June 30, 2007

Harvard, Colombia, and a Goat

I got home a few hours ago from climbing two more 14ers: Mt. Harvard and Mt. Colombia in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. I began hiking at 4am, reached the summit of Harvard at 7:15, Colombia at 9:15, and was back to the car at 11:30. Overall, the loop was 13.5 miles and involved about 6000 feet of elevation gain. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing a mountain goat near the summit of Harvard. This was the first goat I had seen in the wild in Colorado (the pet goats on top of Mt. Evans don't count). Other than that, I saw the standard critters (marmots and pikas) including one marmot that was bigger than Keith and Melanie's dog.

I didn't bring a camera on the trip because my past experience climbing other peaks in the area suggested there would be nothing to take pictures of. For some reason, this little sub-area of the Collegiate Peaks was different, and I'll never leave my camera home again.

The other highlight of the trip was the traverse between Harvard and Colombia. The standard route drops over a hundred feet below the ridge to flatter ground before making the traverse. The book I had said that one could stay on the ridge (fairly sharp and steep on both sides), but it would involve 5th class climbing. My plan, since I had plenty of time, was to stay on the ridge until I got to a point where I didn't feel comfortable, at which point I would bail down to the standard trail below me. There was one section that was a bit tricky, the guide book calling it a 5.7 downclimb. It may have been 5.7 for about 4 vertical feet, but I wouldn't be a very good judge because I just jumped down the last little bit. I did see a rappel anchor built of climbing webbing about 25 feet above this section, so I'm sure it was what the book was referring to. The rest of the ridge was class 3/4 and quite entertaining. Overall, this was one of better Colorado 14er climbs I've done.

June 25, 2007

Summer in Boulder

It's officially summer here in Boulder by my standards: those being that it's always uncomfortably hot, there's way too much to do, and I almost want to go to work because there's air conditioning there.

As soon as Dad went home from his visit, Ashley, Melanie, Lauren, and I went climbing in Clear Creek Canyon. We initially tried to go to an area called Cat Slab, which we found to be closed indefinitely. I believe it's on private property and the owner is a jack ass. We backtracked back down the canyon to Highwire Crag, a personal favorite of mine as far as sport climbing in Colorado goes. It was hot and we were lazy, but we got about 4 solid single pitch climbs in before heading back to our not-so-air-conditioned house.

The following day, Lauren and I made the mistake of following Ashley, Melanie, and one of Melanie's coworkers on one of their weekend training runs (they're training for a marathon at the end of September). The run was an 11 mile loop, and I think I made it about 10 before walking up the final 1 mile incline. My knee felt good afterwards though, so I may decide to jump in their running program here and there and see what happens.

June 23, 2007

Big Guy on a 14er

On the late morning of June 22, a larger than average climber was spotted on the summit of 14,197 foot Mt. Princeton in Colorado's Sawatch Range. Passers by were dumbfounded by the spectacle. After an arduous 5 hr ascent, the 54-year-old man from Oregon gained the summit of Colorado's 18th highest peak.

Enough of this narrative. Last week, my dad came to visit. He arrived on Sunday night - Father's Day. I had to work Monday through Wednesday, so we began our Colorado road trip on Wednesday evening. I had previously picked out a 14,000 foot peak in the San Juan Range of southwest Colorado by the name of Uncompahgre Peak as Dad wanted to try another 14er after his thwarted attempt on Mount of the Holy Cross one year ago. Utilizing a 4-wheel drive road, we hoped to cut the remaining part of the trail into a manageable section.

We began hiking through one of Colorado's most beautiful landscapes at 5 am. Progress went well up to about 12,000 feet, where the pace began to slow noticeably. At around 13,300 feet, the big guy admitted defeat. I finished up the climb and caught up with Dad for the remainder of the descent.

Since we started so early to avoid the very predictable noon thunderstorms, we had much of the day left after returning to the trailhead. We used this extra time to detour through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. At one point, the canyon is 2000 feet deep and only 1000 feet from rim to rim. It is also home to Painted Wall, the largest cliff in Colorado at 2300 vertical feet.

That evening we drove about half way home, stopping in the middle of the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range. Hear we planned to get dad another chance at summiting a 14er as the Mt. Princeton road neutralizes some of the defenses guarding the summit of Mt. Princeton.

With a similar start time as the previous day, we began slowly trudging up the mountain. It turns out we parked about a mile further up the road than we should have, which caused us to have to traverse about 3/4 mile of boulder field before joining up with the main trail. Once on the trail, progress was slow and steady for the next few hours.

The last 500 feet required Dad to feed off of his determination and trick himself into thinking that the air contained more oxygen than it did. Ultimately, he fought his way to the top and summited his first 14er in three attempts.

About half way down the mountain on the descent, the clock struck 12 and the thunderstorms began. As quickly as possible, we finished off the descent without ever feeling a strange electrical charge in the surrounding air.

As Dad ticked off his first Colorado 14er, I ticked off numbers 15 and 16. There are 54 overall and I'm trying to see how many I can do while living in this state.

June 04, 2007

1st Annual Cooper Landing Ski Festival

Ashley and I recently returned from a ski trip to the Chugach Mountains in Alaska. Our good friends, Adam and Marci, organized the trip and showed up with their almost-one-year-old-daughter, Sophia. Two more of Adam's friends made the trip, Aaron and Jeremy. The final member of the group is a resident of Cooper Landing, Alaska, the town we did most of our skiing out of. I'm not even going to attempt to describe this guy, but suffice it to say that he's a real piece of work and goes by the name of Chunk. Below is a picture of Chunk's home - a large tent covered with a crudely constructed A-frame over the top to shed the snow.

Now that everyone is introduced . . .

After buying groceries in Anchorage, stopping by a friend of a friends house in Girdwood for a hot tub, and driving around the Turnagain Arm to the middle of the Kenai Peninsula, we were ready for our first ski adventure. This ended up being our first and only backpacking trip. We hiked up a maintained trail to camp at Carter Lake, near the base of a mountain referred to as L.V. Ray. The next day, Adam, Aaron, and Jeremy hiked most of the way up L.V. Ray skied a long, beautiful line down wide open chutes to where Ashley and I were waiting for them. We had hiked up a mellower valley to a saddle between L.V. and another peak and beat them back down to the point where our paths intersected. This proved to be a great warm up for the upcoming skiing. Below is a picture of a lonely skier (Ashley) in the vast expanse of the Chugach Mountains.

At the time of the backpacking trip, we had not yet met up with Chunk. Chunk somehow got word that we were camping up at Carter Lake and tried to come find us. Around midnight (still light out) Adam thought he heard Chunk's coyote call. He responded with a countering owl call, and nothing more was heard. When we met up with Chunk the next day, we confirmed that he did try to come find us without success.

After the backpacking trip, we drove to a campground just north of Cooper Landing, where we would make our home for the rest of the week. From our campsite, we had a great view of a skiable line on Junior Peak directly across Lake Kenai. Chunk, pretty much the only local skier in Cooper Landing and the only one pioneering the skiable lines in the area, claimed that that line we were looking at had never been skied, and was therefor unnamed. Our mission for our first day in Cooper became to ski and name that chute. The next day, we didn't start hiking up Junior until 4:00 pm for a variety of reasons. Of course, this didn't matter because it doesn't get dark until about 1:00 am this time of year. We donned the flux capacitor (unique system for carrying skis while bushwhacking so they form a wedge in front of you, thereby parting the bushes - devil's club - before you get to them) and began hiking up a steep, semi-maintained trail that Chunk constructed for just such purposes. A few hours later we were standing on the summit of Junior and at the top of our line of descent in a mild snow storm. The snow in the chute proved to be classic spring snow, and we were excited to find that what we thought might be a cliff in the middle of the chute turned out to be a rocky patch of snow that was skiable by Chunk's definition (see video).

Chunk, Adam, Jeremy and I leapfrogged our way down with no major mishaps for my first "first descent".

Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss the Alaskan ski run rating system according to Chunk. He uses the same symbols: green circle, blue square, black diamond, and double black diamond.
- Green Circle - if you fall, you will stop.
- Blue Square - if you fall, there is a good chance you will stop.
- Black Diamond - if you fall, there is a good chance you will not stop.
- Double Black Diamond - if you fall . . . well, don't fall.

Depending on the snow conditions, the same chute can vary drastically. Chunk gave our line on Junior a green circle because the steepness never really exceeded 45 degrees and the snow conditions were favorable. Because we were on Junior, and the chute was green, and mint is green, we unanimously decided to name the run after Ashley's suggestion - "Junior Mint".

The next day's events took place on a similar schedule, but this time Ashley came with us. She turned out not to be a fan of the flux capacitor method, but she did just fine. Jeremy, Aaron, Adam and Chunk were with us as we hiked to the top of Junior and out the ridge leading away from town. Ashley and I stopped when we reached the top of "7th Heaven", a bowl that was less steep and more wide open than any of the chutes. The four other guys continued along the ridge until they reached "Centerfold", an impressive looking chute with a large cornice guarding most of the entrance (see photo below).

Skiing down to the point where our lines intersected turned out to be the easy part. Subsequently, we engaged in a new sport which we dubbed "ski canyoneering". We skied down a steep sided canyon for a ways, past a natural ice cave, and eventually came to point where enough snow had melted that we could see the stream running through the bottom of the canyon. We delicately skied around many such obstructions, carefully linking up a continuous snow while weaving back and forth across the creek over fragile snow bridges. Then the canyon got steeper. These steeper sections were associated with a total lack of snow coverage, so we were forced to take off the skies and downclimb easy 5th class rock on the sidewall of the canyon, in tele boots, over slippery, moss-covered rocks. After getting all 6 team members through this section, there was one last steeper section with minimal snow cover. Chunk gracefully skied over the precarious looking snow bridge, followed by Jeremy on a snowboard who stopped near the opposite edge of the bridge. Aaron (also on a snowboard) came next and narrowly escaped disaster when he fell heal-side on the middle of the bridge, successfully collapsing it into the creek. Jeremy almost fell in as the abutment he was standing on also collapsed. As luck would have it, the ice blocks that once formed the bridge did not float away with the rushing torrent, and the rest of us were able to carefully cross the fractured zone.

Our final day of skiing involved the most snow filled chute on Cecil Rhode, Junior's big brother. For whatever reason, Chunk had named the chute "Young and Dumb" after he first skied it several years ago. "Young and Dumb" is the obvious line in the middle of the picture below.

The team this time consisted of Chunk, Aaron, Jeremy, Marci, and myself (Adam and Ashley were in charge of baby sitting and photography from town). The bushwhack and hike were similar to those on Junior but a bit longer as Cecil is taller. At the top of the chute, Chunk informs us that he's going to do a front flip off the cornice. He did so successfully, landing on a 70 degree slope, twice. He then led us down the hill in good form as seen in the video below.

It was warmer this day, which softened up the snow and sent wet sluff slides down the hill whenever a skier made a turn. Chunk descended fast enough to outrun the sluff, while the rest of us made a few turns and let the small, wet, and heavy sluffs make their way to the bottom of the chute. This long, steep run was my favorite of the trip.

Our group dispersed for the remainder of the trip, with Ashley and I heading to Homer, AK for our last two days. While in Homer, we visited the home and winery of a college friend's parents. Jasmine's mom, was home and made sure that we tasted all their wines (they had about 20 different brews), and came home with a free bottle. Most of their concoctions were made from local berries and fruits other than grapes, and were found to be extremely tasty. While at the winery, Ashley and I saw the only bear or our trip (see picture).

After a dinner of fish and chips and a brief tour through the Salty Dog bar, we camped on the beach on the Homer Spit.

The following day we did a bit of tourist shopping, drove almost to Seward to see the Exit Glacier, one of the exit points of the Harding Ice Field in Kenai Fjords National Park. The size of this glacier, relatively small by Alaska standards, was nearly unfathomable by continental US standards.

End result - everyone had such a good time we've decided to make this a biannual event (Every Memorial Day week in the odd numbered years), increasing the number of participants each time.