Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Religious Experience?

Shrine Mountain (unranked) 11,894'

"Mudstone Knob"

(4.2 miles, 700')


Mt of the Holy Cross 14,005'

Holy Cross Ridge 13,831'

UN 13,248'

5420' gain; 13.25 miles

Mount of the Holy Cross has been one that we've been planning for a while, but never getting around to it. We debated the overnight approach vs. a dayhike, and I ultimately conviced chaos that an overnight trailhead camp and early start was the best approach.
On the way over to Tigiwon, we stopped in at Breckenridge Brewery for a little pre-game. I had a pulled pork sammich and a Pale Ale. Good stuff. I conviced Chaos that we should make a little detour near Vail Pass to hike up to Shrine Moutain and attempt to get pictures of the sunset over the Northern Sawatch. We started up about 6:30 PM
Reflections on a small pond

Backside of some Tenmile Peaks
Unlike last time, I was not carrying my squirming kid, and not hiking with my wife. The trail is very gradual and it doesn't take long to reach the top. We reached the top about 7:15 PM; sunset was supposed to happen around 7:45 PM. 

4-shot Panorama of some Gores

"Mudstone Knob" in its entirity. I estimate the height of the knob on top to be 15'.

 We quickly scampered over to the rock formation I was eyeying last time I was up there. Attempting to climb the West face, I was turned around multiple times. It's a lot of ledges and overhangs, covered with guano and bat urine. I eventually climbed back down and we scampered up an easier class 4ish chimney to the North. I immediately scampered over to the prominant point. This thing was a little freaky- the rock is crumbly "mudstone" and I felt like it could (will?) all come crumbling down at any time. Fortunately, the nearby smaller column gave us a nice point to stem our way up the first 8 feet and then it was a couple of easy but exposed C3 moves to gain the top.

"Mudstone Knob". We went up a C4 chimney on the left
Some Tenmile Peaks
2-shot panorama looking S/SE

Coming off the top was a little awkward

Coming down, using both sides helped

Moon over the rocks

Sunset over the Northern Sawatch. Holy Cross to the left.

Sunset clouds over the Tenmile Range
You think this would look pretty in the Winter?
It looked pretty neat with the setting sun. While the view of Holy Cross was a bust, the trip itself produced some interesting shots. As soon as we snapped our final photos, I packed away the camera and we hustled down the trail in 25 minutes to the car. It was getting dark fast and we were trying to avoid breaking out the headlamps.  We rushed over to Tigiwon road, bounced up the dirt, and hastily pitched our tent, racking out for the night.
The next day we got up at 4:15AM, packed up the tent, and hit the trail at 4:55. The trail was smooth and easy to follow as we slowly worked our way over to the Notch Mountain trail.  I was worried that it would be mercilessly steep after the turn-off, but it wasn't. The Notch Mountain trail is smooth and gradual, but contains no less than 41 switchbacks. (we counted)
First light

Sunrise with Grays and Torreys to the left

Looking up at the notch in Notch Mountain

Some lakes SW of Notch Mountain's summit


The Notch Mountain Shelter was unique and interesting, this was such a cool thing to have high up in the mountains. I could see some weary hikers sheltering from a storm in it.
The Notch Mountain Shelter
The summit of Holy Cross looks so close, but it's not. Halo Ridge is just a little longer than it appears from the shelter. It took us just about 2 hours to reach the shelter. Here's a look ahead of the journey to come:
Panorama: Halo Ridge from the Notch Mountain shelter
Notice that MotHC protrudes inward from this vantage. We snapped some photos and went on our way.

Scott atop UN 13,248'
Tuhare Lakes and UN 13,768' from Halo Ridge

Around 13,400' on the Ridge
The steepest part of Halo Ridge is between UN 13,248' and unnamed/unranked 13,378'. It wasn't really exposed or difficult. Scott got a little ahead of me and took a break here. Surprisingly I didn't take many photos for these 3 hours.

Navigating the frightening "catwalk" section. :)
Climbing Holy Cross Ridge involved a long flat grass/talus walk, a talus pile climb, followed by about 3 false summits before cresting the top. I think we were getting tired by this point. I'd say our pace dropped to "average" and at times it felt like a typical Sawatch slog.

Summit of MotHC from Holy Cross Ridge. Many people on top

The push from Holy Cross Ridge to MotHC summit wasn't difficult but it was time-consuming. Ascending the final pitch was of moderate steepness but there was not much of a discernable trail most of the time. The summit was large and worth exploring, with lots of ledges and outcroppings on 3 sides with views everywhere. There was a large number of people milling about on the summit- and why not? Perfect weather. It took us 5 hours and 5 minutes to summit, and if you take long breaks or are a slower hiker, it could take you longer. Plan accordingly and watch the weather- this route is somewhat committing. The views could easily be described as breathtaking, even with a good amount of smoke in the air.
Some women were attempting to emulate Canyon Goddess right after we reached the summit.
When Canyon Goddessing, you should also remove your pants

Another woman attempting it. Not sure why.

It was a little bit awkward when the guy who was with these two girls went over on the same precipice to pose for photos, and I yelled "Take your shirt off!" to him. He didn't.

Lake Patricia from high above
Looking back on Holy Cross Ridge
The Bowl of Tears
Stupid summit shot on Mt of the Holy Cross, with a shirt on.
Panorama of most of Halo Ridge from the summit
Wait a minute, I've heard of these people

Another picture of the "Bowl of Tears"
I was looking for Zach "Headwall5" from I had previously contacted him and learned that he was planning on FINISHING the 14ers on Mount of the Holy Cross that day. With our long approach, I wasn't sure if we had made it up in time. We spent some extra time milling around, and then decided to head down.
About 3 minutes after we left the summit, I saw him heading up, 100 feet from the top. I congratulated him on his accomplishment, and talked to his mother and his climbing partner Mike, who some of you may recall dislocated his shoulder a mere 2 weeks ago. After shaking his hand and wishing him luck in his future USMC endeavors, we parted ways and he summitted.
Looking up at the summit from the standard route (descent)

Cool mountains out to the West- Unsure of the peak IDs

Lake Patricia from above

Panorama- Holy Cross from Halfmoon Pass trail
Final look at Mt. of the Holy Cross
Much has been made about the re-ascent of Halfmoon Pass on the way out. I thought it was pretty tiring, as we had hiked nearly 7 hours at that point. Scott temporarily got angry, hulking out and throwing some rocks into the bushes. It's steep at first, but eventually it levels out and you have a steady, shallow climb to the top, with great views.

The experience of finally climbing Mt. of the Holy Cross was pretty cool. The scenery was great, especially for a Sawatch 14er. The route was interesting and physically demanding. The history and legacy of this mountain is interesting. And despite being an almost 3-hour drive from Denver, it was surprisingly crowded. Still, if you can stomach the long hike, Mount of the Holy Cross provides a unique and rewarding experience. The atypical summit and rugged landscape, along with a plethora of alpine lakes and tarns, adds variety to a range that can be lacking in it.  I feel like Holy Cross is an instant classic, and a peak I'll be returning to again in the future.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Coast to Coast in Colorado

We were in Breckenridge, and my wife wanted to sleep in. Being physically unable to sleep in, I thought I'd go for a short hike. After suggestions from some that my climbing choices have been too mainstream, I decided on Pacific Peak. The best way to reach it is from neighboring Atlantic Peak. Both Pacific and Atlantic are "Centennial 13ers"; meaning part of the highest 100 summits in Colorado.  At 5:30 AM as I drove by the Quandary trailhead, and already the crowds reminded me of release day at the Apple store. Some "broskies" made some humping motions at me as I drove by... lovely.

I got the the parking area and it was empty, except for a single Ford ranger that hadn't moved in a while. Starting off just before dawn without a headlamp, I could feel the excitement almost immediately. I didn't figure I'd see anyone on the way up.

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
-Alice Koller

Bill's route description, as usual, is right on the money. The turn-off from the road to the trail is well marked (with a sign) and there are frequent signs and cairns posted along the way. There is one point where you climb up a rock slab, which can make the trail somewhat hard to see. Once you get to the lake, the trail becomes a little fainter (few continue on from here).

At first reaching the lake

Looking back

Alpenglow on Quandary Peak's north slopes

The first headwall with some alpenglow

Looking back after climbing a couple hundred feet

Panorama of Quandary Peak from the North
In the upper basin, the route calls for you to go far west before going North. It may seem like a little extra work, but it ISN't. There are talus and boulders everywhere and Bill is helping you avoid a ton of rock-hopping. I naively attempted a "shortcut" which didn't really save me any time.

Panorama of Fletcher and Atlantic

Fletcher and the ridge

Atlantic Peak. The path should be around the hump left of center

Quandary Peak- looking back at Boulder World

Approaching Class 2 Gully

Looking up before the ascent route. In hindsight this might have been a better choice
The crux of the route fully earned the designation "Difficult Class 2" with a combination of loose dirt/rocks and a high amount of steepness. When you finally reach the top, you can see the summit of Atlantic. It's kind of deceiving, since it's actually just a little further away than it looks. None-the-less, it's easy to reach no matter what line you take from here.

Pacific Peak (with Pacific Tarn peeking out) from the summit of Atlantic

Honey Stinger Waffle. These things are awesome, I will get more.

I topped out on Atlantic Peak after 2 hours and 30 minutes. The summit is large and worth exploring.  Amazing thing about this summit- it’s pristine. I didn’t see a summit marker, no trash, not even a trail. The ridge traverse to Fletcher looks challenging.

Closeup of the traverse
The easy climb to Pacific Peak

The traverse to Pacific Peak is relatively easy, and there is even a trail in some parts. It took me 35 minutes summit to summit.  Pacific Peak is surprisingly easy to summit from this angle, and if you stay on the ridge, it's pretty solid.

The summit of Pacific is much smaller and it drops off very abruptly to the North. Like Atlantic, it has some pretty classic views, and it gives you a nice perspective on Crystal and Father Dyer peaks.  Like Atlantic, there was very little evidence of human activity on the summit.

Looking over at Crystal

Looking back at Atlantic Peak
Looking down on the Mohawk Lakes are
Looking down on Pacific Tarn

Drinking some beer on the summit of Pacific Peak

This beer is disgusting

I was much looking forward to checking out Pacific Tarn, the highest named lake in the United States. Because of it's altitude and location, it's a very obscure and out of the way place, tucked into a sub-ridge on Pacific Peak. When I was nearing the lake, I realized I had left my sunglasses on the summit, something I'd never done before. I dropped my pack (in a place I would be able to find it), and slogged back up the summit, got my sunglasses, and came back down. I got to summit Pacific Peak twice, how fortunate.

Relaxing, Colorado Style

On the shores of Pacific Tarn- highest official lake in the United States

Looking West

Finally, I got to look at Pacific Tarn and it was all I had hoped for. It's very quiet and peaceful here, and the east side reminds me of an infinity pool; the experience was sublime. There are some unique red plants that survive on the shores of this hostile environment.

“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind”
-Albert Einstein
The "crux gulley" was much more difficult coming down- amazingly it got steeper since I was there last. I started a small rockslide (yelling "Rock! Rock!" to no one at all), fell on my butt, and skidded to a stop right before a 4 foot drop. I eventually slipped and slided down and got to the doom talus. It was here where I scraped my leg and cut my knee on some jagged rocks. No biggie, I can still walk fine. I felt kind of stupid for moving so much earth. I wonder how dramatic it is when other people come down?

I decided to cut back directly to the lakes instead of going around. After all, it LOOKED good. Well, I can firmly tell you that... it was OK. I had about 800 yards of boulder/talus hopping, which wasn't fun. Once I hit the grass,  it was smooth sailing. The valley easily "goes" back to the lake, with only a short but painful willow-bash to merge with the existing trail. I'd say it's worth it if you like variety.

Panorama, coming down the grassy area

This 2-shot Pano looking back at Atlantic Peak is my Favorite
There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.
-Theodore Roosevelt

Coming back down the the lakes

As soon as I left the lake, I saw hordes of people in all shapes and sizes. I had no idea this hike was so popular. I tried to lower my head and hike past everyone. One group of hikers had a single 16.9 oz bottle of water between the two of them, which was nearly empty a mile from the trailhead. My illusion of isolation was instantly shattered. Several people made a comment about my leg and one person even offered to render first aid to me. "It's fine", I said,  "it's not even bleeding anymore."

Actually, the scrape on my shin swelled up and was worse than that little cut

Pressed for time, I jogged the 1/2 mile on the road back to my car, where I learned someone had parked less than 2 feet from my rear bumper. Thanks, friend! Car to car was a little over 5 hours, since I had to be back in Breckenridge by 11 AM.

Passing the Quandary trailhead, there were well over 50 cars parked and double parked all over the place, causing a traffic jam.  Quandary is SO mainstream.

Rough route map: