Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tabeguache Peak - 14,155

Google Earth screen cap of Tabeguache, same route up & down, orange is erosion control area.

If San Luis is the 'shy' Fourteener, that makes Tabeguache almost pathologically introverted. San Luis at least comes in sight within about a mile, and stays there until you're on top of it. Tucked away behind dominant Shavano, on the other hand, Tabeguache keeps hidden until the last minute even from Jennings Creek.

All this means is that I couldn't have seen it even if it hadn't been dark by the time I was at the Jennings Creek trailhead on the Saturday of Memorial Day, setting out by headlamp before bedtime to reconnoiter my proposed route up Tabeguache. A reconnaissance was needed because, since 2007, the Jennings Creek approach had been closed by the San Isabel Forest Service due to severe erosion from foot traffic. To skirt this closure I had turned to both topo maps and Google Earth, which seemed to show a route on the South Ridge. By striking east almost immediately up a kind of fold in the west flank toward a subsidiary peak (13,198) it looked like I could then follow the ridge past several more false summits to the top of Tabeguache, thus steering clear of the erosion area.

Although darkness ended my exploration before I could decide anything definite, I'd seen enough to feel confident about the route. Going to bed that night I couldn't help remembering coming up here several weeks prior. Squeezing the trip in my last few days of annual leave from work I'd spent the night in the exact same spot, only to waken to stomach cramps. Finally mustering the strength after several hours to get behind the wheel, I'd driven out with my window rolled down against the inevitable pitching of my guts down the side of the car. This time, with the sun fully up and the air beginning to stir, I started up around 8 AM and could soon see the route beginning with a long talus rib reaching into the valley. While I stopped here to switch out from sandals to hiking boots and to eat a little breakfast, some figures came into view below, a man and a woman and two dogs. One of them, a sturdy black lab, bolted straight for me and stopped a few feet away, snarling and snapping. I did my best to ignore him until the man called him back. As the group hastened around me, full of apologies, I finished lacing my boots feeling a presence nearby. There sat the same black lab, leaning against me with his eyes toward the valley. I gave him a few solid pats and he darted away as if to say, this mafioso mutt: 'Nothing personal, it's just business.'

Jasper was his name. At least that was one of the two dogs' names entered in the summit register, as I found out later, by this couple from Grand Junction, as their entry noted. He certainly looked like a Jasper. While this information foretells my success on Tabeguache, it also abbreviates the actual ascent of this, my 18th Fourteener. It doesn't diminish these central Colorado peaks (the Sawatch, the Mosquitos) at all to my mind to characterize them as overgrown ant-hills. Especially as compared with the rugged San Juans they offer few technical challenges. The challenge and appeal they present is of another kind altogether. Because you never know quite where you stand with respect to them, and they are always bigger than they look, one is forced to cultivate a certain attitude whereby every summit is a false summit until the one from which every other point is down.

By the time I'd cached my sandals in the boughs of a fir tree (marmots eat shoes!) and extended my trekking poles, the other party had about a half-hour lead on me. This head-start was maintained over the next several hours during which, as that fold in the west flank became a trough edged on the left by shattered ramparts, they would pop back in view at regular intervals, the humans picking along deliberately, the canines dashing madly to and fro. As it was just to be that one group all day I didn't mind so much sharing my route with them, any more than they probably minded me. This remark itself, though, betrays me as one old school enough to remember a time when, on any given day, you could have a Colorado 14er all to yourself.

Early on those ramparts to the left attracted me and I sampled them once, only to find the ground too shaky to navigate safely. I was a bit shaky myself, with my right arm still half-paralyzed by a palsied axillary nerve leftover from a dislocation last December, sending me back to the relative stability of the trough. This soon opened into a bowl, as it was bound to do, which I exited onto a broad shoulder left, getting a full view of the South Ridge and the first false summit to the north. I skirted this one on the right, more to get a view into the McCoy drainage than anything else, and was rewarded by a series of solid talus ramps heading through several more bumps, from the last of which Tabeguache's obscure summit finally reared, marked by a pole embedded in a rock cairn. All along I could see the traverse over to Shavano and had been guaging my reserves for tackling it, but for now was only concerned to 'tag up' on Tabeguache first. Speaking of poles, this was my first time using trekking poles. I'd used ski poles on Uncompaghre the year before, finding them particularly useful for steadying creaky knees on the descent. Although my sister swears by them (she's had two knee replacements) I'd not brought any on Humboldt and had missed them. So before this trip, even though it felt a little like a concession of sorts, I'd popped for a pair that collapse enough to be packed away neatly during brief sections of hands-on scrambling such as this peak presented.

On top of Tabeguache I couldn't see how that summit pole stayed upright in the stiff wind. There was no question even of snapping a picture of myself standing next to it, it being all I could do to clutch the register, which I'd found rolled up inside the usual CMC section of capped PVC, long enough to scrawl my name. It was mainly this wind that convinced me to confine my efforts to Tabeguache. As I left the summit it occurred to me I had not seen Jasper in quite some time. The reason dawned on me as I poked my poles down the same rubble fields I came up. The party had gone on to Shavano, where they undoubtedly had a vehicle stashed at Blank Gulch or maybe the Angel of Shavano trailhead. Either way that struck me as an excellent plan.

The long descent of Tabeguache sometimes involved scree running but more often was a matter of probing ahead cautiously. Though breezy the day was not cold. Never once did I don fleece jacket or hat and gloves, only a wind shell with the hood up to keep the cap on my head and my camera never came out once. That means no photos for this introverted peak (except for the screen capture above) until I can shoot it from the summit of Shavano.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Humboldt Peak - 14,064

The Crestone group from State Highway 69, Labor Day 2009 (Humboldt on the right).

May I just sing a brief ode of praise to my hammock? Ever since a frigid January bivouac on the shores of a frozen Williams Lake below Wheeler Peak in the late 90s I have sworn never again to lay out my pad on bare snow. Hennessey has helped me make good on this vow with its neat little pod that can be strung anywhere there are two trees (so far I have never lacked for any). Mine is one of the early models, in forest green and packable to about the size of the sleeping pad you will not need (because there is no conductive heat loss, a mere space blanket slung underneath will serve to reflect body heat). Newer models weigh even less and come in more vibrant colors, but all have the slit in the bottom where you climb in and, once inside, your body weight closes the gap behind you. It has its drawbacks. You can't cook inside it, for example, nor really eat. But with a little preparation you can spend a cozy night anywhere. Here is my hammock stretched across the South Crest Trail in the Sandias back in March of 2001. (Hennessey should pay me for the endorsement).

A bright full moon lit my making camp on the shore of Lower South Colony Lake on Saturday of this Labor Day weekend. Stringing my hammock between two stout pines brought a pleasant solitude in contrast to the packed parking lot below, until dawn cracked and a line formed threading through the upper meadows toward the West Ridge of Humboldt. A quantity of rock cairns mark the trail to the summit.

On the way down I passed the turnoff leading to the high saddle between Kit Carson and Crestone Peak that is known as the Bear's Playground. It had been in the back of my mind to take in the Peak as well on this outing, but given the poor visibility this option seemed better left for later.

A socked-in Crestone Peak and Needle that Saturday, September 6, 2009

Some people manage to bag all four Crestone 14ers, if not in one day then at least in two. I, on the other hand, seem destined to spread them out over thirty-odd years. Back down at South Colony Lakes I moved my hammock to a more congenial spot for the night, and the following morning headed back down the road to my truck. What lies ahead? More tidying up of loose ends: Crestone Peak, of course, via the NW Buttress. I'll get to it sooner or later....

Uncompaghre Peak - 14,309

Uncompaghre's West Face from Matterhorn Creek Basin, June 2009 - orange up, black down (click to enlarge).

Unlike Democrat it was too late in the season to approach Uncompaghre on skis. Neither west face couloir went all the way to the top, as can be seen in the photo above. Even the right-hand, most direct one wasn't continuously covered. This was nevertheless the route I chose, armed with a Raven ax, Gore-tex Asolos and aluminum crampons.

June 27, 2009, was one of those bizarre early summer mornings - not quite cold but not that warm, either - as I set out from my camp high in Matterhorn Creek Basin. A couple of early-birds were making their way down the rib between Uncompaghre's two west-facing couloirs as I cramponed up the initial ice field toward the rock band that appeared at about one-third height. This 30-foot step running with water posed the day's greatest challenge, glazed as it was by ice, but above it I rejoined the main snowfield (below).

The snow ended near the intersection with the Nellie Creek approach. Several hikers could already be seen above as I fell into this well-worn track to the summit. Uncompaghre presents a fortress-like isolation from all angles except this meandering line from the south. The shot below looks down the West Face from the summit.

Descending I took the more northerly couloir, remembering the iced-up band of the other way. Skis would have been very nice here - although humping them up would not have been - because if glissade is the second best option to a ski descent, a distant third has to be the quick and dirty butt-slide that my edgeless Asolos forced me into. After retrieving my ski poles from the base of the other gully I was schlepping back over the pass to my camp. I'd been resisting getting a set of trekking poles, but seeing how well my poles kept me balanced on the hike down, I may have to break down and buy some. Fourteener number 16! On to Humboldt.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mount Democrat - 14,148

Mount Democrat from just below Kite Lake - May 30, 2009, Lake Emma Chutes in the left center - orange up, black down (click to enlarge).

Five inches of fresh snow on Saturday morning, May 30, 2009, made the prospects good for a ski ascent and descent of Mount Democrat. I'd already done Mounts Lincoln and Bross by mountain bike. But as there is no MB track to Democrat and I wasn't willing to leave my bike behind, I'd resolved to visit Democrat later. When later came along, the road in to Kite Lake was barred by a formidable snowdrift. Better vehicles than mine tried and failed to cross it during the night, so the dawn found me humping up all of a quarter mile to the start of the South Ridge.

What looks to be Democrat's main summit in the photo above is in fact a false summit. The chill air promised to hold the snow for a while, but this too was false. Especially in the concavity of the South Face I kicked off numerous sloughs on my long switchbacking traverse first right, then back left to intersect the ridge again. Here I met up with two guys who had availed themselves of my broken trail and the more direct line of the ridge to catch up with me. The photo below shows them heading off on the summit stretch.

Set of tracks to the left (click to enlarge): I don't know whose these were - I never saw them. Just at the summit those other guys were hucking off a wicked cornice (below). I hucked off it, too, but it wasn't very impressive.

The temptation was to linger on the summit, where the sun basked everything in warmth even as all around the sky stayed dark. But with the snow going quickly mushy I decided to follow their lead down this side of the mountain instead of the South Face, though I wasn't sure where it would end up. If nothing else, going this way showed a clear line of descent practically back to my truck. Soon I was adding my own S-turns to those already there, down a wide bowl that ended in a line of chutes. Lake Emma Chutes, they call them, and I dealt with them handily using my best side-slip technique.

It had become clear that the snow was gumming up underfoot, sticking to glue residue from the skins on my bases. Only by pointing straight down could I make any speed at all, opting for a wide traverse left rather than a plumb line straight into frozen Lake Emma, where that previous party had had to pop out and walk. Another bench of cliffs lay below the lake, where I carved some more turns before heading for the Buckskin Creek drainage that led down to the road. I only had to pop out once for a short distance before making it to within about 20 yards of my truck. As I packed up to leave I gave the line one last look: my first 14er ski descent.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

San Luis Peak - 14,014

The Southwest Face of San Luis Peak and the Yawner Gullies - September 13, 2008

They call San Luis Peak the 'shy fourteener' for good reason. Only from certain anlges can it be seen at all, there just a few miles up the Willow Creek drainage outside Creede, Colorado. It took Jake Hunner to call it out of hiding.

Jake is a man who likes to come prepared. From the cooler full of beer for the end of the day to his massive Army surplus mummy bag to the sack of flour tortillas he produced on the summit, I can safely say that if I had carried half of what he brought along I never would have made it to the top. Jake was in his final semester in the Mechanical Engineering Department at UNM where I work. For him I expect San Luis was a welcome break from studying. For me it was my first chance to have a partner on a 14er since Crestone Needle with Jay Evans. We motored up past the Equity Mine trailhead late one night in mid-September 2008, two weeks after my bike ride up Bross and Lincoln, in the darkness driving right past the trailhead. After attempting to navigate a steep rubbly hill in my 2-wheel-drive Ranger, and finding this was not possible, we camped where we parked which happened to be right at the trailhead.

The breezy night gave way to a brisk dawn. Another vehicle pulling in woke us up, their clamor and headlamps forbidding any further sleep so we were up and on the trail behind them right at 6 AM. We wore every piece of warm clothing we'd brought following the trail that crossed the wide basin of Willow Creek before heading up to a saddle at 12,300 feet, from where we had our first view of San Luis to the east.

Jake and San Luis Peak from near the first saddle.

A drop-down of several hundred feet is unavoidable here, leading to a contouring traverse through two basins before attaining the South Ridge of San Luis. It was quite populated by now. The ridge climb seemed endless with one false summit after another.

Jake on the South Ridge of San Luis.

But the summit was well worth it. A leisurely lunch was eaten at midday in the company of perhaps a dozen other climbers, one of whom was kind enough to take our picture.

Jake and me on the summit.

On the hike out Jake shot out ahead while I gingerly picked along with my damaged feet and knees. The beers back at the truck gave me the hiccups, but a cup of coffee in Creede made for a welcome end to the trip before heading back to Albuquerque that night.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mount Bross - 14,172 and Mount Lincoln - 14,286

Lincoln from just below the summit of Mount Bross

Eager for a change of scenery after Lake City, I turned my attention in August 2008 to the trio of 14ers in the Mosquito Range near Fairplay. Hearing that Mounts Bross and Lincoln could be done on mountain bike I decided to give it a shot. I'm always a fan of coasting wherever possible, even if it meant postponing Mount Democrat, which had no MB track to its summit. I'd wanted to do it on skis, anyway, and did, finally.

On a Saturday dawn after sleeping in my truck parked at the Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area, featuring some of the oldest trees on the planet, I set off up this steeply switchbacking mining road up the east flank of Mount Bross. Though early on I had the road to myself, later on the descent I would be dodging SUVs. I stopped to take some photos of a bunch of ptarmigans cruising behind a mining shack, but the birds blended so well they can hardly be picked out of the talus. The road ended within a hundred yards of Bross's expansive summit, where I touched base and turned without delay toward my second goal of the day. The trail to Mount Lincoln proved more passable than I'd dared hope, though both summits now thronged with the Kite Lake hikers whom I also had to dodge upon occasion. They had a tendency to pop up unexpectedly on Cameron Point midway between the two peaks before heading off in their chosen direction.

Bross from midway to Mount Lincoln

Several hundred yards shy of the summit I dropped my bike and went on foot. After topping out I remounted for the ride back to Bross, then down the road again. I practically wore out my brake shoes on the descent but made it down in one piece. A girl who saw me loading up my bike asked the obvious question, and seemed duly impressed to hear that I'd indeed biked to the top of Bross and Lincoln.

Not a bristlecone and not a ptarmigan, but pretty gnarly nonetheless.

Wetterhorn - 14,015

Wetterhorn - August 16, 2008

Five years was certainly long enough for me to recover from my foot surgery (as described in the previous entry), not to mention the recently repaired acromio-clavicular separation (shoulder blade detached from collarbone in MB mishap) I'd carried with me up Redcloud and Sunshine. It was just over a year ago, in fact, that I'd turned my attention back to the Wetterhorn. Leaving my truck at the high parking I headed up the Matterhorn Creek trail at daybreak. A hail storm discouraged many that day, such that I arrived at the shoulder of the Southwest Ridge without seeing anyone, but it was not to last. By the time I began the ridge a virtual river of humanity streamed nonstop up behind, dogs and children included. The 400-foot summit buttress gave some pause, but nearly everyone summited and then came back down, some heading off to Uncompaghre making for a more energetic day than I had planned. I would get to Uncompaghre eventually - though not before Bross, Lincoln, San Luis and Democrat.