Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rocky Mountain and Mount Manitou

30 May, 2007: Summer’s just about here, but not quite. There’s still snow in the high country, and the time hasn’t quite come for the first 14er trip of the season, yet. (But don’t change that dial; it’s coming soon!) But there’s no snow left below timberline (at least around here), and the weather has started to warm up (at least in the mornings). So I’m out looking for new nearby peaks to climb and new places to run in my “backyard.”
With the kids out of school already, the car is a little more available to me, so I found something new, starting from a trailhead that’s not in Cheyenne Cañon. I’d tackled the well-known “Mt. Manitou” incline once before last winter. This long staircase made out of railroad ties has been a popular workout for runners and climbers ever since the tracks were torn out in 1990. Starting right next to the Barr Trail (Pikes Peak) trailhead at the top of Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs, the incline runs straight up the east side of Rocky Mountain (9,250 ft.) (yes; that’s the mountain’s real name!), rising 1900 feet in 0.9 miles. It does not ascend the slopes of Mount Manitou (9,460 ft.), which is actually the next peak to the northwest of Rocky Mountain.
In fact, it stops several hundred feet short of even Rocky’s summit, leaving an interesting run and/or scramble (depending on the route one selects) to reach the summit. But both these local peaks had been on my to-do list for some time, so I decided that Tuesday, the 29th was the ideal opportunity.
I arrived at the trailhead just before 8 am, and found exactly one available spot in the parking lot. (No surprise; I counted myself lucky to find any, and not to have to drive a ways back down Ruxton Ave. to park.) Exiting the car in beautiful sunshine, I immediately took off the long-sleeved shirt I had put over my basic summer running clothes, and stowed it in my belt pack (along with lightweight earmuffs and gloves), just in case the weather turned cool or windy before I got back. I didn’t really know how long this route would take me, and I was prepared to head up for up to three hours if necessary.
I felt fairly energetic as I started up the incline and, sure enough, I passed half a dozen or so people on my way up, and no one passed me. There were plenty of others on the incline, but the weird thing was that the women outnumbered the men by at least six or eight to one. All ages, but very few guys. Go figure.
I made it to the top of the incline in just under 40 minutes. I felt pretty good about this, as this translates into over 2,800 feet per hour, one of the best rates I’ve ever recorded. Of course, I’d gone less than a mile, and still had plenty of distance in front of me, but I’d already done most of the climbing!
After the incline, there’s a choice. A wide and gently sloped trail leads left and around the south side of the summit, while a more rustic, and steeper, trail leads right and basically blasts straight up toward the summit. Naturally, I went right. After the first switchback, another version of the same choice presents itself. A sign pointing to the right directs the climber to the east face of a rock formation called the “Eagle’s Nest,” and a more mundane trail again goes off to the left. I took the challenge of the Eagle’s Nest.
This proved to provide the highest class scrambling of the day. After a while, all semblance of a trail goes away, and it becomes just a scramble up through large boulders, at an ever-increasing slope. The crux was a narrow (thankfully!) cleft between two house-sized boulders just below the top. The rocks are fairly smooth, but solid, so I pressed myself between them and carefully observed the rule of three to friction myself up 15 feet or so of very steep climbing. It was worth it, as that brought me almost to the top of the rocks. I didn’t attempt to climb the high point of the outcropping, which is a rounded boulder standing 20 feet or so over its supports. It reminded me a lot of the summit of Mount Buckskin, and this time I had neither ropes nor ladder. So I just slipped between the smaller boulders near its base, and dropped down a few feet on the other side to needle-covered ground. Then it was on to the northwest, in pursuit of the actual summit.
I actually went over two more ridge points before finding that summit, where the ground clearly drops away on the other (north/northwest) side. With the help of a tree growing in contact with its side, I worked my way up to the top of the rock which is the actual highest point. The views aren’t much, owing to all the trees, except that Pikes Peak is fairly close from here, and can at least be glimpsed through the gaps in the forest. It had taken me an hour and seven minutes total to get to this point. I lingered only a few minutes, mostly to scope out the remaining ridge route over to Mt. Manitou. It’s actually fairly visible, and unmistakable, although much of the route in between has to be guessed at, hidden in the trees.
Dodging numerous small rock outcroppings (some of which would have entailed significant drops if I had tried to go right over them), I simply tried to stay basically on the gently rounded ridge crest while heading over to the other summit. It didn’t take very long to get past the saddle. A clearing in the trees provided me a good close-up view of the summit block from its bottom.
The going was somewhat slower once I started up, as the ground quickly became rockier, plus there was a lot of downed timber. I either had to dodge it, or climb over it. Still, I got the hang of it fairly quickly, taking advantage of the many natural ledges and terraces between the rocks, and a series of free-lance switchback moves quickly brought me out onto the surprisingly flat summit area.
There, a small clump of trees surround, again, a little pile of rocks which is the actual top. To my delight, I found that a set of small stones had been used to wedge a jar containing a register between the summit rock and a small tree! It had been placed only the month before, and held only three previous entries. Unfortunately, whoever placed it hadn’t left his or her name, so I didn’t know who to thank. But I quickly added my own entry, with some notes on conditions and my route, since there was plenty of room.
It had taken me only 1:23 to get there, so I spend five minutes on that summit, and headed down with the intention of being a little more leisurely in my exploring on the way down.
I climbed one of the rock outcroppings on the north side of Rocky Mtn. (which I had noticed but just passed by on the way out), but otherwise basically retraced my steps until I got back to the vicinity of the Eagle’s Nest.
At that point, I deliberately detoured around the south side of the rocks, knowing that I would eventually encounter the trail. I did, but it actually took longer than I expected. That was because my route led me into an area of rather large boulders. The size of the rocks, together with the amount of downed timber, made for some rather interesting downclimbing with some big steps. A few years ago, this might have worried me. No longer. I scrambled on, confident in my ability to handle the rocks, and in the eventual appearance of the trail in front of me.
After reaching the trail, it was just a short run back to the Eagle’s Nest sign, and then the top of the incline. To my surprise, there was no one in sight. You can usually find at least one or two people sitting there, recovering their breath after the trip up.
I toyed briefly with the idea of going down the incline, but, since I had had precious little actual trail running to that point, I opted instead to dash down the roughly four miles of the Barr Trail, as I had when I climbed the incline before (and as, in fact, most runners who climb the incline do).
Passing numerous hikers going both directions, I made it back to the trailhead in just about 45 minutes, for a total time of 2:45. The sunshine had persisted the whole time, I felt great, and I had two new peaks to record! My biggest regret is that I have no pictures to share on this one. Halfway up the incline, it occurred to me that I had never even thought about packing my camera; I had just assembled my basic running gear and taken off! Maybe next time...
Long life and many peaks!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tuckaway Mountain

6 May, 2007: The weather continues to be dominated by showers—rain down in town, snow far enough up in the mountains—and I broke with my usual practice by not running on Saturday at all. Part of the reason for this was to rest up, remembering how inexplicably tired running Kineo Mtn. had left me the weekend before.
I wanted to be well rested for an early-start long run on Sunday, as Sunday morning offered the best weather forecast (marginal as it was) for the entire weekend. My plan was to drive to the Gold Camp Road parking lot, and try to bag Cameron Cone (10,707 ft.) by going through Jones Park from North Cheyenne Cañon. I knew I might well be racing the weather, hence the necessity of an early start. Soooo…
I got up at 3:30 am and was out the door by 4:30, and on the trail by 4:45—before sunrise. So far, so good. There were already a couple of other cars at the parking lot, and one more pulled in before I got my gear arranged and took off.
The familiar trip up the Seven Bridges Trail and north into Jones Park went quickly and smoothly. I stopped once to photograph Undine Falls, as the recent heavy melt-off was causing it to “spoon” more vigorously than I had ever seen before.
Up past Jones Park, the confusing section begins. A crazy-quilt web of trails exists here, and they don’t correspond well to any of the maps I possess. So, naturally, I ended up taking a slightly different route than I had ever taken before, before finally coming out into the broad, relatively flat area west of Mt. Garfield and south of Tuckaway Mountain. At this point, the totally clear skies under which I had set out were beginning to sport some clouds, so the sunlight was coming and going. All the same, it was about here that I finally decided to fish out my sunglasses and put them on.
My original plan called for leaving the trail somewhere in this area, and angling northeast up into one of the saddles northwest of Garfield, to come down the Willow Creek drainage to the base of Cameron Cone (named for a businessman/politician transplanted from Illinois, who was one of the first trustees of the Colorado College). I knew there was no trail here, and I would just have to free-lance a route. But the grades are relatively mild, and, on the map, the land looks fairly open.
When I actually got there, however, what I found was that the land is just as densely timbered as anything around it, and real bushwhacking was going to be required to get over this last ridge for an assault on the Cone. Soooo…
After following the trail as it turned west past the southern slopes of Tuckaway, until I was quite certain that no trail or other easy route was going to open up for me, I decided that maybe a change of plan was in order. This thought was helped along by the fact that the weather did really seem to be closing in—I had pretty well lost all direct sun, and I could see light snow falling on most of the surrounding peaks.
Since Tuckaway (10,820 ft.) is a named and ranked peak, it was already on my to-do list anyway. Plus, it’s actually higher than Cameron Cone. So, I figured, if bushwhacking was going to have to be the order of the day to get a summit anyway, I might just as well bushwhack right up the south slopes of Tuckaway. This would give me a peak today for my efforts, one I’ve been curious about anyway, and I could use the day’s experience to make a more efficient try for Cameron some day when the weather was friendlier.
I put the shells over my mittens, picked what looked like a good place to leave the trail, and started up. The slope is steep, but, even with some snow on the ground, the traction was fairly good. Still, it was fairly slow going, through a mixture of downed timber, vegetation, and rock outcroppings. Unable to see the summit, I simply had to keep going up, choosing the best route for as far as I could see (which often wasn’t very far!). It wasn’t long before I was using my hands more than I had anticipated. I was, once again, feeling more tired than I had expected, so it took fully 45 minutes from the trail before I finally stumbled up into the piles of rocks which occupy the summit of this odd mountain.
There are actually three rock outcroppings at the top, all of which have very nearly the same elevation. Especially with trees blocking the views between them, It was hard to tell which was the true summit. I decided that the northernmost one was it, but I climbed all three, just to be sure. By now, I was being snowed on, and considering using one of my chemical hand warmer packs, so I just took one picture of my mitten shell on the highest point (after sitting on it myself) to document my climb. I didn’t find a register, which didn’t surprise me. It had taken me just under 3½ hours to reach the summit. That’s a net climb of about 3,300 feet, but I have no good figure for mileage, as my GPS has decided to go on the semi-permanent fritz.
I was seeing occasional breaks in the clouds light up the lower peaks and valleys to the east, but it was still cold on top, and I didn’t tarry long on the summit. I started down and, just as the trip up had been a total blind bushwhack, the trip down was too. I took an entirely different route, which turned out to be no harder or easier than the route up. And somehow or other, I actually crossed my ascent path, because I started down to my left, that is, to the east of where I had topped out, but ended up re-joining the trail to the west of where I had left it!
The cloudiness did not relent for a long time, but after I hit the trail, and was able to pick up the pace a bit, I warmed up nicely. Back near Jones Park, I finally started encountering some other people on the trail; it was, after all, the weekend.
Instead of retracing my steps, I headed down the Bear Creek Cañon trail, crossed the creek just east of Kineo, and followed the ridge crest trail back to the Buckhorn/Kineo saddle. From there, I took the gully descent directly to the parking lot, making it back from the summit in just under 2½ hours. Along the way, I was able to de-shell my mittens (although I left them on!) and take off my windbreaker. By the time I got back, I would have been perfectly comfortable without my outer running pants, too, but it was not worth the bother to stop and make the change. Mostly on account of the gray weather, I took only a few pictures, but they are at:



Long life and many peaks