You win some and you lose some, the important thing is that you keep trying. Well it’s certainly been a “trying” spring 14er season for me. Sometimes you simply need to redefine success; sometimes success just means you are able to get your crippled vehicle all the way home without a tow; sometimes success means you reach the summit of the peak you are trying to climb and sometimes success just means you are able to get off that shifty snow slope before it slides with you on it. Despite an almost ridiculous lack of summits I have managed to have a successful spring. Here are a few of my more successful failures…
Little Bear 5.20.2009
It seemed like Little Bear would be best handled as an early season snow climb so I decided to give it a try. There were some promising trip reports so I geared up and set off alone. Lake Como road is the worst, driving or hiking that is one ugly road; I had been up it once before last November but was in a much tougher Jeep Wrangler with big tires and a lift. That trip I managed to get to Jaws 1 before parking. This time I was in a newish ’05 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. I slowly worked up to the hard switchback where the harder romping begins and parked. I had a light pack, no snow shoes, a one pound bivy etc. I got to Lake Como in about an hour and twenty minutes, just as the sun was setting. There was nobody else at the lake, I climbed into the cabin and boiled up a cup-o-noodle before trying to sleep. My mind wandered a bit as I pondered my surroundings; the cabin has a weak lock on the door that I doubted would stop any big animal that wanted to get in. It rained through the night, bad news for a snow climb in the morning. When I woke up at 3AM it was raining, back to sleep, 4AM still raining… and so it continued. Finally by 7AM I decided enough was enough and packed it out. It was a successful day though because I made it home in time to watch the Denver Nuggets play the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Even if the Nuggets didn’t win…
San Luis Peak 5.24.2009
The trip started off with the bad omen of a speeding ticket and some wrong turns, eventually we made it to the top of the four wheel drive road to Willow Creek. We started off from the trailhead making our way toward San Luis. The area is beautiful but not the same as the rest of the San Juans, much more mild terrain compared to the otherwise jagged mountain range. The clouds were putting on quite the show for us and made the ambience unique.
As we followed the route over a saddle and back down into the trees the snow and postholing began. It had been dry to this point. We began working our way, slowly…
Finally passed the trees we looked across the basin and noticed that there was much more of the same posthole nightmare ahead. Deciding that we had already enjoyed a beautiful day and that the Nuggets played later in the evening we decided to call it a day. We returned to the car quickly and then the real fun began.
Just as we left a truck with a giant camper on the back set off in front of us quickly becoming insanely stuck on the muddy 4 wheel road. With no way to tow him out I offered a ride to Creede so that they could get a tow truck and went to go around him on what looked like solid ground. Before I could even realize it the ground gave out from under me and my Jeep became buried in the mud. I now know what a bog is.
Lucky for us a local from Creede pulled up the road in his F-250 and hopped out of his truck with a grin, he’d seen this before. The man was nice enough to spend the rest of his day towing us out. My Jeep got out first and feeling like it was the right thing to do we stayed until we could get the truck and camper out. We managed to drive my crippled Jeep Grand Cherokee home to Fort Collins with every possible warning light on and the occasional awful noise from my wheels. It was one of those days that everything that could go wrong seemed to and by the end of the day all we could do was laugh at our misfortune. It was a good learning experience, sometimes you just need to laugh it off. The Jeep cost $471 to fix a broken sensor of some kind, speeding ticket cost $162, day we will remember forever… invaluable. I know what you thought I was going to say.
Crestone Needle 6.9.2009-6.10.2009
I bother my little brother to come climb with me almost every day. So far I’ve got him to come out twice in the last couple years. He committed to these two days and I decided something short and fun would be best. Crestone Needle came to mind… We drove all the way to the 4x4 S. Colony Trailhead and found a nice relatively dry campsite. It took us awhile but we mustered up a pretty intense fire to sit around just as the wet graupel/hail/rain came down. Quickly getting soaked we warmed up in the car before settling into the tent, then we settled into the tent on a nice air mattress, the benefits of car camping. It was still a cold night but I slept well for once. We awoke to amazing views of the Needle although the summit was shrouded in a cloud the entire trip.
We left around 3:45AM and were happy to find firm snow through to S. Colony Lakes. There we were treated to a beautiful sunrise; no words could do that morning justice so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
We began our traverse up toward Broken Hand Pass as the sun came up behind us, the views weren’t promising. The Needle was dusted with snow/ice as was all the rock around us. It had rained throughout the night and the conditions were quickly deteriorating as we got above timberline. The snow became punchy and the choppy snow ahead reminded us to tread carefully. We moved one at a time and the snow didn’t do anything to threaten us so we felt alright but it was clear this would be a troublesome area with a little sunlight.
Ahead was the steep climb over Broken Hand Pass, there were slide paths all around it. We made another traverse closer to the Pass and contemplated our future. Looking at the rock around us it was pretty clear the scramble up the Needle would be on verglas covered rock, the worst possible conditions for an exposed scramble. We decided this would be it for the day and that we’d return in the summer for a drier attempt. Pretty successful day, I got my little brother to come to the mountains with me.
Pyramid Peak 6.13.2009-6.14.2009
This trip began with the intention of climbing N. Maroon via the Bell Chord with the possibility of the traverse to S. Maroon. Jessica and I were hiking into Crater Lake to meet up with Mike (MikeyC) and Cliff (Ascent 88). The three of us would climb while Jessica stayed at the camp; she was relieved to not have any pressure to do anything more than camp. The scenery around here is stunning, the Bells loom overhead and the red rock stands out against the bright green foliage.
When we arrived at the ranger station to buy our $10 road pass (cash only) I asked the ranger about the conditions in the Chord. His response was not what I wanted to hear, he’d been up yesterday and it was sliding all around him. “Probably best to wait a few days before trying that one.” Not a luxury we had, we did have the option of attempting Pyramid instead though and after an evening rain storm that was our decision. We woke up at 4AM and set off pretty quickly.
Once you turn off onto the climbers trail that leads into the amphitheatre things get steep. Mike wasn’t feeling well and was pushing himself to continue on. Eventually snow covered the trail and we decided to boot it straight up snow to the amphitheatre. It was somewhat hard going on firm snow so we took turns kicking steps, opting to leave the crampons off.
Once into the amphitheatre and onto the “rock glacier” Mike had enough and decided to turn around. He passed off the route description and turned back. Cliff and I continued on, I had been feeling a bit nauseous all day but now felt more determined to continue on so as to not turn Cliff back. I was moving slowly but managed to continue moving, I made the deal with myself that I wouldn’t turn around unless I threw up. We got to the base of the slope leading to the saddle of Pyramids NE ridge and threw the crampons on.
It was a pretty steep slope and as we made our way up the snow felt less and less stable. We climbed up the class 4 rock in the spots that we could and snow when we had to. It was pretty firm until we were about 300 feet from the top. That was the first time it made the infamous “whoomp” sound and we could see a fracture starting below us. We decided to continue to the saddle and decide what to do from there. We reached the saddle around 9AM and were treated to some amazing views.
The summit looked so close but we knew it was an hour away in good conditions so in these we figured at least 2. That would put us back on the saddle around or after noon, with sun on the slope it would be even more unsafe. It was time to turn around. As we plunge stepped the first bit of the slope the snow shifted a good inch beneath our feet. At this point we knew it was a good decision to turn back but also worried we were already almost too late. From here on we moved one at a time down the slope as close to or on rock whenever possible without incident.
The rest of the hike out had a few nice glissades and a short hike back to our campsite. When we arrived I felt worse than before so I lay down and gulped water. Uninterested in anything at this point except trying not to throw up I dreaded the 1.5 mile hike out. Even the porcupine just feet away from my tent couldn’t attract my attention. He was pretty cute though…
The rest of the day I felt sicker than I have for years and threw up a bunch while Jessica drove us home. I’m not sure what it was but luckily I felt better the next day after some good rest.
Learning and Looking Ahead
It’s been quite the spring for me although the summits have been minimal. There are more trips that I’ve left out that were less interesting than these. I’ve had to redefine what a successful trip is to keep my spirits up and continue to venture out. It’s hard to complain after a beautiful day in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few so far this year. I hope that everyone is finding their success throughout this spring season and is ready for the great summer that lies ahead... I know I am.
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