Truth in Advertising

There are a lot of appropriately named mountains in the state, but none more so than Mount Massive. This peak is the second highest in the state at 14,421’, but it is its bulk more than its height that earns it the name “massive”. There are seven total summits, five of which are over 14,000 feet. Only the main summit is “official”, but when viewed from the road coming into or out of Leadville, the peak looks more like a it’s own mountain range than it does an individual peak. If you were to cut this peak off at 14,000 feet, the remaining plateau would be almost square half mile! It is no surprise that the hike of this peak is a commitment beyond most normal hikes. I got started early, reaching the trailhead by 6.45 am, and started the approach hike. From the parking area you have to hike for over 3 miles along the Colorado trail, just to reach the Mt Massive trail itself. After that there is still over 4 miles to the summit! The total round trip mileage is 13 1/2 miles, half the distance of a marathon. There is also nearly 4,500 feet of altitude gain from the trailhead, almost a full mile! The initial climb up the Mt Massive trail is steep, but it quickly levels off into a high basin right at tree line. From here you really begin to appreciate Massive’s size, as the main summit and three of its sub-peaks appear. The trail fizzles out at a 13,900 foot saddle between the main summit and a point at 14,132 affectionately referred to as “South Massive”. The ridge between the saddle and the summit is class 2 over broken trail segments and rocks. There is one major false summit before the real one, but by then the remaining ridge is almost flat. The summit itself is rather small, I was there with three other people and a dog and we were comfortable, but this is not a summit that would easily accommodate the dozens of people it sees on a typical weekend day if they were all there at once. In fact we were the first four people to summit on Saturday, the early start paid off for sure. We hung out for about 20 minutes taking in the magnificent view, the state’s tallest mountain (Mt Elbert) is just to the south, and the view of the Elk Range to the west was very clear. On the way down I decided I had enough time for a short side trip and climbed from the 13,900 foot saddle up the top of “South Massive”, and additional 232 feet above. Then it was back to the trail for the long hike down. It was a fairly easy hike, but you definitely appreciate this mountain’s size long before you summit!

Sunday a few friends and I had planned on hiking Huron Peak, which would have been fitting. Huron is the second smallest fourteener, and Massive is the second highest. We changed our plans do the forecasted stormy day. Saturday we got a lot of evening storms, and a few overnight. Most of Sunday was okay, although there were a lot of dark and ominous clouds in the mountains to the south. It did start storming pretty good this afternoon in town though. It was probably a good idea to cancel the Sunday hike, as I am sure Huron got hit with the storms too. That meant I got to watch baseball instead, first the “Battle of The Sox” (White vs. Red) and then the “I-55 Series” finale. The Cubs should have won it in nine innings; the guy trying to steal was out. His shoe was casting a shadow on the bag in the replay when he was tagged! That eventually led to a tying run. Oh well, at least Neifi Perez came through in the 10th. There was no doubt that Grand Slam was a fair ball, seeing as it literally stuck in the fence about a foot inboard of the foul pole! Crazy game, down to the last wild out, but at least the right team won…


A True "Climb"

My friend Ben and I have been talking about climbing in the Gore Range for some time. Of course during the winter staring at the peaks from the local ski areas played a big factor in our fascination with this range. Now that it is summer and all of the snow is gone, well most of it anyway, we finally planned an outing. We headed up the Pitkin Creek Trail, one of several approaches to the range from Vail. The trail itself makes for quite an outing; it is 4 1/2 miles to the lake and 3000 feet of elevation gain. The hike starts out steep, like all East Vail hikes, as it rises above the main valley floor and enters the Eagles Nest Wilderness area. After this initial climb, the trail flattens out a bit as it rises more practically through a wildflower filled meadow and alternating forests of aspens and pine. There are two large waterfalls along the trail as well, and by the time we reached the lake we were already surrounded by the beauty of the wilderness only 4 1/2 miles from the highway. The lake sits at the bottom of a magnificent cirque, anchored on each end by rugged 13,000 foot peaks that are connected by a ridge resembling a saw blade. We decided to head up the peak on the left, a 13,041’ peak nicknamed “west partner peak”, but officially unnamed. In fact the majority of the peaks in the Gore Range do not have names, and are unofficially named by local climbers. The peaks are rugged, and while easily accessed from Vail to the west and Silverthorne to the east, the approach hikes are long wilderness trails, and occasionally require bushwhacking off trail to reach them. They are seldom climbed, and the range has none of Colorado’s famed fourteeners. This wilderness climbing experience was precisely the reason why we have wanted to climb here. Of course the trail itself is reasonably popular with residents in the area, but most people make a day of just visiting the lake, and seldom venture beyond its banks. We reached the end of the trail and quickly began ascending a rock slope towards the lower section of “west partner’s” southwest ridge. Above this boulder field is a steep grassy slope, and when we reached the ridge at 12,200 feet the views to the west of the neighboring Booth Creek drainage opened up and caused both of us to say “wow” out loud. The stunning view down both the Booth and Pitkin side of the ridge prompted us to sit down and enjoy lunch before pressing on. Afterward we continued on the ridge, which starts out as a class 2 ridge, but quickly becomes more difficult as several short sections of class 3 climbing are required to continue on. At the first of several false summits, the terrain gets even more interesting as a large west facing gully slices through the ridge and bars easy passage. The only way to continue on is to descend a steep class 3 ledge, cross the gully, and ascend an exposed class 3 face of rock to regain the ridge. This is the route’s crux move and requires careful climbing, but luckily on this peak good solid hand and foot holds are plentiful. When back on the now much rougher ridge crest we alternated between climbing on the airy ridge, and traversing around the more difficult rock towers on convenient ledges. There was one class 4 section just before the true summit, that on ascent we took directly, but on descent we opted for a class 3 ledge that skirted it instead. Either choice is exposed, but once again bountiful holds made both options manageable. The final summit pitch requires a brief section of class 3 climbing, and the actual summit block is only large enough for one person to occupy at a time. The summit pictures are quite dramatic. While this peak is difficult, the class 3 sections were brief, and always on good rock with a wide variety of holds. There is a limited amount of resources regarding routes on these peaks, and it was fun to have to search for and find the easiest route without having read about it in a guidebook before hand. While I someday hope to climb all of the fourteeners, I think that climbing in the Gores will ultimately prove to be more rewarding, and look forward to future adventures here.


Picture Test - Torreys Knife Edge

This is a picture I took of the Class 3 block at the end of Torreys knife edge. The guy climbing is Ben's Cousin Matt. If this works out okay I will try and add pictures periodically.


Kicking it up an notch

This past week was a fairly easy one at work, which I took advantage of to do some afterwork bike riding, and to go and check out the new Batman prequel. The blatant use of Chicago as Gotham was quite enjoyable. There are so many recognizable buildings, even a partial shot of the Sears Tower! Most of the times when cities are used as “fictional” cities it is not so obvious where it was filmed, but this time they didn’t try and hide it. Friday after work my friends Ben and Drew and I all headed up to the base of the fourteeners Grays and Torreys to camp out before a Saturday ascent. The next morning Wells came up from Denver with Chris who was visiting from Chicago, Ben’s cousin Matt came up too to round out of climbing party. We got an early start, and hit the trail by 7am. We weren’t the only ones, Wells and Chris got the last spot in the main parking lot at 6.30, and the overflow lot was filled up before we even started our hike! In fact on the way down the road after the hike there were cars parked a good 3/4 of a mile down from the trailhead. Those poor souls had to add a mile and a half to an already 9 mile round trip hike. We all started out on the trail together, but after a couple of miles we split up to tackle separate routes. Ben and I had already climbed both peaks, and wanted to check out the Kelso Ridge route, a nice Class 3 scramble with an optional brief Class 4 pitch. We convinced Matt to come with us, while Wells, Chris and Drew continued on the trail to summit Grays, and meet us over on Torreys later. The initial section of the ridge is a gentle Class 2 (off trail hiking), but after a little while the route’s first challenge presents itself. There is a small steep gully that bars easy passage, and requires Class 3 mountain climbing to ascend. Class 3 is the lowest class of “climbing” and requires both hands and feet to negotiate. While it is steep, it is not like rock climbing, and does not require any special skills to find hand and foot holds. Above this the ridge is primarily Class 2 with a few brief Class 3 moves required along the way. As you near the top the routes two greatest challenges appear. The first is a section about 40 feet tall that requires Class 4 climbing through a crack in a big rock face. Class 4 is the next most difficult class of climbing, and requires one to look for and test holds on ascent. It is similar to climbing up a ladder as far as steepness is concerned, and you begin to need your arm muscles to help pull yourself up, think of trying to climb up a series of countertops stacked on top of each other, each one slightly offset as you get higher. On occasion people will use ropes on a Class 4 pitch, but mainly for descent. Class 5 is where rock climbing begins, but there were no Class 5 sections on this route. This particular pitch on Kelso Ridge can be avoided by traversing either side, but the rock on the sides is looser and the direct ascent looked more appealing. Just beyond the top of this pitch is a small knife-edged ridge. The ridge is narrow with steep rock faces to either side. Fortunately the ridge is relatively flat and is not too difficult to climb, if you can put the incredible exposure out of your mind! In fact most people scoot across it on their butts or crawl, rather than stand. The exit of the knife edge is protected by a large white rock outcropping that requires a fairly exposed Class 3 move to negotiate around. After that it is just a 100 feet up steep dirt to the summit. Whew! At the summit we noticed our friends coming up from the saddle with Grays and hung out there to welcome them. It was great to be up on a summit with Wells, we have talked a lot about climbing peaks together, even back when we were both in Chicago. From the top of Torreys we all descended back to the cars together. We made it back by 1pm; early starts do have their benefits. I think we all felt good with our choices of routes that day; and I look forward to climbing more peaks with routes like the Kelso Ridge. Sunday was a day of rest, I had thought about heading out on a bike ride, but instead went to do a little furniture shopping. I ordered the futon for the second bedroom which should be delivered the end of this week, to my future visitors you now have a bed and I hope it’s comfortable!


Celebration Weekend

I officially moved in to the new place on last Tuesday, I was planning on moving over the previous weekend but my list of helpers all had other things going on, so I had to wait until the work week. I am getting a lot more settled in now, the last of the shelving has all been built, including in the storage locker, so I have been able to unpack everything. I still could use some drawers for the office/guest room seeing as I used to use a dresser drawer for all of my papers. I also need to get a futon for that room so people will have a place to sleep. There are still a few little projects for the future, but everything is in good shape for now.

This weekend it was back to business as usual, which means lots of hiking. Knowing that the next peak I climbed within the highest 100 would be number 25, I wanted it to be a good one. You may remember that in January a few friends from work and I had tried to climb Mt Elbert, the tallest peak in the state. Well that trip we ended up turning back because at 2pm we still had a long way to hike, but not enough daylight left to climb and get back before sunset. Its summer now so the days are longer, and the dirt road that gets to the trailhead is snow free, so what a great time to go back and finish what we had started. I was only able to convince Drew to go though, but he and I set out Saturday to stand on top of the state at 14,433 feet for my 25th centennial peak. Being able to drive all the way up the road sure does make a difference, in winter it is an extra 2 miles each way on the climb that even in summer is an 8 mile round trip with about 4,000 feet of altitude gain! We made really good time, and were able to summit in about 3 1/2 hours. It sort of reminded me of the Sears Tower back home. You know how when you are on the 90th floor of the tower you are looking out at the city and are taller than every other building around, but still have 20 more stories until the top? That is Elbert, a couple hundred feet from the summit we were looking south at 6 other fourteeners and they all looked so small, and we weren’t even to the top yet. Of course the summit views are amazing, why wouldn’t they be? I have seen Elbert from the top of so many other peaks, now it was my chance to look down on all those peaks from above! There were a lot of people up there; it actually is one of the easier peaks to climb. There are several routes, the two most common of which both have a trail the entire way to the summit. It takes nothing more than desire and a strong pair of legs to climb this peak. Actually I think it’s kind of nice that it is that way, while some of the fourteeners are technical and very difficult to climb, the highest point in the state can be shared by many. In fact there were three pages of names in the summit register just on Saturday alone, with more still climbing when we got there.

Sunday was the sort of relaxing day; that is when I actually finished up a lot of the moving in at the new place. Then that night was our town’s fireworks display. They do a good job, it’s the largest show in the mountains, and they synchronize it to music that the local radio station broadcasts. We have a lake in our town park and they shoot them over the lake so you get the reflection if you are close enough to the shore to see it. One of the guys at work lives where there is a good view of the park from his house had a party, and I went over there to see them. It was nice to be away from the crowds, and afterward I walked back home so I didn’t have to deal with the traffic either. There isn’t nearly as much traffic or crowds as in Chicago for the fireworks, but when you consider our town has only about 5,500 residents and probably close to 20,000 people come to the show it sure gets a little crazy.

For the Fourth I went on another hike, this time by myself to two of the lesser traveled peaks. I realized that I had yet to climb any peaks in the 13,700 range and there were two near a thirteener I had climbed last year that I thought would be nice to go back and give a shot. Argentine Peak (13,738’) and Square Top Mountain (13,794’) are located just to the southeast of Keystone in between two pairs of fourteeners, Grays and Torreys to the west and Evans and Bierstadt to the east. The views of Evans from Square Top are really nice, and are probably the best views of those peaks together from the west. The hike starts out on a trail which goes over the Continental Divide. The route up the peak leaves the trail at the pass and heads along the divide on Argentine’s north ridge. The ridge is a nice mix of grassy slopes and rocky talus. The connecting ridge to Square Top then drops about 800 feet in-between the peaks. It is of similar character, though slightly steeper in a few places. The summit plateau comes up abruptly, almost as if the peak should be taller but someone chopped it off. I guess Square Top lives up to its name, in fact the summit is large and flat, it was hard to tell where the highpoint was but luckily it is marked. The rest of the day was pretty much just relaxing; then tomorrow it will be back to work. All in all it was a good weekend, and I am glad to finally be settled in to my new place, now I have the whole summer to enjoy it.A W