In early December, I saw Scott Patterson's thread about a Winter Gathering in 2006. Alan, Barry (attm) and I had planned on making a winter ascent in January, but no formal gathering was planned. I lurked with interest as the thread evolved and was not surprised when Alan jumped in and suggested to all that we meet at Mt. Bierdstadt. As usual, as soon as the idea of a Gathering occurred to Alan, he gleefully began sorting through his masses (and I do mean masses) of guidebooks. After consulting behind the scenes with Barry, Andy and a few other SPrs the decision was made to meet and climb Mt. Bierdstadt on the long holiday weekend, January 14th. I was happy with the decision of Mt. Bierstadt as Alan assured me it was easily doable for even the most novice winter climbers (this is his way of making me feel better as I have had to forgo the summit on both previous Winter Gatherings for various reasons).
So in the wee morning hours of January 12th, Alan, Barry, Raman, and I loaded up the Ellis family RV and headed for Colorado. After a pleasant drive, we arrived at the Idaho Springs Mobile Home/RV park. Raman and I went to register only to discover the RV park does not take credit cards. Fortunately, Raman and I managed to scrape up enough cash to pay our way. We set up the RV and unhooked Alan's new baby Rubi (short for his red Jeep Rubicon) and headed to town for dinner. We met up with a work friend of Alan's who scrounged up some great coupons for skiing and rentals at Loveland the next day. After a great meal of Buffalo rib eye, we headed to the RV and crashed for the night.
Next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and headed for Loveland for an absolutely great day of skiing (all except the second run...which we will not speak of again as it was unpleasant and I ended up practicing my glissading) and acclimatizing. No lines or crowds, it was one of the most relaxing ski days I have ever experienced. After five hours of pretty much non-stop skiing, we drove to Georgetown to scope out Guannella Pass. Aaron Johnson had agreed to post the road conditions on the thread for everyone headed to the Gathering the next day. We drove up the pass about three miles. The road was well plowed and snowpacked so we headed to the RV to clean up for dinner.
The plan was to meet with any SPrs who wanted at Tommy Knockers for beer and dinner. When we arrived, Andy, Kane, and Nelson were already there enjoying the first of several brewery specials. Joe Parvis showed up right before the waitress escorted us to our table. I enjoyed the Rye Porter and the company as we all got reacquainted and talked about the next day. Kevin Timm (ktimm) arrived just as we were finished eating and we all stayed for a while longer to talk about the mountain, families, and politics (are you kidding...Barry was there). Around 9:00 p.m., we all decided we had enough, well...I know I had after skiing all day...and we headed for our respective abodes.
Kevin stayed with us in the RV and at 4:45 a.m. we all rolled out to a breakfast of microwave pancakes. We were out the door by 5:45 a.m. and at the Georgetown Super 8 by 6:00 a.m. where the rest of the gang had crashed in Andy's hotel room. When we got there, the bleary eyed crew were packing their gear. Turns out Jeremy (Fbomb) showed up 10 minutes or so after they got back to the hotel room and they all stayed up until 1:00 am or so talking SummitPost gossip and trading climbing stories and trip suggestions. After looking at their bloodshot eyes, I was glad I was snuggled in bed with Alan at 10:00 p.m.
Promptly at 6:30 a.m., we headed up the Guannella Pass road. Since the plan was to meet at the trailhead at 7:00 a.m., it was a good thing we started up at 6:30. It took us every bit of 30 minutes to make the drive. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see a number of vehicles already at the trailhead.
Now I have been to four SummitPost gatherings, but it is always fascinating to watch the interaction between these previously anonymous individuals. You can almost read the pleasant surprise in the faces as people reassess their ideas about what they thought this or that person would look or act like after they have met. Of course my buddy Barry always gets a reaction...people sometimes have a hard time equating the occasionally abrasive internet persona with the intelligent and experienced mountaineer in person.
We all mulled around packing last minute gear and waiting for several minutes to ensure all the stragglers got there (good thing too as Grant showed up just as we were setting up the group picture). After a group shot of the record 24 summitposters, 23 headed off at brisk pace downhill towards the willow swamp and Bierstadt, and Larry V headed towards Squaretop.
Although I wasn't in the lead, I set a brisk pace for myself as I knew the downhill in the beginning was the fastest I would go all day. For those of you who have never climbed with me, I have the worst flatlander lungs in history. I get mountain sickness at 5,000'. Yeah, go figure...I still like to climb mountains. We quickly strung out, with the natives setting a blistering pace towards the bench and as usual, we flatlanders bringing up the rear. Now as I said before, I faded fast, so I am adding Andy's version of the ascent front runners. Andy started out hiking with us, but caught up with Kane, Nelson and Joe Parvish. It seemed to him that Mark (mcconnell) was in the lead with a lot of other fast movers including Dave (CODave) and Adam (chef007), Bob (rlhusker) and his daughter (Jen), Walter (petersbike), et al. Andy couldn't keep up with Kane and Joe Parvish as he was shooting video, so he let them go ahead and eventually Grant, Judson (SteamboatClimber), and another (unidentified) guy caught up with him. Andy stayed with them a while then picked up his pace again and caught up with Jeremy, Walter, Bob, and his daughter, Jen, at the bouldery section just before they met the ridge. He remained with them more or less until the summit where Mark, Kane , Dave, and Joe were already down exploring the beginning of the Sawtooth Ridge. Others began trickling onto the summit every few minutes, Grant, Judson, and another (unidentified) climber. After he was there 30 minutes, Nelson, still nursing his shoulder arrived. The first summiteers who had been on top for about an hour, began to get cold and began their descent. Andy says it was as he made his way back down the ridge, he saw the Oklahoma/Texas contingent reaching the ridge.
By the time Andy reports seeing our group, Alan, Barry, and Raman had picked up their pace and were making good time over a small short-cut up to the ridge. I was working on simply keeping my heart rate at a manageable level. Ten steps and breath, ten steps and breath, it sucked to be me at this point. I made the same detour as Alan, Barry and Raman and quickly met up with Kane on his way down. I grinned at him, as I knew that unlike last year when I met up with him on his descent, I would be finishing this climb. We chatted for a minute (my excuse for a rest break) then I made my way if not with speed, then at least with some agility up to the ridge. Just before the steep section before the final summit run, I met up with Andy, Nelson and Joe. Thankfully, another excuse to rest and chat. Nelson's shoulder was holding up and so was I. I knew I was close so I said my goodbyes and headed up. The wind was biting up this last bit and the snow was deep and steep, but I could smell the summit so I picked up my pace. A few more steps and I saw Barry taking pictures of Mount of the Holy Cross. He waved and I waved back. A few more steps and Alan and Raman were revealed hunkered down resting and eating a snack. I collapsed in a heap and gingerly sipped my Gatorade and contemplated the summit of my first winter Fourteener. I had summited an hour and a half after the first of the pack...not bad for an Oklahoma gal.
A couple of quick hero shots with our Santa hats (some of you will be happy to receive them next year as our Christmas card) and we headed down the ridge. I wish I could say the trip back was pleasant. As Alan had arranged to meet up with Andy and Nelson at the trailhead, he set a wicked fast pace. I held up well until we reached the bench, then I noticed the aching in my left foot was because it was starting to swell. Add that to the fact that I had little to eat or drink (yes I know you need to eat and drink, but after many mountains, I have decided to expend my energy climbing and not throwing up which is what happens if I eat and drink much) and my pace slowed to a crawl. Barry and Raman are probably the nicest people in the world. Raman offered to pull me along with her trekking pole. They stayed with me the rest of the way down, while Alan took off to meet with Andy and Nelson. Twenty minutes after Alan's arrival with Andy videoing, the last of the Gathering (Barry, Raman and I) made it to the trailhead a solid eight hours after we started.
By the time we made the trailhead, everyone but Andy, Grant, and Nelson had bailed. We all took off to town and ate the traditional after-mountain pizza and beer. Sorry we didn't get to say goodbye to everyone, but it was fun meeting and climbing the mountain with you. Thanks to everyone for showing up and making this a successful event.
Alan asked me to write this trip report to give a different perspective on the yearly Gathering. He already tried to get Andy to write it...without success. I think Alan's full of shit and he's just lazy. Anyway, another year goes by and another Gathering in the books. These things are getting huge and some may not enjoying sharing their mountain experience with others. However, now and then, it is really fun to meet people and enjoy the mountains in a group, especially a SummitPost group. I have had the privilege of meeting some great people from SummitPost and they have mostly been from Gatherings just like these. Based on my experience, you should never pass up an opportunity to meet a fellow SPer whether it be a Gathering or just the two of you. Alan once said that Gatherings were not so much about success on the mountain, but about sharing the mountain with friends. I agree and look forward sharing another mountain with everyone next year.
Left to right (standing): Grant, Andy, Matt (mapfeiffer), Jen, Mark, Bob (rlhusker), Bart (MrClean), Adam (chef007), Walter (petersbike), Dave(CODave), Judson (SteamboatClimber), Raman, Jeremy (Fbomb), Jackie (cruzit), Joe_Parvis, Nelson, Barry (attm)
Left to right (kneeling): Steve Mullen, Kevin (ktimm), Larry V, WoodieHopper, Mark (mconnell), Kane, Alan Ellis
Photo by attm.