In The Shadow of Giants

Here’s a little known fact of climbing peaks, the best views are usually not from the tallest peaks, but instead from the ones right next to them that are almost as tall. Case in point, today’s climb.

Today I climbed a pair of Centennial Thirteeners (and a third “unranked” one) that are nestled behind the two tallest peaks in the entire state. First, I have to say something about the drive in, the two tallest peaks in the state, Elbert and Massive, are just to the west of Leadville, and driving through Leadville this morning to get to the trailhead, the valley in between Leadville and the peaks was in an inversion. An inversion is when the clouds drop to the valley floor, and surrounding higher elevations are above the clouds. It’s almost like a really low fog, but depending on your altitude you are above it, and the skies are clear. It also snowed on their summits Friday night (yes, it still snows in July!), so it was really cool to see the peaks with a fresh snow on the summit shrouded in clouds.

Okay, on to the climb. The peaks on today’s menu are French Mtn (13,940), 63rd tallest, Casco Peak (13,908), 69th tallest, and the Frasco Benchmark (13,876), unranked because it only rises 256 feet from the ridge connecting it to French. These shy peaks lie just to the west of Mt Elbert, the state’s tallest peak, and literally across the street. There is an old mining road that leads along the South Halfmoon Creek and separates French and Elbert from each other. In fact you can climb Elbert from the same trailhead, and I saw people on the trail on their way to do just that. That leads to a second secret of peak climbing, I saw no one else climbing the same peaks as me, so if you want solitude, climb a thirteener instead of a fourteener. Okay, back to the route, at the end of the mining road ( a distant 3 1/2 miles from the trailhead!) lie the remains of the Iron Mike Mine. (I wonder if it’s named after “Da Coach", or the boxer). From the mine’s two collapsed cabins, you leave the road and climb French’s south slopes. As you reach the summit, the views are just amazing. You can see Elbert a mere 2 miles away (and only 500 feet taller), Massive 4 miles away, La Plata (the states 5th highest peak) is about 10 miles away, and in the distance you can see Leadville in the wide valley below.  I took a little snack break up their as I enjoyed the view.

Casco Peak is about 1 1/4 away along a ridge that never drops below 13,200 feet, which crosses over the unranked summit of Frasco Benchmark along the way. Frasco is a US Geological Survey benchmark, that lies at the intersection of 3 ridges. It took and hour and a half to complete the traverse all the way to Casco's summit, and it was a little tricky in some spots, but taking care to stay below the rock towers kept the route relatively easy. All of those rock formations above the ridge made it an incredibly impressive route, that looks harder than it is. After a quick break on top of Casco, I descended back into the basin and to the mine. I had been climbing above 13,000 feet for over an hour and half! Needless to say, that was a bit tiring, even living at 7500 feet, that much time at that altitude starts to affect your endurance, especially after that 3 1/2 mile approach to the mine. All in all the circle tour of these high peaks is over 11.5 miles, and took me about 7 hours to complete, now that is a full day. It’s a good thing I started at 8am too, because 10 minutes after getting back to the car it started to rain, and even mixed with a little light hail. The afternoon storms never fail… So the moral of this story is: Want a view? Want solitude? Then climb a Thirteener.


Rocky Road

We all made it back from the camping trip okay, although a little tired. I still have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep camping. No matter what I do I keep waking up in the middle of the night because either my arm falls asleep, or my hip is sore from the hard earth. Maybe I need to invest in an air mattress, at least for car trips, because I wouldn’t want to hike carrying the extra weight. Anyway, so we started out after work on Friday driving towards Crested Butte. We came in from the west, via Glenwood Springs and Kebler Pass Road. We found a nice campsite just off the road, about 10 miles from Crested Butte. Saturday morning we headed down to town for breakfast with a couple of former employees who now live down there. The town itself is really nice, it sits in a very picturesque location with the namesake Butte to the north. The main street has this Victorian mining town charm, and real sense of history. For the afternoon we went on a scenic, but challenging, drive over Schofield Pass to the old mining towns of Crystal and Marble. The road starts out okay, just a regular old maintained dirt road, that leads to a meadow that used to be the town of Schofield. There are plenty of beautiful wildflowers, in all sorts of colors dotting the grassy meadows along the way. After this point the road gets rocky, first passing a couple of scenic waterfalls, then heading down the canyon. The Crystal River follows the canyon, and as the road follows the river, it comes to another waterfall that fills a basin called the Devil’s Puncbowl. This is the trickiest section of road, it drops nearly 400 feet to your right, and with the cliff creating a wall above to your left, this section road is only a foot or two wider than the vehicle. It is definitely one way traffic for this 1/4 mile stretch. The road is also steep and very rocky, you have to take it slow and easy as you descend, pretty much driving with only the brake. After this the road is a little less steep, and slightly wider, but would still be tough for any sort of full sized vehicle. Definitely not for cars, they don’t have the ground clearance to manage the rock strewn road. The XTerra did great, but I will say it was a little scary in some sections, but incredibly beautiful and worth it. The town at the bottom of the road has a beautiful old mill building that has been hanging precariously on top of a cliff for about 125 years. It is just an unbelievable area that has to be seen to be believed. We then took the long (but easy) way back around to Crested Butte for all-you-can-eat family style fried chicken at Slogar’s.
That night there was some rain, so we went to see "I,Robot" instead of going directly back to camp, it was pretty good. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the special effects were good, and there were some interesting camera angles in some of the fights. The story is interesting too, but with a familiar “technology takes over the world” premise of other recent sci-fi movies. It is set in Chicago in 2035, so it was interesting to see the futuristic skyline, mixed in with all the landmarks of course, including Sears and Hancock. But for a movie set in the future, you had to wonder where was the Trump Tower? Thankfully though, the “jellybean” was gone, so I guess you only have to suffer through it for 31 more years… just kidding. The drive back home on Sunday was a beautiful scenic drive through the Collegiate Peaks area, with views of mountains with names such as “Harvard”, “Yale”, “Princeton” and “Oxford”. All in all it was an enjoyable trip, it was fun getting to put the off-road abilities to the test, and I got to see some incredibly scenic parts of the state I had never been to before. It would have been nice to get to go on a good hike, but there are a lot of weekends left this summer, so I guess that will have to wait until another time.
On another note, I hope you all have a good time at the Summer Outing, I unfortunately can’t afford to fly out for it, but will be thinking of you all Friday night, have fun!



First, I would like to congratulate Chicago's All-Star reps on a great game. They all did pretty well, Loaiza pitched a scoreless inning, Sosa and Alou each had singles (Sammy getting an RBI with his), and although Zambrano gave up an RBI triple, he pitched well in his one inning of work.  Other interesting sports news, Etan Thomas (Syracuse alum) signed a 6 year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, its good to see the former SU basketball stars in the NBA, my congratulations to him as well! 
Its been a fairly quiet week, work hasn't been too bad, though I did just pick up 2 more projects. They are both custom houses, and I am only doing the construction phase, they are already designed. They are both in Crested Butte, so the guys in charge of manpower decided that seeing as I was doing the lodge there, it would be good to tack on the 2 houses so I could combine site visits for all three projects. Should be fun! I am actually getting my first trip to Crested Butte this weekend, though its not for work. We are going on a 4WD Camping Weekend with some people from work. Basically we will drive off on some dirt road into the backcountry, set up camp, then hike around on Saturday, and head to Crested Butte. There are a couple of former employees living there that we will get to have dinner with. We will probably camp again Saturday, and drive back Sunday after some breakfast in town. I'll tell you all about it when I get back, until then, take care everyone!


Quandary Peak

The weather has finally been cooperative, so today I got to cross another peak off the list. Today’s adventure was Quandary Peak, the 13th highest in the state at 14,265 feet. It’s located about 10 miles south of Breckenridge, and dominates the view as you drive towards Hoosier Pass from the north. The US Forest Service and the Colorado Fourteener’s Initiative have recently been doing a lot of trail work, and have re-routed the lower half of the trail. The new trail is great, the lower sections are well defined and easy to walk, of course it is a peak climb, and so it has its steep sections. As you rise out of the forest, you begin to see the long and fairly gentle ridge to the west as well as views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. There are several lakes below to the south, and as you climb you can see several more to the north as well making for a beautiful valley below. The mountain itself is very singular, and the topographic map shows this, as the peak sort of stands out by itself on all four sides. Most other peaks in the area are part of a larger ridge, but somehow Quandary managed to keep itself just to the east of this ridge. This separation makes the views that much more spectacular both from this peak, and of it from the surrounding areas.

Anyway, back to the ridge. There are two parts, the lower section is the easier of the two, with a few steep sections on a good rocky trail, then it flattens out for a while to allow hikers to catch their breath. This is one of the distinguishing features of this peak, when you view it from the north or south, you see this sort of undulating ridge. After the flat section, the pitch increases as the final 1,000 feet to the summit climb covers only about ¾ of a mile, but it is over stable rocks on a pretty well defined trail. The summit itself is long and flat, but drops dramatically to the north and south, providing an excellent backdrop for summit pictures. This peak is considered one of the easiest fourteeners to climb, and one of the easiest to access as the trailhead is less than ¼ mile from a paved road, Colorado Rte 9. Due to these facts, it is also one of the most popular, and there must have been at least 2 dozen people, and probably 10 dogs on the summit hanging out, and this was at 10.30 in the morning! All in all, the 3 mile route took just under 2 ½ hours, gaining about 3,300 feet of altitude along the way. After a quick snack we descended the way we came up, passing several more climbers, and got back to the car just after 12.30 for a roundtrip of about 4 ½ hours. If anyone was interested in trying out a fourteener, I would definitely recommend this (relatively) gentle climb as a good “first”. So there you have it, 4 down, 49 to go…


Parent's Visit - Part 2

My parents just left today, we had a good time though! Sunday I took them on a driving tour, through Leadville, over Independence Pass (for Independence Day), walked around Aspen, and we also saw a couple of ghost towns. One was Indpendence, named for a gold strike on Independence Day of 1879, and the other was Ashcroft. Both were pretty cool, lots of 100+ year old abandoned wood buildings, some have been repaired though, you can tell by the round nails. Back when the buildings were first constructed nails were only made with square heads, but alot of the structures we saw had round ones. At one time Ashcroft had as many as 2500 people living there, but when the railroad made its way to Aspen, Aspen boomed, and Ashcroft faded. It was too tough to get railroad to their remote rugged valley. Still standing are a few miner's homes, the post office, saloon and a hotel. The town has that authentic "Old West" feel, so authentic in fact that the 1950's TV show "Sgt. Preston of The Yukon" filmed there. We went a little farther up the road where it turns to dirt and rock, 4WD definitely comes in handy there. The road is the access trail to climb the fourteeners Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. We turned around in a campsite parking area before the road crossed the stream, there was no bridge, and I didn't feel like fording streams with my truck.

Monday I took them on a hike, up to Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock Falls. I already wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, but I decided that it would make a good hike for my parents. Its short, but steep, climbing nearly 1000 feet in just under a mile and quarter. They really liked the lake and falls, and were boasting to everyone on the way down that the trip is "worth it". We had a nice dinner that night as a reward and then just relaxed back at the apartment. Tuesday it was back to work for me, so I sent them off to shop for souvenirs and to go the outlet mall in Silverthorne. By now they are probably somewhere in Nebraska on the drive back home.


Touring the Villages

Happy 4th everyone. My parents made it into town safely on Thursday, and after I got off of work we all went over to the Beaver Creek Rodeo. They have a rodeo every Thursday during the summer. It was fun, they had the usual; like bareback, bull riding and barrel racing, and then there were the “amateur” events. There was this one thing called Mutton Bustin', where little kids, like 3-6 years old, try and ride a sheep without falling off. The winner had a time of 2.2 seconds. The other event was Burro Racing, where teams of three (one rides, one pulls, one pushes) race donkeys around the arena for a prize. It was pretty funny, the donkeys didn’t want to move at all.

Friday I had a half day, and in the afternoon we drove over to Breckenridge so I could show my parents around the town there. They really liked the village, and there was even some free entertainment for the holiday weekend we could sit and check out. In the early evening we went for a drive over Boreas Pass Road. Originally it was a rail line that connected Breckenridge to South Park, but after the rail was abandoned it was later turned into a dirt road. It’s not a 4-Wheel Drive road, and is easily passable for most passenger cars. At the summit, the old Crew House for the railroad is still standing, renovated, and on the National Register of Historic Places. At one time there were something like 150 residents and a post office there, but those are all gone. The drive down afforded excellent views into South Park, then we headed back to Breckenridge via Hoosier Pass in time to watch the sunset over Dillon Reservoir.

Today we spent the day in Vail, first taking the Gondola up to the top and then hiking along the top and over to Mid-Vail before descending on the chairlift. We saw a lot of mountain bikers, some all decked out in their protective gear for a thrilling ride down the 1994 World Championship course. Also along our hike, we saw a deer, having lunch on what in the winter would be one of the ski runs. It was kind of weird being up there like that with no snow and no skiers. It actually kind of made we want it to be winter so I could go skiing. We then had lunch in the village and my mom did some souvenir shopping, before heading back to my house. We are now just resting up a bit, before dinner and then over to the town park for fireworks. I’m sure there not the same as the ones over Lake Michigan, but they are supposed to be the most impressive show in the mountains, and some 20,000 plus people attend. Impressive, considering there are only 5500 full time residents in the whole town of Avon. Well enjoy your holidays!