Sunday, August 30, 2009

Castle and Conundrum Peaks, August 29th, 2009

Dave and I headed over to Aspen again to try for Castle and Conundrum Peaks. We had the same plan as the week prior, but with the more unsettled weather due in saturday afternoon, we decided to start out a little earlier on saturday morning. The weather on the drive over was fantastic, few clouds, but now precip, and fairly warm. The 4wd road was fairly devoid of people and the campsite choices were plentiful. When we got to treeline, approximately where our camp was a week earlier, we decided to continue driving to the end of the road at 12,800 feet, to scope out the conditions and get a glimpse of our route and the peaks. From camp, you cannot see either mountain, nor the actual climbing portion of the climb. It was awfully tempting to stay there and camp for the night, but abiding by mountaineering standards, we elected to drive back down to the trees and camp there; allowing for at least 3,000 vertical feet of climbing, versus the 1400 feet from the end of the jeep road. We camped at the last campsite at treeline. The evening was really nice with clear skies and plentiful stars. A half moon lite the basin with a warm white glow. We ate a quick rommen meal and hit the sack. Around 430am, Dave wakes me up. He seemed pretty tired and expressed that he had had a really rough night sleeping and didn't quite feel into the climb. We decided to push on and see if things would improve with his health. From our camp to the end of the road is roughly 2.25 miles and 1800 feet of elevation gain. The route follows the jeep trail in it's entirety. From there, a couple of routes can be taken. As the darkness began to give way to the morning glow, we continued to hike up the steep and rocky road, slowly gaining elevation. Dave continued to have difficulties with his health, which as we went on, became worse and worse. It was not the same sickness the ailed him from the week prior. This one gave the appearance of a bad cold or flu. The sun finally rose as we put away our headlamps, and awaited the rays to hit our cold bodies. We continued to push on, hoping that things would improve. But, it was inevitable. Dave was sick, and going on would do nothing for us, other than give us the experience of a mountain rescue. Which we did not need to experience. We made it to the end of the road, contemplated our situation and Dave's health. The mountain God's warned us to not continue. So, we headed back down. We briefly chatted with several small groups of hikers coming up the road as we descended. The last group we encountered was a group of 5 hikers that we met at our camp. The funny thing about their group was that it was roughly 9am and they still had a lot mountain to climb before the weather would turn on them. I can only hope that they made it back to the safety of the trees before it hit. The packing up and driving home was uneventful, with the necessary food stop in Buena Vista. The weather did change quickly. As we drove home, the clouds thickened, and rolled in from the west and northwest. Lightning and heavy rain would accompany us from Wilkerson Pass into Woodland Park, and it was not even an hour after I got home that it dumped. Below is a few pictures from the trip. We hope to go back again soon and try to summit these two mountains that have alluded us for so long.

Independence Pass westbound at Twin Lakes

Independence Pass westbound towards Star Mountain, 12,942'

Independence Pass westbound towards La Plata Peak, 14,361'

Castle Creek Road southbound towards Taylor Peak (13,435') and Star Peak (13,521')

Along Castle Creek 4wd Road, Tagert Hut, part of the 10th Mountain Division and Summit Huts Association network of huts

Waterfall cascading down from Montezuma Basin, where we'll be camping and climbing

End of the jeep road and the beginning of the climb, friday evening

Same place as previous photo, but looking back down Montezuma Basin and Malemute Peak

Dave and his Jeep at 12,800 feet

The remainder are of the hike up on saturday.

Ah, darkness turns to light, mornings are my favorite

The lower flanks of Castle's Southeast Ridge

Upper Montezuma Basin ablaze with alpenglow. Conundrum Peak is center.

Conundrum Peak on the left

The end of the jeep trail.

Upper Montezuma Basin

Looking back down from high up in Montezuma Basin

Conundrum Peak from below Montezuma Glacier

Castle, left distant, northwest ridge, and Conundrum on the right

Conundrum Peak and lower part of Montezuma Glacier

A little wildflower action above treeline amidst the rocks

Our cozy campsite

self portrait

Another view of our camp

The last two of Castle Creek waterfall along the jeep trail back down to Ashcroft.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Castle and Conundrum tomorrow

Headed out tomorrow to Aspen to try for Castle and Conundrum Peaks. Both are above 14,000 feet. The weather is supposed to be a little more volatile than previously predicted. 30% chance of thuderstorms. We will want to be back down before noon on saturday. We are also considering another 14er on sunday on the way back home. But, we will have to see how that goes. I'll update a trip report when I return later this weekend.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Castle and Conundrum Peaks, August 21st, 2009

Dave and I had been planning most of the week to head for the Crestones and try for both of them. But on thursday afternoon, we decided that maybe we should try for something else. We were looking for climbs that we would be able to summit two different 14ers in the same day or weekend; not just a single mountain, but a series of mountains. Kind of one of those "wanting to pad one's peak list" idea. Paul had recently climbed Castle and Conundrum peaks a few weeks prior, so this set came up in discussion early on. So, it was decided. We would drive up to Aspen and as far as mechanically possible the rugged Montezuma Basin 4wd road; also known as the Pearl Pass road. Just one word on this road, it is the roughest road my little Nissan Frontier 4x4 has ever been on. Way, way rugged! We left Colorado Springs at 3pm and were in Aspen at 630pm. The sun was setting fast and we still had to get up into Montezuma Basin and set up camp before darkness. There were some really bad spots in the road, but my truck made it through them. The road goes all the way to the base of Montezuma glacier, but we had decided to play for the 3,000 foot 14er rule. Which basically says that in order for a 14er climb to be considered an actual climb the climber must gain 3,000 vertical feet of elevation during the climb. Castle Peak is 14,265 feet, and the end of the road is at 12,800 feet. Less than 2,000 feet, making it quite a bit less than the 3,000 foot rule. So, we planned on camping around 11,000 feet to make it fair. We set up camp and began boiling water for tea as we ate supper. Darkness was closing in on us as we noticed the thunderstorm some distance to our east.

It didn't appear to be a threat to us, just a pretty picture and a nice ending to a great day. We stayed up until 10pm ish tracking satelites and looking at the stars, awaiting the rise of Mars. Around 1130pm, Dave wakes me up to tell me he is really sick and needs to get down soon, if not now. For some odd reason, I thought that it was 4am and that the sun should start rising soon. We packed up camp in a fury, and started to drive down. It was very clear from the moment we started driving, that Dave was in pretty bad shape and that a visit to the ER would be imment. Driving anywhere at midnight with an hour and half of sleep is bad, but doing it on the worst 4wd road in the area, was well, just crazy.

But, we had no choice and this was begininng to be a very urgent situation. We arrived at Aspen Valley Hospital a little before 1am. After some much needed meds, Dave was released and we began our drive back home to Colorado Springs. We arrived back in town just as the sun rose over the plains. Whew, what a night! Castle and Conundrum will have to wait for another day. Which is best, I forgot my crampons anyways.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is it really August 9th?

Tomorrow is my birthday and it looks like I will be working a split shift at work. At least I don't have to be in until 5am instead of the normal midnight sunday night routine! I was hoping to make another summit this weekend, but too many duties here at home. Next weekend is looking the same. 5th anniversary on friday, so no climb that night and a going away party saturday night. I am hoping to maybe do the incline saturday am before it gets too hot outside. Yes, it does get pretty hot here in Colorado. I made it finally to one of those REI garage sales here in the Springs. There was a ton of people and even more stuff than I imagined. I walked away with a saddle bag setup for our Golden, Sierra. Normal price was $60 and it cost me $30! Pretty good steal! It will take her some time to get use to it. Maybe next summer she can go up some 14ers with me. I am hoping to get out for a climb on the 21st and 22nd weekend, maybe Shav/Tab. And the following weekend, another climb, but not too sure where yet. For the time being, I am just training and getting prepared for the upcoming winter. Climbing will get much tougher this winter than the summer. More gear, more exposure, worse weather, and longer approaches make for a long and difficult day in the mountains. I plan on climbing Longs in September via the Keyhole route and then Torreys in October via Kelso Ridge route. Hopefully, time permitting, I'd like to give the North Face/Cables route on Longs a try this early winter or late winter, depending on snowpack. This fall should be spectacular in the Rockies, I just hope that I can get out there and enjoy it!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Moon Phase Calender

I found a really great calender that shows the moon phase for each day of the given month. It is a great planning tool if night time ascents are in the beginnings.
Moon Phase Calender

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August 1, 2009 snow and climb

Mt Belford

Missouri Mountain

Mt Belford and Mt Oxford Stats:
Missouri Gulch Trail Head (9,650 feet)
Mt Belford, 14,197 feet
Mt Oxford, 14,153 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet
Round Trip Total: 11 miles
Camp to Camp time: 0430 start 1430 finish, 10 hours total
Trail Head to camp at 11,500 feet, approx 2.5 miles, and 2 hours up and 1.5 hours down

After a record cool week here in the springs, I knew that the weather up high would be more September like. We left the springs around 3pm on friday, July 31st, amist heavy and dark clouds that were dumping large amounts of rain on the city and the adjanct mountains. Once we arrived in South Park, the skies had cleared and only a few small cumulus clouds dotted the western horizon. Great weather looked to be in store and high pressure seemed to be building. After packing up and readying ourselves at the trail head, we began hiking at 6pm. Not 5 minutes into the hike, rumble..... and then another rumble...... Where did this come from? It had been clear and no signs of a storm coming. The thunder got louder and the clouds above seemed to be moving our way. We elected to postpone our trek in for a few minutes to wait out the weather, and it was a good thing. As we sat in comfort of the Jeep, rain and hail pelted the windshield. Lightning danced among the ridges and valleys. As soon as it had started, it ended abrubtly; leaving a double rainbow across the valley.

The hike now could begin again. It is a fairly short hike up to treeline at 11,000 feet. But, along that hike, a lot of elevation must be gained, which could only mean one thing.... switchbacks! Those nasty devils in discuise. It is not mandatory to climb up them, but the only alternative is to stay at home in the comfort of ones lazy boy! So, I suppose you could say, that there really is no other choice in the matter. One must go up, so that one can come down.

An old miners cabin from the late 1800's right at treeline, 11,200 feet.

Mt Belford near our camp.

Upper Missouri Gulch.

We arrived at a decent camping area around 830pm as the sunlight began to fade into the darkness of night. Tents sprang up and supper was served. Well, as served as Ramen can be served! While eating supper, around 930pm, above the ridge to the north, tall anvils of thunderheads began to take shape. Lightning could be see shooting across the towering clouds. With the little bit of remaining light disappearing, I could see the clouds begin to roll over into our valley. It was like a huge wave toppeling over into the dark abyss below. It was time to get into bed and try to sleep through the coming storm. For the next 45 minutes the wind howled and the precipitation pelted my tent. I am not sure if it was hail, sleet, or just hard rain; but it was pretty loud. With the lightning striking very near to our campsite, my tent would light up like it was daytime. I think that I was too tired to worry about a direct hit, but what could I have done differently if I was to worry?

I don't remember much else from that night, other than being awakened by headlamps and voices outside my tent telling me to get up! It was now 4am. After a quick oatmeal bar, our long day could begin. Our headlamps lit the way up the trail as night slowly turned into day. It became apparant early on that the mountains around us had a fresh coat of snow on them.

Missouri with a fresh coat of snow.

About 1/4 of the way up Belford looking at the fresh August snow.


Mt Hope in the distance.

The two mountain goats, Dave and Paul.

As the sun rose higher into the sky, the alpenglow began to shine on the eastern slopes of the surrounding ridges and mountains. I wish that I would have stopped longer to take more pictures, but with the 30F temperature and 30+ mph winds, it was quite cold. It definately felt like winter, eventhough it was only August 1st!

Mt Hope

La Plata Peak, my 1st 14er.

Reaching the snowline around 13,000 feet.

In Belford's shadow, while Missouri enjoys the sunshine.

This is what winter looks like in August. Wildflowers covered with fresh snow.

The trail is still evident, but the wind chill is much more apparant.

Missouri in all of her majesty.

Elkhead Pass and Missouri Basin, very remote part of the Sawatch.

Still in the cold shadow,

Just a little bit further!

Sometimes you just have to turn around and look back at what you've already accomplished. Somewhere below in the valley to the left is camp, and even further down is the trail head.

Almost there!

Are we there yet?

Mt Belford summit, 14,197 feet, at 815am. The wind was much stronger on top, directly out of the north. Missouri is behind my left shoulder.

I knew that my time on Belford would be short, so I added a few layers of clothing, ate a quick bite, and drank as much as possible. About that time the 2 way radio buzzed. "Jerry? How ya doing?" It was Paul! They were reaching the saddle between Belford and Oxford, see the next picture. Somewhere , way down there, I would soon be not only once, but twice. Belford was just one mountain to climb out of the three that I would have to climb to make my way back to camp. Time is short, and I must continue my journey!

From Belford's summit looking southeast towards the ridge over to Oxford. One of those tiny spots on the saddle is Dave and Paul, as they begin their climb up to Oxford.

High up on Oxfords West ridge. Is this the summit? Dave and Paul can be seen as they are headed back down.

Same place as the picture above. Looking back down the ridge and over to Belford. You can see the entire route from the Belford summit to Oxford.

I thought that was the summit, but no....I still have more climbing to do! The Oxford summit is now in view.

Mt Oxford summit, 14,153, with Belford behind me, approx. 1030am. That's the number 2 14er summit for today!

The next series is from the summit of Oxford.

Looking Northeast towards Leadville and Twin Lakes.

Looking North towards Elbert and Massive.

Looking Northwest, towards La Plata, and the Elk Range

Looking westerly, Belford is in the foreground.

West again, but the ridge traverse is in full view. To get back to camp, I must downclimb 1,000 feet to the saddle and then climb back up 1,000 feet to Belford's summit again, and then descend the other side of Belford. It will take quite a bit of work to get back to where I was at 2 hours earlier.

Looking Southwest into Missouri Basin, Emerald Peak is the pyrmid shaped mountain.

Mt Harvard, another 14er. Access to this side of Harvard is via a very long 16 mile trek up the unmaintained Pine Creek trail.

A closer look at the seldom visited North face of Harvard.

I spent about 30 minutes on the summit of Oxford, before the relentless wind convinced me to begin my long trek back to camp. I would traverse the easy class 2 ridge back to Belford and summit her for the 2nd time that day. And then descend the Southwest shoulder of Belford back into Missouri Gulch and eventually to camp. I reached the Belford summit around 1230 for the second time. And back into camp by 1430. It was a very long day! We reached the trail head at 1630, about 12 hours after we had left camp that morning. As I journey up more mountains, the hunger for altitude bekons stronger and stronger. It is never soon enough before another trip begins. But, it is all to often that one ends. I remind myself that as one ends, another is beginning! May one's journeys be safe and climb on!

One last look at Missouri.

I really liked this view.