After looking through some pictures I again found myself wondering
about the misconceptions people have. Not in a argumentative way but in a
curiosity sense. Being a native of the enchantment of the New England
countryside the allure of "the bigger" mountains of Colorado, The High
Sierras and Tetons always gripped my curiosity. However much to my
disappointment I realized the difference to be miniscule in the grand
scheme of things.
How is it that these montains always made those of New England pale
in comparison? After traveling and climbing in all these areas mentioned
is it the opinion of the non-climber that had created the mirage that is
The Western Peaks? Im NOT saying they're small but the starting points
are much higher as well. The sea level variations and height of land
starts don't allow for the true appreciation of these higher peaks.
One thing the higher elevations remind me of is lifeless masses of
rock, snow and ice -spare a stray marmot alerting others of my presence or
a nearby rockslide. Its an interesting parallel to the peril of mountain
climbing. Above 11K there is very little to remind me of the life I leave
behind every time I venture to such places. Except after technical
struggle do I learn to appreciate these higher places. Its only after
looking down do I realize my accomplishments and a finer appreciation for
life in general.
The antithesis to such places are the 4k peaks of New Hampshire of
which only four remain for me to experience. Aside of the 5's and The 6,
being above treeline is a rarity. The alpine zone is one of my favorite
places on earth. To see the vegetation and ecology, the struggle for
survival reminds me of certain aspects of my life and hardships. Yet being
so far away from those places physically, mentally and in time, I realize
the pettiness of my struggles in comparison to that of those less
fortunate. Something about hiking with tons of creatures great and small
all around reminds me incessantly of my love of, and for-LIFE.
The western summits and their technicality of ascent, their lack of
oxygen are in and of theirselves desolate places. The summits of eastern
peaks crackle with life. Yet the allure for me is to climb higher
mountains. Why? Is life to me a struggle that I am trying to overcome?
Or is it the lack of humility that make me want to defy death?
These questions may never be answered but one thing is for sure. I
feel a draw, like metal to magnet that calls me forth. The need for
challenge, for accomplishment and the high spiritual energy will forever be
To Torrey's via Kelso Ridge
SP member tdogge on the Kelso Ridge Route to Torrey's Peak
After doing a little acclimitization up at Sniktau the day before we set out to climb my first Colorado Fourteener. It was time to see how my training regimine back in New England prepared me for Colorado. We woke up at about 5:30am and looked outside to see clouds breaking up in the direction of Torrey's Peak.
Clouds break over Torreys
The weather was forcasted to be good however we could see the overnight had brought snow to elevations above 12.5k. This snow and ice was enough to add a little concern to the hike but not to deter us. We hike up the valley to where the trail split at Kelso ridge to are right. We looked up along the rugged knife ridge and a sense of excitment grew within us. The route finding is fairly obvious except there are some areas where obvious turns into the wrong way! We stayed left along the lower portion of the ridge and there was alot of loose dirt and rocks to negotiate. There were some areas that had pretty good drop offs but we managed fine. Above this area we rejoined the trail and it was wierd to feel so in shape yet lightheaded from the altitude.
Resting before the push to The Knife Edge
We moved slowly but systematically one step at a time and I noticed that whenever I stopped my heart was pounding in order to move O2 in the thin air to my working muscles. Then we got to the knife edge and to make it interesting the ice I had mentioned earlier, coated what would be the proverbial 'blade'. My partner shimmied across and took up a perch on the opposite side and snapped a few pics as I crossed.
traversing the Knife Edge
Looking down to my left the valley floor could be seen what seemed like a thousand feet below. To the right more of the same however the drop didn't give nearly the 'exposed' feel. Safely across to the other side I looked back to check out the view. Its funny, right after a little adrenalin pump the view always is appreciated a little more. We soaked it up and moved up to the area known as The Shark's Fin. Its just a different type of rock, all white with red splotches in the shape of, well, you know. This area created a little mental dilema because we didn't know if we were supposed to go over it or around it. Guess it doesn't really matter, but because of the ice coating we opted for the safer route around to the right. The wind really picked up here and there were gusts of 40+ mph and the clouds thickened and started dropping hail and freezing rain. We zipped up and stayed low on the off wind side of the ridge to the summit.
tdogge and eric b on the summmit
Summit of Torrey's lookin towards Dillon, CO
Arriving here I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Ive climbed routes far more technically challenging but never had I climbed to such in altitude and given the wind, snow, hail and freezing rain it added to the feeling of accomplishment. It felt good to make it up a more challenging route especially with the way the weather tested our nerves. We signed the summit log in the tube and descended Torreys peak via the saddle between Grays Peak.
Descent of Torrey's
So having made it to the summit of a Colorado 14er I did a mental comparison to a climb of New England. For example the far more challenging Pinnacle Gully on Mt Washington. Granted one is mountaineering the other is hiking with scambling. The one thing I'm left to wonder about is: While I'm climbing and I'm on a route that tests my physical endurance or mental fortitude, I ask myself if I'm crazy to be doing this. Yet when I get back down safely to the ground, I can't wait to do it again. WHY IS THIS?
I almost recommend resubmitting your prelude as an article-- could spur some very interesting feedback. Anyway, as an Easterner myself, I understand what you mean, although I don't completely agree.
It is true that the Western trails and climbs tend to start just as high relative to the summit as many Eastern ones do, and some of my most thigh-burning ascents have been in the East. What differs about the West, at least until one has been there a couple days, is the altitude and the effect it can have on a person. That is a nonexistent problem in the East. But that's taken care of, as I said, by a couple days of exposure. Also, though weather's no joke in New Hampshire's mountains, you're far more at the mercy of mercurial weather high in the West than you are in the East; in the East, decent shelter is usually not too far away.
I, for my part, love the "wasteland" above treeline. Up there, I find the miracle and tenacity of life-- the tiny, fragile flowers; the spiders whose webs withstand powerful winds, etc. I also see in that desolation absolute beauty and raw nature.
But you have some very good points. Eastern mountains get little respect because, frankly, they don't grace calendar pages as well as Western ones do. But they have a beauty and complexity all their own, plus their own challenges. Anyone who's ever bushwhacked and scrambled an Appalachian route on a humid day can attest to that.
Good choice of Kelso Ridge for your first 14er. Fun route, and, you would appreciate this-- very overrated in difficulty ratings. I was a little disappointed that I never felt scared on it.
I was thinking about doing that but I'm afraid alot of people might miss the point. Im being ridiculed for this post and although you get where I'm coming from, some people do not. Seems like we appreciate some of the same things-Maybe 'the struggle' is just more obvious in the alpine zones around the Presidentials. Ill keep my eye's open when I'm there next month for Four Pass Loop-Thanks for your feedback!
I wouldn't worry about whatever badclimber said. I checked "his" profile, and there's nothing there-- no photos, no personal info, no climber's logs, nothing. More likely than not, the person is a troll or an avatar for someone who doesn't have the guts to stand behind what he says. I got a similar comment once on a TR of mine. I just shrugged.
I still find the Western mountains far more spectacular and inspiring than I do the Eastern ones, which is why I keep going back, but I also still agree with your basic point. And if people want to dismiss the challenges and rewards of Eastern mountains just because their tops aren't bare and their elevation figures aren't so impressive, so be it.
I agree with Bob Sihler: you should post the preface to the articles section.
In strange contrast to your perception, I find the western mountains more impressive than the eastern mountains by a fairly wide margin. With the exception of the Presidentials, Khatadin and the East's several big walls (e.g., Cannon Cliff), the Eastern mountains remind me of many 11,000 ft. peaks in Colorado. What I love about the western high peaks is that summit views are unobstructed by trees. But if you want dense forests, you only have to descend a few thousand feet.
Let me contrast your experience traveling to Colorado's mountains with my experience traveling away from Colorado's mountains. While flying from Denver to Anchorage several years ago, we flew over Mount St. Elias, America's second highest peak. It rises 18,000+ feet from the beach to the summit. It is the single most impressive mountain scene I have ever witnessed, and during my travels in Alaska, I saw many similar (albeit less impressive) mountains. Traveling through the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayuash produced simlar feelings of awe.
The point is, there are many mountains taller, larger, more impressive and more interesting (from a mountaineer's perspective) than the Colorado Rockies. Yet, I always find myself drawn to the Colorado Rockies more than any other place...
Says Im a liar and an idiot. I think Ill go choke myself to death with my state board exams but I'll probably die first from poisoning from the ink that said I got the 3rd highest grade in the state!!!!
Here is the thing I had a perception built up in my head from a very young age that the mountains west of New England were these magnificent things that rose out of the desert floor and made New England Mountains look like hills. After being up in the Cascades, Rainier, The Sierra's on my trip that ended at Yosemite and to Colorado, the image that was built up inside of ME was shattered because the difference really isn't what it was made out to be by the people I know.
I am from the east and I too have found myself doing the "comparison". The western mountains are more magnificent, simply. The views are greater and the air is crisper, especially in Colorado. I fell in love with the Colorado Rockies when I lived out there in 2000. I love them more than any other range. But since then, I have climbed alot in the east and found that same love in different ways, the mountain smells and experiences differ but, for me the effects are the same. The great north woods of New England do have magic, maybe it is a more subtle expression but it has reached me with the same power. There are many remote areas in the east, and solitude is not that difficult to find.
It is up to ones self to see what is out there to make a personal determination to find a great experience.
I think the concensus would be that the West is the best and I can see why. There are many more people out there who are outdoor oriented and the mountains are very inspiring. As mentioned above, the above treeline splendor offering constant views is awesome and I myself love the feeling of the altitude, the thin air, it just sparks me up! The Rockies have what I call just the best mountain spirits, I feel it every time I go there. The Whites come in as a close second for me as they have some powerful magic as well!
I just got back from a week in the Tetons and it was amazing, but I still longed for the Rockies.
As far as the Eastern mountains go, they are great and should not be belittled but I always feel that strong spiritual pull from the west. The mountains are more revered there by people and I believe it just cumulates to a mountain spirituality that is quite powerful. Back east, there are all types and it is harder to strike up a conversation about the mountains with any old joe.
I could go on forever but for now I will sit here in Connecticut and dream about being in the White's or the Rockies!
I wish I could have put that in my trip report because you expressed what I trying to get at, better than I did. You did a great job tying in the ENTIRE experience. The enchantment I was referring to, adds to the hiking or climbing in ways one can't see so much as feel. I haven't had the occaison to interact with enough people to experience the reverence you talked about. I know a little bit about that from what I've heard about the locals attitude toward the mountains of say Tibet or Nepal but never around here or even out west. I'm sure people such as ourselves feel similarly about the mountains but often times on hikes or climbs I go to escape contact with others and it seems like its something that would only add to the experience. It was nice to hear from someone who didn't think the point of the prelude was to say the mountains of the west aren't much bigger than the east. Thanks for your perspective.