Sunday, May 23, 2010

Da Bear...

Nope, Mike Ditka was not on Little Bear Peak (14,037') on May 22, 2010 but there were at least 8 climbers that were on summit.  My regular climbing partner, Patrick Vall, and I have been studying this mountain for a while now and came to the conclusion that the safest time to climb this mountain was when there was snow on the crux...otherwise known as the "hourglass."  The hourglass is a rock formation that has a lot in common with a traditional hourglass - wide at the top/bottom and pinch point in the middle.  In this case, the pinch point funnels a cascade of rocks onto water slicked cliff bands that climbers are attempting to ascend.  Not wanting to be a clay pigeon in this shooting gallery, we decided to try the "bear" when the snow has consolidated into solid climbing conditions.

I left Denver Friday AM to pick up Patrick in Colorado Springs on way to the town of Blanca, CO.  Not much in Blanca these days but they had big plans once.  If you ever pull up Google Earth, you'll understand my comment.  We drove about 3 miles up Lake Como Road until the 4Runner could no longer go up due to huge rock bands across the path.  From there it was a 2-2.5 mile hike to Lake Como at 11,900'.  As we were the first folks up to Lake Como, we selected a small 10x12 cabin that's been modified over the years for climbers and 4x4'ers alike.  This was a good thing as winter still has a grasp on the high country at around 12,000'.  After a dinner of Top Raman and tuna, we called it a night.

The alarm went off at 4 AM - we started to boil water for oatmeal and hot Starbucks coffee - thank God for Via!  By 5 AM, we were geared and working our way to the first crux - a 600' snow filled 30-35 degree sloped gully.  After some crampon maintenance, we were at the top of the gully and traversing across the west ridge to the base of the hourglass.  At Point 12,980' Patrick called his climb due to not feeling 100% for the hourglass and encouraged me to continue...I did after knowing that Patrick would be watching my ascent for safety.  Seeing 4 climbers ahead of me, I attempted to catch up with them to tag the summit.

The crux of the climb had arrived...the hourglass...something I've read about for a year now and I was nervous.  Seeing good snow positioned at a 45 degree angle to the summit, I ascended.  I caught the first of the 4-person party above the pinch point of the hourglass and took some pics for 14er partner's (Alan Arnette) attempt next weekend.  Above the pinch point, the ascent went climber's left to the summit - a 50-55 degree snow slope.  Since many parties has summited Friday and Saturday AM, there was a great set of "steps" in the snow.  Within minutes, I'm on top of Little Bear Peak - #40 out of 54 summits complete.  I called Patrick on the walkie-talkie - "I'm on summit!"

I spent the next 10-15 minutes talking to fellow climbers, taking pictures, and eating/drinking.  My climb was half I had to descend the hourglass.  It took about 2 hours to get back to the base of the gully but I had made it.  The "bear" is a tough is to be respected.  My BMS training this year and last was a major factor in my summiting and the training paid off.

Next on the schedule - Dead Dog Couloir on Torrey's Peak next Monday.

Climb On my friends...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Iceman Cometh...

Alright I'm not exactly a Colorado mountain yeti but I was up in the high country where there was May.  Two weekends ago was the Basic Mountaineering School's "Hard Snow" day.  The premise of this field trip was to introduce students to couloir climbing, hone self arrest skills with an ice axe, crampon use, and rope travel in teams.  The route - Cristo Couloir on Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak (14,265') is located south of Breckenridge, CO and is part of the Tenmile-Mosquito Range.  It is generally climbable year round due to easy access and avy safe routes.  The Cristo Couloir is located on the south side of Quandary Peak and is rated a Class 2 snow climb.  The stats are 2.0 miles/2600' gain/loss.  Typically, Cristo Couloir becomes climbable in early May but this year, conditions were questionable in the weeks leading up to the climb due to late snows that had not had time to consolidate.  The only way to know for sure was to give it a shot.

Our student/instructor group left Denver at 4 AM and arrived at the trailhead at 5:30 AM for an alpine start.  The alpine glow on the surrounding mountains was simply incredible.  As the students geared up, we communicated the plans for the day.  From there, we worked our way to the base of the couloir.  Last year when I was a BMS student, the Cristo Couloir was my hard snow so I felt comfortable on this terrain.  Initially, we asked the students to practice the 4 styles of self arrest with an ice axe - sliding down a snow slope on your back feet first, in a seated position, on your stomach face first and my favorite, on your back head first.  Once they felt they had enough practice, we started our trek up the mountain.  Snow conditions were not great but we continued on up practicing skills.

We successfully summited Quandary Peak about 1:30 PM and enjoyed an outstanding view on summit for about 20-30 minutes.  A lot of folks called their Mom's to wish them a Happy Mother's Day.  I called Karen and my Mom as well to wish them both a happy, happy.  Afterwards, we down climbed about 500'-750' on the couloir before setting up the glissade - basically sitting on your butt and ride the snow down to the TH.  We probably lost 1500' in about 5 minutes of sliding - great fun!  All in all, hard snow day was a success and I believe the students learned quite a bit about snow travel.

Next on my agenda, climbing Little Bear Peak this Saturday AM with great friend and fellow climber, Patrick Vall.  Little Bear is a serious mountain - a Class 4 - more so in the summer because of rockfall.  Our plan is to do Little Bear as a snow climb thereby reducing the risk of rockfall.  That and the snow provides a more solid anchor of sorts - we'll have crampons and ice axes to aid us.  If successful, this will be #40 out 54 14,000' peaks in Colorado.

Climb On my friends!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

3rd Rockin' and Rollin'...

I apologize for the tardy update to the blog but finally had a moment to write.  You see, the past 1.5 has been chaotic at best and (partially) stressful at least.  Two weekends ago, I was in Albuquerque, NM visiting my wonderful girl and the boy after spending way too much time apart.  Unfortunately, the company (aka.  ESRI) summoned me to Redlands, CA soon thereafter to spend 5 days learning how to write multiple choice questions for an ArcSDE Instructor Exam.  It was a good experience but mentally drained me...I was happy to be home!

Basic Mountaineering School continues.  The BMS lecture format has ended but the field trips continue as the team nears the goal of the Grad Climb.  This past weekend was termed "3rd Rock Day" and is the final trip dedicated solely to rock climbing.  The goal  - to complete a 4-pitch climb on the 5th Flatiron directly west of Boulder, CO.  Last year when I was a student, the 5th Flatiron was my 3rd rock day and it pushed my comfort zone in terms of rock climbing and exposure.  It's amazing to think what a year makes in personal growth and comfort with accepting the exposure...yet to persevere higher.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 5th this time around.

Our team met at a reasonable 7 AM at the parking lot Chautaugua Park and geared up for the 1.5 mile, 1200' hike to Royal Arch.  From there, we hiked the climbers trail to the base of the 5th Flatiron.  Weather wise - it's was ever changing but the plan was to get the 4-pitch climb in.  My team was composed of one student and two instructors for a total of 3 folks.  We set about getting geared up and from there, our rock lead Chris Bartle started up.  The BMS student, Zack Schiel, was 2nd on the team and I was 3rd.  We successfully arrived at the first belay station as a team and then proceeded up the 2nd pitch.  During this time, the weather changed from mixed sun/clouds to light snow.  As the rocks were getting wetter and the weather showed no sign of improving, 2 of 3 teams decided to bail off the rock as conditions were sketchy at best.  Our team hastily set up a 40'-50' rappel to the south side of the 5th Flatiron and hiked down to meet the team.  The 3rd team remained on the rock and eventually completed the multi-pitch climb.  All in all a successful trip.

This weekend is termed "hard snow day" as we attempt the Cristo Couloir on the south side of Quandary Peak.  Conditions are mixed as of yet but we will see what the team can accomplish with crampon travel, ice axe work, glissading, and rope travel.  If we summit this particular 14er, it's a bonus.  But if snow conditions are poor, then we focus on training.

Climb On my friends!