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.