Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference." ~ Eeyore

Ten years ago, a hurricane ravaged the gulf coast during high tides. Towns were submerged from bay to beach. Homes were swept from foundations and torn apart in storm swells. Communities were destroyed in a matter of hours. 8 days later over 300 18-24 year olds reported to Charleston, SC for a year of service with Americorps National Civilian Community Corps. I was a member of Charleston NCCC Class XII Gold 6. We called ourselves the Booty Pirates. 

Back: Elaine, Holly, Kyla, Fancy, Cory, Michelle. Front: Kris, Angie, Me

The next 10 months of our lives were filled with adventure, heartache, distress, anger, love, more adventure, and more love. We bounced around in our 12 passenger van from Louisville, to Biloxi, to Atlanta, and New Orleans - driving forklifts, sorting donations, building homes, fighting over road trip music, challenging each other to eating contests, and sleeping just about anywhere a sponsor would put us. That's the life of an Americorps member.

The destruction: Strangi Street - Biloxi, MS

The Sorting: The Salvation Army Warehouse - Lourisville, KY
The Adventure: Shady's Bar/Grill and Thai Food - Biloxi, MS
I wouldn't trade a minute of it, not even a second. Nor would I trade a minute of my last adventure in the mountains. Months ago, Nicole and I signed up to volunteer with the Colorado 14ers Initiative on the North Maroon Peak trail. We met at the Woolly Mammoth lots around 7:30, and headed for Aspen on Thursday. After a short discussion with the Park Rangers in the overnight lot, we finally found the Boneyard parking.

16 of us rounded up supplies and gear, and set up the Maroon Bells Wilderness - North Maroon trail around 1pm. It was hot, and our packs were loaded down with more food than we could consume over the next couple of days...not to mention tents, bags, clothes, water, helmets, etc. By the time we reach camped, I took the first tent site I saw - no way was I walking any further with the pack.

CFI Round-up at the Boneyard Parking lot
The first night was rough, but mostly due to the porcupine family hanging out in the area. I had to shake my tent while two of them fought about leaves or god knows what right next to my head. One sat on a tree crying for about 15 minutes, while another one hummed. One volunteer,Tom, swears one of them of singing. Who knows, but at some point it all became white noise, and I was lulled off to sleep.

Two full days of trail work, well really maybe 1.5 days. Day one was restoration, but our team of 16 moved along faster than expected. The next day our crew came up with a number of projects for us to armor rock trails, rebuild walls, and close off corners. A full day of moving, throwing, tossing, and rolling rocks. By the end of that day, I was layed out on a rock, sun bathing like a marmot. All in all, the 16 of us managed to get a good amount of work done that will hopefully hold up through the seasons.

Then came day 4 off-grid. By this time, my skin had a solid layer of sunscreen, bug spray, dirt, and many other particles of the wild. CFI does not allow for summit attempts during work projects, so we waited for day 4. The alarm went off at 4:40am. Six us from our CFI project hit the trail at 5:30am with only the views of our headlamps in site.

When I told my Mom I was making an attempt on North Maroon,
I also told her not to google it. This is why.
Campsite at 10,800 (Last Creek Crossing)
3.5 Hours Up
2.5 Hours Down
Climbers: Myself, Nicole, Laura, Henry, Steve, and Dave
Sunrise coming over the Maroon Bells Wilderness.
The trail is well defined up the rock glacier. CFI put in a lot of hard work in previous years to make this great trail. The rock glacier is big, and it does move like a glacier, but I felt it was not as scary as everyone made it out to be. Yes, check your steps and watch for loaded rocks, but all in all it was more solid than expected. As for the trail, there really isn't one, but there are a number of cairns that are pretty accurate to the actual trail on the opposite side of the glacier. We picked a line of cairns that wound up bringing us maybe 10 feet above the actual trail. It's a very clear trail on both sides, so you can aim for it w/o cairns - it's up to you.
Heading for the gullies. (Photo by Dave Wruck)
The gullies are filled with thistles, lots and lots of thistles. Watch where you put your hands as much as where you put your feet. Both gullies have braided trails going through them. Practice mental mapping - take note of specific features, and this will help on the descent.
The first gully is the easier of the two. Not sure about you're preferred route. If you are following Bill's .com standard then be sure to stick with the first gully trails that continue left. The other's will take you all the way up the first gully for the alternative route (marked by a cairn at the top). On the standard, you'll eventually, traverse around the corner where the second gully comes into view. It's a rather impressive view.

The second gully has a lot of loaded rocks in it, but there is a lot of solid rock to work with too. You'll be traversing mostly over to the left of this gully, and you'll stay mostly left all the way to the ridge/notch - the right looks to get a bit sketchy. If you get to the 2nd gully, and some one else is already in it, I recommend watching them climb for awhile. The break will be completely worth it, especially if that person turns out to be oblivious to lose rock and/or other climbers. Take your time, watch your hands/feet.
Find the notch on the ridge line above the 2nd gully, and head left. The rock is more solid, but you'll see that there is still a good amount of loaded rocks. The loaded rocks on the trail are mostly avoidable. If you've looked at the photos in the route description there is pretty much no way to miss the chimney when you get to it (color photos are the best). We did almost pass it thinking it was too early to reach the chimney, but there is no denying the chimney when you see it. This is when we realized we had been climbing for three hours already.
Top of the Second Gully just under the notch - Head left.
A look back.
Nicole and I waiting for to enter the chimney. 

Before going up the Chimney, memorize the holds at the bottom. It will help when you go back down, and you're trying to find footholds. If you get to the top, and you're feeling a little uncomfortable with the last move up start feeling around on the flat service. At the very top there is a great handhold, but you wouldn't see it unless you were above it. Just feel around for it on the service - it's a crack on top of the ledge about 8-9 inches long.

Steve in the chimney. The handhold is circled in green - great hold for
the last move out of the chimney if you need, and back down. That said
always test a hold before putting your full weight on it.
In our opinion the chimney seemed further from the summit than the route description made it out to be - you have about another 20-30 minutes at an average pace. Spend some time mental mapping right out of the chimney. On the way back down there are some cairns that will take you too far over to the right on the ridge, when you really want to be just below and left of the ridge on the way back to the chimney. The story from the Chimney to the summit is the same as the gullies, both lose and solid rock only no thistles.

One more break before the summit. Steve, Nicole, and Dave.

Summit #21 with the next week's objective in the background - Capitol for #22.

Climbing Partner Shot with Nicole. Sometimes we accidentally color coordinate.
Same rule applies for the descent of the 2nd gully - be observant of other climbers. If you meet a climber on the ridge above the gully that you don't feel comfortable with their experience/respect level, wait it out for awhile until they are well passed sending any rocks into the gully. When you are descending the second gully, stay to the right as long as you can until the traverse over to the trees (remember the first cairn/ridge goes into the 1st gully high - Bill's standard route takes you lower). In the event of rockfall, there is more protection on the right side during the descent.

Fields of wildflowers after the descent on the rock glacier. We came through
before sunrise, so this was our first time to see them for the day.

Ah, this dirt trail is so nice under our feet. 
The descent is a lot better than South Maroon, but you know the drill. Don't rush it - Be safe - Have fun! Honestly, I would do this mountain again tomorrow I enjoyed it that much.
"When it comes to idiots, America's got more than its fair share. If idiots were energy, it would be a source that would never run out." ~Lewis Black
Back to my comments about waiting it out if you see other climbers in the 2nd gully. We passed a group of young guys at the ridge line by the notch on our descent. They seemed "ill-prepared" to say the least. We were hesitant to go into the gully with them above us at all, but decided to proceed. We asked them to be sure and call out "ROCK" if anything let loose under them.
We were about 500-600 feet down the gully when we heard a boulder, when a group of people started yelling rock. Large boulders came rushing down the gully opposite us slowly making their way more towards the middle. After what seemed an eternity the rock fall stopped short of us, and then entirely, and the skies were quiet. A bit shaken, we took a breather to pull it back together.
We were told it was in fact the group of young, ill-prepared, idiots that dropped the rocks on us. Their response was to look at each other and say things like, "Dude, that was awesome." and "Cool!" If it had not been for the group of 3 other climbers immediately below them yelling "Rock", we would have had no warning or place to shelter from the storm.
If you cannot respect the mountains AND other climbers, DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT go onto technical routes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure." ~William Feather

There is a man named Mike in the 14ers group, who is known to be a great mentor and trustworthy climber. I first met him on a Winter Welcomer (or may it was a Fall Welcomer) descent of Quandary after a terrible ascent with my now ex who spent the entire time chastising me for not being fast enough or strong enough. In his defense, I was pretty slow that day. Regardless, it was a great relief to heal step and post hole down that mountain with Mike at the end of that day.

My mountaineering skills have increased significantly since that day. When Mike invited me to join a finisher team on the Wilsons Traverse, I was so honored. I marked off the weekend on every calendar I had, and spent the first part of summer focused on building endurance for that weekend. Two weeks before I took a break from the mountains, and headed to Seattle to visit friends.

The Team: (back left to right) Todd, Mike, Mikey, Me, Steve, (front) Adam on Wilson Peak - Summit 2 of 3.
While in Seattle, we received news of the unfortunate passing of a great man, Mark Coates. When I turned 30, I was determined to make an adventure out of it. I planted the seed on my 29th birthday, and by 30 11 other people were crazy enough to join me on a 200 mile relay from Miami to Key West.

Ragnar Relay Florida Keys - Team FarFrom das VanAgain

Ragnar Dads: (left to right) Mark Coates and Bruce Groves
Having met Bruce Groves a couple of times over the years of knowing his daughter, Emily, we extended the birthday adventure invitation to him, and allowed Bruce one friend to come along. That friend was Mark Coates, and they became our adventure dads that weekend. My introduction to Mark was a man who ran faster than I did, never stopped smiling, and had no shame in sporting a moose hat all weekend. Mark was an effervescent man that touched the lives of everyone he met.

There's no stopping this runner.

The moose hat. No shame in having fun, and making laughter.

Real men have butterfly tattoos, even if they are temporary.
“If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.”
~Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass
I looked, and there you were. This adventure is for you, Mark Coates. 

I knew I would write about the weekend on this blog - why would I not? It truly was the adventure of a lifetime. I also knew I would dedicate the post to Mark. What I didn't plan on, was 4 of my five climbing partners for the weekend being Dads. There I was joined by 4 adventure dads. Two with kids at home, two with kids all grown, and one guy whom I can only imagine will become an adventure dad himself one day. Over the course of two days, our team hit the trails and achieved great things.

The adventure dads, and Mikey on the summit of El Diente - Summit 1 of 3.
You may be familiar with the Wilson group already without realizing it. You know the mountain on the Coors Light label? Well, that's Wilson Peak aka Nancy for the weekend. We saved Nancy for Saturday. The trip started with everyone coming from all over to the Kilpacker Trailhead  (Kansas, Arizona, 3 different Colorado cities). We tossed on those back country packs, and went 4 miles into the basin.

The full weekend team: (front) Todd, Kelly, Tara, (back), Me, Mikey, Steve, Mike, Adam (Photo by Todd)

Luckily, ticks aren't as bad in Colorado as Virginia. (Photo by Mikey)

Columbines - the Colorado state flower.

Our first views of El Diente - Summit 1 of 3.

Views from the camp. (Photo by Mikey)
Summit Day one was an early start with a 3:00am alarm, and boots on trail around 3:30am. Mikey and I headed out about an hour early with the plan to summit at the same time as our faster partners starting later. We could not have timed this more perfectly.

Mikey looking out at first light to Wilson Peak on the other side of Navajo Basin.

Steve caught up to us about 10-15 minutes before the summit. I decided El Diente would
be my first summit register sign-in. (Photo by Mikey)

Ready. Set. Ridge. After joining up as a full team on El Diente, we snacked and discussed the route across the traverse. We had several team members that have climbed 3 of the classic traverses, and Mike who had also climbed this Wilsons traverse. With the right team, the right skills, and the right weather, you can accomplish great things in the mountains. From the looks of it, the weather was going to hold for the next couple of hours. We spent somewhere between 5-7 hours above 13,000'.

Passing under the organ pipes. (Photo by Mike)

Traversing the gendarmes. (Photo by Mike)

Sub-summit on West Wilson before the descent to the crux wall. (Photo by Mike)

Summit of Mt. Wilson/Ann. Number 16 for me.

Two and a half hours after our summit of El Diente, and we were on top of Mt. Wilson/Ann. We asked a nice stranger to snap a photo of us (see above team shot), and refueled before discussing which gully we would descend back to Kilpacker. We collected some beta from a team heading up Kilpacker to the summit, and determined the golden gully we passed on the traverse is our best bet.

We descended the gully into a snow field, and distributed traction among the team. Between ice axes, crampons, microspikes, and trekking poles, every one descended the snowfield safely. The snow was very forgiving with no post holing or bullet proof ice. We really lucked out on this, and it made for a nice, yet bumpy glissade.

Exiting the gully to the top of the snow field. (Photo by Mikey)

Gearing up for the snow. (Photo by Mikey)

A look back up the snow. We descended to the right of this frame. (Photo by Mikey)

Mike and Steve making a gear unload and refueling stop by a Carnie Wilson. (Photo by Mikey)

So this is what it looks like in the daylight - Kilpacker Basin. (Photo by Mikey)

And then it rained... (Photo by Mikey)

And rained some more... (Photo by Mikey)
We packed up camp in the rain, and headed 4 miles back out to the Kilpacker trailhead. After some un-mudding of shoes, gear rearrangements, and planning, everyone headed into Telluride for food. Burgers for everyone at Steamies. I enjoyed the yeti burger, and a side of fried chicken tenders - didn't feel an ounce of guilt about it either. I recommend the blueberry ketchup if you're ever there for a meal.

Adam, Tara, Todd, and Kelly headed to Placerville for a hotel stay. Mike, Steve, Mikey, and I all headed for the trailhead to car camp at Rock of Ages. After some more rearranging and repacking of gear, my head hit the pillow before full sundown. Another early morning was on the horizon.

3:30am meetup with boots on trail by 4:00am, and we were off for summit 3 of 3. This would also be the 14er finisher summit for Todd.  Colorado 14er finishers climb all 58 14,000 foot summits in the state. Todd started his adventures on 14ers back in 1999, and by noon on Saturday he was a finisher with 59.

Trail by headlamps. Recharge those batteries. (Photo by Mikey)

There are adventure moms too. Kelly, for instance. (Photo by Mikey)

Kelly and Todd reaching the Rock of Ages saddle with Wilson Peak/Nancy in the background.

Time to gear up for class 3.

We had a considerable amount of conversations about the weather when we reached the Rock of Ages saddle. For the most part it looked over-cast, but pretty mellow. A lot like the day before when the clouds burned off a bit during our traverse. We did watch the rain start over Lizard Head to the south while we were about half way from the saddle to the summit.

Luckily, the weather held for everyone to summit, and Todd descended Wilson Peak/Nancy as a finisher. The sun even made an appearance when we got back to the saddle. 3 summits in 2 days. Great things happen with great teams.

Just go up - Wilson Peak/Nancy's false summit.

Final walk across to the summit. Summit 3 of 3. (Photo by Mikey)

Todd Payne finished the CO 14ers with his wife, Kelly, by his side. (Photo by Mikey)

This is unbelievable. Now let's go before it rains. 

On the descent. I like the five point stance. Two hands, two feet, one butt. (Photo by Mikey)

On the saddle to Gladstone. No more class 3+. Taken shortly before the
ceremonial sharing of the pringles (Photo by Mikey)

The traverse team with our El Diente-Wilson traverse in the background.
The old mine building, now marmot motel. (Photo by Mikey)

8,000+ feet of grain. 20+ miles. 3 summits. 2 days. 1 finisher. (Photo by Mikey)

Trailhead breakdown, and more ceremonial sharing of pringles and changing of tire.
After replacing a tire on Todd and Kelly's vehicle, the team headed back into Telluride for one last meal before departure. The Brown Bag Deli did not disappoint. I opted for the K-Lub Klub, but the deli's fan favorite is the Snapshot. One stop for coffee, and it was time for the long drive back to Denver. After getting stuck in traffic from an accident, I made it home in time for bed only 21 hours after my last alarm.

"No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow." 
To Mark: You went too soon, but you lived the life you had, 
and you lived it with adventure and enthusiasm.

Bruce, Emily, and Mark in Miami - Ragnar 2012 Florida Keys 199 Miles