February 11, 2008

Rocky (and Windy) Mountains

On the way home from work on Friday, I met Keith in Clear Creek Canyon for a couple hours of ice climbing. We're both steadily gaining confidence and improving our technique to become more efficient.

On Saturday, Melanie and I left on an overly ambitious attempt at climbing the North Face of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. We knew the weather was questionable with recent heavy snowfalls and high winds in the forecast. We figured that the worst that could happen is that we'd have fun snowcamping and get some good views.

While hiking in on Saturday evening to set up camp and make for a shorter day of climbing on Sunday, we either lost the trail, or nobody had been up there since the recent snows. At any rate, we ended up breaking trail through waist deep snow and didn't make it very far that night. We set up camp just as it got dark and decided to sleep in since we figured summiting was out of the question considering the distance we had to go and the trail we would have to break.

Our camp, about 1 mile from the car

We began hiking again around 9 am on Sunday morning. At around 11 am we reached treeline where the winds picked up considerably. We continued hiking above treeline, heading for Mt. Lady Washington in anticipation of some great views of the vertical northeast face of Longs Peak.

Mel near treeline, where we'd hoped to camp the previous night

Me on my way up Mt. Lady Washington

Near the top of Mt. Lady Washington, the winds were vicious, blowing an estimated 25 mph with gusts up to 70. One particularly strong gust sent Mel airborne for a second or two. I can't say we won our contest with the wind, but it was worth it as we managed to obtain some spectacular views of the famous Diamond on Long's Peak, with Chasm Lake far below. At the summit of Longs, we could see clouds blowing over the peak at an incredible rate (steady 50-60 mph?), which made me very glad that we weren't up there.

Longs Peak and the impressive Diamond

I re-learned an important lesson on this trip: the energy required to keep one's self upright in high winds (and picking one's self up after being slammed to the ground by the wind) while traveling on uneven and sometimes steep terrain is mind-bogglingly exhausting. Mel and I both agreed after it was all over that even though we didn't climb a mountain, it sure felt like we did.

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