Tuesday, June 30, 2009

La Plata on June 14, 2009

La Plata Peak, 14, 336 feet
Northwest Ridge route
9.5 miles Roundtrip
4,500 feet elevation gain

Richard and I had been planning on a overnighter and a climb for several weeks. Work always dictates ones availability to go wondering outdoors, espically when it is to be for more than one day. Originally we had planned to leave from Denver as soon as Richard got off work on Friday, but Lindsay's work asked her if she would like to work overtime on saturday. She agreed, so that meant that I would have to take care of Bekah and Kegan that day instead of going climbing. Not at all what we had planned. Fortunately, Marisa had that day off and said that she would watch them so that me and Richard could go out. To make it short and simple, Richard arrived at my house a little afternoon and we were off to the Sawatch mountain range. We worried that such a late start to our hike to base camp coupled with the unpredictable spring time weather would hinder us, possibly restricting us to a lower camp site. When we arrived at the trail head, the weather had completly obscured everything above treeline and we could not see La Plata peak at all. A steady rain began to fall as we started up the trail through the forest. The rivers were alive and full to their banks.

The trail for the northwest ridge route is fairly steep, with very few level spots in it. It was quite exhausting, so we had many stops for water, food, and to simply catch out breaths. About 2 miles in, the rain changed over to sleet and snow. The ground was just to warm for it to stick. Below is a couple of mugshots from the trail.

At about 11,000 feet the trail enters the valley. The sun was beginning to set behind the mountains as the clouds and rain moved out. It was then that we saw our first view of our objective.

We decided to make camp at the first flat spot with a view and call it a night. The next two pics are from our campsite looking, first, towards La Plata and the northwest ridge, and second down valley. Notice the fresh snow above treeline. The storm that had pelted us with rain, sleet, and snow, had dumped fresh snow above treeline.

A closer look at the northwest ridge and our route to the summit.

We pitched our tent and began boiling water for cooking. It was an enjoyable meal of backpackers lasagna and trail mix for desert. Darkness fell on camp quickly and so it was time to crawl into our sleeping bags. I purposely brought my warmer weather 30 degree mummy bag, thinking that it would not dip below freezing at our lower altitude. I also neglated to bring my inflatable therma rest air mattress. Instead I brought my foam ridge rest, not nearly as comfortable as the air up one. The combination of the two kept me up all night tossing, turning, and freezing. I might have recieved a couple of hours of sleep; not nearly enough rest to prepare myself for a hard day of climbing. We awoke the next morning with clear skies and light winds. The views around were astounding! We fired up the stove for morning coffee and oatmeal. And away we went. There had already been a couple of groups that passed our camp on the way up prior to our departure. With the restless night behind us, we began to focus on the huge task ahead and above us. It was not long before we were above treeline and making ground towards the ridge line.

The final push for the ridge is before us. While most of the route to the summit is visible.

Richard with Saryes Mountain behind him.

I am out of time for now, and will finish tomorrow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wintertime on Pikes Peak in June

It has been a crazy past few weeks trying to get out on a hike up to altitude. Last weekend was not happening due to work schedules and the fact that there just are not enough hours in one weekend to accomplish it all. I was a little disappointed to not get out while the weather conditions were finally starting to look good. For the past few months, the central and front ranges have been getting more snow; while the lower elevations were socked in with rain and thunderstorms. Despite the nice weather forecast, last weekend just was not going to work. So, that leaves me with the next weekend, yesterday. I made a decision last weekend that I was going to go somewhere friday night and spend the night up high, then climb the remainder the next morning, and hike out that afternoon. Again, work and family obligations kept me in town until late friday evening. It was just going to have to be a day trip for saturday.

My alarm went off at 02:30am yesterday morning. After only going to be four hours earlier, I was not in any mood to hit the trail. Back to sleep I went. I finally got out of bed around 08:00am; with the smell of bacon cooking. After having breakfast with my family, and then helping them to get off for a day of shopping and errands, I lazily sat around the house, moping about the fact that I missed another weekend that I did not climb or fish. A man worst enemy is always going to be himself. I was at battle within myself. I did not want to sit around and become more lazy and out of shape; but yet I did not want to make the effort to go out and do something about it either. I found myself making excuses for not going; it is too late in the day, the snow will be too soft, I didn't get enough rest, and countless other excuses that, in reality, didn't add up to a hill of beans. At 11:30am I said to myself, it is not too late, and get your fat but up and go do something. Ok, Pikes Peak here I come.

There are other hikes within the southern Front Range, better known as the Pikes Peak Region, that are nice hikes that take one up above the trees, but none that rival America's Mountain. I arrived at the trailhead at 1pm to find the parking lot full of vehicles. I took one of the only remaining spaces and started gearing up. The sun was bright and warm as I continued through the forest, steadily climbing upwards. The trail starts out at 10,000 feet above sea level, as it follows a brook, meandering through pine, spruce, and aspen. With the unsettled weather pattern that has kept the sun away, so too have the wildflowers have not sprung out for everyone to enjoy their beauty.

This is a picture of the brook that the trail crosses several times. At this time of the year, the snow has begun melting with the rising temperatures and little creeks become roaring rivers, although not of epic size, but still a nice sight to see and hear. About half way through the forest, views of the Crags begin to come into view.

Higher up above treeline, this landmark begins to blend in with the surrounding landscape. A little ways past the Crags viewpoint, the trail enters a few short meadows where the Pikes Peak Massif finally comes into view.

And the view back westward gives one the feeling of gaining altitude. Notice the Crags to the right side.

As the trees thinning and the air becomes colder, I decide to put on a layer of fleece to help keep the warmth in, and I am inspired by the westward views.

In this picture, notice the crags far below.

And in this picture, the continential divide, approxamiatley 100 miles away lines the horizon.

Steadily climbing higher and higher, the views become better and better. Reaching treeline around 11,000 the western shoulder of Pikes Peak looms over and dominates the southern skyline.

It was at this point that I begun to notice the wind that was blowing hard out of the west. Apparantly, down lower, the trees in the forest had been blocking and slowing the wind to a breeze. But, once I was above the treeline, the full force of the gulf stream began to take hold.

The picture above makes it look like a leisurely stroll upwards and one would be on top. It is as if, that is it, the summit of Pikes Peak.

Mountains have a way of keeping their secrets hidden for as long a they want. It is only after much effort that those secrets begin to unfold. The next picture was taken as I approached the top of the ridge, and the true summit comes into view.

With the sun shining, the snow was soft, as post holes were common. Snowshoes would have been somewhat helpful, but I did not think that they were absolutely necessary. So, they stayed fixed to my pack. The wind chill at this point was more than likely in the low teens. With a 40 to 50 mph wind combined with a temperature hovering around freezing, it definately felt like wintertime.

The picture above is a view south towards the west ridge that dominated the valley that we had just climbed up through. The following pictures are from south to west to north from atop the ridge.

And now the view I had been waiting to see for years, well, for months actually. It just seems like a long time. The trail reaches the top of the ridge, well above Glen Cove on the Pikes Peak Highway; which is visible across the basin. Far out east, the city of Colorado Springs can be seen. Although most of the city is blocked the the north ridge of Pikes, many miles and thousands of feet of elevation can be seen.

And the view north towards Woodland Park, and the Ramparts.

Looming over the alpine tundra, and encrusted in snow and ice, the summit and the long 2.5 mile trek are in full view.

In this last picture before the long decent back to the trailhead and to warmer climates, one can see Elevenmile Reservior, Spinney Reservior, most of South Park, and in the far distant, the continential divide west of Leadville.

The sun had dissappeared behind some thick clouds, and with a relentless cold wind, it was time to head back down. The snow that was soft on the way up, had harden. I didn't need my crampons, but I would imagine that it would not be much longer that day that they would have real handy. Hopefully I will be able to make an attempt at the summit before the snow all melts and the granite rocks that call this mammoth mountain home sometime soon.