Mt Lindsey (will I EVER finish the 28?)

Decisions made in the mountains are so different than in the real world. There’s also something to be said from beginning any endeavor with a “it’s in the bag” mentality.

from the meadow just after the TH

from the meadow just after the TH

After the Capitol attempt, I felt really good about the 28…basically like that chapter was almost closed, and it was just a matter of finalizing it. I knew I wouldn’t head back to the Elks again until I do Av training and buy an ice axe, so I estimated that the official 28th would be Mt. Lindsey. I put it off a couple weeks so that I could go with Mark, and celebrate proper. The day before, we were texting things like “finally finishing the 28th!” “28 is in the bag!” the weather was forecasted to be clear, sunny, high of 42, 10mph winds. Not bad, not bad at all. The round trip was 8.25, all class 2, and aside from some snow and ice it was in pretty good condition.

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We even didn’t plan to leave until 6:30a because we weren’t worried about getting an early start. And we went to Slohi, where the people are very sweet but it takes a very long time for them to make your drinks (do they realize how funny that is?) It was a four hour drive from Denver, there’s a long network of forest service access roads that will be totally impassible come winter. We started off at the TH at like 11am. The hike in was nice. We got mildly lost when the snow blocked a twist in the trail, but we found it again. Arriving at the saddle, the wind picked up. The route seemed obvious, we took a dip down from the ridge on the snowy side and it was a little tricky with the ice but definitely okay. When we got to the point where we could see the gully we’d be ascending, it was very icy and long. We chose to ascend early, climbing the rocks in a rockier, less snowy part and heading to the ridge. I knew there was a ridge route so I thought we’d be able to summit from the ridge. I was route finding.

from the saddle

from the saddle

On the ridge, things were definitely a little dicey. Lu was okay, but I was getting a little worried about her. The wind was picking up quickly, making the climbing feel unsteady. I saw what was ahead and stopped suddenly. Mark caught up and said “I don’t know about this” and I was strangely optimistic. I kicked my foot out on a ledge to the left to see better, and saw what was below me (nothing). It was like a mini version of the knife edge. And on the other side was the crux wall of the ridge route. I was enamored by it, but I couldn’t think of any safe way to get Lu to the other side. The wind was whipping at this point, throwing bits of ice into our eyes (10mph my ass). We decided to head back, and almost immediately regretted taking the ridge back, trying to down climb on the ice. Lu couldn’t find the way that we got down one part and she spent the better part of 5 minutes pacing back and forth and whining, freaking out. She could get down fine, but she just didn’t see the way down. It was terrible, poor girl.

Mark, descending the ridge.  Things were too gnarly to stop and take pictures before now!

Mark, descending the ridge. Things were too gnarly to stop and take pictures before now!

We found a way down from the ridge back to the trail, and headed back out towards the saddle. Arriving at the saddle, we estimated if we should go back and try the route the way we were supposed to, going up the gully. The wind I’d estimate was nearing 50mph, as I could lean into it 45 degrees and be held up. We agreed to call it and headed down the saddle as fast as possible (by that I mean we glissaded on the ice! Or rather, I did). It wouldn’t have been that hard or taken that long to finish it. I’m not actually sure why we gave up and headed back.

Mark and I, over the icy river

Mark and I, over the icy river

It was a nice trip back. I didn’t feel that bad about not summiting, it was a gorgeous day in the mountains. I would like to finish the 28. It’s been an epic journey and now that I’ve done 98% of TWO 28 attempts, it’s going to be nice to call it closed. I’ve talked a lot before about how good I feel in the mountains, how I want to be a better person. How just existing there is enough. Then we go back to the city…it’s enough to make me move out there…

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In other news, I’ve been training for the next adventure. I’m about ready to make it official.

Capitol Peak (and I discovered I will risk my life)

As you know, Capitol was planned to be the piece de la resistance, the 28th summit over 14,000ft of my 28th year, and we were to summit on the morning of my birthday. It is occasionally referred to as the most technically difficult 14er in Colorado, and it certainly makes the top 5 for most dangerous and most deadly due to its long ridge ascent that is sometimes class 4, very exposed, includes challenging route finding, and, of course, the crossing of the famous “knife edge” ridge.

Capitol Peak (14,130ft) 17miles, 5300ft gain

thar she is, so far in the distance, to the left

thar she is, so far in the distance, to the left

Dan and I at the TH

Dan and I at the TH

We had the game plan of hiking in to the lake (5.5miles from the TH) on Thursday so we could be ascending to the ridge early in the day on Friday, giving us the best possible chance to summit. We left later than we had planned, and then there was the snow. Oh, did I forget to mention? It’s been snowing ALL WEEK in the Elk Range and there is now FEET of snow. So in order to set up before nightfall, and because we assumed the temperatures would be even lower near the lake, we made camp a mile or so out from the lake in a relatively flat area beneath some trees.

This was taken not very far into the hike, as you can tell because we're not dragging ourselves through snow yet

This was taken not very far into the hike, as you can tell because we’re not dragging ourselves through snow yet

I crawled immediately into my sleeping bag, hoping to get warm, because as darkness fell shit was getting cold. To no avail. I did my best to eat my frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drink some water because I knew I needed to, but it’s hard when you’re cold. That might be the biggest struggle, is that you don’t want to eat or drink. Dan brought me a bottle of boiling hot water to put in my sleeping bag with me and that was a real game changer. Not to imply that I slept more than about 45min total over the course of that horrible night. This was my first experience in winter camping. Don’t let the horribleness of the situation fool you, now I’m hooked on winter camping. It was 15 degrees that night.

This was taken on my birthday morning.  It's what it looks like to camp in January.  But it was October.

This was taken on my birthday morning. It’s what it looks like to camp in January. But it was October.

Waking up in the morning, you have to surrender your sleeping bag and put your shoes back on, that have frozen completely solid. You know that when you get moving, there’s a better chance of being warm again, but that seems very far in the future. Dan said, “Happy Birthday, Sarah.” Yep.

During a river crossing, I slipped off the snow covered log I was on and ended up directly in the river. We also refilled water bottles here, and let me tell you that ice cold mountain river water is the freshest water I’ve ever tasted. Up until just before the lake we were fortunate enough to be following a trail that a man with two horses and a dog had made (I suppose he was an actual cowboy), but his trail disappeared and we were left to break trail through knee deep snow on our own. Breaking trail is so much work. At the lake, you turn and head up the ascent to the saddle that will bring you to the ridge.

Here's the ridge.  We'd be hiking up to the saddle on the left just out of the picture.  The right is Capitol Peak.

Here’s the ridge. We’d be hiking up to the saddle on the left just out of the picture. The right is Capitol Peak.

This part was arduous. I imagine when it’s not covered by feet of snow, the trail switchbacks because it’s so steep. You do a lot of sliding back down, and some parts I couldn’t even bring myself back up to standing and ended up crawling to a less slippery place. My feet were freezing but my torso was burning up and sweating. It’s that weird feeling like you’re warm again, but that’s a very tenuous moment. Dan and I sat on the saddle for a few minutes, eating frozen clif bars and speculating about the upcoming ridge.

Up until this moment, we had been thinking that the ridge looked rocky, like the snow had mostly blown off of it. We could see now that most of the ridge was covered in several feet of snow, including terrifying cornices that obscured the actual location of the ridge itself. Heading out, Dan tested traversing through a cornice and it was successful. Each success doesn’t really make you less afraid, I think. But it does make you more likely to go on to the next dangerous decision and choose to keep going. There was a bit of steep scree scrambling that was unsettling as it was mired with ice, then some technical climbing. Dan waiting for me at the top of this bit and once I stepped onto the rock above and he turned to take a step forward, the cornice beside us, one foot away, broke off suddenly and avalanched down the side of the mountain. I think that moment was the hardest my heart has ever beaten. [I’m unsure if it’s acceptable to use avalanche as a verb…I’ll look into that in the future]

We kept going.

This was the steep scree bit followed by the technical bit.

This was the steep scree bit followed by the technical bit.

Before each increasingly dangerous obstacle, Dan would turn around and say “you okay?” and I’d say “I’m okay if you’re okay” and we’d trudge on. There was another technical bit that made it apparently exactly what class 4 is-it’s complete vertical climbing with very obvious ledges and handholds, kind of like 5-.2. Another interesting section as most of the good foot ledges were covered in ice and snow. The best part of this bit was, directly underneath it is a slide into a gully that would likely result in 100’s of feet. Do you remember the first time I climbed, and I was fascinated that each time you make a move and take a risk, it feels very much like you’re risking your life, but you’re really not because someone at the other end of the rope will catch you. In this moment, the risk was very much your life, and you don’t think you’ll make a mistake but you don’t know. This was a pivotal moment, I realized I will without flinching risk my life to touch the sky. Before you judge me for that, is it so much better to waste it?

As we began the traverse around K2, the snow got increasingly deeper and it seemed we were not only casually walking into the complete unknown (wtf is under 3-4ft of snow? we don’t have any idea what we’re stepping on) but also putting ourselves right in the middle of what could later be a big old snow slide. After a decent amount of this waist deep trail breaking, we stopped and looked at each other. We agreed it was time to go back. The truth was, we had long since passed any idea of “safety” and although successfully crossing various obstacles made us believe it was okay to attempt increasingly harder ones, the second half of the ridge promised to be much more terrifying, much more technical, more exposed, etc and when we reached those obstacles it was going to become more and more likely that we really wouldn’t be able to cross them at all. The danger we could see, too, was that even if we kept going, made it past the knife edge and other terrifying ice and snow covered feats, by the time we got back we might not be able to cross snowy traverse we were standing in without a snow slide that would certainly be fatal, due to the perfect sunshine that would’ve beaten on it for hours.

It just gets deeper from here.

It just gets deeper from here.

I knew when I chose the most epic of peaks that there was a risk of not making the summit on my birthday. Even before the early-season snow. I knew I would be bummed if we didn’t make it. But, attempting that ridge in January conditions was the most epic thing I’ve tried. At the point where we decided to turn around, I was not upset at all. I knew I’d get my 28th summit. Last year on my birthday, I went shopping at the second hand store, got ice cream for Lu and I, and had dinner with my girlfriend at the time (and she was late). This could not have been a more perfect way to cap off a year of doing epic shit, of blazing, of adventuring.

28 fourteeners did not actually seem possible when I considered the idea. But, I’m not the type to let such little things stop me. I didn’t finish today, but I will. And it will be epic.

Side note: coming back across the ridge and downclimbing the technical sections might have been even more terrifying. We drank my summit beer on the hike out.

27 (all systems go)

I headed to Buena Vista on Monday with certainty that this time, the Sawatch Range was going to get wrapped up. With just Antero and Princeton on the docket, what could go wrong? Well, the weather was forecasted to be terrible. But I wasn’t overstretching myself this time, I planned Monday and Tuesday for this trip so there was basically 98% chance that I’d make both summits.

Planned (and actual): Mt Antero (14,269) 16mi, 5200ft gain and Mt Princeton (14,197) 14mi, 5400ft gain

Antero.  I took this the next day from Princeton.

Antero. I took this the next day from Princeton.

As I mentioned before, Mt Antero is a part of the “highest network of ATV trails in the country” (congratulations, whoever thought wilderness was a good place for that) so you hike up the ATV road pretty much the whole way (and btw, whoever is in charge of trail building, I will learn how to build trails just to build a real trial up Antero; it is insane that nobody’s done it). And it’s just mileage and gain. Mileage and gain. There was some rain on the way in, but not by any means the worst thing that’s ever happened. Because of all the water, though, the rivers were wildly flooded. The first river crossing is so wide that it spread out the extra water and I could still cross at the designated crossing. The second crossing, however, was well above the rocks to cross it. I ended up taking off my shoes and pants to wade across. It was one of the coldest moments of my life (spoiler alert-things get much colder next week). It was maybe 40 degrees and I wasn’t up high yet, I wasn’t about to spend the rest of the mileage in wet pants.

Needs no caption.

Needs no caption.

The rest of the way up was pretty uneventful. When you finally reach the top of the road, you’ve got maybe less than two miles left climbing up the talus field to the summit. It was actually partly sunny for this part.

On the way up the talus field

On the way up the talus field

Arriving on the summit, the view was epic and the clouds, with all the crazy wind, felt like they were on some kind of turbodrive. You know how people build forts on the summits for protection? Someone had built one like a throne looking out to the west. Lu and I stayed there about ten minutes, snacking on trail mix (you know, Whole Foods apparently discontinued my favorite trail mix!? Even more reason to finally make my own. Some day.)

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

At first, it was cloudy and windy on the summit

then, it looked more like this.  Taken from my THRONE atop Mt. Antero while I snacked gloriously on trail mix.

then, it looked more like this. Taken from my THRONE atop Mt. Antero while I snacked gloriously on trail mix.

Then, suddenly, the temperature dropped about ten degrees and the wind picked up. I packed up the trail mix and Lu and I ran off the summit as fast as we could. We made it back to the road, where a nearby smaller peak offered marginal protection, before the storm rolled in. It got dark and wild fast, the wind picked up so much I could lean most of my body weight into it and it took an incredible amount of energy to continue. The precip was what I like to call RAILS. Rain/hail/snow. It was hard and sharp but wet and frozen all at the same time. Things were pretty iffy until we got back to treeline, but honestly the experience (though miserable) made me wonder why I worry so much about storms.

Back below treeline, the precip mostly stopped and the wind was broken by the environment. I saw a herd of mountain goats (picture turned out AWFUL even though they were SO CLOSE) then the sun actually came out eventually for the last bit. I passed a guy on an ATV headed in and he stopped to ask me if I’d been caught in the storm and if I’d seen any mountain goats. He confirmed that he’d seen the same herd the day before, then shared with me that he’s an archer and has a permit for hunting mountain goats. Insert horror/crying here. Hunting mountain goats. Is a thing. Have I mentioned lately how I sometimes question humanity?

Tuesday was serving up Mt. Princeton and I woke up in good spirits, ready to rock. For what I’m pretty sure is the very first time, I was on the trail early enough to see the sunrise.

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

FINALLY I get to see a sunrise.

Princeton is another sob that has no trail of its own until you hike up an insane ATV/Jeep road for miles and miles and miles. (again, who do I talk to about this? I will build the damn trail myself.) Not surprisingly, no traffic on this mountain either. I eventually saw a car pass me with an older couple in it that stopped, got out, and got back in and drove back. They were the only people I’d see for the whole day.

and after the sunrise.  still awfully nice.

and after the sunrise. still awfully nice.

So you finally get on a trail for the last couple miles and it’s all talus from there. I mean miles, and miles, and miles of talus. When you finally see Princeton for the first time, it looks so big and so very, very far away.

so. far. from here.

so. far. from here.


And the thing about talus is, it takes so long to pick through it that it doesn’t feel like you get any closer. This was the theme of the trip. It’s taking forever and the summit is not getting any closer. The weather was turning slowly but surely as I headed up, but after the two storms I’ve been in in the last week or so, I’m honestly not that worried. Unless there’s lightning. The final ascent was a real practice in triumph of the human spirit. Definitely one where I thought I’d rather be doing anything else but this. Just slogging and dragging and misery all the way up. Didn’t spend long up on the summit, the view was…lacking.

check that view!  of...clouds.

check that view! of…clouds.

The talus field on the way down and out didn’t go any faster. It was maybe even slower. Needless to say, I wasn’t in high spirits anymore at this point. However, the trail mix I had with me had peanut butter cups in it. So I had that going for me, which was nice. Making it out of the talus field though….now that was an epic moment. Maybe even better than summiting? Although if I hadn’t summited I wouldn’t have felt so good right then. The whole way down the road I daydreamed about attempting Nolan’s. (if you’re curious…http://www.mattmahoney.net/nolans14/)

On Wednesday, Mark and I were scheduled to go back for the 2 Mosquito Range summits that we had missed back in like May (Lincoln, due to dangerous icy ridge and Democrat due to a cut on Luna’s foot), and back Sherman while were out there. Sherman is the most depressing 14,000ft mountain I’ve ever been on. The trail is an old mining road, the mountain itself is unappealing, and there are no good surrounding views either.

the one and only picture we took on #25, Mt. Sherman

the one and only picture we took on #25, Mt. Sherman

Lincoln and Democrat, however, offered epic views and a little bit of fun.

Summit of Democrat.  I ran up it, collapsed on that rock until mark got up there, and posed like a badass for this picture.

Summit of Democrat. I ran up it, collapsed on that rock until mark got up there, and posed like a badass for this picture.


I'm totally up there.  That's the summit of Mt. lincoln

I’m totally up there. That’s the summit of Mt. lincoln

It had been a long day with the driving, Mt Sherman, more driving, and two more peaks to bag, but we were still keeping it together. There was much discussion of 80’s movies, which made the elevation gain pass faster than anything ever. There were a lot of people out, including a couple different groups of stoners (again, hiking fourteeners is what stoners do in Colorado?! Amazing. I only played the sims back when I smoked pot.) Summiting Democrat felt especially good since it was NUMBER 27.

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

TWENTY SEVEN 14,000+ft SUMMITS IN ONE YEAR

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In anticipation of my birthday next week, and my 28th peak in my 28th year, without further adieu here is the list:

Quandary
Pike’s Peak
Gray’s Peak
Torrey’s Peak
Mt. Evans
Mt. Bierstadt
Mt. of the Holy Cross
La Plata Peak
Mt. Massive
Mt. Elbert
Mt. Oxford
Mt. Belford
Missouri
Huron Peak
Mt. Harvard
Mt. Columbia
Mt. Yale
Mt. Princeton
Mt. Antero
Shavano
Tabegauche
Long’s Peak
Mt. Sherman
Mt. Lincoln
Mt. Democrat
Mt. Cameron
Mt. Bross

#28: CAPITOL PEAK, coming up next week

Collegiates pt ? (progress is progress)

The morning after where we left off, I had just summited Shavano and Tabegauche, and attempted (but failed at) Antero. On the docket today is Yale and Princeton, but I woke up feeling a little beat.

Planned: Mt. Yale (14,196) 9.5mi, 4300ft gain and Mt. Princeton (14,197) 13.25mi and 5400ft gain
Total planned: 22.75mi and 9700ft gain
Actual: Mt Yale 9.5mi and 4300ft gain

I started out actually pretty damn early, so I felt great about that. I wasn’t feeling great in general, however, and the first couple miles were a bit tainted by the idea of rushing this ascent in order to make it to Mt Princeton, ascend, descend, and make it all the way back to Denver in time to teach an 8:30p class. The rushing was much more strenuous than the elevation gain.

Then I had a brilliant epiphany. What if I didn’t do Princeton today? I struggled pretty hard with this decision. I’m already behind on mountains and at this point I had everything scheduled. I considered all of my options in terms of rescheduling. I did my best to justify skipping Princeton. But, ultimately I didn’t want to do it and once I made the decision to summit Yale then go home I felt a big burden being lifted. Part of this process is surpassing what I thought to be my limits, but part of it is understanding why and if I really want to do things.

The rest of Yale went smoothly, I passed several groups and was the first on the summit, then even had it to myself for a while. It was an absolutely gorgeous summit. I made a fast but not rushed descent, stopping to chat with a bunch of people on the way down. There was a girl that asked to take a picture with Lu as if she was her and her boyfriend’s dog…that was weird.

me and my Luna bug, feeling the bigness of summiting Yale.

me and my Luna bug, feeling the bigness of summiting Yale.

On my way home from Buena Vista I spent a long time thinking about my schedule between now and my birthday, to see how I could adjust to add Princeton and Antero. Tomorrow was supposed to be an all day training ride for the planned 82mi ride to Long’s, Long’s ascent, and ride back to Denver that was schedule for next Monday Tuesday. What I realized is, if I wanted to get all the peaks in before my birthday without subbing any classes I’d have to do Long’s tomorrow so there’s time to go back to BV for Antero and Princeton next week.

Wednesday morning I did not want to set an alarm, so I woke up around 8:30 and hung out making breakfast and drinking coffee. I got lost on the way to Long’s after mixing up some highway numbers and ended up starting out from the TH a bit after 11:30. And yeah, there were storms forecasted.

I did not take this.  But I accidentally deleted my picture from this viewpoint of Long's, on the long way in.  I'll go to the right, around the back, and pop up through that notch you can see about 1/3 from the left to climb to the summit.

I did not take this. But I accidentally deleted my picture from this viewpoint of Long’s, on the long way in. I’ll go to the right, around the back, and pop up through that notch you can see about 1/3 from the left to climb to the summit.

I burned in pretty hard and fast, but stopped to talk to a nice old man right before the trail splits toward the lake and the boulderfield. He was headed in to fish until the weather turned, and was highly disturbed that I was starting a summit ascent so late in the day. I tried to explain to him that I know what I’m doing, but he was unconvinced, and asked me if I’ve been on a fourteener before. 🙂

It’s a good long ways to get to the technical part. Even crossing the boulderfield takes ages, winding about then up a talus field to the keyhole that looks much shorter than it actually is. Once you cross through the keyhole to the other side of the mountain, you’re rewarded with epic views and it’s all class 3 from here. The route’s well marked so it moves pretty fast. Long’s Peak is technically a part of Rocky Mountain National Park, and dogs aren’t allowed so I left Lu home for this one so it was nice to enjoy the scrambling without having to keep track of her. I met some clearly very high gentlemen headed down the very steep and technical gully, and I was amazed that Colorado stoners are so motivated as to climb such long and technically difficult routes (14 miles with a good amount of class 3 technical that is mildly dangerous but also takes a pretty long time). The last two guys I saw claimed to be the last heading down from the summit, which would make me alone on the route for quite a while. They estimated 30 minutes to get through “the narrows” then another 40-60 on the final ascent. I was thinking that when I got to the top of the gully I wouldn’t be too far off from the summit, so the rational part of my brain worried slightly about the impending storms…the rest of my brain felt a little too excited.

from the keyhole

from the keyhole

Turns out, the two guys that gave me the time estimates (who appeared to be competent climbers themselves) were either very slow themselves or had highly underestimated me and given me an inflated time to the summit, because 30 minutes later I was standing on it, confused as all get out, trying to figure out how I ended up there so quickly, and if it was possible that I was not, in fact, on the summit. But I found the metal seal and the capsule containing the register so I knew I was there. I took some pictures then headed down, hoping to make it through the technical before getting rained on.

coloradical

coloradical

I made it to the top of the gully where I’d be downclimbing before traversing that class 3 west ridge again when it started hailing. And I wasn’t scared. Maybe I should’ve been. I moved as quickly as possible coming down the now hail-covered slippery rock, feeling like a kid out playing in the rain.

I didn't take this either, and I don't know these people.  But I stupidly deleted almost all of my pictures of the sweet route I was on to clear up memory for a later trip, you'll hear about soon

I didn’t take this either, and I don’t know these people. But I stupidly deleted almost all of my pictures of the sweet route I was on to clear up memory for a later trip, you’ll hear about soon

After getting back to the keyhole and crossing over to the east side again the storm was gone and I ran the whole way back fast and dirty, hoping to have time to catch some dinner in Boulder before I had to be at the search and rescue meeting. (victory). 14.5mi, 5100ft gain

Collegiates: two days of peakbagging, day 1

Day one served up three mountains: Belford (14,197), Oxford (14,153), and Missouri (14,067).

Total elevation gain and loss: 10,800ft
Total mileage: 17.5miles

On this trip, I took fewer pictures but made a couple videos. LMK what you think of this format!

We got an early-ish start. Ultimately, I was up later than planned packing and writing route directions out and I didn’t want to start this on no sleep, so I set the alarm a little later than originally intended. Then we got stuck in the blasting traffic near Idaho Springs. Belford went off without a hitch. There were storms forecasted for noonish, about 60% chance I think, so I was watching the sky pretty fervently and it was going back and forth between sunny and ominous all morning. A group that summited right after I did had been planning the Belford/Oxford double and called it due to the foreboding weather in the distance. Not enough for me to give it up on a day like this though! Lu and I headed down from Belford to the Southeast, on a low saddle that would provide a lot of cover should the weather turn quickly. Otherwise, both of these mountains were relatively barren. It was so windy, but the weather was holding.

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

Lu on the summit of Belford, looking out over the Collegiate Wildnerness (like a boss)

We nearly got blown off of Oxford, and headed back down immediately to cross the saddle and head for Elkhard Pass. We would be taking a south ridge off of Belford to head towards the pass and to Missouri. The whole thing was very straightforward, and when we reached the pass there was a faint trail up a shoulder towards Missouri. Assuming this was the standard route that I was headed for, we took it.

Doesn't look so bad just yet

Doesn’t look so bad just yet

It turned class 3 very quickly, but I was undeterred, thinking it was just misclassified and Luna was fine. Then, just as we were approaching the final ascent to the summit ridge, it turned very much class 4. I was having a good time navigating this and still in good spirits, but Lu was getting stuck a lot, to the point that helping her was getting dangerous, and the last pitch was going to be impossible for her. I really wanted to give it a go, and even though she was right at the bottom I didn’t want to risk anything by not being able to get to her if something happened. So we descended the crazy ridge to look for the real route up Missouri. We lost a lot of elevation, but found the route and it was much simpler. It really didn’t take very long to get up all the switchbacks. As we approached the summit ridge (from the other direction) the storm clouds were coming in hot and we ran to the summit, tapped it, and headed back down as quick as possible.

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it.  The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

This is actually from the ridge next to the summit, which currently has a terrifying storm cloud right over it. The rest of the ridge was surprisingly sunny, so I stopped to take this real quick

It didn’t start raining until our last 4ish miles, which was pretty miraculous. By the time we set up camp near the Huron Peak trailhead, it had mostly stopped raining. I even got a fire started on damp wood, which I was pretty proud of. Realized I didn’t have a can opener and haven’t replaced my lost multi tool yet so we were SOL with the baked beans I brought. More PB&J. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and fell right asleep around 7:30pm.

Up next: three more fourteeners and much more mileage is on my plate for day 2!

Mt. of the Holy Cross (hiking alone)

Important things that you think about on long solo hikes: we say depth instead of deepness…but steepness instead of stepth. WHY!?!? I could probably find out why now that I’m home and have access to the internet, but I spent hours considering this serious problem on the trail.

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

This was actually at the end of the hike, looking cool

I do love hiking with friends; people I knew before and some that I meet along the way. Casual conversation helps ease the steepness, helps you keep pace, pass the time, and especially not lose hope when the going gets rough (like miles of snowmelt flooded willows as you’re losing light). But there is something special about facing all of it alone from time to time.

The Mt. of the Holy Cross (elevation 14,003ft) starts off with a good amount of gain pretty quickly, in fact you hit treeline before you make it to Half Moon Pass in the first couple miles. At the top of the pass, two things happen: sweeping, epic views of MTOTHC, and now the trail heads steeply down (and loses not only all of the elevation you gained, but maybe even a little more).

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

The view of MtOTHC from Half Moon Pass

At this point, the weather was pretty ominous. I was getting a later start than I planned (hit the TH at 8a) and I heard it was a good thing-it rained and hailed until about 7a, maybe a little later than that on the summit. It was still looking pretty dark up there as I descended Half Moon Pass and headed for the river crossing that would lead me to the ascent.

A big descent early in the hike is a bummer for so many reasons-you lose what you’ve already gained, you realize you’re going to have to gain it all back again (and then a lot more), and most importantly, the out-hike is going to have a long ascent on it when you’re already exhausted. And we all know, the main rule of hiking is, the way out always feels much, much longer than it actually is.

The main ascent was what I’d like to call arduous. I was in a hit-it-and-quit-it mood because of the weather, and because I had to be back in Denver by 5p to teach class at 6. So I burned up that mountain like a…I’ll have to come back and insert a clever simile here. Anyway, there weren’t a whole lot of hikers out, I came across two heading town that gave me weather reports from the summit (hail) but optimism as well-“the clouds are moving quick”. In total I think I saw 7 people (even though there were at least 20 cars at the TH-where were they??).

At the top of the ridge that leads to the final, the trail evens out for a bit, providing a break (although the trail is all small, loose rock, so is it really a break?) I had a good view of the final and the summit for a while (good news: the weather cleared, bad news: I thought it looked far and rough-with no conversation to distract you, that’s a fun mental game). Starting to attack the trail quickly gets lost and things get technical and scrambly very quickly. Luna was rock hopping, as usual (and, as usual, I think all 7 people on that mountain commented on her epic capabilities, grace, stamina, agility…), and I really wasn’t fairing poorly. I was rocking my trail shoes instead of boots, which has become my norm for summer hikes, and I passed a group of 3 older gentlemen who were shocked to see someone in tennis shoes (they don’t even UNDERSTAND about trail shoes, yo) and assumed my feet were pretty torn up. I told them not to worry about it, this is my 9th summit this year in these shoes and my feet feel great 😉

Rock Hopper

Rock Hopper

Because of all the losing-the-trail confusion (made even more fun by the cairn game-found a cairn, but where’s the trail?) and rock hopping fun, I hit the summit in no time at all and was shocked to realize that was it. The clouds had even broken and we had a few sunny minutes on the summit before I decided to roll.

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

Luna #caninebadass enjoying the summit sweetness

The descent was fast and dirty. We even ran part of it, trying to get out as quick as possible. Well, I ran part of it. Lu ran the whole thing and then some. I made a mental note about getting Lu sponsored as a #caninebadass endurance athlete.

Do you see that mid-jump!?

Do you see that mid-jump!?

The clouds rolled back in as we were approaching that hellish up-hill back to Half Moon Pass, and it started to rain. NBD, we were already safely into the woods. McDonald’s fries and Coke for fuel down! Back in Denver just in time to teach my 6pm class and head to the climbing gym for 3 hours! (fun new fact about climbing: climbers are not only super friendly, but pretty lazy. Initially I was only lasting about 45 minutes at the gym because I just climbed non-stop…until I found out that protocol is this: you climb a route, you sit down with the other climbers, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. Then someone else climbs a route, sits back down, and everyone talks about it for 5 minutes. It’s awesome! Definitely the most welcoming community to any sport I’ve become a part of.)