Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Notchtop Mountain/Spire via South Gully.

Notchtop has been a summit I have been both looking forward to and dreading.  It's one of the few things I have left to do in the park, and most often climbed via a number of technical routes.  
Two years ago I took the Flattop Trail up with the intention of climbing this peak.  I got to the Continental Divide just west of the summit, and I was intimidated.  Plus, my leg hurt with every single step up.  It didn't feel right, but I sat there trying to convince myself to go on.  I turned back, and got in to see my doctor later that day, who diagnosed a stress injury.  It was nice to relax for a week, yet this summit has remained on my mind since then.
Since I've been up and down Flattop enough for any one person, I decided to head to Lake Helene, and ascend with the fourth class gully described in Fosters book.
Another beautiful sunrise from the trail.
The first look at Notchtop, and yes I was still intimidated!
From near Lake Helene.  
I followed the trail near the lake, losing it in some rockier and bushier terrain west of there.  Ah well, it was easy enough to just keep heading up.
At the bottom of the gully, looking up.  This would essentially take me back to the same place I was at two years ago.  
Looking down as elevation was gained.  There were a few short sections of scrambling and route finding.  As this is one of the down climbs for the technical routes, there was a social trail put in here and there. 
Looking south to Flattop and Hallett.  
Back to the rock of the Continental Divide.
I think last time I was under the mistaken impression that you stayed right on top of the ridge.  This time I'd done some more research, and knew one had to stay on the south side of the ridge.  Still I went up for a look.  It was exposed!  The theme of the day.
There is an obvious social trail to lead you the proper way.  Here are a few pictures of the route.  Sorry mom. 
Follow the path of least resistance...
A few cairns here and there...
Lots of extremely exposed scrambling, but the rock is solid...
I made it to the summit of Notchtop Mountain, as stated in Fosters book.  This is the highest point on the ridge EAST of the divide.  But this isn't the thing people come to climb.  People come to climb Notchtop Spire.  This is shown as the true summit in other places, such as Listsofjohn.  
Notchtop Spire from Notchtop.
Yeah, it looked scary, puckery, eek, exposed, or whatever other word you want to use.  I looked down at the broken ramp, which looked to be about a foot wide from where I was.  "Maybe," I thought, or perhaps said out loud, "I'll be coming back for this one with a Dan and a rope."
I carefully descended down to the notch, then kept south (right) of the spire.  A small boulder stands between you and the ramp.  It was an easy climb.
And the ramp turned out to be about five feet wide.  Take this until it dead ends at a crack.  Then, up the crack.  Then a few steps up and across a slab.  Then to the top.
The summit of Notchtop Spire, 12080+ feet.
Phew!  I was there, but I was only halfway there.  I still had to go back!
Looking down the slab near the summit.  It's hard to tell from the perspective, but the lighter stuff on the right is the ground... under a few thousand feet of air.  Do not fall here.
Looking up from the bottom of the slab. 
And down the cracks to the ramp, with a steep drop off and lots of air on the left.
I carefully went back over the boulder at the bottom of the ramp and made my way back to the summit of Notchtop Mountain.
I was breathing easier here; I was now past the most difficult and exposed movement.
The summit of Notchtop Mountain.
I carefully made my way back to the Continental Divide.  I made it and sat for a snack.
The rocky spine of Notchtop Mountain.
I was relieved and joyed to check this one off.  While only fourth class by this method, I would suggest this is one of the most difficult peaks in the park.  I would also suggest that while it's only fourth class, being able to climb fifth class is mandatory here.  A fifth class climber will definitely have an easier time with the moves required, and will (hopefully) be able to keep a cooler head with the exposure.
But the day was young, and I'd decided to go take another look at Hayden Spire.  I set off at a jog across Bighorn Flats, and climbed Sprague Mountain again (third time this year!).  It was an easy descent from here to get to the area.
Once again, I was looking for the mythical third class route described by Richard Rossiter in his RMNP books.  Keep in mind that anything I say from here on is not to talk crap on him, or stir anything up.  I was just interested in dedicating a few hours to see if I could find this route that no one else has.
First I decided to head around to the standard 5.6 route, which climbs the spire from the east.  It's some third class exposed movement on the south face to even get here.  Up a crack system, down a boulder, and I was there.  
At the start of the difficulties.  While I was confident I could do the moves, I was not comfortable doing the moves without a rope.  I went back the way I came and decided to take a look at the west face- this is the face he claims to have walked down to the Continental Divide.
First you need to climb the head wall to get close.  While well featured, this slab had a mantle move that was definitely fifth class.  The rest I'd agree with third or fourth.
I got to this point, and didn't see a safe way forward.  I could've crossed a knife ridge to get to the slab under the overhang, and traverse around to the left, but I couldn't see what was beyond that.  And there was nothing under the slab.  I guess long story short, I did not see a viable route here, at least one that I felt comfortable doing unroped.  You can see how achingly close I was to the summit, but I turned back.
The head wall below the summit.
With some more research, there is a 5.3 route that climbs the wall on the south side of this face, and is soloable.  Maybe that's where Richard came down?
1.  He climbed it in 1994 but the route he took no longer exists- perhaps the rock has broken since then.
2.  He was having a strong day, having climbed the 5.6 route up from Lonesome Lake, and perhaps the descent didn't feel as hard as it really is.
3.  He got confused/turned around/??? and climbed something other than Hayden Spire.
3a.  While I certainly believe his saying that he climbed it, perhaps he didn't and took the word of others that there was a third class route.
4.  I suck at route finding (a distinct possibility!).
5.  Knowing that this controversy has existed for years, he should've went back and repeated the route to see if he felt it was truly third class before releasing a new edition of his book, and again calling the route third class.
Again, this is not to call him out, just opinion backed by multiple photographs.  And Richard, if you happen to read this, I would be happy to discuss with you.  You can take any photo on this website of Hayden Spire and draw the route you took on it for clarity.  It's not a short day to get here, but I'd be happy to return with you.
So the weather wasn't looking great, and I caught a few raindrops as I descended Sprague Mountain.  I ran out of water as I was going up, and was happy to hit and refill from Eureka Ditch.  I alternated between running and hiking as the terrain allowed. 
Notchtop from Flattop- see the last photo for annotations.
Another view as the trail curved around.
I ran down the trail as much as possible, setting a new pr for the descent.  Since I was here and had some time, I decided to visit a few of places I've yet to visit.
First, Tuxedo Park, a small pullout picnic area near Moraine Park.  
Pleasant enough, but not my cup of tea.
I drove up Trail Ridge Road a bit, then turned down 34 to head towards the Lawn Lake th.  There is a small pullout on the right side of this descent, and I parked there and walked the closed to vehicles road to Little Horseshoe Park.
The view of Deer Mountain was superb.
There's an old stable, now used by RMNP for storage for... toilets.  Yep, there was a pile of the white plastic toilets used in the back country sites.  Other assorted items contained within.
I continued down the road and the view opened up:
Beauty!  What a marvelous place, and so close to the road.  There was no one there and I enjoyed the brief solitude so close to the road.
I got back to the car and headed down to home.  This day was seized and I felt satisfied.  
Annotated photo of Notchtop.  Excuse my misspelling.  Apparently, Kent Dannens RMNP book says the highest point of the Continental Divide closest to the ridge containing Notchtop IS Notchtop.  It's not, but I guess a logical conclusion given the other -top peaks in the area are on/close to the divide.  
So I guess it depends on how you look at it.  Notchtop Spire is clearly not the summit if you consider the highest point east of the divide to be the summit.  But Notchtop Mountain is not the summit if you look at the most difficult point, and consider what it is that people actually come here to climb.  Maybe these should be two distinct summits?
It was definitely satisfying to stand on this summit; it does not come easy, and was one I certainly had some emotional investment in.  Again, while this route may "only" be fourth class, I would consider fifth class experience mandatory to reach the summit from this method of ascent.  A helmet is also mandatory, as you will be below rock that could fall on you for most of the route.  Learning to read the first time was hard enough!  Any fall along the way would likely result in death.  Take your time and move with purpose.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Notchtop via South Gully:
Notchtop Mountain, 12129 feet: 4.44 miles, 2654 foot gain.  Fourth class, with the gully approaching fifth class.  Helmet required.  Strenuous.
Notchtop Spire, 12080+ feet: 4.6 miles, 2605 foot gain.  Fourth class, helmet required.  Strenuous.
Sprague Mountain, 12713 feet: 8.5 miles, 3263 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.
Hayden Spire, 12500 feet: 9.1 miles, 3025 foot gain.  Fifth class.  A summit will wait...
In total, this day covered 18.95 miles with 6673 feet of elevation gain, with time in extremely exposed fourth and low fifth class terrain.  Strenuous+.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Two days in Indian Peaks.

While the days detailed below took place two weeks apart, they both start from the same place and cover some of the same terrain, so it seems logical to group them as one.
On week one, I set off for the Fourth of July trail head, and planned an extensive day.  First, I would run the trail up and over the Continental Divide, to visit the two 11ers on the west side, and the come back and do the Arapaho traverse, then run the ridge down to Klondike Mountain.  That sounds like alot, and though I felt ok, I quickly learned that I was not recovered from the race.
High on the trail, nearing the divide.
While I felt motivated, and my muscles felt recovered, my connective tissues did not.  Already I wondered about the day ahead.
I followed the Caribou Pass trail as it curved around Neva, and Satanta came into view.
There it is.  It was a short jaunt off the trail on tundra to reach the summit.
Satanta Peak, 11979 feet.  You can see the other 11ers in the background.
My plan was to descend the trail for a bit, then leave it and head down toward Columbine Lake.  I'd stay above it and ring the bowl to arrive at the saddle between Neva and the two 11ers, and then ascend them from there.
Above the lake.  Note the tents, what a beautiful place to camp!
The plan worked pretty well.  There was some talus to contend with, but it was larger and mostly solid.  A bit farther on I discovered a social trail from the lake up to the saddle, and was happy to follow that.
I decided to go south to 11801 first, which meant a quick descent, and then a short scramble up the north face.  It looked steep and rocky from afar, but went easily enough.
The view to 11831.
Back down and then up, to the broad flat expanse of possible summit area.  I finally found a small stack of rocks.
Looking back to 11801.
I basically went back the same way but took a steeper gully back up to meet the trail.  It worked out fine.
I ran some of the downhill and looked ahead.  Despite a great weather prediction, things weren't looking so hot ahead.  I wasn't feeling great either, definitely not at one hundred percent. 
I stopped to check out some of the old equipment at the mine.  Pretty neat stuff.
Then I sat for awhile and did some math.  It was about 2000 feet up to South Arapaho, then everyone says an hour each way on the traverse, then at least 2 more hours to go down to Klondike and back.  So, even if I was feeling 100%, I was looking at five more hours.  That would put me home later than I wanted, plus I wasn't feeling 100% and would likely be slower, plus...
these clouds did not look good.
It was easy to call it a day, but sucked to know I'd have to drive the bone jarring Fourth of July road at least once more.  I was able to make good time jogging down, and headed back home.  I never heard thunder, but it rained by the time I was back in Eldora.  Getting caught in rain on an exposed third class traverse is not my idea of fun!
Two weeks later I headed back, aimed at visiting the remaining peaks in the area.  Fourth of July road was as rough as I remembered, if not worse.  But oh well, it's easily passable in any vehicle.
I started from the trail head at 6:08, and had read a few trip reports to familiarize myself with the challenges and length of time the traverse might take.  All mentioned the slab as the crux, and many gave about two hours for a round trip from and back to South Arapaho.
Early morning on the Fourth of July trail.
At the turn off for the Arapaho Glacier trail.
Moody clouds up there.
The climb was fine, predictably wet due to run off in the lower sections, and lightly windy as I got higher.  I layered up and found myself wishing I had worn pants instead of running shorts!
At the saddle between South Arapaho and Old Baldy, South Arapaho on the left, and North Arapaho to the right.
The easy stroll up Old Baldy.
The climb up South Arapaho wasn't too difficult, with a clear trail worn through, around, and over the rock in the area.  I was on the summit at 8:07, two hours after I started.
The forbidden fruit of the Boulder Watershed.
South Arapaho summit.
Looking to the traverse.  It looked a little intimidating. 
I moved off the summit, expecting the difficulties to start right away.  To my surprise, they didn't, and I was still on a runable trail for a bit.  When you hit the start of the route, you can follow the faded orange arrows or not; on the way out I did at first, and on the way back I didn't at all.  I felt they led you off the most obvious route, the ridge proper, which wasn't any more difficult than the ups and downs the arrows had you take.
I reached the famous slab, and took a much more exposed option to the right, with a few scrambly moves over alot of air.  The only other difficulty I remember was when the ridge promptly ended.  The drop was too large to jump off of, and the down climb was over hung and of unknown quality.  I headed down some slabby stuff to get past this.
I've also read the final gully to North Arapaho is loose.  I avoided this by crossing the ridge and taking a more solid but more exposed option up.  I made sure to look around at the top so I could find the correct way back down.
Nearing the summit. 
Summit benchmark, reached at 8:42.
Looking north to more forbidden fruits.
On the broad and flat summit.  Like Longs Peak, it was some work and scrambling to get here, and then the summit is pretty flat.  I ate a snack and headed back.
Looking back at the ridge.
Part way back.
Here is the infamous slab with the added bonus of my finger in the shot.  I measured it at 61 degrees.  I took the same method to descend it, and had a heart racing moment when I pulled off a hold.  So if you take that option, you're welcome!
Back on South Arapaho at 9:23, so 1:15 to do the traverse out and back.
The descent back to the saddle was fun and quick.
Looking at Old Baldy, which was a much easier climb up!
The broad summit plateau made it difficult to tell where the summit was.  Fortunately someone had marked it with a cairn.
I was feeling so good and happy here.  I was able to get LTE service on my phone and streamed Beethoven's 9th Symphony as I made my way to the summit.  I hate it when I come upon people playing music out in the middle of no where.  I guess that makes me a hypocrite, but no one was around and the orchestral music fit the scenery perfectly.
And perfect things were, for a few minutes at least.  Of course, this set off a long inner monologue on the very nature of perfection, and if something can ever be perfect.  When perfection is obtained, does it cease to exist?  Is perfection therefore ever reachable?  The debate raged on in my head for the rest of the day.
Looking back, with Old Baldy reached 28 minutes after South Arapaho.
Next I looked east to Klondike Mountain.  It made more sense to me to do it now rather than to have to come back.  I started the descent on tundra and talus.
Looking back up.
I wanted to visit the summit of the unranked Bald Mountain on the way down, because why not!  The only mistake I made here was staying to the south of the ridge holding it, which had me side hill over some talus.  I imagine it would be easier to just stay right on top the whole way down.  I'd also suggest heading south from there and trying to stay right on the ridge proper for the easiest descent.  I had some short stretches of talus and from satellite photos, it looks like there is a trail most of the way down to the Klondike saddle.
Klondike was a short climb up.  I found three of the best Porcini I have ever found in Colorado on the way and ate well that evening!  I was so excited by this fortuitous turn of events that I forgot to take a photo of the summit.  Ah well.    
Looking west from Klondike Mountain.
My plan was to descend back to the saddle, and then bushwhack downhill while heading up into the Fourth of July basin at the same time (if that makes sense).  This was to avoid a longer run on the road.
Much to my surprise, I found a very distinct trail.
Yay!  This is the trail mentioned in a few trip reports on LoJ that I didn't read very well.  It's on the older maps for the area, and since it went by several former mining sites, I'd guess it's related to them.  I was glad for it.
As many a unmaintained trail does, it ended up ending in the middle of no where, but in sight of the road. 
Klondike from the road.
And finally back to South Arapaho from the road.  
The road run seemed to take forever, as they always do.  I was back at the car at 12:11, giving me 6:03 to do this fun loop.
This was a enjoyable traverse, though I was thinking it would be more sustained in difficulty.  In reality, it's mostly second class, including some runable terrain, interspersed with a few difficulties.  It was fun, but I found myself wishing for more scrambling.  Old Baldy is a ranked peak, and an easy add on if you're in the area.
Link to run maps/GPX on Caltopo (day 1 in blue, day 2 in red).
Day 1:
Satanta Peak, 11979 feet: 5 miles, 1896 foot gain.  Moderate.
11801: 7.1 miles, 1718 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
11831: 8 miles, 1748 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
The highest point of the day is around 12100 feet, before you drop down to Satanta, so there will be elevation gain in both directions.  Over all you'll be looking at 14.34 miles with 4479 feet of elevation gain.  Moderate+.
Day 2:
South Arapaho Peak, 13397 feet: 4.45 miles, 3314 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
North Arapaho Peak, 13502 feet: 5.2 miles, 3419 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous.
Old Baldy, 13038 feet: 6.8 miles, 2955 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
Bald Mountain, 11340 feet: 9.4 miles, 1257 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Klondike Mountain, 10770 feet: 10.8 miles, 687 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+
As a whole, this day covered 13.65 miles with 4718 feet of gain in up to third class terrain and held some fine alpine running.  Strenuous.