Friday, October 19, 2012

Mount Ouray (13,971 ft.)

17 October, 2012: On the way up to Colorado Springs, I took a detour off US 285 to hit Centennial 13er Mt. Ouray. I knew it would be windy, but I didn't know how windy. I know there were gusts of at least 50 mph, and I strongly suspect that some were over 70 mph. Even with double layer gloves, the tips of my fingers got cold, despite the fact that the actual temperature never got down anywhere near freezing.  As a result, I wasn't willing to bare my hands, even briefly, to take any pictures at the higher elevations. I literally couldn't stay upright on numerous occasions. Even worse, I had to crawl on all fours, both up and down, for roughly the top 1,000 feet. This made for very slow going, and a much   longer day than planned.
A few pictures are at

RT: ~6 miles
Vert.: 3,100 ft.
crew: just me

Long life and many peaks!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Palomas Peak (8,586 ft.)

RT: almost exactly 3.0 miles
Vert.: 550 ft.
Time: 52 min. up, 44 min. down
Participants: cftbq, trishapajean, cimarron

This peak is best known to rock climbers, as its west face features challenging cliff bands. But a walk-up trail also branches off from the climbers' trail and that's what we took. The TH is just a wide spot on NM 165 in between Placitas and the south end of 165, where it merges with NM 536, the road to the summit of Sandia Peak. There is room for five or six cars on the east side of the road at approximately 35.2265° N, 106.4095° W. Coming from the north (from Placitas), go past the Las Huertas picnic/parking area, through some tight turns in the road as it begins to rise more steeply, past the entrance to the Elk Ranch on the right, and finally to a sharp right turn at the end of a short, straight section of the road heading east. There are three concrete barrier sections on the outside of the turn. I've read that one must be careful to park completely off the roadway to avoid being ticketed (or even towed!), and the FS does indeed patrol this area: This is one of the few places where you can park without paying them a fee.
From the parking area, walk uphill on the east side of the road for a few yards to find the place where the trail drops away from the roadway. It's easy to see when you get there, but nearly invisible from a distance.
Once on the trail, there are no real route finding issues. The trail drops very slightly as it winds counter-clockwise around a north-facing basin and finally crosses a shallow drainage. Then it heads basically north as it begins to climb the south ridge of the peak. Partway up, there is a junction, marked by a tower-like rock cairn, where the rock climbers' trail takes off slightly down and to the left, while the hikers' trail goes up and to the right. The whole length of the trail is clear and easy to follow, and surprisingly easy on the feet—virtually no rough volcanic rock, nor much cactus to cope with. We were pleasantly surprised.
In due course, the trail levels out at the south end of the long summit ridge, and plentiful cairns mark the way, staying just to the east of the actual crest, to the high point at the north end. I found the actual high point to be located a bit north and east of the literature coordinates, but it seems obvious enough, visually.
Being so close to Albuquerque, this is a great little mountain, with good views to the east.

Mt. Sherman (14,042 ft.)

These are the things we do,
not because they are easy,
but because they are hard.”
--John F. Kennedy

22 September, 2012: After many years (eleven, to be exact), the day had finally come. Back in 2007, Trisha and I had both decided that it was time, instead of merely continuing to take targets of opportunity in our quest for the fourteeners, to select something easy to hold out for last. This was a deliberate attempt to make it easy for family members and friends who were not avid climbers to join the celebration. We looked at our lists of remaining peaks (which were almost, but not quite identical). I chose Handies Peak—the only really easy peak I had left. She picked Mt. Sherman, which is not only easy, but close to the population centers of Denver and Colorado Springs. (I couldn't finish with Sherman, since Suzanne and I had climbed it many years earlier.)
So, knowing that we might be racing the coming of cold weather, we decided to turn right around after our climb of Handies, and plan on Sherman for the very next weekend.
We met my brother Michael (who, as it turned out, was the lone person other than Suzanne from the “friends and family” category who showed up) at the bottom of the Fourmile Creek Road and motored on up the the trailhead at 12,000 ft. That's one reason this peak is easy: Almost any car can drive the very good dirt road, maintained for the benefit of both homeowners in the area and a working mine high up, all the way to its end. This leaves only 2,100 feet of vertical gain to get to the summit.
I almost couldn't believe it, but the weather held for us. We headed out (along with dozens of other climbers) under sunny skies just before 8 am MDT. Wow, it's been a long time since we had the luxury of starting that late!
Although a gate on the road defines the trailhead, the first part of the trail is still really a road. Indeed, the whole east side of the mountain is laced with a multiplicity of 4WD-type roads, most of which function now as alternative routes for climbers. We inattentively followed a group of other climbers, while we gabbed amongst ourselves, and quickly diverged from what is actually the ideal route by following one of these road segments when we should have turned off on a trail leading to the north! The result of this mistake was that we climbed a steep, rough, and loose stretch of rock directly to the remains of the Hilltop Mine, when an easier, but longer, route exists. But we got there.
Once at the mine, you are at almost 13,000 ft., and close to hitting the crest of Sherman's south ridge, the route to the top. Once we started into the switchbacks just below the ridge, I took off on my own, hoping to get to the summit far enough ahead of the others to go on and climb Gemini Peak (13,951 ft.) and, possibly, Dyer Mtn. (13,855 ft.). I also wanted to be on the summit when Trisha arrived to provide photographic documentation.
In places, the ridge was both steeper, and narrower, than I had remembered it. That's what 19 years, and 40-odd fourteeners in between will do for you. All the same, I got to the top well in advance of my companions. I paused only briefly before continuing on toward Gemini. (Gemini is the highest 13er summit in the Mosquito Range, but it is technically unranked.) I soon convinced myself that I was facing a dilemma, however. I was beginning to slow down, following the exertion of gaining the summit. I didn't know just how far ahead of the others I really was. Fearing that I might not make it back to Sherman before Trisha got there, I reluctantly turned around, giving up on my extra credit peaks for the day, in order to insure that I would be there for Trisha's big moment.
As it turned out, I waited something like half an hour, and still they hadn't showed up. Since I knew that Michael in particular was making a big physical effort for this climb, I became a little concerned. I finally decided that it was incumbent on me to head back down the route to make sure all was well. Fortunately, I only hiked south along the summit ridge for a few minutes before they made it up past the last steep section and came into view. They were moving very slowly, but they were moving. After we exchanged waves, I returned to the summit, camera at the ready.
I would soon learn that while there were no actual mishaps, Trisha described her shepherding of Michael up to the top as “babying.” 'Nuff said. But all was well that ended well, and the three of us set about celebrating, eating lunch, and taking pictures. As planned, I also made a video of Trisha's last few yards, which can be found at:

The stills are at:

Unsurprisingly, the descent was anti-climactic. Trisha sped on ahead to re-join Suzanne as soon as possible, and Michael and I plodded down at the best pace he could manage. ATC, it really wasn't too bad, and we were back at the cars in under two hours. We were all tired (the day had started at 2 am...), but we all felt good. Trisha had finished. She has 54 peak pins and her “flaming boot” pin for the grand slam of fourteeners. It all felt pretty good.

Long life and many peaks!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mt. Taylor (11,301 ft.)

9 October, 2012: We ended up with a day with no firm commitments, so Suzanne (to my surprise, somewhat) suggested that we take the day, just a few before our anniversary, to drive out west and hit Mount Taylor. We had been to the trailhead the previous fall, and it looked like a fairly easy, short hike.
Taylor has a lot of unusual characteristics to recommend it. Ranking only 65th in elevation in New Mexico, it is one of only four peaks in the state with over 4,000 feet of prominence. Thus, it is isolated and visible for great distances. This contributes to its being the southernmost of the Navajos' four “sacred” peaks; their name for it translates as “turquoise mountain.” It is also the high point of Cibola County, and the highest peak in the Zeboletta range, which sits just east of the Continental Divide.
So it was worth the rather long drive to the town of Grants. From Grants, we took NM 547 northeast up Lobo Canyon, for about 12 miles, to FR 193. Five miles east and south on 193 brought us to the clearly marked trailhead. From here, the literature indicates that it is about 3 miles, and almost exactly 2,000 vertical feet to the summit.
The first third of the trail meanders through mixed pine, deciduous, and aspen forest, gradually rising up the (climber's) right side of the Gooseberry Creek drainage. We found it totally dry, and didn't take the short diversion which the map indicates would take us to the actual Gooseberry Spring, for which the trail (also officially known as Trail 77) is named. Slowly pulling up from the drainage bottom, the trail finally emerges from the trees at just about the same point that it finally hits the gently rounded crest of the ridge southeast of the creek. We were not above timberline—none of this trip is—but geography and climate have conspired to render the south slopes of this mountain above about 10,000 feet mostly devoid of trees. As a result, the views begin to open up at this elevation, including a fairly clear view of the summit area.
When we stopped for a food, water, and rest break, however, Suzanne was rather suddenly beset with altitude symptoms. We lingered nearly 20 minutes to see if her discomfort would pass, as she had been doing really well up until that point. She finally said that she still felt weak, however, and decided to start back down, imploring me to make a fast break for the summit. I was reluctant to leave here, but I could clearly see that I could make the summit fairly quickly. I also felt confident that I could probably get back to her even before she made it back to the car. So, after exhorting her as gently but firmly as I could to be careful on the way down, I took off uphill at the best pace I could manage.
After just a couple hundred feet, the steep section of trail we were on reached another ridge crest and leveled out substantially, so I was indeed able to keep motoring toward the top at a respectable pace. In less than 15 minutes, I found myself at the base of the large, prominent set of switchbacks that lead to the actual summit area. We'd seen these switchbacks almost as soon as we emerged from the trees, and can be clearly be seen from closer up in one of the photos I took at about this point.
The wind came up a bit, so, despite the continuing clear sunshine, I left my long sleeves and earmuffs on as I powered my way up the final slopes. Just after the trail goes through a gate in a cattle fence (see photos on this one, too), I rounded one more corner to the right and found myself looking up at the large sign which marks the summit. It had taken me just 52 minutes to climb the last 1,200 feet.
The views from this mountain are impressive, especially to the east and south. On a clearer day—which, unfortunately, this wasn't—I'm sure both Arizona and Colorado could be seen. (Tress blanketing the north side make views in that direction much harder.)
I spent just four minutes on the top, but took twenty-odd pictures, including a full panorama. Then it was time to high-tail it down, as I needed to get back to Suzanne as quickly as possible. I decided to pick up my trekking poles by the middles, and run down. Once I got going, this felt great. I hadn't actually had a really satisfying mountain trail run for quite a while, and I worked into it very nicely. The fact that the trail is really superb most of the way, eliminating most of the danger of slipping and falling.
I had initially hoped to make an out-and-back to hit UN 10607, which sits less than a mile to the east of Taylor, but the need to hurry made foregoing that an easy one to pass on. However, as I know very few people have climbed this gentle peak, compared to the number who have reached Taylor's summit, I have to plan on going back some other day.
When I reached the spot where I had left Suzanne, just 35 minutes off the summit, I found that she had a total lead on me of just about 90 minutes. Figuring that I was right on the cusp of catching her still on the trail, I paused just briefly for some water and a picture or two, then took off with renewed energy.
Surprised that I still hadn't seen a single other hiker on this gorgeous fall day, I slid back down into the trees, continuing to enjoy the great quality of the trail. Sure enough, I came up behind Suzanne just at the top of the final hill, about five minutes' walk from the trailhead. Time down: 1:05.
I'm now looking forward to engineering trips to bag the three remaining 4k prominence peaks.
Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!