Back to Colorado Peaks

Colorado peaks are a lot easier than Rainier, at least that is the way it seems after coming back. This week I managed to summit 5 of them, and the grand total of elevation gain and mileage was less than Rainier by itself. Saturday I wanted a nice quick outing and decided to look for a good bi-centennial peak that I hadn't done yet. I ended up going for Mt Sheridan near Leadville. The 126th highest peak in Colorado it is at an elevation of 13,748'. I started from the Iowa Gulch trailhead and quickly made my way to the steep basin that separates Sheridan from its neighbor, the 14er Mt Sherman. From the top of the gully I went right, while the masses headed for Sherman headed left. I made it up almost to the top before seeing anyone else where I caught up to a group of 3 from the Denver area. We took each other's pictures on the summit and talked about how nice climbing the "lesser" peaks can be. For me it was my 50th peak in the highest 200, so I'm a quarter of the way there! It may be a pipe dream though, several of the highest 200 are on private property and may never be accessible for me to climb. Seeing as I had made such good time up Sheridan, I decided to go on and re-summit Sherman while I was "in the neighborhood". I had previously been up in March 2005 when it was covered in snow and there were 50mph winds. It was much easier the second time, but this time there were 25 other people to share in the summit views with. I walked a little off to the side and had some water and a quick snack. From here I decided to just loop around the ridge to the gully on the other side rather than go back down the same way. This meant a pit stop on top of the unofficially ranked summit of Gemini Peak. At 13,951' its no small peak, but because the plateau it shares with Sherman is only 250' lower than the summit it is not a ranked peak. It was a nice side trip though, and from there I descended back past some old mines and to the car. The whole trip was only about 5 miles round trip with maybe 3200' of elevation gain. It was more work to go from Rainier's base to Camp Muir!

Sunday Tracy and I headed to the Tenmile Range to do a pair of unranked, but definitely interesting 13ers: Father Dyer Peak and Mt Helen. From the trailhead we hiked up into the Crystal Lakes basin below Father Dyer and headed up the class 3 east ridge. The ridge is mostly class 2, but does have a few short sections of class 3 scrambling. In a few places the ridge got really narrow and was kind of exciting. From the top of the ridge its a short walk over to the true summit at 13,615'. The summit has a memorial plaque for Father Dyer. From the summit we headed back around the other side of the peak on an exciting ridge that connects to Mt Helen. The start of the ridge is simple enough, but quickly you are presented with several rock towers that must be negotiated. The best way at first was to stick to the ridge crest and go up and over the class 3 towers. We then found 2 or 3 that were more difficult and traversed below them before once again picking up the ridge crest directly for some more class 3 scrambling before the ridge eased to a nice class 2 stroll to the summit of Mt Helen at 13,164'. We then descended the grassy east slopes, which provide good backcountry skiing in winter, back to the trail and eventually the car. Thus completed my 5 peak weekend, 3 unranked summits a fourteener and a bi-centennial. Almost sounds like a poker hand!


After the Climb: Rainier Part 3

After getting a good night's sleep in Olympia, we headed up to the Olympic Peninsula to check out the ocean. We arrived near lunch in Port Townsend, a quaint little town at the northeast corner of the peninsula. We had lunch and walked around the shops and beaches of the town. One beach was loaded with pieces of dead crabs. Probably picked apart by the sea gulls, but the shells remained mostly intact. There were enough intact pieces that we were able to make our own full crab! Looks real doesn't he?

We then continued driving along the northern shore of the peninsula, first heading to Port Angeles and walking around the beach, then over to a recreation area called Tongue Point on Crescent Bay. There we were able to see Canada across the Strait of Juan de Fuca as we watched the waves crash into the rocks. It was nice to get to be on the water, I haven't been to a shore (other than Lake Michigan), since I was studying in Italy back in college. We camped in Olympic National Park, and the next day went for some hiking in the park. We attempted a climb of Mt Angeles, but it was foggy again and we were unable to see the summit. We topped out a different peak instead, where a mountain goat followed us up to the top! We were flying back this day, so we didn't stay long. Instead we headed down, and drove back towards Seattle. After a brief stop at a lavender farm in Sequim (the lavender capitol of the US) for Jody to pick some lavender, we headed towards Seattle. Rather than drive around the sound, we took a ferry from Bainbridge Island instead. It was pretty cool, we got to watch Seattle slowly get closer as we rode on towards it. We then drove to the airport and headed back home a tired bunch after a very full trip exploring Washington!

So That's Where the Name Comes From: Rainier Part 2

You don't get much sleep up on the glacier, between being excited for the climb and fact that you are sleeping on top of snow its not the most comfortable night of sleep. Sure you have a sleeping bag and a tent, but every now and then I woke up with the need to roll over and switch which side got to be cold. Then there is the super early start factor. In order to climb peaks like this, you have to get up really early. The intent is to summit at sunrise so that you can descend in the morning before everything gets soft from the warmth of the sun. We woke up a little after 11pm, had breakfast, got our gear together, including our crampons, axes and helmets. We then roped up, each of us about 25-30 feet apart, and tied our prussiks (in the event we needed to do a rescue) to our harness and ropes. Its better to put them on now than try and fiddle with it when you are dangling over a crevasse! We hit the glacier at 12.30am by headlamp. Ahead of us we could see a couple of other parties, including our neighbors from Denver who left at 12.15, and as we climbed on their headlights gave us a sense of where we were going. The trail was actually pretty easy to follow, even in the dark. It is well work by previous climbs, and was illuminated by the half moon light. The route starts by traversing the Cowlitz Glacier, at the end of which is a section of rock and dirt called the Cathedral Gap. Here we "short roped" to a distance of about 10 feet apart by the middle climber (me) wrapping coils of rope from each side around my shoulder. This is done for two reasons, one so that the rope is easier to manage as we follow the switchbacks and two so that the rope does not drag along the rocks knocking them loose on each other. At the top of the gap we stretched the rope back out to normal and pressed on, now on the Ingraham Glacier. This took us about an hour so far, and as we climbed we passed our friends from Denver taking a break, as well as the campsites of the Ingraham Flats. From here the trail works its way to the route's crux, and namesake, The Disappointment Cleaver.

The Cleaver is a rock band that splits between the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers. The route to the Cleaver took us in a little bit of a round about way, taking us directly up the side of the glacier before turning right and angling towards the toe of the Cleaver. At first, we weren't sure why, but from above it became apparent that the route was traversing around a very large crevasse that split the glacier. We actually had to cross it at its narrow point, only about a foot wide and easy to step across. We then continued along the side of the Cleaver to the top, which was all dirt and rock. For our climb we were lucky in that the majority of the rest of the route up the Cleaver was covered in snow. This makes travel much easier because you do not have to deal with any steep, loose rock. There was one brief section of dirt, but the steepest parts were all snow. We worked our way up the switchbacking trail to the top of the Cleaver at 12,500'. From here 1900' of glacier travel on the Emmons Glacier remained, along with a small parade of headlamps from other climbers who either left earlier than our team, or camped at the Flats. Here unfortunately we found out why the Disappointment Cleaver gets its name.

Despite getting from camp to the top of the Cleaver, considered the route's crux, in a mere 2 1/2 hours (its those Colorado lungs!), we were forced to turn around. The weather was great, not too cold, and not too windy, but a physical ailment had Tracy in utter pain. She had pulled a muscle in her back before our trip, and now it was spasming on her and sending shooting pain down the back of her legs. For fear of her not being able to get back down if she went, we took a break to get her more comfortable and then headed back down. Fortunately for Jody, our friends from Denver caught up to us, and after talking about our situation agreed to let Jody join their rope team and head up to the summit with them. Tracy and I re-tied in to the rope as a two person team and started our descent back to camp. This took a lot longer than the climb up, but not because of us. It was all of the guided groups now coming up the Cleaver that provided the delay. They were struggling with the altitude and poor physical conditioning and going very slow. We had to wait for a parade of nearly 30 climbers, some on rope teams as long as 8 people, to pass before we could continue down. After the last group passed though it was clear sailing the rest of the way back to camp. The good news is that while waiting for them the sun came up and we were able to get some great pictures of the route!

We took a nap, and at 11.30am Jody and her foster-team came back down. We then broke camp down, re-packed up and headed back down the Muir Snowfield. The weather was a lot different than our way up, no fog! It was sunny and gorgeous and we got some really nice pictures of the mountains. We packed up the car, signed out with the park rangers, and headed out to get some dinner before heading to Olympia for a nice well deserved night in a warm bed! Even though we didn't make it to the top, we had a great trip and are looking forward to going back again really soon!

Ingraham Flats, notice the large crevasses and the very tiny tents:

Seracs (ice fall) on the Ingraham Glacier near the Cleaver:

Looking back at the Cleaver, notice the tents on the Ingraham Flats. The flat spot at the top of the Cleaver is where we turned around, above it to the left is the summit of the peak:

The crevasse we had to cross, the part we walked across was only about a foot wide:

The peak with wildflowers in front of it from our hike back down to Paradise:


The Big Lump of Rock and Ice: Rainier Part 1

Otherwise known as Mt Rainier, the highest point in the state of Washington at 14,411 feet above sea level. The weekend of our trip finally arrived as last Friday we boarded the plane and headed to Seattle. From the airport there is still a hundred mile plus drive to the National Park itself. Along the way we stopped to load up on supplies outside of Tacoma, where the clouds started to break just enough to be able to see the peak. Its huge! Its no taller than a lot of the mountains in Colorado, but the bottom of the mountain is much lower. Colorado's peaks start at 9-10 thousand feet, but the bottom of Rainier is as low as 2000' in places, that is over 12,000' of vertical rise! When viewed from cities like Seattle and Tacoma on a clear day it is quite impressive, especially considering you are at sea level looking up at the peak 100 miles away. After we arrived in the park we drove around taking pictures of the peak, set up camp at Cougar Rock campground and then went for a quick hike to Comet Falls to stretch our legs. We then came back to camp to have a quick pasta dinner and get our packs ready for the big climb.

We registered at the visitor center and hit the trail around 7am. Our first objective was to hike the Skyline Trail, popular with tourists, from the visitor center at 5300' to the base of the Muir Snowfield at 7200'. Most of this part of the climb was in the misty fog of some lingering low level clouds. At the base of the snowfield the clouds periodically started to break revealing our first up close glimpses of the peak. We took a snack break and put on sunscreen before pressing on. As we climbed through the last of the clouds the view of the peak cleared up, and beghind us in the distance we started to see some of the neigboring peaks such as Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. A little higher up we started to see Mt Hood and Mt Jefferson, both of which are in Oregon. We made it to Camp Muir at the top of the snowfield at about 10,200' in only 5 hours. Here there are a few toilets and a bunkhouse, but our camping spot was to be on the glacier itself. We ate a quick lunch and started to build our camp. We set up the tent, built a few wind shelter walls out of snow and then dug out a nice little kitchen area for ourselves. There was still some time before dinner so we laid our gear for summit day and assembled our summit packs and then killed time by making a snowman. It was the unofficial mascot of the camp and several other campers got pictures of it as well. Our neighbors at camp were actually a couple of other guys from the climbing forum we are on, including two from Colorado. It was fun getting to hang out with them, and beneficial too as we ran out of stove fuel while making water. There is no "water" source at camp, instead you have to melt your own from the glacier, which takes a lot more fuel than we expected! After dinner we got the rope ready and went to bed, despite it only being 7pm. Summit day was going to be an early rise! I will continue this story tomorrow, stay tuned! Here are some pictures to hold you over...

The first glimpse through the fog:

Topping out on the snowfield:

Camp Muir, you can see our snowman in front of our gray tent near the center:


4th of July Weekend

Happy 4th everyone, well happy 6th anyway... Hope you all had an enjoyable and productive weekend. I got to do a little bit of everything it seemed. Friday after work Tracy came up and we went on a short Gore Range hike to Lost Lake. It wasn't too hard to find, just follow the trail 3 miles and 500 vertical feet and you can't miss it! There are some great views of the Ripsaw Ridge to be had from the area, inspiration for future climbs! Saturday we headed down to Monitor Rock near Twin Lakes. This area is south of Leadville on the way to Aspen via Independence Pass. There are several great rock climbing routes here. Our original plan was for a 5 pitch route up the "nose" of the rock, but it started to get cloudy so we decided to stick with single pitch rocks. The first one Tracy led on trad, which meant she had to place her own protection as she went up. This is more complicated than a top rope route (just attach a rope to a top anchor and run it down the cliff) or a sport route (clip into fixed bolted anchors along the way). After that route we went over to a sport route that was close to 200' tall. The route was rated as a 5.10b and while I struggled with the crux (hardest) sections, I was able to fight my way through and make it to the top! The rain then started to move in and it was time to head out. We stopped in Leadville for some lunch on the way back though.

That night we camped at Halfmoon Pass on the way to a climb of Mt of The Holy Cross via the Angelica Couloir. We had both already climbed Holy Cross, but it is a beautiful peak and we figured it was worth the reclimb! After the climb she headed back to Denver to pick up the boys from their dads, they had been on vacation. There is a trip report I wrote on one of the mountain sites I belong to of our climb here:


Monday I had to work, but our town had the annual fireworks celebration that evening. My friend Drew had a BBQ at his house, which overlooks the town park and gave us a nice view of the show without all the crowds! It was entertaining watching all the cars leave afterwards, especially knowing I could just walk home... Tuesday Tracy was hanging out with the boys so I went for a hike on my own near my house. I went back to the Holy Cross Wilderness, but this time to a series of lakes and trails to the south of the peak. I started out by hiking the Missouri Lakes trail, which passes a beautiful section of the creek as it cuts through a chasm. It then climbs up to the Missouri Lakes, a series of lakes in a high basin surrounded by rugged peaks. The highest lake is at 11,500', above which the trail continues on to Missouri Pass at just under 12,000'. There was still some snow around the pass, and the trail below was quite muddy from all of the snow melt as this area struggles to join summer. The trail then drops towards Treasure Vault Lake where it meets a 3 way junction with some other trails. One of those trails heads up to Fancy Pass, which is on the opposite end of the ridge from Missouri Pass at 12,300'. Here I stopped for a snack break before descending the snow covered trail to Fancy Lake. Below the lake the trail was dry as it followed some switchbacks along the side of yet another chasm. From the base there is a great view of the falls on Fancy Creek. The trail then winds its way through the forest before ending at the trailhead, a mere 1/4 of a mile from the Missouri Lakes trailhead. This loop is about 10 miles round trip and provides a nice tour of the area. Now it is back to work to finish off the short week before another adventure filled weekend!