Friday, June 26, 2015

"Be prepared and be honest." ~John Wooden

A multitude of details can go into planning for a summit climb/hike/backcountry trip. Up front, you have to consider weather and trail conditions, then you plan accordingly for every spectrum regardless. Last, but not least, you tell someone else your plan. As I prepare to spend 10 days in the Rocky Mountains, my number one priority is to be prepared for anything.

Rain, snow, thunder/lightning, can all happen on any given day. The question is, did I bring the gear to get through it. On most hikes, you can ask me to show you my 10 ESSENTIALS. It's rare that I would hit the trail without them. They are a baseline for any daypack, and they can be carried in many different shapes and size

Since most of my excursions are going to 14,000 foot peaks, I'm spending a considerable amount of time gathering beta from I can pull route descriptions (including photos and maps), read trip reports, find out about current conditions, and get localized weather predictions from NOAA. It is also a great resource to provide for my check-in person.

I can send them a link to my specific route, and if anything happens they have access to the right sheriff's department and readily available materials to provide them for locating me. Now, I don't just leave my check-in person sitting around waiting in wonder. My usual routine is as follows:
  • Send Link to full Route Description (if there is no link, provide very specific trailhead, and route plans)
  • Include a complete gear list
  • Include the local Sheriff's Phone Number
  • List an expected start time
  • List an expected finish time 
  • Provide a specific time to call the sheriff's office if I have not checked-in (I usually allow for a 4-6 hour buffer)

If I'm in the mountains solo, I also leave the above information on the dash of my car. I guess it is important to note along with the route details on my dash, I leave a note for my loved ones. Now, as you know I proceed into the mountains with the intent of making decisions that will return me to my car at the end of the day. In the event that this may not happen some day, I want a proper goodbye available to my family.

OFF THE MOUNTAIN BY NOON. This is my go to for route planning. I don't mind Mother Nature doing her thing, but I don't want to be the tallest object above treeline when the storm clouds come in view. You may have bluebird skies at 6:00am, but as the day progresses, the clouds pop up. Slowly at first, then they multiply like lilies in a pond. Before long, they unite as one big storm cloud. Personally, I like to be in my car or tent by the time this happens - occurring most frequently from 12:00-2:00pm daily.

H2O AND GO. Even before I think about carbs, sugars, and proteins, I'm thinking about water. How much do I bring? No less than 2 liters, usually 3. What happens if I run out? Is there a water source? Do I have a filter or do I use iodine tablets? The upside of a filter is having immediate drinking water. Iodine tablets or other chemical treatments can need 20-30 minutes.

Hydrate before, during, and after - the elevation can really take it out of you.

MMMM...FOOD. Like water, food is another item I don't scrimp on for summit pushes. My go to items are beef jerky, rice mix, animal cookies, dried fruit, pizza (yes, pizza), and my absolutely fave summit snack is hummus. There's nothing like a savory, delicious, meal after gaining 3-4,000 feet in the mountains. I generally bring at least twice as much food than I need. Better safe than sorry, right? 

After finishing a hike, I generally pack in a good amount of protein and sugars to replenish and rebuilt what I've used up on the trail. I find that bacon cheeseburgers are an ideal option - sometimes I even forget to breath while inhaling them.

SAY NO TO COTTON, AND STAY DRY. Granted I did intentionally break this rule in March on Beirstadt. The sun was beaming down, and then back up from the snow. I needed to cool off, so I dumped snow down the back of my shirt on the descent. In general, you should go to great lengths to stay dry. This includes slowing your pace or taking breaks to prevent from sweating. Carrying extra layers (part of the 10Es), is always a good idea.

Moderate hypothermia is manageable, but it can turn into severe hypothermia very fast. If you are ever out in the backcountry with some one experiencing hypothermia, get them in dry clothes, and get them insulated as soon as possible. If you have a stove, heat water for bottles, and put the bottles in high pulse areas: the armpits, the torso, the groin.

MY CLOSETS ARE OVERFLOWING WITH GEAR. This is where things get crazy. The good news about car camping, everything goes. If your hiking into to camp, it gets a little more challenging. What do you absolutely need? What is a nice addition? What is a luxury? After waying your options, hopefully you're down to around 30lbs for a multi-day trip, maybe less.

I'll be climbing Class 3 and above, so the helmet comes along. The late snow could present unexpected surprises, even in July, so the ice axe and crampons come along. The snow probably isn't that bad, so the lighter crampons come along with the lighter boots, instead of the heavy mountaineering boots. Oh, don't forget to rec-oat them with water proofing for the season.

The decisions will go on and on until gear is sorted into the "go stack" and the rest heads back to storage.

THE SPOT. "A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work." ~John Lubbock. Let's be honest, parents tend to worry, sometimes to the extremes. Just ask me to tell you the Boliver ferry story someday. The reality is, things do happen. So, why worry them anymore than necessary, right? I recently purchased a GPS tracker/signal device called the SPOT Gen3. This will allow me to send up to three customized messages, or in a worst case scenario, send for help.

I'll be able to send out a link to my friends and family that will connect them to my device. I won't be able to receive any messages from anyone, but my network will know when I've reached a summit. I can customize two other messages to send anytime during my travels. Now when I don't have cell signal to reach out to anyone, I can at least send some sort of message.

"No need to worry. I'm just adventuring around the Rockies"

"The Phoenix has landed. More summits on the horizon."

"What a day. Ready for some sleep."

Every message will be attached to GPS coordinate. I have a feeling my Dad will be google mapping a lot from July 2-12. My Mom probably would too, but she's not as tech savy. She'll probably make my niece do it for her.

Departure is 6 days and counting (Click Peaks for Route Description):

July 2: Drive to Rainbow Lakes Trailhead/Camp

July 3: Humboldt Peak/Camp

July 4: Marble Mountain/Camp

July 5: Crestones (Peak & Needle)/Drive to Lake Como TH/Camp
Warning: Route description not meant to be read by parental figures

July 6: Blanca and Ellingwood/Camp

July 7: Drive to West Willow Creek TH/Camp

July 8: San Louis Peak/Drive to Grizzly Gulch/Camp

July 9: Trail Run Sunshine and Redcloud/Lake City Hotel

July 10: Lake City Rest Day

July 11: Open

July 12: Open/Return to Denver

"Expect the Unexpected" ~Unknown. The above schedule fits into my climbing partners Colorado Trail schedule. At the moment the CT is still heavy with snow in some areas, and sighting high waters at creek and river crossings. If she doesn't do the CT, the list above will definitely be changing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” – Mike Fanelli

The alarm sounded at 5:30am on Saturday morning. Of course, I snoozed it once for good measure. It was a complete disregard of the fact that I had been lying in bed awake for about 15 or 20 minutes already. I never sleep well before races, especially not this one. Slacking off the past two weeks on training, only added to my nerves.

The race didn't start until 8:00am, but it's difficult for me to eat early in the mornings. I've suffered from acid reflux since high school. Early mornings generally leave me feeling knotted in the stomach, and on the verge of heaving. Allowing myself two and a half hours to wake up, get ready for the race, and then eat was part of the plan. 6:00am race packet pickup - a slight chill in the air, but the temps would be rising for the rest of the day.

Getting Ready. Less than 10 minutes to go. Look at how tan I am not.

I arrived at the start around 7:30am. Spent some time stretching, and attempting to calm my nerves. Honestly, it surprised me to be this nervous. It was reassuring to know several friends were going to be on the course with me. One last minute bathroom stop, and Nicole and I crossed the start line with 1,000+ other individuals at 8:00am in Leadville, CO - elevation 10,200 feet.

Only 3700 feet to gain, and 15.5 miles to go. It's the 2015 Leadville Heavy Half.

Knowing I needed to conserve my energy, I dropped my initial running pace from about 9 minutes to 11 minutes. This was pretty easy considering the entire first half of this race was uphill. The next 3 miles were a mix of run/power walk intervals. Mile 4 was a piece of cake...downhill. I busted out my 9 minute pace for that cruiser. It wouldn't be such a cruiser on the way back though.

About mile 5, you come into full view of Mosquito Pass. Having a GPS made the next couple of miles bearable. At one point, the top of the pass seemed much further away than that two miles - my mind saw it as 5 at least. My pace dropped further into the 20s, but you know was a beautiful day. The skies were a little hazy, but after a month and a half of rain, you can't pass up a bluebird day.

All of my training on soggy wet terrain was paying off. I didn't think as much about the snow melt and wet shoes as some other runners. I knew I would make it to the top, and that's all that mattered at the moment. About a half mile from the summit, I passed my climbing partner on her way back down. I remember being really proud of her, and I told everyone around me, "That's my climbing partner. She's a bad ass!"

Around Mile 5, where power walking becomes hiking...just hiking.
I rounded a corner expecting there to be more trail ahead, but it was actually the top. I actually made it to the top. I was tired, and slow, but I was there at the top. Truth be told, I was pretty tempted to hang out up there for a bit, maybe go over and summit that 13er - it was so close. Why not? Well, there was still another 7+ miles left in my race, so I got back to it.

The descent from the summit of Mosquito Pass - 13,185" 

The descent back down the pass is a mixture of running, shuffling, strategic foot placement, dodging other individuals. It was nice to pass other familiar faces on their way up, the Jansens, Heather, Ben (the happiest guy you can meet in the mountains), Elizabeth Jansen (working towards finishing her first full marathon). I finally had to make a stop at an aid station to get pebbles and rocks out of my shoe.

Don't fall down...

One of the volunteers at the station actually took off one shoe, dumped out the debris, and laced it back on while I did the other. Who touches other people's feet, especially if they are sopping wet, and muddy? I'm convinced he must be a podiatrist. Regardless, he wins the "Awesome Volunteer" title for the day.

Looking down past the first aid station at the bottom of the pass. Just got a hi-five from Ben.

I'm on my way again, and I know that fun mile 4 is about to comeback around the corner, and be my last uphill battle for the day. My paced had picked back up, and I was trucking along in the 12s. I wish I could say I ran through the last uphill, but it really was more of a power walk.

Oh! There it is! The last aid station. Only 3 miles left, and it's all downhill. I've got this. I've totally got this. I am finishing this race today. Oh No!!! I don't feel very well. It's ok - just keep going, it will settle itself out. Nope! Nope! This is happening...

There are times that I suffer from delayed altitude sickness. I've heaved myself inside out on the side of two lane highways, the dinosaur lot, and once at a cute little B&B in South Fork. I never really know when it's coming, but the good news is, I feel fine afterwards. Ok, so back to those last three miles. Those last 3 might have felt longer than the last 2 it took to get to the pass.

The trail turned from dirt to pavement, one last left turn, and the finish line was in sight. It still looked so far away, but it was attainable. At 4 hours 10 minutes and 43 seconds after 8:00am, I crossed the finish line (Pace 16:07).

2015 Leadville Heavy Half finish line

I missed my goal pace by 40 seconds, but I finished, and I had fun doing it. Plus, I got to eat fajitas and drink beer at the finish line - after re-hydrating, of course. I watched Ben cross the finish line in time to make his marathon time for the day, and I watched a very special moment as Elizabeth Jansen crossed her first marathon finish line in honor of her brother, Rob.

Oh, and my bad ass climbing partner - she rocked it. She finished way before me, and cheered me on as I crossed the finish. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the sun, picking up some freebies, and spending time with friends.

When you're covered in sweat, and sun burnt, you might as well take a dorky photo.

It was a great way to get ready for summer. Now I'm in full swing for planning 10 days in the mountains. Don't worry Dad, I've decided to buy a SPOT tracker. You'll be able to check in on me whenever you want.

Here's a look at what's coming up in July:

  • 7/3-5 Sangre De Cristos
    • Humboldt/Marble and/or Crestones
  • 7/6-7 Sangres Como or San Juans Matterhorn Creek
    • Option 1: Blanca & Ellingwood traverse
    • Option 2: Wetterhorn/Matterhorn
  • 7/8 San Juans
    • San Louis Peak w/ Nicole
  • 7/9 San Juans Grizzly Gulch
    • Option 1: Sunshine & Redcloud
    • Option 2: 13ers Extravaganza
  • 7/10 Lake City
    • Rest Day w/ Nicole
  • 7/11-12 Big Adventure
    • Option 1: Dallas 
    • Option 2: Sneffles and Via Ferrata 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier." ~ Roy E. Disney

There is a phrase, the geologic time is now. No matter how easy or difficult the route, how skilled or how new the climber, every day is a window of opportunity for the unexpected. My first climbing season in Colorado, an entire family was buried in a rock slide on a scenic, highly traveled trail with minimal to no difficulty. No one could have predicted the occurrences of that day. Nepal recently witnessed this act of geologic time with their devastating earthquakes.

In the mountains you have two options in regards to risk, avoid or minimize. Sunburn is a risk, but the sun cannot be avoided. One would argue, the only way to truly avoid a risk is to forego adventure all together. Generally not an option, in most cases anyways. Right now one of our biggest risks in the Colorado back country are avalanches. Don't you know my parents' blood pressure just sky rocketed with that last sentence. Why? Well, it's because they know I'll still go out in it. In fact, I went out in it last weekend.

McCullough Gulch - Atlantic Peak - Tenmile Range outside Breckinridge, CO.

The above photo was taken during my final trip for a technical snow course with the CMC. There are many steps to assessing avalanche danger, and they start as early as weeks before your back country trip. Historically speaking, it should be the height of coulior season in Colorado. Couliors are essentially gullies that get packed with snow during the winter. Once the spring freeze/thaw comes along, the couliors become great adventurous alternate routes to summits. There is a considerable amount of skill required in comparison to standard walk-up routes. You need crampons, ice axes, helmets, and most importantly, you need to know how to use them properly.

Unfortunately, the climbing season is a little off kilter at the moment. Late spring snows came in abundance affecting the snowpack statewide. Right now avalanches are being reported on all aspects (face of direction) in all ranges. The weekly temps are warm, and barely drop to freezing during the night. Regardless, I have seen a number of climbers report successful summits on couliors recently. Just because another person got up a coulior last week, doesn't mean I have to though, and it certainly doesn't mean I need to.

My first approach to back country adventures is pretty simple. What path of decision making will most likely get me back to the car at the end of the day. Knowing where my values lie, is what drives me - my family is probably my biggest priority. They may all live states away, but they are rarely far from the front of my mind. Seriously, how can they not be? Look at them!

My niece and nephew, Hannah and Noah.

Trip Report: Search for Atlantis - Atlantic Peak Attempt #1 6/6/15

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a June 6th snow climb to complete my technical snow course with the Colorado Mountain Club. At the time, I expected early June to be prime coulior climbing. Spring, even summer, storms are not unusual for Colorado, but the intensity of storms recently is a bit unusual. It's one thing to get up on a Saturday morning and head for a trail run on a muddy trail, and it's another thing to get up on a very, very early Saturday morning and head out on a soft snow trail to the base of a coulior. 

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides detailed snow reports and observations by mountain range through the winter. After Spring rolls around, the specific range reports stop. You can still access the Observations tab. This is where I found that hikers/skiers/back country enthusiasts were reporting evidence of slides in all directions. Avalanches occur when weak layers give way - warming temps can be a catalyst to failure. I followed the weather and snow reports for Quandary Peak from the NOAA link. Temps were barely dropping to freezing, and reports of rain/snow everyday that week. 

With reports of slides on all aspects, and the unusual report of hip deep post holing on Quandary told me snow conditions were not going to be ideal for the Atlantis Coulior. Still I managed to only snooze twice after my 1:30am alarm went off Saturday morning.

The Group: Mike (CMC Instructor), Jeff (CMC Instructor), Dan, Tom, Me

The Route: 6.3 miles roundtrip (McCullough Gulch TH to Atlantic Peak) 3,018' Elevation Gain

The topo map route. There is a way to view topo w/ avy terrain, but let's not do that to my parents.

Route photo without snow. 
We planned to meetup at the ever so popular Dinosaur Lots at 3:00am.The best thing you can do is prepack as much as possible the night before. This allows for 1 to 2 snoozes after the alarm. 

We were happy to see the McCullough Gulch road was melted out, and that we wouldn't be hiking all the way from the Quandary lot. Micky, that's my car, made it a good ways up the road with only a few snowbanks to line up the ruts, and plow across. About a half mile from the TH the snow finally stopped both vehicles. Knowing it would be soft and slushy on the way out, we decided parking on solid ground was the best long term plan.

The group geared up, and hit the road. I was already a little concerned that it wasn't very cold outside, but the snow on the road was pretty solid. We reached the McCullough Gulch TH around 5:10, and added snowshoes at this point. Snowshoes this early on the trail is not ideal when you're thinking about a coulior. 

Mike in the early morning light @ McCullough Gulch TH
Uh oh...the post tree line...before the sun fully rises is not a good thing. The trail is completely covered, and travelers need to watch for trail sign posts to stay on the right path. Getting off trail wasn't our biggest concern though - our catch line is the water and Quandary to our left. It's pretty hard to miss either. 

Quandary in the golden light. We could see wet slides in some areas.

Heel locking the snowshoes up a steep section. The minimal layers, and vents open this early in the morning/trail is not a good sign for snow conditions further in the basin. (Photo by Jeff Golden)

Out of treeline we started noticing wet slides on faces to our left and right. The snow was dinner plating around our snowshoes. At this point my outlook on a successful summit attempt was about 85% gone, but it was a nice day. Originally the weather was predicting scattered storms in the morning. The blue skies were a treat, and I really wanted to get above treeline.

At this point the route started across rolling snow fields. Our slopes were mellow, and our route was out of the tow from any avy danger, so we pushed forward. Eventually, Atlantic Peak came into view, and we could see a good amount of avy activity at the base. 85% gone turned into 99% gone pretty fast.

Evidence of wet slides off Quandary (Photo by Jeff Golden)

Hello snowfields. 

Ah, the snowfields...the never ending snowfields.

Atlantic Peak, and the full basin in view. Signs of avalanches in all directions. 

As the route to the Atlantis coulior became visible, we could see wet slides on every face, and what we determined as a slab release on the Y coulior. Wet slides are like grabbing a hot dish out of the microwave. You know it's going to be hot, but it might be manageable - take precautions. Slabs are like boiling water on the stove. You don't touch it - especially if it's recent. Don't touch it.

As we ventured further into the basin I was already 100% on no attempt of the coulior, and not wanting to consider the standard route either, as it went over two roll overs at the top of a bowl. We reached a point where Jeff and Mike, the instructors, say you decide as a team what we're going to do and we'll stop you if we feel like our lives are in danger.

Tom left, Dan right. The final determination was to move forward to the last high point below the base. This was still in a safe zone above run out potential.

The views back in the basin really were amazing. Cloud activity had picked up as we were crossing the rolling snow, but no immediate signs of storm clouds were forming. The temps were mild, and it was a great location to stop for lunch, hydrate, snap some photos, and talk about different avalanche concerns. I was focused on avoiding roll overs, and didn't consider the point release for most of the wet slides coming off the rocks. It was a reminder that even with an AIRE 1 certification, I still need to continually practice/work with my skills.

Some dudes that let a girl come along for the day. L-R: Mike, Dan, Tom, Jeff

Their was no immediate weather concern, but the clouds were building. Looking back at Hoosier Ridge. (Photo by Jeff Golden)
The face. The Y Coulior on the left with the slab lanche. Our route up at Atlantis was smooth, but the snow was in bad condition at this point. Not to mention all avy signs on the face looked pretty recent. All signs point to NO.
Oh man! It really was great to be above treeline. It had been weeks since my last mountain adventure. Summitting isn't always a measure of success, but gaining knowledge is always a win win. If we had reached the based two hours earlier, would we have gone for it? If the conditions were ideal, and there wasn't recent signs of active lanches, sure.

Regardless, it was also clear this route was rarely traveled. Sure, packed trails are nice, but there is a since of wonderment every time you get to make the first steps in a new spot. Five of us stood there looking back over the Hoosier Ridge, and the only other signs off life in that basin were a few fluttering small birds, and screaming ptarmigans. Sometimes that's all you need to feed your sense of adventure.

The snow was mashed potatoes on the way out. I swear the mother nature was trying to eat my snowshoes. Some steps felt like walking through muddy, boggy marshes. Boy was I happy to finally reach a point on the trail out to get them off. I was also happy to shed my pack at the car. It was incredibly too heavy for the day. I haven't unpacked it, but I swear there are rocks in the bottom of it. I have to work on that in the future.

Heel lock in snow shoes turned into a plunge step on the way out. (Photo by Jeff Golden)

Stopped by the falls on the way out. Clouds were starting to build at this point, but we were close to the TH.

Looking back down the McCullough Gulch road. Glad to not be up/on Atlantic dealing with bad snow and now this weather.

Priority value, get back to the car at the end of the day -- Accomplished. Attempt #2 will be for another day.