Archive for the ‘rockies’ Tag

Summer of 14ers, 2016

My slow path towards summiting the Colorado 14ers continues. I have to admit that I burned out a bit on the driving and hiking, and pretty much stopped after August. This year’s peaks were mostly in the Sawatch Range, the bread and butter of the 14ers. They’re all about the same, with the exception of the Harvard / Columbia combo, which was the near-disastrous finale of the set. I failed to find a regular partner for the hikes, overall, so most of these were solo efforts.

My season started with a late June ascent of Mt. Princeton, which is normally a long slog from the bottom. But after starting on the trail nice and early before sunrise, I caught a ride in the back of a truck. This took me well beyond the radio towers to a spot about a quarter mile from where the trail leaves the road and heads off towards the peak. It’s an endless talus field, and not a lot of fun to hike, but as always, the view and accomplishment make it worth it. So the elevation gain was a very reasonable 3000′ or so, including my detour up the nearby 13er Tigger and back down to the trail, where another fellow gave me a ride back down.

Across from Mt. Princeton is the imposing Mt. Antero, which I hiked the following week. This was another uninspiring hike, and this time I didn’t catch a ride up, so I was stuck hiking the entire 15-16 mile round trip. 90 % of it is a road, with the last part a scramble up to the peak. This peak sees a lot of gem hunters and ATV traffic, which somewhat diminishes the experience. But the wildflowers were blooming and the lower stretches were very green. The peak really is one of the most beautiful in the Sawatch, burly with a delicate pointed summit, but the natural environment is looking rather worn out from all the human activity.

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Antero

I moved over to the Elks the following week, and made yet another trip up Castle Peak, this time taking the ridge further over to the summit of Conundrum. This was made a bit easier by a driver who gave me a ride uphill, saving me about 500′ of elevation gain and a bit of distance. But the talus fields were pretty awful, and there was the usual scrambling to the summit of Castle. This time I had the energy to continue, and then re-summit Castle, and the weather was clear the entire day, thankfully.

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

The headwall and Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

My next two were Massive and La Plata back in the Sawatch. Neither was too busy on the days I hiked them, although the trailhead for Massive is shared with the one for Elbert, making for a very congested, noisy, and dusty start. That area gets a massive amount of people, but it looked like about 80 % of them were headed for the Elbert summit. The trail to Massive is just rather long, with a long section above 14000′ that continues well past the summit. I was intending on going up South Massive, but somehow looking at the climb back up, detracted me. I was also seriously low on energy.

La Plata is much like Elbert, a relatively short 9 mile round trip with lots of scenery and green valleys and endless switchbacks. It’s flat for the first mile, then really climbs.

Further south, Missouri Mountain is slightly spicier than the other ones in the vicinity, with a rather wet, slippery downclimb near the summit that required some care. Since it snowed just before, there was a fair amount of icy spots, but the weather was pretty stable. Overall, it was a cool August with early snow.

I attempted the Wilson group next, which was a long drive to the isolated trailhead in Kilpacker Basin. I slept in my car, and started up the very scenic trail. It’s one of the prettiest trails I hiked this year, and was full of wildflowers and greenery and had a bonus waterfall before the climbing began in earnest. I had enough energy for El Diente, which was a pretty extended and thrilling, exposed Class 3 climb to a tiny summit. Wisely, I hooked up with another hiker who was on his own and we took turns on the routefinding and was able to navigate up to the summit. It’s sparingly marked and easy to get lost, and a step up in difficulty compared to my climb of Wetterhorn last year. Going down was no fun, with lots and lots of talus. The remaining peaks in the area will have to wait, so that means another long drive next year for Wilson Peak and Mt. Wilson.

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

Kilpacker Basin and El Diente Peak

The next two were in the Sangres, two peaks with major elevation gain, Blanca and Challenger Point. I wanted to go up Ellingwood and Kit Carson, but my energy didn’t permit it, and the weather on Kit Carson was made more difficult by fog and snow on the Avenue. Blanca turned out to be a monster, since I started just below the 8000′ level and walked up the whole damn thing. The last part of Blanca was a steep, slippery slope with a few tricky Class 2+ sections. Challenger Point was an awful climb past the very beautiful and very blue Willow Lake, pretty much 2000′ of loose crap with no real trail. It was foggy at the top, but cleared enough to catch a view of the Crestones and nearby Kit Carson Peak.

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

The foggy summit of Challenger Point

After returning from Brazil and being out of shape, I got together with a friend and attempted the Harvard / Columbia traverse. Despite the cool temperatures and clouds going in and out all day, we summited Columbia first. The climb up was a mixed trail / scree scramble. It’s notorious for being awful, but the new, partially finished trail was a real help. Getting over to Harvard was problematic, as my partner went way ahead and inadvertently ended up in Class 5 stuff, and I lost track of him. I made it to the saddle between the peaks, took several wrong turns, slipped in a loose gully, and then it started snowing. This was the worst possible place for it to start snowing, as now there was no easy way out and I basically had to summit one of the peaks again. After waiting out the snow, the weather cleared up long enough for me to slowly make my way up the slopes towards Harvard. My goal was to get to the main trail and to treeline before dark. I skipped the true summit, and made my way down another scree and talus slope and eventually made it to the trail. The cold and distance and elevation gain had worn me out, and I didn’t make it back to the trailhead until past 8 PM. Luckily my friend had gone back up the trail looking for me, and we met up about 3 miles from the trailhead. We were both fine, but a lot of things didn’t go right.

So that was my summer!

 

 

 

Colorado fall, 2016

This year’s trip took place September 23-24, as I drove with a friend to the San Juans, looping counterclockwise starting in Durango. The trip coincided with a rather cold system that dumped a rather unexpected amount of snow (up to 2 feet in places) and left many areas 9000 feet and above with a coating of white. US 550 tends to see different peak times depending on the aspect and elevation, but in general the area between Red Mountain Pass and Ouray is at its peak in the last week of September.

We lucked out, while it was a rather gloomy, blustery noon hour in Durango where we had lunch, the skies gradually cleared such that by late afternoon, it was a beautiful mix of snow, clouds, sun, and foliage. I was told by the owner of a jeep tour operation in Ouray that this is a once in a decade kind of scene.

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Looking towards Ouray from the viewpoint north of the Red Mountain summit, 23 September 2016

Plenty of reddish color this fall

Plenty of reddish color this fall

From Crystal Lake, looking south

From Crystal Lake, looking south

We continued over to Telluride the following morning, via the always spectacular Dallas Divide. Dallas Divide is relatively low in elevation, just shy of 9000 feet, and tends to peak in early October. It’s best when there’s a bit clearer weather and Mt. Sneffels is visible, but the morning was pretty cloudy. In Telluride the weather was similar, with only rare peeks of sun- the leaves were slightly before peak, probably around a week early in town and along the road up to Lizard Head Pass. The top of the gondola station was awfully chilly, probably slightly below freezing, but with socked in clouds and general dampness, which made it feel even colder. By the time we reached Dolores, it was sunny and quite warm.

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

Between Telluride and Lizard Head Pass, 24 September 2016

I’ve made regular posts about fall in Colorado over the past few years, generally with dates on the photos, so hopefully you can get a better idea about when to visit.

Colorado fall colors, 2015

The summer was very wet, which produced one of Colorado’s most amazing wildflower displays from mid-July to mid-August. This has now given way to a rather warm, calm September, and the fall colors that the state is so famous for.

I took a long loop from September 25-27, stopping in three of the Colorado hotspots for fall colors, the Maroon Bells south of Aspen on 9/26, Grand Mesa that same afternoon, and the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Durango on 9/27. The colors were at their peak between Ouray and Coal Bank Pass, at the Bells, and slightly short of peak on the northern side of Grand Mesa.

I’ll be checking out the Crested Butte / Kebler Pass area this upcoming weekend, maybe over towards Dallas Divide. These areas should be at peak for the next few days. The lower elevations (Durango, Delta / Montrose) should hit their peak the second to third week of October.

Construction will continue on the Silverton to Ouray portion of US 550 until October 8, 2015, so watch for closures, and watch your driving, this road is no joke.

Enjoy the show!

Morning at the Maroon Bells, 9/26/15

Morning at the Maroon Bells, 9/26/15

North side, Grand Mesa, 9/26/15

North side, Grand Mesa, 9/26/15

Red Mountain Pass, looking north towards Ironton and Ouray

Red Mountain Pass, looking north towards Ironton and Ouray, 9/27/15

Between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Divide, 9/27/15

Between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass, 9/27/15

Colorado fall colors, 2014

A quick update from the last few days, September 26-28, 2014. . .

I drove around Crested Butte and Kebler Pass, and then up to Grand Mesa. It’s arguably one of the most amazing fall scenes in the United States, and this year it features a fair amount of red and orange. The colors are excellent right now, and should gradually make their way south in the next week or so. So, the west side of Kebler Pass should be pretty colorful by the first week or October, and Owl Creek and Telluride should also be nearing peak in a week or so. So here are a few pictures from the past weekend, enjoy it while you can.

Ohio Pass, looking south

Ohio Pass, looking south

East side of Kebler Pass

West side of Kebler Pass, still mostly green

Kebler Pass, nearing peak

Kebler Pass road, nearing peak

The perfect fall scene, south side of Grand Mesa

The perfect fall scene, south side of Grand Mesa

Grand Mesa, south side

Grand Mesa, south side

Grand Mesa, north side

Grand Mesa, north side

Aspen, March 2014

I flew into Pitkin County Airport, and it’s a real crapshoot. I sneaked in without too much hassle, but my friend arrived more than 24 hours later than scheduled. Lucky me- it snowed nearly 2 feet the night I arrived, and it was a classic powder day that revived my love for snowboarding. And Aspen of course lives up to its reputation for being a playground for the rich and famous, ritzy on and off the slopes. It’s not a place I can afford to go to often, especially with $124 lift tickets, hotel prices through the roof, and budget meals that will run $20 or more. But, I figured that I would live it up for a weekend, cashing in some frequent flier miles and credit card reward points.

Welcome to Aspen!

Welcome to Aspen!

Powder, Aspen Highlands

Powder, Aspen Highlands

No lack of beautiful views!

No lack of beautiful views!

Looking east towards Independence Pass

End of the day, looking east towards Independence Pass

A big thanks to Mike the chef for showing us around!

 

State highpoint fever

It’s been great to be on the road again, and I drove around the zone between the American West and the Midwest. I did a bit of hiking in the process, visiting three state highpoints on the way. Nothing death-defying or dangerous, but fun places for the curious. Here we go, first stop, South Dakota.

September 25, Harney Peak: It’s in the Black Hills, and is advertised as the highest mountain between the Rockies and the Alps, topping out at 7242 feet (2207 m). A bunch of trails lead to the top from all directions, although I hiked it from the heavily-traveled trail from Sylvan Lake. It’s accessed by a very fun drive on the super-twisty Needles Highway, and most of the climbing is done in the car. As far as highpoints go, this is a relatively easy one, not too long, not too steep, well-maintained, and leads to a nicely constructed fire lookout completed in 1939 by the CCC. Geologically, the Black Hills are full of these rock pinnacles and phallic needles sticking out of dark evergreen forests, interspersed with grasslands and hidden valleys.

Harney Peak and the fire lookout

Summit view

September 26, White Butte: This is North Dakota’s highpoint at 3506 ft (1069 m), and lies on private property, so you need to call ahead, and deposit some $$$ in the mailbox at the parking lot. Getting there takes time, this is North Dakota after all, which is kind of out of the way from anywhere, and is sparsely populated. It’s about 10 miles driving from the tiny one-blink town of Amidon (population 20), down a series of gravel roads. Finally, there’s a mailbox with an arrow marking the way (down the road, and then up the hill), and it’s a straightforward, easy trail, 2 miles or so one-way, with a sampling of the diverse landscape of this part of the state. Yes, the state is not just wheat fields, buffalo, and oil. The main hazard on this trail is yes, rattlesnakes, including a fellow who would not be disturbed from his suntan.

Unhappy rattlesnake, interrupted his suntan

View from White Butte, with fall colors

Abandoned house

October 2, Mt. Elbert: It’s a hill, albeit a big rounded one at high elevation, sitting with a bunch of similar hills in the Sawatch Range. The Sawatch forms a 14000 foot barrier to the west of the Arkansas River Valley between Leadville and Salida, Colorado. There are two main trails to the top, none of them easy. After all, the top of the mountain is at 14440 feet (4401 m), and the northeast trailhead is at 10040 feet, climbing to the summit in 4.5 miles. The first part is actually relatively flat, and after turning right at the sign, the real climbing begins. It’s a trail all the way to the top, but the combination of altitude and several false summits turns it into an epic hike / flogging. I’ve had better views, it’s more or less a pile of rocks, but then again, how often can you get to this elevation? I don’t really have the desire to do it again, though. As for the day I hiked it, there was snow on the trail, it was icy in places, but the top itself was snow-free and relatively warm (around 8-10 C).

That’s NOT the summit of Mt. Elbert.

Ptarmigans, brilliantly camouflaged and getting their winter colors

Going down was worse, the snow really slowed the descent, requiring a few detours, and it was murder on the knees. A better way to get up and down is by mountain bike, as a German fellow I met at the top was doing.

NOT a recommended way of hiking a mountain.

Summit of Elbert, finally!

And all those mountains to the northwest, can anyone identify any of them?

Fall in Colorado, 2011

Some pics from October 2, peak colors on the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray.  The West Elk loop is also looking excellent, with peak colors on Ohio Pass, near peak on Kebler Pass, west of Crested Butte.

Ohio Pass Road

 

Ohio Pass Road, looking southwest

 

Kebler Pass Road

 

US 550 south of Silverton

The lower elevation areas between Silverton and Durango will take another 7-10 days to peak, Kebler Pass is going to look good for another 7-10 days. I drove by Kenosha Pass, which looked slightly past peak on October 1. It’s a fantastic show, don’t miss it.