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).

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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.

Print

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.

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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

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Do you want to see Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in a day?  Read on….


Side Note:

I have been awful about writing in my blog.  Look, it is hard.  If given the opportunity to write or go outside and do something, I clearly pick experiences over writing about experiences.  But I am hell bent on eventually writing about my entire summer road trip because 1) I want eternal documentation, it was amazing 2) My mother and father love reading about my adventures and 3) I want to share beautiful places and how to experience them the halfpint way.


So here we go….I left off with a big climb of Mount Langley.  I ended up staying (6/27/15) at a really cheap motel in Ridgecrest, California whose motto is, “we’ll give you a parking spot underneath a light to keep your car from being broken into by a meth-head.”  I’m not hating, even the hotel clerk was like, “ya, there’s a ton of meth here.”  I didn’t care though, I needed to take a shower, maybe more than I ever needed to take a shower in my entire life.  I emptied out my entire car and left the doors unlocked to prevent broken windows, took the best shower of my life, and got a really good nights sleep.

6/28/15 – Drive Day

Ridgecrest, CA —> Lodgepole Campground site 186 in Sequoia National Park

(220 miles) 8 hours!!!!!

When I put the campground address in my GPS a route through Bakersfield, CA popped up as shorter time wise but more mileage than the second option (CA 178 to CA 155).  Having been to Bakersfield (previous travels) and having watched a dog get hit by a car at 55 miles per hour, I was good on driving through that city again.

The drive I chose (CA 178 to CA 155) was INSANE, insanely beautiful and insanely nauseating.  It goes past the amazing Lake Isabella and winds through small towns and wine country.  Okay, so when I say winds, I mean WINDS.  I literally could not drive over 20 miles an hour because the roads where so tipsy-curvy.  Go grab a pencil and paper, close your eyes, and try to draw something.  When you are done, open your eyes and look at your drawing, that is what the road was like for eight hours.

Eventually I made it to the entrance of Sequoia where the road did the unthinkable and worsened.  Leave yourself plenty of time for travel in these parks because the roads make 15 degree turn after 15 degree turn and with the sheer volume of people in the park, speeds rarely exceed 10 mph, you could probably walk faster to your destination.  It is SO beautiful but I would always rather be on foot and away from the masses.  I don’t believe seeing these places is possible from your vehicle.

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Sequoia

You have to make summer camping reservations in California National Parks months in advance.  This is a very large park so I chose the campground smack dab in the middle (Lodgepole).  At the time I did not know what kind of runs I would do or mountains I would climb and although I drove a bit to get to some of the places I wanted to see, I enjoyed site 186 to the fullest (in reality, I wasn’t there unless I was sleeping).  It was basically a place to park my car but one night I did make myself a pasta dinner and then proceeded to spill it into the fire pit.  Funny story, I was so hungry I scooped it out ashes and all, re-boiled the noodles and nommed away.

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only photo from camp


6/29/15 – A Day in the Parks

Total Stats:

22.5 miles/4,200 feet of vertical gain

I woke up well before sunrise and made my way clear across the universe to Kings Canyon.  First stop, Mist Falls and Lower Paradise Valley.  At 6 a.m. there is no one on the road, so…. gloriously absolute amazing enjoyment driving the entire road through the park.  I passed some really nice camp sites on the way to Roads End (that is what it is called).  If, eh, when I go back this is where I would stay (Cedar Grove area). 

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Kings Canyon Highway

Activity #1 – Mist Falls and Lower Paradise Valley via Roads End Trailhead

12.2 miles/2,000 feet of vertical gain

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You can take this trail as long or as short as you wish.  It literally goes on forever.  There are a web of trails in this area, all of which I am sure are incredible.  This place is still wild.  I ran 6.1 miles out and 6.1 miles back and stopped on the way to see Mist Falls.  As I sit here looking at the map I am having strong urges to return.  John Muir was a lucky man to call this place home.

There are very few experiences I would claim as religious, this run was one of them.  Chiseled granite walls towering above old pines and a lush forest floor as the South Fork Kings River roars beside the trail, waterfall after waterfall crashing down.  It was meditative, so meditative that I barely took any photos.  As I sit here typing months later, I can feel the heavy morning air and the mist from the water, I can see the first rays of sun struggling to make their way through dense green thickets, I can feel my legs bounding through the forest, not a care in the world, complete freedom.  You want to see God?  Run through Paradise Valley.

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Mist Falls

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After my morning run I stopped at Grizzly Falls and had some noodles and a protein shake.

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Since I had been gawking at mountains all morning, I figured it was time to run up one.  I drove Kings Canyon Highway to Grant Grove where I mailed out a few postcards to friends and family.  From there I got back on Generals Highway and a few hair pin turns later arrived at the Big Baldy trailhead.

Activity #2 – 6.1 miles/1,500 feet of vertical gain

Big Baldy Mountain (8,209’) via Big Baldy Ridge

Running up this mountain is fun and the summit views go on for days.  The trail starts in a Sequoia grove and weaves through a moss covered forest until the ridge is gained.  Mule deer quietly ate grass amongst the giant trees and wildflowers chased me up.  I continued past the actual summit and scrambled my way south to a sub-summit (8,169’).  I carefully watched building storms to the North but believed I could outrun them if need be, never good logic, but it worked out this time as the down pour and crashing thunder and lightning held off until the exact moment I got back to my car.  Maybe I can read the weather after all.

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proof

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summit of Big Baldy – Sequoia NP

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this is a sign it’s time to bomb down

I returned to camp starved, made some pasta, spilled some pasta in the fire pit, pulled some pasta out of the fire pit, re-boiled that pasta, and finally had dinner.  But I was not quite done activity-ing.  With a belly full of ashes I ran to Tokopah Falls.

Activity #3 – Tokopah Falls

4.2 miles/700 feet of vertical gain

Conveniently enough the trail begins at the east end of the Lodgepole Campground where I stayed so I did not have to drive anywhere.  It winds through a lush forest following the Kaweah River before hitting a rocky section where it finally dumps out in front of the falls.  The falls in person is a sight to see but did not show up great on camera.  The run in and the surrounding peaks really steal the show.

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Tokopah Falls

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I ran out and retired to my trunk bed; for the next day I had a big climb of Alta Peak planned.  Still waiting for the bear wrestling?  Next blog ( :


“It is not where you take the trail……but where the trail takes you.”

Mount Langley (14,042’)

6/27/15

23 miles

4,800 feet of vertical gain

Up New Army Pass/Down Old Army Pass

I was well aware that Mount Langley was an ambitious goal considering my winter/spring ankle injury.  I had not seen the other side of twenty miles in quite some time.  I was out of high altitude shape and although I had been running and activity-ing A LOT since late May, this type of day, in this mountain range, was sure to be an undertaking.  But I wanted to climb a California 14er and I did not want to climb Mount Whitney (too many humans).  If Langley is done as a day trip, no permit is required.  This was very attractive to me since I hate paperwork. 

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Cirque Peak

Ryan and I moved from Onion Valley to the Cottonwood Lakes trail head at the end of Horseshoe Meadow Road.  There is a tent only campground but it was completely full.  Not a big deal, we both sleep in our cars, however, it being Saturday and all, there was no available parking.  After some quick exploration we found a nearby equestrian campground and I put Ryan in the pen and told him to give me his best horse impression as the campground host made rounds.  She said, “you will need to move if horse campers come through.”  And I said, “oh no no, my horse The Rollins is right there.  He is a two time Kentucky Derby champion.”  With plenty of open equestrian spots there was no need to panic.  We organized food and gear, ate dinner, made friends with our neighbors (also horseless), and turned in with a totally reasonable 3 a.m. wake up call. 


This was Ryan’s first 14 thousand foot peak and I was very excited to share the experience with him.  We started up Cottonwood Lakes trail around 4 a.m.  Be sure to take Cottonwood LAKES trail and not Cottonwood Pass trail.  I am sure it is equally as beautiful but if you want to climb Mount Langley head north towards a bunch of lakes.  There are a web of trails in the area but if you can remember north on Cottonwood Lakes and west on New Army Pass, it’s a breeze.  Because we had so much to talk about, time passed quickly.  Before I knew it we arrived at lake No. 1.  For real, that is it’s name, No. 1.  

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Next we hiked past No. 2, Long Lake, and High Lake until we arrived at the base of New Army Pass.  The terrain is nothing like any Colorado 14er I have ever climbed.  It is a wicked hot high alpine desert.  Now I know we call Colorado terrain, “high alpine desert,” but no I’m sorry, it’s cool and well forested.  It was at No. 2 where I discovered I packed my other pair of glasses instead of my sunglasses.  I also did not have a brimmed hat or anything to protect myself from the blazing rays of fiery star burning my eyeballs out of my skull.  I put both pairs of regular glasses on hoping that would help and simultaneously make me look crazy. 

Getting up New Army Pass was our kind of fun and landed us on the surface of planet Langley.

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We stopped to eat and I adjusted my high pony, because priorities. 

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It wasn’t long before alien life emerged looking for a free meal.

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Now, what goes up must go down and New Army Pass is no exception to the rule.  It is very easy to descend your way right over the west side to Soldier Lakes, so pay attention.  The landscape is a vast ray of nothingness covered in sand.  Speaking of sand, gators would have been helpful.  I ended up with an entire beach in my trail runners.  It is best to descend New Army Pass by hugging just below the west side of Langley’s south ridge and heading north.

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Planet Langley

Mostly all the vertical gain comes in the last 1.5 miles.  The last 800 feet or so are nauseatingly steep and loose.  Follow the gigantic cairns!!  They will generate the illusion that you are going the wrong way but the big giant cairns lead to the summit, while the ridge leads to well, no where.

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I was feeling amazing as I boulder hopped the last bit to the summit.  Ryan was a bit behind me as he experienced oxygen deficiency for the first time.  There was a group of dude men at the summit who had day tripped from San Diego.  The first thing we talked about was mountain poops as another two men with a jet boil made soup.  The views were unlike any I have seen.  I saluted Mount Whitney and high-fived Ryan as he stepped onto the summit block.  A married couple celebrating their wedding anniversary soon joined.  They had made both aforementioned mistakes; descending New Army Pass too far west and not following the big cairns.

It was a very fun summit and everyone exchanged instagram handles.  I still follow the adventures of the summit strangers.

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Whitney!

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proof

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Excited for him.

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I bet you missed me gazing off into the distance.

Now, Old Army Pass is a thing.  I knew that it is incredibly dangerous with snow if one does not wield the proper gear.  We definitely did not have snow gear.  New Army Pass was constructed because hikers were dying on Old Army Pass (it holds snow year round).  I suggested going down Old Army because it would not only shave off some mileage but we would get to see a new group of mountain lakes.  Ryan agreed.  I said we could turn around if at any point it became unmanageable.  We hit the permanent snow field and yes, it was a bit terrifying but ultimately short.  A slip would have meant a 2,000 foot ride down a sheer granite face.  Once we safely crossed we enjoyed the view of Lake No. 4.

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As we made our way down, like an old pro Ryan started talking about everything he was going to eat once back at his car.  If you talk about food for ten miles it really does make it taste better.

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I don’t take this for granite. Har Har.

We skirted between Lake No. 4 and No. 5 only stopping to eat a gel and dump thirty pounds of sand from our shoes.

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There are a few ways back to the trail head but we ended up on a trail to the east of No. 1.  It was an amazing hike out.

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About 3 miles from the trail head we caught up with the man dudes who were riding the 24 miles in a day pain train.  It was great meeting Ryan and being able to share this peak with him.  I absolutely love the Sierras and have every intention of adding another California 14er to my list next summer.

That’s a wrap on DAY 6.  As I write about each adventure it is crazy how much I did in just six days and how much more there is to come (over six weeks more).

Stay tuned because next I take you to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park where I wrestle a giant bear.

17


”The joy of life comes from encounters with new experiences.”

Crestone Peak via the Cottonwood Creek Approach

I have three words for you……  don’t. wear. shorts.

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8/20/15

Crestone Peak (14,294’)

East Crestone Peak (14,260’)

12.8 miles

6,110 feet of vertical gain

Solo/8 hours (with breaks and getting gnarled up 8.5494584 billion times)


I want to say I took the non standard Cottonwood Creek approach to test my mountain woman skills but I decided to snag Crestone Peak from the Crestone side because it appeared shorter and easier and I wanted in and out.  Let me stop right there.  This approach is anything but easy.  Gerry Roach describes it as “rugged” and “arduous” and that my friends is an understatement.

A little back story.  Crestone Peak is located in the beautiful and complex Sangre de Cristo mountain range in south central Colorado near Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It is beautifully photographed but only few venture in to snag what are considered some of the more difficult 14ers in the quest to finish all 58.  Crestone Peak makes up a group of 5 (Kit Carson, Challenger, Crestone Needle and Humboldt).  Most climb the Peak, Needle, and Humboldt in one backpacking trip and Kit Carson and Challenger in another.  But, I am not like most people.  I uneventfully climbed Kit Carson and Challenger years ago but had only climbed Crestone Needle and Humboldt in the dead of winter.

Want to read my most epic adventure of all times ever?  I highly recommend clicking here.

Winter

Crestone Needle 1/16/14

Never having seen the Crestones sans snow I knew I wanted to climb Crestone Peak before my return to school days.  And having already completed the Cottonwood Creek approach in the winter I thought to myself, it couldn’t possibly be as hard in the summer, right?  WRONG.

Sit back, relax, and get ready for a few good laughs as I relive the pain, agony, slight terror, raw beauty, and sheer excitement of 8 hours spent alone summiting Crestone Peak from the Cottonwood Creek “trail”head.


I am writing this report slightly (way) out of order.  This is actually the most recent mountain I climbed.  So keep in mind I did this on Thursday (8/20).  On 8/19 I solo summited Mount Huron (last Sawatcher!) and ran out her north ridge snagging four 13ers, and on 8/18 I did Tour de Abyss with a good friend, so my legs were far from rested.  I will eventually cover all summer adventures but wanted to write about this experience while it is still fresh.


Here we go……

I arrived at the trailhead around 6 p.m. on Wednesday night.  There have been issues with private property in the past but currently, all is good.  I made friends with several home owners in the area, they all think I’m nuts.  I prepared my running vest (which held my helmet) for the next day, made some soup for dinner, and watched a beautiful albeit hazy sunset.

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camera settings on point

I initially intended on starting in the dark but changed my mind.  The isolation of this approach gave me the mountain lion heebeegeebeez so I started at 6:30 a.m.  This decision turned out to be genius because A) I didn’t get eaten by a lion and B) this route is impossible to navigate in the dark.  Now I can say this because I have experienced it in both winter and summer, the summer approach is harder.  I know, you’re thinking to yourself, “she’s fing insane!”  Perhaps.  I may be desensitized because it’s been a while since January of 2014, but with snow so much is covered up and filled in.  There are no cairns to follow, there are no bushes to whack.  We walked in the general direction and eventually found our way to Cottonwood Lake.  Was it easy? Hell no.  But in the summer when things grow, sting, bite, prick, and cut it’s a tangled web of suck.

However, for the first two miles I was running on a decent (slightly overgrown trail) basking in the glow of my brilliant decision to cut down on mileage while maximizing vertical gain.  Cottonwood Creek ran just south of me for my entire journey.  My adventure was green and full of moss covered rocks, beautiful cascading waterfalls, and colorful wildflowers.  As terrorizing as this route may be it makes up for it in pristine beauty.  There is no trash to pick up.  There is no sign of human life.

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Just as I was wondering why Abe and I had such a hard time in the winter, BOOM….no more trail.  I came to the first steep slab section.  Gerry Roach calls this boiler plate rock.  I got a nice running start at it and then used a little crack to make my way up.

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At this point locate a small cairn hidden under a pine tree leading back into the dense forest.  If not, good luck.  That one cairn leads to many others which leads to the second set of boiler plate rock.  This section is longer and had water running all over it.  Water on this type of rock = deadly.  Here I burned 15 minutes heading north to inhospitable terrain.  Every time I realized I was in crazy town I headed back to the last place I felt somewhat sane and tried something new.  Mountaineering 201, if at first you do not succeed try try again and again and again and again and again.

After negotiating the second set of slabs I weaved straight up the forest, through cracks, pulling some climby moves, crossing the raging creek on an unstable log that sat five feet above (there’s no fancy bridges round these parts), and generally wondering if I could pull this off.  I wasn’t even at tree line yet.

And then all hell broke loose.  At (37.94930N 105.58870W) the west flank of “Crestolita” splits the non existent trail.  I knew I had to head north but a faint trail was luring me southeast and I knew damn well that would dump me in the wrong basin.  Abe and I had made the same mistake in winter even though I am convinced we took a more westerly approach.  The direction I needed to go was a steep deep gully full of downed trees.  So onward I marched in to the wrong basin fighting the battle within until finally I held my breath and made a sharp cut northwest.  Immediately I tripped, fell into a giant mud pit, and started crying.  No, no, I didn’t cry but the rest happened.  After 15 minutes of intense bushwhacking I stumbled across a cairn that led me to a large waterfall where I stopped to gather my thoughts.

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you’ll never find me falls

I sat on a rock for a bit and enjoyed this place because when your only 3.5 miles in and already having an epic you need to appreciate waterfalls and creeks and rocks and stuff. And then out of the corner of my eye I spotted a cairn.  I ran to it and spotted another cairn.  I ran to it, slipped, and fell on my ass.  What was this curious substance beneath my feet?  In all my time spent climbing Colorado mountains I never experienced anything like it.  But tiny dry pine needles of course!  And gazillions of them.  With the grade of the slope being 90 degrees upward I clung to trunks, branches, rocks, anything grounded as I literally clawed my way towards tree line.  I looked down and my hands were bleeding.  Blood, sweat, but this mountain was not getting my tears.

I recognized where I popped out.  Since I was in go mode I took zero photos, put my head down and crossed a large blocky talus slope, whacked through some shoulder deep willows and ended up at the base of the 23 tiered waterfall that tumbled down the center of the basin.  In the winter this was a suspect slope that Abe and I crossed high.  In the middle of it we heard a whomp and a crack shot out.

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still smiling

I located a doable overhung crack next to the waterfall and made my way up the slick rock to the top of the first head wall.  In the winter this is filled in and we used the snow to easily negotiate the steep slabs.

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I can’t believe you made it this far falls

If the last two miles hadn’t sucked the life out of me, this vantage point did.  Ahead lay a tangled web of scattered pines, deep willow, gnarled up rock, the waterfall that just wouldn’t quit, and the second head wall.

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After a bit of ducking and weaving a very brief moment of reprieve came in the form of a faint trail across an open meadow.  I still had to get down to it but I was so happy.

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climbed through the willows (stage center) and cut right to the slabs

I joyfully skipped through the meadow and then all hell broke loose.  The next twenty to thirty minutes I spent entombed in willows taller then me.  These willows put the Gomer Gulch willows off of Mount Evans to shame.  They were little shop of horror willows and they were eating my soul piece by piece.  I could not see where I was stepping.  I was falling in holes, tripping face first into the 18th dimension of hell.  I had no idea which way was up and which way was down.

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And then like a newborn emerging into this big beautiful world I popped out of the willow vagina on to some more steep wet rock.  I was starting to get the hang of this.  I climbed up more slabby cliffs to another discouraging vantage point.

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looking forward

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looking back

There were hints of a trail here, a cairn there, and then all hell broke loose.  The last bit before entering the final open meadow below Crestone Peak was by far the worst.  I did not have to go east to Cottonwood lake but instead needed to angle north west around Crestone Needle’s south flank toward the base of Crestone Peak.  I found myself climbing up ginormous rock only to look around with no viable route and down climb back into willows.  At one point, I am fairly certain I stumbled across the mecca of poison ivy, although I don’t know if it grows at 12,200 feet.  I crossed Cottonwood Creek only to fall into a deep pool of rock and water.  Go back, retrace your steps, find the way.  To no avail I tried to locate the standard Peak trail or remember something from winter but it was like a completely different place.

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at least it is beautiful

For a brief moment in time I considered turning back but then I saw a rut in the wildflowers and boom, the trail.  I didn’t even think, I set my eyes on the famous Red Gully and started running.  I made it to a large cairn where I sat down and had my first food break and donned my helmet.  I was at 12,600 feet and had to scramble the remaining 1,700 feet if I wanted my summit.  But what happens if it feels like you already climbed four mountains?

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the face of a survivor

So began the easiest part of the day.  Some maneuvering and paying attention to detail is required to enter the gully.  There is a good amount of water running down the center so I crossed back and forth a few times before settling on some left side scrambling.

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In my opinion the most difficult and committing set of moves came in the beginning.

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Right after this I hung a sharp left, crossed the river, and scrambled the rest of the way on the far left.  I have no idea if I was “on route.”  The middle of the gully next to the water looked like a rubble strewn pile of shit.  I never felt like the route I chose exceeded class four and it was solid and fun.  If you’re comfortable and feeling randy, explore a bit.  I probably should not say that when talking about Crestone Peak but after experiencing an Oregon “class 4” back in July, I realize how soft Colorado ranks.

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a small sample

I was having a grand time.  I kept catching myself smiling from ear to ear.  The views were unreal.

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Her siren kept calling me higher and higher.

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Crestone Peak

Eventually the left side terrain turned extra gnar and I angled right towards a window in the final ridge line.  The wind was seriously whipping.

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The last 150 feet was simple and solid.

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the final countdown

I popped over the summit crest and boom there were two gentlemen, David and Dale.

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Dale is into taking photos, as am I, so a well deserved photo shoot we had.

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graffitti

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one small torn up piece of paper inside

 

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it’s all mine

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Humboldt

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look at me, living and shit

I descended back to the actual saddle between Crestone Peak and East Crestone Peak.  I knew I was going to scramble up East Crestone because I want all the sub-summits.  Gerry Roach describes this scramble as a little more difficult then Crestone Peak.  I disagree.  I followed a direct rock rib up the ridge crest and found it an easy scamper.  While I was summiting East Crestone, a couple had finished the traverse between the Needle and Peak and headed for the summit of Crestone Peak.  The wind was absolutely brutal a top East Crestone so I fired off a few photos and jetted down.

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I was able to get a shot of him (can’t remember his name, I believe hers is Beth) on top of Crestone Peak.  Both are 14ers.com members.  They said the Crestone traverse was the last of the four for them.  Their rope was bright orange.  If anyone recognizes them from this absolutely horrible description, let him know I took this.  And congrats you two, it was a pleasure meeting you!

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come forth dear stranger

I descended rapidly and without issue.  I am a far better down climber than I am up climber.  Any moves that gave me pause on the ups were a non issue on the down.  Before I knew it I was headed back to the large cairn to de-helmetize myself.  And then all hell broke loose.

I zigged where I should have zagged and ended up in some cliffed out, wet rocked, gnarled up terrain.  How could this happen!?  I don’t know, but it sure is easy to get lost in the complexity of the Sangres.  I forced a hard left (east) and stemmed my way down a crack in a large cliff band into a gully that led to the freedom cairn.  Here I ate for the second time as the wind whipped me in the face.

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I don’t know how anyone could ever get lost in this

For a brief moment in time I forgot what I had to go through to get to my freedom car.  That’s a total lie.  It was in the back of my head through the entire climb.  Before I knew it I was back in wildflower hell.

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I followed a narrow trail for about 0.2 miles until it petered into nothingness.  I hit dead end after dead end.  Every time I cliffed out or found myself neck deep in willows I would climb as high as possible and locate a cairn or a viable route out.  It worked and before I knew it I was in the open meadow.

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And of course the endless slabs.

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Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house I went until I reached pine needle way.  I basically crouched down, held my knees, and skied to the bottom.  My hands were bleeding again.  This is how I knew I was going the right way.

I had the same issue with navigation at the split and the cairns were harder to see on the descent but my photographic memory kicked in.  Being in school for three years I know I am a visual learner.  I can take a snap shot of an equation sheet with my brain and then pull it up as an invisible cheat sheet on an exam.  The same goes for mountainous terrain.  I am very good at memorizing….. anything and everything.

Once I crossed the sketchy log I knew I could start running and my only concern was tripping or rolling an ankle.  I did neither and sprinted out feeling exceptionally good.

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When I got back to my car there was a man riding his bike.  He noticed the helmet on my pack and asked me what I was doing.  I told him and he said, “you made it up, up all the way to the summit, through all of that, by yourself?” Why yes sir, I did.

Something happened out there between that dirt road and that mountain summit.  I realized how comfortable with myself I have become.  I have learned to trust my decision making process and have confidence in myself without becoming cocky (which I believe can get the best of the best).  I have solo climbed around one hundred mountains but this one in particular tainted me with accomplishment.  I have never felt so rewarded in executing and completing a plan.

This my friends is not an easy day, but I held strong.

In conclusion, I would NOT recommend the Cottonwood Creek approach to climb the Crestone group, especially solo, unless you love pain, enjoy route finding, like steep wet rock, and mammoth willows get you off.  But if you do find yourself following in my footsteps and those of the many before me, it’s a drop dead gorgeous basin and one of the most rewarding days you’ll ever have.

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"The way to heaven leads right through the depths of hell."

Isolation Peak

“The Blam” sings a song I like called “8546.”  For more then half the song Jerry Adler sings, “iso-iso-iso – lation…..you sure got your teeth in me.”  I sang this song internally and externally most of the day.  I’m sure Chris thought I lost my mind, luckily, he’s pretty used to my insanities.


So, how do I put this delicately without hurting any feelings?  Isolation Peak is gem of a mountain neatly tucked away in the southern end of Rocky Mountain National Park within the grasps of the incredible Wild Basin.  It’s quaint summit towers over four drainages and provides some of the most unique views of Longs Peak and the park.  It is on the list of very few Colorado mountain climbers and is reserved for those who want to climb all the Colorado 13ers, love obscure RMNP summits, or enjoy riding the pain train as this peak requires 8.5 miles with 5,000 feet of vertical gain….one way.  The surrounding terrain and peak itself are the definition of what a pristine healthy high alpine ecosystem should look like.  With beautifully sculpted glacial rock, endless wildflowers, mountain rivers, waterfalls, lakes, rolling green saddles, and wildlife abound, there is no trash to pick up and it should stay that way.  It is not an easy mountain summit and I will not give a play by play with arrows on how to attain it BUT if you like a good story and photos of a rarely visited place then this is the read for you!

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Isolation Peak (13,118’)

Mahana Peak  (12,632’)

19 miles/5,800 feet of vertical gain


There is no camping at the Wild Basin Trailhead or the incoming road and because there is a ranger station literally right there, I wouldn’t test that theory, especially on a Friday night in the summer.  I got a motorized vehicle usage map from the ranger station in Boulder in hopes of finding some dispersed camping in the Allenspark area but the roads were pretty rough and Lola has been through enough.  I ended up snagging the last spot in the Meeker Overflow Campground; campsite 3, right next to the camp hosts (who are really lovely people), and across from the porta-potty and locked dumpster.  Simply put, it is the worst place I have ever camped.  Go there sometime and you will see what I mean.  Maybe it was just our location but there was no where to set up a tarp at the actual campsite so unless I wanted to cook dinner in a down pour I had to use the trees behind the shitter. 

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camping, with a view

As lightning and thunder crashed down upon my refried beans I watched an endless stream of loud people roll in and out of my home for the night, which was really a glorified dirt parking lot.  I don’t require amenities to survive in the wild but there was a generator running all night, a light blasting in my rear view window, and constant noise from people driving in and out.  Do not camp here if you have a 4 a.m. start time. 

Chris arrived around 9 p.m. and we retired to our respective trunks shortly after.   


Alarms a buzzing at 3:45 in the morning, Chris eating a massive donut, me trying to brush through my tangled hair, confusion, we got to get out of this “campground.”  Even though the trailhead was a mere 10 minutes away we managed to procrastinate start time until 5 a.m.  That’s okay though, NOAA forecasted the chance of storms as “40%—>70%,” so confidence levels were high.

We made our way through the dark forest, pretending to run, slipping on wet rocks, and then settling into a power hike justifying it as saving our legs for the descent.  We came to the crux of the route, the washed out bridge at Ouzel Falls.  They are in the process of rebuilding and this is how they feel about people crossing it….

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in other words, be careful while crossing (jk)

However, the sign is on the oposing side of Ouzel Creek so we may or may not have accidentally crossed on the bridge.  On the way back, in daylight, there is a clear path across the raging creek.

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Slowly but surely the sun began to creep into the night sky illuminating the path before us.

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I had been down this road before with Abe, when we made a huge day of Mount Copeland, Ogalalla Peak, and The Elk Tooth just two basins over.  Only Abe and I never crossed Ouzel Creek to find the nice established trail on the other side and ended up bushwhacking through a watery hell marsh until finally making the call to gain the ridge the trail is on.  I was remembering our day a little under a year ago (fall 2014), my first time in Wild Basin, the leaves changing, and how awe struck I was.  Despite the descent off the Elk Tooth (can be appropriately labeled the third dimension of hell) it is in my top ten days in the hills.  Would today compare? (Spoiler alert: it did)

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9/20/14

As we made our way towards Bluebird Lake the beauty of Wild Basin reared its flowery head.

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Ouzel Peak

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We walked through marmot lane where families of fat butts clamored in and out of rocks stopping to look at the crazy girl who wanted to pet them all.  We crossed gentle creeks, passed roaring waterfalls, and wove our way through wildflowers and slabs a plenty.  It is ridiculous how much I love this place.

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Bluebird Lake is some odd 6.5 miles in, meaning the iso-iso-iso-lation had officially begun, sort of, we actually didn’t see anyone until we were well into our descent.  Ouzel Peak towers over Bluebird Lake guarding her west shores.

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Bluebird Lake

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The trail came to an end and the route finding began.  At first there are cairns leading in the correct direction but they slowly petered out.  Our next objective was Lark Pond.

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Lark Pond

The route is not obvious nor intuitive and Isolation Lake and Peak cannot be seen on the approach but Mahana Peak aggressively looms above.

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Mahana Peak

Isolation Peak eluded us until we finally stood upon her summit, meaning, we could not see the summit until we were standing on it.  With no visual we went solely on spidey-senses and a map and compass ( :

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not Isolation Peak

At eight miles we arrived at Isolation Lake.  I was incredibly taken a back by the immensity and raw beauty of this basin.  It is places like this that remind me why Colorado is home and why I am going to school to protect the wild.  I can travel to the moon but I will always come back to the one place that my heart belongs….right here….

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Isolation Lake

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After a brief discussion about all the things we wanted to do to Isolation Lake we took on the task of gaining Isolation Peak’s south ridge.  Like anything worthwhile, it was a lot of work.  We passed the time by asking each other where the 40% chance of rain was, because a cloud would have been real nice.  We both forgot sunscreen and my lips were burning off my face.

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oooOOOO heaven let your light shine down

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Isolation Lake

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me, enjoying the sun

Once on the south ridge the views opened up and we both squealed with joy.

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I would say the terrain never exceeded difficult class two.

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And then the summit, everyone was there.

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me

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chris

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Longs Peak

We are a weird kind of party.

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dance

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party

More scenery….

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part of the Copeland to Elk Tooth traverse can be seen

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There was a register but it was missing the cap and had nothing in it.  My day was ruined.

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But then Chris saved the day and took this dope shot of me in my new Territory Run Company shirt.

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The wind was ripping and we decided it was time to move along.  Instead of retracing our foot steps we cumulatively decided to descend Isolation’s north ridge and go explore what appeared to be a humongous drop off in the line over to The Cleaver.  The reason for our exploration was in the summer of 2016 we are going to attempt to climb every single peak in Rocky Mountain National park in one day.  There’s only 125, so, totally feasible.  People keep upping the badass level round these parts, Chris and I are only trying to hang.  After we execute, perfectly of course, it will be named the Kummessler (combo of our last names) 125 and people will try to beat our time for centuries to come.  All will fail of course.

There is a serious drop off on the west side of the north ridge.  We stayed proper and made things interesting.  Stand on the edge of a cliff sometime.  I absolutely adore the tingly ass sensation it induces (even though I am still afraid of heights).  It is the same feeling you get when you first fall in love and see the object of your affections. So if you are out there, feeling lonely, go find your nearest cliff and peer over it.

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Whew, there is no gash in the ridgeline over to The Cleaver, not that that would have dashed our super plan.  Chris found an antique bottle, well I thought it was antique, Chris told me it had a patent and I was nuts.  But then again he also insisted big horn sheep were deer and he kept seeing a person over on Mahana.  We fought all day.

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looking back

We descended the northeast face into the saddle between Isolation and Mahana.

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this is what it is like hanging out with me

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not on trail-trail runners

Going for the summit of Mahana was not even a question.  Once again, I would rate it a difficult class two.  After Bluebird lake there are a lot of slabs, and rock piles to deal with but not much exposure.  Things get tedious when steep talus slopes move.  I was careful with every hand hold and foot placement and I still got dinged up.

It’s incredible how moving just one mountain over awards a different perspective.  Our jaunt up Mahana Peak was definitely worth it.

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Isolation Lake and Isolation Peak

We descended to Isolation Lake and began hiking back to Bluebird Lake.  It was incredibly hot and our water was so warm we couldn’t even feel it going down our throats, so body temperature.  Where are those storms NOAA?

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All we could think about was filtering cold water and the billions of wildflowers that seemingly came out of no where.  Things were reaching the critical stage, threat level wildflower.

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At some point we began running and did not stop until we arrived back at Ouzel Creek.  As we made our way to tree line we saw the storm NOAA forecasted.

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tornado cell

Chris filtered us cold water and suggested a little scramble to the top of Ouzel Falls.  I loved this idea.

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Ouzel Falls

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top of Ouzel Falls

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me videoing Ouzel Falls

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We ran the remaining 3ish miles out and arrived safely in the parking lot to more warm water and melted granola bars.  It was great to get out with Chris, thanks for keeping me company friend!!  It started storming on my drive home.

So happy to have gotten to enjoy some of Colorado this summer.  It warms my heart to know that a mere 1.5 hours from my home exists such raw undamaged beauty.  There are still wild places and this my friends is one of them.

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“Life is short.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.”

Kearsarge Pass

The Eastern Sierras have a unique vibe, an air of greatness, ridge lines so sharp even the most experienced mountaineer will shudder, lakes so clear you’d swear it’s not a reflection, waterfalls pounding down mountain sides, trees that could tell a million years worth of stories. This is a place mountain climbers want to come.  I wanted nothing more then to be enveloped by this vibe…. and I was.

6/25/15

1From the moment I began planning this road trip I knew I wanted to climb a California 14er (14er=mountain over 14 thousand feet).  They are notoriously more difficult, elusive, and back breaking than the Colorado 14ers.  I knew I did not want to tromp up Mount Whitney with the masses, so, I pulled up a map of the area and started poking around.  I immediately noticed Mount Langley to the southeast of Whitney.  Five minutes of research and I was sold on Whitney’s red headed step child.  Going, going, gone.  Not wanting to deal with camping permits or the fact that I had no back packing gear, day trip it was….and a humongous day trip it would be.

But that’s not this story, it’s the back story to how I found myself running up Kearsarge Pass with a crazy vegan trail runner from Los Angeles.


I have never had an easy time above 11,500 feet.  I tend to almost always get altitude sickness.  I have read it is part genetic, however, training at altitude will decrease the likely hood of getting sick, I am proof of this (from last summer).  BUT, I was on the fresh side of an ankle injury and had not been up high in months.  I wanted to do an acclimation run before Langley and Kearsarge Pass was perfect.

I found out about Onion Valley from CJ (@CJKLIVIN) who is in my top five favorite people I follow on instagram. He is a runner who is seemingly everywhere and anywhere and puts together the most amazing 15 second videos instagram will ever see.  He has a knack of making you think they are longer and leaving you wanting so much more.  We found each other because someone tagged him in one of my comments in reference to one of my dance/run videos.  He is my instagram soul brother.  He has a video from the area and I asked him about it, he gave me many suggestions but recommended “anything in Onion Valley,” boom, done.

From the town of Independence find Onion Valley road and drive all the way, and I mean all the way (enjoying the hair pin turns as you go) to the top.  The views are awe inspiring.  Sometimes I do not take photos because I do not want to press buttons and be distracted.  Sometimes I just need to live in the moment, roll down my windows, blast my music, and forget about all devices.  If any a time for being present, this was it.

There is a campground at the top.  By this time it was around 5 p.m. and I knew the chances of getting a spot were slim to none. I drove around the small loop hoping, wishing, yearning, begging, pleading with the forest gods to let there be just one more spot, please?  I must have done something right in life because there was AND it was a great spot!  I managed to cram my car into the back corner, leaving the actual parking spot open for my incoming guest.

It was at this time the campground host Brian was making rounds, to say hello to everyone.  It was also at this time that I fell in love, with Brian, the campground host.  He was a tall, dark haired bearded man with blue eyes and a soft voice.  He had just returned from a hike and complimented me on how I managed to get my car so neatly tucked in, between that shrub and that bush.  He gave me an envelope to pay and I asked him about making a fire.  He told me to come by his site when I was ready.

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It was not long after I unloaded some bags and wiped my filthy body down with baby wipes that Ryan Rollins (@ryansrollins) showed up.  Ryan is a heavily tattooed vegan ultra distance trail runner (sound familiar) out of Los Angeles but more importantly he is happy, positive, funny, and down to adventure through the mountains.  He has an equal love and passion for vertical gain and finds the same enjoyment that I do in pushing mind and body to improve.  Always evolve to improve.  From the first hug to the last goodbye it was all smiles, high fives, and fun.

Ryan set off for an evening run and I opted to make a fire along with dinner.  I went to Brian’s site and flirted by complimenting his burritos and showing him how good I am at chopping wood (I almost lost a knee cap).  I love meeting people who love this planet as much as I do and Brian the camp host is definitely one of those people.  I could have listened to his soft spoken stories all night but I had a fire to make, and quinoa to cook.

Ryan came back and we enjoyed a stir fry and my perfect fire before turning in to our respective trunks.


6/26/15

Kearsarge Pass (11,760’)

10 Miles

2,800 feet of gain

The Kearsarge Pass Trail begins at the Onion Valley trailhead (36.77234N 118.34108W) in the John Muir Wilderness located in Inyo National Forest.  It eventually crosses into Kings Canyon National Park.  We did not start particular early as there was no rush and the weather looked good. 

The trail immediately begins climbing, looking down on Onion Valley Road and into the hot, dry Owens Valley.  We got into a pace.  It was called Ryan runs circles around me while I slowly chug up, up, up.  Listen, dude is strong, like really freakishly strong.

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A little ways up we entered, the one, the only, the most famously quoted deep contemplating instagram mountain posing mans wilderness…………

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I mean look at this though.  This is some OG instagram shit right here.

MUIR

After cracking about 600 hundred jokes about John Muir quotes being overly used on social media platforms (ya I’m guilty too) and snapping a few photos for a family, we continued our run.  Views of beastly mountains began to open up.

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Ryan is in this photo, find him for 10 points

As we continued on the reasonable grade we hit alpine lake, after alpine lake, after alpine lake.  In this order: Little Pot Hole Lake, Gilbert Lake, Flower Lake, Heart Lake, and Big Pothole Lake.  I am sorry to report, from the photos, I cannot remember which one is which.  Hey, cut me some slack, I am doing a pretty good job of remembering two months ago.

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a lake

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etc.

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etc.

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etc.

I must also mention, these are all phone photos.  The only way to understand how truly special this place is, is to be there, to be in it, to experience it yourself.  If you are out there reading this and you are one of those people who isn’t completely sold on the outdoors or this planet, go here.  When you stand in the shadow of these giants, no matter who you are, you will be changed……..just ask John Muir.

Onward we ran!

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this is what I look like when I run

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Until we reached a large boulder field where Ryan later smashed his phone to smithereens (he wasn’t even phased).

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We kept going, flirting with tree line until finally we appeared on the surface of Mars.

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Ryan is in this photo, find him for 20 points

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I KNOW this one is Big Pothole Lake

In some sort of dream I never wanted to end we reached the summit of Kearsarge Pass.

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no people

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people

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We scrambled the south ridge towards University Peak until we found a terrifying rock to climb out on and take photos.  I am still afraid of heights: confirmed.

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I tried to convince Ryan to go for Mount Gould, I cannot control myself.  I want to climb every single one of them.  Every. Single. One.  He was the sanity, the voice of reason.  How bad did I want Langley?  Enough to know this was a good enough acclimation run and I was feeling great!  My ankle felt strong and no altitude sickness.  Langley is huge and I needed undead legs.  We headed down.

I know how crazy it must have looked to the innocent passer-by with a 60 pound pack (lots of backpacking in this area) as two half naked, darkly tanned, heavily tattooed maniacs barreled down the mountain side.  Normally it’s only one.  It was nice to have company.

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We headed to Independence in search of a vegan meal and coffee, we found both, I can’t remember where but I know we split a vegetable/pasta dish and there were a lot of flies.  We moved south to Lone Pine where we hooked up with Whitney Portal Road and then Horseshoe Meadow Road which goes to Cottonwood Lakes, the trailhead for Mount Langley.  It is only 45 miles of driving but takes nearly two hours because the roads are super gnarly (paved but very steep and curvy).

Day five in the books.

Hold on to your seats friends because Mount Langley is up next……


”The mountains are calling and I must go….” – John Muir

(Don’t even act like you didn’t know it was coming)