Monday, October 29, 2007

Unnamed Point 10,245B

28 October, 2007: With the prospects of available time for the next two weekends looking rather bleak (and the weather almost certain to become worse), I decided that I had to get some kind of a climb in this weekend. I chose Sunday because the weather forecast looked better, and sat down to choose a target.
A little checking showed that the highest ranked peak in El Paso County which I had left to climb was this unnamed, but ranked (2160) peak on the Pikes Peak massif. It’s only a short distance (perhaps half a mile) from the well-traveled Barr Trail, making getting to the immediate vicinity super easy. I figured I could easily handle a little bushwhacking, especially since it only requires a climb of about 500 feet after leaving the trail.
So I got up only a little earlier than I normally would have for a Sunday, and got myself over to the trailhead in Manitou Springs in time to start hiking right at sunrise. The parking lot certainly wasn’t empty, but one of the nice things about October is that it wasn’t jammed full, either. I was warmly dressed against the early morning chill, but I carried my usual daypack, mostly for the purpose of giving myself somewhere to stow all the clothing I was sure to shed later on. In fact, I got rid of my fleece jacket after only about 15 minutes, puffing up those initial switchbacks.
The Barr Trail is pretty well documented, so there’s little need to say much about trudging up it. Suffice it to say that I traveled roughly the first six miles of the trail, to a little-used trail which cuts across it at about 9,800 ft. This point is about half a mile short of the Barr Camp. I had thought it might be hard to find, but I was wrong. Just after getting out my GPS unit to check the altitude, I discovered that not only could I clearly see the trail I was seeking, there was one of the Forest Service’s large metal trail signs right at that point announcing, among other things, the altitude! A quick look around the relatively open terrain confirmed that this must be the place. I had made the six miles, and roughly 3,200 feet of elevation gain, to that point in exactly two hours, which seemed fairly respectable to me. I think getting a really good night’s sleep had helped a lot.
Heading north, the trail actually first drops slightly, curving to the west into a shallow drainage. After a couple hundred yards, it crosses the small creek. I could have jumped it if necessary, but logs made it a dry step-across. The map shows this trail, together with others to which it links, basically ringing the summit I was seeking, so shortly after the creek crossing, I set off northward again, on the final, bushwhacking portion of the trip.
After going over a gentle rise, I descended again, this time into a much broader drainage (the south fork of French Creek), where the water was not contained within neat banks. This flat area is clearly a messy bog at times of high water flow. At this time of year, however, the amount of water was minimal, and the abundant grass which the summer’s water had nourished was heaped in dried tussocks which made it easy to cross. This area also provided me with the best overall view of my target summit to be had.
Once across, I re-entered the trees, and made my way northeast up a shallow draw to gain the gently sloping summit ridge. I crested it northwest of the first major ridge point, and turned left to traverse (or bypass) a couple of others. Although I had brought gaiters, I had encountered only tiny patches of snow, and it was now clear that I would not need them. As I had done on Cheyenne Mountain, in fact, I deliberately stepped in most of the snow I could find, so as to leave visible tracks to aid my return.
One rock outcropping which looked promising still turned out not to be the actual summit, but the one after it was. I actually used my hands a bit here, although selecting a slightly different route would probably have made this unnecessary. This is definitely a Class 2 summit, nothing worse (and only the steepness keeps the first six miles from being rated Class 1!).
Forty minutes after leaving the main trail, at 9 am, I walked up onto the slabs of the summit. As I approached, I saw the small pile of rocks clearly meant as a summit cairn. Coming around to the other (west) side of the cairn, I verified that, just as my friend Kevin had reported, it contained a small jar with a summit register. Upon extracting it, I discovered to my delight that it held only four names covering roughly a year and a half since Mike Garratt had placed it. The sun broke from the clouds just as I reached the top, but the breeze came up, so at this point I put my fleece back on. I spent about half an hour on the summit, mostly trying to warm my camera and its batteries up enough to get some pictures. Unfortunately, I could only coax it to give me one, and I couldn’t capture the unusual view of Pikes Peak (just a couple of miles away), or of the register. (On the way down, I did get a shot of Pikes from just below the summit, but it was through the trees.) Suzanne had had me take her cell phone, and I tried to call her from the summit, but couldn’t get service.
Finally giving up on getting any more pictures, I replaced the register and headed down.
Unsurprisingly, I followed a slightly different path from my ascent. In particular, I chose a worse route for crossing the boggy area, but still had no trouble getting to the small rise on the other side, after which I quickly found the trail. I was almost at exactly the same point where I had left it on the way up, and it took only a few minutes more to reach the Barr Trail.
There, I did some serious clothes shedding, as the wind had abated and the sun was rapidly warming everything nicely. Just a couple of minutes after heading east from there, I began to encounter substantial numbers of other hikers. I had made the hike up in close proximity to just one other party (of three), and had seen only a handful of others, mostly runners, descending. But now it was approaching midday, and this is a popular trail, so solitude was all over for the day.
I stopped several more times, both to try to take some pictures (I did get just a few), and to make clothing adjustments. Still, I wasn’t worn out, so I ran virtually the whole way, and made good time. My total descent took just about two and a half hours.
Topozone link:

Long life and many peaks!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cheyenne Mountain (9,565 ft.)

23 October, 2007: With early snow already blanketing the high country, it’s that time of year again: Time to pull back and content myself with lower and nearer peaks for a while. Fortunately for me, there are still plenty of such peaks that I have yet to climb. Following the example of my friend Kevin Baker, I figure I might as well go after as many of the named and ranked peaks here in El Paso County as I can. Many, if not all, of these are doable in fall or winter.
All it takes is a good opportunity. Such an opportunity dropped into my lap on this Tuesday morning, when the phone rang. It was my brother, with the news that, since both he and Suzi were out of town (different towns), they had boarded the dogs in a kennel for a few days. Since the dogs are my usual running and hiking companions on weekdays, this suddenly meant that I could contemplate the sort of adventure that might not be suitable for taking them with me. I quickly sifted through some possibilities, including several nearby peaks which I had been putting off climbing for one reason or another.
Cheyenne Mountain had been on the “one of these days” list for quite a while. I was a little apprehensive about it because I wasn’t sure exactly where the route started (I knew there was no real trailhead in the usual sense), I didn’t know how hard avoiding the private property sprinkled over the mountain would be, and I didn’t really know how long the climb would take. But after carefully reading over the limited information that was available, I decided that, on a day with gorgeous weather, I could deal with all these difficulties.
Here’s the route finding scoop: The route starts at the top of a hill on Old Stage Road, 5.4 miles after the pavement ends, just before you get to the intersection with FS 369, which is the turn-off for the Stables at the Broadmoor. I parked in a wide spot on the road just across from this turn-off; it’s the closest thing to a “parking lot” to be had. There’s a hill on the road because this is where it crosses the bottom of a major ridge of Cheyenne Mountain coming down from the east. So, after crossing to the east side of the road (westbound traffic on the road is, at this point, going basically south), I found a mound of gravel alongside the road right at the hill’s crest. On the other side, a clear path leads right up the ridge between the trees. It’s loose and gravelly, but not hard to climb. I climbed east for a hundred vertical feet or so.
From there, the ridge takes a jog to the left (north) and levels out (mostly) for a few hundred yards. After that, there’s a small drop, a climb up a small hill, and a second drop to a very small saddle. Then the uninterrupted climbing begins, basically just east up the broad crest of the ridge. As advertised, there really is no trail, but any route near the ridge crest will work.
The climbing is through only moderately dense timber, over a mixture of rocky textures of ground, with occasional outcrops of real rocks. These can all be either skirted or climbed over.
Once upon a time, the fact that I couldn’t really see much might have bothered me, and made me slow down in apprehension of getting “lost.” But experience helps. My quick overview from below had made it obvious that roughly following the crest of the ridge would lead to, or nearly to, the north-south summit ridge. So I simply picked the easiest path I could see through the mix of timber and rocks, staying somewhere near the crest. In various places, I strayed both right (south) and left (north), picking my way through some rock outcroppings, avoiding others, based mostly on the amount of downed timber or growing bushes to be encountered. I only ended up using my hands a few times, so I would concur with earlier estimates that the route can be listed as Class 2 all the way.
As I reached the summit ridge, trees still blocked most of the long distance view, but I could see the sky open up to the east. The terrain was the same, but the slope eased considerably. I had come out just south of a rocky ridge point, which I negotiated, expecting a few more of them before the actual summit.
In fact, there was only one significant one before I came to the rise of fifty feet or so which turned out to be the actual summit. I’ve learned not to get my hopes up too much in situations like this, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to tell for sure until I actually topped out. But as I wound my way up through the last rocks, I could finally see that no higher ridge point presented itself farther to the north. At almost the same moment, a glance to my left showed a small pole anchored in the rocks, which usually signifies a summit.
A little poking in the snow quickly revealed a jar containing a summit register, placed by Mike Garratt (co-author of Colorado’s High Thirteeners) just two years earlier. It contained just six entries, which surprised me, considering how easy the climb had actually been. People must just not know, despite how prominent and famous this mountain is.
I spent about 15 minutes on the summit, drinking in the views in the crystal-clear air. The Spanish Peaks were especially prominent. Unfortunately, I continue to have problems with my camera (It’s going in to the shop before this drives me crazy on some major climb!), so there are no summit pictures. Some day in the future, I will return, and strike off to the north to visit the highly visible “horns” of the mountain, but that was not on the agenda for this day.
I headed back and followed my own tracks down. I realized that I could have taken the dogs on this trip after all. If serious snow holds off, perhaps someday soon I will; I know they’d like the variety.
With fourteener climbs being so impractical for the winter, it’s certainly great to live in a place where I still have interesting and unclimbed lower peaks so readily available. Solitude and great views are never far away. If I decide any of the few pictures I was able to get are worthwhile, I'll post them in a Picasaweb album.
Long life and many peaks!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mt. Edwards (13,850 ft.)

Argentine Pk. (13,738 ft.)

13 October, 2007: Hold the presses! Despite my tentative prediction in my last installment, climbing season for 2007 did NOT end with September!
Even though the mountains have already gotten their first dusting of snow, mild and sunny weather has melted off most of it, at least in some areas. I took advantage of that to squeeze in one more climb with Kevin Baker. This time, it was back to the Continental Divide, near Georgetown, for some more thirteeners.
Mt. Edwards is the next summit on the Divide south (which is east) of Grays Peak. It ranks 83rd in elevation in the state. From there, the Divide turns south again, dropping to Argentine Pass 13,207 ft.), which is the highest pass on the Divide in Colorado, and then rises again to Argentine Peak. At one time, rugged 4WD vehicles could actually drive over Argentine Pass, but now there is vehicular access only on the east side, and the road on the west side of the pass has been turned into a trail. Fast hikers sometimes include a side trip to Edwards with the climb of Grays and Torreys Peaks, but none of my three excursions on Grays had included it. Thus, I was well psyched for a tour of this section of the Divide.
I met Kevin in northern Colorado Springs at 4:15 am MDT, and he and I, together with his friend Chad, headed for Denver. There, we met up with John and Renata Collard, whose Chevy Trail Blazer was the vehicle chosen to make the drive to the trailhead.
Fairly high clearance is needed to get to the trailhead, which is at the end of about six miles of rough 4WD road off the Guanella Pass Road, south of Georgetown. That’s the road that, ultimately, leads to Argentine Pass, but we weren’t interested in motoring to the pass. We stopped at the site of the old Waldorf Mine, at about 11,600 ft, just above timberline. It was dark when we came through Georgetown, but cloud-filtered morning light obviated any need for headlamps (which we all had brought, just in case) by the time we reached the mine. There are plenty of places to park along the road, and we stopped at a major switchback near some mine ruins, and were hiking by 7:30.
We followed the road south for just a short distance, then turned right, uphill, where a stream crossed it. Staying generally to the right of the water, we followed this drainage--not very steep--up to the saddle between Edwards on the left and McClellan Mtn. (13,587 ft.) on the right. McClellan is an unranked peak, whose long, gently sloped ridge comprises much of the eastern rim of the Stevens Gulch drainage, rising above the trailhead for the standard route to Grays and Torreys. From the saddle, I got a very dramatic view of that trailhead, since the west/north side of the ridge drops off much more steeply than the south/east side which we had climbed. Unfortunately, this was where I discovered that keeping my camera hung around my neck, and inside my fleece jacket, was still not enough protection from the cold to allow the batteries to function properly. Thus, there is no picture of this dramatic view, as there would be none of a number of others throughout the day. I have concluded that, in the future, I am going to have to remove the batteries from the camera and stow them deep inside my clothing, taking them out only when I want to take a picture.
By this time, Chad had decided that he wanted to make a try for Grays and Torreys, and had split from the group at a good pace. The other three members of the party gradually pulled away from me as we ascended the drainage, and I lost sight of them before gaining the ridge. Shortly after I turned left toward McClellan, I met them returning from the summit. Despite John’s generous offer to wait for me while I summitted, I decided that the sensible thing to do was to bail on McClellan rather than slowing everyone else down, and the four of us set off in the other direction to the high point of the day, Mt. Edwards.
It didn’t take long to scale Edwards’ northeast ridge, a simple Class 2 hike, but, again, I fell behind, and found the others waiting for me at the top. The view of Grays and Torreys from this summit is dramatic, and a bit different from the more common view one gets on the trail up to these two fourteeners. But, again, my camera refused to function. Kevin got a group photo of all four of us on the summit, with Grays and Torreys in the background. He should be mailing this to me soon, so I can include it with the few pictures I was able to get that day.
We say a couple coming over from Grays, who were venturing over to Argentine, too. Shortly thereafter, we all set off down and southward toward Argentine Pass, along the Continental Divide.
The slope going down to the pass is gentle and easy to navigate, with just some gentle ridge points. It gets a little steeper, though, on the other side, heading up to Argentine Peak.
Here, too, the others pulled away from me; I began to wonder what was wrong with me!
The slope on the Argentine side is steeper, and one large ridge point (and a couple of smaller ones) must be negotiated. They provided some enjoyable scrambling, even if I was going slow. Finally, at almost noon, I hauled myself up to the summit of Argentine Peak. There’s a huge summit area, and the views are fantastic in all directions.
After only a brief conference, I decided to return to the trailhead. The others set off eastward for Mt. Wilcox (13,408 ft.) and, finally Otter Mountain (12,766 ft.). I had originally planned on these two peaks too, but I knew I just couldn’t keep up with there pace, and I didn’t want them to have to wait for me back at the trailhead, especially with the weather poised to close in on us.
Close in it did. Back down on the pass road, I started to notice occasional flakes of snow. By 2 pm, when I finished my descent, light but steady snow had begun to fall. It wasn’t brutal weather, by any means; there was virtually no wind with the snow. But things were deteriorating. About an hour later Kevin, John, and Renata arrived back from their circuit, and we prepared to head down the road. Still, I was happy to get in two more thirteeners this late in the season.
The few pictures I was able to get for the day are at:

Long life and many peaks!