Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sheep Mtn. (12,397 ft.)
UN 11510

30 June, 2010: Another piece of (annoyingly) unfinished business. I had made two previous attempts at Sheep Mtn. and, possibly, its companion peak, UN 11510. For different reasons, neither attempt succeeded (although I did climb the third peak in the group, UN 11749, twice!) . Both of those attempts had been made with snow on the ground, so I decided that, with summer really here, it was time to expiate the jinx with the greater speed that summer conditions would surely allow.
Sheep is a relatively obscure mountain, mainly because it isn't easily visible from towns or roads. Even the access road I took in to climb it offers no view of the peak: You just have to know it's there, hiding in the distance. All the same, it is a ranked peak, in fact the second highest ranked peak in Teller County. So it had been on the peakbagging radar for some time.
The climb is actually straightforward and undemanding--Class 2. I started on FS 376 a few hundred yards from the gate below the reservoirs and headed up the obvious gully to the west. This leads to the long southern ridge of UN 11749, which I didn't repeat. Instead, I followed a degraded old road along a traverse across the southwest face to get high enough to cross the drainage to the west without immersing myself in the boggy parts. (I mostly succeeded.)
From there, a little rock hopping gets one to the east ridge of Sheep Mtn., and the first views of its summit. It's about three miles from the road, and I got there in about two hours. There are nifty rock outcroppings on all the several ridge points along the way, as well as the summit itself. Contrary to reports, I found no register.
To get to UN 11510, I followed the ridge down for a short distance, then just dropped off into the trees on the north side, to get into the valley of Boehmer Creek, which separates the two peaks. There's no trail, and only a little visibility, so I was mostly just traveling blind, based on what I remembered of the views from higher up. I got through the flat, willowy area along the creek pretty well. I spotted a small footbridge while descending, which got me across the creek with dry feet. After that, it was just a matter of climbing back out of the willows to cross the dirt road that runs up the drainage, and improvising a switchbacked path up the west side of my second peak.
Again, this was not a technically difficult ascent, just a steep walk-up. However, the true high point is a large boulder which would be quite difficult by itself. Fortunately, a tree grows right next to one of its vertical sides, and a downed trunk leans over a big crack on another side. I used the former to climb up, and the latter to get down. Very cool. The two-and-a-half mile traverse between the two peaks took me roughly another two hours.
I attempted to get back to the car by simply swinging around the west side of UN 11749, to rejoin my ascent route on the degraded road. Abundant timber, however, fooled me into going much too far west, and I ended up topping out on a saddle of Sheep's east ridge, making for a return leg of slightly over four miles. Nothing like a little route-finding adventure. Still, it was an enjoyable morning in nearly perfect weather, and two more ranked peaks in the bag--peaks which both see relatively few visitors! No pictures on this one, though.
Long life and many peaks!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greenhorn Mtn. (12,347 ft.)
"North Peak" (12,220ft.)

23 June, 2010: I'd been waiting for summer conditions to hit Greenhorn, since I'd heard horror stories about how hard it can be with snow on the ground. It's "only" a twelver, but, since it was also the last one I needed to finish the ranked peaks of Pueblo County, I wanted to jump on it as soon as conditions permitted.
Researching routes, I discovered a short hike requiring a very long drive, and a long hike requiring a much shorter drive. To spare the car, I selected the latter. Further research, and communications with fellow runner Paul Vorndam (Magwitch on, revealed two different long hike possibilities, starting from opposite sides of the small town of Rye. The trail that's actually called the Greenhorn trail starts from the north side of town, but actually hits the long summit ridge of the mountain nearer the northern end, closer to North Peak than to Greenhorn's summit. Plus, Paul was more familiar with the other route--the Bartlett Trail--so that was my ultimate choice.
We met at the trailhead on the NF boundary, at the end of Bartlett Trail Road, and headed out at 5:46 am. (The road, BTW, is dirt and a bit rough right at the end, but perfectly driveable by low-clearance cars.) The trail starts with seemingly endless, and highly convoluted, switchbacks through dense forest and brush. The FS has apparently abandoned all maintenance, and vegetation impinges from both sides most of the way.
The switchbacks quickly become steep, climbing the wall of the drainage. You have to go over a mile before you get a decent look out over the area of the TH, and it's already lost in the trees. A couple of miles in, the trail crosses over a ridge into another drainage to the south, but the pattern of switchbacks and shelf trail on steep slopes goes on and on all the way to timberline. The trail is clear enough to see, at least to anyone familiar with trails, all the way. However, the lack of maintenance and lack of use has made it a bit sketchy in places: Vegetation is seriously threatening to reclaim, or at least obscure, the trail in a number of places. Small trees have sprouted up right in the middle of the trail in places. This trail needs more use, or perhaps some clandestine maintenance, to keep it open!
After nearly three hours, I finally emerged from the trees and bushes into a shallow basin south of the summit, where the trail was basically out in the open. I followed cairns north to where I had to probe my way through a small area of trees (real pine trees--not scrub oak!) before I came out into a meadow where I could finally see the summit of Greenhorn, less than a mile away.
I traversed to the right (east) up the slopes to gain the gentle ridge leading west up to the actual summit. It was relatively easy going on mixed tundra and small rocks, but fairly steep. I had to get to within a few dozen yards of the top before I saw the stone windbreak on the summit. It held not only a CMC register in the usual tube, but a makeshift register in a metal can which, surprisingly, contained a business card of the Brown Bear Mountaineering Club (of Denver). I had previously seen a register placed by this group on Mt. Pittsburg (yes, I spelled that right), but didn't know it they still existed. The written date of 2007 confirmed that they did!
After about 15 minutes sheltering from the wind and taking pictures, I moved on for the traverse--nearly 2 miles--over to North peak. On the way, I met a family going south, who had come up the Greenhorn Trail. They were the last people I would see all day!
The traverse to North Peak took nearly an hour, but was well worth it. Totally above timberline, the ridge offers dynamite views in all directions, and Cimmy had a blast roaming free. Wildflowers were everywhere. I found a couple of cairns near the top of North Peak, but neither seemed to be on the actual high point--although that point was indeed somewhat hard to determine.
After taking a few more pictures, we simply re-traced out route (more or less), hit the summit of Greenhorn a second time, and began the long descent. It was windy on top, and I had my windbreaker on for a while, but after starting the real descent, it was a matter of progressively shedding clothing all the way down. I tried to slather enough sunblock on the back of my legs (I wore shorts the whole day!) when we turned east, but still got some sunburn on my legs. No complaints.
Pictures are at:
Long life and many peaks!

Monday, June 14, 2010

14 June, 2010: This is another of my rare departures from climbing, to make a brief comment on another extreme form of adventure: open sea sailing. Specifically, Abby Sunderland's unfortunately aborted attempt at circumnavigating the globe solo.
All of the people who are currently lambasting Abby's parents, and/or Abby, for launching this trip, and/or over the supposedly terrible "cost" of plucking her from her disabled craft, should just plain drop dead! Parents should tell their children to follow their dreams, not be timid and avoid risk. The idea that an obviously competent sailor like Ms. Sunderland should not have been, or, worse, should not have been allowed to be, out on the seas trying to accomplish something big like this, is simply the worst kind of anti-individualistic nonsense imaginable.
I say: Congrats to Abby Sunderland for taking on a truly great adventure! Sorry it didn't work out, but you have nothing for which to apologize. Congrats to Laurence and Marianne Sunderland for being such good parents, and helping to fuel their child's dreams and ambitions!
Long life and many peaks!

UN 10940 (Teller Co., CO)

14 June, 2010: This technically easy peak is on the Woodland Park quad, just a stone's throw from the Crags Campground TH. Still, in at least 3 trips starting at this campground, I've just passed this ranked peak by. Go figure.
So, with only a half day to climb, I took Cimarron up there and followed the good directions on to get Teller Co. ranked peak #18--That's one-third of the way through! This also finishes out the ranked peaks on the Woodland Park quad for me.
A couple of pictures are on Facebook.
Long life and many peaks!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conundrum Peak (14,060 ft.)

9 June, 2010: Unfinished business.
Trisha and I had foregone the option of adding unranked Conundrum to our climb of Castle in 2007, because we simply ran out of time. It's common to do these two together, but snow on the NE ridge of Castle slowed us down quite a bit. So I went back solo to knock it off. Now I can finish the list of 58 at the same time I finish the list of 54!
I was hoping that, in early June, there would still be enough snow to make a snow climb of the (in)famous Conundrum Couloir possible. (This is not the "standard" route.) My hopes were rewarded.
I started at about 10,100 ft. on the Castle Creek road, later than planned at just before 7 am MST. The day was sunny and beautiful, and I soon realized that I had brought far more clothing than needed. I donned crampons at the end of the Montezuma Basin road, at about 12,800 ft.
Once in the upper basin, I at first thought I had gone past the Conundrum Couloir (which splits the two high points of this mountain), but a glimpse of the cornice at the top showed me that I was still on my intended route. I carefully worked my way across the bottom of the couloir, kicking steps in the snow, to get over to the extreme right (north) side. There, I used exposed rock for handholds wherever possible while going more-or-less straight up the steep snow.
About 50 feet below the top, I chose to climb out onto the rocks on the right for the final push to the summit. As soon as I topped out, I spotted the register right in front of me. It had been put in by Roger Wendell the previous August, and most of the dozen pages of entries were from 2009. I added my name to the relatively few from this year, took a few pictures, and began to re-trace my steps down the very steep couloir. (Overall, I would rate this climb as tougher than the similar couloir climb on Mt. Sneffels.) I didn't glissade the couloir, because the run-out is a LONG way below. I did save some time with a mushy glissade out of the upper basin. I couldn't believe the amount of meltwater gushing down Castle Creek and all its tributaries!
5.5 hours up, 4.5 hours down
RT: about 8 miles, approx 3,900 ft. vertical
A few pictures are at:
Long life and many peaks!