Bears in Maroon Creek Wilderness

14 Aug

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As some of you know, I am scheduled for shoulder surgery next week, as the result of an injury I sustained while skiing this past winter. I chose to delay the surgery long enough for Kimberly and me to move into our new home, and for us to enjoy some of the beautiful summer season that is so short in Breckenridge.

So with surgery in my near future, I planned to climb the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen over the weekend of August 9th. My good friend, John Kivlan, planned to hike two miles into the Maroon Creek Wilderness on Thursday night to set up camp at Crater Lake. He would climb Pyramid Peak on Friday and then I, along with two of Kivlan’s friends, Jake and Evan, would meet in Aspen on Friday evening and hike into Crater Lake together to meet Kivlan.

I must pause here to state that since Summits for MS started, the stories that I have shared have all ended with me and my friends successfully reaching the summit of each 14er. It’s no secret that each adventure has also come with its own challenges. Even the less difficult mountains present hardships that must be overcome in order to reach the peak. Long approaches, weather, hiking partners, and route finding can all play a role in the success of reaching the summit of any mountain. Well, as I found out this past weekend, animals can also play a role in regards to whether or not the summit is achieved!

Here’s what happened. I met Jake and Evan at Aspen Highlands and we took the bus to Maroon Lake, where we would follow the trail towards Crater Lake to meet Kivlan. The hike went quickly and we easily found Kivlan, all set up in the second marked campsite around the lake. We took a few minutes to rest before setting up our own camping gear for the weekend.

Shortly after we finished setting up, a Forest Service Ranger came into our camp to let us know that they have had some recent problems with a few bears entering our campsite in search of food. He explained that a few parties before us had not taken care with their food and that the bears had gotten into their supplies and are now associating our campsite and the one next to us, with food. As a result, the bears have been coming back to these campsites in search of food. He looked over our gear, and saw that we had bear proof bins for storing our food. So the ranger let us know we should put everything in our bins before bed, move the bins away from camp, and hopefully, we’d be fine.

Naturally, we gave Kivlan a hard time for picking the “bear infested camp”, followed with kudos for surviving the previous night alone. Ultimately, we decided we’d take care with our supplies and stay put, versus moving to another camp.

We cooked dinner down by the lake, away from camp, and chatted with the couple that was staying in the camp next to ours before setting the alarms for 3:00am and heading off to bed. After a long week of work, the hike in, and the drive to Aspen, I fell asleep quickly.

Shortly after nodding off, I was startled awake by people screaming “bear!” I quickly looked for my bear whistle, which I normally sleep with in my tent because I’m afraid of bears, but sadly realized I didn’t have it.

Kivlan awoke quickly, and we tried to figure out what the hell was going on from inside the confinement of our tent walls. Kivlan had bear spray with him (think of mace for bears.) We shouted towards Jake and Evan who were camped a few yards away. They yelled back that the bear was between our camps and that we needed to get out of our tent.

Not knowing where exactly the bear was, Kivlan opened the tent fly and proceeded to unleash bear spray on the large stump that resembled a bear in the darkness. The wind blew the spray right back into our tent, and almost instantly our eyes began watering and we could not breathe. We moved quickly to exit the tent and were soon looking in all directions for the bear.

We got our bearings (pun intended) and discovered that the bear was only a short distance from us. Apparently, all of the yelling and noise we had created had done nothing to scare the bear away. We also learned there was a second bear on the edge of our campsite that was also unbothered by all of the noise we were making.

Not knowing what else to do, we yelled at the bears, banged on trees and sprayed more bear spray, only to get the bears to retreat a short distance away. So we decided to head downhill a few hundred yards away from camp, towards the lake.

When we arrived, we joined the other couple that had been camped next to us and who first yelled out about the bear. We learned they had been cooking dinner and that the larger of the two bears had walked up to within 6 feet of them before they looked up and were eye to eye with the bear. Yikes!

At this point, it was time to make a decision. The bears were obviously not afraid of us and we needed to either move camp or hike out towards the cars, which were a few miles below.

Realization was quickly setting in that waking up in a few hours to hike and climb two of the hardest 14ers in Colorado was not going to happen. We decided to grab our gear from camp, move it to the lake, repack, and start the hike out towards the cars.

We stuffed our backpacks as quickly as possible and were soon on the trail. We arrived back at the cars around 1am, still in disbelief of what had occurred over the last few hours.

We managed to get to sleep around 2am and after much discussion the next morning, Kivlan and I decided to spend the rest of the weekend staying in a hotel and checking out Aspen.

It’s hard to walk away from something you really want. Especially when you are limited by time, weather, and the many other factors that life holds. But, in the end, we are all safe and still had an adventure together that we’ll talk about for years to come.

I’ll be back to share more stories next summer as I continue to hike and climb for Summits for MS!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS

Adventures on the Crestones! Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle – 7/13/14

14 Jul

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My good friends Will, Kirsten, Henry (the Golden Retriever) and I had a chance to see the Crestones from South Colony Lakes in June of 2013 when we hiked Humbolt Peak. I clearly remember looking up at Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle and wondering how you would even begin to climb those mountains. Upon my return from Humbolt, I immediately started to look at route descriptions for the two peaks in order to determine the best way to reach their summits. Some of these descriptions included what is considered by some as “one of Colorado’s four great 14ers’ traverses”; traveling from Crestone Peak to Crestone Needle via a ridge that connects the two mountains. After looking over some of the photos of the route that other hikers posted online, I can tell you that I’d immediately written off ever trying the traverse and told myself that I would return to the mountains to climb them separately sometime in the future.

Fast forward to June of 2014. While trying to plan a few weekends to get out and enjoy some hiking and climbing in the mountains, the discussion of climbing Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle began between me and my friends John and Jeb, who have joined me on previous adventures for Summits for MS. Jeb finished his quest to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers’ in August of last year during our trip to Chicago Basin, but was interested in returning to the Crestones to give the traverse a try. My immediate thought was “no thanks guys”, but after some reassuring, I was convinced we could do it.

The weekend we settled on, July 12th, was soon upon us and we gathered at John’s house to load up our gear and head towards the tiny town of Crestone, Colorado in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. Each of us had assessed the area we would be hiking and climbing in via the eastern side of the range (South Colony Lakes), and we decided to try a less traveled route know as the Cottonwood Lake approach. This approach accesses the base of the Crestones from the west side of the mountain range and was previously closed for several years, so route finding was a bit of a challenge due to overgrowth and limited trail maintenance.

As we arrived at the trailhead, the clouds were already building. True to form, it seems that the rain always comes when John, Jeb and I head for the mountains. The forecast for the weekend was questionable at best with a high chance for thunderstorms, rain and hail. We knew we would need to make quick time of our trip to the lake and would need an early start in the morning to make a successful attempt at climbing the mountains.

Our goal was to reach the lake where we would meet two of Jeb’s friends, Brian and Heather, who were hiking into the lake from the other side of the range. They would be coming up the South Colony Lake trailhead and over Broken Hand Pass to reach the lake. Brian and Heather planned to join us for our ascent of Crestone Peak, but would hike back down to the lake before we planned to head towards Crestone Needle via the traverse.

Overall, the weather held and after some interesting route finding, a.k.a. making our own route, we arrived at the north end of the lake to find that Brian and Heather had arrived and set up camp for the night. The skies were still looking ominous, so we wasted no time getting our tent up and our gear stored away.

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We took time to enjoy the amazing setting we were now in while preparing dinner and discussing our plan for the adventure that lay ahead. Our campsite offered a perfect view of the entire route we would be taking in the morning. To say it was intimidating would be an understatement. I had to keep telling myself that these mountains always look more challenging from a distance. I would soon find out first hand that that is only partially true.

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As we finished up dinner, the rain moved in and we were soon “tent bound” for the rest of the night. John, Jeb and I started to have flashbacks to the 17 hours we spent together in a tent in Chicago Basin last summer when the rain simply wouldn’t let up. We set our alarms for 4:30am in hopes that the skies would clear and offer a window for us to complete our climb and get back to camp before more weather moved in.

The alarm sounded and I could see the moon shinning through the tent wall. This was a welcome sign and when we opened the fly on the tent we were welcomed with a star filled sky and only a few lingering clouds. It was a struggle to get moving, but we grabbed a quick breakfast bar and hit the trail at 5:30am.

Our first goal of the day would be Crestone Peak. To reach the summit of Crestone Peak, we would assent the infamous Red Gulley on the peak’s south face. The gully is steep, has water running down the entire face and was still holding a few snow fields that we would have to maneuver our way over and around. As we worked our way up the gully, we were careful not to dislodge any rocks that would easily pinwheel down the gully directly towards climbers below.

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We made good time working our way up to the top of Red Gully and were soon on the saddle with the final summit pitch ahead of us. This involved another 300 feet of scrambling up more solid rock and was much more enjoyable than the Red Gully.

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A few more moves to negotiate and the entire group was on top! We were the only ones on the Peak that day and the weather was still holding. The views in all directions were amazing. To our south, our journey to the Crestone Needle was laid out before us. We grabbed a few photos and gathered our gear for our next goal of the day – the traverse.

The start of the traverse was 300 feet below us as and is marked with a climber’s carian (basically a pile of rocks marking an undefined trail) that identified the start of the route. We reached this point, said our goodbyes to Brian and Heather and watched as they descended the Red Gully towards our camp below. The next two hours ahead of us would involve careful route finding, a watchful eye to the sky for changing weather, and a few moments of frazzled nerves.

The first half of the traverse is fairly straightforward. We worked our way over several series of ledges and followed small carians left by previous climbers. We were all mindful of listening to one another and stopping frequently to access our progress and discuss our next move for the route ahead. We had read several descriptions on the route that offered varying options for tackling the traverse. The most promising route involved a short steep wall to gain entrance to the steep gully below the summit. In this area, we dropped our packs as it would be difficult to maneuver the wall with this extra gear. John successfully climbed the wall first and we were able to pass our packs up to him. I was next, and then Jeb followed. Old rope and rappel gear left by climbers who had come from the other direction (Needle to Peak) and repelled this area were still visible on the wall and in the gully. We were careful to avoid using any of this gear while making our way up this section. It was a good test for what was ahead!

With packs back on, we headed up the short gully to a small knife shaped ridge that connected our gully with the next series of ledges we would tackle before reaching the final summit pitch. While short, the knife ridge was extremely narrow with a dramatic drop on both sides. After crossing this area, and working our way across the next several series of ledges, we were soon at the base of the final pitch to the summit – a steep, exposed 100 foot wall with some vertical climbing. I had been thinking about this moment ever since we decided to give this route a try several weeks before hand. I wondered what it would be like to actually be there and if I would have the nerves to get up that wall.

With excitement and caution, we started up the final pitch. The hand and foot holds were solid and halfway through the 100 foot climb; I started to feel very comfortable with my abilities and progress. As we neared the top of the Needle, an amazing rush came over me. We had done it! Thinking back, it was hard to believe where we were and where we had come from. We only took a few minutes to enjoy the summit before heading down. Clouds were starting to build and we knew time was no longer on our side.

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The down climb was no easy feat. The Needle is a hard climb with many different routes. Thankfully, Jeb remembered some of his previous climb on the Needle and we were able to find lower ground without many difficulties.

We were soon back at camp, about six hours after we had departed that morning. It was a great feeling to have completed the route that we just did, but we also knew we needed to pack up our gear as quickly as possible and head towards tree line, before the stormy weather moved in. We grabbed a few quick bites to eat, loaded up our gear and were soon headed down.
Our camp at Cottonwood Lake was at an elevation of 12,300’ and the trailhead where we had started our journey is at an elevation of 8,700’, so needless to say we had a good amount of ground to cover.

The rain set in almost immediately as we departed camp. We had taken a higher route into the camp to avoid the willows that clogged the main trail below us, but we opted to try and drop off the ridge, to get out of the weather. This proved to be a mistake as we were soon on top of a huge cliff ban with nowhere to go, but back up. We decided we would head back up the ridge and follow the route we used to access the lake. This added some extra time to our descent, but was definitely the wiser choice.

We were soon back to tree line and while we were happy to be lower in elevation, we were soaking wet from the heavy rain and small hail that was still coming down. Thankfully, we had not heard any thunder.

Three hours later, and after some more route finding, and we were back at the trailhead. The only casualty of the weekend ended up being the back of John’s calves, which had been eaten alive by the overwhelming number of mosquitoes that we encountered in the woods on our way down the trail.

This was truly an adventure. I have Kimberly and my friends to thank for accomplishing this goal. Going out and climbing and hiking in these mountains is not something I would be able to do without Kimberly’s support and the adventurous spirit of all our friends that have joined me on these mountains. Thank you, everyone, for another amazing experience!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS

Warming Up! Mt. Lindsey and Tabeguache Peak – 6/21 & 6/22/14

23 Jun

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Summer has finally arrived in the High Country! The wildflowers have started to bloom and the days are certainly getting warmer. For those of you who don’t know, Breckenridge and other surrounding mountain regions received over 500 inches of snow this winter. While this significant snowfall equated to an amazing ski season, the consequence is that many of the mountains and trails still have some snow and therefore, are more difficult to access.

Given the warmer weather over the last few weeks, I decided it was time to kick off my hiking season. My friend, John Kivlan, was also available to explore a few of the high peaks of Colorado. We decided our goal for the weekend would be Mt. Lindsey, in the Sangre de Cristo Range, and Tabeguache Peak (I still have no idea how to pronounce it) in the Sawatch Range. I actually hiked Tabeguache several years ago and Kivlan had previously climbed Lindsey, but in our quest to climb all of Colorado’s mountains over 14’000 feet, we decided to help each other out and return to these mountains that we had each climbed once before, but separately.

I met Kivlan in Fairplay, CO after work on Friday. We loaded up my Jeep and set out for Mt. Lindsey.

Mt. Lindsey is located in southern Colorado, outside of the small town of Westcliffe. Access to the Lilly Lake trailhead includes a twenty mile dirt road. After a bouncy ride, we arrived shortly after 11:00pm. We quickly found a spot to set up camp and worked on getting to sleep as soon as we could.

The alarm sounded at 5:30am, and shortly thereafter, we gathered our gear and hit the trail. Reaching Lindsey’s summit entails an 8.5 mile round trip journey with 3,500 feet in elevation gain. Our goal was to access to summit via Lindsey’s northwest ridge, which would require some extra time for route finding and navigating some more challenging terrain.

The basin that Lindsey sits in offers impressive views in all directions. I find that walking can be tricky at times due to my strong desire to look up and take in the scenery instead of paying attention to the trail. So of course, I tripped and stumbled a few dozen times along the way.

We made good time making our way up to Lindsey’s north face and soon arrived at our main obstacle; a sharp ridge line that gained 1,000 feet in elevation and led directly to Lindsey’s summit. In the middle of the ridge loomed a short wall that would require some careful route finding and cautious rock climbing.

The wall, also know as the “crux” of the route, definitely looks more daunting from a distance. As we worked our way up to the wall, we picked our line and made it through this area without encountering any trouble. We were soon just a few hundred feet from the top. After making our way over a few more challenging spots, we finally reached the summit! We were fortunate enough to be the first group on the mountain that day, and we were able to enjoy the summit by ourselves before heading down.

Our next goal was to head towards Salida, where we would access the trailhead for Tabeguache Peak. Kivlan and I decided to approach the mountain from the south via the Jennings Creek trailhead. This route offers a short 3 mile approach to the summit, but you are required to gain over 3,700 feet in elevation over that short distance.

Kivlan and I hit the trail just before 6:30am, and we were immediately met with a grueling, steep climb that quickly left me winded and wondering, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” Mountaineering can stir up mixed feelings of both love and hate for the sport, and I was experiencing the more difficult of the two sets of emotions as I hefted myself up the trail.

Over an hour later and 2’000 feet higher, we reached the long, flowing saddle that would take us to the base of Tabeguache. We worked our way across the saddle to the face of the mountain and after crossing over a few false summits (those are always fun) we eventually reached the top. We took our time to enjoy the perfect weather at the summit, and we drank in the surrounding views before making the steep, loose rock laden journey back to the trailhead.

Despite my moments of doubt and frustration, the weekend was extremely fun on many levels. We were able to hike and climb in two separate mountain ranges, each offering their own unique experiences. I also discovered that by going back to hike Tabeguache for a second time, the love of hiking and climbing is not always about a list or an agenda. It’s simply about getting out and enjoying the amazing landscape while raising awareness for MS, something that holds a great deal of meaning to me and so many others.

Thank you for your support and I hope to have more experiences to share soon!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS.

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Summits for MS Meets and Beats Climbing Goal!

26 Aug

I wanted to start this post by first taking a moment to thank all of our friends and family for all of the support that you have given to Kimberly and me. I started Summits for MS with the goal of creating more awareness about MS and to raise much needed funding to keep fighting this incredibly challenging disease. As many of you know, MS is a disease that can deprive someone of the ability to move. With the thought of movement and momentum in mind, climbing 14ers to show my support of those living with MS made sense to me. While climbing these mountains has been fun, it has been far from easy. On every hike and climb, Kimberly has been with me in spirit as an inspirational force – an ever present motivation in my mind that truly helped me to reach each of these summits. Every single day, I bear witness to someone who battles this disease head on. Kimberly helps me be a better person each and every day, and her strength has given me the strength to meet and exceed my goals for Summits for MS. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the stories that I’ve shared. It has truly been an adventure!

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Chicago Basin is home to the most remote 14ers in Colorado. To reach the basin, you are faced with either a 14 mile hike into the basin, or a 2 hour train ride followed by a 6 mile hike. The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers hikers and climbers a scenic, and dare I say authentic, ride to Needleton, CO on their coal-powered steam engine train. The four mountains we planned to climb included Mt. Eolus, North Eolus, Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak.

The journey to reach Chicago Basin began on Thursday, August 22nd. Our good friends, John and Jeb, joined me for this multi-purpose adventure. Not only was I focused on reaching my goal for Summits for MS, but Jeb was just 4 mountains away from climbing all of Colorado’s 58 mountains over 14,000 feet by his 40th birthday, which was on Sunday, August 25th. Needless to say, not reaching these peaks was not really an option.

As we left Breckenridge, the forecast was less then desirable with a 60%-80% chance of rain and thunderstorms. With train tickets purchased, we opted to hope for the best and prepared ourselves for a weekend that could potentially be extremely wet. As we headed towards Durango, we closely watched the forecast in hope that the outlook would improve. Unfortunately, as we would find first hand, it would not.

We booked a last minute hotel close to the train station for Thursday night, in preparation for our 8:45am departure on Friday morning. After a five hour drive from Breckenridge on Thursday, we arrived in Durango shortly before midnight. We took a few minutes to reorganize our gear before grabbing a few hours of sleep. As I drifted off, my mind was filled with both excitement and some uncertainty about the trip ahead of us.

Our alarms rang loudly at 6:45am, and we each took our last shower for a couple of days before heading to the train. Our goal was to ride the train into Needleton on Friday, summit Mt. Eolus and North Eolus on Saturday, summit Sunlight Peak and Windom on Sunday, and catch the train back to Durango Monday afternoon, as the train only comes once a day. With the forecast looking unfavorable, we weren’t sure what to expect.

The train’s steam-powered whistle sounded loudly as we grinded to a start. John, Jeb and I were excited for the two hour ride ahead, but we were also eager to get on the trail as soon as possible. The train would drop us off at 11:30am, and with a 6 mile hike into the basin ahead of us, the thought of getting caught in the rain was on all of our minds.

We were soon distracted by dramatic views of the Animas River, as well as close encounters with the narrow rock walls that lined the railroad tracks.

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The trip went by quickly and before we knew it, one of the conductors was gathering us to head to the front of the train to offload at Needleton. The train came to rest, we gathered our packs and before we knew it, the train departed towards Silverton, leaving us to face the journey ahead.

A large dark cloud loomed in the direction we were headed. We took a couple of minutes to stash a few beers between some rocks in the river that we planned to enjoy while waiting for the train to pick us up for the ride home in a few days. We made good time heading into the basin and were greeted by some excellent views of the surrounding Needle Mountains. John managed to find us a great spot to set up camp just across Needle Creek that provided adequate shelter and easy access to water that we could filter for drinking.

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We were all pretty excited that the weather was holding, and we managed to get set up and get organized quickly. Before long, we were visited by a few friendly mountain goats who were obviously far from scared of humans, and who were most likely looking for food.

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After cooking up dinner, we decided to turn in early with the intention of getting an early start the next morning. As we discussed our plan for approaching the mountains we decided that if we could hike and climb all 4 mountains in one day, we would. The thought of missing a small window of opportunity with the weather was weighing heavily on our minds. We set the alarm for 3:30am so that we could be on the trail by 4:00am. The sky was clear and sleep came easy after the long hike into the basin.

As our alarm sounded, I immediately noticed the faint pitter patter of rain drops on the tent. As we gathered our gear and emerged from the tent, we were met with a light drizzle of rain and the skies were completely clouded over. John and I discussed whether to wait it out a bit to see if the weather would pass. We consulted with Jeb who simply replied, “Let’s start walking.” We started up the trail just shy of 4:30am.

With the moon still mostly full we could see breaks in the sky and it appeared that the weather could be improving. No sooner did that thought cross our minds and the rain set in. At first the rain was light, but it grew more steady. We tried to ignore the obvious and continued our way further into the basin.

As we worked our way above tree line, the light was just starting to break on the horizon. With the miserable weather, we were all hiking with our heads down and, you guessed it, completely missed where the trail turned sharply to our right up towards the saddle between Mt. Eolus and North Eolus. We approached a steep gully that looked completely unfamiliar and upon further exploration, we opted to retreat lower down the mountain to find the correct route. It didn’t take us long to find where we went wrong, and we were soon back on the right track.

As we worked our way towards the ridge that connected the two mountains we would climb first, the weather really started to improve and our spirits were rising. That window of clearing skies was short lived and we were soon back in the clouds.

It was a good thing John managed to keep his sense of direction because Jeb and I were both under the impression that we’d reach the summit of Mt. Eolus first. Upon further discussion, John clarified that we’d be climbing North Eolus first before traversing the”Catwalk” towards Mt. Eolus. We should have trusted the kid from Yonkers, as we soon found ourselves looking at a summit marker that matched the elevation of North Eolus!

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With the weather continuing to look grim, we didn’t hang out on the summit long before heading south towards Mt. Eolus. The connecting ridge between the two peaks offered some “fun” views of dramatic drops on both sides of us. As John worked his way across the ridge, I managed to get a good shot of him in the clouds.

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Mt. Eolus offered some fun climbing and we soon found ourselves on the summit. Even though there was quite a few people camped out in the basin below, we found that the weather had kept most people inside the comfort of their dry tents. This allowed us to enjoy this summit all by ourselves.

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The skies cleared for a few moments which allowed us a view of some of the surrounding area. We took a few moments to enjoy the views and to catch our breath.

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We were each feeling good and it was still relatively early in the day, so we decided that we would work our way back down to Twin Lakes where the trail would split to gain the basin between Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak. We decided we’d stop here for a bite to eat, and to assess the weather before deciding if we’d give the other two peaks a shot, or if we’d save them for the next day.

When we arrived at Twin Lakes, the weather was still the same. We opted to take a short break and after some discussion, we decided to continue on. Sunlight Peak offered some of the more challenging climbing of the day, so we decided that we should head towards that mountain first and save Windom Peak for last. We worked our way into a steep gully that would lead us towards Sunlight’s summit. As we reached the top of the gully, the climbing became more difficult and demanded all of our focus.

We navigated a few more tricky sections of rock and were soon near the summit. Sunlight is famous for it’s “Summit Block” that offers an “airy” perch with hundred foot drops on either side. Jeb went up first and John followed once he was safely down. My palms were sweating just watching them, and I opted for a lower, less exposed perch. Below is a picture of Jeb on top and me trying to muster up the courage to take one more leap!

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We wasted no time working our way down from Sunlight towards Windom Peak. The excitement of getting all 4 peaks in one day was driving us forward. Jeb was also overcome with excitement that the prospect of completing his goal of climbing all the 58 mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet was now just a few thousand vertical feet away.

Windom Peak’s West Ridge offered some fun scrambling on solid rock. Jeb’s excitement gave him an energy that pushed him quickly up the mountain. He was soon well ahead of John and I. As we neared the summit, we could see Jeb reaching the highest point of the mountain. He climbed on top of the small rock block that was Windom’s highest point and threw his arms into the air with excitement. Seeing this image from less than just a hundred feet below made me move quickly towards the summit to share in Jeb’s accomplishment. I was soon on top and Jeb, John and I all reveled in the victory.

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Deciding that we’d already pushed our luck with the weather, we opted to move quickly off the summit. As we returned to the trail junction at Twin Lakes, we could see the skies darkening to our west. We hiked as fast as we could towards the lower portion of Chicago Basin, hopeful that we’d make it to our camp before the skies opened up.

As we arrived at our camp, the rain came. We were both giddy with our accomplishments and a bit delirious after an 11 hour journey that took us over 8 miles and included almost 6,000 vertical feet of climbing. We hunkered down under the trees in camp and enjoyed some 12 year old Scotch we’d packed in with us to celebrate the day’s accomplishments, reaching the Summits for MS goal and Jeb’s 40th birthday.

The rains let up just long enough for us to enjoy dinner. It was still early, but with the weather being less than desirable, we opted to pile into our tent for a bit to see if the rain would let up. Unfortunately, it did not. It ended up raining steadily through the night so we decided to catch the train out of Needleton the next day and spend Sunday night in Durango at a hotel before heading home to Breckenridge.

We spent the evening reliving the day’s events and looking through each other’s photos. We’d end up spending the next 15 hours in that tent together, waiting relentlessly for the rains to subside. Finally, at 11:30am the next day, we opted to make a mad dash to get our gear packed up and to make the long, 6 mile trek towards Needleton to catch the 3:30pm train to Durango. We were unpleasantly surprised to find that all the rain had caused the Needle Creek to rise enough to submerge the rocks we’d used to cross the creek. We bushwhacked up stream a bit before Jeb found an area he could jump across. John and I threw his pack across the creek to him, and then our packs, before jumping over the water.

Back on the trail, we worked our way through the rain towards Needleton. The rain subsided as we neared the halfway point, but the skies remained overcast and threatening. We arrived at the Needleton trailhead shortly after 2:00pm and were pleasantly surprised to find the beers that we’d stashed in the river two days earlier had not washed away!

The train arrived right on time and we were eager to stow our gear and dry out for a bit.

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We enjoyed a few more cold beers from the bar car before being dropped back in Durango.

This was an amazing trip with great friends! Yes, the weather could have been better, but the challenges presented by the weather made the trip that much more memorable. Jeb, being able to share your 58th 14er summit on your 40th birthday was a huge bonus on this journey and this is an accomplishment to be proud of. Thank you, Jeb and John, for a trip that will not be forgotten. Kimberly and I appreciate all your support for Summits for MS. It has been a wonderful journey!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS.

Thank you again for everyone’s support!

Rick

Pyramid Peak 14,018 Feet – Summits for MS #9

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Almost there! Summits for MS reached the 9th mountain over 14,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies on Thursday, August 15th when my good friend Jeb and I reached the summit of Pyramid Peak.

Jeb and I headed for the trailhead just outside Aspen, CO shortly after work on Wednesday evening with the plan in place to sleep at the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area trailhead, rise early Thursday morning, climb Pyramid and be back at the car before any afternoon storms moved in.

We managed to get parked and set up for the night just after 11pm. We set the alarms for 4am with the goal of being on the trail by 4:30am. The next morning, we would hike just over 8 miles and we estimated the climb would take us between 7 to 8 hours, as there was quite a bit of route finding and some rather technical terrain to be encountered on this mountain. Pyramid Peak is one of the more challenging 14ers in Colorado, due to the mountain’s steep and rocky terrain, and with the challenges that lay ahead in mind, I struggled to grab a few hours of sleep before the alarm rang loudly at 4am sharp!

Jeb and I managed to collect our gear quickly and we were on the trail shortly before our 4:30am goal. The sky was still dark, so we made our way up the trail by just the light from our headlamps toward the junction where the Maroon Creek Trail would intersect the Pyramid Trail. But, guess what? We had somehow mistakenly gotten off the main trail, and after traveling along for a little bit, we agreed we were going the wrong way. So we decided to head directly down through the woods towards where we believed the correct trail would be. Thankfully, after much discussion, we noticed the light from two other headlamps up above us and decided it would be best to head directly towards them. After some minor bushwhacking and boulder hopping, we managed to find the right trail.

Back on track, we moved quickly up the slope towards the mountain. Our first obstacle would be a steep, loose 1,000 foot gulley that we would need to climb to reach the saddle of Pyramid. The gully was definitely a workout, but we made good time and soon found ourselves on the saddle where the remaining route came into view. The view of the remaining route was definitely intimidating. Jeb and I took a few minutes to get our helmets on and grab a snack.

The upper section of the mountain required that we take our time and pay close attention to where we were headed. There are several ledges that seem like well worn trails that ultimately lead to steep loose gullies that descend about 4,000 feet to the valley floor.

As we worked our way to the summit, the views surrounding us were amazing. The weather was perfect and there was no sign of storms moving in, which allowed us to focus more clearly on the task at hand. A few more hundred feet and we were on top!

The weather was perfect and the winds were light, which can be rare at 14,000 feet, so we took our time and enjoyed the summit. The peaks surrounding Pyramid include the often photographed Maroon Bells, Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain, so the awe inspiring views did not disappoint!

After taking 30 minutes on top of Pyramid, we decided it was time to begin the careful journey back down the mountain. Pyramid is also well know for the white mountain goats that live high on its upper slopes. As we ascended the mountain, I was honestly a little disappointed that we had not encountered any. That being said, our descent did not disappoint when we were greeted by a family of goats as we worked our way across one of the mountain’s many ledges. These goats are far from intimidated by humans and I honestly got a little spooked when they seemed to move right toward Jeb and me before they swiftly jumped to the ridge above us.

Once we reached the main Maroon Creek Trail, we were able to move quickly down the well defined trail towards the car. We arrived shortly after noon and were delighted to discover that the celebratory beers we had stashed under the car were still cold!

Thank you, Jeb, for a great day in the mountains and for your support for Summits for MS!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS.

Thank you again for everyone’s support!

Rick

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Challenger Point 14,081 Feet and Kit Carson Peak 14,165 Feet – Summits for MS #7 and #8

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The adventure continued on Sunday, July 21st when the summits of Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak were reached for Summits for MS! Our friends, John and Kivlan, joined me for this trip that was filled with excitement and required a good deal of perseverance on everyone’s part.

John, Kivlan and I planned to backpack into Willow Creek in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on Saturday to help reduce the distance we would need to travel on Sunday, as we planned to summit both peaks in one day. We packed up the car and hit the road around 11am on Saturday and headed towards our destination – a small town named Crestone, which is 3 hours south of Breckenridge. The ride was uneventful and we arrived at the trailhead, packed up our gear and were headed up the Willow Creek trailhead by 2pm. The weather called for afternoon storms so we hoped to reach the lake in time to set up camp and organize our gear before any weather moved in. We’d soon find out that our plan was about to get rained out!

The hike up Willow Creek was roughly 5 miles with a little of 2,800’ in elevation gain, so it was definitely a workout as we were all carrying fairly heavy backpacks. I apparently have trouble when it comes to “packing light,” and one couple we ran into on the trail assumed I was headed into the lake for a week, as opposed to the one night we were staying!

As we approached the lake, the sky was growing dark and thunder could be heard in the distance. We hiked as quickly as possible in order to locate an area that would accommodate our tents as we knew rain was imminent. As we reached an area where we thought we could camp, the rain started to come down lightly and then more heavily with a mix of pea sized hail. We huddled under a group of trees to keep the majority of the rain off of both ourselves and our backpacks.

Summer storms in Colorado can often be short lived, so we decided we try and wait it out under the tree cover we’d found, in hopes that the weather would pass quickly. We were wrong. The rain and hail picked up and the wind began to blow making the tree cover we’d found useless. John and Kivlan opted to make a dash for a flat area to set John’s tent up as a temporary shelter to get us out of the weather. In the two and half minutes it took them to get the tent up, they and the tent were completely soaked. Regardless, it would keep the rain and hail off of us, so we all piled in to wait out the storm.

As we huddled inside John’s tent, we quickly realized that this storm wasn’t simply going to pass. The thunder, rain and hail continued to pound the area for the next 45 minutes. In that time, we all decided that we don’t do well in tight spaces with no entertainment. I kept checking the sky for any sign that the storm was easing up, but it wasn’t looking good. Finally, the sky began to clear and the weather relented. At this point, we were all soaking wet, John’s tent was drenched, and at an elevation of 11,080 feet, we were all pretty cold.

We emerged from the tent to find that our backpacks were also soaked, so we immediately took to the task of unpacking and trying to dry out our gear. I decided to set up my tent as soon as we located a good spot for camp in case the weather turned bad again. After a persistent 30 minutes, we managed to get a steady fire started that helped to dry boots, sleeping pads and sleeping bags. We cooked up dinner and enjoyed a quiet star filled evening by the fire.

As we piled into our tents for the evening, the skies were clear and the thought of rain was a distant memory. That was until 1am when I awoke to the pounding of more rain and hail on the tent. I could hear John in the tent next door making a mad dash to get to his shoes that he’d spent 2 hours drying out by the fire earlier in the evening. Kivlan relayed to me that his pack was sitting outside and that at this point he wasn’t leaving the shelter of our tent and would deal with some wet gear in the morning. The weather soon passed and we got back to sleep for a few more hours.

The alarms sounded bright and early at 3:45am. With the weather we’d encounter the previous day, we had no intention of being high on the mountain anytime after noon. Kivlan whipped up some French press coffee, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, and were on the trail by 4:55am.

The hiking quickly turned steep as we approached Challenger Point (named in honor of the 1986 Shuttle Challenger disaster). It was roughly 1.5 miles to the summit, but with the steep loose trail, it took us close to 2 hours to reach the top. With our early start, we managed to be the first to the mountain’s summit and the 3 of us were able to enjoy the surrounding views and a quick bite to eat. We also had the opportunity to look to the east to get the view of our next goal – Kit Carson Peak.

Reaching the summit of Kit Carson would require hiking down Challenged Point a few hundred feet and crossing the well know “Kit Carson Avenue” (see pictures below). The “Avenue” can be daunting from the summit of Challenger Point, but as you approach it you quickly realize that while the drop to the side of the avenue is steep and unforgiving, it is quite wide and allows for easy hiking.

As we crossed the avenue and worked our way to the backside of Kit Carson, we reached a large gully that would lead us to the summit of the mountain. The gully held some more challenging terrain and required more scrabbling on all fours, taking care to pay attention to where we were placing our feet and hands, while at the same time avoiding any risk of dislodging rocks that would create danger for any climbers below us.

We quickly reached the summit of Kit Carson and were again rewarded for our early start by being the first to reach the mountain’s summit. We took our time to rest and enjoy the views. As other climbers reached the summit, we managed to get some help with our Summits for MS group photo before gathering our gear to begin the long descent back to our camp. The trip off the mountain required us to descend Kit Carson and re-ascend Challenger Point to access the trail we used to reach the peaks. The descent from Challenger was loose and slippery. After falling about a dozen times, John and Kivlan decided to point out that it is time for me to invest in some more “gripping” boots. By the 15th slip, I had to agree.

We arrived back at our camp just shy of noon. The entire two-summit trip, although only 5 miles, took us roughly 7 hours to complete from start to finish. The skies were quickly beginning to look angry, so we scrambled to pack up our gear for the 5 mile trek back to the trailhead. The hike down was mostly uneventful with a few rain showers and with a well defined trail, we were back to the car in a little over 2 hours.

These were definitely some of the more memorable mountains that I have climbed and Kit Carson Peak not only marked the 8th summit I’ve reached for Summits for MS, but mine and John’s 40th 14’er (mountain over 14,000 feet) in Colorado. While the trip did present some challenges, it only makes the memoires that much better. Thank you, John and Kivlan, for another exciting trip to the mountains and for all your support for Summits for MS!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS.

Thank you again for everyone’s support!

Rick

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San Luis Peak 14,014 Feet – Summits for MS # 6

15 Jul

The journey for Summits for MS continued on Sunday, July 14th when Will, Kirsten, Henry (the Golden Retriever) and I reached the summit of San Luis Peak in the Southern San Juan mountains of Colorado. While San Luis Peak is considered a Class 1 walk up (meaning there is a well defined trail right to the summit with no climbing or scrambling involved along the route) the difficulty in reaching this summit lies in the great distance that must be covered from start to finish.

Will, Kirsten, Henry and I set out for Creede, CO late Saturday afternoon with a plan in place to camp at the trailhead Saturday night and hike the peak on Sunday morning. To make things more interesting, “Monsoon Season” recently arrived in Colorado, bringing strong afternoon thunderstorms to the mountains which can be accompanied by heavy rain, gusty winds, lightning and even significant hail. After closely looking at the forecast, we decided that our best opportunity for a successful summit would be to hike between the hours of 4am – 11am.

With that in mind, we arrived at the trailhead shortly after 10pm and managed to get a tent set up for Will, Kirsten and Henry right before the rain set in. The thunder, lightning and rain continued on and off well past 1am as I lied awake in the back of my Jeep wondering if my companions were managing to keep dry in their tent. I was also wondering if we had any chance of a realistic opportunity to safely summit the mountain the next day.

When my alarm rang loudly at 3:30am, I swung the door to my Jeep open and was pleasantly surprised to see the sky full of stars with little cloud cover in the area. We managed to get our gear organized quickly, so we were on the trail at 4am, ready to start the 6 mile journey to the summit of San Luis.

The trailhead we opted to depart from was unmarked so my initial concern was whether or not we were even hiking on the right trail. And considering my rather sarcastic nickname, “Route Finder Rick”, and the fact that it was pitch black outside, odds were pretty favorable that we were not on the trail. But as we continued to work our way up the trail, we came across a junction in the trail that both Kirsten and I recalled reading about in the trip description. This was a welcome sign and definitely relieved some of the worry that had come over me.

The route we were traveling required a 12 mile roundtrip journey from the trailhead to the summit and back. Along the way, we would travel across two large basins before reaching the southern ridge of San Luis Peak. The trail was well worn and made for quick travel. As the sun began to come up in the east, San Luis Peak came into view. The size of the peak made it hard to calculate just how far we would need to travel before we even arrived at the base of the peak. At one point, I recall telling Kirsten that we must be within a few miles of the peak, only to realize we had much more ground to cover.

After working our way through the second basin, we arrived on the southern ridge of the mountain. We continued to follow the well defined trail as it led us to what we thought would be the summit, only to find out we were on a “false summit” with more trail to go! This happened a few more times before we finally touched the top. The views of the surrounding area were stunning and the winds were still calm enough for us to enjoy a few moments of rest before gearing up for the long trek back to the trailhead. We were also alone on the summit, so getting our now famed Summits for MS summit photo was a bit of a challenge without someone to hold the camera for us!

We arrived back at the trailhead shortly after 10am. As we packed up our gear, the clouds began to build and the bad weather started to move in. Luck was definitely on our side with the forecast and the hours that we picked for traveling.

Thank you, Will & Kirsten, for another memorable outing in the mountains! You are great friends and Kimberly and I truly appreciate all of your support as I continue in my effort to reach 10 summits over 14,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies to help raise awareness for MS!

If you haven’t donated yet and would like to, please visit my donation page at http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/SummitsforMS.

Thank you again for everyone’s support!

Rick

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