A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

A strong appetite, average palate, and weak writing, mixed with outdoor adventure.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mount Princeton


  • Route: East Slopes
  • Distance: ~4.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~2,400
  • Start time: 7:00 AM
  • Time: 2:46
  • Climbers: Alan and Sandy

Mount Princeton dominates the skyline as you enter the Arkansas River Valley via US 285. Its bulk leaps off the valley floor with no help from foothills as it climbs to 14,197 feet.

JJ Nov 2010 g 002

Having spent the previous day  on Maroon Peak, we knew that Princeton, with its road that can take an intrepid driver high onto the route, would be well suited for a pair of tired legs. There is space for two or three cars where the trail departs the road and the singletrack begins. This is not stated in most climbing literature, but saves one a lot of hiking on a sun soaked road. In the morning it is not a big deal, but kicking up clouds of dust at 11 AM while the back of your neck gets a lesson of the increased solar intensity at altitude is something I prefer to avoid.

We camped out at 11,500 and arose at 6 AM, which compared to what we have been doing as of late, felt like getting to work three hours late.


Sunrise from camp

Knowing it would be a quick effort and it was a bluebird morning we donned shorts. Paleness be damned, fellow climbers would get to see some gams! Ultimately, they seemed unimpressed.  In another departure from the norm, I wore cotton. Outdoor wisdom indicates that cotton can result in spontaneous hypothermia, angina, getting jumped by pikas and erectile dysfunction, sometimes all at once. I barely survived.

I have a tendency for jackrabbit starts and then dial it back. Alan is more like a diesel in which he needs a little time to warm up, but then it is nothing but powerful output the rest of the day. Per the norm I came out of the gate quick and we made short work of the contour around the basin and climb to the ridge.


Head down, determined and luxuriating in cotton

Once we hit the ridge it turned to talus. At this point Alan was completely warmed up and he is nothing if not a mountain goat in this terrain. It was my turn to watch him disappear across the tundra.


See you at the summit

The summit was reached in 1:24, a clip that surprised us both, and it was empty. A rare treat on what is a popular climb.


19th 14er this year


Still catching my breath


Chips will now be mandatory summit food


Summit view


A precarious cairn


Someone walked up on this picture being taken.Their only question…is the turn off for the trail up ahead?

Food consumption on the hike included potato chips and almonds and little else. While not ravenous pangs of hunger were in the mail. With a trip down US 285 in the near future, a stop at the Brown Burro in Fairplay was as assured as the pope wearing a funny hat or a bear shitting in the woods. Oh, and Fairplay is the home of South Park.


No shame, especially since we took a picture for four guys our age moments before.


The triple stack with fried eggs. The server warned Alan that the pancakes were big. Having hiked all morning he was tempted to order a double stack for shock value


Breakfast burrito washed down with a liter of typical diner coffee

Here comes some state-ism…Colorado is amazing. Over the course of a weekend we climbed a classic route, followed it with another 14er climb, passed through numerous small mountain towns, hit up two small breweries, napped off Independence Pass, lounged about a park and read to kill time, walked along the Arkansas River, hung out next to the Roaring Fork River, saw 5 porcupines, and had the pleasure of driving the length of South Park, which in the early summer afternoon is dotted with clouds and cows. If there is somewhere better to live I am not sure I would have the energy level to handle it.


Maroon Peak


  • Route: Bell Cord Couloir, descent of Southeast Couloir
  • Distance: ~8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~4,600
  • Start time: 3:37 AM
  • Time: 9:56 hours
  • Climbers: Alan and Sandy

Claimed to be the most photographed spot in Colorado, the Maroon Bells, when viewed from Maroon Lake are sublime. A set of sedimentary beasts that dominate the skyline and from a distance are coy about their crumbling and downsloping nature. My verdict? A scenic pile of choss.


The Bell Cord is the slender band of snow that angles from left to right and splits the summit of Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. From the base of the couloir it is 1,800 calf-burning feet to reach a smalll saddle at 13,800 feet. Given the record setting snowfall this year, we were able to pick up snow much lower, spending ~2,700 vertical feet strapped into crampons.

The alarm went off at 3:00 AM, we got up and a porcupine immediately ambled away from beneath Alan’s truck. Porcupines are notorious for chewing on lines that carry fluid. A hasty check revealed no damage. This was the 2nd of 5 porcupines we would see. I thought seeing one was rare, but now I am thinking that porcupines are to central Colorado as to what pigeons are to Denver’s central business district.


I chew trees and brake lines!


I scare hikers and then waddle off the trail

We ascended a feature known as the Garbage Chute. With towering rock walls above and the sound of meltwater below it was a claustrophobic hydrophobe’s worst nightmare. Otherwise, it was a grand entrance to the alpine environment.


Looking up the Garbage Chute


Looking downvalley with Crater Lake in the foreground and Maroon Lake in the distance.


Alpenglow lighting up the lower flanks of the Maroon Bells, the bottom of the Bell Cord is visible.

The Garbage Chute put us too far south, but a quick traverse put us at the base of the Bell Cord. Looking up is a touch intimidating but also spurs the inner explorer we all experienced in our youth as the snow stretches upward and disappears around the corner. With steepening snow and unknown territory, it could only mean one thing:



The path was obvious, up. So up we went.


Only 1,800 vertical feet to go!


The view across the valley. The scale is tough to capture, but suffice to say that Alan and I never felt like we got anywhere quickly.


A crevasse! Maybe not a true crevasse, but regardless a feature rarely seen Colorado. It was probably 12 feet deep.


Alan looking casual far above the valley floor after being all up on the canard


I am on the right side, halfway up, wearing my let’s like just like the rock gray pants.

This climb was unrelenting. Given our climbs to date, a total of 36 14ers between us this year, my attitude has become blasé in regards to the effort involved, until now. Between the physical grind and the constant awareness involved from being in an exposed position this climb was taxing. It was worth it though given the view.


The view from the saddle upon topping out of the couloir. Snowmass and Capitol peaks are visible.

From the saddle Alan and I took two different paths. His quickly put him on the ridge with views of the summit. Mine had me strapping on crampons and climbing the steepest snow of the day. The bright side? Perfect steps into the soft snowpack, which punctuated my profane monologue as I worked my way up. With a bit of alpine ice at the head of the slope it made for an exciting mixed climb. Avoid it.


Right now I feel only malice that Alan is not suffering up this snow too. Alan was thinking what a nice break and oh look, here comes some expletive ridden entertainment.

After my misadventure it was a surprisingly short hop to the summit, which we had to ourselves.


Summit shot


Showing my contempt for the poor quality rock “flex shot”


Warrior pose. Someone enroll this guy in a yoga class!

After 20 minutes on the summit it was time to descend the southeast ridge to gain our exit, the Southeast Couloir. A friend had glissaded the entirety of this couloir two weeks previous, taking 30 minutes to reach the valley floor. This saved us the effort of making our way along the Class 3 ridge and then dropping down the standard route on the peak’s southeastern shoulder.

The start was steep and the snow not soft so we began downclimbing facing the mountain, kicking steps and plunging the ice axe. Conditions did not change, but we still tried plunge stepping, which resulted in several slips and self-arrests. Glissading was out of the question. This turned into a 90 minute descent with the sun beating down.


I disappear onto the southeast ridge…


…and reappear


Alan on the downclimb


That rockwall is at least 100’ high


Runnel you scary. Note all the rockfall collected in it.

We passed through the Garbage Chute yet again, glad to be nearing flat ground, but also noting all the fresh rockfall that not there in the morning. The hike was uneventful, although littered with both wildflowers and tourists.


Looking down the garbage chute




Indian paintbrush


My finger is on our summit, the peak in the foreground is North Maroon, a peak for another day.


The view from Maroon Lake


Happy to be putting on flip flops

No 10 hour effort is complete without post-climb gluttony.  First up was City Market grocery store in Aspen and then Eddyline Brewery in Buena Vista.


I will arm wrestle you for the hummus


Let’s get some chips and salsa and pizza to go with the beer

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dead Dog Couloir

  • Route: Dead Dog Couloir to Torreys and then standard traverse to Grays
  • Distance: ~6.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~3,600
  • Start time: 5:15 AM
  • Time: 6.5 hours
  • Climbers: Alan, Jen, Paavo and Sandy
Brimming with confidence from the previous week’s snow climb we chose to tackle a route that I had passed many times, but I had always found it too intimidating to climb, the Dead Dog Couloir. The couloir rises 1,200 from the valley floor and cleaves the eastern face of Torrey’s Peak, tying into the Kelso Ridge just below the summit. Averaging ~40 degrees, the Dead Dog offers a solid challenge that bypasses the anthill feel of the standard route.
Alarms were set for 4:15, but in an occurrence so common it cannot even be called a cruel twist of fate, I awoke at 4:06. Awoke might even be a bit of hyperbole as the night was a series of small naps and a lot of tossing and turning. Given the fruitless nature of the night’s sleep it was a relief to get up and gear up for something concrete.
Under the pink clouds of dawn, and the cloud capped presence of Grays Peak, we began our hike upvalley.
The wildflowers are beginning to pepper the tundra with their bright hues. Their delicate nature and beauty is contrasted by the barren landscape in which they dwell. These plants overcome adversity and thrive in an environment that would kill 99% of known vegetation. It is a Darwinistic Libertarian dream come true.
We reached the base of the couloir in ~1 hour, strapped on crampons, threw back some calories and traded the valley floor for the steep flanks of Torreys Peak. Alan led a majority of the of the couloir. This may not sound like much, but the guy on the front of the ‘couloir peloton’ is kicking steps for everyone else. This means that Alan is kicking 3 times as much as the rest of us, so we basically stood around talking about work, politics and how slow our team lead moved! Such is the privilege of the person not going first.
Dead Dog Couloir is dead center, stretching to just right of the summit.
Jen and Paavo several hundred feet above the valley floor.
Alan leading the way, meaning he is kicking all the steps
We had blue skies above, but clouds were leaping off the backside of Gray’s as though it were a game of atmospheric hopscotch. They were nonthreatening though so we continued our upward struggle against gravity.
Cloud cover extending from Grays like a bad combover
Paavo and Jen climb through the gloaming
From the the top of the couloir it is a short jaunt through rarified air to the summit. In a show of bravado or genius, I am not sure which, Alan hauled up a growler of amber ale from Tommyknocker. The best part? A group sharing a few 12 oz cans of beer who look over as I hoist a 1/2 gallon of microbrewed goodness in cheers!
Uncap that, it is time for drinks!
The 14,000 foot beer throwdown!
From the summit of Torreys it is a short drop down the saddle and then a quick ascent of Grays for the second 14er of the day. Of course short and quick is predicated on athleticism, and after having ascended the Dead Dog half of our group was not moving fast. Yet, with gentle plodding and not so gentle prodding we all gained the summit.
Instant headache
See that snow in the picture above. We ran down. We slid down. We plunge stepped. We post-holed. In short, we dropped a lot of vertical feet grinning to a point that makes the Cheshire Cat smiling effort melancholic.
Jen throwing up some snow on her glissade
Throw your axe in the air…
To hell with 4:15 wake up calls
The team members had a different tolerance for the temperature.
Per the norm we had our post-summit celebratory shot. And per the norm, we showed an impressive amount of non-choreography. Despite our shortcoming as a dance troupe I would not hesitate to head into technical terrain with this group.