Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone! For the first time since I lived with my parents I actually had trick-or-treaters come to my house. I live in a building with a lot of kids, so I was expecting them, but I wasn’t sure how much candy to get. Last year I was still eating it in February because I didn’t give any of it away. This time I actually had to stop answering because I didn’t have anything left! I didn’t run out until 9 though, and it is a school night so they should be going to bed soon anyway.

This weekend I went down to Denver to visit my friends for Halloween. I stayed at Karlin and Wells’ new place on Saturday. That night we had tickets to go and see Liz Phair, but we did stop off and one of their friends’ costume parties on the way. Lots of great costumes, Karlin and Wells were Beetlejuice and Lydia, and a bunch of our friends went as a Jazzercise group, which was really funny. In general there were a lot of TV and movie inspired costumes this year. I went as Professor Chaos, which if you watch South Park is the alter-ego of the character Butters. When we went to the concert we were just about the only people in costumes, in fact we only saw two other people in costumes. It was kind of weird, most of the time concerts around Halloween you see a lot of people in costume, but for some reason not this time. The show was fun, she played a lot of her older songs which are the ones we like anyway. A couple of songs she even did acoustic, which was nice. After the show we met up with everyone at a different party, but by the time we got there it was already almost midnight. It was fun, we all hung out for a while and then we headed over to the local diner to get some food. We had a lot of fun people watching at the diner because pretty much every customer and all of the wait staff were wearing costumes. Its too bad we didn’t all get to spend more time hanging out together, but soon it will be ski season and we definitely be getting together a lot then. Sunday I went out to lunch with Karlin and Wells, did a little bumming around Denver and hung out watching TV back at their place. The drive back to my house was interesting, above 8000’ it was snowing! There were a surprising number of cars headed into the mountains too, which for a Sunday night is unusual. It must have been all of the people from the mountains that went to the Broncos game or something. There was a lot of snow packed sections of highway, particularly around the tunnel and Vail Pass. I did see a few cars off the road, but for the most part everyone just took it easy and drove pretty carefully. I am fortunate enough to have mud and snow rated tires and 4 wheel drive, a necessity up here. Soon enough it will be ski season, in fact I should be getting my season pass early next week, so the snow is actually a welcome sight.

Other than that, this past week the White Sox won the World Series, pretty amazing really! It had been so long since a Chicago team won, or even made into, the World Series. In fact the last time the Sox won Al Capone wasn’t even running illegal liquor operations yet, you know why? Prohibition hadn’t even started! It would have been nice to be in the city and enjoy the celebration first hand, but I have been getting all of the updates from my parents who went to a few games near the ballpark. Last year the Red Sox, this year the White Sox, I guess that can only mean one thing, the Cubs are going to win next season! It’s like all of the allegedly cursed teams are breaking the curses in reverse order.


Classic Fall and Fall Classic

It turned out to be a great weekend, for starters it was sunny and in the low 50’s all weekend in the mountains, and of course the World Series was in Chicago. Saturday I spent bumming around town on foot, with such a great fall day there was no need to put the car in drive to run my errands. Then on Sunday I met up with Wells and Chris, both friends from Chicago who now live in Denver, to head up for another climb. Earlier this summer we climbed Torreys together when Chris was up interviewing, and now that he is moved in we all wanted to try and get one more peak in together before the snow sports season starts in earnest next month. We decided to head for a relatively short outing, Mt Bross. The route from the trailhead is only about 3 miles round trip, and only picks up about 2170’ of vertical feet. The peak’s summit is at 14,172’, making it the state’s 22nd highest peak, and coincidentally my 22nd different ranked 14er. The snow from a couple of weeks ago is still lingering around on the high peaks, but the route we took is west facing and the snow was spotty and not very deep. We started out on the trail, but decided to leave it for slightly more challenging terrain. At first we climbed a steep snow slope which had a hard crust of snow. This made for careful steps, but if we kick stepped hard enough we were able to break the crust enough to get a good footing. The top of the slope put us on a west facing ridge that as we got closer to the top got windier and windier. In fact the wind near the summit was probably rocking at a good 40mph and was bitterly cold. I imagine the temperature at the summit was below freezing, and with a 40mph wind that makes for quite wind chill! We didn’t spend a whole lot of time up there, enough for a quick snack and some photos before heading back down. The route down we were like a bunch of kids, as we left the trail again this time to head straight down a snow filled gully. We slid down on our butts, a technique known as glissading in mountaineering terms. This is a very common way to descend in the spring when the snow is firmer, as it doesn’t work too good in powder. Because of the hard crust on the snow we were able to get a few good slides in on our way down. Obviously this makes for a much quicker descent, and when done properly a safer one. A lot of climbing injuries take place on descent, mainly from slipping on loose rocks and twisting an ankle or knee. A good controlled glissade avoids these types of injuries, you just want to make sure you don’t get going too fast. After we got back to the trailhead we all headed for a quick lunch at Wendy’s before heading home in opposite directions. This evening I spent my time watching, getting frustrated with, getting happy about, frustrated with again, and then finally ecstatic with the White Sox. They now have a two games to none lead and are halfway to the World Series title, all thanks to “Mr. Power” himself, Scott Podsednik? The same Scott Podsednik who had zero homeruns the entire regular season won the game in the bottom of the ninth on a walk off against one of the best closers in baseball. The amazing year continues! It never hurts to have a little “magic” on your side in the post-season…


A Visit to The Park

I’m sure a lot of you are probably curious about last week’s snow storm. Well for us here in the Vail area it wasn’t really much of anything. The higher mountains got some, a lot of which is still around above 10,000 feet on the north facing slopes, but the south and west facing slopes are all pretty much melted out. We maybe got an inch in my town, but farther east they got hit much harder. They warmed up quickly though and it was all gone by the weekend. Loveland Basin ski area did open last weekend though, and Arapahoe Basin is tentatively scheduled to open Friday, so some good did come out of the snow!

This past weekend I didn’t climb any mountains, but I was still able to get to the outdoors. My friend Drew and I headed out on Saturday to go and check out the climbing offerings in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park. The town itself is the gateway most people use to one of this country’s most popular National Parks. Over 3 million people a year visit the park! Estes Park has lots of restaurants, shops and hotels to keep people occupied when they are not hiking, climbing or camping. The most famous hotel is probably the Stanley, Stephen King stayed there one night and was inspired to write “The Shining” as a result. In fact before 1979 the hotel was closed for the winter because it didn’t have heat! No horror stories for us on this trip though, and all we really did in Estes was eat lunch on our way to the park. Our goal was an area called “Lumpy Ridge”, which is visible from town, a climbing mecca in the area. There are several rock formations popular with traditional climbing routes and over 250 named routes exist on these crags. At their base are several bouldering areas as well, most of which have a handful of individual boulders offering dozens of routes as well as some smaller ones that would make a perfect places for young kids to learn how to climb. We tried our skills on several of the boulders with intimidating names like “Jaws” and “The Tooth” but didn’t find much success. The rock itself is rather feature-less, unlike the boulders near where we live that are loaded with cracks and jugs to grab onto. The rock at Lumpy Ridge had much smaller holds, and the rock itself (granite) was actually quite sharp. While climbing though we did see to separate pairs of deer grazing nearby and we saw a small herd of elk when we were in town, they were just hanging out at the town park! The National Park does not allow hunting, so the animals are much more visible, seeing as they are less afraid of people knowing that they are not going to get shot at. The town is famous for herds of elk and deer roaming the parks, and it is getting to be elk mating season so it is a popular time to visit. The elk are more visible in the park’s major meadows at this time, and it is also when the bulls bugle to warn other bulls to keep their distance! It was a fun time, even though we weren’t very successful bouldering, it got us to a different part of the state for the day to see some new things. Sunday I mostly spent around the house, but I was happy to get to watch some playoff baseball. The White Sox are now in the World Series, imagine that… A Chicago baseball team in the Series! It sure has been a long time coming, and while I know most of you wish it was the Cubs, this is definitely an exciting time for the city.


One more before it snows...

Well we managed to sneak in one more perfect fall day, but the next few days have other things in store for us. My friend Ben and I decided to take advantage of Saturday and get in another climb before the snows make the more technical routes no longer feasible. We headed to Dyer Mountain, the 81st highest peak in the state, located outside of Leadville just north of the fourteener Mt Sherman. Both peaks are located in the Mosquito Range, which is primarily just a long gentle ridge. In fact, many of the peaks in the range are not even ranked summits because the north-south ridge crest itself is relatively flat. Many of the summits are indistinguishable from a distance. There are very few technical routes hidden on these peaks, but the west ridge of Dyer is one of them. After a short hike from the car to the saddle, we stopped for a quick snack and then headed on to the ridge. The lower section is just class 2, and is a good warm up for the challenges ahead. Quickly we were presented with the first technical pitch, which included a couple of easy class 4 moves. The ridge then eases up before the base of a larger headwall. Though the view is imposing from its base, there is a nice class 3 crack that is tucked away and it is easier to climb than it looks. Above this section the ridge flattens a bit, but several short gendarmes (rock towers) stick up from the ridge to block easy passage. The guide book mentions going around these difficulties to the right to keep the route at class 3, but we thought we would stay on the ridge crest. We figured that there are peaks out there where this would be considered the “easy” way, and before tackling one of those routes we should know that we can handle it. We knew that on Dyer at least, if it was too much for us we could just back track and traverse below the towers. The ridge crest turned out to be just fine, although it did increase the difficulty to class 4. The most difficult part was an 8 foot drop on the back side of the one gendarme to a notch at the top of a steep gully. In order to reach the top of this gully, we had to turn and face into the rock and lower ourselves onto a couple of small indents, and a good ledge near the base of the rock. It was sort of like reverse rock climbing, and all of our after-work bouldering came in handy. It is one thing to do a move like this when it is only a few feet off the ground, and quite another when it is more like a thousand feet up. After that, there were a couple of easier notches before the final 200 feet to the summit on class 2 terrain. On the descent we opted for the east ridge, which is only class 2. This made for a nice circle tour, and we also got to check out the mining ruins to the east of this peak. Some of the buildings were in pretty good shape, one had newspapers on the walls that were dated May of 1979, I guess as little as about 25 years ago this was still an active mine. We didn’t go into any of the buildings though, just peeked in the windows. There was even some rusty old equipment lying around, including what looked like was once a tractor of some sort.

At least we got one good day in, Sunday the weather rolled in, and while it has been all rain so far due to our “warm” temperatures (about 40 degrees), after the sun sets it is supposed to change over to snow and stay that way most of the day tomorrow. We could get upwards of 6 inches in town, and on the ski areas it has been snowing all day. They even have the chain restrictions out for the Eisenhower Tunnel, which is at about 11,500 feet above sea level. This snow figures to stick around for a while as our temperatures are not expected to get out of the 40’s until at least the end of the week. They already are making snow at some resorts, and opening days are scheduled at some of the major resorts by the second week of November. Another month and I will be on skis, hard to believe!


Climbing while we still can

We have had some pretty good weather lately. Most of the week it was warm and sunny, although in the middle of the week a cold front did come through the area. At higher elevations this meant snow, but here in the valley it was only rain. There was still some snow lingering at higher elevations when I went hiking this weekend, mostly above about 13,400’. There really wasn’t that much, maybe about 2 or 3 inches, and it was pretty well packed down from other hikers. I was planning on hiking a thirteener near Leadville, but for some reason the trailhead was marked as “area closed” and there was a forest service truck parked across the road. I instead kept going down the road to the trailhead for the fourteener La Plata Peak, Colorado’s fifth highest. I was limited in my choices for a back up plan because of the map I was carrying. The first section is relatively flat, and crosses two creeks on good bridges before following the second creek up La Plata gulch to start the climb. There is one steep section of trail in this section, but it is made easier by some nice log steps. Above this section the trail briefly flattens out before leaving the creek’s side and beginning the ascent to La Plata’s northwest ridge. These slopes are the steepest part of the hike, but several switchbacks in the trail help to make progress easier. Above treeline the trail briefly angles below some cliffs, before steeply switching back up to the ridge at around 12,760’. From here there is still a good mile to the summit and over 1500 feet of climbing, but this small flat area offers a nice place to catch your breath before continuing on. The views across the basin to the east towards Ellingwood Ridge are fantastic. The Ellingwood Ridge is La Plata’s northeast ridge, and is a long class 3 scramble route. The route is relatively flat, but has several rugged rock towers to negotiate around. It looks like a lot of fun, and my friend Ben and I talked about checking it out next season. After this brief contemplation it was on towards the final section of trail to the summit. After an initial easy pitch, the trail started to steepen a little. Here there was a little bit of snow, mostly light and well packed, before a gully with some deeper snow. This gully seemed to have collected a lot of the wind blown snow from above, and was more like 6 inches deep with some icy patches. It was easy enough to negotiate, but just goes to show that at this time of year the occasional snow field cannot be ruled out as we get closer to winter. The 14,336’ summit itself was calm, clear, and surprisingly warm. I hung out there with 3 other climbers and a dog and had some lunch while enjoying the very expansive view. We could see Uncompaghre Peak, over 80 miles away! It was a really enjoyable outing, and the weather was just perfect the whole day.

Unfortunately not all of the news from the weekend was good, the previous weekend a hiker had gone missing on Mt of the Holy Cross, near where I live. Searchers spent the entire week combing an approximately 50 square mile area surrounding the peak but never found any traces of her. I put my name on the list to help them on Saturday, but they said they were looking for people with more of a backcountry search and rescue and first aid background and never called. They had 200 volunteers from all over the state combing the area they thought her most likely to be. They walked shoulder to shoulder across the rocky slopes and still found nothing. She was hiking with trekking poles, which if she had fallen would have probably been left behind. They decided to call off the search Saturday, and her family made a statement conceding to the mountain that it had taken their loved one. Maybe someday the mountain will “give her back” as one rescuer stated, but for now her disappearance remains a mystery and a reminder that these mountains can be dangerous.