Sunday, August 18, 2013

Operation Dark Snake - Culebra Peak

Had originally intended to pace a friend at the Leaville Traill 100 this weekend, but things don’t always work out as planned. After injuring herself at work and not being able to race in Leadville, I suddenly had some free time, and decided to give “Operation Dark Snake” a go. Let me interject a little explanation here; “Operation Dark Snake” refers to the act of poaching an ascent of Culebra Peak, which lies on private lands in southern Colorado. According to, normally folks will pay a $100 fee to the owners of the Cielo Vista Ranch near St. Luis, CO for the pleasure of climbing this peak. However, directions are also available on the Internet for how to approach the peak from the N. Purgatory Creek TH, near Stonewall, CO; via an arduous ridge traversing journey that covers some 12+ miles one way.
So, this sounded like a challenge that was right up my alley, and I decided to give it a go since the weather window looked to be clear of monsoon related mischief; when opportunity knocks… I took off Saturday morning from Colorado Springs and began hiking just after 12:00 PM. This seemed like a good strategy to me, being able to see most of the route in daylight while I was outbound, and then return after dark. Thinking I would have the route to myself, I was surprised to encounter 2 other folks doing the exact same thing. The first person I encountered near Whisky Pass, where he was on his way back from beginning the previous evening at 11:30 PM. On my return trip, I ran into another person beginning his journey while descending Maxwell Peak around 2:00 AM.
Overall, it is quite a journey, covering almost 12.5 miles one way, going over 25 peaks round trip. The route is really dry, so taking enough water is a must; there aren’t really any places to refill that lie directly in the path of the ridge traverse. If bad weather were to roll in, there are places where a person would be awfully exposed. For me, the most difficult aspect of the traverse is the generous quantity of loose, tippy top blocks and loose scree that are perfectly sized to roll around under foot, generally causing much pain and mischief. Beautiful scenery and much wildlife abound; makes this an awesome itinerary. 24.94 miles, 15 hrs 9 minutes, 11,199 ft elevation gain (I channeled the strength of a lot of my Leadville friends today!)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Night Time on Nolan's

As Lisa and I said goodbye to each other at 9:15 PM Friday night in Winfield, I was trying to stay focused and not find a reason to get back in the truck to head back to town for drinks and the hotel. After watching her leave, I turned into the darkness and up the road toward West Winfield and Southwest Ridge of La Plata Peak. Midnight was when I finally reached the summit of La Plata; it had been snowing for the past couple of hours. That the clouds were now beginning to settle onto the summit, further reducing the already poor visibility, was a little unsettling to say the least. I was having some trouble locating my descent, down the Northwest Ridge towards Lake Creek TH. As some of you may recall from mountaineering and alpine climbing, that from the summit of a mountain, the way down can sometimes be very unobvious, much more so than when looking up at the mountain from its bottom. So, I started to descend in a downward, counter clockwise spiral from the summit and finally crossed the well trodden donkey path that serves as the normal route up the peak.
After making my way down Hwy 82 from Lake Creek TH and turning into the small, unmarked trail head for Echo Canyon, I took a break to check out the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Elbert, which I am unfamiliar with. That is when I discovered I had accidentally printed out the route description for the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Elbert instead. That is also when I discovered just how great the GPS unit, which I have been carrying with me this summer for tracking the various legs of the Nolan’s course, really is. From looking at the map embedded in the GPS, I was able to piece together the different mining roads that lead up to the Golden Fleece mine just beneath Bull Hill, and crested the ridge just beneath its summit as the sun began to make its way over the horizon. I was thinking about the riders who must have been lining up in Leadville at that moment (for the LT100 MTB race). At 7:15 AM I finally gained the summit of Mt. Elbert and began the ultra-steep and loose descent down the West Face to S. Half Moon Creek. From North Half Moon Creek TH, it was a pretty uneventful and thankfully easier climb up Mt. Massive. On my way back down the East Ridge of Mt. Massive, I did my best to get lost in the wilderness area at the top of the Fish Hatchery, but the GPS unit I had bailed me out again, and I was easily able to navigate to a trail that leads down to the junction the Colorado Trail and the Highline Trail, which goes back down into the Fish Hatchery. Lisa met me part way up the Highline Trail and we walked back down to the truck together, arriving at 3:15 PM; 18 hours, 35 miles and 14,000 elevation gain behind me.
At the Fish Hatchery, we watched quite a few riders still coming up the road, heading over to the Power Lines and Sugarloaf. My heart went out to them as it was too late in the day for them to have any hope of getting back to Leadville before the time cut-off, but they were still driving on. This brought back a lot of memories from the Leadman just a few years ago. As I sit and write this today, the weekend takes on a lot of different perspectives. We were very lucky Friday evening, leaving town in the midst of the storms that brought so much devastation and tragedy to Manitou Springs. We barely made it through Waldo Canyon before Hwy 24 was closed, and I am thankful of not having been caught up in the more serious flooding that took place just a few moments later. Traveling over unfamiliar terrain at night was a tremendous confidence boost. Most of all I am grateful for the patience and support that Lisa has given me while getting through all of this research and rehearsal on the Nolan’s course over the past couple of months. Next week I am hoping that I get to pace Rebekka at the LT100 in Leadville. She has surgery for her hand, where she injured it at work this past week. So, I am praying that she is OK and gets to start (and finish) her race. After that I am thinking of taking a break from the Nolan’s course and climbing another 14-teener, probably Pikes Peak, in order to stay closer to home and give Lisa a break. Then it’s time to pull the trigger on this thing over Labor Day weekend. I am both looking forward to it and a little terrified at the prospect of it at the same time; does that make any sense? Thankfully I have a lot of wonderful, generous, and gracious people who are going to come out to crew and give me some company out on the trail.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Missouri Mtn. and Mt. Huron

Saturday brought another day of rehearsing and research on the Nolan’s 14 course. After the storms of last weekend, and forecast for even more intense monsoonal moisture flow for this weekend, I was more than a little apprehensive about the weather forecast. That left me reconsidering my original plans of traversing Missouri Mtn. to Mt. Huron, and then across La Plata Peak, so I decided to leave off La Plata, thinking that taking another look at the ascent from Chlohesy Lake to Mt. Huron might be the most important research I could gain from the day. This was important to me because I am planning on doing this part of the course at night, and it is confusing enough during the day, so that was where I was going to place an emphasis on for whatever time the weather was going to allow. The east face of Missouri Mtn.
is quite pleasant to climb from Missouri Gulch. Coming back down the west face is your typical ultra steep 14’teener express down scree and grassy slopes to Chlohesy Lake. Fortunately the outlet of Chlohesy Lake is friendly enough, being able to rock hop across without having to get the feet wet. Coming around the western shore of the lake, I easily found the large rock cairn marking the trail that ascends up to Lois Lake and the climb to Mt. Huron. This however, is where things start to get really messy.
The trail up to Lois Lake is exceptionally steep, and not very well marked, even including a little lower 3rd class rock scrambling for good measure. Above Lois Lake, the pain doesn’t lessen much, with a steep scree gulch leading to extended boulder hopping before the penultimate heart-break is encountered during the last, loosest, 400’ leading up to a saddle between Mt. Huron and Brown’s Peak. This section was hot and depressingly slow. I kept telling myself that it will be a little easier at night when it is cooler and I can’t really see where I am going; that’s my theory anyway. Once on the upper slopes of Mt. Huron a brief storm of snow pellets let loose, with thunder making its appearance 100’ shy of the summit. Luckily, no lighting came along with the thunder, and I made a relatively quick trip back down to Winfield, Lisa, and the truck. We high-tailed it to the hot springs to begin some recovery! As I continue to rehearse and research this course to make sure I know it to the “nth” degree, the more anxious I become at realizing the extent of the pain, punishment, and degree of just how deep I will have to go inside of myself to complete it coming up on Labor Day weekend. I took much comfort from the following words during our prayers at church this morning, “Help us, together with all Your saints, to finish our race with faithfulness, strengthened by our faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf.”