This is a video of a backpacking/mountaineering trip I went on a couple years back in The Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado. Enjoy!
This is a video of a backpacking/mountaineering trip I went on a couple years back in The Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado. Enjoy!
My friend Jason is one of my more regular partners when it comes to adventure. We do our best to get out regularly and motivate each other to stay active. It might seem silly for two people who live in Colorado to need motivation to get out but we all need it now and then.
Jason called me up this past weekend to reminded me that his kids were in day care on Mondays and to see if I had any plans yet. I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a couple of reasons. I have been sick this past week and have scaled back my physical activity significantly in an effort to recover and be healthy for the climbing road trip I am about to take. I was excited to get outside and enjoy some physical activity. I also have my new pack from Gregory, the Z55 which I have been eager to load and test out on a real hike. I told Jason I was in and we discussed our options in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We would be headed to the Longs Peak trail head which is off the Peak to Peak highway, a couple miles South of Estes Park. This is one of my favorite park access points (free…). Jason and I agreed to meet at the parking lot no later then nine o’clock to get started.
My drive to the trail head from Fort Collins was uneventful although I got to see a lot of flood damage on highway 34 that I had not previously seen. Houses hanging off of slopes that had been partially washed away and metal pipes wrapped around trees like pieces of ribbon were a few of the highlights. The construction crews are still busy at work, repairing pull-offs, adjusting the riverbed, and cleaning up debris.
I breezed through Estes park, buying a crappy cup of coffee at one of the local gas stations before heading South to the trail head.
When I pulled in, Jason was practically ready to go. I rolled out of my car looking like I had just woken up. I apologized for not having any of my gear ready to go. It took me about 30 minutes to get organized, change clothes, and drink a few sips of water. We decided to don snowshoes (uhggg) and got on the trail a little before ten.
Following the trail towards Granite Pass would give us the option to hike Mt. Lady Washington, Storm Peak, or the Keyhole (on Long’s Peak). We didn’t want to set a specific goal until we got up above treeline and could assess the conditions and make an educated decision. We meandered through the trees, taking our time and enjoying the fresh air. After what seemed like a long time (we both remembered it being shorter) we ascended a small snow slope and broke out of the trees. The views of Meeker and Longs were commanding.
Snow swirled in wintery dust devils high on the North face of Long’s. The alpine intensity of the sun beamed down on us like a laser and I was thankful to have my goggles. We picked a point up the valley and began the slow walk up hill. This is when I realized that my energy reserves are still quite low from being sick (or maybe it was the altitude…or both). Either way I felt like I was moving at a snails pace and I mentioned this to Jason to his amusement. He said it made him feel great to see me moving slow for once.
After what seemed like 45 minutes we had made it about half way up the rocky slopes between us and the summit of Granite pass. We decided that just making it to the pass would be enough of an accomplishment for both of us. Even though our objective was in sight, things began to get a bit more challenging as waves of wind blasted us with spindrift from the slopes above. In addition to our outdoor pursuits, both of us worked on a 14er as Interpretive Rangers. Jason and I have had plenty of exposure to high terrain and the wind that seems to persist there. Today however was a bit more extreme. Individual gusts began hitting us and we estimated them in the vicinity of 60 miles per hour. We watched as these waves of energy descended the slopes above us, excavating and launching pieces of wind-crusted snow high into the air. It was spectacular.
We continued upwards, stopping occasionally to steady ourselves with trekking poles, orienting our bodies to combat the powerful wind. We were both almost blown over multiple times before we reached the summit some time around three o’clock. On the saddle that is Granite pass the wind was less gusty and much more consistently insane, prompting me to find a large rock for shelter. I shuffled over to make room for J as he sat down beside me, a look of satisfaction on his face. We drank some water and decided that with how slow we were moving and how late in the day it was already, we better bust a move and start heading down. We decided to make a little circuit and head down a different way then we originally came up. A pleasantly angled ridge appeared to lead right back to our descent route. We put our packs back on and began hiking again.
Often times in an alpine environment or any outdoor environment for that matter, our perception of the environment can be skewed. Ill use our descent route as an example. This benign looking ridge, with it’s few rock outcroppings and snow-free crest appeared to be a great choice. After walking with snowshoes on for the better part of the day we were thrilled to have a nice tundra walk sans awkward foot attachments. The reality of the situation was that, yes – the walking was pleasant. Something that was difficult to judge however was the severity of the wind that we were about to experience. Because there was no snow present on this ridge, it was difficult to SEE the wind. As we worked our way down, the wind steadily increased. By the time we were within a hundred yards of the rock outcroppings we had seen from afar, the wind seemed that of a tropical storm…no correction, of an arctic storm. The icy blast increased as we approached the rock tower to a point at which I’m pretty sure we were being blasted in excess of 80 miles an hour. The rocky tower was big enough and positioned perfectly to deflect the wind raging up the ridge and channel it around both sides to a focal point. I stood in this location, facing the blast, leaning forwards, held at roughly a 40 degree angle by the tempest.
I had my fun for a few moments before seeking shelter once again. In the lee of the rock I was able to comfortably sit down and watch Jason approach. Watching him stumble his way across the tundra, almost being knocked on his ass brought me to the point of hysterical laughter. Once he arrived safely we both ate some more food and drank. We discussed the next obstacle, a saddle roughly 100 yards wide that we needed to cross to continue our descent. It was the low point of the ridge and a frigid cloud of spindrift scouring this exposed area made it apparent that the wind at this location might be even more intense then what we had just experienced.
As we began our trek forward our predictions proved correct. This intensity of the wind was almost enough to suck the breath right out of our lungs and we staggered across the low spot on the ridge. Spindrift pelted the few millimeters of exposed skin on our faces, making us feel as if we were being sand-blasted. Speaking to each other was pointless, we couldn’t hear a thing. As we stumbled through the invisible force that attempted to prevent our travel we managed to cross the saddle only to arrive on an exposed high point. We crouched for a moment and quickly decided to continue. After rounding this small summit we almost let out a shout of joy as we dove into some haggard looking Limber Pine. Shelter is a wonderful thing.
Our descent became much more tolerable as we wound through this dwarf forest of Pines in a place which was clearly demonstrated to us as one of the most extreme environments where life can carve out a foothold. We remarked at how pleasant the now 40 mile per hour wind was as we crossed our old footprints and regained the trail down into the Spruce/Fir forest. We walked with a spring in our step, enjoying the downhill grade and the shelter we could finally enjoy.
Just before getting to the trail head we ran into a group of four young hikers who asked if we had seen their friend. They had gotten split up as he short-cutted the switch backs while they stuck to the trail. Separated, they wrote a note in the snow for him and decided to head back to their truck. We eluded to the extreme nature of the weather up high and wished them luck in finding their friend.
Getting back to the car always creates mixed feelings. On the one hand there is relief. The safety the vehicle seems to provide reassures us that we have ‘made it out alive’ and that we are going to be ‘ok’. At the same time, reaching the car signifies the end of our adventure. We recall our hours of exposure up high in the alpine, where we can only rely on each other and our previous experiences to keep us safe. It is in those moments that we smile and know that we will go back at some point, a reassurance that the adventure is not over, we’re just taking a little break so we can rest, refuel, and do it again next week.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog article for some time now but have been struggling with finding free time. I have been putting of writing because my computer is broken and I have been attempting to blog from my iPad. I’ve also been busy. I just got back to Colorado on Monday the 20th after a couple weeks of traveling.
My most recent trip began by driving West – headed to South-Western Colorado; Ouray. As you near this awesome little town, the San Juan mountains come into view and you instantly know these mountains are different then the Front Range. Different colors and layers are visible in the strata that rise up on both sides of Main Street. Our plan was to stay in Ouray for a couple days, camping one night and ice climbing at the ice park both days before dashing back to Fort Collins.
Day one was mostly an opportunity to find a campsite as well as figure out the details
regarding the ice park. It turns out that there is no fee for climbing (unless you want to become a member to support the park) and that ice farmers turn on sprinkler heads at roughly 4 o’clock every night to fatten up the walls and pillars of ice that drip down into the narrow box canyon. Camp Bird road turned up some easy car camping opportunities and after stomping out a platform to pitch our tent, we headed back to town for a beer at the local brewery. Their brown ale was fantastic.
We did some bouldering on a small wall right next to the upper bridge to warm up before I jumped on lead for a short pitch to set up a top-rope for Megan and I to do some laps. The climbing was pleasant with warm temperatures making the ice climbing secure. After the warm up we headed to steeper and longer lines in the ice park a little way above the upper bridge. Our final day involved each of us top-roping some even steeper climbing, my route involving some steep mushroom formations and Megan’s climb following some steep and thin sections with exposed rock.
Although there were a lot of other things we wanted to do such as check out the hotsprings and explore more of the park, we needed to make our way back to the Front Range to pack and start our drive to BC the next day. Things felt somewhat rushed but at the same time we were very excited to be on the road to some awesome skiing.
After a near sleepless night filled with packing and figuring out last-minute details, we got up nice and early to meet the other folks that were driving up to BC with us. This whole trip was organized by the CSU Outdoor club and was open to anyone (non-students like myself included). We rented minivans and packed an improbable amount of gear and
people into them. I was shocked that we were able to fit everything.
Day one of driving was 10 hours ending in Montana. Day two we crossed the Canadian border (the border guards do not like jokes) and drove 11 hours, arriving in Golden, Canada at about 11 o’clock that evening. Checking into the Dreamcatcher hostel was a blast – we rented the whole place for our group. The hostel owners were really wonderful and accommodating of our group, making us feel right at home. One bit of advice – buy beer and booze before entering Canada – there are not many craft breweries up there and the crappy light American beer that is available goes for up to $50+ for a 24 pack.
Our first day of skiing Kicking horse resort was great with a soft base and surprisingly steep terrain. Welcome to BC. That evening the upper parts of the mountain got roughly 1.5 feet with another 6-8 inches falling during the day and it took every ounce of energy I had to ski powder with 4000+ feet of vertical descent every top to bottom run. On our third day in Golden we took a drive with two friends on the Ice Fields parkway which led us all the way to Jasper where we got some beer and food. The drive gave us some SPECTACULAR views of the rugged Canadian Rockies complete with hanging glaciers, 1000 foot frozen waterfalls and the occasional view of the Columbia Ice Sheet.
After our time in Golden I managed to get in one day of backcountry skiing in Yoho National Park which provided me with some of the best powder turns I have ever experienced. Next we drove over Rogers Pass on our way to Revelstoke, another amazing Canadian ski area.
Revelstoke boats the most vertical of any ski mountain in North America, over 5000 feet.
Although the snow was similar to spring conditions in Colorado (they hadn’t received any substantial snow since the Friday before we arrived) the terrain was awesome and the scenery top-notch. The town had some great food including one of the best sushi restaurants I have eaten at in a long time.
Driving back to Colorado was uneventful and took a long time. At this point I am officially moved out of my house so I am technically homeless – couch surfing it for the foreseeable future. Right now I am packing and organizing gear in Conifer, Colorado, getting ready for a trip to Utah for some skiing and backpacking (possibly in Canyonlands NP). Will work on updating the blog more frequently. Until next time friends!