All my usual partners were out of town this weekend. I was invited, but wanted to spend some time alone. Still, I also wanted to get out into the mountains, so I woke up before the alarm, dressed, ate some lucky charms, got some money and gas, and hit the road. Destination: Mt. Toll, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado.
I have finally found the secret to finding good parking in the Brainard Lake area: I was at the Mitchell Lake lot at 5:30, and parked right across from the trailhead. I pulled my long underwear top over my t-shirt, put a cd in the player, dropped my ice axe between my back and pack, and started the approach.
The music was good, and the early morning light was sublime as the sun began to warm the valley. As I hiked up the valley, I could hardly keep my eyes off of the slopes of Pawnee - there's still snow in the North Couloirs - and Audubon, where I epiced last winter. I made good time up to Mitchell Lake, where I stopped to eat a gu and take off my long-sleeved shirt. Mt. Toll rose in the distance, and soon I was at Blue Lake, looking across at the North Ridge.
Even though I was on the approach, I hadn't yet committed to the climb. I was wearing my hiking boots, and didn't have rock shoes. I knew I wouldn't trust my boots on granite if they were wet, and I hate being scared on a climb. As I stood looking across the lake, I was pretty intimidated by the line - was it sustained slabby 5.6, or just one or two moves between a lot of more comfortable climbing? I knew I could do either one, but a sustained slab in my hiking boots was more than I wanted today. It was still early, though, and looking never hurt - if the route was too much for soloing, I could come around and hike up the South Slopes. All the same, I was scared - I didn't want to commit to anything I couldn't back off of.
The batteries on my cd player died, so I put the headphones away and hiked North around Blue Lake. The snow was nice and firm as I crossed it, but as I hiked up to the cirque below the North Ridge, the slope steepened and I took out my axe. There were a few different ways up to the saddle, and I chose a route with a little bit of rock climbing to help decide how I was feeling. For the 15 feet of good rock, the edges were great and the climbing was smooth and felt good. As I stood at the base of the climb, I was feeling more confident.
Looking up, I began to piece out a line. Most of the climbing looked pretty reasonable, and the first two cruxes weren't hard to see. It looked like each crux had a couple of options, too, so that was reassuring. I ate another gu, and then started scrambling upwards, keeping an eye out for loose rock.
Feeling more confident at the base of the climb is one thing. Feeling confident at the point of decision before committing to a first tricky move is another. As I came to a 5.something bit, I paused on the ledge. I reached high to check the next handhold, and put my hand on the foothold to decide if my boots would edge on it okay. Then, I stepped up and was climbing.
It was a short technical step, and then more easy ground up to a 5.9ish looking wall split by two hand cracks. I wasn't going to go up that! From below, it looked like I might be able to escape to the right across some scree and loose rock if there wasn't good climbing some other way around the wall. As I came around a boulder, though, the wall revealed its key - a gully lead up to a chimney on its left side. And near the top of the chimney, on the left side, I could see a fixed pin - the first evidence that I might actually even be on route.
Pulling past the large loose block at the top of the chimney, I found myself on the huge ledge that had been obvious even from Blue Lake. So quickly, the technical part of the climb was over, if I wanted it to be. According to the Roach guide, there is 3rd and 4th class ground around on the West side, an easy traverse from the ledge. I was still hungry for more, though. As I walked across the ledge, I noticed a chance for a little bit more climbing on the way to the summit. I headed up, made a couple comfortable moves on big edges, and then took the few remaining steps up the scree.
The view from the summit was outstanding. Down in the valley to the West, the clouds hadn't burned off yet. Apache and Navajo's snowfields called, and the traverse to Little Pawnee looked intriguing. It was 8:30.
So far, the clouds hadn't started building up for the afternoon thunderstorms. I had time to do something else. As I looked across, I saw a hiker summiting Paiute Peek, and I knew that the Indian Peaks were no longer mine alone. The day seemed like it was off to a great start. Climbing up Mt. Toll was satisfying, so as I ate a Luna Bar on the summit (they taste so good, and have such a stupid marketing gimmick - "complete nutrition for women!"), I decided I'd head down.
A short walk across some scree to the South lead to the snow, and the beginning of a long, fast, fun glissade. I lost it a couple times and had to self-arrest, but was down very quickly. I passed a group of 5 climbers planning to head up the South slope, and then on the way out, many, many hikers. There was a group of volunteers doing trail work, further evidence that my time alone for the weekend was over.
Back in Boulder, I stopped at Quidoba for some lunch at 11:00, and then headed home to mow the lawn. Mt. Toll was a fantastic morning trip.