Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Grand Excursion

We have spent months planning, preparing, and packing for this trip and now our summer fantasy has become a reality. The trip really started at 10 Sunday evening when we picked up Casey’s Excursion and gave him the keys to the Jeep Wrangler. We left at noon on Monday and made a stop in Dalhart for gas. We decided to check the oil since Casey had recently changed it. Cory retraced the dip stick which had hardly a trace of oil on the tip. Luckily, a Napa Auto Parts store provided the perfect opportunity to pick up some oil. We bought a four quart jug, expecting to have a lot left over to give to Casey, but were very surprised when the engine took all four quarts perfectly. Good thing we decided to check it!

After that, our drive went well and was pretty uneventful. We ate at the Subway in Raton due to the necessity of tradition and went to REI in Colorado Springs. Apparently, Colorado has been hit by massive rain storms over the last two weeks, making the drive to Denver absolutely beautiful. The exception was the car that decided a semi was part of the road on an overpass. 
We continued to Denver and hit I-70W toward Bakersville where we drove up the familiar dirt road to the trailhead of Grays and Torreys peak. A quick cup of Raman noodles later and we were asleep in the back of the truck.

We woke up at 5:30 and were on the trail by 6:30 toward Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak. We reached the base of the massive couloir and started up. Once the sun rose the temperature skyrocketed causing the entire couloir to erupt into a massive furnace. We stripped down to our base layers and continued climbing. The snow was very slushy and at times it was quite difficult to gain stable footing in the soft/slushy snow. We stayed on the left side of the couloir to avoid snow falls which were flying down the couloir. Half way up we watched a small avalanche slide down the couloir to our right. We were well out of the way and it wasn’t big enough to have taken anyone if they had been caught in it. We decided care was necessary and kept treading toward the left side of the couloir. 

The climbing became steeper and we continued climbing toward the top, very thankful that we each had two ice axes. We reached the top of Kelso ridge and followed it to the summit of Torreys. We snapped some mandatory summit shots and called home with full cell service. We descended to the Grays/Torreys saddle and located the top of the glissade. Since we did that glissade last year when we climbed Grays, we were able to slide down the mountain at light speed using our ice axes to maintain control. We hiked back to the trail and made it to the car about an hour later. 

We drove into Denver and met Cory’s friend Sam and his girlfriend Keila at Pho 95 which is an awesome Vietnamese Pho restaurant. After a hearty meal we followed Sam back to his apartment to refill our water bottles and print some beta for climbing at Lumpy Ridge. After a bit Sam persuaded us to come get some boba tea with him and Keila. We had no clue what we were getting into when we pulled up to the tea shop but we went in and were given some confidence when a customer in the shop  slurped up a drink resembling a milkshake. The drink tastes a bit strange at first and is especially strange when you get your first boba which is made of tapioca and is really gummy and chewy. We sat out on the curb and finished our drinks while enjoying the perfect Denver night air. 
We parted ways and headed towards Nederland to a campsite we discovered last year. An hour later we pulled into the campsite but were greatly displeased when all of the sites were full of campers taking our spot. We decided to continue further along the mountain road towards Estes Park, thinking that we could surely find some place to pull of the road and rest our exhausted bodies. We couldn’t find anything and it was getting late. Finally we saw a sign for some sort of park or something and signs talking about Pawnee campground. We turned onto the small road and followed it for 15 min when we reached a sign saying, “Pawnee campground closed for the season.” Not a good sign. We went back down the road passing many signs which said “no camping.” We reached the highway and followed it until we found a legitimate campground about 30 min later. The fee for camping was a whopping $17, but we had to sleep. So we scrambled together $16.35 and called it awesome. 

Wednesday was scheduled to be a rest day, so we took the opportunity to sleep in. Once we woke up we walked around the grounds and were pleasantly surprised to find that this was a pretty nice campground with great views of snow capped peaks above. We followed our Mountainproject directions to Lumpy Ridge and found it with few problems. On the way, we were amazed by the incredible view of the Longs Peak Diamond. The views around Estes are amazing and the hike to our climb in Lumpy Ridge was reminiscent of Yosemite. Beautiful alpine meadows cut by pristine creeks cowered beneath the rugged, snow capped peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Lumpy Ridge itself is the most beautiful crag either of us have ever climbed in. 

The trail to our climb skirted beneath Lumpy Ridge and along the edge of beautiful RMNP meadows for about two miles. Coincidentally, we ran into a lady who was headed to meet the rest of her family at the same climb we were going to. So we walked with her and together tried to find it. We got a little lost but saw several groups of climbers having a great day climbing. We talked to a few guys who had just climbed the 5.8 first pitch of Fats City 5.10c. The climb looked cool so we racked up just as a couple climbers reached the base, planning to climb the whole route. Because of this, we climbed quickly and just as I was on rappel the leader of their group was reaching the belay. We rapped off just as the weather began to sprinkle and hiked out, enjoying the beautiful views of Lumpy Ridge and Rocky Mountain National Park. 

We found a local coffee shop and spent the rest of the day studying beta for Longs peak.
We found a great campsite just a few minutes down the road from the Longs Peak ranger and called it a day.

We woke up at 8 to be sure we could pick up our backcountry permit at the ranger station. We got the permit and the ranger on duty was very helpful in showing us beta for our climb and the best places to bivy near Chasm Lake. He also warned us about severe wind conditions on the mountain which were nearing 100mph that day and were forecasted to reach 50mph during the next two days. Confident that the winds would die down, we packed gear and prepared to hit the strenuous trail to Chasm Lake. Just as we were leaving the truck, the ranger approached us with the great news that the severe wind advisory had been lifted for the area. 

We started up the steep terrain, very happy that our gear for three days of climbing only weighed 90lbs between us. Our progress to the lake was steady and rapid considering our heavy packs. We took some great pictures of the Diamond and met a nice guy from Kansas. He hiked with us to the lake and was kind enough to take our picture. We scrambled around the right side of the frozen lake and found a well developed bivy site called the Hilton. Because it was mostly filled with a snow drift, we had to expand the walls to be able to fit the two of us. We went to bed before sunset and set our alarms for 4:30 giving us plenty of time to climb the Kieners Route

We woke up but after listening to the wind, decided to save Kieners for the next day and climb the Flying Dutchman Couloir later in the day. We went back to sleep until we woke up at about 8 at which point some park rangers came by. After talking to them for a few minutes, we packed our gear and started toward the couloir at 9. We began climbing the steep couloir covered with near perfect crampon snow. Once we got in a rhythm, we quickly made it to the base of the mixed crux. Though the crux was only 60 degrees, we decided to rope up for the 30ft section of rock and ice. We climbed up the rocky left side then traversed right until reaching a good belay stance. We packed the rope and ascended the final 300ft of the couloir to the Loft--the saddle between Long’s Peak and Mt. Meeker

Standing just 500ft below the summit of Meeker, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bag such a beautiful peak. We found the trail and scrambled up to the summit ridge. As we neared the top of the ridge, the wind picked up making it very difficult to scramble the last 150ft across to the small, blocky summit. We took some pictures and descended back to the Loft. Though we had originally planned to descend Lamb’s Slide, descending the Loft route promised to be much easier even thought we only had a feint idea of where the actual trail should be. We followed some cairns down to the Loft’s descent gully and glissaded nearly a thousand to the bottom of the Mills Moraine. 
We hiked back over to Chasm Lake and decided to try skirting around the snow slope on the left side of the lake. This worked well even though there were times when we were forced to walk along the edge of the frozen lake which was obviously melting. The cracks all over the lake were not reassuring. We safely made it back to our bivy site by about four o’clock and laid around the rest of the day.  We prepared dinner and set our alarms for 4:30 to get a good start on the Kieners Route. After watching The Jungle Book on Jeremy’s iPod we began producing z’s. While we were counting sheep, some stupid marmots decided they wanted something to eat. Not 2ft from our heads they ate a hat and the cork of some trekking poles. During the rest of the trip, we tried to give them all, "death by flying rock" but were un-sucessful. Though we both hit them on several occasions. 
Our alarms sounded and we forced ourselves to wake up out of our deep slumber.  We quickly packed up our gear and headed up Mill’s glacier to the base of Lamb’s Slide. We took a minute to put on our crampons and met a team of three climbers planning to climb the Notch Couloir. We started ascending Lamb’s Slide and stayed about 600ft ahead of the other group. We reached Broadway Ledge and pulled the rope out to simul-climb across the ledge to the base of Kieners. Thinking the route would be mostly rock, we stashed our crampons just to pull them out again once we traversed around the corner to see the entire ledge full of snow. We took our time and carefully shuffled across the small ledge about a thousand feet above the ground. Along the way we found a .5 Camalot with a DMM biner that someone had left for us to receive as booty. We decided to gamble for it at a later point in time to see who gets it. As we reached the edge of the Notch Couloir, we watched grapefruit sized chunks of ice fire down the shoot, across Broadway Ledge, and down the remaining 1000ft to the ground. After seeing this scary sight, we quickly traversed under the Notch Couloir to the base of the Kieners Route, very grateful we were wearing our helmets. 

We flaked the rope and climbed the 5.5 chimney to the old belay piton. The chimney made and unexpected right turn near its end at which point it was full of snow and ice. We climbed through, and after another short pitch of rock climbing,  finished the crux of the entire route. From then on the fastest way to get off the mountain was to climb to the top and descend an easier route. The remaining 1000ft of third and fourth class scrambling was covered in slushy snow, so we decided to keep pitching out the route until we felt safe to un-rope. Pitch after pitch we continued climbing up the steep rock and snow, carefully avoiding crevasses which formed along the bases of small waterfalls. We both ran out of water and were forced to eat snow and slurp melt water which was flowing down the rocks. We watched clouds form and come very close to the face of the Diamond, but just before they ventured above Chasm Lake, they shifted direction giving us clear skies to complete our ascent. We kept climbing toward the summit, each pitch getting us just a little bit closer to the top. We reached the base of the Staircase and after a few pitches, skirted around to the actual face of the Diamond, about 2000ft above the ground. The remaining 300ft was snow free, so we were finally able to pack the rope and scramble up the easy third class terrain. 

We reached the summit at 6:40 and took the mandatory summit shots. We opted to not descend the Cables Route, which would have required two rappels to reach the boulder field to descend Camel Gulley to Chasm Lake. Instead, we decided to descend the much easier, but much longer, Keyhole route. We followed the spray-painted route markers along the third-class backside of Longs. We scrambled down as fast as we could and reached the Keyhole atop the boulder field at 9, just as the last rays of sunlight illuminated the rest of the trail. Once it was too dark to see any further, we pulled out our headlamps and followed cairns across the boulder field for about and hour. We ate our remaining bits of food and were finally able to refill our water bottles at a small stream. 
 We continued followed cairns until the trail became much more obvious. Now it was just a matter of time before we were back to our campsite. The trail went on and on and we both began planning what we were going to eat once we got down the mountain. We each had a pack of Ramen noodles waiting for us back at our camp and we couldn’t wait to dig into them. As we neared the lake, we saw a climber’s headlamp high on Broadway Ledge. We wondered who it might be and if they were going to have to bivy or not. We finally reached the lake and scrambled along the right side. By that point, the climber on Broadway had descended Lamb’s Slide and was nearing the scramble around the lake. 
Half way across we met the lone climber who was just out for a fun evening of night hiking. We scrambled the last stretch to our bivy and started making our ramen noodles at 1:30. After a long nineteen hours of climbing we were finally able to eat a solid meal and get some much needed sleep. We now know why they call it “Longs Peak.”
We slept in and started the long hike back to the Ranger Station. On the way down, a stupid, fat marmot scurried across the trail. Jeremy came a few inches shy of spearing one with a trekking pole. Just before we reached the tree line, we ran into the Rangers we had seen a few days before and talked with them for a few minutes. After we asked them where to find the best pizza in Estes, we were on our way. Rain clouds began to form and we were very thankful to be heading down the mountain. We miserably hiked the last three miles to the truck and were finally able to exchange our boots and heavy packs for chacos and clean clothes. We both realized that if Long’s was still covered in snow then the Grand Teton (500mi north) would have even more snow and would be un-climbable at this point in the season. 

We found the wrong pizza place which wasn’t very good. We went back to Coffee on the Rocks and sat around for the better part of the day enjoying the coffee, but mostly just enjoying being off the mountain. Cory called Sam and we made plans to go with him and Keila to see Toy Story 3 at the IMAX. We said goodbye to Estes Park and drove to Sam’s place where we took some much needed showers before we headed to the movies. After the movie we spent the night at Sam’s. We discussed what the rest of our trip should look like and decided to defiantly bail on the idea of climbing the Grand this season. Exhausted, and with no desire to climb anything, we decided to call the trip awesome and head back to good old Amarillo. 
Though we didn’t get to climb the Grand, we successfully climbed everything else we had planned and more. We may have finished the trip a week early, but it was still grand trip--spent exploring the alpine peaks of the Colorado Rockies. 

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