Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Soggy Bear and the Unforgiving Road

Lake Como Road (Approach)

For many people, the way to access Blanca, Ellingwood, and Little Bear is up the bumpy, dusty, hot lake Como road. On this trip we saw 3 vehicles that were disabled by what many reguard as the toughest 4x4 road in Colorado. If you have a 4wd vehicle, you should be able to make it to within 4 miles of the lake, leaving nearly 3k feet of elevation gain before you reach the end. This area is noted by the Bear Country sign, which is easy to see. We went a little further up the road, to the tight hairpin turn. Immediately after the Bear Country sign you get to a rough portion on the road- this is the worst of it for quite a quile. It's a challenge for many 4x4 vehicles.

Little Bear, Ellingwood Point, Blanca Peak, and Mt. Lindsey (L to R)

Our first glimpse of Little Bear from the road

At Lake Como, after 90 minutes of hiking.

Relaxing, Colorado Style

Scott taking the road around the lake

Little Bear Peak - 14,037'

West Ridge / SW face aka "Hourglass"

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
-Helen Keller

It was 8:30 in the morning. It had been raining pretty steadily since 12:30 AM. I know this because I had spent the last 8 hours awake in my sleeping bad listening to the rain fall on the tent and on the soggy forest.

The previous evening, the rain had held off, but a swarm of mosquitos mercilessly attacked us and drove us into the tent. As we layed in the tent at 7PM, drifitng off to sleep, we watched as a dozen mosquitos buzzed around inside the rain fly. It was mildly cool and overcast, apparently perfect conditions for mosquitos to attack. Then again, Lake Como has been known to play host to hordes of mosquitos in the past, and even my thin long sleeve fleece and hiking pants had been little protection from the persistent bloodsuckers.

Here at 8:30 in the morning, we knew the window of opportunity was closing fast. It had been an annoying 13 hours cooped up in a ultra-lightweight 2 person backpacking tent, with scarecly enough room to exist without bumping into each other.  Currently, we had climbed some 40+ peaks in a row without a single failed attempt. And this was going to be the first.

"Lets go" Scott said, with an edge of impatience and excitement in his voice. And that was it. The rain had mostly stopped, and yet the trees around us still weeped, heavy with moisture. We knew the way, we had scouted it out the previous evening. And in less than 5 minutes we were scrambling up the pile of loose boulders and small rocks that marked the start of our route.

The fog was thick and obscured the view above us as we climbed into the loose gully. We decided the name "Pakistan" adequately described the rugged, loose, and miserable ascent pathway. Sticking to the right side, hugging the solid rock wall, we slowly and carefully climbed up, knocking down rocks and small boulders on occasion.

Past the boulder hump near the start of Pakistan

I hope you like loose rock...

You can tell I am thrilled to be on this section

At the top of Pakistan

Typical terrain after Pakistan

A window to the beyond

Foggy Notch. This drops off dangerously about 10 feet away

Looks like we found it!

The weather wasn't great, but didn't appear to be getting worse, so we decided to keep going forward. Initially we had some difficulty locating the correct HG gully. Because of the fog, we couldn't see that far ahead of us. We ended up being about 50 yards further down than we should have been, but we did figure things out when we decided to climb a little higher and see where we where. The trail past the gully comes and goes, and so can be difficult to follow.

Start of the class 3 stuff

Looking down from the initial class 3

Looking up into the base of the hourglass Gully

No exageration, the side was that steep

Climbing into the start of the HG gully

Looking up at the hourglass. On the left is solid rock that probably goes low 5th class and  is vertical / overhanging

The "Crux" of the hourglass

Climbing up out of the Hourglass

One major advantage we had because of the poor weather was that no one else was climbing Little Bear that day. I'm not sure if they backed out due to the weather, or we just got lucky. Anyway, it was really nice not to have to worry about rocks coming down from other climbers.

After climbing the constriction, we traversed climbers left and then climbed up and over this bench

A look at the terrain between the hourglass and the summit

Class 2/ Class 3 climbing abounds above the Hourglass

Nearing the top, the terrain eases just a bit

Bears on little bear!

Bear pose.  Blanca peak traverse is just behind me.

The summit was completely socked in. The best views we got was of neighboring sub-peak Mama bear, and the start of the Blanca traverse. It was chilly and the mist started to condense on the sleeves of my fleece, so we decided to make haste after eating our summit snickers, snapping a few pics, and checking out the summit log. It appeared (as we had suspected) that no one else would be attempting the summit that day.

Coming down to the constriction in the rain

About 10 minutes after we left the summit, it started to rain. The rocks that had been drying out were all getting wet again. We found ourselves on the climbers left side of the gully, and we had to make a sketchy traverse to get back to the right side. From there, we inspected both of the anchors, I tested both ropes. We decided we needed to get down as quickly as possible, with the worsening weather. With that in mind I did use the rope to help us get down past the constriction, quickly. I never "hung" from the rope and found good foot and handholds to support my weight. Still, it was nice having the rope there, giving us a little extra protection had we have slipped on the wet rocks.

Looking back up at the wet rocks

Finally past the constriction, the rock is all soaked

Little Bear Lake is down there, I'm pretty sure

Looking through "the notch" to Blue Lakes basin

Actual visibility? No way! That's Lake Como down there.

We packed up as quick as we could and headed down the road. We were tired and didn't want to chance it with the weather.

Coming down Lake Como Road just leaving the lake

About 15 minutes after we set off from Lake Como, we started to hear the ominous sound of thunder. It started to sprinkle, which quikly turned into and icy downpoar. We put on our rain shells and continued down the trail, hiking for nearly an hour in the pouring rain. Driven by the thought of a warm, dry truck, we hustled down the road from our campsite in 75 minutes. As we approached the truck, we could already tell that the ground was drying out. My concerns of sliding off the edge in my truck were unfounded, and we made it down to the highway without too much drama. I did set the truck down on the frame on one of the last obstacles, but the damage wasn't too bad.

A parting look at the Southern Sangre De Cristo mountains

What do you think. Would YOU have attempted Little Bear in these conditions? I think LB definately lived up to it's reputation as the hardest 14er. It was steep and exposed for the last 700 feet of climbing. The wet rock didn't help, but the lack of other climbers certainly did.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Huron Peak- A Group Effort

Huron Peak- 14,003' - TMC 2013 trip - 6/28 - 6/29

3400' Elevation gain, 7.0 miles RT

Since 2008 the TMC has had a tradition of climbing 14ers with an ever changing group of team members. In 2010, it was Mt. Elbert. In 2011, it was Sunshine, Redcloud, and Handies. In 2012 it was Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn. This year we decided to stick a little closer to home with this gem in the Sawatch mountains. The Sawatch have a reputation as "ugly" and boring, but I rarely find this to be the case. Exhibit A- Huron Peak. It's about 25 miles outside BV, at the end of a road that gets increasingly rough, until only high-clearance 4x4 vehicles are comfortable on the trail. Eventually it dumps you off in a pristine remote valley above 10,500'.

Early evening shot SW of our campsite, a nice view for sure!

No fire during a fire ban
We all got there before sunset, so we readied our tents and equipment; then kicked back with a beer while swarms of underfed mosquitos hassled us. Scott L decided nothing would be better than pure 100% DEET, which seemed to work well. We all retired to our nylon fortresses around 9PM, anticipating the 4:45 chorus of electronic roosters. Our plan was to hit the trail at 5:30 AM; just as it was getting light out.

"DANK" beer, full of hops
I ran to fetch my camera when I saw the sunset
 Another sunset photo

Rob Ladewig doesn't sleep in, ever. And he wasn't about to have his group climbing up a 14er in a thunderstorm. This is why Rob had us all on the trail by 5:30 AM. An eager and excited group started up on the trail, the first group of the day.

The hikers starting out (SZL)

Alpenglow across the basin (SZL)

Great views from early on the trail (SZL)

Grouping up near the trailhead (SZL)

Glorious view of the summit (SZL)

Shawn and Richard take a quick break (SZL)

Nice little meadow around 12,000'

Colors explode when Silver drinks water

Not a bad morning

Last 1000'! (SZL)

A look down as we get high up on the mountain
That is LaPlata Peak in the center, my parents climbed it!
Scott sprints off ahead while I snap photos

Kerry climbs up the final pitch! (SZL)

Bethany tops out on Huron Peak!

Mike Wells tops out!

Scott Silver taking a break, soaking it all in
The Iron Man (Rob Ladewig) tops out
Scott Lowery and Kerry Fessendon hitting the summit

Richard Willey and Shawn Bailey crash the party
Mike Howington! Wow Mike you sure are TAN.
Richard Willey, Bethany Johns, Debbi Johns, Steve Johns, Rob Ladewig, Scott Lowery, Kerry Fessenden, Scott Silver, Shawn Bailey, Dan Kesterson, Mike Wells (L to R)
Not pictured (but did summit): Mike Howington, Bill Leonard, Holly Leonard. These folks were right behind us be we were a little impatient with the gathering clouds (you can see rain falling in the next pic). Fortunately for everyone, the weather held up for us until we made it to the relative safety of our vehicles.

Scott downs the ceremonial "Summit Beer" (SZL)

Awesome view of the Three Apostles

Scott and Kerry :)
Looking down near the top, fairly steep rocks and dirt. I didn't think it was too bad.

Heading Down, Scott and Kerry take a break

Alpine Flowers

The grassy switchbacks above the meadow on the way down

Back at the campsite
 It was the biggest group we've ever had (15), and we all had a great time in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. With this hike Scott and myself "graduated" from the Collegiate Peaks by completing all of them.