24 August 2008

Of Lightning & Contemplation; Of Blisters & Bruises

It poured down south on Saturday. A little orange blog of severe rain hovered over the Sangre's on NOAA's radar site. My friend Danielle was going to meet me at my place at 3 am for the long drive down to go tick off Crestone Needle.

But that pixilated nectarine on my computer screen was telling me otherwise. So was the forecast for heavy rain Saturday night and thunderstorms after lunch. So Indian Peaks it was.

Met up in Boulder and drove up Boulder Canyon, past Nederland, past Eldora and right before the paved road turned to dirt, Danielle slaps her leg and exclaims, "I left my boots in my car!" She was wearing flipflops.

Boulder Canyon is a beautiful drive but one I don't ever want to have to do back-to-back on very little sleep and only one to-go mug of coffee. Finally we were off from the Fourth of July trailhead. Due to starting an hour tardy, I changed destinations, foregoing Mt Neva's Class 4 North Ridge for Jasper Peak's East Ridge.

On the way to Diamond Lake

Whoever designed the trail to Diamond Lake really was in no hurry. The lake is practically due west from the trailhead. Yet you start off going north a mile on the Arapahoe Pass trail before branching off and making a giant horseshoe back around on the other side of the creek to get to the lake in two miles. True it is pretty, but you could save me the superlatives and get me to the alpine zone much quicker

It was on the NW shore that Danielle decided to call it a day. Her blisters which formed the week before on our Kenosha Peak outing never healed fully and her taping job was making them worst. We agreed to either meet back on this side of the lake or at the truck if I didn't see her on the trail.

Diamond Lake

So up I went through stands of evergreens and meadows, acres of beautiful meadows. I could have spent the rest of the day just laying on a boulder surrounded by such scenery.

I entered an upper basin which held Upper Diamond Lake, crossed over a high point and then made my way to a lower basin below the East Ridge.

Last remnants of winter

What remains of the couloir climbs on Jasper Peak

The East ridge is a choss pile. A giant, ankle-busting, tedious choss pile. I came to climb, not trudge up hundreds of feet on mountainous detritus. And so I spied this tower lowered down on the ridge. I'm sure it has a name but nobody would be dumb enough to climb the thing since it is out of the way to the summit.

Well, the "Jas" Tower met me that day. Great banded gneiss with very few incuts. I forgot how much fun it is smearing in full steel-shanked mountaineering boots. You put your foot down and tell it to stay there - and sometimes it listens.

I'd say 80 feet of low-fifth class, unless you go up the overhanging headwall, in which case, good luck.

From there a rising traverse on crud. Balance, lunge step, balance, don't knock that block down on you, balance, stub toes... I hate this crap! This is the kind of stuff I do my best to avoid and here I was embracing the idea of a mile-long ridge and two-thousand feet of this hell.

Actually on my equally-helacious downclimb, I decided Sisyphus isn't pushing a boulder up a slope in hell for eternity. He's hiking up and down talus forever and ever.

I should tardily preface that I was on fumes the entire day. I must have rode my bike too hard, lifted too much weight at the gym on Saturday. Because my reserves which always pop up a couple miles into a trip never surfaced. I was languid in my movements, never finding the energy to keep a constant pace.

The ridge is long with several points along the way. Don't climb up these points! It's a waste.

False summit

Finally at Point "12,580 - waste of my time" I saw the final push to the top. This is why I endured all this other crap for. Was it worth it? No, not to that degree. But what solid rock I could find was pure gold. Hewed granite so sharp it nearly cut my fingers and fins of banded gneiss. You can get up to the top with a little bit of 3rd-class scrambling.

I didn't come all this way for 3rd-class scrambling.

I wished there was more than 500 feet of this. Funny I found my reserves when I was climbing but not choss slogging.

When I got to the top there were two points at almost identical height. I tagged both so I could be sure of a summit. Didn't bother looking for a register since I don't sign them.

Icebergs in lake 11,836

Can you tell I'm tired?

It took me two hours from Diamond Lake to the summit - plus my little sidetrip up the tower. Total was 3 hours from the car. God I was slow.

Some pictures of the surroundings:

My time on top was cut short. A seemingly innocent cloud was growing very quickly. It was already black to the east, north and south. I knew my time in the sunshine was coming to an end. "Just give me an hour please," I beseeched to the mountain gods.

It was black shortly after I got back to the saddle. I cut across and stayed 50-100 feet below the ridge crest; no point in being a tall target. I descending traverse down the slope, making sure not to drop too soon and get cliffed out.

Finally when I thought I would go insane with any more banging of my toes, precarious near spills and any more F#@$%@# LOOSE ROCK!!!!, I got to the basin. I plodded across, was redirected by channels delved deep into the tundra and willow stands. Finally I bashed through with the grace of a ravaged grizzly.

More cutting across and I got myself cliffed out. It would have been a long traverse to get around it & I just wanted down. God bless Mount Erie and its myriad of Class 4 approach trails. The practice served me well.

I passed Upper Diamond Lake...

And then that's when I nearly died. The only notice I got was a rumble way off in the distance. As I hiked down as briskly as I could encumbered with the pain and fatigue I shouldered...

Purple, blinding purple, a crack so dry you thought the universe was swallowing itself inside out, and I sizzled! I frigging was charged!!! I don't know if the bolt came down behind me, in front of me or to one of the sides. That was my warning shot.

A bolt struck the South Ridge of Jasper Peak, another one struck the East Ridge I just came off of. Two more crackled and came down partially above my head.

I ran! I ran and hurdled boulders, trees. Down! Down! Down! I must get down! And finally I reached tree line. I found an island of trees near Diamond Lake. The gods threw down more bolts over my head. I was getting ruthlessly pelted with quarter-sized hail. As I fished into my backpack at my island of safety, thoughts entered my head. I still have to teach Hannah how to ski. I don't want to go just yet, not like this.

I've come close to death twice before. This time; the sheer randomness and unknowing on if you are going to get struck, that was the terrifying part. I know the mountains are going to claim me one day. I'll know I am on my final journey if I fall to my death. But not this way.

I thought of waiting it out but two more boom-flashes which rose the hair on my neck made my mind up. Rather go running. So I ran from tree clump to tree clump, getting off the trail and away from the lake.

It was only when I reached the far shore that I calmed down some. The mountain gods were finished with their archery practice and kept their bolts in the sky.

The final two miles to the truck were somber. Painful and somber. In my exhaustion I stubbed my toes too many times to count. Towards the end it got to be so painful I would curl into a ball, clinch my fist and grimace in the exclamation I wished to curse out.

A short distance from the trailhead Danielle popped up. It took me a second for her to register. I explained my ordeal on the way back to the truck.

There are no winners in the mountains. Tread with a humble step & enjoy your sojourn at this temple. You don't know what the admission fee might be.


The mountains gave me the hour I pleaded for. In their puissant humor, they started throwing the lightning down 15 minutes after my time was up.

23 August 2008

DNC Buzz ... where?

Ah the media spectacle known as the DNC. The big buzz that gets the media excited and needs to make its shorts.

So I thought I would check out downtown, expecting to see tourists/ delegates taking in the sights. Drove down to my old stomping grounds, hopped on my bike and pedaled down to the Cherry Creek trail and to LoDo.

Outside of the Auraria Campus and the Pepsi Center - where the convention is being held - it was a ghost town for a weekend. Nothing, nobody. Maybe a few straggling tourists or residents washing down lunch with a pint.

Even at the Capitol and the Convention Center it was dead. So they really did ship the homeless people out. I think I saw three the entire day.

Anti-abortion protesters praying to the mighty chainlink fence god

CNN paid half a million dollars to rent out Brooklyn's Grill, repaint the facade and lord knows how much more to change the interior. I might go check it out on Monday since I am credentialed and as a CNN affiliate I can get access in there. Lord knows Greg and Chuck in Atlanta owe me.

A riot patrol squad taking a leisurely stroll down the South Platte at Confluence Park.

17 August 2008

The Cascades in Colorado

It's not uncommon for a person to make multiple attempts to reach the summit of a peak. It just usually doesn't happen when all the effort needed to reach the top is some off-trail shwacking.

But then again, I'm not usual.

The Kenosha Mountains. Ahh... the Kenosha Mountains, how I am beginning to have a love/hate relationship with you. Geriatrics can climb to your snow-dappled summits yet for me the way seems barred... thrice.

Attempt #1: Several years ago, Tasha and I attempted to get up Peak X, Y & Z or any combination of them. It was mid May and the road to the trailhead was snowfree. However the hike itself was not, and stupid me didn't think about bringing snowshoes. After postholing for over an hour and making very, very little progress and getting very fatigued we bailed.

Attempt #2: See two posts down. Bear 1, Ryan with his tail inbetween his legs 0.

And now we are on to attempt #3. Outside it seems like we fastforwarded two months and are in fall. The past few days have been cool and rainy. Any attempts at a real mountain are pretty much shutdown.

Saturday woke up with the intentions of getting up Kenosha Peak, Peak X and X Prime - rain, sleet or snow.

My clock reads 7 am. I'm awake before my alarm enjoying my incipient moments of consciousness when a bolt of lightning strikes nearby, rattling the windows and temporarily knocking out the power. And then I hear the pain patter of heavy rain. Well, I do need to make some marinara sauce and clean my place...

Sunday dawns overcast but not as threatening as Saturday. Danielle and I meet at the Park-n-Ride outside of Indian Hills and soon we are getting our gators on and shouldering our packs at 10 am.

I point out where I saw the bear track and before long, we enter an aspen grove. We must have passed the area where I saw the big ursine without noticing it.

This will be gorgeous in another month or so. Instead it was only subliminally pretty.

The trail was my type of trail, it didn't switchback, it didn't meander. It followed Ben Tyler Gulch up through various stands of forest - a very eclectic forest for Colorado mind you - with meadows and flowers. Soon I was counting out the elevation gain for Danielle.

Getting my macro to focus on little flowers is proving to be difficult

We started doing some switchbacks which I remembered from reconnoitring the map and guidebook meant we were close to treeline. But heck, I could have figured that out from the scenery. Subalpine meadows began dominating the surrounding, the area began opening up.

We came across a solo hiker with his two dogs. He was heading back down as he was ill-equipped for the snow and slush blanketing the higher climes.

It was shortly after that when things began to change. I was always casting a glance over my shoulder to check out the sky. First the flanks of the 12ers across the valley were enveloped, then the foothills and now, well, we were about to be enveloped.

And this is when we turned around:

After starting at 8,200 feet, we got up to 10,900 feet. We were only a mile and change with 1,200 feet of elevation left from the top. Rain didn't bother me, neither did the prospect of snow; we both packed for adverse conditions. White-out? No worries, I can plot by map, compass and altimeter.

No, it was the several boom/cracks of thunder and lightning which made us descend. I've been near a flash-boom once, and it isn't an experience I'm looking to repeat anytime soon. Being the tallest thing around for many miles, which we would be up on the summit, just isn't smart.

Platte Peak coated with snow from Saturday.

Yes this is Colorado. And yes it is the middle of August.

Just listen to the sound:

Descending quickly our pants became drenched from brushing up against the wet shrubbery flanking the trail. Partway down, I commented how this feels completely normal to me. Way too many years, way too many trips, way too many miles plodded in the rain. Washington does that to you. It feels more familiar in a downpour than it does with the sun beating down.

Actually besides the rain, the dense vegetation, the nearby creek, the moss clinging to rocks, the steepness of the flanks of the Kenosha and Platte River ranges, it truly is the closest I have come to the Cascades in Colorado. And the rain and sleet just made it complete.

The only difference was the smell. The Cascadian jungle has a deep, almost overpowering, earthy smell to it due to the ginormous extent of flora.

Whaddya do when you can't get to the top? Take pictures.

When we reached the truck over four hours later - the time really did fly - I wasn't upset about being denied the destination. Sometimes the journey is the giant carrot dangling in front of the ass.


I painfully discovered on the drive home. I can no longer drink Starbucks mochas - doubled over in pain, where did this lava come from painful.

15 August 2008

Things I've learned this week

So what's so great about this video? It's raining. It's been raining for over 12 hours and we have a couple more days of rain in the forecast. The summer we've been having here in Colorado, it feels wonderful. And from having lived in Washington, it feels normal.

* If one really wants a job, don't disagree with somebody during an interview. While I have not received word, but the absence of contact following a 2-week rush of calls, emails and Air Checks sent to me, leads me to deduce that KRCR is going with their other finalist.

* If you want me to run a newsroom, you can't expect me to bow down and eat up every word your corporate consultant spouts out like a baby bird. That's not to say I dismissed everything he said and what we discussed, but you're wanting to bring me aboard for my management style, let me do that.

* I'm getting too old to ever, ever, EVER drink Jaeger again. Wednesday was Ian's birthday. Met a group out after work down at a place on Colfax. There were Jaeger shots. I shouldn't do Jaeger shots I've discovered. Out late, got home, went to bed, and woke up in the middle of the night. This wasn't drunk sick - wasn't drunk - this was just plain vomiting sick. I am detoxing for the rest of the week.

* Free soloing while hung-over really isn't fun. I was happy to get to the top of my climb and grab some Gatorade.

* There is a reason I've never seen a guy on a hip abductor machine at the gym. Men never, ever go on this machine. We don't have muscles there. Remember the song you learned as a child, "The back bone is connected to the neck bone, the neck bone is ..." Well that works with muscles. I suffered a groin pull my sophomore year of high school running cross country and it never fully healed. It's always going to be there. I got on the OB-GYN of malehood destruction earlier this week. I felt discomfort in an area a man should never, ever feel.

Notice, the man is standing and NOT on the machine

* Somebody at NBC has a giant mancrush on Michael Phelps. Really, is there any event going on in Bejing besides swimming, beach volleyball and child labor? I have no problem with Phelps, nor with him trying to make history. But really, do we need to see him walking to the pool listening to his iPod anymore times? (And Heather, I know you'll responding with a resounding "YES!!")

Something for the ladies. Go ahead and drool.

* It's been almost a month since I slept in my tent. I'm getting near the homicidal stage here. Maybe Sunday night if things clear up. Saturday I'm heading back to where I saw the bear in the Kenoshas and have aspirations of nabbing three summits - and not ending up as a side dish. Rak and I talked about a long epic day in the mountains on Sunday as well.

* Talking with a Division of Wildlife official earlier this week. She was encouraged that I saw a fairly large bear away from civilization. Most of the fatties are around human development dining on garbage. Great! So I saw the alpha bear of Colorado. Glad I turned back without it noticing me.

* If you enjoy modern style of poetry, pick up some Denise Levertov. I suggest anything before she made the pathos stride from agnosticism back to Christianity. Funny how those who are searching write the better prose.

ARTIST OF POST - Mike Doughty. He's playing Bumbershoot on Sept 1st for all you Washingtonians.

12 August 2008

Ursine attraction

That's right! I got my mojo back! I am downright irresistible... unfortunately it is towards the wrong species.

It's become somewhat of a running joke with my family with the number of times I've come across bears in my travels. My totem sign must be a bear because I'm closing in on two dozen spotted. The twisted sense of humor my family has, it is a given that every Christmas, I will receive one token gift with a bear on it.

I admit I have seen more bears than many of my friends who have spent just as much, if not more, time out in the mountains, forests and other nice habitats where bears like to forage, hunt and just be left alone by the bipedal monkeys we are.

For a while I thought I was losing my touch. Since moving to Colorado almost five years ago, I had come across three - and one was while in a car. Maybe I was just being seen as another monkey; I lacked the ursine pheromones. But alas, like a swinger who's scored at a nightclub, I have my strut back. Two bears in seven days.

First one was the previous Sunday on a hike at Roxborough State Park. He was a shy little guy whose butt running like mad is all I saw through the bushes.

Pretty area. Too bad you can't climb here. Though the two slabs I did tread up were rather crumbly - your hands felt like you were playing in the sand - which made the two downclimbs rather, um, well the one made me curse at myself.

The wet forecast this past weekend had me switching around plans. My original agenda was to backpack up to Stone Lake, tag a couple of summits in Cooper and Marten via the exposed North Ridge of Cooper, carry over and down to the saddle and then the Class 3 ridge of Marten.

Rak was going to get up early and join me up near Stone Lake on Sunday and together we were going to tag Hiamovi by the most interesting, exposed climbing route possible. Those plans were dashed when I approached our weatherman, told him where I was going and was given the forecast of, "How wet do you want to get?"

Plan B. Saturday went mountain biking at three locales: Meyers Ranch, Flying J and 3 Sisters. It was a good 3 1/2 hour ride sandwiched between shuttling to the locations. Because getting over 2,000 feet vert and around 18 miles of single track wasn't enough, went to the gym that afternoon.

Sunday woke up shortly after 5 am, checked out the sky and the forecast and decided against my trip up Jasper Peak SE snow slopes and carry over to Mt Neva and down it's long ridge. The thought of getting stuck on that ridge with the thunderstorm booming overhead wasn't enticing. I should know, the same thing happened to me the previous Monday on some unnamed bump in the Indian Peaks - it's amazing how fast you can run in hiking boots with a backpack on talus when needed.

Settled on Kenosha Peak. I can hike in the rain, and after living in Washington, it's second nature.

That's my destination... I think. Once again I left the guidebook and map at home.

I remembered the approach trail made a sharp left at one point and that I wanted to bushwack straight up to treeline and make my way across the large ridge. Never got to that point. Because....

That would be a bear track. Not a big one, but not a small one neither. I was enjoying the clearing I was traversing through when something caught the corner of my eye. Stopped, walked back and examined. Yup! That's ursine! And fairly new.

Nice rock but crumbly. I bushwacked to the base and the cliff didn't look as good as from afar. But it did remind me about how much bloody rock there is in this state - and how much of it is choss.

While pausing for a brief break en route to the trail again, this little guy became incensed over my being near his home. I had nonstop chatter from the little guy the entire time.

Shortly after getting to the trail again, I ran into a couple of backpackers and their pair of dogs. I asked how there trip was, where they camped and informed them about the tracks I spotted but didn't see any other bearish signs.

About a mile after separating and probably by assumption not far from where I would bushwack from, that's where I spotted it. Bear! BIG bear! Big bear not acting very bear-like.

It was about 150-200 feet from me and uphill from the trail. I'm not sure how I spotted him because it wasn't moving. That's what unsettled me. It seemed intent on something and didn't know I was nearby. Cubs? It made a kill?

I've walked past a bear not eight feet from me before in Garibaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia. I've run across a mother and its cub in too-close proximity (yes I dry-heaved after the adrenaline wore off); heck, I've come across a few grizzlies (close to dry-heaving experience).

But this one made me unsettled. And it wasn't so much that I came across it. It was that on the way back I would probably have to come across it again, especially if it had a kill up there.

So back I went. Came across a couple of hikers heading up not far from the trailhead. I was kind enough to inform them about my sighting. The woman in the couple did a complete turnaround and started hiking back as soon as the word, "bear" passed through my lips.

So now I have another bloody mountain I have to go back and finish.