Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quandary West Ridge

We drove from Amarillo, TX and made it up the Blue Lakes road all the way to the dam Thursday night. We cooked dinner and called it a night. We started hiking Friday morning at about 7. We followed what seemed like the path of less resistance across patches of knee deep snow. The trail was very difficult to follow but there were patches which were discernible. 

We continued up to the saddle of Quandary and Fletcher tending toward the North side of the basin trying to stay on rock patches which protruded from the deep snow. We left our snow shoes in the car and never regretted it. (we were able to stay on rock about 80% of the time though with some difficulty) 

We started climbing the West Ridge and made it past the first 2nd/3rd class section with little trouble. We did run into some sections a bit harder than this since we forgot all our West Ridge beta in the car and only had a general map of Quandary. Though this scramble was difficult we never felt the need to put on crampons since it wasn't that hard and any snow was too soft anyway. 

We continued past the easy 1st class bit to the false summit. This was quite disheartening because we thought we were done with the scrambling sections. (Neither of us had fully read the route description before the climb, rookie mistake #2) From the false summit we could see the long 3rd class sections to the actual summit.

We started climbing, downclimbing, and traversing up, down, and around the various spires on the route. We both felt like there were a few 4th class sections through we may have gone slightly of route since we were lacking beta. We each climbed with one BD Venom and left the matching axe in the pack the entire route. There were many sketchy mixed sections which were very exposed. After a particularly difficult section I whipped out my iPhone and found enough reception to pull up 14ers and the route description. 

We stayed on route the rest of the way, and climbed through the "crux" sections which weren't bad at all compared to some of the other stuff we did. After the last crux wall we continued to the summit.  

We reached the top at about 4:45. After a few summit shots we discussed our descent route. We didn't know exactly where Cristo Coulior was so we opted to just descend the East Ridge and hike the road back to the car. 

After a lot of hiking down, we made it the jeep at about 8. After eating we went to sleep. We woke the next morning at 7 as cars stared rolling in with about 12 climbers heading up the Cristo Coulior. We drove back to Amarillo after a great trip climbing an exciting ridge in the snow. 

Gray October

Dad and I decided to drive up to Boulder to try on new boots at Neptune Mountaineering. So that's exactly what we did. After spending a few hours trying on boots, we called it a day once our fingers were bleeding from pulling tight the laces of many different boots. We ate dinner at Half Fast Subs (the best Philly cheesesteak in the world, including in Philly). We drove into the mountains on I-70 and spent the night at a hotel in Georgetown just a few miles from the road to Grays peak.

We woke early the next morning and headed up the snow covered road. Once we got to the trailhead, the wind was blowing quite hard and the temperature was still lacking the warmth of the sun. Nevertheless, we packed our gear and started walking. Only a few minutes later we took a break to whip out the crampons.

The wind really started blowing, and the temperature stayed constantly freezing. Visibility was also quite low. I even had to place my water bottle in my jacket to keep it from freezing in my pack. We battled the cold wind and fought on through some pretty deep snow drifts. We climbed and climbed. After many hours of climbing we realized that we wouldn't have enough time to reach the summit, descend to the car, and make the long 9hr drive home before 12'oclock. Even though we were at about 13,800ft the deep snow and gale force (probably 70mph gusts) were making progress quite slow. So we called it a good trip and turned around.

On the way down we met many groups of climbers and several of them turned around shortly after we did. Though we were not able to make it to the summit we had a great time fighting the wind and exploring a beautiful piece of God's earth which was made even more beautiful by the presence of snow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The End of The Beginning

Well I'm lying here on my bed, just like I was when writing my first posta, the beginning of the school year awaiting me on the other side of the pillow. This Alpine Summer of 2010 has been quite adventurous an very grand. Though it didn't go exactly as planned, in every way it was a spectacular summer and I wouldn't trade its memories for the world. The adventure doesn't stop here. Many weekend trips to the mountains await along with the school semesters and many great times are certain to come.

Here are some of the pictures which I think best sum up these past summer months.

The Inauguration of Summer

The Ceniza Trip

Sandia Sweetness

The Grand Excursion
The Little Bear

The Wichita Roast
The Second Roasting of the Witchitas
The Durango Train Trek
The Beaver Pond Haul

The winter season is almost upon us along with all of its skiing, mountaineering, and climbing opportunities. What shall this white canvas of opportunity become? Only time will tell as the Winter Season '11 begins.

The Beaver Pond Haul

Five AM Friday morning my alarm sounded. I woke that early to have time to pack and pick up coffee at Roasters when they opened at 6. I went ahead and picked up donut stop on the way and went across the street to pick up our coffee. Graham was working so I said hi to him and made my way to pick up Cory 15 min ahead of schedule.  I helped Cory pack and we stopped at donut stop again to pick up some apple fritters and a cake donut (the first Donut Stop hadn't made any yet). After that, Cory took the wheel and we were on our way to the great state of Colorado. 

Out rather ambitious goal for this trip was to climb Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. Though the climbing isn't too difficult, climbing Vestal is a serious undertaking since the peak is over 10 miles from any road. 

Unfortunately, most of the drive to Silverton, CO is in the not so great state of New Mexico. A few hours outside of Albuquerque near Aztec, we spotted a cop coming toward us, and a quick check of the speedometer revealed that we were speeding a bit (it was going down a hill and we weren't going that much faster than the speed of the traffic). Much to our dismay, we saw the cop turn around to pursue lights blazing. Cory got a ticket (only $75 fortunately) and we were once again on our way. 

We drove through Durango and headed up the road towards Silverton. We reached our trail head at Molas Pass and were on the Colorado Trail at about 3:15. We knew we had about 10 miles to go before dark so we started down the 2000ft of switchbacks to the Durango Train train tracks at the base of the valley. We ran into a couple groups of people, and even a couple of guys who had been hiking the Colorado Trail from Denver for the past month. 

We reached the train tracks and spent at least 15min picking handfuls of scrumptious wild raspberries. We heard a noise coming from further up the train track and we watched as about 20 train service cars passed by on their way to do something. We started hiking up Elk Creek still following the Colorado Trail. After about 20min we were able to look down on the train car workers who were busy repairing something on the track. 

We kept hiking and hiking up the moderately steep trail and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on either side of the creek. We continued up until we powered through a steep hill which lasted for almost half a mile. Up up and up we hiked until we came to a beautiful pond at about 6:45 with reflections of the beautiful peaks all around. We took this opportunity to eat a bite. We could see Vestal Peak off to our right and we feared that we had missed the side trail leading to it's Basin. We decided to keep pressing on and if we missed the trail then we'd just spend the night someplace and call it awesome. After a few minutes it became clear that the trail to Vestal Basin was somewhere behind us. So we decided to go to the trouble of getting our beta papers out of my pack to see where we should have gone. Apparently, the trail skirted around the edge of the small beaver pond. We found the trail, now realizing that it was far too late to proceed any farther that day.  We knew that this thwarted all our hopes of climbing Wham Ridge the next day. 

We pitched camp and enjoyed the absolutely magnificent sunset views as well as Vestal Peak which light up a beautiful shade of orange. We decided that we had already had a great trip and that trying to get home pretty early the next day sounded like a good option compared to hiking into Vestal Basin just to look around.  So we ate dinner and fell asleep watching Mission Impossible 3. 

We woke up to our alarm at 6 and began packing our gear. We probably started hiking down at about 6:30. We hiked quickly down over 1000 vertical feet to the train tracks at 8:30.  We picked up a few raspberries, but quickly began making our way up the 35 switchbacks to the meadows 2000ft above. We blasted through this section and reached the jeep at 10:30 all in all having hiked over 16miles with 3300ft of elevation gain and loss. 

We hopped in the car and started driving toward Durango. About 10min later we ran into a cop who told who was telling everyone to turn around. Confused, we continued around the corner until we could make use of the pullout. It was at this point that we saw why we needed to turn, a truck with a camper shell was on fire and we watched as the inferno blazed forth from the windshield and windows. 

We turned around and decided to go into Silverton to eat lunch. On the way, we were passed by the firetruck so we knew the pass wouldn't be blocked for long. We used Yelp to find a good restraunt. We ordered a pizza and I killed 6 flies. Five of which were sandwiched in between the plastic open sign and the window. We drank Durango rootbear and were quickly on our way. 

The truck fire had been extinguished and we were able to drive back to Durango, windows down letting Colorado in for as long as possible. After filling up we kept going and rolled up the windows in NM to avoid contaminating our precious CO air. Then we drove back. The end. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Second Durango Train Trek

At 5am Sunday morning, my father and I woke up to drive the short 9hrs to Silverton, CO.  We tried our best to drive hastily because we had to catch the 2:45 narrow gauge train towards Durango. We switched drivers just before we reached Durango and I got to drive the scenic stretch of road to Silverton. 

We pulled into the ticket station just before 2 and purchased out round trip tickets for backcountry access to the Needleton stop. We left the car and carried our packs the few blocks to the train stop. Right on time, we were able to load our packs into the boxcar just as everyone was boarding. 

The train ride was pretty uneventful and we both ended up sleeping most of the way. At about 3:45 the train made it's stop at Needleton and we unloaded our gear along with a foreign looking couple. Our seats were quickly filled by about 20 backpackers/climbers taking the train to Durango. As the train left we noticed one of the climbers had left a xl butane fuel canister. I seized the opportunity and hid it for retrieval on the way out as it was almost full and worth about $10. 

We crossed the well built suspension bridge over the raging river. Though our packs weren't exactly light, we hiked the six miles to Chicago Basin briskly to avoid having to walk in the dark. Nothing of much interest transpired during this time except that it started raining rather heavily and we found many wild raspberries and strawberries. Fortunately, it stopped raining before we reached the basin and our campsite. We pitched our tent and fired up the jetboil. Dad was rather impressed when I was able to hang the jetboil inside the tent. We set the alarm for 4am and quickly fell under the entrapment of a goodnights sleep. 

We woke up and started hiking, the sky was leaking a bit at that point, but overall it seemed like it should be a great day. We hiked to the tree line and started up the steep switchbacks to twin lakes. Across the basin, we spotted the headlamps of at least 5 backpackers just under Columbine Pass. I wonder if they made the same mistake we did last year and headed toward the pass rather than taking the left trail split to Twin Lakes. 

By the time we reached the first twin lake a heavy fog began to settle over the high peaks. We veered back left along the trail to Mt. Eolus. After about 30min we were consumed by the dense fog. Navigation was difficult as we could only see 100ft ahead at any time. Never the less, we located the ramp across the steep slabs, a key landmark giving access to the ridge higher up. We hiked along the broken trail following cairns until we reached the ridge at a notch. At the time, we weren't exactly sure where we were, but we could discern the peak of a mountain up the ridge to our right while the narrow and exposed ridge left of us disappeared into the mist. We headed up the ridge to our right as I suspected that it was N. Eolus. A few minutes alter we reached the summit and the USGS marker on top confirmed my suspicion. That meant that we would then have to traverse across the ridge deemed "the catwalk" with extremely low visibility.

The ridge was fairly easy and there were only a few sections narrower than a sidewalk. The scariest part was that, due to the fog, we had no idea how far the drop to either side was. We finished crossing the ridge and began scrambling up the steep 3rd class slope to the summit somewhere above. I couldn't see how much farther we had so I figured as long as we kept climbing we'd get there eventually. After a while, we opted toward the ridge rather then the main slope, the climbing difficult enough that we left our trekking poles at the bottom. IMO, this was the best part as it had many sections of 4th class moves on solid rock. Eventually we reached the small summit at about 11:30 and took turns climbing onto the summit boulder. The view, which we expected to be a lovely shade of fog, opened up and after 15min or so we had an almost complete summit panorama looking out over the beautiful expanse of the Weminuche Wilderness. 

We descended down, route finding now much easier due to the lack of fog. We hiked down to Twin Lakes and down the steep switchbacks to reach our camp at about 2. We spent the rest of the day napping and enjoying sun filled valley next to the beautiful spring fed stream. 

We ate dinner at about 7:30 and watched Phelam 123 on dad's iPhone before falling asleep. We woke up at 7 to ensure that we made it down to catch the 11:30 train back to Silverton. We took our time and enjoyed the wild strawberries and raspberries all the way back to the train stop. I collected the salvaged fuel canister and we waited about an hour watching deleted scenes from The Office. 

Just before the train came I climbed to the top of one of the bridge's support towers to try to get a good picture of the train as it pulled up. The tourists on board waved and took pictures of me as I quickly climbed down the tower and picked up my pack. We watched at least 20 backpackers get off to hike up to Chicago Basin. I guess most people like to ride the train from Durango rather than Silverton. The ride back went quickly and aside from seeing a black bear, was pretty bland. We unloaded in Silverton at about 12:30 and I took the keys to drive back to Durango where we ate at Jean Pierre's French Bakery, our favorite eatery in Durango which I highly recommend (try the French Dip, it's awesome). After our late lunch we hit the road and drove home to good old Amarillo. 

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I love life and aspire to be all I can be in everything that I do.