip!

It's been awhile since I've posted because we're in the midst of an awesome road trip to, so far, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. I'm most psyched to have been able to summit Gannett Peak, the high point of Wyoming, on August 2nd with Chris, Chris, and Peter. Well... Peter didn't actually climb with us; we met him on our way up as he was coming down. The rest of us did the three-day plan. We used the much less frequently traveled route via Tourist Creek. Peter set a new fastest known time on Gannett and wrote up a great route description for Summit Post.

The difference between the three- and the one-day versions of doing the peak. :) That's me, Peter and Chris where we met on the Talus Slope from Hell which went on and on and on:

We found a spectacular spot to set up the tents on a little ledge overlooking a waterfall and the next day climbed the summit. There was some steep snow and Class 3, 4, and a tiny bit of 5 (unroped!) to negotiate. We wore Kahtoolas over running shoes, and my ax got a lot of use for a change. FUN STUFF!!

Chris and I have kept busy the last few days tooling around the Winds, the Bighorn Mtns., Black Hills of South Dakota, high point of North Dakota (#48 for me), Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and even got to check out Sturgis during Bike Week. THAT was a hoot, and I may post some photos later... Gotta run now.