| Requiem for a Dreamweaver
The best part about finishing the 14ers is the apparent newfound ability to enjoy "lesser" mountains. Instead of falling back into the peakbagging vortex that is the centennials, I've been spending the last several months focusing on honing and diversifying my skillset in order to take on increasingly more interesting, difficult, challenging, and committing routes. Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker is a route which captivated my attention the first time I read about it, and has been on the back of my mind for the better part of a year. After serious study and consideration of the route, we decided it was time to step up and attempt this classic alpine test piece.
Photo credit: Eli Helmuth
All last week my climbing partner Chris and I had discussed attempting Dreamweaver this Saturday. Due to an ugly weather forecast (50% Chance of thunderstorms) and my complete disinterest in his proposed 2am trailhead departure, I managed to talk him into a day of multipitch practice in Boulder Canyon on Saturday instead. This allowed us one last opportunity to dial our system out, as well as getting in some fresh gear-placing practice before our climb the next day. At around 9pm Saturday night we decided Sunday's weather forecast was a go, and we began our final preparations for a miserably early departure from boulder at 12:30am.
Final preparations at the Long's Peak TH: The nalgene-chugging ritual. Photo credit: Chris
While gearing up at the trailhead we encountered another duo with their sights set on meeker. We were surprised to find another party leaving even earlier than us, and made a mental note to not fall too far behind them on the trail in order to reduce rockfall danger later. We quickly finished sorting our gear with Chris carrying the rack and me carrying the rope, and set off from the TH at 2:15.
One new experiment I was trying today was running on extra-strength 5 hour energy. I always thought this stuff was a scam when I saw the commercials, but make no mistake: this stuff is liquid gold. Despite having less than an hour of sleep each, we were cruising up the trail at a blistering pace. We finally caught up to the other Dreamweaver duo, Jason and Dan, near the Chasm Lake Junction after only an hour and 20 minutes on the trail. We decided to join forces for the day in order to have some company and to reduce vertical separation in the couloir. After crossing a sketchy snowfield on the descent from Chasm junction, we arrived at the base of Dreamweaver at around 5am. And took a good long break to fuel up and wait for the sun to come out. We were not disappointed.
Photo credit: Chris
Dreamweaver. The couloir chokes down to shoulder width at the start of the first crux. Photo credit: Chris
Me surveying our route in the glorious alpenglow. Photo credit: Chris
The first section of the couloir went surprisingly quickly. I didn't measure the slope steepness but it seemed to exceed 45 degrees as it approached the first crux. We caught up to Jason and Dan at the chockstone while they were roping up, and they graciously let us pass since we were still comfortable soloing on this terrain. We were immediately treated to a short section of alpine ice at the top of the chockstone, which actually made surmounting the obstacle quite easy.
Dan Approaching the chockstone. Photo credit: Jason
Me on the first chockstone. Note the party at the base of Dreamweaver on the left. Photo credit: Chris
The couloir steepness appeared to wane for a while, with another series of similar chockstones scattered at regular intervals. The chockstones were all about 6-8 feet high but had plenty of ledges to step up on. When Dreamweaver is in ideal condition I'm told these rock steps get covered in ice, which probably would have made our lives a little bit easier. Instead, we had to re-familiarize ourselves with dry-tooling. If I were in rock or even approach shoes these chockstones would not have even been worth mention, but it required careful attention to negotiate them in crampons.
Even though the route description talks about 3 separate cruxes, it seemed to me that the first crux was just a serious of minor chockstones which blended into the second crux. Due to melting out, the second crux was now a wall of rock 20 feet high with a chimney weakness on each side. The left chimney appeared to be rather steep and airy, while the right chimney looked to be more or less a series of steps. We elected to ascend the complete dry right chimney. About halfway up Chris and I found ourselves on a small ledge really only meant for one person, and the terrain suddenly became more interesting. Instead of nice steps to put your crampons on, we found a granite slab with a flared hand/fist crack continuing to a roll-over. Downclimbing seemed challenging from our position so we elected to rope up, albiet in a somewhat precarious spot.
Fortunately, we had the foresight to equip our harness and gear at the base of the couloir so we had anchor-building materials immediately available. Chris, being in front, built an anchor which we both quickly clipped into, giving me the security to remove my pack and ready the rope. After tying in and doing our checks, we decided that I would lead the pitch. I delicately stepped around Chris, stepped on a small rock edge, jammed my fist into the crack and stood up. I was most excited to find an immediate .75 camalot placement at arms reach, eliminating the possibility of a factor 2 fall on our anchor. After a few short moves I once again found myself on mild terrain and let out a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Dan and Jason had elected to take the left chimney and had both cleared it. Hindsight is 20-20, but it would seem that their route selection was the better one. I belayed Chris up as he cleaned the pitch and joined me.
Dan climbing up the left chimney. The exposure and terrain of this feature do not really show up well in this picture. Photo credit: Jason
At the top of the second crux the couloir was bone-dry. We found ourselves in a gentle talus gully which Dan and Jason had apparently flew up. Expecting to to encounter more technical moves in the not too distant future, we decided to short-rope simulclimb for a while. We took our crampons off and flew up the class 2+/3 gully to rejoin Jason and Dan. The talus gully ends just above the top of the flying buttress and represents our last chance to reasonable escape the right. It was still very early and the weather looked good, so we pressed on.
Top of the talus gully/flying buttress. Photo credit: Jason
Not far after the flying buttress we were happy to find ourselves back on snow, and re-equipped our crampons as Dan and Jason began to engage the 3rd and final crux section.
Beginning of the 3rd crux section. Photo credit: Jason
Due to our previous experience at the 2nd crux we decided to stay tied in so we could easily belay if terrain suddenly increased in severity. However, we found many chockstones similar to that of the first crux which were surmounted reasonably easily and did not require protection. In general the couloir was much steeper and the snow rapidly varied between alpine ice and wet and soft. This made stepping up onto the chockstones difficult at times due to sinking when trying to step up. The rock moves were not much more difficult than on the first crux, but the exposure was much more exciting.
Me surmounting one of the 3rd crux chock stones. Photo credit: Chris
And again. Photo credit: Chris
Steep but fun. Thanks to some awesome photography this picture came out looking a bit more intense than it really was. Photo credit: Chris
Same spot, but this photo makes it look a little more tame. Pick something between this and the last for an accurate idea. Overall it was not bad though. Photo credit: Chris
My thoughts on Dreamweaver. Photo credit: Chris
Chris at one of the last chockstones. This is representative of most of their sizes. Photo credit: Kris
Not much life left in Dreamweaver this season... Photo credit: Kris
Once we turned past the last chockstone it became immediately apparent that our time in the Couloir was coming to an end. Dan was finishing up the true crux, a 15-20 foot chimney at the top of a steep snow/alpine ice slope. We waited until he was safely through the crux, and then I set off to lead it. Because this wall appeared to be significantly larger than the minor chockstones, I elected to place some gear as precaution.
A look at the final crux section. The couloir abruptly ends at the top. Photo credit: Kris
Chris cleaning the last pitch. Photo credit: Kris
Some spectacular exposure at the top of Dreamweaver Photo credit: Jason
The four of us took our crampons off and made the short but fun scramble to the summit of Meeker. The wind was blowing in thick, low-level but non-threatening clouds so after a few minutes of regrouping on the summit, we set off to descend the loft.
Putting away the gear. Photo credit: Jason
As we began descending the ramps of the loft, we noticed two hikers starting to descend the large snow field above the cliffs on climber's right of the loft. We shorted to them, "BAD IDEA!" and tried to warn them of the cliffs, but they did not seem to heed our warning. At the bottom of the exit ramp we saw those two staring precariously at the top of the cliffs looking for a non-existent easy way down. They can't say we didn't warn them. At Chasm Junction we saw them descending the loft so we were glad to see they made it out but let their predicament be known to others: Do not attempt to shortcut the loft.
On a brighter note, the glissade down the loft was by far the best glissade I have ever had. Perfect snow conditions and a toboggan-like runnel runs all the way down making a safe, controlled glissade easy. My GPS clocked my top speed at 20.6 mph!
This picture does not do the glissade track justice at all. Photo credit: Chris.
At chasm junction we bid farewell to Dan and Jason as they headed off we and packed away the last of our gear. I stripped down to a T-shirt in preparation for a rapid descend. We took one last look at dreamweaver, pounded a reserve 5 hour energy and rocketed down the trail.
Dreamweaver, the broken snow line on the far left. Photo credit: Chris
Due to our energy-fueled pace, we quickly passed Dan and Jason on the way down as well as numerous hikers. We arrived back at the trailhead a mere 49 minutes after leaving Chasm junction. Why the hurry, you ask? Beer and brats were waiting!
A perfect way to end a perfect day. Photo credit: Chris
2 Ice tools each
1 set of DMM wallnuts
C4's #.5-#2 doubles on .5 and .75
6 single length runners
3 11cm ice screws
We did not end up using the screws at all due to lack of quality ice. The number of times we needed to place gear was seldom, but we were glad to have the rack when we did. In hindsight it would have been nice to have a #3 camalot or some large hexes for the 2nd crux wall, but that's a long way to carry a big hunk of metal for a short pitch. In general I would say the doubles were not necessary.
Now that I'm beginning to attempt technical routes I want to really start reflection on each trip, looking at all of our decisions throughout the day - the good and the bad. I want to identify what worked, what didn't, and what we could have done better/safer. This is of course something that should always be done on any trip regardless of difficulty, but I find it increasingly important as my skill level rises. I think I'm reaching the point in my mountaineering career where I really need to start paying attention to the subtle errors that climbers can usually get away with but negatively affect their "long-term survival strategy."
1) We moved really efficiently today. Part of this was having a partner of similar fitness to myself, but the 5 hour energy definitely seemed to be a major pick-me-up. Not to sound like a marketing shill, but this will definitely become part of my mountaineering staple for those extra-alpine starts and long days.
2) We made the right call in watching the weather carefully, picking the right day and starting super early to minimize potential problems. The 2am start time seemed excessively early given what I have read from other trip reports, but I don't regret it at all.
3) Putting our harnesses on early and making gear easily accessible really paid off. I'm very glad that we put the harnesses on well before encountering technical terrain.
Things to do better:
1) Chris and I discussed this on the car ride back. After finding ourselves in a tenuous spot on the 2nd crux, we agreed to be more conservative with roping up. We thought the crux would go, but it was quite a bit higher than the other chockstones and we underestimated the terrain up higher. If we were not in crampons it would have been trivial, but we need to remember to evaluate the terrain based on all the current conditions, not just on how it is as a rock climb. Our new rule of thumb is that unless we are certain that the terrain will go, we'll rope up early.
2) We ended up short-roping/simul climbing a substantial part of the couloir. Part of our reasoning was that we wanted to have the rope quickly accessible if we ran into harder terrain, but the other part was trying to cut a few corners by not having to constantly untie/tie in. We were simul climbing most of the 3rd crux section but did not place any gear based on our judgement of the difficulty. We were comfortable on this terrain but a fluke slip could have put both of us at risk. It would have been better to either keep the rope coiled and ready, or have been placing gear even on the easy sections where a fall was unlikely. It wasn't a big deal on this climb, but it is a bad habit to get into that we will avoid in the future.
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