Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crestone Peak (14,298 ft.)
East Crestone (14, 260 ft.)

7 & 8 August, 2013: This was to be my second attempt to knock off the fabled Crestone-Peak-to-Crestone-Needle traverse this summer. The weather was still awful. After a night in Westcliffe, we drove to the South Colony Lakes TH, finally loaded ourselves up with expedition packs, and hiked up the old road/new trail to Lower South Colony Lake. It took longer than it should have, as I am just not accustomed to carrying that much weight these day. Note to self for next year: start serious hiking and climbing earlier than August!
But, we finally got to the lake. Off and on rain had already started when we set up camp just off the trail near the "Crestone Needle, Standard Route" sign. We had already decided that Wednesday was just going to be a rest day, so that we could get a early start on Thursday morning without feeling tired. Sure enough, much of the afternoon was drenched in rain and hiking would have been miserable, which put the kibosh on possible plans to climb something short that afternoon. And so, to bed...
Dim and early Thursday, we hit the trail, well bundled up against the chill, with dawn only just breaking. Broken Hand Pass was work, as always, but we got to the top shortly after 7 am.
As we dropped down toward Cottonwood Lake, on a good trail, we still had partly blue sky, and the day began to warm up. Once at the lake, we shed some clothes and donned helmets while eyeing the Red Gully.
The Gully was much as I remembered it, and didn't seem nearly as intimidating this time. I confidently forged a path through slabs and cliffs, up the left side. As usual, water flowed continuously down the center of the drainage.
We made good progress, but we were climbing into increasing fog and clouds. By the time we hit the top of the gully--the saddle between the two summits--we were effectively in pea soup, with visibility reduced to less than 100 ft. But, we headed left and ascended the great ledges which grant access to the summit ridge. We got there just before 10 am. Unable to see whether or not serious weather was moving in, let alone see our route, we made the final decision to forego the traverse.
It turned out to be clearly the right decision. Just as we passed Cottonwood Lake, light rain began to fall. After a few minutes, a little graupel was mixed into it. After a few more minutes, instead of letting  up, the rain intensified and the wind came up. We had been just about on the verge of peeling off some layers, but, instead, we bundled  back up, pulled up our hoods, and started what looked to be a long, miserable trudge up the pass.
Not only did the rain (and wind) not let up as we climbed the pass, it continued--with the wind, amazingly, seeming to reverse directions at the top--and made most of the descent of the pass slow and uncomfortable as well. Thus, wet and tired, we arrived back at a wet camp somewhere around 3 pm. After a brief break for hot drinks, we launched into the drudgerous task of packing up our wet gear in the rain. What fun! I don't know how many pounds of extra weight in water we slung on our backs for the trek out, but it sure didn't help. Late, late in the afternoon, we finally stumbled around the last bend and was the welcome sight of James' truck at the trailhead.
After another exercise in wetness to get our gear back into the truck, we could finally get off our feet for the 2½-or-so drive back to the lower trailhead, where Trisha was waiting for me.

photos are at:

RT: 5.2 mi. (without hike out)
Vert.: 3,680 ft.

Long life and many peaks!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

UN 13,828 ("Huerfano Peak")
Iron Nipple (13,500 ft.)

6 August, 2013: After returning from California Peak the previous day, we (James, George, and I) moved James' SUV and thereby moved our camp from the Lower Huerfano TH, about one mile up the road to the Upper Huerfano TH, sometimes known as the Lily Lake TH. This is the end of the vehicle road. We got—for a change—a decent, full night's sleep.
There was rain and noisy wind during much of the night, making us reluctant to crawl out of our bags and poke our heads out in the morning. The result of this was that we once again got a late start by mountaineering standards. We hit the trail around 6:30 am.
Once again, the morning sky was largely clear early on, but we tried to make good time, expecting some clouding over later. After crossing the Huerfano River a mile or so in, we hit the section where the trail is braided and sketchy. It was still hard to follow—despite having been there twice before—untl the trail settled in alongside the river tumbling down the steep section of its drainage.
Clouds were already gathering by the time we broke out above timberline and began the steep climb to the Mt. Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. We met a descending climber who had gotten a more sensible alpine start (i.e., before sunrise) and successfully climbed Lindsey. He advised against attempting Lindsey in view of the incoming weather. This was something of a disappointment to James and George, who, up until that time, had harbored hopes of doing just that in conjunction with Huerfano. But, being realistic, we all agreed that the wise thing to do was make directly for Huerfano, and re-evaluate the weather when we got there to see if, just maybe, Lindsey could be done second.
I say “directly” but that's a poor description of our actual route. It turns out that the crux of a climb of Huerfano by this route is getting either over or around the summit of Iron Nipple. To avoid giving up substantial elevation to bypass “the Nipple” entirely on its south side, we had to come very close to its summit. So, the decision was easy to go ahead and climb it. Neither of my co-conspirators had previously climbed Iron Nipple, and it gave us a good view of the start of our ridge traverse to Huerfano. I installed a register for Iron Nipple, and we set off down the ridge.
That descent off the summit was definitely the toughest climbing of the day. We descended on rough—though not particularly loose—talus near the ridge crest, to and actually a little beyond the low point between the two peaks. After that, we were back on gently sloped tundra, only occasionally interspersed with small rocks, until we neared the summit of Huerfano.
There's a small, rocky summit area along a curving ridgeline, which we reached as light rain mixed with graupel began to fall. It wasn't particularly cold or windy, but we could see more clouds moving in from the south and west. It was clear that foregoing Lindsey had been, and still was the right decision. So, after a few minutes' celebration and picture-taking, we began re-tracing our steps.
Of course, we still couldn't get all the way back without, once again, having a couple of small route finding adventures in the braided section of the trail (just before the river crossing), but we did make it down in less time than up. Some pictures are at:

We made it back to the TH well before sunset, loosely packed up, and headed down the road with Westcliffe as our goal. We planned on a good dinner in town, and a comfortable night in a motel before packing into the South Colony Lakes TH the next morning.

RT: 7.9 mi.
Vert.: 3,630 ft.

Long life and many peaks!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

California Peak (13,849 ft.)

5 August, 2013: After having been picked up in Rio Rancho by new hiking partners James and George the evening before, we drove north to Colorado. We arrived at the Lower Huerfano TH (37.6389° N, 105.4712° W), up the river from the tiny town of Gardner at about 11:30 pm. After deploying the amazing car-top tent (see photos), we set the alarm for a lazy 5 am, and settled in for a half-night's sleep.
We followed the good Zapata Trail through a series of switchbacks in lush forest, up to a saddle on California's long north ridge. From there, it's technically easy going, but this route is a real test of patience. We counted four major false summits, plus numerous smaller ridge bumps, which had to add at least 500 vertical feet to the climb.
Still, it was an enjoyable ridge run in generally pleasant, sunny conditions. We finally hit the summit somewhere around noon. Because this peak doesn't see a lot of traffic, few people get the truly amazing view of the Blanca group fourteeners that one gets from here (again, see photos).
This was a new peak for all of us, and brought me to 62 centennials.
Some pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!