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Saturday, June 25, 2011

5 Peaks in 2 Days Solo: Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Handies, Redcloud, Sunshine

Peaks: Uncompahgre Peak - 14,309 feet
Wetterhorn Peak - 14,015 feet
Handies Peak - 14,048 feet
Redcloud Peak - 14,034 feet
Sunshine Peak - 14,001 feet

Peaks Climbed: Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, Handies, Redcloud, Sunshine
Total Elevation Gain: 17,000+ feet
Total Mileage: 32+ Miles
Ascent Party: Mountainmicah83, Baz Agastus (the dog)
Blisters: Huge!

Mid last week, I noticed the weather forecast for the weekend looking really good. I was originally planning on doing Ellingwood ArĂȘte on Crestone Needle but my partner had a family emergency and had to back out. Now, with no real solid plans, I started researching the possibility of nabbing the Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn combo. After thinking harder about it, I figured I could at least get something else so I decided I would see how that went, and if I had energy, I would go for Redcloud and Sunshine also. With one partner out for the family emergency and my other normal partner out of town, the only thing left to do was to talk my wife into letting me solo. I knew I could talk her into it. It was giving her that feeling that I would more or less be safe. I packed my gear in the car Thursday evening and researched all of the routes one last time. In the past, I haven’t been to big on stats for my TR’s but I was so intrigued on what I accomplished this weekend that this report talks more about them than normal. The intent of this is not to brag but just to give a reference on time, elevation, and distance as well as another numbers for people to add to their thoughts when researching climbs to prepare themselves.

Friday June 24, 2011

After getting off of work a little early Friday, I loaded up the dog left home around 3 PM from Colorado Springs. My goal was to make the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead before dark to avoid the last .6 miles of 4WD in the Dark. I rolled in at about 8:45 PM. The road was dry and easy driving until the last .6 miles of 4WD. A Honda Civic should be able to make it to that point. From there, the 4WD isn’t horrible. My guess is that a Subaru Forester or Outback could make it there with a little care. It was an easy bumble and jumble in my jeep. With my few minutes of daylight to spare, I hastily setup the tent and readied my gear for a 2:30 AM wake up time. At 10:15, I was out for the night.

Saturday June 25, 2011

Peaks Climbed: Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn, and Handies!
Total Elevation Gain: 12,000+ feet
Total Mileage: 20+ Miles
(I don’t usually measure elevation gain and mileage exact but this trip I decided to keep the GPS on while climbing)
Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn
2:30 AM both of my alarms go off waking me up after a few short hours of sleep. That is… if I even actually slept. Maybe a little! I hastily packed up the tent, heated up some coffee and had a few quick bites to eat. At this point, I debated the sanity of such an early start and almost went back to sleep for another hour in the Jeep. I then reasoned that the earlier the better for the sake of softening snow through the day. I felt like I was carrying too much weight so last minute, I dropped the snowshoes and decided to risk not bringing them (which turned out to be fine). By 5:15 I was standing atop the 12,200-12,400’ pass underneath Matterhorn peak staring up at Uncompahgre. I remembered reading in Gerry Roach’s book that if the gulleys had snow in them on the peak that they would make a decent snow climb and avoid going all of the way around. Fifteen Minutes later, I was under the base of the climb putting on crampons and axe and stepping off. By this time, it wasn’t quite light enough for pictures. I will show pics of my route later on in the report. At about 5:45 to 6, it was finally light enough out to snap a pic of Wetterhorn in the twilight.
About half way up the 1000’ snowfield, it was finally light enough to snap a pic. I would say it was about 35 to 40 degrees in steepness. I think this is probably the last weekend that this will be a full snow climb as well.
A short while later, Matterhorn pokes its head out into the sun.
And shortly after, I have made quick work of the snowfield and glad to have not had to hike the long way around. The snow was rock hard and awesome for cramponing.
With a quick 100’ scramble above the snow, I made the top of the ridge right at about 14,000’ and took a peep back down.
Just 3 and a half hours after starting off, I arrive on the summit of Uncompahgre at about 6:18AM. Yay #43 of 58 for me and #18 for the Pup.
After a quick snack, a few photos, and signing the register, I took a picture of the USGS Marker. I always like to find these when I can.
A look back down the standard route towards Nellie Creek down and left.
And my next goal for the day a short 3 miles away as I depart at about 6:25AM.
A rather quick jaunt back down the way I came up and I take a quick look back up towards Uncompahgre. I did the snowfield on the right.
Getting back to the saddle, I re-applied sunscreen and had a quick snack. On my way to finding the best line over to Wetterhorn, I took a photo back towards the Matterhorn Creek basin where I came up in the morning in the dark with the tiny sliver of a moon.
After taking too high of a line and having to drop a couple of hundred feet off of the steep shoulder of Matterhorn, my next goal for the day was becoming a reality. At this point, I could feel that I was developing some descent blisters on my heels and decided to stop and moleskin up. When I removed my boots, I had blisters the size of a silver dollar (no joke) on each heel. I guess I waited too long, but the moleskin really helped to finish out the day.
This was the first time of the day that I saw any people as I saw one group crossing behind me over towards Uncompahgre and another making it up to about 13K on the shoulder of Wetterhorn above me.

The snow was just looking too perfect up the face for me to want to take the long way up and around. I decided to just go for it. I didn’t measure the angle but I would say it was somewhere around 45 degrees at the top. Maybe one of you skiers knows? I started the steep part of the snow at about 8:30 AM.

About half way up my progress began to slow as I was feeling the distance and gain for the day.
¾ of the way up I got really tired and slowed even more.
And a look left towards the standard route as I took one of my many rests at about every 20 steps.
One of Baz Agastus as he patiently waited on me with his bad self.
At the top left of the snowfield, I easily spot the notch and make a break for it at my snail pace.
Through the notch, the infamous class 3 summit pitch comes into view. I had to boost Baz just 2X with a little booty push through this section.
And a look back down the pitch from above. As you can see… snow free on the crux.
My happy pup on the summit at 10:00 AM on the dot 3 hours and 20 minutes after departing Uncompahgre. Yay #44 for me and #19 for Baz.
I snapped a summit pic with the 10 sec timer and attempted to call the wife. I have AT&T and actually got through but then lost service and the call dropped after about 20 seconds. I was not able to restore the service so I had a bite to eat and decided to head down before the snow got too soft on this beautiful summit with no wind and very warm. I had no luck on finding the register so it must be buried in the snow pretty good still.
Headed down the class 3 ledges, I snapped another photo of my partner. Baz is a great companion and partner but I still consider this trip solo as he wouldn’t be able to do much to get me help if I needed it. Who knows though. Dogs have done strange things for their owners.
And just a pretty pic on the way down. A little 5th class anyone?
Arriving back at the notch
Passing a couple of gentlemen on their way up, I made quick work of the descent of the standard route. This is looking back up towards the summit. Mostly Snow free.
And a look at my route to go down to the saddle.
I was still so excited about making the two summits for the day and it still being so early now at only maybe 1030 but I was worried about softening snow. I grabbed another shot of Uncompahgre. Again, I climbed the right snow gulley earlier this morning but didn’t have enough light for pictures then.
Glissading probably would have been the way to go for a quicker descent but I didn’t want to risk it being solo so I just hoofed it down and soon enough I was at treeline seeing what I couldn’t in the morning.
11:50, I arrive back at the car with 12.04 miles on the GPS and 7,500’ elevation Gain. Not a bad day for a 8:35 round trip. I head back down towards Lake City and grabbed this photo of the old mining town.
In Lake City, I made a quick call to the wife and to let her know I was alright and I took off to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. As if I haven’t had enough for the day, I got a wild hair and begin thumbing through Roach’s book and thinking about Handies. While American Basin seemed like the way to go with the sun to set on that West side and being shorter after the day I had, I couldn’t get over the fact that Roach calls the East side the “classic” route. This way would also give me more than 3000’ gain and put me right back where I want to be for red cloud and sunshine. I set up the tent to reserve my real estate and step off at 2:45 PM with the weather still perfect. I figured I would see lots of folks returning but I only saw one gentleman about 5 minutes into the hike.
A short ways up, I snapped a photo towards Red Cloud and Sunshine.
And nearing treeline, Handies comes to view with much more snow than I expected. I was a little worried because of sore feet and ginormous blisters from my boots, I had just worn approach shoes and had no axe and knew how soft the snow would be this late in the day.

Making treeline, I got even more worried as I began to carefully pick my way around snowfields that I could see were hard snow in the morning and people just crossed over. The snow was absolute slush.

Taking a closer look, I made my way to the far right, which was unfortunately outside of all my photos. It was just to the point that would sit to the right of Handies down the ridge a bit. White Cross?

I spotted only 1 dry run that looked to be about class 2+ up this grassy slope with only a short snow crossing so I went for it. Nearing the top, I snapped this.

You can see how far right I am now of the summit. But how nice it still is this late in the day.

Here is the thin line I picked to the summit ridge. I drew my route. I ended up with about a 40’ climb of snow to the ridge with my trekking poles and approach shoes.
From the ridge, I snapped a shot of tomorrow’s goal. Doesn’t look like I’ll be needing boots, pons, or axe tomorrow.

Just a few hundred feet to go and I can’t believe I feel this good still after this morning’s events. Doesn’t seem real.

Baz waiting for me to catch up as usual.

I met up with the trail at this point and followed it to the summit.

Before making it, I had to take a picture of the magnificent mountains from this morning. Of the 2 prominent peaks, Wetterhorn is the one to the left (pointy) and Uncompahgre is the one to the right. You can actually see the 2 distinct snow fields and the right one that I climbed. I can’t believe I was over there in the same day earlier.

Oh crap… A false summit but a quick jog to the main summit.

At 5:30 PM, just 2 hours and 45 minutes after leaving the car and over 4496’ more gain for the day it is still gorgeous and still plenty of time left for a safe descent in the light. #45 for me and #20 for Baz.

After three summits to myself for the day I make haste to try and stay in the sun that is quickly fading as the shadows move farther and farther. Somewhere around 12,500K, I found a natural spring. It was shooting out of the ground like a water fountain.
Approximately 7:15 I made it back to the car after jogging down many sections of the trail. Just 4 and a half hours after leaving and there is still sunlight to spare. I was originally thinking sunrise on the summit but I was much earlier than expected and didn’t feel like hanging out for almost four hours and descend in the dark. After settling back at camp I make some dinner, drank a beer and bed down by 8:30 PM as I fell asleep reviewing the routes for Redcould and Sunshine in Roach’s book with the alarm set for a late time of 5AM.
Handies was 4496’ elevation gain which is funny because the 14ers description says 3,650 and about 8 miles round trip. Perhaps my alternate route added a bit of Gain. Total summary for the day ended up being about 12,000’ of ascent and 20 Miles.

Sunday June, 26 2011

Peaks Climbed: Redcloud and Sunshine
Total Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet (Also more on GPS than 14ers guidebook)
Total Mileage: 12.04 Miles

Redcloud and Sunshine
After a considerably colder night than the one before, both my alarms startled me at 5:00 AM. After about 15 minutes of mental complaining and trying to find an excuse to not hike for the day, I managed to make myself get up and start getting ready. I could barely walk as the dried out blisters stuck to my socks over night and were cracking as I stretched the skin. OUCH! I put on some fresh moleskin, ate some oatmeal and readied my pack. I watched several groups of folks start before me between 5:30 and 6AM and had no idea if anyone had started before I even came out of the tent. At 6 AM on the dot, I stepped off on the Silver Creek Trail for the standard route up Redcloud. My heels were already in pain and my quads were burning a bit from the day before so I just kept my head down and focused on using my trekking poles that I was so glad I had thrown in the car. By treeline, I had somehow passed every group that I had seen take off before me. To my surprise, I looked at the GPS and noticed that my average speed thus far was 2.8MPH. Unbelievable. It is nice that the lower few miles of this mountain are such a low angle. You can really cruise. There wasn’t really any snow field crossings below treeline and just a little water flowing down some spots of the trail.
A first shot into the cirque-

And a look across back to Handies-

The farther I rose up into the cirque, the more snow fields I crossed. Early in the morning, they were pretty much frozen solid so I didn’t have to worry about wet feet in my approach shoes. They ranged from 20 to about 150’ across and had decent traction from other’s tracks the day before. Most were small enough that they could be avoided by going around if you really wanted to. My goal was to not stop to take my first break until I was sitting in the sunlight. Closer and closer I got.

Getting to about 12,700’ or around there, I finally found myself in the warm sun on another beautiful day. I got my first view of the Red Cloud summit hiding behind the false summit. I stopped long enough to convert my pants to shorts and strip my long sleeve cap 2 shirt off down to a tee shirt and slather on the sunscreen and grab a quick Clif Shot to power me to the summit.

And a look back down into the valley where we came up as the sun starts to hit.

Nearing 12,800 to 12,900, Redcloud and the route above comes more into view.

At 13K, Baz and I crest the ridge. You can see the trail wind up to the steeper section of the false summit where it starts to switch back. There is one portion a couple of switch backs up where the trail runs right into the snow. With all of the firm snow earlier, I began to cross and surprisingly started to posthole to my thighs. In retrospect, I should have went back down and around a bit.

Past the switchbacks, almost to the false summit and the last couple hundred feet comes into view with one more snow crossing. The snow was firm on that one and a breeze to pass.

Once across the snow, the wind picked up to about 15 to 20MPH and it was a bit cool so I threw on my Shell and Beanie to finish to the summit. I love the Red S the trail makes up to the finish of Redcloud.

I arrived at the summit at about 8:45 AM which was 2 hours and 45 minutes after starting. I think I faired quite well after the big day before. I signed the summit register and didn’t take much time before I was departing for Sunshine. Here is a picture of the 1.3 miles left to get to the last peak of the trip.

A quick look back down from where I had come over the false summit provided some good views of yesterday’s climbs of Uncompahgre (right of center) and Wetterhorn (left).

By 8:50, I was departing #46 (20 for the dog) and in route to the final goal. I jogged down most of the downhill part and passed one solo hiker who was already on his way back to Redcloud. He must have had started before 5 Am because I never saw him above me on the ascent.
After reaching the low point of the traverse around 13,500’, I started to move up hill again. The trail on the Sunshine side is covered by snow in a few spots but it was easy to go right and around avoid. Progress was a little slower at this point as I willed my way toward the 5 summit in just 2 days. A couple hundred feet below the summit, I snapped a shot back towards Redcloud as I dreaded going back across.

I didn’t get a picture of it but I took serious considerations of descending towards Sun Dog and nabbing that tri-centennial and descending the steep ridge. It seemed like a much shorter way down than all of the way back to Redcloud and all of the way down and around.
Looking up towards the summit, I was almost there. If you look close, you can see the trail going right up the ridge. The trail on this side sucked compared to the rest I had encountered for the day. Large loose talus wanting to fold my ankles with each step.

I picked my way through it pretty quickly and made #47 and Baz made #21 in about 45 minutes across the traverse at about 9:35 AM just over three and a half hours after leaving the car. After snapping a couple of photos and setting up the summit shot, my camera battery died as I took the final picture but I did manage to get it. I hung out on the 5th out of 5 summits all to myself until 10 AM as I rested up and shared a sandwich and orange with my good partner before taking off back towards Redcloud. While I wanted to do Sundog, there looked to be one steep section just after rising up from the low point of the saddle that I was unsure of and I didn’t have an axe in case I needed to bail down a snowfield and exit through that drainaige. Being that I didn’t have a human partner, I opted for the safe way back and headed back towards Redcloud.

I passed several hikers on the way back across and by 1040 I was back on Redcloud. Not wasting any time, I made a hasty descent as I jogged much of the trail back to the saddle at 13 K in about 20 minutes. From the saddle at 13K to the car at just below 10K, it took me about another hour and 20 minutes to drop the 3,000’ by jogging and speed walking while slowing down for snow crossings and trickier sections. At 12:20 PM, I arrived back at the car exhilarated at what I had accomplished. In 6 hours and 20 minutes, I was able to make 12 more miles and over 5,000 more feet of gain. While this isn’t anywhere near a record, it felt good for me to get off of the couch and make so many miles and elevation gain with decent times. I haven’t been running too much lately because Rock Climbing has taken up more of my time.


So… Just a total of 33 hours and 5 minutes (or 20 hours hiking time and 13 hours resting/driving time) after I started off on Uncompahgre at 3:15 AM the day before, I managed my 32+ miles and over 17K of Elevation gain. The US Marine switch from back in the day must have kicked in as my determination carried me through the great adventure. This was a personal record for me in the realm of Verts as I broke my record from September when Dancesatmoonrise and I tagged the Chicago basin famous 4 from the Purgatory trailhead without the train in also about 33 hours car to car. That was 42 miles but only 12,000’. Mileage and Verts aside, the solidarity provided by this trip was what I enjoyed the most. Except for the ascent on Sunshine, I hardly saw any other people and had time on 5 Colorado 14er summits on a summer weekend all to myself. The weather was nice enough on all of them to hang out for hours but I was always worried about getting back down before the snow got too soft.
All in all, the beautiful weather over the weekend was a true gift from God as I bagged these peaks and enjoyed the true beauty that he created in the San Juans of South Western Colorado. Thanks for reading about my Journey that will provide me memories for a lifetime. I usually like to write more about the adventure of trips but without a partner in the photos (other than the dog), I focused more on stats and tried to show conditions out there so more folks can go and enjoy.
I apologize that there were so many pictures as it can get tiring viewing so many but I figured, had I climbed each of these individually, it would have been 4 trip reports (Redcloud and Sunshine together) totaling over 120 pictures. Thanks for reading.
See you at the Top!