Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mt. Harvard
(14,427 ft.)
and Mt. Columbia (14,079 ft.)

26 June, 2007: Back to the Sawatch! Trisha and I wanted to get one more climb in before June was history. We shelved the original idea of trying Snowmass Mtn. for two reasons: It’s a long drive, and we knew she would have only one day off. Also, another trip to Boulder to rent ice axe and crampons for her would be unfeasible, so we looked for something that wouldn’t require the snow equipment, and was closer.

The obvious solution was two of the three Sawatch fourteeners Trisha still hadn’t climbed. Harvard and Columbia are easily accessible from Buena Vista, and are close enough to one another that they are often climbed as a twofer. What’s more, Harvard is Colorado’s third highest peak, and one I’ve definitely been up for re-climbing for some time. I knew I’d be doing some repeats this year to help Trisha along with her list, and this seemed like a good time to pick up this pair.

We left home at roughly a quarter to three MDT (after intending to get off at half past...), and got to the trailhead by about 5:15—still before sunrise. The trailhead is on North Cottonwood Creek, at the end of about five miles of not-too-bad dirt access road, at about 9,900 ft. There were only two other cars at the parking lot.

We set off at 5:25 with no need for the headlamp I had brought, just in case. An hour’s hike up the good trail by the creek brought us out of the trees and into Horn Fork Basin, and revealed our first glimpse of Columbia’s southern slopes. The summit can’t be seen from the trail. The summit of Harvard, still a couple of miles away, can be seen, however, and I got a nice picture of it in the early morning light.

All along the way, we were impressed by how much water was flowing in the creek, and all of its little tributaries. Snow is still melting out of the high country at a prodigious rate! Fortunately, this trail has solidly constructed bridges—real bridges!—at the two points where it crosses North Cottonwood Creek. Once up in the basin, the few wet spots and stream crossings were no problem to negotiate.

The trail winds up through the basin, first on the east side, under Columbia’s slopes, and then crosses to the vicinity of the large lake called Bear Lake (original, huh?) on the west side. From there the serious ascent of Harvard’s southwest ridge begins. Upon reaching the vicinity of the ridge crest, at above 13,000 ft., we found that we still had a good, well-maintained and well-cairned trail. Thus, even though it got steeper and steeper, the going was relatively fast. It didn’t hurt that the morning was warming up nicely, and there was no appreciable wind. I was climbing in short sleeves long before reaching the summit.

Perhaps the most unusual discovery of the day was several quite large spiders lurking in gigantic webs spun between boulders along this part of the trail. Some of these webs were eight feet across. Still, had it not been for the slanting morning light, we might not even have seen them. I took a couple of pictures; you will have to judge how well they turned out.
The trail finally gives out at the crux of the climb: the summit block itself. It’s basically just a pile of very large boulders which require some free-lance, Class 2+ scrambling to climb the final 50 feet or so. This probably makes Harvard the toughest fourteener in the Sawatch. We paused a couple of times to consider our route carefully, and finally topped out just before
11 am. There caught up with the couple we had seen ahead of us earlier, with their dog, Willow (never did get the humans’ names…). They would turn out to be the only other people we saw all day . Willow is nine years old, and has climbed half a dozen fourteeners! We also had a visit from one of the many bold, or friendly (depending on how you want to look at it), marmots we saw that day. He’s perched on a rock right above Trisha’s shoulder in one of the summit shots I took.

The summit is small and the view is great. I did remember to take a string of pictures which I will stitch into a 360º panorama later. But clouds were already building to the west, and we still had some serious distance and climbing ahead of us, so we headed off to the east after fifteen minutes or so.

Most of the ridge is way too spiky for any but the most capable of rock climbers, and we only planned to follow it about a quarter of the way to Columbia, roughly to where it turns from east-west to a more north-south direction. After going over or around a handful of ridge points which are a lot like smaller versions of the summit block, we dropped off the east side of the ridge into the Frenchman’s Creek drainage. Roach says you only need to descend to about 12,800 ft., but we ended up going down (Is that a contradiction?) to about 12,400 before we found a good way around the rough talus at the foot of the ridge.

From there, we began working our way up Columbia’s north slopes. There are some rocky sections here, but it’s generally much easier terrain than what’s over on the Harvard side. On the way, we caught up, once again, with Willow and her humans, and we and they pretty much leap-frogged all the way to the top. All along the way, we were treated to constantly changing views of the spectacular Harvard-Columbia ridge, especially the crux section known as the “rabbits.” Hopefully some of my pictures show this well.

By the time we approached the summit, we were definitely slowing down. It took us almost five hours between the two summits. We knew we were committed, however. Indeed, we had been committed since we left the summit of Harvard, since, unless you go back down the Horn Fork Basin trail, there really is no good bail-out route to get back into North Cottonwood Creek, other than to complete the climb by going over Mt. Columbia! So, having put on all the clothing we’d stripped off in the morning, and then some more, we finally reached the top of Columbia a little after 4 pm. It had become quite windy, and we were glad to find a stone windbreak around the summit register. We quickly signed it, took a few pictures, and paused only a few minutes to enjoy the view of Harvard before setting off on the last leg of our adventure: the descent back to the trail.

My plan was to follow the southeast ridge far enough to get east of the infamous scree on Columbia’s southwest slopes, and descend down gentler terrain, to re-join the trail somewhere below timberline. Up on the cold, windy ridge, however, with the clouds threatening to unleash rain and occasional cracks of thunder audible, I let myself be convinced too early that we had reached the appropriate descent point. As a result, we ended up being funneled right onto the southwest slopes route, with all its loose rock. As a result, it took nearly two hours to re-connect with our ascent route, and it was at a point higher up the drainage than I had hoped. I’m just glad that the little spit of rain which did come didn’t last long enough to make those rocks slippery; they were bad enough when dry!

It was a slow march back down the trail to the car, as we were both tired. We had put in something like fourteen or fifteen miles and, more importantly, climbed about 6,200 ft. This is definitely the toughest twofer you can find among the fourteeners, until you get into the technical peaks of the Elks or the Sangres or the San Juans. But it was a great adventure: Peaks #25 and #26 for Trisha, and an exciting re-do for me. Harvard is one of my very favorite fourteeners, and one I’m glad to have done twice. Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Monday, June 18, 2007

As some of you may know, Yahoo photos is shutting down in September. Therefore, I'll be transferring all my Yahoo photo albums to Flickr. For now, my San Luis Peak photos are also available at:

I'll also put them up at Picasaweb (google) within the next few days. As soon as the move to Flickr is complete, I'll post the URL for accessing photos there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

San Luis Peak
(14,019 ft.)

The Cheyenne Cañon climbing maniacs are off and running to a good start for 2007! After a rigorous climb of Castle Peak on the 2nd, Trisha and I headed off to the wilds of southern Saguache County on Sunday, the 10th, to tackle our first 14er in the San Juan range: San Luis Peak.

It’s a strange fourteener. Even though it’s in the San Juans (a range known for lousy rock and difficult, dangerous peaks), it looks more like a Sawatch rock pile that somehow got mislocated. It’s usually regarded as the easiest fourteener in the San Juans.

And it is truly in the “middle of nowhere.” Aside from Culebra, it is probably Colorado’s most isolated fourteener. Getting to the trailhead required us to venture 20 miles off the main highway (US50), and then, an additional 28 miles on unpaved county and Forest Service roads!

So, after five hours on the road, which took us over Monarch Pass, and then back to within a (relative) stone’s throw of the Continental Divide, we reached the Stewart Creek trailhead. The late-phase moon had not yet risen, and the stars overhead were a glorious carpet of light points in the totally un-light-polluted sky. There were only two other cars at the trailhead.

Our original plan had been to catch a few hours of sleep in the back of the Forester, and we had brought our sleeping bags and pads for that purpose. But just as we were approaching the trailhead, Trisha informed that she felt like she was getting a second wind, and it didn’t take too long for us to decide that just setting off and hiking up in the dark would be a better plan. Given the mountain’s reputation as easy, we hoped that we might actually reach the summit (which the guide books and the sign at the trailhead informed us was only 5½ miles away…) by sunrise. Despite the above-mentioned plan, I had brought my headlamp, against just such a possibility. So we hit the trail at about 12:30 MST.

As promised, the trail is obvious as it heads off up Stewart Creek. A few patches of snow, and a few batches of avalanche-downed timber, obscured it here and there, but we made good time up the initial stretch, after we worked out a technique for walking together that allowed both of us to make good use of the light from the single headlamp. Most of the time we walked hand-in-hand, so that I could keep the light focused where her feet were about to go.

Budding bridge builders.

The route descriptions said that, not far below timberline, the trail crosses from the west side of the creek, and then quickly back. There’s nothing unusual about this. Since none of the trip reports I had read had mentioned these crossings as being particularly important, I had given them no previous thought. As we made our way up the trail, however, Trisha finally asked me about them. Were there bridges? Stepping stones?

I replied that I didn’t really expect formal bridges in a wilderness area like this, but that I really expected no problem: Either there would be useable stepping stones, or a serviceable “bridge” of logs. Otherwise, surely someone would have mentioned it in something I had read in my pre-trip research.

When the trail finally debouched into the creekside, however, it became clear that, at least in early June (with the spring melt in full force), this was not the case. I could see what looked like stepping stones—at least when the water level was quite a bit lower. But trying to ford here with the volume of water we actually found would have meant soaked feet, if not a bone-chilling full-body dump in the swiftly-moving water. So we looked for a log bridge of some sort.

Over the course of the next half hour or so, we actually found several places where it sure looked like people had deliberately laid logs across the creek to make impromptu bridges. The trouble was, in the creek’s current swollen condition, none of them were adequate any longer. Mostly, they just didn’t reach. Plus, they were sagging into the frigid water and, in the cold of the night, were coated with a treacherous skin of invisible ice. We even considered—more than once!—the possibility that we had misread the trail, and that it actually continued along the west bank. But every foray in that direction dead-ended in a thicket of impenetrable brush. Finally, thoroughly frustrated and beginning to get cold from our lack of moving, we went what seemed like a long way downstream, and found a narrow and deep section bridged by a very thick, sturdy, and, most of all, dry, log.

Still unwilling to risk a dunk in the drink, we scooted across this bridge on our butts, and finally picked up unmistakable wisps of a trail on the other side. We had wasted a bunch of time, but we were back under way.

Sure enough, just a few minutes of hiking brought us to what had to be the second creek crossing. A couple of thin logs had been laid across the water. And they were almost sufficient to get us across. Almost, but not quite. Here, too, the problem was that the high water level had coated the wood with ice. We had no choice but to begin scouring the area for a log which we could add to the bridge.

Fortunately, it took us only a couple of minutes to locate a downed tree trunk which was of sufficient length and which we could carry to the creek. Laying it beside the one existing log which spanned the creek, we found that we could cross by getting down on all fours, gripping both logs (including the slippery one) with bare hands, and keeping both feet on the dry one. It was slow, ungainly, and awkward, but it worked. We were back across, and the obvious trail beckoned us onward and upward!

The coming of the light

All this time, we had been awaiting the rising of the moon. We knew that once it rose far enough, we would have a much broader view of our surroundings than was afforded by the headlamp. At last, we glimpsed a yellow crescent through the trees behind us. The filtering of the trees, however, still prevented it from casting much light on our trail, so we continued to navigate by artificial light.

The trail steepens dramatically after the second creek crossing, and we found ourselves slowing noticeably, not only because of that, but also because of the larger and more numerous snow patches and avalanche debris fields we were encountering.

So it was that, just about the time we finally emerged from the trees, high on an uplift many dozens of feet above the creek bed, we finally turned off the headlamp. By this time, dawn had already come to the sky behind us, rapidly washing out the stars and finally revealing the pristine splendor of the landscape all around.

We took a couple of pictures looking toward the silhouetted eastern horizon, unable to identify the peaks we were seeing against the rising sun. I also couldn’t resist taking one of the moon. I was hoping that Mars would also be visible in the photo, but I’m afraid that there was already too much light by that time.

That light showed us the sweeping basin bounded by the ridges connecting San Luis to Organ Mountain (13,803 ft.) to the left and Baldy Alto (13,702 ft.) to the right. I became clear here that we would have to traverse several patches of snow (whether we tried to hold to the trail or not), so we pressed on, hoping that the morning chill would persist long enough to get us over them before we started sinking in.

Occasional cairns assured us that we were, more or less, following the trail, even though it was covered and invisible for substantial stretches. Up near the San Luis/Organ saddle, our intermediate destination, we could also see switchbacks, so we simply took what seemed like the easiest route up, now that we could see where we were going.

The final leg

All this time, the summit had remained hidden from us. Only as we approached the saddle, somewhere around 13,000 ft., did we finally get a peek at it. It seemed tantalizingly close (and, the truth is, it was!), but our tiredness was beginning to take its toll on our speed. Feeling like zombies in the morning light, we were reduced for a time to trudging forward 20 or 25 steps, and pausing for rest. But we were now firmly in the grip of summit fever, and we were certainly not going to turn back, no matter what. So we plodded on, almost oblivious to the passage of time.

Beyond the saddle, a clear trail ascends across the talus, climbing to the climber’s left, on the northeast side of the prominent ridge point which is visible from quite a distance below. Then, well above 13,000, it wanders over an even higher saddle onto the west side of the ridge, and the view to the west suddenly opens up.

The most obvious landmarks thus revealed are the distinctive shapes of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks. Nearer at hand, we saw the Handies group, and, still nearer, numerous peaks along the Divide.

We could see tracks, probably made by the couple whom I knew had made this climb the previous weekend, heading up through the snow along the ridge crest. Enough snow had melted, however, to show us that the actual trail wraps around the west side of the last two ridge points before the summit, and we decided to follow the trail to take it easy on ourselves.

At the base of the summit block, a strange trick of perspective made it look more distant than it actually was. In fact, just a few dozen steps led us up to the surprisingly tiny snowfield which mostly covered the also tiny summit. All the same, there, in the middle of the snow, was a small assemblage of dry rocks, upon which the register canister was nestled. I took a set of pictures to try to show just how small and intimate the summit area is, but I don’t think they compare with the reality. There’s only a very small area here that’s more or less level, despite the gentle contours of the mountain overall.

By this time, we both felt renewed energy. The wind had moderated, and we felt no need for additional clothing. In fact, I was comfortable with bare hands, as I set about taking pictures, and replacing the very full register with the new one I had brought. It was a great feeling to sign in as the first two summiteers on a new register, not to mention the first on that day. We had reached the top at 7:10 am: Not my earliest summitting, but it was Trisha’s, and our earliest together.

The view in all directions is truly astounding. We might have been on a planet consisting of nothing but mountains, for all that the eye could reveal. The high peaks were still blotched with snow, but there was lots of bare ground visible, too. We tried in vain, from this entirely new perspective, to identify many peaks.

The only “bad news” was that, just as the week before, we felt that the only sensible thing to do was to abandon any plan to bag nearby 13,000 ft. peaks. In addition to Organ Mountain to the west, Baldy Alto beckoned a fraction of a mile away and, even more enticing, Stewart Peak (13,988 ft.) stood just a little farther away. From the summit of San Luis, both peaks could be gained via a ridge run over gentle terrain, without ever having to descend below 13,100. But to gain the advantage we had hoped for by setting out super early—getting home early instead of late—we had to head down with all deliberate speed, even though it was not even 7:30 in the morning!

The descent

We made our way back down to the Organ/San Luis saddle, and dropped just far enough below the ridge crest to shelter a bit from the prevailing wind, and stopped for our “lunch.” At this point, we finally needed to shed some clothing, as it was turning into a fabulously warm June day. I lay back on the slope (after applying more sunblock) and ate my sandwich with my eyes half-closed, resting and sunbathing at 13,000+ feet. Shortly after getting underway again, we saw the only other people we saw above the trailhead that day—a couple skiing up the snow fields, no doubt with the intention of skiing down.

The sun had already begun to soften the snow substantially, and we were able to boot-ski down many stretches which had offered firm and crisp traction on the way up. In fact, it had actually become too soft and mushy to slide on efficiently. We even did a little postholing, but we had learned a lot about how to avoid the areas where this was most likely.

The boot skiing was so much fun, and so fast, that we ended up going down too far in the immediate vicinity of the creek. We had to climb a ways up a lightly vegetated slope to regain the trail, which leaves the main creek bed while still down in the trees, and follows a minor tributary out into the open. This only slowed us down a bit though, and we were soon making good time down the trail through the trees, despite our earlier tiredness.

At the upper creek crossing, we decided that another log would be a good idea. We found one quickly (in the sunlight) and placed it across the creek. It wasn’t entirely stable, though, and while I made it across without mishap, Trisha slipped and cut her leg on a branch stub. We had to pause briefly so she could bandage it, and we used the stop to remove even more clothes.

In less than an hour, we passed the extensive beaver ponds on the lower creek—which we simply could not see in the middle of the night—and emerged into the open just above the trailhead. This time there was only one other car there. We had made it back at five minutes til eleven.

The total time of almost ten and a half hours didn’t seem too bad when compared to the distance recorded by the GPS unit. Instead of 5.5 miles, it had told us that we had traveled 7.6 miles by the time we reached the summit, making for a 15-mile round trip. Tired but with plenty of day left, we had bagged another one, and gotten our start in a new range.

Photos of the trip are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


OK; finally. Amid some computer glitches, I got my Castle Peak photos uploaded for y'all to view. They're at:

Also, I discovered that some of my Yahoo photo albums had inadvertently been restricted from public viewing. I have corrected this. You can now always check for new albums by going to

For the time being, I'm relying mostly on Yahoo, simply because the uploads go faster than with either imagestation or Picasa.

Long life and many peaks!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Here's Castle!
This is the summit of Castle Peak from, perhaps, half a mile away and 400 feet below, taken while we were climbing up the northeast ridge on the 2nd. Note the skiers who have just started down.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Castle Peak

6 June, 2007: The wait is over, and 14er season 2007 is off and running! (And I apologize to prompt readers for the delay in getting this entry posted; it’s been a busy few days.)

On the second of June, Trisha and I implemented a long-deferred plan and got our feet wet (more or less literally!) in the spectacular Elk Range with a climb of Colorado’s 13th highest peak, Castle Peak (14,269 ft., 39.0097°N, 106.8612°W). I had wanted to do this climb early in 2005, and in 2006, but various complications prevented it both times. Castle is the highest peak in the Elk Range, and, as the crest of the range is the county line, it is also the high points of both Pitkin (Aspen) and Gunnison counties. It is also, reputedly the easiest to climb of the Elk Range’s six fourteeners. That is why we chose to start with Castle, but, as detailed below, we managed to continue our informal tradition of making it somewhat harder than it needed to be.

We left Cheyenne Cañon at just after 2 am MST. I had really wanted to leave two hours earlier, so as to be on the trail by sunrise at the latest, but Trisha and I both needed at least a pittance of sleep after a generally sleep-deprived week, so we compromised. The drive to Aspen, over Independence Pass, takes about four hours, however, and there’s the drive up the Castle Creek road after that. The result was that we arrived at the first creek crossing of the dirt road, at about 10,160 ft., at about 5:20. My original plan had been to drive to the second creek crossing, where the “road” over Pearl Pass splits off to the south, which is at 11,200 feet, just far enough back to give us a clean 3,000 ft. ascent. However, the guide books had warned that the first creek crossing could be “challenging” to at least some vehicles during spring run-off (which was certainly in progress). When we got there, we both quickly decided that the best thing to do was to take it easy on the newly-aligned Forester (Thanks so much, Suzanne!) and start from there, even though it meant hiking about three extra miles and climbing about 1,000 additional feet. After hitting the trail at 6:24, we quickly discovered that we wouldn’t have gotten to 11,200 anyway, as several large drifts of snow still blocked the road in between the two creek crossings. Nothing but a snowmobile could possibly have gotten through, and, indeed, we saw several 4WD vehicles parked along the road, mostly facing down, in the first half mile. So, nothing really lost on that score, although I still wished we could have gotten an earlier start.

Still, it was early in the day, the conditions were mild (temperature in the high 30s, utterly clear skies, virtually no wind), and we set off at a pretty good pace.

We made what we felt was fairly good progress for the first couple of hours, which took us up into Montezuma Basin. There, we began to encounter stretches of snow on the road which finally motivated us to put on our crampons. A logistic note: One of the reasons the preceding week had been so hectic was that we knew we would need both crampons and ice axes to do this climb. Castle is actually easier when snow covers the loose rock on the steep slopes of the upper basin, but hiking boots alone usually won’t cut it. And while I have crampons, Trisha doesn’t—yet—and neither of us owns an ice axe. This will be corrected soon, but, for now, we had to do some renting. Unfortunately, the only place we could find to rent either crampons or ice axes was in Boulder! So Trisha had driven all the way up there and gotten them.

So, we donned crampons. The trouble was, the snow cover on the road/trail was intermittent. We needed the crampons for traction on the snow, but they making walking on bare rock rather ungainly and slow. Had we not put them on, the problem would simply have been reversed, so we were slowed down in either case. We actually took them off after a while (although this is a time-consuming process), even though we knew we would have to put them back on before too long.

The road (which was built to service the now-defunct Montezuma Mine) ends at around 12,800 feet. In summer, some owners of high-clearance vehicles actually drive all the way to this point, making the climb of Castle what Roach calls a “lark.” Naturally, this was never considered an option by us. There, one encounters the mostly permanent snowfield called the “Montezuma Glacier,” which leads to the upper basin. So this was where we put on the crampons again, and prepared for continuous use of the ice axes.

While we were gearing up, and munching some snacks, we attracted the attention of a bold and hungry marmot. He (?) was so interested in our gorp that he posed calmly not more than tree feet from me, allowing me to get a couple of very good pictures—the best I’ve ever gotten of a marmot on any of our climbs.

The snow is steep, up to 40º in places, and rather slow going is only to be expected. However, the sun was now well up in the sky, and it was a beautiful, mild day for early June. We would actually have been more comfortable if it had been colder! Long before we reached the lip of the upper basin, we were sweating like pigs, and having to pause after every ten or twenty steps to recover. It’s a good thing we had remembered to apply high-powered sunblock at the trailhead. We didn’t burn much, but we were blasted mercilessly by the sun. With the reflection on the snow, my eyes were right on the verge of pain the whole time, even with very dark sunglasses on.

Finally, though, we made it to the upper basin, now looking more or less due south at the summit of Castle Peak. The summit had been invisible right up until this point. Here we let our tiredness push us into making our biggest mistake of the day. We were actually only a little behind the schedule I had anticipated, and all the delays up to that point could realistically be chalked up to the route and the mountain themselves. But, here, we finally caused our own problem.

If you go right (west), you climb a steep snow field to reach the saddle between Castle and its unofficial 14er neighbor, Conundrum Peak. The route—the standard peakbagger’s route—then proceeds up the northwest ridge to the summit. If you go left, you follow a trail which switchbacks its way up the basin-facing side of the northeast ridge until it reaches the ridge crest. This northeast ridge route is generally considered the easiest route on Castle, provided most of the snow has melted off the approach to the northwest ridge, which then becomes a steep, loose scree slog.

We knew all this. Still, looking at the options, and feeling wrung out from the snow climb we had just completed, we decided that we would rather avoid the necessity of launching into another—and even steeper—snow climb. So we went left.

It was a mistake. The switchbacks were, in fact, easier than the snow climb. But, once on the ridge, we found that the northeast ridge is considerably more rugged than the northwest one. The going, through snow mixed with sections of bare rock, was truly snow. What’s more, the exposure in some of the places where we had to bypass ridge points was very significant. There is an established climber’s trail here, but a lot of it was still invisible under the snow. As a result, we often had to guess about what was the best path to take, choosing between loose, steep rock, and steep, sun-softened snow.

Without even asking, I took the lead, concentrating on kicking reliable steps for Trisha to follow in the many places where there seemed to be no choice but to venture out onto the steep snow fields. In some places I tried two or even three options before I found a route I thought was sufficiently reliable. It was already well past noon.

Along the way, we paused for a few minutes to watch a group of three skiers descend directly down the north face of Castle, from a point just a bit below the summit. These guys knew what they were doing, and it was fun to watch!

The crux of our route turned out to be bypassing the very last major ridge point before the summit. We went more or less directly over the rock on the ridge crest, dropping twenty feet or so into the saddle on the other side. From there, it was just a fairly easy, if steep, snow climb just to the south of the crest to come out—finally!—on the fairly large summit area. Contrary to my original expectations, it, too, was completely covered in snow. If there was a register, we couldn’t find it. It had taken us an astounding seven hours to reach the top.

So, tired but relieved, we simply relaxed and started taking pictures, taking in the unbelievably spectacular views all around us. The view is, indeed, amazing. And, having never been here before, I actually had trouble identifying a lot of what I was seeing. The Maroon Bells were clearly visible, although from an angle quite different from all those picture post card shots you see. It is a measure of how tired we both were that we completely forgot to get out the sign I had made the day before with the peak’s name and elevation on it; it doesn’t appear in any of our summit photos. In fact, I didn’t even remember it until we were halfway across South Park on the way home.

The weather continued to be nice to us, although the cloudless skies of morning had been replaced by some coming-and-going clouds. There was no precipitation, and no significant wind, but we opted to put on our windbreakers before descending. After spending nearly half an hour on the summit, we began—still wearing our crampons—the descent of the route which we really should have taken on the way up, the northwest ridge.

The ridge descent, although both longer and steeper than the one we had ascended, was clearly much easier, and went pretty quickly. All the same, when we got down to the saddle, we knew that we had blown our chance to bag Conundrum along with Castle on this trip. Trisha was even more tired than I was, and we were so far behind our projected schedule that I knew Suzanne would be worrying long before we could get home. So we threw another token in the “Unfinished Business” jar, and prepared for the big fun of the day: glissading down the bowls back to the road.

This was our first opportunity for glissading, and one of the reasons we had made sure to bring ice axes. The axe is a vital tool for slowing one’s descent. Even though we were glissading down into a concave bowl, where the gradually lessening slope would eventually bring one to a stop, and even though the mushiness of the afternoon snow would limit our speed anyway, we didn’t want to take any needless chances.

This was perfectly reasonable. Even though I estimated afterward that neither of us had ever been going faster than about 20 mph, it sure as heck seemed like a lot faster! I spent at least half of that first glissade (off the upper ridge, the steeper of the two segments we glissaded) consciously trying to slow myself down.

Our form was, of course, terrible (but better on the second try than the first!), and the slide filled our clothes with snow. But it was a blast, and it made such fast work of a significant portion of our descent that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We postholed here and there in the now very soft snow, but it only slowed us down a little. Upon reaching the road once more, me took off the crampons for the last time, and simply stuck to the bare rocks wherever possible from that point on.

We couldn’t help noticing the huge increase in the volume of water running down the various creeks compared to the morning. They were truly spectacular, and I took a few good pictures of them. Tired but satisfied, we finally returned to the car almost exactly eleven hours after we had set out. This was fourteener number 28 for me, and number 23 for Trisha. We’d had our introduction to real snow climbing, and although we were tired, we were very satisfied with our long day.

As of this writing, I still have not finished processing and posting the 80 pictures I took at Castle, so I haven’t posted photo albums yet. Hopefully, this will be completed soon.

Long life and many peaks!