25 March 2009

Smattering of life

I know time is pretty relative as far as we know it. However, it does seem like it is dancing by at a quicker tempo than it used to.

Got a surprised email followed by my friend Craig who was in town. It was strange to count up to four - the number of years it had been since we saw each other. It seems like that gourmet burger-making day was just yesterday.

Last week I took my first semi-annual pilgrimage to slickrock country. After driving Monday night, Jess and I spent two days playing peek-a-boo in canyons and just soaking up the sun.

All of the trips and the lengthy tenure I have spent in the area, I still find new places to go. I don't think I will see even half of it before my flame is extinguished.

It was time well spent and I was glad to introduce a special area to me to somebody who had never awoken to being surrounded by sandstone canyon walls standing sentinel.

11 March 2009

I've gotten more than I bargained for already

It was a 3-Advil trip. And the litmus count would be higher if I wasn't afraid of feeling worst by taking five.

I want a hot tub and an IV. I am whooped and in a sadistic way, quite content with that.

I returned to the Indian Peaks to complete some unfinished business. The last time I was here, I had the binding issues.

This time I had some of the worst snow conditions I've had the misfortune of skiing in. And only a stubborn idiot like myself would continue.

Devil's Thumb Loop - roughly 8 miles. Took a few detours to check out some slopes for clicking down the heels action. However with the warmth and the solar energy coming down like frickin laser beams, snow was sliding pretty badly on the steeps.

A Ryan "shortcut"

Deteriorating slope. It took closer scrutiny to determine this SE-facing slope was just slush. I got lashed severely making my way through the vegetated palisade in the foreground.

I had to portage the sticks about four times, walking on either bare ground or ice while hefting the skis. It got annoying, especially on the way out when I was beyond "bonk" stage.

Took a break at the trail junction to Devil's Lake. There was a nice rock ramp to perch on and eat some food.

Looking at the nearby Continental Divide. Well it was nearby at my turnaround point.

I had gone 2 1/2 miles more or less in an hour & 15 minutes. From that point on, I was breaking trail as nobody went further. I can now kinda understand how people get lost in this area. If you don't keep your wits about you, a person could get disoriented.

I lost the "trail" many times because, well, there were no markings on trees showing the path. I would usually find it and then dispatch from it again before crossing it again. Wasn't too concerned. I had Bryan Mountain and then Woodland Mountain on my left as a guideline and Chittenden Mountain and Jasper Creek on my right.

WHAT I didn't count on was missing the junction for the trail to loop back. I kept on heading towards Devil's Pass. Finally looking around, I realized things weren't jiving with what I remembered from the topo map. Devil's Thumb was way too close.

Jasper Peak on the right. You can read my shocking trip to the summit here.

So I did what you're supposed to do, I turned around. After about 10 minutes I saw my error. I completely missed this mostly-buried sign.

Now for a bit, my skis were getting sluggish and my legs were getting tired. The snow was liquid goop, collecting copiously on top of my skis and then refreezing to create a nice load.

Also my skins had over-saturated and then froze. So I had chunks of ice on the bottom, negating any glide I might get. After crossing Jasper Creek, where the return trail went was anybody's guess. I just picked a way that made sense to me.

I stopped a few minutes in, took a break and proceeded to attend to the skis. This was just getting to be painful. I stripped of the snow and let the sun melt off the crud on the skins. A big wedge of ice formed on both skis at the tip under the skins. This required more maintenance.

After a little more I had enough with the crappy snow and my beaten-up skins. I knew from the topo -- and by what I came up -- I should gradually be heading down.

Well cross-country in the Indian Peaks doesn't live up to topo maps. After stripping the skins I made some good downhill time -- crossing over and skiing on top of frozen-over Jasper Creek.

Then came the inclines...

And the willow thickets...

And the frozen killer waves of snow...

And then boulders, close-spaced trees, downed logs, gaping pitfalls... you get the picture.

It was beyond taxing and it was slow going.

Finally the skins came back on as I was doing more up and down then down. And then I came to the trail. It was quite easy to spot.

Where's the bloody snow?!

There was more ski carrying, and then more chaotic terrain. I know better than to travel cross-country in the area. It's some of the more rugged topo in the state.

Finally I hit the return loop. It was 2+ agonizing miles back to the truck.

The slush has frozen in the evening chill. Yum!

As challenging and frustrating the return part was, and here is my sadistic side, I would do the same damn thing again. I was in a beautiful area, deep into the wilderness and aside from fatigue, dehydration and some pretty good raw spots on my shins from my boots, I was fine.

09 March 2009

I chose the path that wasn't there

One of the things I enjoy greatly about Colorado after spending a number of years in the temperate jungles of the Pacific Northwest, is off-trail travel is so simple.

True there are excepts and the biggest one I've encountered is in the Kenosha Mtns. However, every place else, it is a breeze. No dense vegetation, no impenetrable thickets of slide alder and devil's club. Just find a bearing and go.

Sunday was beautiful and I wasn't going to waste the afternoon inside. The divots in my hands are still healing - and quite rapidly - from the bouldering debacle from the middle of the week, so climbing was out. I also remained apprehensive of mountain biking for the same reason.

So a nice easy hike was on the menu. Jess was up for the distraction and I was pleased to share a quiet hidden eyrie with her. For me it's a close-by secret place and I don't just anybody learn of those.

After a couple quick miles on the trail, we cut off through some scrub oak and scrambled up some easy 3rd-class to the ridge. Normally I like tackling a crumbling tower which acts as a rampart to the edge of the ridge. But I had company so I was going to behave.

Jess coming up the last bit of scrambling

There is a little bouldering wall in the area. While it is terribly brittle and friable sandstone, I have had a few mellow sessions on it. The one drawback; a bad fall could lead to a long fall off the ridge.

One of my favorite features up here, a long catwalk of folded sandstone. It conjures up what I think petrified brain would look like.

Funny thing is the wind started raging once we got off the trail. It never mitigated during our stay up there. I would call it strong gusts, but it was a continuous gale with only a pocketful of brief interruptions.

After finding a nice nook to lounge in, we passed the eating, talking and just plain enjoying each other's company.

Jess gives her approval

07 March 2009

What just happened?

I am mainly Socratic in my philosophy and development of morasses. However I also subscribe to Aristotle's philosophy of substance, matter and form. It was the latter that caused my fall - literally.

Wednesday was a warm albeit windy day. I planned on getting in a few hours of bouldering and there was one rock in particular which was garnering my attention. Located at the second junction of the Silver Fox and Homestead trails when you leave the west parking lot, the 12-foot-tall piece of granite overhung beautifully on two sides.

I had tinkered on it before but nothing with any earnest. My first problem I figured would go at V3. Severely undercut at the bottom, you start with two huge jugs with your right foot toeing a little cove deep underneath and your left smeared on a less-upside down contour.

It took over a dozen tries but finally I linked the problem together, the crux being throwing a slap to a slopper with the left hand from the starting position. From there the problem goes down easy. I think I was conservative with my initial grading but would want an independent arbitrator to confirm before I chestbeat.

Starting holds. You shoot for past the hump at the top skyline.

Pleased, I went to the other end of the rock and came across a fun traverse on a rail, to a heel hook and reach up to small but positive pinches. While not a hard problem, it is fun and adds the spice of a large fin of rock underneath you that would like to fillet you if you fall.

Easy stuff on the east side.

My undoing was trying to develop a line in the center of the face. There was a beautiful starting hold but I couldn't scry a clean line that didn't seem contrived.

However the angle of the rock and the starting jug tempted me to try to forge something after dismissing it several times earlier.

I tested the start, putting one hand on a vertical rail which resembled a tufta soldered to the rock. Right hand went on a corner knob. To the left was a big incut cleft on a angled shelf - too easy. Straight up was some frictioned pinchery and slaps. Tough but maybe possible.

So I positioned my pad to the left of me to protect from the fin of rock in case of a pendulum in the likely case of failure.

I positioned myself on the ground for the sit start, took a deep breath and shot up to my planned slap. But a funny thing happened along the way.

I felt momentum up and then I felt momentum backwards. When I got my senses back, I found myself on the ground on my back, legs sticking up in the air - rigor mortis in the positions and angles they were on the rock during my dyno.

I craned my neck and looked and saw a big rock on my stomach and looked up to see my hands fountains of blood.

The big welded tufta wasn't as solid as I suspected and now the big chunk was on my. During my dyno, I must have pulled so hard that not only the rock came out but, my momentum carried my quite a ways away from the rock.

I picked up the 20-pound chunk and removed it from me. As I turned to toss it, I noticed the familiar firmness of rock on my right side. I was lucky. If landed a little to the right I would have landed back on a half-buried boulder.

The rock. You can see my toes in the bottom of the photo for size comparison.

Where the hold pulled from.

This was my second straight bouldering session of pioneering problems on terra incognita where rock broke and I found myself unceremoniously dumped on the ground. The last time was at the junction of the Hidden Fawn trail and the Dedisse Park trail when I made the same error of not listening to my gut.

I attempted an overhanging face with less than dubious rock and when 12 feet up a crystal I was pinching while doing a cross-over popped out. My movements caused me to helicopter off and I landed equally on my face and shoulder - thankfully on the crashpad.

The lesson I have now had hammered home -- If it looks suspect, don't force it.