| A Classic Western - August Redux
With an opportunity for a return to Colorado, we were blessed with being able to view much of central CO from the two highest points on the Great Divide. We stretched our experiences with a snow traverse and a class 3 scramble up a minor peak in WY. We camped, fished, felt both strong and beat in cool mountain air and intense summer sun.
Our western story continues from an April trip (April 2011 Pictures), the highlight which was 4 of 5 days spent skiing in what was an exceptional snowpack year. Remnants of this snowpack abound.
Bathrooms not melted out in August
Prior to that was an August 2010 adventure (August 2010 TR's) – the experiences of which are indelibly carved into memory and which went beyond all expectations. This trip would take somewhat the reverse route and use some of the seasonings of the past, yet stretch skills and build towards new and greater experiences.
Often life sneaks up on us. The go decision was a result of hard work. “Hey Dad, if I get the A cut in the longest freestyle event in my age group (13-14 Boys 1500 M – 20:01) I qualify for the open water swim at Zones in Topeka, KS. And you know, Topeka is half way to Colorado.” With practices and a 19:30 1500 M swim in late June, a discussion began to meld into a promise to be delivered.
Another important piece of the puzzle fell into place in an unusual way. At the junkyard - where the result was a purchase of an engine / turbo with 74 k miles from a crashed saab to replace our dead engine. Out with the old, in with the new and the boys have wheels with which to head west. The prior owner will never know how their accident upgraded our transportation. More invisible links. This also meant Turboduck was now on board and back in business. Navigator duck had to go old school on this trip. I took pleasure in 33+ MPG down I-70 & I-80.
Navigator Duck goes old school this trip.
John from Alabama would get the full story about the Ducks - The Marquette Basketball ‘Chuck a Duck’ escapees which are now our mascots normally assigned by vehicle. They are our entertainment down I-70 & I-80.
We loaned the ducks out to John for photo ops while atop Grays; he had left behind his wolf mascot.
Our first campground choice from last year - Blue River - was now open. Mosquitoes reminded us that camps aren’t always what we imagine, and so we settled 2 sites away from last years’ site on the Dillon reservoir, where we rarely have had need for DEET. Monday would find us bumming up Hwy 6, then parked at Loveland and wandering to the south, finally watching the rodents on Cupid (13,117 ft).
Preveiw of Grizzly NW ridge from Cupid.
It is day one and we feel good. The proposal was to return on day two to attempt Grizzly D and beyond to Torreys. Roach says 5,500’ and 10 miles – a big day with potential partial victories. We charge ahead and ignore the fact that day 2 has yet to prove itself worthy of anything but lounging in camp. When I awoke at 2:30, I didn’t feel well at all and went back to sleep. At 4:15, the moment felt much more reasonable and we headed for the Frisco 7-11 for a dose of optimum fuel – coffee and a doughnut. Yes, 5:15 at Loveland seemed better, and soon we were optimistically hiking south over Cupid.
Early start at Loveland Pass TH.
Early Dawn towards Dillon Res, Tenmile Range and HCW
There clearly are many hurdles large and small. Proper acclimation is one, as is the route itself. Knowing that which you go down, you must again go up was a relative new experience to us. This will surely be reflected upon some cold day from Halfmoon Pass. For this day, it was simply an awareness which would help to make Grizzly D’s 13,427’ the day’s climax. I felt OK and as the group rested, I explored the east ridge (clearly the best route – we found the south face loose and nasty).
Grizzly D East ridge fun.
On the way out, I went over the little scrambles en route between Grizzly D and Cupid instead of around. Working towards Goal #1 and using “Climb” correctly. (2011 Goals)
A brief scramble between 12,396 and Cupid
We returned and recovered, and will avoid anything more serious than light scouting on Day #2 in the future.
Day #3 found us on a trailhead scouting adventure to Mayflower Gulch. Crystal – Pacific – Atlantic was an option which would allow a look at a Class 3 ridge (Pacific’s west) while underway on a class 2 outing with longer / shorter options. Cutting our stay at Heaton Bay #46 short would negate this option. We are all linked in ways we only can imagine.
Beta / planning had envisioned redemption for the April Fail with a full moon visit to La Plata’s NW ridge, or perhaps La Plata / Huron from the Winfield area with Backpack access. Another possible was Sunshine / Redcloud / Handies with a stay at Mill Creek. But laziness has a way of sneaking up on us. We would choose not to move camp, not to drive to a trailhead at an inconvenient hour. Tomorrow we would choose easy – so we drove to the Bakerville exit and up FS189. It is a day off, so we went the Grizzly Gulch branch, and briefly soaked our feet in the creek.
A glance up FS189.1 showed that Navigator Duck and Turbo Duck would have a lot on their plates to successfully coax the Saab up for a reasonable TH arrival at Stevens Gulch the next day. Much has been written of Grays and Torreys, so much that I had the impression they would be a boring, dull hike hardly worth the breath. But I find as I grow older beauty is everywhere. Surely such a unique place will hold much beauty as well.
Thursday would again find us at the Frisco 7-11 for coffee and doughnuts, though the latter were still wrapped in the trays at 3:30 AM. A hop on I-70E under the divide and application of vast experience of driving back roads, trails (and rivers and fields and ditches) of the central WI of my boyhood delivered us damage free to the Stevens Gulch TH for a 4:15 departure. The trailhead was populated with a number of campers, including John who was just starting breakfast and who would later become our Grays summit company.
Preview at Stevens Gulch TH
This hike is much maligned due to its popular nature. I would argue it is popular because Stevens Gulch is so beautiful.
Pre-dawn on Grays Peak Trail
The views this morning from Grays were fantastic. You could see all of Central Colorado, range upon range layered with the morning mist.
Stevens Gulch Sunrise
Range upon Misty Range
Grizzly, Dillon Res. and HCW
On our prior two 14’er summits last August, we were alone on popular peaks. Today John was available at 7:25 AM to snap a shot of all three of us.
Finally a nice summit photo!
By the time we got to Torreys at 8:50 AM the activity level was picking up. While some company is nice, I can also see how it can quickly feel crowded. Another few days delay would have given us the moonlight to be earlier, but this was just fine and we enjoyed the views along with the entertainment of things such as other’s summit pictures with signs with the wrong day on them….
Signing in at Torreys
It was a strong outing for us, with a 7hr 40 min round trip including about 1 ½ hours on the peaks and several extended breaks to enjoy the views. Return – crux was on the way out, where the road hazards grew with the morning traffic. Care and caution and the road was no match for us. The Volvo from New York behind us didn’t fare as well, suffering damage to the front air dam. This served to entertain us, as it seemed they were in a hurry to leave this place of beauty and others haste was our chuckle. We are all linked in ways we can only imagine. I hope my car damage is not someone's entertainment someday.
Upon our return, we would discover new neighbors for Site #46. First one, then two moms. First 3, then 6 children. Oldest perhaps 6. Several toddlers. All high energy. Runners. Players. Screamers. Bikers. Firebugs. Criers. Fighters. I’m sure the moms did their best, and God bless them for spending the time and effort. But a decision to stay in peace was no longer ours. We would pack in haste Friday AM. Where to? We would choose the comfort of the known – back to the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow Mountains of Wyoming. Would I one day camp with noisy Grandchildren?
Coulmbines abound in the Snowy Range Basin
Attempting to move on a Friday can prove to be a strategic error, but luck was with us. The USFS logging crew was clearing Sugarloaf CG, and we would arrive to find it a bustle with saws, but open and empty. We selected #13 because of the view and the rock just as the last tree toppled for the weekend.
A distinctive rock marks lucky site #13.
Fishing was high on the list here.
Lewis Lake Trout.
Aprils trip was a mountain adventure fail. But we did gear up (goal #5) so the ice axes and crampons came along. We did not need to use them but we did have a need to use them, so we would close out the trip with an educational climbing traverse of the snowfield on the NE face of Medicine Bow Peak. This would lead to a solid class 3+ scramble up the central arête to avoid the loose rock on the climbers left. The group decision was to test the snow, climb the rock and exit to the summit ridge.
In all seriousness, as the father of these two fine young men, one of my greatest fears is that this journey I’ve helped to set them upon will result in their demise. Thus I am looking to always stretch their knowledge and experience in as safe of a manner as possible. Not just to be safe, but to show them that you can stretch and grow while taking a responsible and reasonable measure of caution. In the end there is no guarantee, but often enough the margin is represented by interrupting a string of bad outcomes, and a measure of caution is often the anchor which does not yield.
Snowfield asending traverse on Medicine Bows' NE face.
Medicine Bow this August represents our first solid, non standard route class 3 climb. It was without belief that we sat mid-face, perched on a boulder looking down on the rock and snow which one year ago would have scared the living hell out of us, but now was “a blast”. Did the bouldering and climbing long ago at the YMCA play a role? Our lives are prepared in ways we seldom examine. With cautious confidence the boys become young men and an old man learns new tricks.
Route - Up (Purple); Std - (Green); To snow / Glissade - (Blue)
My personal stretch related to my lack of first- hand knowledge and experience. I rely on descriptions and visual cues to find a route, with the understanding that the visual cues are very deceptive. Little appreciation can be found for scale or angles when looking up at a mountain. I knew this, and my confidence to test the unknown was a result of the varied options I could imagine while surveying from below. Thus the skill of route finding is learned on the fly under relatively safe conditions. This day we would go onto steeper but solid rock and lead us onto boulders , where I came across a decaying tin can from a climb long ago (bringing to me the comfort of knowing I was not a pioneer – we are tied in ways we can only imagine), then to avoid the very large blocks center top with a climbers left exit to the summit ridge.
When considering the timing of a CLIMB (part of 2011 Goal #1) on Medicine Bow, I considered that the snow on Saturday AM was frozen. On Sunday cloud cover kept it soft, and we would not carry or test our crampons for the snow traverse,. The ice axes were needed for that added level of comfort when crossing the now hard ice channels. We also saw no need for an early start, and enjoyed the late morning summit.
A pleasure to summit after this scramble.
The return would bring our first glissades ever. I caught a small section where I could stay on my feet. Otherwise, it was on the backsides. Being from Wisconsin and residing across from a sledding hill, I’m a bit confused – when is it sledding, when is it sliding, and when is it glissading? I’ve rode or seen ridden almost everything including nothing down a hill, but just not in August! Is this the difference? Conditions were such that only sitting would work – this did not deter us!
A little fun on the way down!
The clouds also meant that we would either pack early then climb, or perhaps stay another full day. When we returned to the parking lot, our tents were dry and we were just a lunch away from being ready to head east.
About 1100 miles ahead of us to home.
The drive home was filled with the hope. Hope born of a trust I will return again. A spring tour of Holy Cross is very high on my list but still several skill levels away. We have discussed a summer return as a family outing, including the love of my life. Dear, I hope you will be with us to share the beauty.
The wildflowers and alpine is always a highlight.
The swimming sub-title carried with it the surprise of a cancellation of the open water event due to excessive heat, the ups and downs of the unknown commitment, and finally team bonus splashes in the 800 and 400 freestyle events and the awesome experience of cheering on other team members old and new. Colorado would not have happen without Topeka and fast swims. But would Topeka have happened without Colorado? Probably not. Our life experiences are entwined in ways we rarely imagine. I foresee more trips up and down I-80 - stay tuned.
Will we return to the West ... hmmm ... I wonder ...
For now, its back to the stairs and runs of WI. (Completed goal#2 - a 5 mile run - 43:39 in June. May try a marathon this fall.) We have hunting, fishing and snow fun ahead (Goals 7,6 &3). All links which will tie me back into the mountains. Goal #1.
For more adventures of the ducks on this trip go here (Dynamic Duck Duo 2011).
Thanks to everyone who contributes to this site and thanks for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):