Sunday, October 01, 2006

Inspiration Point

I had to do something having to do with climbing today. Yesterday was the perfect Saturday I had been waiting for for two months. There was not a cloud in the sky all day. There was no significant wind. There was not a hint of precipitation. Days of sunshine had melted a good deal of the snow in the high country. All of Colorado was calm and warm.
But did I get to climb anything? No, of course not! That was the day—the day—that had to be dedicated to helping my friend Lorraine get ready to move back to Washington (state). It's not that I minded helping at all. She's a sweet person and needed our (the family's) help, and, well, this was the day. So I looked at the wide-open, blue sky from the plains east of town all day while I packed and moved box after box after box of stuff.
Thus, with the warm weather (but not the unbroken sunniness) continuing for another day, I needed to get out and stretch my legs. Instead of just running up the cañon, I inched a little closer to climbing to the top of Inspiration Point.
Inspiration Point is an intriguing finger of rock which sits above the north side of North Cheyenne Cañon, at the point where Gold Camp Road turns to the west and enters the cañon. The road is cut into the ridge just beside it, exaggerating its prominence. The topo map shows an elevation somewhere between 7,000 and 7,200 ft. (I estimate it as 7,150.)
I took the shortest, though not really the easiest, route to get there: up the Columbine Trail a short way (perhaps a third of a mile), then across the road and onto an old, largely unused, trail which turns directly up the ridge which runs north up to the point. The trail gets sketchier as one climbs, and in places all but disappears. Vegetation, including small cacti, is trying to reclaim it in places.
This is not the easiest route because in places scrambling over the rocks on the ridge crest is required, and, although it only comes in short sections, some of this climbing has to be rated at least Class 3. Worse, some of it is loose, so care is required. The easy way is to follow the trail a mile or so farther up the cañon, then take the little-known spur trail which leads up the Columbine Falls drainage to intersect the Road at Tunnel #1, and then follow the road back to the east to reach the point. Easier, but considerably longer; pick your poison. This time, I picked short, although I've also done it the other way, and, no doubt, will again.
Anyway, just under 40 minutes brought me to the road and the base of the rock. The easiest way, as I see it, to get to the top, is to wedge oneself up a narrow chimney on the north (road) side, to reach a small level space under the final slope to the top. It's very steep—basically a wall, but with abundant ledges and handholds. On a previous attempt, last month, I had gotten ten feet or so above the last level ground, where I called it quits because the rock was still a tad wet from recent rains.
I had, and have, no qualms about doing a new climb in several progressive attempts like this. I did the east face of Mt. Cutler the same way last year, and on the finger I've dubbed "Columbine Spire" farther up the cañon: several partial climbs before I felt comfortable with the whole ascent. Inspiration Point is a much shorter technical climb than Mt. Cutler, but much, much steeper. So, as before, I went slowly, and did a lot of backtracking, making sure that I could downclimb each mini-pitch before going on to the next one. Here, that was even more important, as it was clear from the start that I would have no choice but to descend my ascent route. On Cutler, I still have not downclimbed the east face, choosing to run down the easy trail on the west side instead. On Inspiration Point, no such option exists: The other side, the south side, is longer (since it's on the down-ridge side), smoother, and bowed outward. I don't think I could negotiate it in either direction.
So, as I said, I inched closer this time. I got myself to within one or two moves of the little level place I mentioned earlier. Going over the lip to reach that pause in the climb is going to involve probably the greatest exposure of the whole climb, if I've got it scoped out right. After that, the slope relents somewhat, and the climber turns to the right (west) to scramble up some highly textured rock to the very small summit. It's steep there, but not a wall.
Still, I decided that getting to where I could see that last, committing move was enough for this time. I can do it, and maybe the next time will be when I actually stand (or maybe just sit...) on the actual summit. I doubt that very many people have actually done so.
I returned, not the way I had come, but by following the road north a short distance to where a trail leads down through the Stratton Open Space park, and then south on streets to home. Before that, however, I did climb a less challenging point just to the east, which I decided to call "Little Inspiration." It's within a few feet of the same elevation as Inspiration Point, and I took a few pictures there, which I will stitch together into a panorama. This includes a good view of the point inself, although, unfortunately, my intended climb route is mostly hidden from view. At some point, I'll either figure out how to include pictures with this blog, or I'll post the panorama somewhere else and provide a link. Overall, about 3.8 miles, and roughly 1,000 feet of climb.


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