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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Angel's Halo: Mt. of the Holy Cross 14,005'

Mountains Climbed:

Mt. of the Holy Cross, 14,005'
Holy Cross Ridge, 13,381'
Pt. 13,248, 13,248'

The Adventure Begins

With just 2 peaks left to complete the Colorado 14ers and my wife being out of town for the weekend, I decided I would make a go at Holy Cross.  With the forecast at 60% chance of precip on Sat in the area and 70% on Sunday, I was a bit skeptical of a summit.  I decided to go anyway and keep a close eye on the weather.  After work Friday afternoon, I quickly gathered my gear and the infamous Baz Agastus and headed for the hills.  I got to the trailhead on Friday night and much to my surprise the entire parking lot was full and cars were parking down the sides of the road.  About 20 cars back, I found a cozy little place to park my truck and go lights out for the night at around 10:30 with the alarm set for 3:45 AM.  I was going to wake up and if the sky was clear, the plan was to make a go at Halo Ridge to Holy Cross.  3:45 Came way too early and I wasn't feeling it.  I went back to sleep resolving to the fact that I would still get to hike the standard route.  By 5:30, I was finally up. After a quick cup of coffee I was on the trail by 5:45 with my best partner. 
Nearing the pass where I was about to descend for almost 1000', I got my first picture of the day. 

Dropping over the ridge, I got my first view of the Mountain I was headed for and the weather was very great.

Moving in to the cross creek area, the CFI was hard at work.  Thanks guys for all that you are doing down there. 

Just out of the creek, I stopped for a quick sip of water, some food, and some sunscreen.  My best partner was already seeming to enjoy himself.
In no time at all, we made treeline and were feeling good.

Eventually the mountain started peaking it's head out again.

Higher and higher we rose.

And the summit just kept getting closer and closer.

Baz had to keep waiting on me.

He must have known I had only brought 2 nalgenes of water for the day, so he found some rain left overs from the evening prior. I let him drink until his heart's content because I wasn't sure when the next time we would get to water again where I could pump more to fill the bottles.

3 Quick hours after starting, I made the summit at 8:45 AM and I was staring down the dry cross couloir.  We hiked over to the other side and took our first break of the day as we ate some food and had some water.  Realizing that it was still pretty early and the weather was looking good, I decided to make a go for Holy Cross Ridge and then re-evaluate there if I would have time to do Halo ridge or just go back the way I came.

Right near the top of the couloir, I spotted these pretty flowers. 

Making my way back down the talus, towards Holy cross ridge with the Elk mountains far in the distance.  There were clouds but they were moving very very slow.

In no time at all, I made the 13,831 Centennial Holy Cross ridge. I got the self portrait, drank a little more water and watched the droves of people making the summit of Holy Cross.  With the weather looking as good as it was, I decided to make a go for Halo ridge. I really wanted to actually see the Cross that William H. Jackson got the famous picture of in 1873.  I also was not excited about social hour on the trail or re-climbing the dreaded 1000' on the way out after cross creek.  The only thing that I was worried about was that I was down to only a liter of water and I knew there wouldn't be anything on the ridge. Knowing that I do pretty well with minimal water, I decided to go for it.

Wanting to ration the water, I knew moving fast wasn't the right decision. We moved at a casual pace and decided to go over all of the small sub summits on the ridge proper.  On the way, I enjoyed the beautiful green of the Tuhare lakes.

And looking back at holy cross.

Coming around, I came to what looked like it would be the biggest obstacle of the day.  From the summit of Holy cross, it looked uncertain how the route would go to keep this at second class.

And the beautiful Blue bowl of tears below Notch Mountain and the shelter.

It turns out making it over the last ridge was no biggie. It was the steepest portion of the day but we zigged and zagged our way down. At the bottom, I shared the last swig of water with the dog.  We now have to make it over the next hill, past notch mountain shelter and probably back into the trees to get more water.  Granted if I got really thirsty, we could always drop to one of those lakes and pump more. From time to time on the route, Baz found a couple more natural rock bowls full of water.  I was glad he got that because I really didn't feel like carrying a 75lb dog out of that place by myself. 

Another look back to pt. 13,768 and the Tuhare Lakes. Funny. Those are green and bowl of tears is blue.

Moving accross, the talus got a little larger. My dog that is usually awesome at scrambling got a little whiney. I checked his pads and they were ok. I think he was starting to get dehydrated so I guided him through.  He doesn't ever need help but he likes to be told where to go. If I am right there and telling him it is ok, he will go. If I move on ahead, he would just wait.  Normally, when he isn't dehydrated, he just finds another way.

Although we were making good progress, we still had a way to go.

I make the last hill and finally start getting my views of the Cross.  Not as awesome without the snow but well worth my trip around the halo.

Approacing the Shelter, the clouds were growing.  Much to my surprise at noon there were still a few groups of climbers leaving the shelter and headed to do halo ridge and the hike.  Were they not aware of the weather coming in? The clouds were getting bigger and moving faster and 2 systems were clearly coming together.  I was actually worried that I would barely make treeline before the storm let loose.  Anyhow, I hope they made it ok. 

And the shelter... I was expecting it to be much worse for the wear but it was actually very nice.  I would stay a winter night in there.
There is even a nice fire place inside if you are willing to carry the wood up or have pack animals do it.
Not wanting to waste too much time and it being already about 1230, I made my down the trail hoping there would be water sooner rather than later.  It appeared that there was water in the meadow below the shelter towards Holy Cross a few hundred feet down but I didn't want to waste the energy. 

The trail was very nice over here. And while the Holy Cross trail was very nice even through the boulderfield, this was even nicer.  Only problem is that it was way zig zaggy.  It seemed to take forever to go down.  I passed a nice guy who I had seen earlier that morning on the way up the pass and he had done Notch mountain. He offered me some water and said he had way too much.  I shared half a nalgene with the dog which was awesome.  About 20 minutes later, we found a little brook still above treeline in the willows and both drank until our hearts content.  Baz even laid down in it for a while. The flowers were just beautiful on this side.

The walk down was easy but it seemed to take a while. Finally just after 2PM, we arrived back at the truck.  In playing with some settings, I got this cool neon photo of the truck.  We headed down and I had some Brew and chow at Pug Ryans in Dillon.  I have wanted to go there for a while and it hadn't worked out.  Eating alone was kind of lame. I then drove home in the rain back to colorado springs.
After finishing this peak, I am now at 57 of 58.  Woo hoo.  I have Huron saved as my finisher in the near future.
Until next time...
See you at the top!

Link to original Trip Report

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Simuling the Arete: Crestone Needle - 14,197'


Peak: Crestone Needle - 14,197 feet

Summary (in my own words) of historic info from Roof Of The Rockies by William M. Bueler:
The iconic Albert Ellingwood first climbed "the unclimbable" Crestone needle in 1916 with his Energetic Partner Eleanor Davis, who was indubitably named the "Greatest Woman Mountaineer" of her time. After climbing Crestone Peak and making the traverse to the needle, they dropped down somewhere in the vicinity of today's standard gulley route and down Broken Hand pass to the South Colony lakes basin. From there, they made the Humboldt saddle and rounded the cirque to return to camp after 11Pm. They both returned in 1925 with their team for a First Ascent of what would later be named Ellingwood Arete.

Note: The photos in this report are a compilation of Matt's, Arslan's, and Mine.
In 2009, my brother in law and I made our journey for our first Great 14er Traverse. We opted to climb the needle first and then traverse to the peak. We did this mainly because it was the "less popular" option. See our trip report Here. I quickly labeled Crestone Needle as My favorite 14er on this site and have left it that way ever since.
After having a success on our first traverse, I began having dreams of Ellingwood Arete. Could I possibly climb that someday? It was in 2009 when I really began my rock climbing career. I knew if I wanted to do routes such as Ellingwood Arete, I would need additional technical skills and gear. I began sport climbing and soon after, trad climbing. I climbed everything I could get my hands on. Now 2012, I finally get the chance.

The original agenda for the weekend was to climb the Grand Teton in Wyoming and catch the tail end of the International Climbers Festival in Lander. Many things came up and the trip didn't end up hapening. With my friends already having time of of work, I suggested we could climb Ellingwood Arete as our consolation prize. Whoever thought an awesome of a route as Ellingwood Arete, on of America's 50 Classic Climbs in Steve Roper and Allen Steck's Book, would be a consolation prize? One of the 50 Classics for another?
After doing Durrance Route on Devil's tower last spring, I was actually quite worried about Ellingwood Arete. As fun as Durrance was, I was very unimpressed. A route that was once labeled a classic is now greasy from so many folks climbing it. All of the holds were sort of polished off from so many climbing it. I was worried that many of the classic routes would be as this. I am here to tell you, Ellingwood Arete is no comparison. It was of much higher quality rock that wasn't polished in the slightest.

My wife and I found out the sex of our baby to be on the Wednesday prior to the climb so we scheduled a reveal party with many friends and family on Friday. She baked a cake and made the frosting in the middle a strong clue for what we were having. We cut the cake and revealed to our friends that we will having a boy. I am so excited! Two of my best friends stayed the night with plans to depart for the Sangre de Cristo Mountains the following morning. At the time, I had only 2 14er's left to complete the list. Since, I have climbed Holy Cross leaving only Huron as my finisher. It's so hard to want to finish when there are so many high quality climbs such as Ellingwood Arete to be done.

Driving out from Colorado Springs in trusty ol Pabst, My 1970 VW bus, we picked up one more passenger and were headed to my favorite mountain range in Colorado.
Mid day, we began our drive up the South Colony Road. It was time for some wheelin in Pabst. After rounding the corner with the private property, we didn't quite make it up that stretch so I backed it up. We filled some ditches with some rocks and I slammed through. It was fairly smooth sailing from there to the newly established trailhead. By early afternoon, we were on the trail.
After being able to drive to the top of the road 3 years ago, I was astounded at how far down the trailhead was changed to. All in all, I am glad they did this if for nothing else to minimize some of the traffic up in this beautiful area.
With thundershowers incoming and a not so good forecast for the weekend, we were skeptical if this climb would even go. It rained on and off all of the way up the approach. Shortly after the Humboldt turnoff, we had to endure a small hail storm for about 15 minutes. It was enough to bury the ground an inch and a half in pea sized hail. At this point, I was wondering if my decision to go ultra lite was a good one. With an overnight pack that included climbing gear, a fishing pole and water, I was happy to come in at about 30 pounds. I had to wonder for a while, if I shouldn't have brought more stuff. In decent time, we made the upper South Colony Lake. Matt and I decided to fish while the other's hung out at camp. Within less than an hour, we already had 4 beautiful trout that were all over 12.
Normally, I don't condone fires above treeline in the alpine but being that we found a previously used fire pit with left over wood and the ground was soaked, I figured we were safe. We didn't make a new scar up there, and didn't have the risk of starting an alpine fire. While we were cooking the first 4. Matt caught 1 more and brought it back to camp.
While the fish cooked, Arslan took a rest on his throne!
While we feasted, another bout of weather was on it's way in. 3 of us climbed in Matt's tent to avoid the rain while Matt read to us about the first winter Ascent of Denali. As you can see, I heard the whole story!
With a planned 3:45 wake up time, and hearing the fierce wind and bouts of rain, I became more and more worried that the route would be to wet. A first peep outside the tent a beautiful moon surrounded by perhaps a couple of planets.
By 5:00 AM ish we were off.
Surprisingly enough, we arrived at the base of the direct start to find that the rock was completely dry. After putting on my climbing shoes, I began the first lead right at about 6. Matt and I decided to just simul climb with my 30 meter half rope. We decided this after discussing our skill levels and the unlikelyhood that either of us would take a fall at all. Wanting to minimize the risk of a free solo fall, we decided that simuling would be a good alternative as long as we had good pro between us at all times. We both understood that while we may not fall to our deaths, a simul fall would definitely be a day ender with serious injuries still. Nonetheless, it was the right choice for us. I guess this is also a good time to talk about our rack. Mountain project recommended hexes, tri-cams, and cams .5 to 4. After racking out at my house the night before, Matt and I decided that was way too much gear. A 5.11 climber climbing a 5.7 should not need that much so we defaulted to the infamous Fight Club's rule #4 that Matt always likes to quote. You decide your own level of involvement. The important thing was that both partners were comfortable with the gear. This may have been the rack for us but if you are reading this report for beta, you bring the gear you need and are comfortable with. I am not recommending any of my gear or techniques as anything you should do. We brought a single rack nuts, dyneema tricams pink-red-brown-blue, nylon tricam orange, #s 4-6-8 of power cams, 2 small hexes, 3 single 2 double and 2 triple length runners. If I had to do the route again, I would have dropped every other size of the nuts as well.
Climbing into the dihedral, the wind was blocked. Yes! I got my first view of my partner Matt behind me just after clipping the first piton I found with the yellow webbing.
With matt still in tow, I reached what looked like the first real anchor. 3 webbings slung around a rock and the climb up and to the left looking a little wet. I attempted a few moves up and got a bit scared. Dang it. Why am I on a half rope, why are we simuling? This is stupid! Argh. I hollored down to Matt that I was downclimbing a few moves back to the "anchor." After making myself safe, I brought him up to me. He returned the few pieces of gear I placed and I resumed climbing. We were wondering where our other 2 partners were and began to worry. The plan was for us to wait at the grassy ledges for them to catch up. Moving into what I thought was the crux of the day, this time with my partner belaying me from the anchor, I resumed the climb. I made a couple of careful stemming moves to a layback over the wet section and quickly placed another piece afterwards.
Not too much later the terrain was becoming grassy and 3rd class so we simuled until we were both safe and then took the rope off. It seemed not to be a good idea to keep it on and risk the sliding rope knocking down rocks onto our partners below. Watching and wondering where they were, we finally saw them hiking down the talus slope back towards camp and waving us on. They looked uninjured so we figured one of them wasn't up for the climb. Knowing they were ok, we resumed our climb.
Enjoying the slippery wet grassy ledges, I got a good view of Broken Hand Peak on what was turning out to be a beautiful day. The only worry was that the weather scheduled to come in was coming from the west and we had no view of that side of what was to come.
We continued up the grassy ledges where I think is where the normal ellingwood arete route comes from the left across the ledges. I'm glad we opted for the direct start. If you are going for a classic alpine climb, you may as well climb.
Weaving to and fro, we made our way towards the ridge proper on the right to find a narrow passage that reminds me of broadway on longs.
Leaving the grass, we decided not to rope up yet on the 4th to low 5th class terrain and passing a few old pitons. We quickly came up to the spot where it became obvious where we should rope up again. For the first time of the day, Matt began his long lead as I belayed him until the rope became taught between us.
Then we were simuling again.
Not that we were running low on gear but with quite a few old pitons on this pitch, matt clipped many of them. Being Garden of the Gods enthusiasts, clipping into these was nothing new to us. Here is a closer pic of one.
Matt probably had the longest lead of the day as we worked our way up together. Simul climbing had proved to make this climb very fast as we didn't have to only climb one at a time. Finishing his pitch with an exposed move and the largest cam in our array only the #8 power cam (at a 2.81" fully extended it is smaller than the BD#3), matt didn't have anything to protect his final moves before setting an anchor. He got creative and paired the orange tri-cam with a hex to wedge in the gap.
I didn't get a picture of it this time but when he did it at devil's tower last year, it looked similar to this:

With another short unroped scramble, we were at the base of the last technical section. From previous reports, it appeared that this would be the crux of the day coming in at 5.7 for a short section.
Normally, I save the whisky for the summit, but I got a little thirsty. This was our first rest/break of the morning.
With one lead each under our belts for the day, the final lead was up for grabs. We both offered it up to each other and we finally decided I would lead.
I took off and quickly placed a few pieces. I was worried I was placing too much and we would have to stop and regather soon.
When the rope became taught, matt stopped belaying me and started climbing. Once again we were simul climbing.
The difficulties didn't last long before we were on the final 3rd class terrain to the summit.
At 9 AM, just 3 hours after leaving upper south colony lake, we had made it. Unbelievable. That went by way too fast. Matt's first summit of the Needle and it was via the the most asthetic route on the mountian. He has talked for years on how he wanted to summit this mountain for his first time and it finally became reality. Congrats buddy! Well deserved.
Matt told another guy on the summit of a trecherous trip of Broken Hand peak in the past where he had to spend an un-planned open bivy on the summit after his partner took a small fall but was so out of his mind that he couldn't really move. They cuddled for the night with no sleeping bag, bivy or tent on top of the rope. Matt could have left the guy and went down but he stayed with him all night to ensure his safety. Anyhow, I won't go into any more details on their story. If you want to hear them, buy Matt a beer at the pub next time you see him.
Not wanting to chance another unplanned bivy, Matt carried his bivy sack and I carried my 30 deg ultra light bag to the summit. We figured since we carried them, we would enjoy their warmth as we enjoyed the views and made some coffee. Between the two of us, we had only drank about half a liter of the 2 liters we brought for the climb, so we had plenty to make coffee. We began our descent as I described to Matt our two options. The 4th class gulley or the standard 3rd class gulley that you have to switch gulleys on the way down. With others on the route above and below us and the fact that I had done the standard route before, we opted for the less climbed 4th class gulley that was on our left as looking down from the top. These 2 gulleys are the most solid Colorado 14er routes you will ever climb on except for maybe the Diamond on Longs. We quickly made our way down the knobby gulley. If you can see the fin to the center right of the picture, just below that is where you cross from the gulley we are in into the other gulley to keep the climb at 3rd class.
In no time, we made broken hand pass. After the terrain began to open up a bit, we dreaded having to hike all of the way back to the lower lake and then back up to the upper lake. We decided to split off left and take a high line towards the upper lake around the other side. Not knowing if we would cliff out or not, we gave it a chance and it went.
Back at the upper lake, Matt got a parting shot of me just before we realized that our partners had already packed up camp and had left. Did they go to the car? Were they ok? Did they go to the lower lake? We had no idea.
I snapped one last one of Matt by the upper lake before we started our hike down.
While hiking down and looking for our partners, we found a family of locals. Then we found our partners waiting patiently at the lower lake. They were in a good spot so see us coming down and intercept us before we tried to go back to camp but they didn't realize we would take the short cut and wern't able to spot us coming across. I bet you are wondering what happened to them. Why didn't they climb? They told us that Jeff attempted the start a few times but his hands were too cold to safely lead. With Arslan not being a trad leader yet, they made the safe decision to bail before they got into trouble. With as early as they bailed, If it were me, I would have at least ran up humboldt or the standard route of the needle. Oh well. To each his own I guess. At least we were all safe and in one piece to climb again another day.

The climb to the car went by quick and after stopping for a couple of post climb beers at the local pub in Westcliffe, we followed our tradition and picked up a couple of hitch hikers to arrive back in town with a bus full of 6 people. During the drive I wondered if I would ever get around to hiking my last 2 easy sawatch class 2 14ers to finish the list. It was a great trip with good friends. Thanks for reading.

Until next time...

See you at the top!