Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mount Antero 5/28/2011

Total Mileage: 15 miles
Total Elevation Gained: 5500 feet
Starting Point: Baldwin Gulch Trailhead
Party: Solo

(click to enlarge photos)

Picture taken at 12,700 feet.
 I ventured back to the southern Sawatch Range to tackle Mount Antero. While this mountain doesn't rate as anyone's favorite it did offer spectacular views and an all around great Saturday to kick off Memorial Day weekend. Knowing the route was 15 miles roundtrip might have been a deterrent 6 months ago. One thing I've come to learn about climbing is that mileage is virtually irrelevant. There have been numerous occasions where I've only had 1/4 of a mile to go and it's taken me an hour to cover that ground. The vertical increase is much more informative to me when describing a route. In fact, the last hike I did, Mt. Shavano, was half of the mileage and took me the same amount of time to complete. In researching this route, I knew it was full of switchbacks that very gradually sloped upward.

I got a 6 am start at the trailhead at around 9600 feet. In less than an hour I had covered 2.7 miles and 1200 vertical feet arriving at a stream crossing that I had been anticipating.

10,800 feet
 It's about one more mile until you exit the trees and start switching back up the mountain on a wide path. This mile was slow-going to say the least. I intentionally left my snowshoes in my car thinking of them as dead weight. As I continued forward I was fortunate to be hiking at an early hour. The snow accumulation on the trail leaves no other choice but to hike on top of it much of the way. At 7 am the snow pack was cold and hard and my weight would be supported only occasionally breaking through the hard outer crust and falling to my waist. Conditions worsened however, and at around 11,700 feet I saw a break in the trees and decided to alter my course slightly. Above me was a myriad of switchbacks and the path that I left would have soon led me there. Through the trees I looked up and saw a grassy mound that topped out a few hundred vertical feet from my position. That mound was free of snow and seemed much more inviting then the current path I was on where the post-holing had become much more frequent. Once above the mound I estimated that I would find myself on the standard path or close enough to it that an easy course correction would shortly get me there. I estimated correctly and within a short amount of time found myself at 12,600 feet and on the right track moving upwards. I had really nice views from that point so I grabbed some shots around me.

Looking SE  Mount Cronin 13,870 feet

East aspect of Mount Antero
 The next two shots I took a little further up at around 12,800 feet. They show Point 13,800 and the last long switchback that skirts around it.

Pt. 13,800 dead ahead and the start of the switchback that goes around it.

Skirting around this point is the path I followed up.
Pt. 13,800 is the next landmark of this route with the idea being to get on top of it. I ran into a few hikers later on that had described just going straight up this point and bypassing the route around. That's definitely one way to do it. I was able to witness these guys hiking up and over pt. 13,800 while I was on the summit.

Two hikers can be seen here cresting pt. 13,800. One is just about to crest and the other is behind a ways.
Close-up on hiker #1
I came around this point on the other side which offers a more gradual slope but is definitely longer. Once there, the remaining route is visible.

It's as easy as following a ridge from here.
 The rocky portion seen above provided great protection from a wind that was starting to pick up. The last 400 vertical feet were exceptionally difficult due to the relentless winds. Simple things that you never think about, like keeping your balance, become a very conscious task at high elevation and after expending so much energy. Every step and handhold becomes very deliberate and thought out.

Before too long but not soon enough I made the summit.

Vital stats.
Moun Antero summit 14,269 feet. Tabeguache can be seen to my left.
One thing I want to point out that you may notice is that my GPS says that I was moving for 3 hours and 33 minutes and stopped for 2 hours and 7 minutes. During the mile after the creek crossing there were times where I was going so slow that my GPS was calculating that time as stopped time or resting time when, ironically, that was the time where I was exerting myself the most. A little FYI for those thinking that I was sitting around for 2 hours of this trip.

One more from the top

Sawatch Mountain Range

On the way down I encountered a party of three that had separated from each other without knowing exactly where. With a bird's eye view from the summit I saw the whole thing unfold. Cresting point 13,800 the last of three to get there had a slightly different trajectory and while the first two waited for him he had already continued up the final ridge. Watching from the summit with binoculars I even saw one of the first two drop his pack and go back over the point looking for the third. Come to find out, the stray hiker had started alone and joined the party of two earlier in the day. Anyways, I spoke with all three on the way down and expressed how much I wish I could have yelled down to them what had happened. They were kind enough to snap a photo of me coming down.

Just below the final pitch.
I took a few shots of them with their camera and then a few more with mine after descending a bit more.

They're right about in the middle of the rocky ridge.
A little easier to see because they're crossing a small patch of snow.
A had planned on being open to the idea of a Mount Cronin summit as well. After descending back down to about 13,100 feet I really felt I could handle another 700 vertical feet up. I made my way over to the base of where I would start ascending. My GPS read that I had dropped to about 12,700 and I had not expected to drop that low. So now it was 1100 more vertical feet plus the 300 to get back to the Antero trail. One peak would have to suffice for the day. I would love to come back and climb Cronin in the future.

The descent was fairly quick. I went down the exact way I came up. There were a few areas where glissades were possible.

Always a fun way to descend.
Back under the cover of the trees conditions had deteriorated and post-holing was constant back down to the creek crossing at 10,800 feet. I stopped even trying to tiptoe on top of the slushy ice and just pounded through it. It definitely pounded back. It was a rough mile that made me long for the summer hikes that got me hooked on hiking in the first place. Back at the creek crossing I picked up a 20 oz bottle of Gatorade I had hidden behind a rock and started the last 2.7 miles back to my car.
Notes to self:
I enjoy watching the seasons come and go and being able to witness the changes in the landscape. Each season has its advantages and disadvantages. While post-holing can turn a dream hike into a nightmare quickly I will absolutely miss glissades and plunge-stepping my way off a mountain. And I suppose by the end of the summer I'll be looking forward to cooler temps and a rest for my knees.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mount Shavano and Esprit Point 5/4/2011

Total Mileage: ~8 miles
Total Elevation: ~5500 feet
Starting Point: Angel of Shavano Trailhead
Group: solo

(click to enlarge photos)

I had been thinking of climbing another 14er and I had a few in mind. Weather, conditions, and an opportunity for a unique route led me to choose Shavano. My usual route finding research ensued. I consulted and Gerry Roaches Colorado's Fourteeners. I found a route description in Roach's book that was not found on and intrigue set in. The starting point was the Angel of Shavano trailhead and the first instruction in Roach's guidebook was "bushwhack .5 miles due north." This route is a snow only route due to the environmental damage that hiking would cause if there was no snow. The snow is melting fast on the mountains it seems so I decided on the "bushwhacking" snow route. This route would require the summit of a 13er called Esprit Point which would end up being the first 13er in Colorado I've climbed.

Roach's instructions were to stay North-Northwest maintaining a position between two drainages to the east and west. So it turned out that not having a trail wasn't any kind of disadvantage. There was really only way to go up. As the ridge steepened I began to switchback my way up the mountain. Here's the general route up (red) and down (green).

Shavano is barely visible and I'm 92% sure that Esprit is not visible here.
The way down involved a glissade that may have been more work than it actually saved me. I was making decent time when I hit treeline.

A look behind at the trees I just came from.
Mt Ouray to the Southeast
This is me thinking I'm much farther along than I really am.
The way up to the ridge that leads to Esprit Point.
I felt great coming out of the trees. I did feel like I was farther than I really was. Getting to that ridge I had views of Shavano and Esprit and I realized that I was not nearly as close as I thought I was. When became strong and unrelenting from the time I topped that ridge until the time I left it hours later. Every now and again I would find myself with a minute or so of relief and I hoped it would let up eventually. It didn't. This has been my experience hiking above 13,000 ft. The top of Esprit would signify 4500 feet of elevation gain over about 3 miles. It had taken about 5 hours. Another hour and twenty minutes later I was sitting on top of Shavano and I knew that I would be calling it a day. Tabeguache Peak (14,155 ft) was less than a mile away but the thought of re-summiting Shavano to get back seemed too much this day. I enjoyed myself on the summit for about 15 minutes and started the journey back to the car.

Mount Shavano viewed from 13,300 ft. Almost 1000 vertical feet to go.
Climbing up Shavano's last pitch looking back on Esprit Point.
I'll to come back for this one.
Mount Ouray again.
The Sawatch range!
The way back was just like the way up. Except that instead of staying between the two drainages I got myself nestled in the east drainage and let the snow slide me right down. I probably descended about 2000 vertical feet in under 5 minutes. Great fun. I essentially followed the drainage right out and ended up back on County Road 240 which is the road I came in on. I missed the trailhead by about 300 yards. Found my way back to car around 3:30 pm making it about a 9.5 hour round trip.

A look up the drainage well below snow level.
Last look at Shavano and Esprit before heading home.

I wish I could've tackled Tabeguache as well but a time commitment left me pressed to get home. I'm excited for summer to arrive to be able to hit these mountains without snow and with full access to the trailheads. I've loved hiking in the winter and spring but each season has it's own element of excitement that it brings.

Notes to Self:
-weigh my pack before leaving next time (I'm curious as to how much weight is on my back)
-be thorough with sunscreen (the under part of my nose got it bad, but that's it)