Thursday, 22 September 2011

Final 14er of the summer: Mt Evans via Mt Spaulding with my Dad

On my last Friday of my time in Denver (for now), my dad and I wanted to climb Mt Evans. As I previously blogged about, we had climbed Mt Bierstadt a few weeks previously. During that hike, I had hoped to do my first Class 3 and cross the Sawtooth to also climb Evans. In retrospect that would have been terrible because our truck's battery died and it wound up taking us about six hours to solve that problem, so adding in a lot of time to hike Evans would have been a mistake. However, we still wanted to hike Evans before I left, so, with only three days remaining before I moved back to the UK, we set off on Friday.

It had snowed above 12,000 ft or so the night before, so there was patchy snow when we arrived at the quite chilly trailhead. We had chosen a fairly easy route, to go over unofficial 13er Mt Spalding (13,842 ft -- but not prominent enough to count as its own mountain) and then descend down the Northeast Face. This was a short round trip of 5.41 miles (thanks mytracks!), with an elevation gain of 2,229 ft. Not counting breaks, it took us about 2:30 to do the hike. We did take a break on the summit of Evans and also got badly off course at one point due to the snow.

From the trailhead at Summit Lake, we saw some baby mountain sheep! Disturbingly the only other people in the parking lot were some bow hunters, and they were also eyeing the sheep, albeit with a less, "How cute!" look.

Here's the view from Summit Lake:

We started off up the side of Mt Spalding. The hike was initially quite steep, pushing up about 1000 ft very rapidly from the lake. The trail was also surprisingly hard to find, as we had figured this was a well-travelled route on one of the most popular 14ers. Here's the view to our left about halfway up this push. The summit of Evans is in the centre of the picture.

Approaching the Mt Spalding summit, things became very rocky, and we got to climb over some of them:

This was an interesting couloir that had gathered a lot of snow on the saddle between Spalding and Evans:

Here's the view from the summit of Spalding. The peaks in the right are Grays and Torreys. The clouds were pretty cool!

Looking from Spalding back towards Evans:

Looking down at Summit Lake and towards the east (and Denver) as the sun rose:

View from the saddle between Spalding and Evans:

As you can see, there were a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. This was actually quite nice to walk on -- not deep enough to get the feet wet, but soft enough to cushion the rocks. Here's a view back towards the rocky summit of Spalding from the low point of the saddle:

The mountain on the left here is Mt Bierstadt. We saw about four people on its summit as we hiked past it, which was definitely a change from when we'd hiked it a few weeks ago, when we counted nearly 60 people up there with us. It seemed like the turn into September had ended many people's climbing seasons. We also only encountered two other people on Evans, who were doing the same route as we were. We passed them shortly after the saddle and then met them again on our way back down from the summit; they were a father and son team. You can also see part of the Sawtooth connecting Bierstadt and Evans to the right.

Below is a snow-covered cairn. From the saddle, we had to cross a briefly exciting drop off and then start to actually climb our way over large boulders. The two hikers who had been in front of us were ahead, and higher up, but we saw some cairns indicating we shouldn't head up -- we should stick to the south side of the mountain and head along the trail there. The snow made finding and sticking to the trail somewhat more difficult than we might have liked, but after a while we found the footprints of some dog -- or coyote, maybe, because there were no accompanying human footprints -- and followed those for quite some time. They faithfully kept to the trail, so we figured our canine friend was taking the path of least resistance. 

Here's a better view of the Sawtooth from higher up on Evans:

Here's my dad on the summit of Evans! 14,264 ft! Note his stylish hiking attire.

Here I am, also wearing my stylish hiking attire (including purple Rockies hat over blue fleece hood):

Here's looking northeast from the summit, towards Longs Peak:

From there we descended the Northeast Face, which was slippery, steep, and short. The snow melting was not helpful for us and we had to choose our steps very carefully. Finally, we made it back to Summit Lake:

Here's the highest paved road in North America, now closed for the season from Summit Lake due to snow:

By the time we made it back to our truck, a number of people had arrived to take pictures and short hikes around the area. However, we did not encounter anyone else climbing up Mt Evans. It was interesting to have a 14er -- and a popular, in the Front Range one at that -- almost entirely to ourselves. All in all a really nice, short hike, with beautiful scenery and just enough challenge in finding the route to make it interesting.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mt Sneffels is a long hike, makes me cry like a child, remains the greatest mountain ever

My single goal for this summer -- nay, this year, or this lifetime -- was to climb Mt Sneffels, the most beautiful, distinct mountain in the world. As you can see from the 10,000 pictures I took of it, which are displayed below.

Early on Sunday morning over the Labor Day weekend, we set off into the Mt Sneffels Wilderness. We were going up the Blue Lakes Trail and then up the Southwest Ridge, which was going to be my first Class 3 route. This path was longer than the usual Yankee Boy Basin approach, but, having been up the other to about 13,000 ft, I think that Blue Lakes was much prettier and well worth it.

Here's some shots from the trail up.

Summer was clearly on its way out.

However, there were still some wildflowers to be seen.

Here's Lower Blue Lake, the bluest of the lakes by far.

Here's the uppermost, where Nathan and I stopped to have some lunch.

Then we began a switchback ascent up the side of the mountain, passing from a beautiful field of wildflowers into barren scree as we gained altitude.

All around were views of the rugged Sneffels Range, which is an igneous intrusion into the western San Juans. These mountains are primarily made of crumbling rock.

From the saddle looking down in Yankee Boy Basin, this was our route up the Southwest Ridge. At this point I was feeling very good about the hike, having just made good time up from the Upper Blue Lake. I figured Class 3 couldn't be too hard, right? Or else they would have called it Class 4?

Turns out I was wrong, and Class 3 was HARD. The rock was crumbling and prone to tumbling down the mountainside, and the slopes were steep. Class 3 means some actual climbing. One portion really freaked me out and I had to take a quick breather afterwards and calm down a bit.

Then we came upon this formation, which is known as the kissing camels. I dunno if they really look like camels...

Nathan standing by the kissing camels.

The next portion of the climb was very exposed, meaning that there was a big drop off behind me at all times. At one point we came to a small portion where there was a big drop off on either side, and I hit a huge psychological barrier. For a few minutes, I wasn't even sure if I could make myself go across it -- but as Nathan pointed out, it would be a lot harder to go back than to go on. Watching four other climbers go across this portion also helped. So by crawling on my hands and knees and clinging to this rock for dear life, I made it across, and after that nothing else about the climb seemed scary.

Here's some views from the summit! Looking down to the Blue Lakes: 

Looking towards the Wilsons (other 14ers) to the right and the slopes of Telluride to the left:

Looking north, towards 13ers Potosi and Teakettle:

Above the Blue Lakes, there is another 13er, this one being Dallas Peak:

Here we are at the top.

Now, we started our descent. Here's Nathan about to go back down a Class 3 climb.

Looking down the rocky couloir towards Lavender Col:

The view from Lavender Col starting down into Blaine Basin:

The view back up the couloir:

The views descending into Blaine Basin were amazing, but descending was difficult due to shifting rocks and steep slopes.

Looking back up the descent:

Once in Blaine Basin, we found ourselves on a rock glacier that also wasn't very much fun for walking. However, there were beautiful columbines, only a little bit tattered:

This is looking back at the rock glacier:

Finally we got off the rocks and descended back below treeline. It had taken us nearly 12 hours to go 11 miles. 

There was also a beautiful aspen grove.

We fell asleep almost immediately after returning from the hike. The next morning we took some photos of Mt Sneffels from different angles and then went to Telluride. 

The addendum to this story is that three weeks later, this is what this area looks like: