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!