Archive for the ‘sangre de cristo’ 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!

 

 

 

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New Mexico awesomeness

After driving nearly cross-country, I’ve been here in Northern New Mexico a few weeks, taking in all sorts of events and enjoying the scenery. Monsoon season is in full swing, which dictates caution hiking in the mountains, while making for some remarkable cloud formations and a nicely green landscape. And in Santa Fe, there’s the Indian Market and opera season, so there’s plenty to do, see, and experience.

Just a few pics of Santa Fe, the Sangres, and the Jemez. . .

Tailgating, Santa Fe Opera style

Tailgating, Santa Fe Opera style

View from Atalaya Peak (9121', 2780 m)

View from Atalaya Peak (9121′, 2780 m)

Valle Grande from Cerro Grande

Valle Grande and the Jemez from Cerro Grande (10207′, 3111 m)

Thunderstorm from White Rock Overlook

Thunderstorm from White Rock Overlook

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 1

Now that I’m unemployed (anyone want to hire a highly qualified biochemist?), I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

So with the help of an Epic Pass, the string of Colorado resorts along or near the I-70 corridor are within financial reach.

March 30- After a 90 minute drive the night before from Albuquerque to Espanola, I drove the last 60 miles to Taos. This was my first legitimate spring riding day this season, with a cool breeze on the ridgeline, slush at the bottom, and one lousy last run down an icy Al’s run. I got on the road by around 4:30 PM and drove north along the spine of the Sangre de Cristos to Salida, CO. This is the wickedest range in Colorado, a jagged ridgeline rising 6000 feet from the San Luis Valley, somewhat reminiscent of the Sierras and the Owens Valley in California.

The Sangre de Cristos

March 31- Breckenridge, turned out to be the only nice day, packed powder at the top, with moderate winds, a bit icy in the middle and windy, and spring slush and warm temps at the bottom. It was a smooth drive from Salida with great views of the University Range, with the exception of a near wipeout on an icy spot on the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass. Good times otherwise. They groom the resort perfectly, and the various rollers and hits are fun to bomb down. It’s not a steep mountain overall, though.

Mt. Princeton and Buena Vista, CO

Top of Imperial Express, Breckenridge, looking north

April 1- Beaver Creek, dust on some very rough crust in the morning, which became a whiteout by late morning, and continual snowfall and winds in the afternoon. The snowfall turned a crappy day into a great one, despite a broken binding that needed fixing. The bonus was getting over Vail Pass during that 45 minute window of being open, otherwise I would have been stuck in a shelter in Vail for the night. But the driving was downright hazardous.

Mid-afternoon break in the weather, Beaver Creek

April 2- Breckenridge, powder day in early April. No, not bottomless stuff, but still excellent. It was downright cold, though, luckily I packed the cold weather gear.

April 3- Breckenridge, this time it lived up to its moniker Breckenfridge. Rode the top lifts until it was shut down due to high winds in early afternoon. The crowds were minimal, nobody was riding the top lift, although the snow was excellent. Oh, and I think the reason why was the beerfest in town.

April 4- Keystone, okay half day, since I went all out the past five days. The sun finally came out, although it was still somewhat unsettled. Hooked up with another solo rider who showed me some of the goods in the woods. And he proceeded to take multiple bong hits, Keystoned indeed. Then it was back south towards New Mexico, via Climax, Leadville, Alamosa. . .

Leadville, CO

April 10- An afternoon at Ski Santa Fe, probably my last day this season, nothing exceptional, but it was outstanding snow cover for New Mexico, which had an excellent season, and I hiked the peak behind the top lift. It’s a 15 minute walk or so at 12,000+ feet, and, it looks like excellent backcountry / sidecountry descents back there, but well, I’ll save it for another day and do it with a partner.

Obligatory self-portrait at the summit, showing off my $2 beanie purchased in Morocco

Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas Peaks

So that’s my season, 21 days. I was hoping for more, but who knows?

Taos weekend

I finally got to Taos mid-season, where everything was open. I chose a fine day to experience it. Last time I was there, the ridges were mostly closed, and it was still early season. Since then, a lot has happened, which has curtailed my snowboarding days by a lot.

At least on this day, it was sunny, the conditions were quite good, the snow was fine, and the winds relatively calm, so I spent most of the day hiking the ridges. The lifts take you to a top elevation of 11819 feet (3603 m), and to access the hard stuff, and a lot of the goods, you need to hike the ridges, accessed from the upper terminus of the top lift. One extends to the right towards the ‘front side’, mostly shorter stuff that involves hiking up about 30-40 feet vertical and about 5-10 minutes, the other ridge goes left towards Kachina Peak, which is the top of the resort, at 12481 feet (3805 m). After doing a few runs on the front side stuff, I decided around 12:30 to hike to Kachina Peak. This hike is a good 45 minutes, and involves the 662 foot vertical difference, and a few ups and downs, so it’s more like 800+ feet up in the process, and more than a mile of hiking. At elevation.

West view from the beginning of the hike

After plenty of huffing and puffing from this sea level dweller, passing a few people, and being passed by others, I made it to the top. I was tired and feeling like a swamp dweller by the time I got there. The views are magnificent, encompassing a wide swath of New Mexico and Colorado, from the Jemez Mountains to the San Juans and Sangre de Cristos.

Yours truly at the peak.

The view from 12500'

Luckily I was rewarded by a fantastic powder descent, and a well-deserved beer at the Bavarian at the bottom. Normally I don’t imbibe on the slopes, but I made an exception for this occasion.

A nice 18 oz. Oktoberfest beer waiting for me.

A note on the origins of the trail names at Taos Ski Valley: you’ll notice from the trail map a mix of German and Spanish names, reflecting the roots of the founder Ernie Blake, and the state of New Mexico. So a couple of the names stand out, Stauffenberg and Tresckow, who were among the people who died in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

About to drop in!

To cap it off, I witnessed a very nice sunset as I crossed into Colorado.