Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Vision Quest and other Random Towers

Steve likes Selfies. Top of King of Pain

Steve came down to Moab before Halloween to indulge me in my desire to climb Vision Quest on the King of Pain in the Bridger Jacks. He was itching to do Jah Man, but since I've already done that one, and as he put it, "you refuse to repeat things", he unselfishly agreed on my chosen outing.

Vision Quest is 4 pitches and goes at 5.10+ with climbers using words like "physical" and "burly". Usually this means that there is quite a bit of OW or chimney's involved. We set off on on beautiful Friday morning to find out.

Pitch one started out in a beautiful fingers corner, which sucked up all my .4's and .5's. A small roof followed by a short section where the #4 camalot came in handy led to a fun traverse and final handcrack to a small ledge. Fun pitch.
Starting up Pitch 1 

Steve traversing near the top of Pitch 1 

Steve led pitch 2, which was considered the psychological crux of the route, i.e it may be runout. A fun easy chimney led to a gorgeous big hands corner with good ledges, to the most feared portion of the route, a large slot that doesn't take good gear until you can slide inside it, a solid 10 feet. Steve clipped the slung block at the base, and began to lurch upwards, right side in, in true OW gruntfest style. He balked the first time, sliding back down to safety, but succeeded the second attempt after spending a few minutes obviously stressed out. I know the feeling. A fun handcrack brought him to the anchor. I found liebacking, like always, is a much easier and preferred technique for these sorts of difficulties.
Steve in the chimney off pitch 2 belay 

Spectacular corner to the evil slot 

Pitch 3 was short, an awkward start off the belay to a strenuous roof on perfect hands, albeit in a flare making it require more effort than a standard handcrack. Very fun with good gear, minus the start.
Weird start of pitch 3 

Steve pulling the crux roof of pitch 3 

Pitch 4 was the glory pitch. Steve struggled up the initial 20 foot flared #3 camalot corner before escaping out and up in between the towers and squeezing through to the other side. Extremely fun, well protected stemming between the towers on big ledges with one final heads up section led to the summit. Super good! Steve said it wasn't too heady, though the topout was likely the crux.
Flared corner on pitch 4 

Cool! Squeeze threw and stem up 

Selfie Steve on Pitch 4. Great shot looking down between the towers 
Topout after the last hard move. South summit of KOP behind 

The view was spectacular, and desert towers never disappoint. The first rap down into the notch between KOP and Bridger Jack Butte was a full 35m, which required Steve to do a short "jump downclimb" to obtain the next ledge. I elected to untie our safety knots in the rope, which gave me a bit extra rope to work with, negating the jumping schenanegans. The next two raps weren't so scary.

Does the rope reach? 

Plenty more towers in the desert, and the Bridger Jacks specifically, but nice to have this one checked off.

Brought the family along for another two short 1 pitch towers, Happy Turk and Devils Golf Ball, both fun with some desert trickery.
Happy Turk with the family 

Devils Golf Ball with the family 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Echo Pinnacle

Determination Towers 

The "Free Window Route" on Echo Pinnacle was another desert tower that's been on my list ever since I moved to Moab a year ago when I first scoped it out west of the M&M mountain bike trail. The pinnacle itself emerges directly off the ground, with a minimal talus cone to surmount. The pinnacle lies within a group of towers known as the Determination Towers, or Airport Towers, which is a much lamer name. Aeolian Tower is the other major tower just south of Echo, but requires a more serious aid route to reach its summit.

Annie and I were lucky enough to break away for a few hours when my parents came to visit and watch the kids. Annie hadn't summited a tower in over 5 years, the last time being in Colorado National Monument 5 months pregnant with Timbre. The approach is a bit unique in that with a 4x4 vehicle you can drive within 20 seconds of the start of the route via the Tushar Canyon roads. However, without such a vehicle its an easy 2.7 mile approach on foot or bike via the M&M bike trail up Mill Canyon that then leads into the 4x4 route of the same name.

We set out around 12:30 pm from the Dinosaur Tracks parking lot at the normal finish of the Monitor and Merrimac mountain bike trail. It was a quick and familiar journey on the bikes to the base of the climb. 
Annie biking out to our destination, located just over her right shoulder
Follow the signs 

Pitch 1 was an easy, fun and well protected 5.8 pitch. A small roof guards the top but has some good jams and gear. The rock is a bit flaky and loose in spots, more noticeable to the belayer than the climber. The pitch ends on a massive ledge with many large blocks and a view through the "window" to the other side of the tower and the motorized tourists below.
Looking up Pitch 1 

Annie pulling over the small roof near the top

Pitch 2 starts off standing on a large boulder into a great hands corner and then tightens down to red camalots, followed by a few pods that lead to the official finish of pitch 2. The 2nd and 3rd pitches can be combined or done separately, depending on your tolerance for a hanging belay off two drilled pitons and a old piece of webbing. This sounded horrible, and considering my rope management skills with 2 ropes, I proceeded on.
Really good hands for awhile 

Nice belay lounge chair 

Just past the hanging belay

From here to the top it was some of the most bizarre and wild climbing I've done in the desert. Describing the movement and position is difficult. You can't practice this stuff in the gym. The tower is split in two, and the space between the towers is just wide enough for some chimney and squeeze techniques, but also so narrow at times that requires fist and OW jamming. This might not sound overly unique, but the gap is so narrow, that for the majority of the pitch, you have half of your body on one side of the tower and half on the other. At one point, you have to campus off a fist jam to get your feet high enough as your feet are dangling in space. All this is protected by many old bolts that were intended for aid climbing, and come in very useful for C0 ascents like ours. There are actually bolts on the opposite side of the tower as well, which is odd but in hindsight may be useful for a free ascent if the normal side is giving you fits, which it certainly was for me.

Old bolts and wild chimney/squeeze

Groin shot. Looking down the two sides with me wedged in between 

Eventually the chimney, if you can call it that, reaches a roof, that can be surmounted on either side, left or right. The right path leads past more aid bolts, which if attempting a free ascent, may be difficult, though at this point you probably don't care and just want to get up the thing. (my view) The left side offers a very strenuous and standard OW experience for about 15 feet. I had brought my #5 camalot for the left side variation, though I was quite disappointed when the OW appeared quite threatening, and not a casual one move wonder I had somehow expected. The next 15 feet were by far the hardest and most scary of the 250' tower. I walked my #5 for a bit, but eventually had to leave the comfort of my protection and thrutch up using gastly OW technique involving fervent prayer and lots of grunting. Always an adventure.
A good look at Annie chimneying between the two towers 

Chicken wing! 

Finally I belly flopped onto the summit and thanked heaven I hadn't whipped on that section. Annie had an equally valued experience, falling off the hands section twice since she couldn't reach it standing off the boulder, landing squarely on her back due to rope stretch. Luckily she was fine. Then my #3 camalot got stuck and required some TLC to retrieve it. The bolts were pretty spaced for her on the chimney and the final OW did her in. But she made it up still in good spirits.

Two raps, a double and then a single, got us back to our bikes and the fun bike ride out. Overall this is as wild a position as you can get on a tower. It was a far cry from a free ascent, but we got our money's worth for sure. This counts as my 25th desert tower ascent! Still so many more to go.

Echo on the left, Aeolian on the right 

Biking out Mill Canyon

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wilson Grand Slam

View from El Diente towards Mt Wilson 

Not to be confused with a tennis racquet of the same name, the Wilson Grand Slam(WGS) is a logical linkup of the four main peaks in the Wilson Massif, located just outside Telluride. The four peaks are three fourteener's, Mt Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente and wannabe 14er Gladstone Peak coming in just shy at 13.9k'. Hence the Grand Slam nickname. If you don't understand baseball references, this will be tough to understand.

From 14ers.com. I took route A2(Rock of Ages) up, then down into Navajo Basin and up E3(north buttress of ED), then across "combo" to Mt Wilson, then unlabeled towards Gladstone, then across unlabeled ridge and up W1 to Wilson Peak 

If I may digress for a minute.... Who was the idiot or group of people who approved the naming of two peaks, both 14ers, within one mile of each other, by the same surname? Was this Wilson character really that cool, or arrogant, of an individual? There really was no other option besides "Wilson"? El Diente(Spanish for, "the tooth", acronym ED) is a cool name. They could have easily gone with the Spanish oral reference theme. Whatever.

It's unclear to me just how popular the named WGS really is. Obviously the linking of 14er's quickly and efficiently has been going on for decades, and still persists today. I have no doubt that the three 14er's in this group get linked at least once a weekend, if not more, by the hardcore Colorado 14er community. However, the missing link between that effort and the slam is Mr. Gladstone. Not being a true 14er, he might often get overlooked by the peak bagging community. I have no doubt the slam has been done countless times, though I assume far less often than individual efforts on all the peaks, the classic ED/Wilson traverse, or the three 14ers together.

I first learned of the slam a mere 2 weeks ago when I was researching the classic four 14er traverses in Colorado, of which the El Diente/Mt Wilson linkup is one. It appealed to me immediately and found that only a few folks had posted times, the fastest being about 7 hours. Whether this was the true FKT or not was unimportant, as it gave me a reasonable time frame to shoot for. It does not appear the name "Wilson Grand Slam" has garnered much attention or acceptance based on my research, but I like nicknames for objectives so I will propagate it here in hopes the 5 people who read this will then spread it worldwide via the interwebs.

The Slam seems like it can be most logically be done from two starting and ending trailheads, the Navajo Basin and Rock of Ages. The two reports I found seem to indicate the Navajo Basin was their chosen route, which I agree seems like a more aesthetic approach if not also a bit easier, though I chose Rock of Ages, because that's just a way cool name for a trail (and it was a shorter drive from Moab).

I drove out to Telluride Friday night and slept at the trailhead in the Subaru, which turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than my Sneffles insomnia was back in August. Saturday morning I was awoken by the eager peak bagging crowd well before dawn, but I wasn't super keen on using a headlamp, so I deferred till 6:30. My left posterior tibial tendon has been bothering me for almost two months now, and my good friend Nate had suggested some "low dye" taping to help heal it. I had meticulously followed the instructions on the Youtube video he sent for the first few weeks, but after becoming impatient over the ensuing weeks I employed a "put a bunch of freaking tape all over" method which seemed to work just as well.

With my gimpy foot subdued, I set off about 7am. The Rock of Ages trail rises 3000' in 4 miles up to the saddle of a similar name, which is the jumping point up to Wilson Peak, likely the most summited peak of the four, due to its class 3 status, or at least that was my observation based on the conga line of folks heading up there. This would be my final peak, so after 1.5 hours to this point, I left the crowds and did a brief and relaxing 15 min descent down into Navajo basin to the start of my first route, the North Buttress of El Diente.
Fall colors on ROA trail 

Wilson Peak in the background 

From ROA saddle, ED on right, Mt. Wilson on left 

North Buttress follows sun/shade line to the summit 

This was a fantastic route up a very cool peak. The rock was super solid, the route finding straightforward, very direct, and landed me within 50 feet of the true summit. 2000' of great class 3 and class 4, 100% off trail. Didn't see anyone else on it, which may be due to the class 4 sections, which were legit but very reasonable. Some good exposure at times. I found myself all alone on top of El Diente, now close to 3 hours elapsed time and 5k' of climb. I took a short break, and set off across the classic ridgeline over to Mt. Wilson.
Looking toward Mt Wilson 

Unfortunately, due to bagpipe-like gendarmes, one must drop off the true ridgeline for almost half the route, which is obviously a huge bummer. I soon encountered a group of 3 traversing the same direction as me, navigating the class 3 terrain below the ridgeline. They seemed to be traveling pretty slow, but making it. I found it inspiring to see folks of all skill levels and experience out in the mountains, appreciating the beauty and challenges they provide. I ran into about 10 other folks doing the traverse, in both directions. I noticed that I was the only one wearing a T-shirt, shorts, no helmet, and a lightweight running vest. Guess I didn't get the memo about 14er traverses requiring a bunch of unnecessary gear. The 2nd half of the traverse was pretty dang fun, with lots of class 3/4 on great rock with spectacular views.
Some Peeps coming the opposite direction as me 

Another group

From Mt Wilson looking back towards ED 

I summited Mt Wilson close to 50 min after leaving El Diente, which I thought was decent. Some other folks stated it had taken them 3 hours, and two dudes were bragging loudly about their 1.5 hour time. "We did that so F^% fast!". The frequency, quantity, and grammatical use of the F word always amazes me. I'm sure someone has gone sub 30 min on it.

Two peaks down, two to go. I was now about 4 hours into the day. The descent off Wilson to Gladstone was going to be the crux of the day, as I didn't think too many folks did it. Unlike the previous traverse, this involved a full descent down into the basin as there wasn't a high ridgeline connecting the two. The descent turned out to be quite the event, with lots of horrible talus and loose choss, all while trying not to get cliffed out. The usual mountain stuff. After finally making it down through Dantes Inferno, I was left at the base of a long, steep couloir that provided access up Gladstone. It was pretty frustrating from the get go, but the rock progressively got better and better until I hit the ridgeline, where I was somewhat surprised to see a group of two heading up to the summit. 5 minutes later I was on top of Gladstone, stoked to be done with the largest unknown of the day. Gladstone had eaten away another 1.75 hours, so I was looking at close to 6 hours elapsed now.
From Mt Wilson, Gladstone on the right and ridge line to Wilson Peak center 

Halfway up the choss gully on Gladstone 

Getting more solid towards the notch 

I chatted with the two guys from Denver. They had started from Navajo Basin that morning around 6am and this was their first peak. They were hoping to still make it up Wilson Peak as well, though I didn't give them super good chances with their current pace. They had left their 3rd buddy somewhere back on the traverse from Wilson Peak, as he found the rock too unstable and scary.

I then set out for Wilson Peak via an extremely aesthetic and worthy ridge line. To be honest, this section of ridge was in my opinion, far superior to the quality of the Wilson/El Diente traverse. If only God had made Gladstone 100' higher, then it would likely get more attention. The ridge was again an extremely engaging, but not scary, blend of Class 3/4 on great rock, and descending off the true ridge at any point would land you in a mess of loose choss and sorrow on one side, and a quick death on the other, so as to make navigating the true ridge experience even more desirable, necessary, and valuable.

I found myself back at the Rock of Ages Saddle, or close to it, approximately an hour later. I was sad for the beautiful ridge to end, but eager to tick off the last of the peaks. Wilson Peak has by far the most, "trail-like" option of the four peaks, though that is an overstatement. More loose class 2/3 took me up over a false summit and finally to the true summit, where a lone hiker was waiting. He kindly offered me a "hit off his joint", but I declined. He responded by saying, "yea, I didn't think so". I guess I don't exude a pot-smoking aura, or my singing "I love to see the Temple" as I crested the summit tipped him off.  When he asked me what I was up to, I told him the Grand Slam. He looked at me puzzled, but after explaining it he exclaimed, "No F&^* way! The  F^&# Grand Slam, that is F%$^ Epic!"  Again, my point about the F word stands true. Not sure if his THC consumption played a significant role.
View towards Telluride from Wilson Peak 

At this point 7 hours had gone by, and though I was far from miserable I was fairly toasted. I was very low on water and not very excited about my last Honey Stinger waffle, so I set off, bidding adieu to my dope smoking friend. I took my only digger of the day heading back down, for which my tailbone is not happy today.

The jog down to the car was fun until my 1.5 liters of total water for the day ran out. I don't like using the word "dehydrated" too often, as I have people tell me all the time how "dehydrated" they are. But 1.5 liters for a 9 hour effort, which despite drinking almost a gallon of water on the drive home without producing any urine, probably puts me somewhere on that spectrum. Anyway, it got to the point where I could either leave the trail and descend maybe 50 feet down to the stream to access water, and I chose not to, so it couldn't have been Aron Ralston status.

9 hours, 15 miles, and 8k' feet later I arrived back at the car, extremely pleased and satisfied with my effort. Certainly not a FKT by any stretch, but a great day in the mountains. The Colorado mountains never disappoint. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hardrock 40 and Sneffels

View from Stony Pass

A couple years ago I ran the Telluride Mountain Run, which was awesome. The San Juan's are amazing. I made it a goal this year to get back there and see some of the spectacular Hardrock course. Steve was nice enough to drive down and join me for an outing on the first 40 miles of the course, running counterclockwise. We ended up running it the same day as the actual race, which made navigation a ton easier. Seeing markings and runners all day eased the trouble of consulting our GPS all day long. The race this year was clockwise, and since we started Saturday morning, it was perfect as we got to see all the runners from start to finish as they started Friday morning. There isn't much to report about, other than the fantastic scenery. Steve unfortunately had to bail about 17 miles in due to feeling the altitude, but then joined me on top of Handies right before a horrific thunderstorm came in, which made the shuttling back to Silverton a lot easier. We were planning on riding our bikes back to town after finishing in Grouse Gulch, but having the truck there was better. Thanks for feeling crappy Steve! Overall I finished feeling ok, but it reinstated my feelings that I'll likely never do the entire Hardrock event, if not for the lottery odds alone but for the fact that 50 miles in a day is plenty. No reason to run through the night and miss seeing half of the fantastic scenery. I finished the first 40 miles of the course in about 12 hours with 14k' of elevation gain.

Little Giant Pass 

Runners heading down to Cunningham 

Steve acting like Steve 
Running down Handies in the rain 
Pano from atop Handies 

Great ST in the Cataract section

I was also able to get out on a solo adventure up Mt Sneffels via Blue Lakes, another 14er, in mid August. Most people come up via the Camp Bird rd from Ouray, but Blue Lakes is far more scenic. Beautiful terrain up there. Up and down in about 5 hours with 5k' of elevation gain.

Celestial ST 

Looking up the 3rd/4th ridge to the summit 

Fellow hiker from Oklahoma taking a breather

Pano from summit 

Some other folks coming up the Lavender coluoir 

Upper blue lake 

Hopefully get back to the San Juans at least one more time before winter hits.