Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mt. Eolus (14,088 ft.)

Glacier Point (13,709 ft.)

3 September, 2008: Worried about persistent reports that the footbridge over the Animas River at the Needleton train stop might be demolished, mountaineer Trisha decided that it was worth it to shell out for a second train ride, and go back to Chicago Basin to climb Mt. Eolus, the one fourteener we had missed on our early August trip. So Tuesday (the 2nd) at 11:30 am MDT found us once again crossing that footbridge and starting up the steep Needle Creek trail.

This time, we gave ourselves a full day for climbing, and another day to hike out. We enjoyed beautiful sunny late summer weather on the hike in. To my surprise, without particularly hurrying, we substantially bested our time up the trail of a month earlier, reaching our campsite in only 3 hours and 15 minutes. Thus, we had plenty of time to set up camp, and enjoy a very leisurely dinner, before crawling into our sleeping bags.

Unlike last time, we had no time pressure on our one climbing day. So, instead of getting up in the pre-sunrise chill, we slept until the hedonistic hour of 6 am (!). After an unhurried breakfast, we hit the trail at the unheard-of hour of 7:15 am.

Even though there were clouds in the sky, we felt that the fact that we had all day virtually guaranteed that we could successfully climb our one remaining peak. Because Labor Day had come and gone, we saw absolutely no one on the trail, either above or below us, all the way up to Twin Lakes and beyond.

The sky remained partly cloudy, however, and we kept wondering whether or not we would be, again, climbing up into the soup and losing our visibility. Fortuitously, after hiking up into the broad plateau above Twin Lakes, we encountered climbers Matt and Chad, from Denver, who had gotten the more traditional early start and were hiking down after climbing Eolus. We consulted with them about the route from that point on, and then proceeded up.

It turned out—to my amazement—that we had been on the correct route four weeks earlier for much farther than I had thought. We quickly arrived, via a much gentler route, at the point on the ridge where we had turned right back in August. All we had to do was to turn left (south) at that point, and we soon found ourselves at the beginning of the Catwalk! Of course, there was no way in the world we could have seen this when we were enveloped in clouds, but so it goes.

Once we did get to that point, however, there was no remaining doubt about the rest of the route. As you can see from the photos, once you get onto the Catwalk, the balance of the path to the summit is unmistakable.

Even better, the clouds had continued to lift just above us, and now were actually breaking up. We finally had real sunshine! Enheartened by this, we set off across the “sidewalk in the sky” for the final climb to the summit of Mt. Eolus.

It’s probably no more than a quarter of a mile, as the crow flies, and perhaps 200 feet vertical, but it still took us about an hour to make that remaining climb. Once across the Catwalk, the best approach is to veer left off the ridge crest, and pick the easiest path through the many, many ledges which make up the east face of Eolus. We followed a combination of cairns and our own analysis of the ledges, and finally headed straight up a gully that topped out between two high points.

I had to climb up all the way to the top of the gully in order to determine which point was the actual summit. It turned out to be the one to our right (north), and a few more bouldering moves over and around rather large rocks were required to get to the summit, but, at last, the benchmark and register came into view. Just a few minutes after noon (MDT) we had made it! It had taken me three tries (and Trisha two) to get, finally, to the top of this majestic mountain, but we could finally check it off. The video of Trisha coming up to the summit is at:

Since we did have all day, we were in no hurry to leave. We spent quite a good deal of time trying to get the register canister open. The threads seemed to be jammed. Despite our best efforts, we never succeeded. But we took a good brace of pictures, ate some food, and soaked in the fabulous view before descending.

The second crossing of the Catwalk went much more smoothly, for both of us, than the first. My video of Trisha doing the first section of that narrow ridge is at:

When we got off the Catwalk, we decided that it was time for a real rest, and some lunch. First, though, I wanted to do a quick out-and-back over to Glacier Point, the thirteener which is the next major ridge point north of North Eolus. I dropped my pack, put my windbreaker back on, and took off running while Trisha rested and put together sandwiches for both of us. When I got back, half an hour later, she informed me that she had made a video of part of my side trip!

After getting back and eating, we began the largely uneventful trip back to camp. The sky continued to clear, but a significant wind came up and stayed with us until we were back below timberline. On the way down, we did meet a trio of climbers returning from an attempt on Windom. Unfortunately, they hadn’t made the summit because, by their own testimony, they weren’t willing to trust the weather. Too bad.

Beyond that, there’s not much to tell. We took our time hiking down, getting back to camp just after five, for a total time on the trail of just under ten hours. We re-encountered Matt and Chad when we passed their campsite, and exchanged news. After another leisurely dinner, we had an astonishing thirteen hours to sleep!

The only remaining surprise was the time we made on our way out on Thursday. We had our camp un-made and were off down the trail at 11 am, leaving four hours and forty-five minutes to get to the train stop. Accordingly, we made absolutely no attempt to hurry. Instead, we concentrated on enjoying the scenic beauty, taking pictures, and taking it easy on our muscles and joints. And you know what? We were back at Needleton in less than three hours! It had only taken us about 15 minutes longer than back in August, when we had pushed ourselves mercilessly. Of course, the fact that we were starting fresh instead of having just come off a 3,000-foot climb might have something to do with it…

Oh, well; we had plenty of time to relax and chat with the other climbers and hikers waiting for the train. Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sentinel Point
(12,527 ft.)

Backdate: 21 August, 2008: With Trisha otherwise engaged for this week’s days off, fourteeners were out. But the forecast was for warm, sunny weather, so I looked around for some previously unclimbed, nearby peak which I could bag in a half day (had to work in the evening). I settled on Sentinel Point, the second-highest summit in Teller County, which sits just a few miles west-southwest of Pikes Peak.
In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that I had never before gotten around to climbing this peak. It certainly wasn’t for lack of knowing about it. Anyone who has come into Colorado Springs from the west, along US 24, has seen its conical profile sticking up prominently just to the right of Pikes Peak’s summit. Probably the major reason I’d never gone out to climb it before was that I was uncertain about just how to get there. National Forest access on the west side of Pikes Peak is spotty. However, in the age of the internet, abundant information is available. Thus, I was finally able to set off with certainty of finding a trailhead which I knew would lead me to this long-deferred goal.
Well, there was one snag. The trailhead is on State Highway 67, the road that leads from Divide to Cripple Creek. My old edition of the Pikes Peak Atlas said it was just south of a tunnel, and that the trail wrapped up from the west side of the road, over the tunnel, and thence east. The trouble is, there is no tunnel. And as I was starting before sunrise, I couldn’t see well what I verified later in broad daylight: There once had been a tunnel, but it had either collapsed, or been pre-emptively blasted away to create a deep road cut.
So after a little time wasted driving too far down the road and doubling back, I finally located the trailhead. It’s now on the east side of the road. I got started, carrying only a belt pack with gorp, water, Elmo, and a windbreaker for extra clothing, at 4:55 am MST. It was close enough to sunrise that I didn’t even need the headlamp I had brought.
The lower part of the trail may once have been a 4WD road; it’s quite broad if rough. It heads nearly due east into an area colorfully known as Horsethief Park. Three-quarters of a mile in, there’s a trail junction (thankfully, well signed), where the “main” trail (704) continues on east, and the trail I wanted (704A) takes off to the north. I believe either of these paths can be used to get to the summit of Sentinel Point, but I was looking for the fastest route. The various reports I had read clearly suggested the northern approach for this.
The trail continued to be clear and easy to follow as it paralleled a stream northward for most of another mile, before turning east again, entering the trees, and beginning to climb steeply. To my amazement, this turn did not involve any crossing or fording of the rather boggy stream: Where the center of the drainage is crossed, there was virtually no water, at least on the surface.
As I went up through the trees, I was surprised by the large number of small cairns marking the trail. I wasn’t finding the trail particularly difficult to see or follow, and I wondered why there were so many cairns, all of them quite small but unmistakable. I found out why on the way down: The trail is much harder to see coming down.
Once above timberline, however, I had no trouble spotting occasional cairns and picking my way up through the rocks to reach the ridge crest. The ridge connects Sentinel with the next ridge point to the north, which is actually higher, but unnamed.
At the saddle, I got my first direct sunshine, and an unusual view of Pikes Peak. I could also see the rest of my route: south on the ridge and onto the east face of Sentinel Point. I clambered up over increasingly large boulders and reached the summit just after 7 am.
The view is excellent. I could make out virtually all the fourteeners of the Sawatch range, as well as Evans and Bierstadt to the northwest. Without a cloud in the sky, the peaks of the Sangres to the south were also mostly easy to see and identify.
After a leisurely picture-taking session on the summit, I headed down fairly quickly, as I had to make this a half-day climb, and was back at the car by 10 am. I only saw one other person—a women hiking up with her dog—on the entire trip.
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Pyramid Peak (14,023 ft.)

28 August, 2008: We’d let two weeks lie fallow since our trip to Chicago Basin, and I was beginning to feel antsy about summer slipping away. I cast diligently about for something on the list of remaining peaks that Trisha and I needed to climb—almost all of them difficult—and decided that a return to the Elk Range would be in order. Beautiful, clear weather was forecast for the middle of the week. Also, Pyramid was as close as anything else, and the round trip mileage from the trailhead was only seven miles. Seven tough miles, but still doable as a day trip.
We left home at 1 am MDT, and arrived at the (paved!) Maroon Lake trailhead parking lot (9,600 ft.) at a quarter to five, just before dawn. The trail heads south along Maroon Creek for a bit over a mile, before reaching the leftward turn-off for Pyramid Peak. It’s not signed, and not prominently cairned either, and we might have missed it but for a neat piece of luck: At the trailhead, we met a young woman, Emmi, who is a professional mountain guide, and has done Pyramid many times. She found the turn-off, even though it was just barely dawn and stars were still visible above. (The moon was old, and a beautiful, slim crescent in the east.)
That was the easy part of the trip. From there, there is still a clear, maintained trail, but it immediately gets steep. It took about an hour and half for us to reach timberline. By that time, the sun had risen, illuminating the Maroon Bells behind us, but we remained in deep shadow.
At about timberline, the maintained trail gives way to a cairned route over rocks. The angle, to begin with, isn’t great, but it gradually increases as the route makes its way up what is known as the amphitheater, a huge concave basin below Pyramid’s impressive north face. Not only does the angle of your climb increase, so does the size of the rocks. It’s serious, ankle-wrenching work to climb east to where bare rock finally gives way to an even steeper scree and dirt slope leading, at long last, to the crest of Pyramid’s northeast ridge.
We finally got to the ridge, and emerged into brilliant sunshine, after 10 am. We stopped here (just about 13,000 ft.), took a rest, ate some food, and shed some clothing.
We had climbed 3,400 feet, and had only a smidgen over 1,000 feet to go, but the climb was far from over. In fact, the serious stuff was just beginning! From our perch on the ridge, you can look right up the northeast ridge and almost see Pyramid’s summit. But it’s no piece of cake: it would take us two more hours of climbing steep ledges, with real and serious exposure, to reach the top.
After bypassing one major ridge point on climber’s right (northwest), we drifted off the ridge crest to our left to make most of the climb on the east face. Various descriptions which I had read left quite a bit of doubt as to just where the simplest route to the summit actually lay, but they all agreed that staying somewhere left of the ridge was the best choice.
After free-lancing our way to the left, we finally consulted with some other climbers who were already descending, and decided that we had drifted too far off the ridge. We did some quick direct climbing, and re-connected with a fairly clear cairned route much closer to the ridge.
Following the cairns, we basically avoided the “green couloir,” but found a succession of good ledges leading steadily up. Finally, perhaps 100 feet below the summit, we actually moved to the right around a corner and found ourselves, once again, out on the northwest side (right side) of the ridge crest, with just one steep and exposed moves left to pop us out onto the actual summit ridge. From there, it was just a walk to the true summit.
We topped out just before 12:30—seven and a half hours after leaving the trailhead! However, the weather was holding, and we spent half an hour in the glorious sunshine at the summit. All five of the Elk Range’s other fourteeners can easily be seen from here, and we took quite a few pictures. In addition, I made a video of Trisha (and me) getting to the summit. It can be seen at:

This peak had lived up to its reputation as one of Colorado’s most difficult fourteeners. We knew it would still take some work to get back down, so we began our descent about 1 pm. We stuck closer to the ridge crest on the way down, and found that this was a sensible choice, well cairned and offering clear paths through all the steep steps which we had to negotiate.
The rocks of the amphitheater were just as annoying going down as going up, but we did have one trick up our collective sleeve: The sun had softened the snow still lingering in the middle of the basin, so we boot skied a good portion of the descent through this section. Not only did this save us a great deal of time, it was a lot easier on the ankles!
Largely as a result of this option, we made it back to the trailhead in just under five hours. This, despite the fact that we somehow missed the junction to our ascent route below the amphitheater and followed the old trail south almost to Crater Lake. This added a half mile or so to our return.
Still, tired and happy, we wandered back to the car just before 6 pm. Fourteener number 39 for me, number 37 for Trisha. Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!