June 28, 2008

Bell Ringin'

The very photogenic Maroon Bells

Keith and I decided to ditch work on Friday, so we found our way over to the Aspen area on Thursday night. Our original plan was to climb North Maroon Peak and Maroon Peak (collectively known as the Maroon Bells) on Friday, and climb Pyramid Peak on Saturday.

We began hiking, with skis on our backs, at about 4:30 am. By 7:30, we had dropped off our overnight gear at a camp spot and were putting our crampons on 3500 feet below the summit. The weather was absolutely beautiful, making the majority of the climb sunny and hot. After weaving our way through some cliff bands lower down, we entered the Bell Cord Couloir at 12,000 feet. This couloir is the extremely aesthetic line that bisects the two peaks.

Half way up the Bell Cord Couloir

We climbed the steady 45 degree couloir for 1800 vertical feet to the saddle, where we could finally see over the other side and switch from climbing in ski boots to trail shoes.

Keith topping out on the Bell Cord, Pyramid Peak in the Background

The physical demands required to reach this point were greater than anticipated. We were both feeling tired and drank the last of our water at this point. Having dealt with lack of water and dehydration before, I calculated that I could still complete the day's plan of summiting both Maroon Bells. After a short break, we started towards North Maroon's summit.

Scrambling up North Maroon Peak

The ridge linking the two peaks offered great contrast to the snow couloir we had spent the last few hours in. The sedimentary rock was awful (crumbly) by Colorado standards, but great by Cascade volcano standards. Although only a short distance away, it took about an hour and a half for me to climb my way over to the summit and back in the tricky terrain. The ridge traverse is rated Class 4 in the guide book, but I'd give it 5.4 in a few sections.

Maroon Peak from North Maroon Summit

After making it back to the saddle and top of the Bell Cord Couloir, our level of exhaustion was noticeably higher and we weren't becoming any less dehydrated. The Bell Cord was littered with rocks, so our original plan of skiing down it was put into question. On the way up, we could see the 'Y' Couloirs and they didn't seem to have nearly as much rockfall strewn about them. As tired as we were, it was a difficult decision to make, but we decided to put our skis on our back for the final summit push up to Maroon Peak's summit. Upon reaching the summit, we could only think of water, so we didn't spend too much time there and began hiking down the south ridge, aiming for the top of the 'Y' Couloir's northern branch.

North Maroon Peak, from Maroon Peak Summit

As we approached the 'Y', we found a trickle of a stream of melting snow. We put Keith's water bottle under it for a few minutes and had our first water in quite some time. I made sure not to overdo it since shocking a dehydrated system is generally not a good idea. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon now, and we were anxious to get down.

We took another short break at the top of the 'Y' to put our ski boots back on and prepare to ski.

Looking down the 'Y' Couloir

Keith dropped in first as my knee brace had broken on the way up the Bell Cord couloir and I was a bit timid skiing without it. The fact that it was now so late in the day meant the snow was very sun softened, but it never froze overnight, so I doubt our timing had that great of an affect on the conditions.

Keith dropping into the 'Y'

Although soft, the snow was still quite forgiving and very enjoyable to ski! After descending through the narrowest part of the couloir, we encountered several water runnels, some posing fairly substantial obstacles. Keith found his way into a rather large one of these and I managed to get a comical shot of his attempt to extract himself.

Keith stuck in a giant water runnel

Carefully choosing our line the rest of the way down to avoid future encounters with these man-eating runnels, we soaked in the beauty of the line we were skiing.

Keith skiing the beautiful 'Y' Couloir

Lower down, we skied through the garbage chute which had multiple waterfalls cascading over the surrounding cliffs, compounding the beauty of our location.

Exiting the Garbage Chute

After about 13 hours, we finally made it back to our camp. Although I've had many outings in the mountains lately, this is the first one for a while where I really felt like I accomplished something. It felt great to push myself both mentally and physically in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Colorado.

The Route, as completed

Needing more time to recover, we hiked out the next day and left Pyramid Peak for another time.

June 23, 2008

Tri the Creek

This past weekend was pretty busy. Josh and I had 4 parties to attend (2 birthdays, 1 solstice celebration, and 1 work-sponsored pre-Rockies game shindig). Between parties, Josh and I squeezed in a 57 mile bike ride on Sunday. But my biggest event of the weekend was a triathlon Saturday morning.

My summer goal is to complete a half-iron distance triathlon in August. As my previous tri experience is limited to the Beaver Freezer, this is a big step-up in distance and seriousness. To prepare, I have been doing quite a bit of biking, some running, and swimming with the masters group at CU. Most significantly, I bought a wetsuit and have been practicing the open water swim (the Beaver Freezer was in a pool). I am finally getting more comfortable in the open water and this weekend was my first opportunity to put my new skills to the test in my first "real" triathlon.

In exchange for me picking him up at the airport a week ago, I convinced Josh to drive me to my triathlon on Saturday morning. I essentially tricked him into getting up at 5:30 (night after party #1) to drive me to Denver and be my race day photographer. "Tri the Creek" was held at Cherry Creek State Park in Southeast Denver with the swim in Cherry Creek Reservoir. This "sprint" distance triathlon consisted of an 800 meter swim, 14 mile bike, and 5K run. I survived and felt great during the whole race, which was all I was really hoping for. It was great practice for the half-ironman, especially swimming with 400+ other people (the swim was in waves of about 75 athletes, a new wave starting every minute). It was also good to practice transitions and biking/running in my swim clothes.

I was hoping to finish in under 1 hour 20 minutes, but just missed this finishing in 1:21:16. As an excuse, I think (and most the other competitors agreed) that the swim was longer than 800 meters, it took about 5 minutes longer than I expected. However, most surprising is that I finished 2nd for women overall (out of 160) and first in my age group. I rationalize this as a lack of competition and am trying not to let it go to my head. I know at my next race (an olympic distance in July) in Boulder that I will be humbled by all the insanely athletic Boulderites.

Josh more than exceeded expectations with his photographic skills. His swim pictures are excellent, but he claims that I biked and ran too fast for good pictures of these portions.

Start of the first swim wave, men under 30 years. Shows the pure chaos of such events, I particularly like the guy getting kicked in the middle of the photo.

Getting ready.

Looking serious, maybe too serious.

After the start of the last wave. If you zoom in, you can see people have already made it around the second buoy (orange triangle marking the course). I'm out there somewhere.

Now this is the amazing part. Josh somehow picked me out as the swim returned to shore, despite the fact that I was wearing the same race-provided swim cap as about 75 other people.

Starting to unzip the wetsuit on the way to the transition area.

Heading out on the bike.

Almost at the finish. (I tried to smile on purpose, trying to avoid the usual pained look I have in running pictures.)

June 17, 2008

Mt. Rainier: 0 for 2

I spent much of last week undertaking a spectacular failed attempt at reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier. After meeting up with Jake in P-town late Sunday night, we drove up to the White River Campground near the base of Mt. Rainier on its northeast side. Our goal for the day was to hike to Camp Scherman at about 9500 feet, a 5000 foot elevation gain from the trailhead, with heavy packs. At around 9000 feet, the weather went from sunny and breezy to blowing snow in the midst of a vicious, sustained wind with ridiculous gusts. At this point we made a decision to set up camp rather than risk wandering farther into the storm. We spent the rest of the day chillin' in the tent and playing cards (we later found out that this sudden-onset storm ultimately killed a guy on the south side of the mountain and forced his two partners to require evacuation).

We slept in the next day as the storm was still raging outside. Upon trying to exit the tent I realized it was quite buried, making an escape without filling the tent with snow somewhat challenging. Kudos to Mountain Hardware for making a tent that can turn into a snowcave without deforming.

The tent after the storm

By noon we decided to brave the waning storm and work our way to Camp Schurman. A hike that should have taken about 2 hours took closer to 4 as we battled 2 feet of fresh snow, moderate winds, and challenging visibility. At high camp, we found the shelter staffed with 2 climbing rangers, a guided party of about 6 people, and a party of 2 Koreans who were on their way home from climbing Mt. Foraker in Alaska. The Koreans passed us about the time the storm hit the day before and managed to make it all the way.

The ranger's cabin

Not wanting the tent to be buried again, we quickly went to work building a protective wall. An hour later, we had the most luxurious camp for miles until the following day when two more guided parties showed up.

The wall at high camp

We knew the weather wasn't supposed to be very good the following day either, so we slept in with hopes that our last possible summit day (Thursday) would be nicer. We spent Wednesday sleeping, eating, and playing in crevasses. We practiced crevasse rescue techniques and had a lot of fun in the process.

Jake playing in a crevasse

The clouds above and below us continually came and went, providing brief glimpses of the mountain and surrounding terrain. The massive size of the mountain, combined with the fact that we were on the largest glacier in the continental US, made it seem like we were on a different planet. That night, we overheard the guided parties' plans to start hiking at about 1 am for the summit. We adjusted our schedule to give them a head start in hopes that they would provide a nice boot track until the time we would catch and pass them.

We started hiking at 3 am on Thursday under a perfectly clear sky. The route was pretty straight forward until we got to the top of the corridor, a relatively uncrevassed strip of snow and ice that defines the junction of the Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. At this point, we passed the first guided rope team. We continued to follow the other rope teams still above us as they traversed left under and around a heavily crevassed zone of the Emmons glacier. One by one, the remaining guided rope teams turned around. Client fatigue was my guess at their reasoning for turning around, because the weather was nearly perfect except for a mild wind.

Alpinglow on summit day

At about 12,500 feet we passed the last party, which was resting before they headed down. At this point, we decided to stop our leftward traverse and head up. Three-hundred feet higher up, we began to second guess our route finding decision. We entered a maze of crevasses and seracs that originally appeared to have a weakness, permitting access to the smooth surface above the icefall.

Off route in the land of the seracs

After attempting several dead-end paths, we decided to backtrack to 12,500 feet and traverse further left in attempt to go around the obstacle. This proved to be something we should have tried a long time ago, as the difficulties eased greatly. After getting to a point where we could see that we were around the problems we had previously encountered, we again headed up. At 8:00 am, we were at about 12,800 feet, where it got a bit windier. There was a wand marking a crevasse crossing, which was a good sign that we were now on a reasonable route. With 1600 vertical feet left and the crevasse and route finding difficulties behind us, we turned around.

Looking down the Emmons glacier

We were back to the tent by 10:00, and there still wasn't a cloud in the sky. It seemed a shame that we put in all the effort over the previous days to haul all our gear to high camp and wait for decent weather just to turn around 1600 vertical feet from the summit under near ideal conditions. Even so, we had a great time, learned a lot, and got Jake to the highest elevation he's yet to achieve. Provided it doesn't pull a "St. Helens", the mountain should be there for future attempts.

June 04, 2008


I have a niece!

Anna Karen Kimerling
6 pounds 9 ounces
19 1/2 inches
6/2/08 7:40pm

Here are some pictures my mom emailed me last night:

Love you Anna! Can't wait to see you in a month.

June 02, 2008

Finishing the Sawatch Range

There are 15 14,000-foot peaks in the Sawatch Range of Colorado. This weekend, with Ryan's company, I completed the final two. On Saturday we hiked Mt. Huron, which provided spectacular views of much of the Sawatch Range and beyond. I managed a ski descent from the summit, while Ryan worked on his glissading technique.

Upper part of the ski descent

Lower section of the ski descent

The Three Apostles and Ice Mountain from the summit of Mt. Huron

Moving slightly further south on Sunday, we hiked Mt. Antero. There was much less snow here, which was good because we were able to drive to 11,000 feet on the 4-wheel drive road, but bad because a ski descent from the summit was impossible (no continuous snow). I was able to ski from about 13,000 feet, though, saving myself a lot of walking.

Ryan heading up the final climb to the top of Antero

Ski Descent - I came down the chute on the right, which goes up quite a bit higher than shown in the photo.

Creek Crossing at 10,800 feet

Next weekend I'm headed back to the Northwest, where I plan to meet up with Jake and climb Mt. Rainier. I should be well trained with my five 14er ascents over the previous two weekends.