31 July 2009

Weston Pass

Since the weather was gloomy and dreary on my days off in Denver, I sought sanctuary someplace that would be less damp.

I wound up heading out to Buena Vista for it is turning out to be an annual pilgrimage. The weather was unsettled to say the least: sunshine, quick storms, heavy wind, return to sunshine, repeat and recycle.

Still I got in some bouldering sessions in between the brief squalls. Funny how I was climbing stronger and harder in February than I am now in July. But I have been preoccupied with other activities and as a result, my climbing acumen has slipped.

On the way back I decided to sate a long-standing curiosity and turned down Weston Pass Road. The dirt track is located a few miles west of Fairplay and leads up into forested hills and, deeper into the heart, mountains.

Beautiful forested area that stands out starkly to the juxtaposing flat vastness of South Park. I grinded up in 4-wheel-drive to the pass, located a few hundred feet shy of 12,000 feet.

The weather was miserable; cold, beyond blustery and the grey sky streaked with sideways sleet. I donned my rain shell and stretched my legs by first walking, and then jogging uphill to the rounded hump in front of me.

The jogging didn't seem so arduous because of the miserable conditions I was running through. Alternating between a quick walk and a slow job, I made it up to the top of the bump. I saw it was a false summit and the true top lay close by. However finding myself completely exposed now to the elements, the wind which I though couldn't be possibly worst below, was renewed with extra vigor at the top.

I began my run down and was greated by falling snowflakes when I reached the truck. Oddly enough, it was the second time I've been snowed on in July.

13 July 2009

Shirtless wishing for gloves

"Um... uh-oh," Ian called out. He laid down on the rock peering down ahead of me on the ridge. We had just finish climbing the third gendarme on the North Ridge of Mt Neva.

The ridge can go as mostly class 3 with a class 4 section. I read that doing the direct ridge, as in not bypassing the towers and dropping off to the sides goes at Class 5. So the sporting way was the one we picked.

I made my way towards him on the gendarme to see him turn around, lower his bottom half over the edge and then just the whitened fingers of both hands on top of the incisors of a rock flake. I peered down and saw what made him pause. It was a 15-foot downclimb, slightly overhung and very devoid of holds. I spotted a fin sticking out of a thin crack as the only foothold.

I positioned myself over and asked Ian to watch me and help direct my foot to the needed hold. After playing footsy with the rock for half a minute, I finally wedged my boot on it.

This wasn't going to work. My leg was akimbo in a half chicken wing position. The hold was way too high up for me to utilize it with my body positioning. So I backed off and told him I was going to check the sides. On the east side of the ridge there was a downclimb with some holds and then a blind move across a bulging face.

I made my way down and while there were footholds to the side of the bulge, I could not find a good handhold to keep myself in balance. I peered down the 300 or so feet below me down to the bottom of the cirque. Finally I finessed my way around the bulge, joined Ian on the other side of the gendarme, and let out a breath.

"That wasn't as easy as it looked," I informed him.

On the trail heading to the north ridge of Mount Neva, the skyline in the distance

Looking at the ridge from near the start

Ian above me on one of the first downclimbs. We came from the right of Ian's head. There were about four major downclimbs we did on the route.

Ian at an easier part of the ridge. A party of three in front of us. They bypassed much of the "fun" stuff that we tackled head on.

Looking down through a notch in the ridge at Lake Dorothy below

Ian coming across the last sketchy section on the ridge. The photo doesn't do the situation justice. It is an awkward knife-edge arete with serious exposure -- 500 feet down -- on Ian's left side. When I tackled the arete I found myself climbing up and facing straight out into the void. Thrilling!

Chewing up the last bit of scrambling and hiking to the summit of Mt Neva

Summit shot. I look odd.

We found the route description's crux section to be rather easy compared to some of the other climbing. We both agreed that the climbing was pretty easy and thought it was Class 4 with Class 5 consequences in a lot of spots.

Instead of reversing the ridge, I led us to a saddle between Neva and Jasper Peak. I spotted a lower-angle talus field leading to a valley between the mountains. When we got to some snow, I made a deal with Ian; he could use my trekking pole for the glissade down but I was keeping my rainpaints to keep my ass dry.

I grabbed a couple of rocks to use for self-arresting if needed and down I went. Ian followed and really enjoyed his first glissade. At first slightly apprehensive about the snow travel, by the time we finished our way down the valley, he was totally comfortable and talking about getting an ice ax.

Ian after his second glissade.

I have to give myself a pat on the back for picking a pretty good line on the bushwack out of the valley and back to the Arapahoe Pass trail. We only had to survey one time through a thick copse of stunted evergreen. We leaped over a quick-running stream and only had to make our way on the periphery of one bog. Probably the easiest bushwack I've had in the Indian Peaks.

On the trek out to the trail

As for the meaning of the title, when we got to the start of the ridge, it was cloudy and the wind was blowing hard. We had ever layer on and each wishing we had brought our hats and gloves. I contemplated about our chances of continuing in the bitter cold as we were ill-equipped.

The wind subsided partway through the climb and I got warmth in my hands halfway through the ridge.

On the way back, the sun broke through the clouds finally and we hiked back out with our shirts off because it was so warm.

All in all, another glorious day in the mountains.