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September 2011
Volume 17, Issue 8

HIGH PEAKS OF COLORADO

Longs Peak's "Keyhole", a key and eponymous landmark

The obligatory picture of the Bells

On the Kelso ridge to Torreys

We intrude on a family of sheep at a critical point on the ridge traverse to Crystal.

Heading up west slope of Snowmass

July 31-August 20, 2011
Report & Photos by Ed Forkos

From 7/31 to 8/20 this summer, Luba Leef and I paid a visit to some of the highpoints of the Colorado Rockies. Of course, the month of August is the best time to go if you want to avoid the interference of snow on the routes. We were highly impressed with this area and would strongly encourage you to take a look here for your next trip. The scenery is outstanding, the rock generally of excellent quality, the access roads good, the routes clearcut (with numerous options for any given peak.) Jerry Roachs’ 14er and 13er guidebooks, plus the various websites, made planning a breeze. I merely want to tell of our experiences on this trip briefly, highlighting issues that we discovered that are not otherwise at all clear. Unless otherwise stated, ALL the climbs deserved superlatives. Our goal was to find meritorious routes, not to click off a bunch of summits on a list.

1. Estes Cone, 11006’. A fun warmup scramble, easy to overlook, with great views, Class 2

2. Longs Peak, Keyhole route, 14255’. Still one of the premier classics! Don’t be deceived by the large number of people who do it. It’s a serious route, and a long walk. The final several 100 feet up the Homestretch is highly polished Class 3 making it dangerous. Many of the climbers are inexperienced/incompetent making rockfall a problem (i.e. consider wearing a helmet.)

Meandering through aspen groves



3. Bierstadt/Evans, 14060’/14264’. We did a “loop” up from Summit Lake, through Mt. Spalding, across to Bierstadt via the Sawtooth ridge, then back to Evans, then down to Summit Lake. It proved wonderful. Picking up the Sawtooth traverse is a bit tricky. It starts about 200’ below the high point on the ridge (a sheer dropoff to the west). Look
for a few large cairns to find this start. The traverse is straightforward Class 3 (limited) and well-cairned. Go directly up to Bierstadt, i.e. forget any trails. One can stay atop the summit ridge all the way across the Evans massif to the summit, Class 3 (limited). From the NE corner of the summit block, one can drop straight NNE to the road and Summit
Lake, Class 2, not an established route, but fast.

Sawtooth ridge from Evans to Bierstadt



4. Torreys/Grays, 14267’/14270’. We ascended the Kelso Ridge to Torreys, then descended the standard trail from Grays. Kelso is much harder than it looks. There were NO cairns. Usage trail exists in obvious places. Not so obvious is how to solve the many problems that confront you and guidebooks are not much help. We loved it but be prepared for at least several significant 4th class pitches (i.e. if it’s 5th class, find an easier way.) Rock is trustworthy. Good luck.

5. Quandary, 14265’. Up via West ridge, down by Cristo couloir. Guidebooks and signage to the contrary, it is not obvious how to start the hike in, and there certainly is no trail, as advertised. Best is to climb up from the reservoir, northward, dodging dense growth until you’re on clear slopes. Then traverse west to the broad, lovely NW canyon, and drop into it on good trail seen from above. We bypassed the Quandary-Fletcher saddle by upclimbing the first major gully to its east, Class 3-. To get there, stay to the right on great boulders, following spotty usage trail, as you leave the canyon. A great old miners trail takes you way up the west ridge to end at an old mine, which is where your troubles will start. This ridge traverse is long, complex, and intimidating, but fun. Be prepared for lots of Class 3, at least several mandatory Class 4 pitches, and some dizzying exposure! There are however some usage trails and cairns to help out. To descend, we simply bailed out to the south, following the west edge of the Cristo couloir, very solid for the most part, and only Class 2.

6. The Decalibron: Democrat/Cameron/Lincoln/Bross-all 14ers. Though only a Class 1+ trail loop, straightforward, its deliciously scenic, a real classic. The drive to Kite Lake is rough and needs high clearance (not 4WD.) Bross peak, though officially closed to public access, is climbed by most (and us) to round off the route. Descent from Bross is on a ribbon of a trail that is profoundly exposed for long distances; stay alert!

On the Decalibron roadway, heading to Lincoln



7. Crystal Peak, 13852’. East Ridge up and East slopes trail down. The start is a bit complicated but worth it; study the map closely. The ridge traverse from Mt. Helen to Father Dyer is easy at the start and the ending, but in between is a vexing Class 3-4 labyrinthe rivaling Quandary west ridge, but here, without cairns or usage trail. I believe we made some lucky decisions here. I’d urge dropping down to the East slopes trail rather than taking the shortcut down.

8. Pacific Peak, 13950’. East Ridge, out and back, Class 2+. 4WD (not high-clearance) advised for last leg of drive to North McCullough TH. Start climbing at a Class 2+ break in the low cliff band 25' back down the road. Some navigational aid will be needed for most to get onto the east ridge. To traverse the ridge most efficiently, from Point 13238 westward, you can stay on the south side of the ridge, on an almost “flat” course of wide, grassy ledges divided by Class 2 notches, usually staying 50-100’ below the ridgecrest. You will have to ascend/traverse from the final saddle to get to the large plateau SE of the summit. Once seen, traverse directly across the plateau to the peak's E ridge, and on up.

9. Drift Peak, 13900’. This is a hidden gem, via the Villa ridge. I advise driving up the road from the unmarked Mayflower TH to the cabins, requiring 4WD/high-clearance, but not a bad road. Parking here is very limited, and the road is strewn with hikers! Its best to start the ridge at its NNW face where you pick up usage trail up an otherwise obnoxious, steep hill. The rest of the ridge is a delight. Stay on the ridgeline for a pleasant Class 2 scramblefest on great boulders. We were able to descend via the canyon to the NE of the ridge…not pleasant, but different, Class 2.

10. Massive (as in huge!), 14421' (2nd highest on CO.) SE ridge up, standard E slopes trail down. A long hike, but worth it. Once you leave the trail, most will need navigational aid to get through the very extensively wooded slope to open tundra above on the SE ridge. The route up has only a pinch of Class 2, and the final trail to top, a whiff of Class 2. You will never be alone at the top of this peak! Being annoyed by the hoards, we unceremoniously dove over the E edge of the summit block, making a beeline for the trail far below. Enough said.

11. Mt. Hope, 13933’. Great shorter hike with TH on the highway. E ridge up from the high saddle, a Class 2-3 romp if you stay on/near the crest. We descended the SE ridge. Its lower section is not very obvious and could be hazardously steep and loose. We were lucky to hit it nicely coming out onto the trail: the ridge splits at bottom; descend the pleasant but steep, broad, grassy gully sitting between these ridges. Drop to bottom of this gully, and, from its left corner, drop across loose but easy slope to the boulder field below. Cross field to the visible trail below.

12. Mt. Elbert, 14433’, el numero uno. SE ridge out and back. TH on the highway. The route is very straightforward, Class 1+. Stay on the ridgecrest. Don’t forget that you are exposed (to electricity) for a long distance on this hike.

13. Maroon Peak. Sadly, I chose to back off on this one 2/3 of the way up, as I felt that it was inordinately dangerous, and only got worse above! I applied the same logic for Pyramid and did not even start it. This climb has less to do with climbing skill than it does with risk-taking, in my humble opinion. In mountaineering, each must confront this issue for themselves! Good luck.

A bronze plaque.....heavy duty!



14. Castle/Conundrum, 14265’/14060’. The drive in up FS102 is considerably challenging, requiring fairly high-clearance and a solid knowledge of how to use 4-low. Ironically, I chose to stop at the Pearl Pass junction. It turned out that the rest of the road above this was good up to the Montezuma Mine where there is ample parking and room to camp. The last half-mile to upper TH could be a bit difficult without a smaller vehicle. We ascended the NE ridge all the way up to Castle on great Class 2-3 rock, keeping usually just left of the ridgecrest, very pleasant. We then went out and back to Conundrum, perhaps not worth it as its not an official 14er (Class 2). On descent, we dropped into the Montezuma basin on a good trail from a saddle about 500’ below the summit on the NE ridge. It was a very speedy descent to TH, with only a bit of easy snow to cross.

15. Snowmass, 14092’. This was a veritable good news/bad news story! The hike in and climb are great, better than all the guidebooks describe, but the drive in is one of the worst I’ve ever done, and cannot recommend it unless you’re a skilled driver with an able vehicle. We drove in on the Lost Trail Creek road from Marble to Lead King TH. In addition to all the usual nastiness, there are long sections where your vehicle could slip off the road which is only dirt, and downsloping, if anything interfered with the minimum friction needed (i.e. wetness.) We drove out on road from Lead King to Crystal. This is remarkably nasty but made easier by going downhill. Surprisingly, though people actually live there, the road from Crystal to Marble is very bad, and dangerous. The sign stating 4WD not needed is a sick joke. Consider backpacking in to Lead King. The hike in requires you to pick up a trail from Geneva Lake that is totally obscured by an old, fallen tree. From campsite #2, walk to the left around tree, pick up trail, and pass sites #3 and #4 on your way north. This trail will take you up to and past Little Gem Lake, then drop you down in perfect position to do the long west face of Snowmass. Of note, though there is a SW ridge route, I could see no reasonable way to get to it (the topo maps suggest a cake walk, but its far from this.) First ascend directly up the steep scree/talus slope on use trail, aiming for the only large green patch to the L of a central gully above. The patch is at the bottom of a broken 200’ wall. Ascend Class 3 on left side of the pourover (above the green patch), then simply cross over to the right in the next 200’ to gain a forming ridgeline which is not only very solid, boulders and slab, but ends right at the summit. This ridge must be some sort of secret as nobody speaks of it! All the usage trails, all over this slope, trudge up/down loose scree.


LVMC MONTHLY BIO FEATURE

Michelle Napoli

Where were you born?
East Hampton, NY, the east end of Long Island. No mountains, but surrounded by some of the most beautiful ocean and bay beaches in the world. Whatever you’ve heard about “the Hamptons,” it’s only part of the story.

How long have you lived in Las Vegas?
I'm approaching my one-year anniversary in mid-October.

What is your occupation?
I'm a freelance reporter/writer/editor.

How long have you been an LVMC member?
I joined in 2010, not long after I moved here.

What is your favorite hike/climb?
It’s hard to pick just one; each is unique in the people I share the experience with and its challenges and natural setting. Pressed to choose, I’d have to say a five-day trip in the Wind River Range in Wyoming in June 2007. The Winds are beautiful, the ascent up Gannett Peak’s south-facing couloir was challenging (at least it seemed pretty steep at the time) and best of all I did the climb as part of a fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers, which takes inner city at-risk youth on wilderness experiences.

What is the most challenging hike/climb you have done?
This and the previous question make me think of a saying I recently came across that struck a chord with me: “A fool tells you what he will do; a boaster what he has done. The wise man does it and says nothing.” But since you’re looking for a direct answer, it would be Denali. I climbed the West Buttress route this May.

How did you get into hiking/climbing?
A work contact had been organizing annual outdoor adventures for business colleagues for a number of years. In 2006 he invited me to join his group climbing Mt. Rainier. I had never done anything like it before – had never even done any simple hiking really – but I was intrigued and at a point in life where I was looking for a healthy change, so I decided to give it a shot. It was the best decision I have ever made. Thanks Greg Paul!

What are your hobbies other than hiking/climbing?
I enjoy traveling, reading (mostly nonfiction), flipping through magazines, and pretty much anything involving food. I'm not sure this would qualify as a hobby, but if I were still living in New York I’d also include spending Sunday mornings in bed with a bagel, coffee, and The New York Times.


 

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GENERAL MEETINGS

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SEPTEMBER

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hiking the Southwest: The Best Hikes in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico
Branch Whitney


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