“I’m Super Jealous”

Sadly, this is a message I get far too often from strangers on social media.  But fear not, I have some super top secret highly classified advice – don’t be, your life is whatever you make it.

If you want to see a place, see it.  If you want to climb a mountain, climb it.  If you want to quit your job, quit it.  If you like someone, tell them.  If you want to be a better daughter, sister, brother, son, friend, be one. If you want to dance in the middle of the grocery store, dance.  If you want to learn how to turn craft beer bottles into flying saucers that travel through black holes to different dimensions in space and time, do it – even if all you learn is it isn’t possible.

Everyone has a different story but we all have one thing in common, options.  Options lead to choices, choices lead to change, and change can be scary.  Sometimes so scary that we convince ourselves we don’t have options which abruptly eliminates choice making change impossible.  We create a self imposed prison.

There is no limit on what you are capable of.  I promise.  That cell you think you are stuck in, it’s a mirage.

Then:  I failed math in high school; algebra and geometry.  I spent two summers in a hot box retaking both.  I graduated with a 2.5 GPA and was told by a broken system that I wasn’t smart and probably wouldn’t amount to much.  I believed this for a decade.

Now:  I am three semesters away from graduating from Colorado School of Mines, one of the best engineering schools in the nation.  I am studying materials engineering and chemistry on full scholarship and am on par to graduate with honors.

Then:  I smoked cigarettes, used drugs, and drank alcohol.  I used substances to help me avoid dealing with my self imposed prison and anger towards the universe.  I blamed circumstance.

Now:  I trail run and climb mountains, mostly alone.  The time I spend moving through wild places guided by only the sound of my breath and patter of my heartbeat has given the scattered chatter in my brain a clear voice. There will never exist a place better than the mountains – indifferent to your pain – to confront the fists you wrap around invisible bars and the palms you press against ghostly walls.  Solo back country travel pushed me so far out of my comfort zone I eventually realized I don’t have zones. Comfort and discomfort are silly human terms.  There are only things to try, success or failure is strongly due to chance. When you sever the tie to expectation there is no room for disappointment, only lessons to be learned and growth to be had.

Then:  I dated men and held onto relationships that brought no meaning or growth to my life and I let these relationships completely define me.  One after the other until one day, I just didn’t.

Now:  I don’t need a lot of friends, only a few great ones.  I am single.  I go on dates (not often) and I read red flags.  I am not ready to be in a relationship unless I feel the person is right.  I have not yet felt that and I am not going to be with someone just to be with someone.  I taught myself how to read a map, climb a mountain, do math, solo road trip across countries on a budget, trail run, backpack, make a fire, rock climb, fix a vacuum, patch a tire, and survive in the back country.  I know that by myself I am capable of creating anything I want.  Not only do I know this but I am happy, satisfied, and fulfilled doing so.  In fact, I love being alone.  Being comfortable with myself has taken years to master and still every day I learn how to do it better.  They say you cannot love another until you love yourself and I believe it.  My relationships with my family and friends have so much more strength and depth now.

Don’t ever be jealous of another person.  Do not envy a life you see only from the outside.  Comparing yourself to others is a complete waste of energy.  Draw inspiration if you must but embrace your journey.  You will never really know what it took another person to get where they are or what they must do to keep going.

There is tremendous beauty in the struggle of figuring it all out, and by figuring it all out, I mean who you really are and what you really want.  If you wish you came pre-made like a certain person you admire then you are denying yourself the best parts and your story will never be written.

I recently returned home from a three week solo winter road trip.  Daylight fades quickly leaving plenty of time for thought and reflection.  I receive a lot of messages expressing jealousy towards my life and questions regarding “how” I do it all.  I mostly thought about the how.

Changing your thought process requires courage and a lot of effort.  Learning how to live in the present moment is not innate to human behavior.  Human beings have worrying minds.  Human beings have planning minds.  Human beings believe if this doesn’t happen, then that won’t happen, and if that doesn’t happen then all of this was wasted on that and everything is a failure.  We bury ourselves in self doubt.  I have spent the past four years actively training my mind to live present in each moment and because of this I have learned how to smoothly adapt in nearly any situation.  This is paramount in my ability and willingness to try anything regardless of success or failure.  I am able to enjoy my existence even on the most mundane or disheartening days.

It isn’t about where you go, what you see, or what you do, it is about how you choose to experience and process it all.  Once you understand this, the logistics to creating the life you want come easy.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my latest trip to Yosemite and back.  They are images, they do not capture the struggle of the cold, the harshness of the weather, the sleepless nights in a car frozen from the inside out, or how hungry and nutritionally depleted I felt for most of the trip.  They do not capture the joy that can be found in the emptiness of a winter landscape or the unimaginable solitude I found in places normally bustling with people.  Perhaps they capture the peace I felt in the middle of two chaotic semesters of school.  These photos are the skeleton outline of three weeks I spent alone probing deeper into my soul and processing another year of my life.  Thank you for reading and Happy New Year!

Arches National Park (Utah)

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Moab (Utah)

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Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)

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Bryce National Park (Utah)

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Zion National Park (Utah)

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From a Gas Station (almost Nevada)

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Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

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Red Rocks National Preserve (Nevada)

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The Mojave Desert (California)

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Kern Canyon, Lighting Peak (California)

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Sequoia National Park (California)

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Yosemite National Park (California)

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” I took a little journey to the unknown and I came back changed I can feel it in my bones.”

What the Trump will happen to our land?

I feel like this is a reasonable question since the months that felt like a decade of childish fighting and low blow tweets yielded little to no information on the policies President Donald Trump’s campaign is based on.  I mean when it comes to presidential candidates, what is policy anyway?  It’s nice to know you can become  President of the United States of America without one solid educated reasonable stance on well, anything.  All of my friends and I wish we could graduate from engineering school without having to suffer through four years of mind bending mathematics, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics.  But let’s be real, would you trust an engineer who does not have a solid foundation?

I am very close to officially being a materials and metallurgical engineer, something I have worked diligently towards for the past five years.  My daily life surrounds myself with other engineers, people who exist in a community based on logic, reason, and science.  We speak in experiments run over and over and over again, some failed, some successful.  We do not throw nonsense words at one another or try to spin data in a way that better suits our needs.  I have yet to meet an engineer (teacher or student alike) at Colorado School of Mines who does not understand science is NOT something we “believe” in, it is something we dedicate our entire lives to learn, master, and accept as being imperfect.  What have I learned in my five years?  A lot of what doesn’t work which opens the door for that which does. 

All that being said, I ended up in engineering school because of my intense love and dedication to protecting the wild places that I adore.  There is no other reason.  My focus is biomaterials; biodegradable packaging to be more specific.  Five years ago my life was directionless, I was co-dependent, unhappy, and insecure.  Five years ago I decided to change that.  I left everything that dominated my existence and I started over, alone.  I enrolled in classes at a community college and I bought a pair of trail runners and taught myself how to navigate mountain terrain.  Was it scary?  Hell ya.  I was terrible at math and the mountains are incredibly intimidating.  I cried a lot.  I questioned my sanity a lot.  But ultimately, I stuck with it and grew into a woman I can be proud of; fiercely independent, happy, secure, and educated through hard work and dedication. 

We all have a series of moments that define us and I remember my most important.  I had just returned home from a four month solo road trip in which I ran a new mountain, forest, waterfall, national park, etc. etc. every single day.  I wanted to finish climbing the mountains over fourteen thousand feet in the Colorado Sawatch Range.  I only had Mount Huron left, so I poured over maps and created a beautiful off-trail loop that would allow me to run out a ridge of several thirteen thousand foot peaks.  Solo ridge running is one of my favorite things.  It also requires high altitude back country navigation skills.  I had just summited my third mountain and I set off running for my fourth.  As I let gravity sweep me effortlessly down Brown Mountain I picked up my head and looked around.  Beautiful stone peaks accentuated by rolling green hillsides.  Silence.  Big horn sheep grazing one peak over.  Delicate alpine flowers struggling in the wind.  I was acutely aware of myself moving through this spectacular place like it was my actual home.  Not the apartment with the cushy bed or the trunk of my car.  Tears began to involuntarily run down my face.  The mountains had saved me.  The mountains had tested my strengths and weaknesses in a way nothing else could and forced me into the best possible version of myself.  I was already in engineering school, I was already interested in renewable energy but it was in that moment I accepted my purpose – to fight for and protect our undeveloped land.  It is our responsibility to pass on to future generations a place that will cleanse their soul and give a second, a third, and a fourth chance without asking for anything in return except connection.  Do you think Donald Trump who lives in a gold tower and eats pizza with a fork and knife understands this?

I do not claim to be an expert politician.  I will openly admit there is a lot I do not understand.  The government makes it that way for a reason.  What I do know, about half of America is potentially a little bit racist and a little bit sexist.  Scary, yes.  But the other half of the country realizes Donald Trump is a narcissistic hateful man with no solid plan for this country or its people.  Trump a 70 year old man once tweeted Jon Stewart at 1:30 in the morning and called him a “pussy.”  Apparently, he really likes that word. Twitter wars, something Trump loves to engage in are for 13 year old girls and The Real House Wives of Orange County….. speaking of reality t.v. shows and orange….like it or not, this is our president now.  Scary, yes.  He could unify half of the country based on hate, fear, and a lot of words that mean nothing.  “Make America Hate Again?”  

We do not have to be complacent, we do not need to mute our voices.  As a whole, we can speak up for the minority and against things we know are morally wrong.  We can fight for everything that does make America great, the diversity, the opportunity, and the beautiful open spaces.  For me this election was always about the land and the health of the planet.  I voted for Hillary because my environmental policies align with hers.  My biggest concern is who Trump will pick to head the Department of the Interior (in charge of national parks and public land), the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  While I feel our national parks are safe, they could be negatively impacted by the decisions made concerning public land.  As a lover of the outdoors, throughout this election, this has been my number one concern. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946. The agency manages the federal government’s nearly 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands severed from their surface rights by the Homestead Act.  Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.  Aside from Alaska (which I know is amazing), I have spent copious amounts of time in all of these states and they are BEAUTIFUL, in part because of this land.  National Parks are a treasure but some of the best forest land, mountains, and back country are located on these public lands.  If individual states are given control of these lands they will be sold and developed.  This is something the Republicans (who now control the house and senate) have wanted to do for a LONG time.   

Donald Trump has thrown around a name or two for who will head up the interior, and it’s not you and it’s not me (the public).  It’s Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil. Lucas has openly spoke out against animal rights and his wife said this on facebook, “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country! As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think that atheists (minority), muslims (minority)n or any other minority group has the right to tell the majority of the people in the United States what they can and cannot do here. Is everyone so scared that they can’t fight back for what is right or wrong with this country?”

The Department of Energy could go to Harold Hamm, the billionaire oilman from Oklahoma.  The EPA to Myron Ebell, the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is currently heading Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell is also a staunch climate change denier who has faced scrutiny for accepting money from industrial polluters.

These (or people just like them) not could, but WILL be the men in charge of our land and our environment.  These are old white business men with massive amounts of self interest and plump bank accounts. These men are EXACTLY like Donald Trump.  “Drill baby drill. $$$”  Having a home supply of oil is not a bad thing.  It takes quite a bit of energy to transport oil from the middle east but what Donald Trump COULD do to our land and coastlines (fracking, pipelines, off shore drilling etc.) should scare you.  As well, climate change is not something we “believe” in, there is science that proves we go through natural cycles of change and some of what we are currently experiencing is natural.  This does not mean we should drill every available piece of land and ruin ecosystems and biodiversity.

The other half of us do not have to sit here and quietly do nothing.  First off, start today by understanding where the things you consume come from.  If they come from big oil, stop buying them.  Purchase a bike and give your car a rest.  You don’t need to drive 1.7 miles to the store.  Make a statement and stop contributing to the demand that oil supplies.

Are you mad?  Good.  Remember how you feel today and do not grow complacent.  We tend to do that.  Pay attention to what happens next.  Pay attention to the individuals Trump puts in his cabinet, they will run this country.  Pay attention to what is happening to our land, and if you don’t like it, fight it.  I know I will, both physically and intellectually.  I’ll chain myself to the mountain.  I will fight for funding science. Organize like minded individuals and be loud about it.  Use your voice, use your social media outlet to educate others in a respectable way.  If I was the president I would choose education, education is the safest and most effective weapon we have. Ask questions, seek answers, keep an open mind, do not turn down the opportunity to talk to someone who is different than you, and never ever ever stop fighting for the things you believe in.

_________________________________________________________________

For the record, I am not against Donald Trump.  My hope is that I am wrong and that he respects our lands, our science, our diversity, our women, and implements a positive progressive change.  My hope is that he is a great president.  I read something, “hoping he fails is like hoping the pilot crashes the plane, we are all still on it together.”

As always, I am here to have a conversation; male, female, black, white, brown, orange, christian, atheist, environmentalist, environment hater, Trump supporter, Hillary supporter, Taco supporter….do not let the conversations fizzle out.

Undulations ~ The Tale of Little Bear –Southwest Ridge from Como Road

Do you know how to drive your friends nuts for 16 hours?  I do! In two quick and easy steps….

Step 1)  Choose to climb Little Bear via its southwest ridge legally from Como Road

Step 2) Use the word undulation 4,567 times in the 16 hours it will take to execute.

9/5/16

Little Bear Peak (14,037’)

South Little Bear Peak (14,020’)

Route: Southwest Ridge

Trailhead:  Como Road @ 8,000 feet (High clearance 4 WD not required)

Trail:  None

13.8 miles

7,000 ish feet of gain

16 hours

Overview

Route overview

Red and Purple pins — general bushwack route

The southwest ridge of Little Bear is rarely climbed, you will know why after reading this.  Most whom have attempted/climbed Little Bear via the southwest ridge start at the Tobin Creek trailhead at 8,820 feet which requires driving roads located on private property.  Now, I am not scared of much in this life, but the Sangre de Cristo mountain people, them some scary shits when it comes to their land, so we figured we would keep it legal and start from 8,000 feet on Como Road.  Part of the allure of this route is the lack of information on the inter-webs and the down right brutality of the miles as a whole.  There is also no need for a high clearance 4WD vehicle.  Living in a state with such easily accessible information and mountain summits, I become obsessed with completing routes that lack both and this happens to be one (at least regarding our approach from Como Road).  This route has been on my radar for two years so I must write about it.

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Little Bear from SW ridge

Chris, Allison, and I started up Como Road at 2:43 a.m. under a no mooned sky after some typical morning f’ery.

 

We climbed 800 feet up the road chatting about life when Allison jumped to my left letting out a shriek and grumble.  Como Road is so beautiful.

 

Now try to imagine this at 2 a.m. in the beam of a head lamp.

We cut off the road around 8,800 feet and for the rest of the day there isn’t one inkling of a trail.  We contoured between 8,900 and 9,100 for three miles heading east/southeast until we hit Tobin Creek.  To be honest, even in the pitch black this part of the excursion went smoothly aside from one nasty creek crossing before Tobin Creek and some haunting thoughts of the Sangre de Cristo mountain people creeping through the desert scrub, machetes in hand — out for a morning hunt.

machete1

We got 3 hikers out there bordering our land

The creek coming out of Chimney Gulch was flowing and full of those really awful stabbing shrubs.  Every trip report I read stated there would be NO water source along the way.  Incorrect.  In early September when everything should be at its driest there is the Chimney Gulch water source and Tobin Creek is raging (or maybe it’s all this late August moisture).  I believe others said this because they started at the Tobin Creek trailhead and not 3 miles away on Como Road.  After Tobin Creek there is no water source and one hell of a long, hot, time consuming ridge.  If one is so inclined to do this route legally there is at least one reliable water source at Tobin Creek.  That being said I carried 2.5 liters of water and drank maybe 1, but I am really into dehydration.

The Tobin Creek crossing is not that bad, I have whacked through worse, but the aftermath to get to 10,000 feet (yes only to 10,000 feet) is AWFUL aptly labeled “horrible” on the topo map above.  Now I have bushwhacked by myself up Crestone Peak from the Cottonwood Creek trailhead so I am no stranger to the abuse the Sangres inflict upon those willing to go off trail but this is some next level shit.  Imagine clawing your way up a near vertical slope on loose dirt/rock/talus blocks riddled with cacti and low growing Pinyon Pines, now throw in some blood stealing thorn bushes, wave the magic wand, make it denser than liquid mercury and walla you have the START of Little Bear’s southwest ridge.  It is almost like this mountain does not want to be climbed and grew itself a vegetation wall of hell.

None of us thought about pulling our cameras out because we were to busy pulling cacti out of various body parts, so just imagine it looks like this but with thorns.

bushwhacking-man-in-bush-rebecca-van-ommen-getty

There is talus below tree line, but the below tree line talus ain’t got nothing on the above tree line talus.  Talus for days, no talus for weeks, no talus for months but really talus, lots of talus and when I say it keeps going and going I mean it undulates forever until you reach the false summit of South Little Bear which has its own false summit.  There are 48 false summits on this ridge.  SO MUCH UNDULATION.  The three of us are good at putting our heads down and slogging but it felt like five lifetimes had past by the time we got to PT 12,900’.

Little Bear

Undulating

Little Bear

Forever Talus

All of this was fine because I love the Sangres.  Out of all the ranges I think they best match my personality, rough around the edges, abrupt, dark, grey, rugged, difficult, and inhospitable unless worked for.  I love the dramatics of the rise and fall of their mangled cold walls.

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Little Bear

As we followed the undulations of ridge proper it finally turned north towards Little Bear.  With this turn we could hear the sound of a freight train, Chris asked if there was perhaps a waterfall the size of Niagara nearby.  We all chuckled, nope just the wind and it blew with the fierceness of a starving pack of wolves hunting elk.  This added an element of excitement to the disappointing climb we were about to partake in.  There is information on the “technical” section of ridge from the false summit of South Little Bear to Little Bear.  Basically stay ridge proper and use the west side to bypass a large fin.  Passing the fin is the only time we really had to drop from proper and the climbing is very intuitive.  The few reports we read amped us up for some difficult and exposed climbing, and after what we went through to get to the fun part we were excitedddddd, we earned our scramble!

Little Bear

Knife Edge

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Approaching the false summit of South Little Bear a.k.a “Mamma Bear”

This is the only way I know how to describe this traverse.  As a trail runner I love to be able to get into a rhythm on trail, the mind wanders just enough but not too far from the task at hand, otherwise I would eat it.  It is a wonderful form of meditation. Scrambling a nice aesthetic exposed class 4 ridge puts me in the same place, get in a rhythm and it’s a form of therapeutic meditation.  However, there are trails where I can never find that rhythm, these trails are “unrunnable” becoming choppy and unpleasant causing disconnect.  The flow lacks and while it’s doable and I do it, I will always prefer the runs where everything syncs together beautifully.  This ridge was like an “unrunnable” trail, it’s doable and I did it, but eh.  However, the views of the Little Bear to Blanca traverse from South Little Bear are epic.

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Little Bear — Blanca pano

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Little Bear — Blanca closer

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Summit of South Little Bear

That being said, there are some narrow sections with a good amount of exposure on both sides and the rock is very questionable.  My biggest concern for this outing was the recent two weeks of rain/snow/ice the high country has been getting.  Peak condition reports spoke of inches of snow and grapple being laid down above thirteen thousand feet in the Sangres.  I have read many an account of an entire section of ridge giving out after a big moisture event and water deposited in the cracks of rock during freeze/thaw cycles increases the risk of a major rock slide event.  The more people who use a route to climb a mountain the more likely the rock will be touched and moved around, the less likely it is to go.  Point being, no one climbs this route so the whole ridge is one big ticking time bomb.  While traversing from South Little Bear to Little Bear I was climbing in between Allison and Chris.  Allison crossed a very narrow section, I crossed it, and then as Chris crossed it the whole thing gave out underneath him causing a large rockslide down the east face.   It was absolutely sobering.  We had discussed the potential of this happening and his weight was not entirely on the one section that went.  Because his points of contact were spread out he was fine even though the ridgeline is forever changed.

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Chossy narrow ready to blow out ridge

We dropped our packs and went for Little Bear.

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Little Bear ahead and to the left

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After dropping left to avoid the fin we regained the ridge, I climbed back up to proper, Allison can be seen below to my left on a narrow (one foot wide) ledge system. Air below for thousands of feet.

Next I gouged a hole in my knee.

 

There was no one else on the mountain but we were very careful climbing high above the hourglass, which for the record looks miserable.  We summited at 11 a.m. eight hours and seventeen minutes after we started, wind roaring aloft.

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Little Bear – southwest ridge (which cannot be completely captured in one shot, just keep looking down and to the right until you hit the valley floor)

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When you tell Chris to do something….

Now to reverse the entire route.  I would be lying if I said we did not have a discussion about descending the hour glass and walking out on Como Road.  I believe this would have been WAY easier (although I will never really know).  I have found that even when descending eludes to being a daunting task it normally goes much quicker than expected (not the case here) and when in dangerous terrain it is always better to go back the way you came (probably a better decision than a blind descent of the hour glass).  The wind went from hurricane force to tornado like as we entered the eclipse of Little Bear’s southwest ridge.

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After scrambling back to the false summit of South Little Bear and then descending 4,000 feet of talus in soul crushing wind, one could say we were growing weary.  With exhaustion comes sloppiness and by the time we began descending the final 900 feet to the Tobin Creek crossing it was an all out shit show.  We would track to far east and then try to make up for it and track to far west and all this through that thick wall of hell Little Bear grows out of its bowels.  Still no photos but it looked a lot like this.

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And this

ghs

It is also worth mentioning that it was hot and we were all wearing long pants, long sleeves, and gators (an absolute must through this terrain).  Even though Allison took a tree branch to the ass and put her full body weight onto a cactus she remained the most positive.  Allison is my spirit animal and I am so happy to have shared some grueling days with her.  I hit the partner/friend jack pot with this one.  And of course Chris is my best friend in the entire world.

This is a small section of what the gps looked like.

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One re-crossing of Tobin Creek, a threat of putting Chris’s head in a fire ant mound, 3,000 animal bones (probably mostly human), 28 tree branches to the head, an accidental encounter with a rattle snake, 70 undulations, and 16 hours later we were back at our respective vehicles.

Chris sent me this picture of himself at work the next day.

Cactus-Man

This is a great route to do if you hate yourself.

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Hey guys, 2 a.m. start, bring a helmet, an ace bandage, and wear gators? Both said yes….love my friends.


”Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do.  Those are the easy things.  It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard.”

Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak via Zapata Falls

I have never been interested in the standard route.  I am writing this report to aid other venturous climbers in a much more aesthetic and exciting way to climb these two mountains.  I have never been up Lake Como road but I have also never heard a good thing about it.  As I studied the north ridge route and sifted through trip reports I did not find many (there are a few older ones) that accurately depict this route (besides the route description which is pretty impartial).  I found a lot of opinions, most over or under dramatizing it, so I want to find a happy median and try to explain the “crux’’ better.

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In general, if you have experience and are comfortable with route finding, loose gullies, and class 3 this is a fantastic and FUN alternate route.  If you do not have experience with all three of these things then stick to the standard route or be prepared to step out of your comfort zone.

Ellingwood Point (14,042′) Blanca Peak (14,345′)

North Ridge route from Zapata falls + Ellingwood to Blanca traverse

14.7 miles/6,572′ of gain

The first crux is the road in a two door Honda Civic Sport.  Any other vehicle on the planet will be just fine but in my car I was doing about 1.5 mph.  It is so bumpy.  I picked up a German hitchhiker, transported him to the campground, and met Allison at the Zapata Falls trailhead at 9:30 p.m.  Allison, from New York, is on a road trip, a road trip with potentially no end.  She is a phenomenal human and I am so happy she decided to contact me via instagram to ask if I wanted to tackle some 14ers with her while she is in Colorado for a month.  She is literally the perfect partner; fun, excited to be there, strong, kept pace, doesn’t complain, knows how to route find etc. etc. etc. She also has a strong running background further convincing me that runners are the best humans on this planet.

No sleep later and we were melting away dark miles at four in the morning.  And by dark I mean a no moon partly cloudy black out.  The trail is good and crosses Zapata Creek four times.  The first creek crossing was raging and deep.  In the pitch black even our head lamps could not spot a viable way across (daylight showed there is log further down stream).  We removed our shoes and crossed the icy water, which always feels better to me than falling off slippery sticks and banging bones on perturbing rocks.  I am awful at crossings, 9 out of 10 times I just cross barefoot.  After the first creek crossing there is a massive spider web complete with a fist sized hairy spider blocking one of the switch backs.  Make sure to scream really loud so your partner thinks there is a bear.  The second creek crossing was running high (maybe all the rain) and appeared to be “flooding” the forest.  With some searching and some gentle coaxing from Allison we found a way to cross with shoes on.  The third and fourth crossings are smaller but still slippery.

By daylight we were in South Zapata Lake Basin, a beautiful quiet solitary place.

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The trail eventually fades into the lake.

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“The Crux” From the lake I immediately spotted the Crossfire Couloir (extra dangerous) and the C2 Couloir (dangerous).  We headed east (left) around the lake on a very faint trail that weaves in and out of rocks and marsh land to the base of what the eye fools to be undoable.  I made note to the southwest (right), the general vicinity of the C3 Couloir (unknown danger) and a grassy option to the west that gains the saddle of 13ers Twin Peaks (someday).  The C3 Couloir is far away and it appears in order to get to it travel on loose rock is required.  Loose rock is loose rock, I don’t know what C3 is like but C2 is the closer mess of sliding death so…..

From a distance C2 looks impossible but the one thing I have learned over the years is, it always looks impossible until it’s done.  A metaphor for life and mountains.

Although this is well described and documented in the 14ers dot com route description, here’s a few more lines drawn on some photos.

DRAWING

Red – No (Crossfire) Blue – Yes (C2) Green – If you want more miles (C3)

 

DRAW 2

A closer look Red – No (Crossfire) Blue – Yes (C2)

As to be expected the C2 Couloir is steep and loose.  I read one trip report that said you need rope, it should be labeled class 4/5, and it is 60 degrees at the top…not true, not true, not true.  You gain about 1,100 feet in a very short distance and truthfully on the way up, it is not too bad.  We were through it unscathed in about thirty minutes.  I took note of the places where lots of different sized rock sat precariously a top dirt and we avoided those sections.  The general method taken was stick to steep dirt in the center until a steep bench over to the right side allowed for some scrambling on more solid rock.  The “soild” rock was still covered in loose rock and some hand and foot holds popped.  Implying the trust nothing, test everything, stay close to your partner, and be light and nimble method worked great.  Towards the top, the couloir narrows and steepens considerably (stay right at a large and obvious fork).  A few moves and we neared the ridge where a marmot peered down on our foolish human ways.

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Peering down the fork (stay climbers right on ascent)

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The last 100 feet of C2.

Once we topped out on the ridge the views opened up as does a visual of the route to Ellingwood.  We chose to stay on the ridge crest all the way to the summit.  The ridge heads east and then south (so the west ridge turns into the north ridge).  Besides one never ending field of talus the scrambling is fun and airy in places but never unmanageable.  If you love class 3 scrambling on good rock as much as I do, enjoy the next hour or so of your life.

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Route ahead.

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Looking back at the west ridge and Pioneer Basin

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Allison on the North Ridge of Ellingwood

As the north ridge approaches its summit, things spice up a bit.  I had read in many trip reports that this part contains a knife edge, is super exposed, and should be bypassed to meet up with the standard route.  Why, I don’t know.  The “knife edge” has a ramp on the right side and then one airy move around a large rock to the final climb where a few class three moves attain the summit.  Any other way is asinine (get it).

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ass-in-nine

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Taken from the airy move.

We summited Ellingwood Point, my 50th Colorado 14er and Allison’s first Colorado 14er at 9:07 a.m.  Clouds continued to engulf Little Bear and creep over Blanca so we decided to go for the traverse right away.  However, the clouds in the immediate vicinity were rather superficial so I was not concerned.  Shark fin Blanca Peak looks down right terrifying from Ellingwood but the traverse is really fun.

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Blanca to Little Bear, yum.

From the north you do not see any part of the standard route or the traverse to Blanca until standing on top of Ellingwood so the beginning part of the traverse is the trickiest.  We stayed ridge proper all the way until the deep notch (low point in saddle) and did the class 3+ down climb variation into the gully.  I liked this way as it seemed to avoid the looser mess below.  Once in the gully we fubbed around, not spotting cairns (until the way back).  After the white gully there is a maze of exposed ledges and class 3/4 climbing (depending on your line).  I am not 100% sure of the route we took to get on Blanca’s northwest ridge but I believe we were too low.  On the return, we stayed high and it was much more fun (and solid).

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Looking back at Ellingwood during the traverse to Blanca.

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Huerfano Basin

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About 200 feet from the summit all we could see was cloud.  This was the same time we passed the wise Goddess of Blanca Peak (GOBP) who was descending.  Making small talk as I often do with people I encounter on mountains I asked her jokingly, “how’s the weather up there?”  She muttered some nonsense that ended with, “you two look very unprepared.”  Allison responded, “eh, I think we will be just fine” and then we continued to crack jokes about our under preparedness for the rest of the day.  I am not sure what made us look so pathetic as we both donned helmets, layers, and packs of stuff but the Goddess deemed us unworthy of a Blanca summit.  Against all odds, we made it in exactly one hour from Ellingwood’s quaint summit.

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#51

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There were zero views to the west/southwest as the superficial cloud billowed above ruining any chance of seeing the Little Bear/Blanca traverse up close and personal.  We ate food trying to fill our bellies but instead fed our tape worms.  Seriously, how much do I need to eat to be full?

As Missy Elliot told us in her very informative song, “Work It” …..

Is it worth it, let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it

Time to reverse the whole thing.

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I don’t know what to do with my hands.

The re-ascent of Ellingwood was quick and more fun.  We caught up to Goddess of Blanca Peak and I decided to smother her in kindness.  We talked about Little Bear and she explained it is impossible to do unless you are a real mountaineer.  She reiterated this several times.  She then let us know, twelve times, that she is not a peak bagger but she had backpacked into Como to snag all three peaks.  We exchanged photos and with a wish of luck from the GOBP off we descended back to the C2 couloir.

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Matching Houdinis — planned telepathically.

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That one traverse everyone talks about.

Prepared or not, down we went.

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Unprepared.

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On the way back make note that C2 is NOT the lowest point in the ridge.  The gullies that shoot down from the low point look extra incredibly dangerous.  We had to ascend the first bump in the ridge before descending to find the entrance to C2.  Descending the C2 couloir was definitely more irritating than ascending but we managed just fine.  I employed a completely out of control ass slide that ripped up my palms and bruised my ass, while Allison demonstrated grace.

Back on grass we high-fived, emptied the mountain out of our trail runners, sat down, and fed our tapeworms.  It is here Allison told me it was her birthday!!!  I was flattered she chose to spend it in the clouds with me ( :

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South Zapata Lake

The remaining five miles flew by as I listened to Allison’s story.  She is on a beautiful journey that did not come without hardship.  I tend to find inspiration in the mountains, so when I find inspiration from a human while in the mountains, it’s been an extra special good day.

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Hey Goddess of Blanca Peak……

We went to Alamosa and had a proper birthday celebration at the ever so classy Rialto Bistro, then I drove four hours home and worked at 6 a.m. the next morning.

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are not the San Juans.  There are no lush green overly colorful approaches full of wildflowers.  The Sangres are dark, brooding, and full of attention demanding ridgelines.  The surrounding rock walls are magnificent and the stone grey views send a feeling of insignificance down one’s spine.  These two mountains via this route reminded me how much I absolutely love the Sangres.  I still have Little Bear and I can’t wait to pick a more interesting route than the hour glass.  Maybe one day, when I become a real mountaineer.


“Some call it the middle of no where, I call it the center of my world.”

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The Pile of Rubble Formally Known as Maroon Peak

After Capitol Peak Chris and I zoomed over to the Bells trailhead which doubles as a hub for every single tourist in the entire world with a camera.  The backdrop to Maroon Lake is two mountains, two very scary mountains.  We turned in early with visions of rubble dancing in our heads.  Alarms buzzed at 3 a.m. so did the rain, 4 a.m. rain and thunder, 5 a.m. rain, 6 a.m. it starts to die off.  7 a.m. seems like a reasonable time to start Maroon Peak during monsoon season, right? Wrong.

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I have seen this shot 4.5 billion times on instagram.  I am far more interested on standing a top those two badasses in the background.

For no reason at all we climbed half way up the 2,000 feet of suck (more like 2,800 feet in .9 miles) and decided to try again the next day.  If we had kept going we would have been stuck in a storm well before the summit.  At least I got “the” instagram shot out of the whole ordeal.  We went into Aspen and Chris played endless amounts of Pokemon while I ate fourteen different meals.

Stats – 13.1 miles/5,394 feet of gain (with a summit of 13,753)

Tomorrow, tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow.  With our game faces on we set out around 4 a.m. for real this time.  In day light we over shot the turn off for Maroon Peak.  Cool.  Once corrected, the up begins abruptly, and I mean this mountain goes up.  My bread and butter is climbing up 70 degree loose dirt rock grass slopes at altitude.  I was in heaven.  I wish I was being sarcastic but, the more straight up and hellacious, the better.  There are goat trails everywhere.  There are goats everywhere. We quickly picked our way up until we gained the south ridge.

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We crested the south ridge and what lie ahead but a pile of rubble…..

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Ridges of Rubble.

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Gullies of Rubble.

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Caress the Rubble.

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Climb the Rubble.

Eventually there is a very obvious and easy class 3 chimney full of rubble.  (Both photos taken on descent)

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Looking up.

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Looking down.

After we rounded about ten more corners full of rubble we were faced with this daunting view.

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Rubble Game Strong.

This is a place to vigilantly route find and not screw up.  We chose gully two, stuck to the solid rock on the left side, and exited just before the large patch of snow.  It worked out so well we did the same thing on the decent. Below, our route is sketched out in blue.  Gully one is an option, I am not sure why?

ROUTEHere are some shots inside the gully (also taken on the descent).  I am fairly certain collectively we took five photos on the ascent.

DCIM\100GOPRO\G0298508.Notice the goat center stage background.  Goats drop rubble bombs from above.  It’s quite like a video game.  Don’t die in a rubble slide, don’t get hit in the head by a rubble bomb, don’t put all your weight on a rubble hold…test everything, trust nothing.  In this video game you only get one life.

File Jul 26, 1 41 08 PMAfter the gully there is another corner, and then another gully, and then another corner, and then a complex face, all covered in…. rubble.  If you haven’t rounded 356 corners to consistently discouraging views of where the summit actually is then you have done something very wrong.

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Corners of Rubble.

There are zero photos from Gully 2 to summit ridge and I am not sure any words can explain it better than Bill and Gerry’s.  Just take your time to route find and all will be well.  Gaining the summit ridge there is a move marked by a medium sized marmot turd.  It is a blind move that requires pulling yourself up, so beware of a shitty situation.  The summit is Elk Range beautiful.

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Asking the magic eight ball if we should go for the traverse. (It replied, “the sky is dark and full of terrors). Also, I would never be comfortable doing the traverse without knowing the route off of North Maroon.

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Chris is very good at taking summit photos of us.

The last thing you need to do is everything you just did but in the opposite direction.

File Aug 01, 9 53 59 PMSince so much of the route is spent circumnavigating the allegedly insurmountable PT 13,753, we decided to summit it on the way out.  And we had a lovely scree surf off of it.  We also got a nice view of Maroon Peak from its summit.

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I was pretty surprised how fast we descended.

Oh and of course, goats.

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Hey bros, let me in on that sweet wildflower destruction.

I thought Maroon Peak was very fun and I would happily climb it again.  As much as I joke, like Pyramid and Capitol, I don’t think it is as loose as everyone makes it out to be. However, Chris and I did have the mountain to ourselves and we are both (for the most part), quick, light footed, and nimble.  North Maroon on the other hand……………** shakes fist angrily at sky ** is another story that I will someday tell.


“Motivation is a funny word.  I don’t need motivation to do what I love the most.”

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A 70% Chance of Thunderstorms by 11 a.m.

I have common sense, I understand that standing on top of a fourteen thousand foot mountain is not the best place to be as lightening bolts thrash from the sky above.  Especially if those fourteen thousand foot peaks happen to be in the Elk Range.  ESPECIALLY if those fourteen thousand foot peaks happen to be Capitol and the Maroon Bells.

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Hi everyone, it’s been a while.  I have not stopped climbing mountains, I have just stopped writing about it, because climbing is more fun than writing about climbing.  I have since summited more peaks in Wyoming and Idaho and added some fascinating climbs in Montana and Alberta, Canada to my list.  But every once in a while finishing the Colorado 14ers floats effortlessly into my mind and I entertain the thought.  So here is the story of #46 (Capitol Peak).

Capitol Peak as a Day trip (if you craze, or smart, depending on how you look at it)

17.7 miles/5,400 feet of vertical gain

I do not like carrying a lot of stuff.  Not a fan, never have been, never will be.  I will backpack if it is absolutely necessary or I want to go somewhere and chill, but 9 times out of 10 anything up to 30 miles is a nice solid day trip. However, there is always room for an entire loaf of sourdough bread.

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This is my best friend who also hates carrying a lot of stuff and considers 30 miles a day trip.  We had four days and four Elks to capture, the weather disagreed, we compromised and got two.  With such an unsettled grim low pressure system hovering directly over the Elks, I did not think we would get Capitol Peak on the first try.  I was convinced we would have to death march through explosive cow diarrhea more than once to make the summit.  Both Chris and I run ultra distance trail races (his first 100 mile race is a few weeks away) so every single outing is training.  With that mentality it doesn’t really matter how many tries it takes to get a summit.  If we are gaining vert, miles, and experience while staring at gorgeous mountains, all is right in the world.

Capitol Peak can be summed up in one word, shit, figuratively and literally.  All day the terrain will make you scratch your head and say, “shit” and all day you will be stepping in literal shit.

Start time 3 a.m.

The trail is very easy to follow.  Simply locate the string of neon green cow diarrhea and follow it all the way to a gate.  There was one creek crossing with no crossing so we took off our shoes and forded our way through squishy plops.  It was so pleasant I dry heaved for a few miles.  There are cows everywhere, they are gnarly, fat, and super destructive.  But watching beautiful meadows of wildflowers be eaten and trampled by an animal that only exists because of human over consumption is one of my favorite things to do, so I was having a blast.

We made it to the Capitol/Daly saddle as daylight broke, spectacular.

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I believe the gully we were initially supposed to drop into was full of snow.  I really can’t describe what we did, it probably, no definitely, wasn’t “right” but we ended up on lots more snow, pulled out our ice axes, put on our spikes, and plugged along.  We were both happy to have snow gear and used every available snow patch to keep off the loose rock.  It’s pretty crazy how much snow the east bowl holds well into July.

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Next we exited the snow, I lost a soft flask, and we turned right towards K2.  Looked like this for a while.

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K2 looks like nothing from this vantage point but we were nervous about the moves it would take to climb it.  Turns out those moves were simple enough.  I am not quite sure why it is rated class 4.  Snow completely blocked the “easier” class 3 way around, so we went up and over on the ascent and descent.  I utilized the slide down on your stomach and jam your hand in a crack to stop yourself from sliding off some steep slabs on the north side of K2 move.  I highly recommend this for those who are 5’4 and under.  Sure to make rock climbers all over the world cringe.  By any means necessary.

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asking the magic eight ball if we should proceed.

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This is the point where we decided the weather was great and we would keep going.  I crossed the knife edge first.  I can’t really explain in words what it was like.  I am afraid of heights but I was not at all, not one bit afraid to cross it.  I think your mind understands when your body is in a precarious situation because mine shut off and I just did what I needed to do.  It was an invigorating experience.  This is the moment I decided this mountain was better than any other I have climbed.  He’s real and demands your full attention and respect.

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Chris crossed next.  We have different ideas of what scary climbing is.  None of the climbing on Capitol or the approach scared me but it got his heart beating.  Chris is very good at climbing straight up things with his back toward gnarly exposure while I enjoy stemming, maneuvering and exposed ledges much more.  About half way across the knife edge his go pro fell out of his vest pocket and slid down the knife edge about 10 feet before calmly stopping on a teeny tiny little crack.  We stared each other directly in the eye for what seemed like 20 minutes before he quietly asked, “should I go get it?”  There is no way that go pro should have stopped, he carefully retrieved it.  Chris caught some pretty unique shots from his crossing before the go pro almost met its maker.

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In my opinion the hardest part of the climb is after the ridge and knife edge.  Enter, negotiating the south face.  There are cairns and there are route descriptions but it is up to the climber to figure it out and it’s not easy.  We took zero photos from knife edge to summit.  We were uber focused on remembering our route for the way down.  The sky was darkening and we did not want to turn around and have to repeat the following day.  Basically we would climb up a bit and then traverse exposed ledges in a westerly (left) direction.  Rinse repeat three times and we ended up on the southwest ridge crest where we directly scrambled to the summit.  We summited just before 10 a.m.  I wish I could say we were elated but we knew we had to reverse every move we had made to get back to safety…and the sky was dark and full of terrors.

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Carefully reverse the entire route.  We glissaded quite a bit on the way down.  We never found the right gully to regain the saddle and ended up on some ridiculously steep snow.  We death marched out, rejoined the trail O’ shit and made it back to the car in time to watch Capitol being struck by lightning. (3 p.m.)  We spent most of the de-proach wondering how Abe climbed this mountain in the middle of winter, not once, but twice.

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capitol lake

Thunder bolts and lightning very very frightening.

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“It always seems impossible until it is done…”

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Next up…..South Maroon…..

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Do you love this planet? Do you love the outdoors?  Do you? Really?

Ah, the timeless instagram shot of a person gazing off into an endless landscape of layered mountains.  Paired with a good quote about how amazing the planet is and how grand life is, it evokes so many emotions and an awful lot of social media features.  Strategically place some product and you have earned yourself some minor and honestly rather insignificant fame.  Because that is exactly what we are, an insignificant flicker, yet the center of our own universe.  We do not matter yet collectively 7.4 billion of us are destroying this planet.

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The mountains are calling and I must go.

Here is the reality:

Over population  There are over 7.4 billion people living on this planet.  The only other species with that large of a population are the animals we raise for slaughter (chickens, pigs, cows), the cats and dogs we keep as pets, and ants.  Go ants go!

Overpopulation

Yet we decide what a healthy population of wild animal is.  We decide how many deer is a good amount of deer, how many zebras is a good amount of zebras, how many eagles is a good amount of eagles.  10,000 species go extinct each year.  That is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.  The natural extinction rate is what scientists refer to as the background extinction rate if humans were not around.  So I guess humans are not natural or is everything else just background?  Nothing should have to go extinct so we can live.  Mountain lions spend their entire lives hunting deer and yet deer will never go extinct because of a lion.

Over Consumption  We have too much stuff and most, if not all of it is unnecessary for our survival, yet we have become 150% reliant on it.  Because our culture has a cradle to grave mentality, all that stuff goes somewhere to die.

TRASH

Like trash mountain.

Mostly all our stuff is made from petroleum, and petrochemicals are not only toxic but impossible for the environment to break down.  Your one use Starbucks coffee cup will NEVER fully break down.  This person ran some calculations to see how many cups Starbucks uses per day and came up with over 8 million, PER DAY.  Fun fact, 1% of customers bring their own mugs, very reassuring.  This is one statistic about a one use item at one coffee shop.  What about couches, old clothes and shoes, tires, toothbrushes, food waste, packaging (everything is packaged), plastic bottles, carpeting, diapers, batteries etc. etc. etc. times 7.4 billion people?  It all has to go somewhere but ultimately ends up in the ocean and soil.  This is what is giving us cancer, changing the climate, and killing off other species of animals.

Animal Agriculture  Somewhere in the evolution of man things got all sorts of twisted around.  We have fully segregated ourselves from other animals even though we are in fact, animals.  It is us and it is them and we use and abuse them to fill our bellies, and our stuff quota.  From down jackets to bacon, your purchase of the things you think you need is contributing to the brutal suffering of other animals and the destruction of this planet.

Imagine having your body hairs plucked out one by one so a goose could wear you.

DOWNS

Looks comfortable.

Factory farming is the model of animal abuse and yet 10 billion land animals are killed in the United States alone for human consumption each year.  In addition, hundreds of thousands of wild animals (prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, and others) are exterminated to keep them from interfering with agricultural operations. Similarly, tens of millions of starlings and blackbirds are poisoned each year to keep them from eating animal feed.  But man that picture of you shoving a bacon cheeseburger the size of your head into your mouth on facebook sure makes it worth it!

BACON

Bacon.

FISH FAR

Fish.

CHICKEN

Wings.

bUrGers

Burgers.

These are the most mellow photos I could find.

Aside from the cruelty these animals face, and yes, they feel pain and suffering just like we do (pigs are actually highly intelligent social animals), the land it takes to support meat demand is next level.  In Central America, 40 percent of all the rainforests have been cleared or burned down in the last 40 years, mostly for cattle pasture to feed the export market—often for U.S. beef burgers.  Rainforests don’t “grow back.”  The soil is shallow and nutrients deplete quickly.  The rainforest is an incredibly complex and mysterious ecosystem, once destroyed, destroyed.  Grasslands have been reduced to near nothing as herds of domesticated animals are expanded and the environments on which wild animals such as bison and antelope once thrived are trampled and replanted with monoculture grass for large-scale cattle grazing.  Grassland covers more land area than any other ecosystem in North America; no other system has suffered such a massive loss of life.  How can this be considered okay?  How can eating meat be socially acceptable and veganism considered outlandish, crazy, and “difficult”?

DEFORESTT

It is calculated that we humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet—leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Since we depend on many of those species for our own survival (they provide all the food we eat and oxygen we breathe, among other services), hogging all of the water is a real issue. If we break it down, species by species, we find that the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat. One of the easiest ways to reduce demand for water is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.

The waste from our gargantuan factory farms overwhelms the absorptive capacity of the planet. Rivers carrying livestock waste are dumping so much excess nitrogen into bays and gulfs that large areas of the marine world are dying.  Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where there’s not enough oxygen to support aquatic life. The dead zone stretched over 7,700 square miles during the summer of 1999.  The easiest way to reduce the amount of excrement flowing down the Mississippi and killing the Gulf of Mexico is to eat less meat.

DeAD

Wanna go for a swim?

The journey that steak made to get to your refrigerator consumes staggering amounts of energy along the way. We can begin the cycle with growing the grain to feed the cattle, which requires a heavy input of petroleum based agricultural chemicals. There’s the fuel required to transport the cattle to slaughter, and then to market. Today, much of the world’s meat is hauled thousands of miles. And then, after being refrigerated, it has to be cooked.  It takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States. Some of the energy is used in the feedlot, or in transportation and cold storage, but most of it goes to fertilizing the feed grain used to grow the cow.  The beef consumption of an American family of four requires over 260 gallons of fossil fuel.  Feeding grain to animals is highly inefficient, and an absurd use of resources.  We could end world hunger if the privileged stopped eating meat (and we are all privileged in the United States).

hunger

Livestock emits global-warming gases directly as a by-product of digestion. Cattle send a significant amount of methane, a potent global-warming gas, into the air.  One ton of methane, the chief agricultural greenhouse gas, has the global warming potential of 23 tons of carbon dioxide. A dairy cow produces about 75 kilograms of methane a year, equivalent to over 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The cow, of course, is only doing what comes naturally.  Cow farts are the number one cause of global-warming gas emissions, not driving.

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I was having a rather passionate and heated political debate with my father the other day.  Our views are somewhat opposing, yet we have good healthy conversations. As I was passionately spewing about my love for other animals and protecting this planet I spat out, “What gives us the right to control everything?” My dad said, “Because we are the top of the food chain.”  I said, “But are we?  Without technology and convenience I would like to see how many people could actually survive.”  He laughed and said, “without technology, weapons, and convenience a wild turkey could outwit us, a wild turkey would rule the planet.”

What has technology done to us?  We don’t even relate as animal anymore, there is literally nothing wild about us.  We sit in our inefficiently designed buildings that have spread across the land like a plague.  When I look out my apartment window I see more grocery stores than trees.  How many Starbucks and McDonalds do we really need per square mile?  We spend most of our time staring into a glowing screen.  We eat food that makes us fat and sick and then try to cure it with a pill made in a laboratory.  We go outside every once and a while and take a picture, probably leave some trash behind. Not probably, definitely.  I pick up a pack full of trash every run I go on.  We consume, more than I can even begin to conceive.  But what do we give back?  I actually thought about this for a very long time.  Nothing.

If we were not here this planet would be wild, flourishing, and amazing.  Instead, it’s dying.  And now we are at a peculiar crossroad where we are industrializing the outdoors and social media is playing a huge role in this.  Take a look at our history and see what has happened to everything we have industrialized (cough cough food cough cough).  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.  Abbey says, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”  Abbey did not want motorized vehicles in parks and for damn good reason.  Even national parks are an industry bustling with over priced gas stations, hotels, shops, and restaurants.

In my humble opinion anyone can drive down a scenic road, take a nice photo, edit the crap out of it, and post it to instagram with a generic quote.  Anyone can create fake “camp vibes” for likes or stage what appears to be a gnarly mountain summit (actually a rock off the side of the road).  This has become the norm and is only leading to further desensitize us from the wild beings we actually are.  Something happened to me when I started going out alone into vast untraveled sectors of wilderness, only carrying the bare necessities, and navigating my way up and down mountains with a map and a compass.  It was as if a switch that had long sat in the off position was suddenly on.  I began to understand what I am, an animal, a wild untamed wilderbeast of an animal.  That is why I run, because when I am running, I am animal running with every other animal.  I am one with the earth that gives me life, not separated from it.  I can feel all of the things that this society has tried to dull out of me.

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We can do so much better.  I envision a world where we have less stuff.  A world where we can live among other species of plant and animal in a healthier more peaceful and naturally efficient way.  Somewhere along the line convenience turned into complacency.  It is time we reinvent our species and it starts with the individual.

So, if you have ever said you like the outdoors, if you ever muttered a word about how beautiful this planet is then put your money where your mouth is and prove it.  You don’t need to be any sort of expert on anything to reduce your consumption of stuff and meat and things you don’t really need.  You can turn your lights off, take less showers (no that is not nasty), buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, ride a bike, boycott fast food, bring your own bags to the grocery store and buy in bulk, pick up trash when you see it, compost, recycle, plant a tree, respect other animals as they are not just here for us to use, understand where the things you buy come from and where they end up.  Consuming less (of anything) will shift the demand which means less trash, less destruction, basically a cascade of good change.  Be aware and tread as lightly as you possibly can even if it isn’t convenient.  What do you need versus what do you want?  You can even have a conversation about these issues with someone else, spread the word.  We need to talk about these things because they matter.  How we use our brains, treat this planet, and treat other animals is a direct reflection of who we are.

Don’t just do, do something that matters.

David Suzuki said, “There are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy, and biodiversity for our health and well being.  Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die.  Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them.  They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere.”

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I am a Materials Engineer whose mission in life is to develop a degradable material that will replace petroleum based packaging.  I was not always an engineer, I decided to take my frustrations and do something that matters.  What I have written is not intended to attack any one person, I am examining us as a whole (myself included). My only hope is that we can use our technologies to help educate one another and work towards a healthier future not only for the only planet we have but so generations to come still have some wild places to enjoy.

References

http://www.worldwatch.org/

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/biodiversity/biodiversity/

http://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/factory-farms

http://www.overpopulation.org/

Huron Peak–North Ridge

Huron Peak (14,003’)

Point 13,518

Browns Peak (13,523’)

Point 13,462 A

Middle Mountain (13,060’)

via the South Winfield 2WD TH

Solo

12.2 miles/4,500 feet of vertical gain

8/19/15

HURON MAP

I went counterclockwise. My arrows showing that could have been drawn better by a 3 year old.


Ahhhh, Colorado ridge running.  There is literally nothing more I love in this world than pouring over maps, planning out a route, and solo running rolling terrain above thirteen thousand feet.  I had one mountain left to complete the Colorado Sawatch Range 14ers and that was the majestic Huron Peak.  For real though, this is my favorite 14er in the Sawatch range (Holy Cross and Yale are close behind).  He is really tucked wayyyyy out of the way.  Fun fact, out of the fifteen Sawatch 14ers, Huron is the farthest from a paved road.  I can attest to this as Lola, my Honda Civic Sport got bounced around on a rough dirt road for 12 miles.  Good thing she’s a seasoned vet. 

I arrived at the lower 2WD trailhead with plenty of light, made myself some dinner, and enjoyed the five star amenities, like the outhouse that smelled like the other side of death.

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I also like Utah.

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I had a nightmare about this once.

After dinner I set out to explore the ghost town of Winfield.  A little history:

Winfield, initially called Florence and then Lucknow, was founded in 1881. Two prospectors looking for a shortcut to the Gunnison country camped one night at the confluence of the North and South Forks of Clear Creek. During the night their mules strayed from camp. The next morning the men found the mules beside the creek. They looked down and saw gold flecks in the stream bed. Winfield was founded at this spot. However, copper and silver, not gold, were the primary ores removed from the area. The last ore was hauled out by stage in 1918. In its heyday in 1890 the estimated population was 1500 people.

I had the place all to myself as I explored the small town rich in history.  I mostly wondered what it would be like to have no heat, no electricity, and withstand such long harsh winters with barely any comforts.  Technology has softened our species.

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I retired to my trunk, thoughts of vertical gain, mountain summits, and wild running dancing through my head.  I woke up in the middle of the night to relieve my bladder and there was a deer staring in my car.  Initially, it was terrifying.


I can’t remember what time I started but it was later than I wanted.  I began down the 4WD road and immediately ran past a group of dudes smoking cigarettes.  Yum.  I blasted by Subarus, Jeeps, and pick-up trucks thinking, “high clearance 4WD is for pansies, real men use their legs.”  Ya, take that.  But really, I was moving faster than a lot of them, the road is rough.  It did not take long to make it to the standard Mount Huron trail (northwest slopes route).

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The trail goes up, shocker.  The trail eventually leaves the trees, double shocker.  The sun came up, triple shocker.

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Eventually a high alpine basin is reached, it was exceptionally cold and windy but I liked the green tundra so that distracted me as I lost feeling in my limbs.

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I saw my shadow, so I waved and took a picture.

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Suddenly and without warning, the trail angles south and goes straight up.  If you are on it you have no idea but this is what it looks like (I took this from Browns Peak).

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It’s a grunt but I made the summit feeling great.

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Human’s destroying things.

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typical

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The Three Apostles (this summer!)

I had a great view of Huron’s the North Ridge aka the route ahead.

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Zee North Ridge.

Now that I got that summit out of the way it was time for the real fun.  It was time for the ridge run.  Off I trawlopped (I made up this word, pronounced trawlll-upp-edd, it is a cross between trolling and frolicking, it is in no way a real word and should be used sparingly.)  In this case, I was in fact trawlopping north towards PT 13,518.  I stayed on ridge proper to avoid loose junk.

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PT 13,518

I made the summit and looked back at Huron.

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And that dastardly trail once again. (Fun fact, up until this moment right now I thought that word was ghastardly; mind BLOWN). Ghastardly is not a word, luckily I am good at math.

Onward I ran to Browns Peak where I discovered how it got its name.

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Browns Peak

I could also see my eventual way out.

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I looked ahead.

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PT 13,462 A

I looked behind.

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And onward I ran to PT 13,462 A.

It was right about here that I started crying for seemingly no reason whatsoever.  I was so happy.  It was the end of the best summer of my life and this ridge was so pretty and the sun was shining down on my skin and one of my favorite songs came on and I was doing exactly what I love doing more than anything else in this entire world.  And that is the best I could do to reenact the dramatics of the moment.  I also took this ten second video.

The only place I have ever cried tears of joy is in the mountains.  This was not the first time, I also had a good sob fest when I summited Longs Peak.

Anyway, PT 13,462 A.

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Coming off PT 13,462 A.

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Looking forward, here is where I give some advice.

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Middle Mountain

That faint trail cutting down the left side of Middle Mountain looks enticing, and perhaps it leads somewhere good.  I believe this is the route Gerry Roach uses in Colorado’s Fourteeners.  But what fun would it be to not summit that epic looking washed out by the sun bump ahead?  Go summit Middle Mountain and run it out to PT 12,622 (not Cross Mountain which is northeast of Middle Mountain).  There is an old beat up torturous mining road that can be used to get down from PT 12,622 (northwest off of Middle Mountain).

Visual Aid:

DRAw ON

I did not spot this descent until I was on Browns Peak.  It was steep and unfortunately loose but it felt like the more environmentally friendly option.  I did not want to trample the obviously healthy tundra when there was an already destroyed portion of mountain.

Looking back.

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Left to Right – PT 13,462 A, Huron Peak, Browns Peak

More mountains.

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There is a cairn on Point 12,622 signifying the end.

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PT 12,622

Some more advice.  From this summit everything below looks uniform, it is nearly impossible to see the road that is SO obvious from Browns Peak.   I started descending into the abyss at least three times before locating the old road.  Take the time to find it, this is rock slide territory.

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It drops right down into Lulu Gulch and onto a good jeep road that can be followed back to the 4WD road that leads back to the South Winfield trailhead.

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Looking back.

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When I got back to my car I was greeted by three llamas, so, totally normal.

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Winfield is the halfway turnaround point of the classic Leadville 100 (mile) running race.  On a Saturday every August more than a thousand people will visit Winfield, including runners, their pacers and crews, supporters, and race volunteers and officials.  The Leadville 100 runners will approach an aid station here, where they can get refueled and pick up an optional pacer to run with them on part or all of the return trip to the finish line.  I don’t know if the llamas were tied to this silly ultra race but I have my suspicions.

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On my way into Winfield I had noticed an older man sitting next to a beautiful beaver pond.  He was still there on my way out so I pulled over and sat with him.  He offered me a beer and I (of course) accepted.  We talked for an hour about the beavers.  He told me he comes every summer and watches them on the weekends.  He had names for them and told me about the juveniles and how hard it is for them to survive.  I love meeting interesting mountain characters.  He also told me about how he backpacked the entire Colorado trail but now he just likes to watch beavers.  When I retire from mountains I want to become the beaver whisperer just like Don.

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“I felt more at home in these mountains than I had anywhere in my life, and I didn’t want to leave.”

A Winter Day on the Divide

Cupid Peak (13,117’)

Grizzly Peak D (13,427’)

Mount Sniktau (13,234’)

8.0 miles/3,700 feet of vertical gain

1/5/16


I have climbed around twenty peaks above 12,000 feet in calendar winter, seven of them being above fourteen thousand feet, the hardest two being Creston Needle and Wilson Peak.  I have always gone with people who are more experienced than myself.  Climbing large mountains in winter is hard, anyone who has done it understands why; longer approaches, more gear, heavier packs, cold dark early start times, hours spent wallowing in the trees breaking trail through feet of snow, avalanche danger, less daylight, the lack of desire to drink water or eat because of the cold etc. etc.  The effort is quadruple that (maybe even more) of summer climbing.  Some of us sickos love the suffering and love the solitude as most mountain climbers go into hibernation as soon as the snow starts flying.  This means you are likely to only have the mountain and your partners face to stare at for 15+ hours, so choose who you go out with wisely ( : 

When I first started winter climbing 2 seasons ago, I did not like it.  I did it because I missed the mountains and honestly that is the only reason why.  My second season, I still did not like it.  But this season I made an active choice to embrace the cold, embrace the snow, embrace the difficulties, and what I found is a new respect, not only for the mountains but for the strength and toughness a climber develops while connecting with the discomforts of winter climbing.  I have not hated or cursed winter up in the high alpine or even down low in the front range (I have done plenty of long cold, icy, local runs up and down the Jeffco and Boulder peaks).  I am building character, or at least that is what I keep telling myself. 


Connor is a very good friend of mine.  We met three years ago while attending Red Rocks Community College.  We both took a full semester class on Hawaiian ecology and geology and then traveled to Hawaii for several weeks where we applied everything we learned.  He ran around barefoot, climbing up and down rocks, running away from the group, and most importantly he got me to do something I am deathly afraid of: snorkel in the ocean (the waves were HUGE that particular day).  We bonded over a common sense of adventure and mischief and our friendship grew when we returned home and became rock climbing partners.  To this day he is the best lead climbing partner I have had.

If I had spent this past summer in Colorado, we would have climbed a lot of mountains together but I was traveling from May until late August and then started at Colorado School of Mines.  Connor moved to Washington DC in September but before he left he wanted me to take him on a fun class 3 that summited a 14er or two.  We did the Tour de Abyss (I will eventually write about it) and had an absolute blast.  He said, “when I come back for Christmas I want you to take me up some winter peaks.”  I agreed. 

The time came and I had no idea what to march him up.  I am not a seasoned winter climber.  I want Ellingwood Point but in the end my only real criteria, keep us both safe.  I need more experience.  I jumped in the deep end having Wilson Peak and Crestone Needle be my first and second winter ascents, I was also accompanied by Abe the non-human. Since then, I swam back to shallower water and am willing to put the time in to develop a feel for winter mountain synergy before I go attempt another crazy peak.  I want to take a winter survival class, an avalanche class, and get several safer peaks under my belt.  Will Connor and I eventually climb Ellingwood Point?  I have no doubt. 

I went to Rocky Mountain National Park with two friends and summited Flat Top Mountain and Hallett Peak (awesome day that I will eventually write about) and less than 48 hours before Connor and I got out, Dillon and I summited Mount Columbia via the south east ridge route (a 2 a.m. wake up call and another great day I will eventually write about).  I reluctantly decided on Mount Bierstadt for Connor and I, neither of us too stoked.  As well I really want Mount B as my first winter solo.  But what else is close?  Grays and Torreys?  I said no to these two for several reasons.  In the end I decided on Grizzly Peak D because of its accessibility and because I had done this ridge in the summer.  It gives great views in all directions and is a great introduction to winter peak bagging.  When I suggested it to Connor he seemed much more excited, so done.


It was still a 4:30 a.m wake up call that turned into a 7:15 a.m. start time, late for any season.  The weather forecast was iffy but I felt comfortable with the route even if an early storm moved in as predicted.  Connor and I emerged from my warm car atop the chilly summit of Loveland Pass and headed northeast towards PT 12,915.  We did not get far as the sun rose over snow covered mountains.  It’s as if it was saying, “Halt small humans and enjoy my glorious arrival.”

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The peak colors only lasted about five minutes.  Winter sunrises are different, they are crisper, they are cleaner.  As well, I am normally slogging an approach deeply buried in trees as the sun comes up, so this was special.  Onward we pressed to Cupid Peak as the ridge turned south.

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sunrise over Torreys Peak

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summit of Cupid

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From Cupid Peak the remaining route to Grizz D is visible.  There are impressively large cornices on the east side of the ridge.  It is obvious you should not walk out on them even though we saw foot prints going right to the edge.

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There is a lot of ups and a lot of downs.

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In the summer I rarely ever carry my real camera because I only take a small running pack but winter means big pack – big camera.  We stopped to take some artistic snow shots, turns out the photo of me taking a photo came out better.

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We dicked around quite a bit with picture taking.

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The climb up Grizz D looks scary as F from PT 12,936 (a bump on the ridge) but not technically difficult once in it.  It is however straight up.

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sun over Grizz D

Against all odds we made it to the summit of Grizzly Peak D, actually, it was pretty straight forward and not THAT hard.  But you can make an otherwise easy day more difficult by not eating or drinking any water and climbing Mount Columbia right beforehand.  If you employ this tactic you are certain to grow nauseous, weak, dizzy, and get the fever sweats.  I still have not figured out the most effective way to get water into me during the winter.  A hydration hose is the only way I will drink but they freeze solid.  I have tried the “blowing” technique, doesn’t work.  I even went to Ace Hardware and engineered my own insulation system, didn’t work.  Soooo I reverted back to the old Nalgene inside my pack trick.  All three examples result in me carrying around 2 liters of water and drinking 0 liters of water, very healthy.

I also put no effort into packing any food for this outing so I survived on one Justin’s Peanut butter cup and a cliff bar.  I was feeling the ups and the altitude for sure.

Now I thought that Torreys west face was going to be covered in dangerous avalanche prone snow, so I took that summit off the table before we even started the day.  Instead I came face to face with a wind swept slope, lots of visible rock, and a completely viable ascent route.  I almost started crying, drowning in my own bad choices, was I overly cautious?  And then I thought, “we can TOTALLY go for it.”  And then, “you don’t have any food. And then, “but it is literally right there.”  And then, “but you started late and it’s already 10:15 a.m” And then, “but it is literally right there.” And then, “you did this in the summer, it is not literally right there.”  Plus there is a metric ton of ascending on the way back and a storm coming even though it is currently sunny.  I had this chat with myself at the very east end of Grizz D’s east ridge.  Connor was ecstatic with the views but curious why we were not going for Torreys and Grays.  Grays would have added even more.

Ultimately it was too late and I did not have enough food.  We decided instead to enjoy the summit of Grizz, take photos, and add on Mount Sniktau.  There are several ways to climb Torreys and Grays in winter; with good weather, an early start time, and food, the ridge from Loveland Pass appears to be the safest.  I learned something!

** Even though Connor really wanted to go for them, I was firm (enough) in my decision.  The loss and gain of this ridge is very deceiving.  A storm did move in as we were descending Sniktau and I was not prepared food or gear wise to do those mountains.  I am proud of myself for turning away even though, yes, it was super hard because they really do look like they are just right there.  Why ruin a perfectly good day?  The mountains will seriously always be there.**

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point to where we are NOT going

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ugh, HEY Patagonia

Lately, I have been carrying this small survival kit (by Pinewood Outdoors) around with me.  It is especially great for summer, because of it’s size it fits nicely into my running pack.  Let’s just say I could start a fire, maybe not on the east flank of Grizz D where wood is null but there are plenty of trees to wallow in in Colorado.  What is super cool about this company, it is run by 15 year old entrepreneur Charlie Scarborough aka CharScar.  Any 15 year old who loves the mountain, starts a business, and has the nick name CharScar is all right in my book.

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survival kit – Pinewood Outdoors

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turn and walk away from where we are NOT going

I had a revelation or two.

The ridge over to Lenawee is so so so so sexy.  It really looks like something straight out of Alaska.

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the sexiest ridge in the room

And then we began the descent.

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And the ascent.

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And the descent and the ascent and the descent and the ascent.  Connor forced me to go for Mount Sniktau (off a north spur ridge of the main ridge) which consisted of descending, ascending, descending, ascending, descending, and ascending.  I am not even being dramatic this ridge is a roller coaster.  Running on fumes I was very happy we skipped Torreys and Grays.

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almost to Sniktau

Rather quickly a storm was on the divide.

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There was something magical in those last few miles.  Watching the clouds billow upward until they connected with one another fully engulfing statuesque mountains.  The temperature dropped and I could no longer feel my face as the snow began to fly in all directions.  The winter light fading dim as the darkness from the incoming storm crept over the ridgeline we danced on.

When climbing up to the summit of a mountain there are moments of suffering which seemingly and out of no where give way to moments of complete elation.  This was one of those moments.  Even though every foot of elevation regained screamed through my under nourished body like a freight train ripping through the night, I felt alive.  There is something about being out there in the raw elements that keeps my spirit wild.

To put it more eloquently, I will gladly suffer all the suffers so I can feel all the feels.

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A day in the mountains never disappoints.  I was happy, Connor was happy, we will be back for Torreys and Grays (in March Connor).


“I am willing to put myself through anything.  Temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level.  I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often painful process.”

Alta Peak–Sequoia National Park

Alta Peak is a 11,204 foot mountain in Sequoia National Park which resides in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.

6/30/15

15 miles/4,250 feet of vertical gain via Wolverton Trailhead + bonus bear


I have been eagerly awaiting writing this tale of solo mountain summiting for quite some time now.  Alta Peak was not on my radar, in fact, I believe it was an ultra distance trail running instagram follower who mentioned it in a comment on a photo of mine that put it on my radar.  I took advice from my instagram followers during my months on the road.  Instagram allowed me to keep an easy and up to date photo story so people suggested places I should see.  It worked out well.  It was the evening of 6/29/15 I saw the Alta Peak comment, pulled out a map, and confidently stated out loud, “Yes, I can run this peak before heading to Paso Robles tomorrow.”  I love running, period, but running to a summit, especially a high alpine summit is my favorite activity, in all the lands, in all the worlds.  I had a good enough idea of the route and felt confident that with an early start I could round trip it in a couple of hours. 


Once again, I woke up before the sun and made the short drive to the Wolverton trailhead.  As I pulled in a couple set off into the forest ahead of me.  I got my pack together, some water, a few gels, a bar or two, and off I went.  It was around 6:15 a.m. and light was just beginning to poke through the dim sky.  I was about three quarters of a mile up the trail when I realized I was still wearing my regular prescription glasses.  “Nah-uh,” I thought, I am not running up another high Sierra Peak without sunglasses, so I turned around and charged back down to my car.  I quickly switched out my glasses and only then noticed the some odd dozen bear signs littering the parking lot.  Simultaneously I noticed the bear bell I had purchased from REI months ago clasped to my front seat organizer.  I hesitantly grabbed it not wanting to disturb my peaceful run with the obnoxious noise it makes but leapt to the conclusion that if a bear was mauling me I could shake the quarter sized bell violently in its face and it would probably stop.  Great logic! (sarcasm)

Ready to tackle Alta Peak I settled into a respectable trot.  Initially the trail climbs steeply up to a ridge before wrapping around the other side and flattening out for a few minutes.  Where it flattened out I passed the couple I had seen earlier.  They heard me coming, anyone in a ten mile radius heard me coming, except of course the bear I was about to come face to face with.  I stopped and said hello as I often do with fellow hikers and runners.  We laughed about the bell and the man said, “it’s great, you go ahead and clear all the bears out for us… har har har.”

I continued on another half mile or so until I rounded a sharp blind corner.  My head was down, I was grinding, I wasn’t paying any sort of attention to my surroundings until without any warning there was a 800,000 pound creature of the forest standing on the trail directly in front of me.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  It looked at me, I looked at it, I screamed, it looked at me more, I screamed, it continued to advance towards me, I turned and I RAN as fast as I could.  My strava recorded a 3:47 minute mile.  I am not sure when I decided to stop running and turn around and look to see if I was about to get pawed to death but I did, and there was nothing behind me.

I had a little chat with myself, “Should I turn around and go back to my car?  What is protocol here?  That was a VERY LARGE bear and it is not black it is brown.  Are there brown bears in Cali, brown bears are grizzlies, no there are no grizzlies in Cali, you CANNOT run, you don’t run from bears, okay…..let’s slowly proceed back to the blind turn and see if the bear is still there and then DON’T run from it, try to scare it away.  But what if it’s not there and it’s watching you from the hillside above?  You have to go see, you can’t let this bear ruin your good time.”

I slowly crept back towards the area of encounter feverishly shaking my bell and sure enough I came face to face with the massive dude once again, he was also grinding along.  I knew how I was supposed to react, I had a plan damn it, but instead I screamed and ran… again.  Fight or flight?  My flight is on point.  This time I ran all the way back to the couple (Eric and Jen).  I keeled over, pointed down the trail and said, “bear.”  Now there were three of us and they had poles which double as weapons.  Slowly the three of us crept back towards the area of encounter, but no bear.  “I swear there was a bear,” I said as I scanned the ridge above and the gully below when suddenly I spotted him almost atop the ridge.  “Look, there.”  “Hollllyyyyyy shittttttt,” Eric dragged on.

The bear looked at us, we looked at the bear, the bear looked at us, we looked at the bear.  In reality it was probably 3 seconds before it charged but it felt like an eternity.  Have you ever been charged by a large bear pummeling down a mountain side?  Probably not, so allow me to paint a picture.  Now, bears up close have really big back sides.  They got fat asses.  When they are full steam ahead down a steep slope their back sides cannot quite keep up with their narrower front sides.  So as a human, all you see is this gigantic furry ass moving in circles coming right at you.

I am going to give you one guess as to what I did after I stopped singing “Baby Got Back”.  I ran, and so did Jen.  We ran all the way to a gigantic rock and didn’t stop there.  We both climbed the rock and clung to each other on the small summit.  I remember asking each other, “Can bears climb rock?”  This debate felt like it went on for 15 minutes, in reality it was probably 3 seconds before Jen realized Eric was not with us.  She started screaming for him and said this, and I quote, “Eric, where are you?! What are you doing?!  I don’t want you to be on the news!”  We looked at each other and started laughing, we got off the rock, and went back to Eric who was standing his ground banging his poles together.

Eric told us the bear ended up charging down, crossing the trail and disappearing into the gully below.  I later reported this sighting to the ranger station and found out “Alan” (that is what the rangers call him) is one of the largest male bears in the park and that black bears “fake charge” to ward off other animals from their territory.  Cool!  As well, black bears can be brown or honey colored.  This was key information as we were all convinced this bear was a grizzly.

I remained with Eric and Jen for another mile to the Alta Peak – Pear Lake split where they went left towards a series of lakes and I continued right, alone and onward through bear and lion country.  Was I shaken up?  Yup, sure was.  Was I the hero of this bear encounter?  Nope, sure wasn’t. Did I take any photos? Nope.  Did I even think to pull out my camera?  Sure didn’t.

I bid my new friends goodbye with a hug and a nervous chuckle and continued onward through Panther Meadow to Panther Gap.  I did not know this at the time but learned in Big Bend National Park that the mountain lion is also called the panther and Panther Meadow on the way to Alta Peak is a fave spot for them to troll for food.  I was too busy being afraid of non existent California grizzlies to concern myself with panthers.

Eventually I began to run again and enjoy my surroundings.

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these are what wild flowers look like

I would say that out of all the places I saw in Sequoia the trip up Alta Peak was the most beautiful.  The scenery was ever-changing; meadows, ridges, flowers, forest, soft creeks, perfect lightning, birds chirping, and no people.  The elevation gain is 4,200 feet but it rolls up and down until the final climb (which is hellacious).  I was very fond of this run and slowly began to accept the bears were out there enjoying the same land I was.  We really aren’t all that different.  I probably look the same when I charge downhill, all ass.

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stay gold

I ran southeast along Panther Ridge for quite some time as views of the interior Sierras opened up.

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panther ridge

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Sierras

Through Mehrten Meadows (which would be an amazing place to back country camp) and onto the Alta Peak – Alta Meadows split I went.  Here I exercised mountaineering skills that only come with decades of experience, and followed the arrow on the sign.

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<—

I climbed and climbed and climbed until I arrived in the basin below Alta Peak.

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I climbed and climbed and climbed until I reached the dirty loose dirt below the final summit block.

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The grind is real up this one, I think I cursed a few times.  Most of the gains come at the end.  The last couple hundred feet to the summit is a scramble on solid rock.  The actual summit is knife edge like, there is not a flat spot to stand.  It is spectacular, worth the sweat, worth the bears.

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proof

 

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i LOVE summit registers

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all I need

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me and Bob Saget

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Emerald Lake, Aster Lake, Pear Lake

I put on my Aerosmith playlist and ran out really really fast.

File Jan 01, 7 43 17 PM

Tharps Rock

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I knew I had to take a shower before driving the 170 miles (which took 6 hours) to Paso Robles.  There are nice quarter showers in the Lodgepole village.  And by nice I mean, smell like garbage and eat your quarters but I was able to scrub the encrusted dirt off my body, run a brush through clean hair, and put on a sun dress making me look somewhat human again.

Very rarely do I participate in “touristy” things.  I get really bad anxiety when I am around a lot of people, especially in national parks.  There is nothing wild or free about full parking lots, screaming children, and hundreds of camera flashes going off but I wanted to see the General Sherman Tree.  The General Sherman Tree is the worlds, yes the worlds LARGEST living tree.  I did not care if I had to fight my way through busses full of Asian tourists, I had to see it.

I put my head phones in and played The Head and The Heart.  It is 1.2 miles RT with 200 feet of vertical gain to the tree.  It’s not a free ride but close to it.  There were hundreds of people but I kept my eyes pealed towards the sky.  The giant Sequoias + The Head and The Heart can silence even the busiest of trails.  I tried to imagine what this place was like before a web of paved paths whisked away anyone willing to pay the park entrance fee.  By the way, if you ever take a road trip and plan on frequenting National Parks, buy a park pass.  It is $80 for the entire year.  Sequoia alone cost $30 to get in.

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may the forest be with you

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yasssssss

Next up….Paso Robles and Big Sur!


”Run from what’s comfortable.  Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.  Destroy your reputation.  Be Notorious.” – Rumi