Summer means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, it is just a time between ski seasons. Others go to beach houses or lake houses. Some take up mountain biking or kayaking. For me, summer means the height of mountaineering season. I choose to spend my days in the mountains that I love, climbing with close friends and sometimes myself.
For me, mountaineering offers an incredible venue for learning about myself. The clutter and nonsense of everyday life gets turned off, and a simple and serious tone takes over. Choices and consequences are much clearer, and I am reminded that there is much more out there than I see in my day to day life.
I suppose it’s time for some photos-
My first big climb of the summer, the northwest ridge and north face of La Plata Peak. We skied the north face after our climb
Lauren and I
Up and Up
On the summit ridge, a freak 8am storm moved in. We weren’t to the summit yet, but with near white out conditions and wind gusts above 40mph, we made the decision to forgo the summit and find a way to get down. I quickly geared up, dug a pit to block to asses avi danger, and then was the first to ski down.
There had been a hard and complete freeze of the snowpack, and I felt confident in it. Visibility was diminishing and we needed to get down fast. I skied the line first. Mike went second, and Lauren was on sweep.
Unfortunately, because of conditions I didn’t get any decent photos of me skiing the line.
Mike and I at a safe zone, thousands of feet below
By the time Lauren came down, the weather was starting to break. We celebrated at the base of the north face, but there was still many hundreds of feet of vert left to ski.
The remaining snow that we skied included some short hikes/downclimbing and was by far the most rotten snow I have ever skied. At times, I was post holing with my skis on.
Eventually, we got to an area where the snow was too sparse to keep skiing.
The very end of what we were able to ski. The north face of La Plata is in the background.
Our NGS Topo maps showed that a trail went half way up the drainage we had skied into, which was one drainage to the east of the drainage we had climbed up from. Unfortunately, this proved to be very far from the truth. We spent the next 6 hours bushwhacking through heinous terrain.
We eventually found our way back to the original trail. Even with the bushwhacking, it was well worth it. I dedicated the line to my friend Justin, who some of you may remember died tragically in an avalanche in Jackson this past January.
Back on the trail again
The next mountain I climbed this summer was Torrey’s Peak. Torrey’s has been a pain in my side for a year- Although it is known to be an easy climb, I have had to turn back from it twice. I had climbed the neighboring Gray’s Peak last summer with the intention of climbing Torrey’s the same day, but had to turn back when a storm moved in. A few months later, I was almost to the saddle of Gray’s and Torrey’s when I turned back to pretty much carry a guy down who was suffering from severe AMS. He was uncontrollably vomiting and his level of responsiveness was diminishing. I made the decision to help him down and go back for Torreys another day. Within a week of the La Plata climb, my friend Jen asked me if I would be interested in climbing Torreys with her and her roommate Scott. I was more than interested.
Torrey’s Peak was a lot of fun, but it was not very technical. Here are some photos from Torrey’s with little commentary.
Obligatory summit shot. From the summit, I could see seven other 14ers that I have climbed.
A few thousand feet beneath the summit. We climbed the ridgeline to the left of the summit.
The next mountain I climbed was Mt. Sneffels. A year ago I was leading a trip across Southwest Colorado. When I saw this view of Mt Sneffels and snapped this photo, I knew that I needed to come back and climb it.
A few weeks ago, Jen, one of my all time best friends, and I did climb it. (this is a different Jen than climbed Torrey’s Peak with me)
We drove down to the trail at Yankee Boy Basin from Boulder in the evening. After some VERY sketchy night time off-roading, we got to the trailhead at around 1am. This is what we woke up to-
It became obvious very soon into the hike that the climb we would be doing still had a lot of snow.
By 9 or so, we had our crampons on and had started some real climbing in a wide gully.
The gully climb lasted for about 1,000 vertical feet. There were some sizeable rocks coming down the gully, but the snowpack was very stable.
Jen took the lead for a little towards the top of the gully as it steepened.
Jen’s legs and myself
At the top of the gully, we turned left and climbed an even steeped couloir. I took the lead for the rest of the climb.
The views as we continued to climb became incredible.
The standard summer route up Sneffels dictates that you exit the couloir through a v shaped notch of rock over exposure. When we were climbing, the v shaped notch was corniced over. We had to climb higher and then climb on some 4th class and lower 5th class rock. We kept our crampons on and drytooled through the rock. We used our experience as rock climbers to quickly move through the rock section. Although we didn’t find the rock section exceedingly difficult, it was over some extensive exposure, with drops of several thousand feet off the right side.
Jen on a section of rock
Soon after, we reached the summit. The views were amazing.
We were more than 3,000 feet above these lakes
On the summit-
On the way down, we were able to glissade for over 1,500 vertical feet.
Jen mountain biked from the car all the way back to Ouray.
We got to Ouray right as a storm moved in.
A view of Sneffels from the Dallas Divide later the same day.
This past week I had just gotten back from leading a week long trip in the Sangre De Christos Range when I decided to solo Capitol Peak. Capitol is known to be one of the hardest 14ers to climb. The “standard” route is a very exposed 4th class traverse over the famous knife edge and is 17 miles round trip with 5,300 feet of elevation gain. I knew it would be a serious undertaking, but I wanted to test my limits. After eating a huge carbo-load dinner with Jen in Boulder and leaving my itinerary with my roommate Anthony, I headed out to the Capitol Creek Trailhead near Snowmass. I had instructed Anthony to contact search and rescue should he not get a call from me by 10pm. \
I arrived at the trailhead after dark and got a few hours of sleep before starting the climb at 3am, hiking alone through a forested area. Being alone in a dense forest in an area I had never been to before was a bit spooky. The moon was bright, and it cast very dark shadows. After some time, I reached more open areas and turned my headlight off. I had a very unique experience as I crested a hill in an open area. I could hear Capitol Creek several hundred feet below me, but I could not see it in what seemed like an abyss of darkness. The scale of the terrain was starting to set in.
I had hiked probably 5 miles by the time the sun rose. I finally got my first views of Capitol Peak.
I reached Capitol Lake around 6:30 and had breakfast. By 7, I started the real climbing.
A sea shell at 11.500 feet.
The view as I climbed higher towards a saddle-
I had expected some snow, so I brought my ice axe. I didn’t expect too much snow, so I left my crampons behind. As I crested the saddle, it soon became clear that there was much more snow than expected. I was forced to kick steps and anchor with my axe. What I had expected as easy snow turned to be well over 1,000 vertical feet of crossing steep couloirs and class 4 terrain in order to avoid the steepest of the snow. The going was slow, but I kept pushing towards K2, a neighboring point to Capitol Peak and about 1,000 feet from the summit.
There was A LOT of snow-
Just as I was about to reach K2, I spotted some other climbers coming down. Our conversation went something like this-
Me- “Hey, how was it?!”
Other climbers- “Sporty in places, and very exposed.
Me- “What time did you start out?”
OC- “Around 2am.”
Me- “Wow, you must have been moving fast”
OC- “I guess so. Where were you camped by the lake?”
Me- “Huh, I started at the trailhead…”
OC- “WHAT??? We started 2 nights ago, and have been acclimating at the lake for a day! You are crazy.”
At this point, it became apparent that I had taken on a huge challenge. These other climbers had summated, but they had hiked 6 miles less than I had that day and had some solid rest the day before. They informed me that the short section from K2 to the summit took them 4 hours round trip. It was 11am. If I moved fast, I might be able to summit and come back to K2 in 3 and half hours, but that would still be 2:30 pm and I would still have to down climb several thousand feet to Capitol Lake and then hike 6 miles back to the car in order to drive to cell phone service to call Anthony and inform him that I was ok. If anything went wrong, I would be very alone in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, and Anthony would contact a search and rescue team even if I was just late returning. Sitting on the summit of K2, I contemplated my options.
Looking down on Capitol Lake many thousands of feet below
After about 10 minutes, I made the very tough decision to turn back. The thought of making it back late and having Anthony call search and rescue was too much. If I had known it would take that as long as it did, I might have told Anthony a different time to be worried about me. I vowed to return to Capitol another time.
To save time, I decided to glissade. This went without incident until a freak thing happened- the leash on my ice axe somehow wrapped around the pick. As I lifted the handle in order to drive the pick in the snow to stop myself while approaching a rock band, the axe twisted sideways and wrenched itself out of my control. I started to gain speed, fast. Alone on the north face of Capitol Peak and sliding out of control on my back, my heart began to race. “FUCK!!! FUCKKKKK!!!!!!!!” I screamed, although there was no one there to hear me. Within perhaps a second or two, I had the ice axe back in my hand. In one movement, I rolled from my back to my stomach and started to self arrest. I stopped myself about 40 or 50 feet from the rock band and continued my descent. Along the way, I encountered the views that I had missed on the way up in the dark.
A deer on the trail
Looking back at Capitol
The hike back was difficult, but I wanted to make good time so that I could call Anthony. I reached my car at 5pm, 14 hours after starting out. I might have been able to return to the car by 9 pm had I gone for the summit, but it would have been cutting it very close, especially because it would have gotten dark.
I learned much from my experience on Capitol Peak. I will return and climb it to the summit in the future. It was good to test my limits and break the daily grind. We learn most when we test our limits. And, as Ed Viesturs has said, making it to the summit is optional, making it down is not. (Or something like that)
I have plans for more mountaineering this summer. Among other things, I’d like to return to Capitol and climb the Maroon Bells or Pyramid Peak.
Well, I leave tomorrow for a week long rafting and hiking trip that I am leading. Until next time…