Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday, 01/21/08 Mt. Evans Bike n' Hike (more bike than hike)

Mt. Evans
29 miles
~3,800 vertical
4:13 RT

I have had my eye on a Winter ascent of Evans for a few years now, but neither the prospect of walking from Echo Lake, nor trudging up to Guanella Pass from the new winter road closure seemed particularly appealing.With all this fine weather as of late, I began to think this week might be as good of a time as any.

As my mind wandered, I started to wonder how much of the road might be melted out and if it would be possible to use a bike to gain any advantage (yeah yeah, “cheating” I know, but I assure you, the ascent was NOT easier). The previous night I had decided not to go, but when I woke up at 7am, I was fired up on the idea again and quickly packed, readied my bike and was out the door a few minutes before 8am, armed with somewhat recent beta from Forrest. Why not have a look at least?

Once at the gate, it was surprisingly warm and calm, but there was a good bit of wind on the drive to the Echo Lake winter closure, so I dressed a bit heavier than I should have thinking I would soon be up in the cold and wind.I began riding at 9:17. There was a short bit of snow before the first switchback and a good stretch of snow before the bristlecone forest, but some was ridable (barely) and some required pushing the bike along. Fortunately, this was surprisingly short lived as it was kind of difficult.

I plugged my way along above treeline, somewhat burdened by my heavy pack and now was beginning to notice that pesky wind, but was still plenty warm (for January).As the road looped around Goliath, there was more and more snow on the road, but I was able to ride this entire section, balancing on a strip of pavement only as wide as my tire at times and crawling over occasional patches of snow and ice, all the while doing my best to ignore the drop to the immediate right that would certainly hurt a bit if I fell.

Once past Goliath, the road cleared out a bit better and I was able to ride the entire way to Summit Lake except for about 100 feet of walking where the snow had drifted all the way across the road. On the final stretch to Summit Lake, the wind became much stronger and was a direct head wind. Even though it is somewhat flat to down hill, it was agonizingly slow. I arrived at the lake in a disappointingly slow 1:34, a full 15 minutes slower than when I run the road.

I did not mind though, as I knew the whole bike thing was going to pay off big time on my return trip.As I passed the lake, the brutal headwind now became a welcome tailwind as the road steepens. I planned on parking my bike at or near the lake (if could make it that far), lock it to a post and proceed the remainder of the way on foot. I stopped and huddled behind a rock to eat, take in the views and contemplate my options. It would certainly be faster and easier to hike from here to the summit and would only take about 30 minutes, but I became increasingly intrigued by pulling off a complete bike ascent/descent in January. This idea got the best of me and I continued to plug along up the hill slowly, wobbling on two wheels.

As I rounded the corner to descend to the Epaulet saddle, the wind picked up in earnest, forcing me to pull over and put on my Gore-Tex shell, balaclava and warmest mittens. It was a bit of a trick to pull this off and not have anything launch toward Kansas.Once again, I doggedly fought the wind, back and forth on the seemingly endless switchbacks. No matter how many times I have been up here, there are always a few more switchbacks than I remember.

With each few hundred feet of gain, the wind seemed to increase 10 mph or so. On one stretch of road facing into the wind, I even got off my bike and pushed for a while, as it was just easier and safer.Eventually, I rounded the last switchback and the wind immediately deposited me at the far end of the lot.

As I was climbing off my trusty steed, the wind picked at my bike and was forcing it away from my grip. I snagged it by the bar end just at the last moment and wrenched it back with all my might, giving it all I had not to be tossed through the air like a rag doll. I staggered around the lot, trying to find a wind break with very limited success. Finally, I found a spot that was tolerable where I pulled out my bike lock to secure my bike and pack to a pole as to not be snatched away by the wind while I tagged the true summit.

I crouched and scampered my way across the lot, crawled carefully up and over the rocks to the true summit, where I spent little time admiring the views. So much for some leisurely snacking and picture taking in the non-existent, but much anticipated wind shadow.Back to the bike, I debated the sanity of riding back down in the wind, especially without a helmet (stupid). I did my best to keep the bike upright, pedaling as hard as I could downhill into the wind, only going 11mph, but then would round the bend and would be dragging the brakes to not surpass 40.

This seemed to go on for a while, but was cake compared to the ride up. Once near the Epaulet saddle and the little up before the descent to summit lake, the wind was at my back and before I knew it, I was going 58mph, in total silence, dragging my brakes ever so slightly. I could not believe the speed. Even after several years of racing road bikes at the pro level, I don’t think I had gone quite that fast. Crazy stuff!

The remainder of the descent varied from struggling into a headwind, walking or carefully negotiating the snowy/icy sections, finessing a cross wind or dragging the brakes going 55mph, admittedly a huge thrill, although not all that confidence inspiring without a helmet, not being clipped into the pedals and using big clumsy mittens to brake, grip and shift.I arrived back at the car at 1:30pm and had a quick drive back home. A very fun and unusual day indeed.

Lessons learned (if I were to do this over again):

Bring a helmet of any sorts…. I NEVER ride without one, except for today, but I really did not expect to ride my bike 29 miles, much less reach speeds of nearly 60mph.

Don’t wear bib cycling shorts under full winter gear, they are a real hassle if you need to drop trou for a big job.

Do wear clipless pedals and cycling shoes with a change of shoes in the pack if necessary. I put on platform pedals and rode as a hiker on a bike instead of a cyclist. Terribly inefficient.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, 01/18/09 Mt. Elbert

Mt. Elbert
11.2 miles
4,850 vertical
Start: S. Mt. Elbert TH
Jeff and Allison Valliere, Dave Hale, Dave Gibson, Matt Kubrick, Steve Hoffmeyer, Carol Gerber, Ed Gerber, Steve Knapp, Chris Orwat, Mike Via, Ricky Carr, Shep and Sierra
8:16 RT (Start 7:20am, Finish 3:36pm)

On what has become an annual tradition, we had yet another great expedition up Mt. Elbert on an absolutely PERFECT January day. We had pretty much the same crew as last year, minus Kevin Lund unfortunately, yet we had a few new additions to the group.The forecast throughout the week kept reading mid 30’s and low wind. Could it really hold? Much to my surprise, the forecast did hold true, as a strong high pressure system held steady over Colorado.We left the house at 4:20am, picked up Steve H in Idaho Springs and made it to the TH in plenty of time for our ~7:15am proposed start. The lot was about full (mostly our group) and there were two parties on the trail ahead of us. We followed the well packed trail easily without snowshoes and made good time along the gradual road to the summer trailhead. Once the trail steepened, Allison and I put on our snowshoes for traction, but they were really not necessary. Before long, we were walking along a long flat stretch that was obviously off track. We all knew that whomever forged this track, missed the correct route on to the ridge. Despite this, it was easier to follow the packed trail than to break a new trail, despite the circuitous nature of the diversion. At the very least, it was scenic and was a perfect day!We all generally spread out and formed small groups of 2 or 3 and would occasionally regroup. Eventually, we chugged up a very steep hillside through an aspen forest and gained the normal route just below treeline. Someone even liked this alt. route so much, they marked it with orange flagging, however all of us who are familiar with the original route would prefer the latter. We all stashed snowshoes in one of the final patches of trees, hoping no one would “find” them and take them home thinking they did a good deed. We noted the contrast to last year, where we put on everything we had at this spot, but this year it was quite a bit warmer with very little wind, amazingly pleasant for January. Settling into each our own pace, we steadily made our way upward on patchy snow and bare ground. I felt great and made surprisingly easy progress up the final 1,800 ft. or so, feeling much better than I did last year (it helped tremendously to not have a bitter and howling headwind).Sierra shepherded me all the way to the summit, where we arrived at 11:15am and I let out a loud yell of joy. We enjoyed the solitude for 10 minutes or so, communicating with one another in a way that some may not understand, enjoying this perfect day on top of the state, certainly a special moment I will never forget.Soon, Chris arrived, followed by Steve Knapp and we exchanged handshakes and high fives. I knew Allison was a bit behind, so I dropped about 500 feet until I met up with her and offered to carry her pack, but she declined as she was too proud. Instead I paced her to the summit, where most of the group trickled in one by one. Soon, there were 10 from our group and 6 from the other two groups on the summit where it seemed like a typical summer day on Elbert. The mood was quite festive where we enjoyed a long and leisurely break, eating, conversing and snapping many pictures.Reluctantly, we started down the hill at 12:42 and passed Mike and Ed who were getting very close. The trip down was uneventful and we were all on a euphoric high from such a great day, it was like walking on air.It was great to get out again with old friends and meet new friends and was especially great to see Dave and Shep back in the mountains after a long hiatus.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anybody want to join us for Mt. Elbert on Sunday, 01/18/09??

"Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success."

We are planning on starting from the S. Mt. Elbert TH around 7:15am and taking the East Ridge route. Stats are 11 miles RT, 5,000 vertical and will take the group roughly 8 hours.

Oh, this will be significantly more pleasant than Pikes last August ;).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday, 01/10/09 Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak
5.4 miles
3,370 vertical
Jeff and Allison Valliere, John Prater, Kevin Lund, Steve Hoffmeyer, John Broadbooks, Paul Stratmoen, Mike Via, Carol Gerber and Sierra.
5:36 RT

We enjoyed a great Fourteenerworld “Winter Warriors” outing today up Quandary Peak. It was a bit cold at the start (I think Paul said something about -7 or so) and it took me a while to warm up my toes and feet. We made good time through the trees and split into a few small groups that varied moment to moment. It was nice to go casual and enjoy a bit of conversation and picture taking, as conversation would soon become very limited.

As we gained elevation, the winds increased with each foot. Sierra was doing pretty well, but as cold and windy as it was, I was starting to get a bit worried about her paws. She did not seem as concerned, but to be on the safe side, I stopped periodically and warmed her feet.As we were getting close to the summit, I decided to hurry ahead, then get back down quickly with Sierra to get her out of the worst of the elements. As I increased my effort up the final ~1,000 feet, I got pretty warm despite the serious wind/cold and the heat I generated fogged/froze the inside of my goggles. I had no choice but to put them on my head, leaving my face exposed for the final few hundred feet. Fighting the headwind and ground blizzard, this final stretch seemed to take a long time.

I was hoping that there would be the usual wind shadow once we topped out, where I could deal with my goggles and relax a bit, but it was just the opposite, as the wind went from fiercely strong to nearly intolerable. The final ~200 lateral feet to the true summit was probably the worst I have endured, as I had now ditched my completely useless goggles and now had no face or eye protection for a short while. I alternately staggered and hunkered my way across to the true summit, the wind snatching each breath as I struggled to inhale.Once on the summit, I huddled over my pack and quickly swapped my goggles (bringing an extra pair saved me) and tried to dig out my camera for a photo, but my jacket zipper was frozen.

I looked around for Sierra (I could swear she was with me), but did not see her. I was so consumed with my own discomfort, I was not paying attention to her. I was seriously nervous that she may have blown off the top and was frantically searching around the immediate summit area. I did not see her, so I started back, where John confirmed that she was heading down to shepherd Allison to the summit.

Once I dropped off the summit about a 100 vertical, I sat in the relative wind shadow where I put Sierra on my lap to cover her up with my body to warm her which I think worked well. Once Allison tagged the summit and re-joined us, we quickly headed down to get out of the wind and wait for the remainder of the group. It was pretty close to treeline before we found a respite from the wind, as conditions actually worsened on the descent. We passed several groups heading up into the maelstrom and I was very relieved to be heading down.

Due to dog sitting duties, Allison and I, along with Kevin and John had to boogey and were sorry not to finish the day as a group. Despite the tough conditions up high, it was a successful and enjoyable day with all 9 people and Sierra making the summit.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thursday, 01/08/09 Woods Mountain and Mt. Parnassus

Woods Mountain and Mt. Parnassus
~8 miles
~3,800 vertical
Jeff, Allison and Sierra Valliere
5 hours 52 minutes

Woke up around 7am without a plan, but Allison and I were itching to get up high. Where to go with the least amount of wind? Good question. I have been wanting to get up Woods Mountain for a while, as I have always passed it by on previous trips to Parnassus, so Woods fits the bill perfectly today, as it is close, non committing and there is little if any avy risk. We packed up quick and got out the door by 8:10, then battled…. of all things…. SKI TRAFFIC! What? On a Thursday after the big holiday vacation? Whooda thought?

After a slow drive and a slower prep in the car (the wind was howling, so I think we were both procrastinating a bit), we were on the trail by 10:03am. The first short stretch to the junction had been travelled recently, but beyond that, I had to break trail to treeline. At first it was consolidated underneath, but eventually, following the old track became difficult, yet fortunately most of the new snow had blown away.The temperature was balmy and snow was balling under our snowshoes from the start, but to compensate, the wind was whipping spindrift in our faces a bit as we entered the valley below Parnassus. We took a leisurely ½ hour lunch break in the shelter of a nice stand of trees before we began the tundra walk to the summit, as I was determined not to bonk again like last Sunday on Democrat. I added my warm layers and such while conditions were tolerable, but wouldn’t you know the wind subsided as we broke treeline and I had to go super slow as to not overheat.

We continued upward at a leisurely pace to the summit of Woods and our exposure to the wind increased significantly and I was finally glad to have those layers on. We hung out for a while enjoying the views as it was not too cold and we were in no hurry. On the way back down to the saddle, I proposed heading up Parnassus for kicks and surprisingly Allison bit.

The trip up Parnassus went by quick, yet the wind was reaching ferocious speeds, tossing us around like rag dolls at times. The summit, as is often times the case, was less windy than the ascent and we enjoyed another nice break. The stroll back to the car was easy and uneventful as we lingered from time to time, soaking in such an awesome day. Finished at 3:55pm, just in time for a bit more ski traffic.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, 1/04/09 Decalibron

Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross
~12 miles
~4,600 vertical
Jeff Valliere and John Prater

John called me on Saturday to see if I wanted to get out for a high peak or four on Sunday. The weather report looked a bit cold, but doesn’t it always look cold in winter? What else would one expect? He suggested Decalibron, as he had come across some recent info that snowshoes would not be necessary and that was all I needed to hear to sell me on the trip.The drive to the TH was slow on snowy/icy roads and we kept close tabs on the temperature readings…. 1, -8, -14 etc… but at least there was no wind.

Once over Hoosier Pass, there was barely a trace of fresh snow and the temperature slowly climbed to a relatively balmy +1 degree at the winter TH near Paris Mill.Progress along the Kite Lake Road to Kite Lake was no problem without snowshoes as what little snow remained, was nice solid crust that held our weight for the most part. Though cold, we were dressed right and we were very thankful that there was no wind, sure that the banshees were busy elsewhere, harassing Ken on another peak somewhere in the Sawatch perhaps?

After a brief bio stop at the Nolan Warming Hut (sorry Ken, I had no choice ), we made our way up toward the Democrat/Cameron saddle. Eventually, once the slopes steepened, progress was complicated by variable snow, one step might glance off bulletproof crust, the next would be a knee deep wallow. Generally conditions were reasonable, but as I neared the saddle, I started to bonk a bit and was not too keen on stopping to eat, as the wind was picking up and I was hoping to find a more sheltered spot to stop. We plugged along up the steep, loose and snowy rocks, where I was getting mildly annoyed with the crappy conditions and slow going. I assumed that we were getting close to the top, but a view of the true summit, surprisingly far away, almost had me turning tail.

I slowly plodded my way to the false summit, where I stopped to put on a shell, goggles and mittens, but it was now very cold and my hands went numb as a result of my fumbling around with bare hands. I blew off eating and went chasing after John toward the true summit of Democrat where our stay was brief. Soon, we were skittering down the snowy talus to the saddle and quickly found a somewhat sheltered spot to eat as we started up Cameron.I was completely running on empty at this point, but I managed to force down some Chicken Tortilla soup, Heed, Clif Shot Bloks and vitamin I for my now pounding headache. John seemed to be feeling great and maintained a one sided conversation as I could hardly muster a response. Part of me wanted to bail here, but this break provided me with just enough to keep plugging along, “one foot in front of the other” I kept telling myself.

The trip up Cameron was windy and cold, but not horrible, as the trail conditions were mostly good with minimal trail breaking. The winds increased significantly on Cameron, but fortunately, we found a bit of a lull on the way to Lincoln, where we added more layers (a Masque for me and a shell for John). The out and back to Lincoln went quick as expected, then after another short break, we settled in for the long walk over to Bross. Although I had managed to get down some food and drink, I was still not feeling all that great and was just kind of cruising on autopilot, in my own sealed cocoon, beneath all the constrictive layers. The winds on the way to Bross continued to increase and were at moments, gusting to raging banshee level. Fortunately, I had my warmest clothing on where I managed to hide all skin and still had no goggle fogging issues. I think the wind helped with this, along with deliberate forced exhalations. We passed a few signs along the way, but like Ken, could not totally make out what they said .

Relieved to crest our final peak for the day, we did not linger for more than a few minutes and started down the standard route as the wind in my face threatened to rip off my goggles. At first, the trail was mostly windswept and dry which made for efficient travel, but as we descended and rounded the corner, the snow on the trail increased and made for all kinds of slips and slides as it concealed ice, rocks and anything else that made an ankle twist or a foot slip. Progress became painfully slow and my wrists were aching from using my poles to remain upright.After many slips, slides and near crashes, we were relieved to finally arrive at the Kite Lake Road, where the remainder of the hike would be a cruise.

The wind had mostly subsided at the lower elevations, but with the waning daylight, it was still cold, so we opted to not shed layers and just cruised back to the car without stopping.Although I felt really low on energy today and developed a splitting headache, I still had a great time and felt a sense of satisfaction to get in a few new winter 14ers. Although cold and windy up high, it was not as bad as we had expected and certainly could have been a lot worse. As always, it was great getting out with John and I owe him for pushing me along for much of the day and getting my lazy/wimpy a$$ out in the high mountains.

Rough time splits:

Depart from Paris Mill: 8:15am
Kite Lake: 9:20am
Democrat: 11:20am-ish
Cameron: 12:40pm?
Lincoln: 12:55pm
Bross: 1:40pm
Finish: 3:15pm

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008, The Good, Bad and the Ugly

2008 Highs, Lows and everything in between, some random musings.....

2008 was yet again another great year in the mountains, hiking, running, climbing, camping and enjoying the great outdoors with Allison, Sierra and many great friends.

I have had too many good times this year to list here, but have shared MANY great moments on mountain trails and summits with Allison, Sierra, Dave and Emily Hale, Scooby, Shep and Kiefer (the dog and the 14erworld member), Kevin Lund, John Prater, Hoot, Jeff Kunkle, my parents, my in-laws, George Zack, Dave Mackey, Ken Nolan, Jean A, Steve Hoffmeyer, Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Aron Ralston, Jason Halladay, Dwight Sunwall, Pete K, Rick Canter and many other friends and acquaintances from 14erworld and beyond.

I was also able to guide Allison to the summits of some of her last remaining 14ers this summer. I had a great time in the process, as I feel a great sense of satisfaction about helping her complete the list and achieve her goals. I enjoy this as much or more than I did finishing the list for myself the first time around. We also got in some new centennial peaks, new 13ers, 12ers, LCW peaks etc….

I am also very thankful to have finally healed the patellar tendonitis that had plagued me for most of 2007, which was majorly cutting into my hiking and running. I went under the care of Dr. Jeremy Rodgers here in Louisville( in January where he prescribed a regime of strengthening exercises, administered ultrasound treatment, provided a knee brace, suggested minimal hill climbing/descending and gait modification. After two months of diligence and impatience, I got to the point where my aching knee was no longer a detriment to my outdoor enjoyment.
This soon led me back to my daily mountain runs and weekend mountain climbing trips where I felt great to be getting out with no reservations.

The lowest point of the year was certainly the untimely and tragic loss of Dave and Emily’s dog Scooby. Scooby was more than your average dog, he was extremely intelligent, friendly, athletic and was one of our best hiking partners. Hikes without Scooby still feels incomplete, as his absence is still profoundly felt and he will be greatly missed by all.

My running this year improved as well. It helped tremendously both mentally and physically to finally get my knee healed. I also feel as though I have become more efficient with my stride/cadence and also have improved my pacing on my hard runs. I also improved a good bit on my descending which was a bit of a surprise, as it was somewhat unintentional.

I raced several times this year and was happy with my results and fitness. Of course my running goal of the year was the Pikes Peak Ascent, where I had hoped to PR and really felt ready to do so, but Mother Nature had other plans, delivering the worst weather in the history of the race and I unfortunately did not cope with the adverse conditions as well as I had expected or hoped. I have slowly accepted this though and have learned that it is ridiculous to judge an entire season on ~3 hours in mid August. Regardless of Pikes, I did set some personal bests this year that had me feeling quite elated. Some of my proudest running moments from 2008…..

Grays Peak from Stevens Gulch TH in 54:38
Sanitas PR 16:23
Mt. Yale from Denny Creek TH 1:19:24
Green Mountain PR in 33:19 (via Amphi/Saddle/Greenman trails).
Green Mountain from Chautauqua in 36:46 (60:24 RT)
Bear Peak RT PR 1:03:13
Superflag on the road 37:59
Mt. Evans Road Race 2:09:18 (13th overall, 2nd age division).
Finishing "first" in the Basic Boulder Mountain Marathon (4 peaks, 22 miles/7,000 vert. in 3:34)

I look forward to many more great adventures in 2009, new peaks, fast runs, a few races, but most importantly, enjoying the company of Allison, Sierra and my many great friends that make these outdoor adventures all the more enjoyable. Happy New Year!

2008 Stats:

716,446 Vertical Feet
1,936.9 Miles
268 Days

73 Green Mountain
71 Sanitas
39 Bear Peak
38 South Boulder Peak
33 14ers
30 13ers
19 12ers
12 11ers
25 Misc Peaks under 10,000 feet

340 Total Peaks

December 2004 thru December 2008 total stats: (Since I first started keeping detailed records)

2,326,975 Vertical Feet
6,120 Miles