Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mount Elbert 6/10/2011

Total Mileage: 9 miles
Total elevation Gain: ~4700 feet
Starting Point Mt. Elbert Trailhead
Time: 6.5 hours
Party: Solo

(click to enlarge)

While Mount Elbert is considered one of the easier 14ers to climb in Colorado it also takes the prize of the tallest. It is also the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains and 2nd tallest peak in the lower 48 states. I had a perfect weather window and the day off from work to go climb this awesome peak.

I expected a lot of traffic on the trail but was not disappointed when I found very little. With record snowpack still on many of the mountains this may be a deterrent for the normal traffic that would be expected on Mount Elbert in June. The trail was clear except for the last 1/2 mile before treeline where mounds of snow turned into walls of snow.

Very distinct trail where it is clear of snow. Perhaps only surpassed by the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak.
Emerging from the trees.
The snowpack that still covers the trail right before treeline. 
Taken from the same spot this shows the route ahead. The summit is blocked from view here.
 With the trees and snow behind me the rest of the hike was straight forward. Just keep going up on the clear trail. Although clear and unavoidable I don't think it's a trail to be taken lightly. It does get quite steep at times and there are about three major false summits for your demoralizing pleasure.

The first of the false summits to come. Path actually curves around to the right at the top.
Mount Massive to the north taken at around 13000 feet. 
A lot of these guys bustling around the mountain. They're pretty brazen at times. 
Fruit snacks have become my constant companion on my hiking adventures now. I feel the cherry and peach flavors coursing through my veins giving me the energy to put one foot in front of the other. Before too long I reached the top of the final false summit to see the real summit of Mount Elbert a few hundred yards off.

The final push to the end.
I reached the top just as two skiers were getting ready to drop down. I troubled them for a couple pictures before they left. After that I had the summit to myself (not common on Elbert) for about 20 minutes.

Elk Mountain Range behind me.
La Plata Peak dead center. I climbed that one the previous week.
Sawatch Range to the south. 
Mount Massive to the North (pictured earlier at lower elevation)
Twin Lakes just south. 
La Plata Peak again right below my right ear.
I headed down and the descent went by very quickly. I tend to put my head down a lot when descending to ensure my footing and nearly walked right on top of this guy.

No way he's moving.
Within an hour I was back to the trees and snow and ended up getting a bit lost. My GPS had lost battery power so I had to just backtrack a bit and eventually I connected with the path down.

The path disappears under the snow right when you enter the cover of the trees. 
It took 3 hours and 45 minutes to summit and an hour less to descend back to the car. Total time of 6.5 hours which was pretty decent timing for me. I consider myself slightly less than average speed going uphill and faster than average going down.

This would be a new elevation record for me which I don't plan on braking for a while. A Mt. Kilimanjaro trip may be in the works for September 2012. Until then , 14,433 feet will stand as my p.r. Every hike this last month has excited me for the summer hiking to come.

One last parting picture.

Notes to Self:
-Keep batteries in my car or backpack
-Buy a Jeep Rubicon
-Be better at life

Monday, June 6, 2011

La Plata Peak 6/4/2011

Total Mileage: ~10 miles
Total Elevation: ~4500 feet
Starting Point: La Plata Trailhead
Time: 9 hours start to finish
Party: solo

(click to enlarge photos)

La Plata Peak 14,336 feet
Another fun peak to check off the list. This would be my 20th 14er which only served as a reminder that I'm not even halfway through the list yet. I'm having a great time making my way towards my goal and each new peak provides a little bit different experience. La Plata trailhead is only about 30 miles from a little place called Aspen. Had there not been so much smoke in the air from the fires in CO and AZ I may have had some better views of the Elk mountain range that surrounds Aspen.

I knew from my research that there would be three creek or stream crossings in the first couple of miles. I try to piece together a little strategy by identifying landmarks and their distance from one another to distract myself from the physical toll my body takes. I can't really think about the strain in my legs if I'm trying to calculate the time it will take to get to point C after reaching point B if my speed is X. It's weird, I know. But it works. The rivers were rip-roaring more than usual due to the Spring runoff. The snow is melting quickly. I hit a little speed bump when I hit the trail registry and continued on the dirt road instead of the dirt trail. I must have been involved in a crazy math problem because I had gone about 1/2 mile and it just hit me that I had failed to start on the right trail.

The first two river crossing are on high bridges and are no cause for concern. The third was tricky because it was just logs with rushing water lapping over them. The water was higher than usual making the normal path very unappealing. Looking at the logs, I conjured up images of watermelon seeds on linoleum, and loony toon characters walking across banana peels. I couldn't bring myself to cross the logs fearing a slip into the water below. Upstream only about 20 feet I found a tree that was about 6-8 inches in diameter suspended across the stream about 18 inches in the air. It was dry and strong and easily made the stream passable. Next obstacle I knew would be snow. It would only be a matter of time before the trail became less and less visible and I would choose my own path through the snow to reach treeline.

It happened around 10,600 feet. A little earlier than anticipated. The trail follows a stream until about 11,300 when the trail starts to gain more elevation and strays from the valley below into a gully that ascends rapidly. I decided that I would try to stay close to the stream and look for a good opportunity to bushwhack upwards. Every now and then a hint of a trail would appear from under a mound of snow only to disappear a few feet ahead into another mass of it. Enough for me to know I'm going the right way. I ascended earlier than I should have but it wasn't all that big of a deal. I would reconnect to the trail at around 11,600 and continue working my way to the NW ridge of La Plata Peak at 12,700. From the ridge it would just be straight up until you can't go up anymore. It took three hours to gain that ridge from the time I left the car. I had estimated less time but the snow drifts drained my energy fast early on.

Roughly shows my route out of the valley and towards the ridge.
Climbing a bit farther I could finally see my path to the ridge and much of the remaining route.

From the ridge the views were improving.

From 12,700 feet La Plata is visible but some of the route up is not. 
To the East from the same spot is Ellingwood Ridge which also leads to the summit. 
Cornices to watch out for.
From here I rested briefly. I still had about 1600 vertical feet to go and it would be tough. Maybe 500 vertical feet up I looked on ahead of me and thought I saw movement. Turns out it was a human.

A little easier to see here. 
Hiking the ridge was exhausting and I kept looking at my altimeter to see my how far I had gone/have left. About 2 hours from the start of the ridge I was on the summit. I had full cell service so I updated my facebook status of course and called my wife to check in. I spent some time trying to work my auto-timer to get my summit photos. I got some good shots and bad ones.

Bad Ones:

At least I'm not blurry.
At least my whole body is in the shot.
Blurry and I missed the shot. 
So I lied about any good shots with the auto-timer. I just went with the old stick the arm out and shoot.

More Summit shots:

Mt. Elbert in the distance just left of center. 
I knew I'd be in for a slush fest during the descent so I didn't stay on top too long. I glissaded where I could though I was careful because I didn't have my axe to arrest myself with. The last glissade I did was a little crazy and I got going a bit fast. I was hoping that somewhere at the end of that glissade I would find the trail leading back. I stopped about 20 feet down from where I wanted to stop and looked to my right and beheld the clear and defined trail. How about that? I changed my socks as they were quite wet as well as my gloves. I finished the last of my fruit snacks and Gatorade and began the march through wet snow back to the car.

Yada yada yada it took a really long time to get back. Between finding the trail and postholing in the snow it was exhausting. It was heaven to reach the snowless trail below 10,600. From there it was an easy jaunt to the car.

One last look back on La Plata:

I've been bringing a full change of clothes with me now on these Spring hikes because I find that I get really wet. It feels nice not to have to drive home in the same clothes I just hiked 10 miles in. My last stop before home would be K's Old Fashioned Burgers in Buena Vista. Instead of giving you a number for your order they give you the name of a celebrity. That day I was Brad Pitt and I threw up in my mouth just a little.

Notes to Self:
- buy new gaiters.
- stop wasting time on trails that aren't the ones you came to hike
- fruit snacks are delicious while hiking
- fruit snacks are delicious always