Editor’s note: I shouldn’t tell you this, but there’s a huge picture gallery at the end of this post.
As someone that is supposedly occasionally good at writing (your words, not mine), I find it quite mind-boggling that I cannot come up with the words, written or verbally, that adequately elucidate my feelings of this past weekend mentally, physically, or socially.
Perhaps it’s still too soon, and I haven’t yet digested everything that occurred. Maybe I’d never find the right words. Or maybe there’s just so much that went on that I’d never be able to concisely summarize it all, regardless of time or concentration levels.
Minnesotans Come to Colorado
Leading up to the day of the first arrivals was quite hectic. People bringing this but not that but only if that person didn’t (or did) and rental cars and sleeping arrangements and not knowing if certain people were even coming until the day prior, and, and…. Thank goodness I live here.
The first person showed up on Tuesday night, two more on Wednesday, and the final two on Thursday. And just like they arrived, all returned on differing schedules as well: two driving back, one early flight, and two on a later flight. Thank goodness I live here.
But the time between the chaosii (plural of “chaos”, obviously) was truly unforgettable.
The first person arrived on Tuesday night, and I gladly offered my couch. I had to work the next day so we planned out a couple of different hiking options for her to experience on her own. Then we realized there would be enough time after I got done working to get in a couple of pitches before she had to pick up some other people at the airport.
The excitement of this night included lost luggage. We hadn’t gone to sleep until midnight as it was, but then she got phone calls at 4 and 4:30am, and I had to explain to the driver how to get to my apartment.
Wednesday was tired.
I had decided to take Lisa to the Upper Bihedral area after I got done with work. There is a good range of climbs in this area: sport, trad, mixed sport and trad, and easy-to-hard ratings. Admittedly, I hadn’t put in many leads yet and she hadn’t climbed outside at all yet this season so we weren’t real sure what we were capable of.
This turned out to be just the kind of evening I needed: no pressure, no expectations, bolted routes, and a few mixed if I was feeling up to it.
We started off with a 5.9 named Hold the Line that looked easy from the ground. They always look easy from the ground. I led it and thought it was a bit much for a first-time-outdoors-this-year leader so I had Lisa follow. She did it cleanly but agreed it was maybe too much. We moved over a couple of routes on the slab, and she led a 5.8 called Dan’s Line. I led it after. We moved on down the line and did Group Therapy, another 5.8, and finished off the night with Trick or Treat, a mixed 5.8, just as the thunder and lightning rolled into the area.
This short 2.5 hour trip to the crag really helped my head. My previous fears of leading disappeared (even though I have led numerous, numerous pitches in my short climbing career). I truly felt like I was ready to lead anything even though these grades are well below my ability. Doesn’t matter. Climbing is 85% mental (I just made that up), and this was a huge barrier of mine. The warm, summer-like storm was icing on the cake, especially watching lightning well off in the distance from the atop a cliff.
I didn’t get to do anything with the group this day. Work and getting ready for the 3-day weekend consumed my time, but I managed to get in a 16.5 mile mountain bike ride.
Everybody else spent the day sport climbing at Clear Creek Canyon in Golden.
Another mostly unadventurous day for me, but I did finally get to meet the whole group at the 2nd Tier of the Avalon area in Boulder Canyon. Probably most exciting was doing my first tyrolean traverse over a raging Boulder Creek due to the spring runoff. When I got to them, they had a 5.10b setup on top-rope. In the interest of time (it was already 5:00, we still had to buy food, and get up to our campsite in Estes Park), I didn’t lead it, but I did make it cleanly. And that was that for my day of climbing. Dinner and [mostly] beer at Oskar Blues in Lyons was a great way to get to know the rest of the group. (Beer > people?)
We headed to Lumpy Ridge bright and early (by most climber’s standards) for a day of trad climbing. Chris (with a “C”, aka “Weiner”) had picked out a 3-pitch 5.7 called White Whale in the Left Book area. He had a team of three on his twin ropes, and I led all the pitches with a new-to-trad climber, Kris (with a “K”, aka “Schmitty” aka “Decaf” – I will leave that story out to protect the innocent).
This is where I start failing to adequately describe my thoughts.
Yes, this was only a 5.7, but I only had a handful of trad leads under my belt, I just met 4 out of 5 of these people for the first time the day before, and now one of them is trusting me with their life (more so than usual).
The climb itself was absolutely amazing: crack climbing, slab climbing in some spots, lie-backs, flakes, underclings, a lot of great movements. It was really easy and really terrifying: tenuous moves right off the belay stations where a fall was likely to take out the whole station (even with a “Jesus piece”); run out by choice in areas, run out in really sketch areas not by choice; and I even had to build an intermediate, hanging belay in the middle of a pitch due to rope drag.
Reaching the top was almost euphoric: I did it; I did it safely; I got my partner to the top in one piece; I got to “teach” him some trad techniques (just as all followers [should] do); we rejoined the group ahead of us on the “summit”; the missing member of the whole group whom was having car troubles joined us after hiking to the top; and the views of Rocky Mountain National Park were breathtaking.
Such a great, great day was celebrated as it should: sitting around a campfire, eating brats, drinking beer, and being completely comfortable with all of our new friends.
After a day of single pitch sport (for them), followed by a day of multi-pitch trad, we were on the hunt for multi-pitch sport. We attempted to get on the main buttress of Mary’s Bust in Big Thompson Canyon, but since none of us were intimately familiar with the area, we ended up on Tick Rock, which only had a couple of 2-pitch routes. Nevertheless, upward we climbed.
I followed up one of the 2-pitchers, a 5.9 slab called Nervous Tic, behind “Decaf”. From the ground, the route looks over-bolted. So much so that “Decaf” condescendingly says [to the route], “yeah, I’ll probably skip a few bolts.” I agreed. There was no need for a bolt every 5-6 ft. on this route. And then we climbed. Nary a bolt was skipped. It reminded me a lot of climbing in South Dakota: no hands except pulling on half-pad crystals and trusting your feet so as to not “cheese grater” down the slab if you popped off.
Lisa and Elizabeth (“Liz” aka “Bambi”) practiced their multi-pitch anchoring and rope management on a 5.4 called Arachnophobia before doing it for real on the same 5.9 Kris and I had done before.
Peter got his lead on, on Arachnophobia as well, and Chris was just chilling today, playing the part of safety instructor and rope gun.
At this point, everyone but Kris and I had done several routes and we had only done the 2-pitch, Nervous Tic. We decided we should probably climb some more. I led up a 5.8 off-width/slab called Barock first and Kris seconded. (Later done by Lisa and Liz too.) After that we were having a tough time deciding if we wanted another climb at all, and if so, a 5.9 or a 10d named Ixodes that had been calling Kris all day. Ixodes it was.
After taking a few just naaaasty 3 ft. whippers on the crux move, he finally made it. I had some apprehensions about trying to lead this, but since I can handle 3 ft. whippers and the way to get past it was to pull on gear, I decided to go for it. Yikes. My first lead of the season of any kind higher than 5.9 and almost two grades higher than that nonetheless. Surprisingly, the move before the supposed crux was a lot more difficult for me than the actual crux itself. I flashed it! Hot!
As this was our last night together, libations were more numerous than before. I think there were two trips made to Rambo’s Liquor, which has the coolest owner in the world.
The night ended somewhat earlier and more “serious” than one would like to celebrate an amazing weekend, but Lisa and I had an alpine start planned for 3:30am on Monday morning. I also had to say my goodbyes to Kris and Peter, whom were driving back to Minnesota at 7am.
3:30 is early.
Especially with only 4 hours of sleep. But hey, if alpine starts were cool, everyone would be doing it. We tore down our portion of camp as quietly as possible and got to the trailhead about an hour later. Which trailhead pray tell? Longs Peak.
We were informed that summiting Longs Peak via the Keyhole would be very risky without technical ice gear. Dratz. In that case, we never intended on summiting. Instead, we planned to get to the Boulder Field below the Keyhole and planned several options depending on how we felt when we got there. That is, until we met two people on the trail that said, “What?! Who told you you need technical ice gear? You have an ice axe and crampons; that’s all you need!” Oh really?!?! Welp, looks like we might get to summit Longs Peak after all.
We made it to the Boulder Field in about 2-2.5 hours, if I remember correctly. This includes watching the sunrise over Twin Sisters Peak East. Since this was my first time in crampons and holding an ice axe with real intent, we practiced ascending direct, descending, traversing in both directions, and self-arrest at the base of a very small slope. Luckily the snow was extremely good for most of the bowl, perfect for n00bs such as myself.
We ascended from the Boulder Field up to the Keyhole. Before this, the views of RMNP we obstructed for one reason or another. What I saw at the Keyhole left me grasping for words, yet none came. You could see the entire Western side of RMNP and beyond: Hallett Peak, Otis, Chief’s Head, McHenry’s, Mt. Alice… I was in awe. I had never seen, or was able to comprehend, the vast expanse of the Rocky Mountains until that moment.
Lisa is a more experienced mountaineer than I so she went to check out the Keyhole Route to see if we could pass without a rope and ice screws. The snow was still incredibly icy and we decided not to risk it. To be honest, even if the snow was as good as it was on the North Side, it was still too steep and too exposed for me.
We were still feeling good so we decided to hike down a bit and traverse over and up to the chasm view. Before we left, we observed a moment of silence in recognition of Memorial Day, in honor of our fallen soldiers. What a cool place to say thank you to my uncle I never met.
On our way up to the chasm view, we noticed two skiers about to ski down the North Face. Are you kidding?! After the upper portion, they could either continue on left or right. I had my GoPro in-hand and gambled they’d go right so I moved to capture the entire run. Only one of them actually dropped in and ended up going left. Damn! He made it look smooth and easy, but it still blew my mind that anyone would do that, probably because it’s about 10 levels above where my own snowboard skills.
Above this point is where the snow turned truly vertical, before needing other gear. The snow wasn’t quite as good to boot. But just like lead climbing, once you mentally cope with the conditions and gain confidence, making it to the top was just a matter of getting there. Once again, we were not disappointed. We could see the entire Diamond Face of Longs Peak, top to bottom. It is a truly magnificent piece of rock. We looked for climbers but no dice. We did see the rap station right next to an intimidating looking cornice.
By this time, we had but one of our original “options” left to achieve. Although we were higher in altitude at the chasm view, we still wanted to summit something. We had two choices: Mt. Lady Washington or Storm Peak, both of which were over 13,000 ft. We were still feeling good but didn’t feel like walking all the way across the Boulder Field again so we decided to follow the ridgeline down and up to summit Mt. Lady Washington.
The views were nothing we weren’t used to at this point, but it was great to get on top of something (doesn’t it always?). We both seemed to have hit a wall at the same point and were more than ready to get off the mountain. It was at this point where I decided that walking was too hard, and thankfully there were ample snow paths on which to glissade (slide down on my ass). I was wearing my Arc’Teryx Alpha SV jacket and Arc’Teryx Beta AR pants all day to withstand the sustained and gusty winds in alpine conditions so I knew they could take the abuse. I can’t even guess how much time that cut off of our descent, but it was a LOT, and it was incredibly fun at the same time. Eventually it became flat again and we had to use our legs for the rest of the way. How disappointing.
All in all, it was a 14 hour day from alarm clock to parking lot, with 8 hours of that spent above treeline in alpine conditions. What a spectacular way to spend a day.
And like everything else in the world, all good things must end. Kris and Peter were already gone, Chris took a 5pm flight as Lisa and I were coming off the mountain, and Liz was the only one left. Lisa and I stopped at Larkburger in Boulder to replace some of our 12,000 calories we burnt on Longs Peak, and then met Liz at my place. We looked at some of the pictures taken over the course of the weekend, quickly repacked all of their gear, and said our hasty goodbyes so they could make their flight home.
I know I said I couldn’t adequately express how much this weekend meant to me, and I still don’t think I did. Just because this post is a monster does not mean I accurately portrayed all of my thoughts and feelings. It just means I typed an ass load of details.
I hope that some of my emotions and enlightenment came through, if not in my writing, then hopefully in the pictures and videos. I also hope to see all of these fine individuals back in Colorado ASAP!
And now for the rest of the pictures!