January 19, 2009

Longs Peak - North Face

After noticing an unusual winter streak of clear and warm weather in the weather forecast, I asked around for someone to climb the North Face of Longs Peak with me. After finding no takers amongst my usual climbing partner crowd, I posted a "partner wanted" add on 14ers.com. I got a lone response from Heather, the girl I climbed Pyramid Peak with last July.

On Saturday evening, the two of us backpacked up to treeline at about 11,000 feet on the Longs Peak trail (stupidly popular in the summertime, and well-traveled in the winter up to where we camped). We set up camp, melted snow for water, ate dinner, and went to bed early in preparation for a long day. The weather was moderately windy (20 mph sustained) all night but otherwise relatively warm (18 degrees) considering our location and the time of year. I experimented by bringing my ultralight summer bag rated to +45 degrees with the intention of wearing my insulated synthetic pants (thanks Al and Karen) and my synthetic parka inside of it. This worked really well and saved about 3 pounds in my pack. I think I could go down to about 10 degrees with this system. All this rambling and I haven't even gotten to the climb yet . . .

After two failed watch alarms, we got up at 6:15 and were on the trail by 6:45. We hiked up the sparsely snow-covered trail for about 3 miles along the standard Keyhole Route trail until we got to the Boulder Field. Up above treeline, the winds were sustained on the order of 25-30 mph for the duration of our climb. At the Boulder Field our path diverged from the standard route and we climbed a steepening face towards the edge of the Diamond.

The route route follows the green dots (you'll need to double click on the picture to see them). The red dots mark the beginning and end of the technical pitch.

About 500 feet below the summit, a near-vertical step of about 150 feet bars the way. In years past, the National Park Service strung a cable up this section and it was the most popular route up the mountain. Since that time, the cable has been removed and all but 4 of the bolts cut that held it in place. Using the remaining bolts as well as a few additional pieces of protection, I led the technical pitch and Heather followed. It turned out to be much easier than reports had suggested. The mixed snow/ice/rock nature of the climb made it particularly interesting. I opted to climb it with an ice axe in my right hand and a gloved left hand, which ended up working very well.

Approaching the base of the climb

Above the technical pitch lies a few hundred vertical feet of leftward traversing to the summit. This section is class 4, meaning that it is somewhat steep and tricky but does not necessitate the use of a rope. However, the fact that an un-arrested fall would lead to a slide over the Diamond (an approximately 2000 foot vertical face) makes the use of a rope a serious consideration. Heather and I both decided that we felt comfortable enough on the terrain that we would climb the final bit unroped.

Heather above the technical pitch - or rather - above the Diamond

We reached the summit at about 12:45, 6 hours after leaving the tent.

Summit mug shot

We descended the same route, retracing our steps at the technical section in 2 rappels.

Heather rappelling down the technical pitch

We retrieved some water that we cached near the bottom of the climb and began a long slog back to our tent. We quickly packed up at the tent and continued back to the trailhead, arriving just as it got dark. Although we were hiking/climbing for about 11 hours, the nature of a steep north face route in the winter meant that we were in the sun for a total of about 15 minutes.

For anyone reading this looking for route beta, I offer the following. A 50-meter rope is enough to climb the technical section in a single pitch and descend in 2 rappels, both off of well-placed eye bolts. A 60-meter rope would not allow you to descend in a single rappel. With the bolts placed as they are, a rack of 6 cams (#1 and smaller) and 6-8 runners is sufficient for climbing this as a single pitch (I believe I placed 3 cams on the entire route and tied single runners to 3 of the eye bolts). At the time we climbed, there was intermittent ice up to about 2 inches thick, prohibiting screws from being of any use. Climb unroped above the technical pitch at your own peril.

The sole wildlife seen on the trip - a ptarmigan trying to blend in with the snow that really isn't there

January 18, 2009

Schizophrenic Weather

Last weekend, Josh and I went backcountry skiing at Mayflower Gulch. The powder was deep and the skiing good, except it was a chilly 5 degrees out. It was so cold our skis stuck to the snow and our toes were frozen after the first run. Of course, Josh isn't bothered by any of this, but I am wuss when it comes to being cold. After hiking around awhile in hopes of warming up, we gave up and cut our trip short. But it was a fun couple hours in the snow.

This weekend, I stayed in Boulder to enjoy the spring-like weather. The 60+ degree temperatures made for some excellent bike rides and runs.

January 14, 2009

Joseph of Nazareth

That's right, I'm a carpenter.

I recently completed my first major, self-directed wood working project. The goal of the project was to build a bed in the back of the 4-Runner capable of storing stuff underneath and sleeping on top. This is much like Keith's Tacoma, but with added complexities of a somewhat irregular shape to work with.

Design Criteria and Limitations:

1) The back portion needed to be self-sustaining (i.e., I need to be able to remove the front portion over the seats in order to use the seats while leaving the back intact).
2) The front portion needed to be split, allowing me to remove one side or both sides, thus allowing one or both of the rear seats to be utilized.
3) In any of the configurations, I needed to be able to sleep on it without suffering collapse.
4) My tools consisted of a cordless drill and a skill saw.

I began with a very nerdy three-dimensional design in AutoCAD. After approximating the interior shape and size of the back of the 4-Runner, I built my truck rack in virtual space.

This was intended to be more conceptual in nature, allowing me to build it in one attempt and minimize the amount of construction materials I needed to purchase.

In about 1.5 days of work, I believe I've accomplished all my objectives (I laid down on it without catastrophe). I've included a materials list on the off chance that anyone reads this and decides to pursue similar ideas of grandeur.


4x8 sheet of 3/4 inch plywood
4x4 sheet of 3/4 inch plywood
1x1x48 inch board
Miscellaneous screws
6 cam-latches

And now, what you've all been waiting for, photos of the finished product! I think my Granddad would have been proud.

January 04, 2009

Backcountry Weekend

Yes, the snowpack here in Colorado is quite unstable, even by Colorado standards. Fortunately, these conditions don't prevent backcountry skiing, they simply play a larger role in dictating where it is safe to go.

On Saturday I ventured with Dane, Andy, and Dave to Mayflower Gulch near Hoosier Pass. Although it hadn't snowed for several days, it had remained cold since the previous storms, causing the old snow to ski like fresh powder. It did snow about 4 inches while we were skiing, but that was not nearly enough to account for the 12"+ that we were sinking into.

Andy having his way with the powder

The lone telemarker

Dane floating high on his split board

We ended up making laps in a patch of trees near treeline for about 5 hours - all of us with stupid grins that couldn't be wiped from our faces.

On Sunday, Andy and I were joined by Ben and Sean. After driving towards the town of Montezuma and discovering there wasn't enough snow, we backtracked to Mt. Quandary, where we had been 3 days ago. We knew the snow was good at and below treeline from our previous experience, so we went back in search of more powder.

We found what we were looking for.

Bringing in the New Year

I started 2009 off on a wonderful note with a ski descent of 14,265 foot Mt. Quandary. The weather report called for a high of 8 degrees with a wind chill of -27. Andy, Ryan, and I were prepared for the worst, but it turned out to not be nearly that bad.

After ascending the east ridge and reaching the summit around noon, Andy and I began our ski descent of the northeast bowls while we sent Ryan, on snowshoes, back down the ridge. The skiing up high was typical - windblown and highly variable. After descending 2500 vertical feet, we reached the treeline where the snow conditions changed from this highly variable awfulness to 8 inches of wonderful powder. The final 1000 feet of our ski descent was splendid. Ryan cruised down the ridge and we only beat him back to the car by about 5 minutes.

Andy with the summit in the background. It was too cold to take skiing photos.

Quandary is now the only 14er I've climbed 3 times, each time followed by a ski descent.

Ashley's Chistmas

This year, my Christmas trip to Oregon was spent entirely in Corvallis. This wasn't exactly the plan, but snow storms kept me from heading to Portland. I am not going to complain because this gave me more time to play with my niece, Anna. I also did some family time, visiting old friends, trail running, and lots of eating, including American Dream pizza - twice!

The family Christmas photo. Anna found many things more exciting than the camera. We have a couple pictures of her playing with my hair.

We did some book reading.

I tried to get Anna excited about playing the piano.

My dad (aka Grandpa) entertains Anna by mimicking her.

Moss. Josh always says he really misses moss - we don't have any here in Colorado. I got a new camera for Christmas and it is small enough to not be too much of a hassle to carry while running. This is at the end of the trip after all the snow melted. I did quite a few runs in 4 inches of snow - I thought I left Colorado to get away from that stuff.

January 02, 2009

Josh's Christmas

Although Ashley and I both went back to Oregon for Christmas, we'll be posting separate blog entries as we didn't see each other much.

After successfully completing my WFR course, I was scheduled to leave the next day on a flight for Oregon. It appeared that little 8 pound 9 ounce baby Jesus was on my side as my flight into Portland wasn't even delayed. I walked past dozens of people who had been waiting at the airport for days to board my plane. The blame, of course, is awarded to the Portland Airport as they were partially closed for several days during the unprecedented storm that left 18 to 24 inches of snow in the Portland area.

I spent some brief but quality time with my family on the 23-25 before heading to Corvallis to be with Ashley's family on the 26th. Things sure are changing with the addition of little ones. I hadn't seen my niece, Caitlyn, for almost a year and half, and she's not even 3 years old! I also got to meet Ashley's niece, Anna, for the first time and Jason and Kelly's baby, Patrick, for the second time.

I spent the final two days of my trip with Jake, Keith, and Garrett on a hut trip to the Maiden Peak Shelter. The Oregon snow was everything I have been missing in Colorado - plentiful, deep, wet, and heavy. In two days of backcountry skiing, I never hit a single rock! The trees were big and gorgeous with snow piled high on each branch, with the younger hemlocks bent over and burried by their heavy snow burden. But you'll have to take my word for it because I forgot to bring my camera.