| Solitude on Sneffels, aka The Long Road Back
Solitude on Sneffels, aka The Long Road Back
disclaimer: This is my first TR, so bear with me. It's also my story of how I started climbing, left it, and have finally come back to it. It will be long. It may be boring to people who don't like the word thingys. If that's you, sorry. Skip to the end about the actual climb, then continue picking lint out of your navel. If not, let's get started, shall we?
I started climbing when I was 15. By the time I got to college, I was a full on climbing bum, working to pay for the next trip. I met two awesome, solid mountaineers who helped me with the transition from rock to alpine, alpine to ice, and then to bigger mountains. We climbed Rainier. We climbed Shuksan. We dreamed of Denali. We climbed Rainier again. Life was good! Then one of us moved away, and we became two instead of three. No worries, I thought, we'll just keep looking for the next best climb. But, by this time I had graduated from college, and the world was telling me I needed to find...... A JOB! AAAARRRRGGGHH! So, why get a job that actually uses my education? I don't know, because I joined the fire department. Sweet! Cool job, flexible schedule, an actual regular paycheck.... I'll just keep doin what I'm doin!
And for a little while, I did. While I never really gave much thought to "the list" (we would occasionally try a 14er for "training"), when I finally DID seriously contemplate trying to climb all of the 14ers, BOOM! I got married (sound of screeching brakes). Now, let me be the first to say that my wife is absolutely amazing, and I love her very much. But, her idea of roughing it is not having room service give us clean towels in the morning. At about the same time, my good friend and last remaining climbing partner also moved away. So needless to say, I eventually just...stopped. Packed up all my gear, stored it away, and focused on my wife and my career. I will now briefly interrupt this soliloquy for a picture of the route I had originally intended to do as my welcome back climb, The Naked Lady Couloir:
For the San Juan brethren....
And now back to the story. Let's see, where was I? Oh, I know....
Fast forward five years. Married life is good, job is good, I'm good! And then, the next big life mile stone happens: She's pregnant! (My wife. I would hope that would be obvious.) Oh, but it's much better than that my friends! Allow me to transport you back in time, to a doctor's office in Albuquerque, 2004:
doctor(holding that sonogram thing): well, it looks like there's two in there
me: two what? (I know. I can really lay the intellectual lumber sometimes)
doctor: two babies. your having twins!
me (feeling nauseous): oh
wife (crying): you are in so much f@!#ing trouble!
So in March of 2005, we were blessed with two beautiful girls, and now life really gets hectic. Work, kids. Kids, work. Any thought of getting back in the game went flying right out the window. I would still hike, still run, still watch that Everest show on the Discovery Channel, but actually climb? Not happening. ( I appreciate whoever is still with me, and I hope no one has passed out from boredom and bashed their forehead on the keyboard. There IS a TR coming, I promise. Another picture perhaps?)
Sign of my time...
Until, about a year and a half ago, we were getting ready for our annual garage/yard sale (how is it that crap in my garage multiplys exponentially every year?). I started to go through all of my gear, with every intention of selling it. Instead, I started reminiscing about my past climbs, and something happened to me that hadn't happened in a long time: I missed it. Which led to the following conversation between the wife and I:
me: honey, I really don't want to sell my climbing stuff
me: in fact, I kind of want to start using it again
me: like, I want to start mountain climbing again
wife: you should. you deserve it
me: did you up my life insurance policy or something?
wife: (reaching for phone) no, but now that you mention it...
Which brings me, dear reader, to.....
Solitude in Yankee Boy Basin
So off I go! Drove up from Albuquerque on Wednesday morning.... wait. I forgot. As I stated earlier, my original plan was to climb Snowdon via the Naked Lady couloir, but the more I thought about it, I changed my plan to Sneffels. I figured if I'm gonna make the drive, I might as well restart my comically short 14er list. So Sneffels it was. Drove up from Albuquerque and got to the 2wd trailhead at about 130 in the afternoon. I dayhiked up the road to YBB, and was just blown away by the scenery, the solitude, the everything. It was absolutely amazing! Back down to the car, dinner, whiskey ( thanks to the wife!), and bed early in anticipation of my first alpine start in over a decade.
Sunrise in the Upper Basin
I woke up at 0330 to a fantastic star-filled sky and pretty mild temps. Coffee, breakfast burrito (again, thanks to you-know-who), and I was on the road at exactly 0430. I arrived at the basin right as the sky began to lighten to the east. I took a little break, shot some pictures, signed the register, and headed up to the slope that takes you to Lavender col. I was really hoping it still held snow, but.....
The slope to Lavender Col. Blech.
So I slogged up the talus and scree circus, stopping a lot to rest and soak in the mind-blowing views, like this:
Alpenglow across the Basin, at appox. 13,300ft.
You mean all I've been missing these years is ...THIS?!?!
I got to the col just before 0700 feeling pretty good. I could not have asked for more perfect weather. No wind, blue skies, it was just awesome! Here's a look back towards the basin:
Looking down at the talus circus from the Col
And here's a look at the couloir to the summit. Crampons and axe time!
Lavender Couloir from the Col. I stayed climber's right till about the 2/3 mark, then did a climbing traverse towards the notch
My friends, I can't tell you how good it felt. Step, step, plunge. Step, step, plunge. Higher and higher I went, alone in the moment.
Looking down the couloir from about halfway.
So the crux for me was exiting the couloir. The 'V' notch was competely snow-choked, so I went about 15ft higher, and had to pull some solid fourth class and at least one fifth class move up and out of the couloir. As soon as I did that, I thought to myself "no way I'm down-climbing THAT, thank you very much!" I was able to descend down the snow on the S face, and reenter the couloir lower down, so it all worked out.
And finally, at 0830, exactly 4 hours after I started (slow? fast? average? Don't know. Don't care.), I stood on my first summit in over 10 years...
camera+timer-tripod=really bad summit shot!
There are no words to describe how I felt. I called my wife and cried like a baby. It felt so surreal to be there, I almost felt like I was outside my body looking in. Does that make sense? Maybe it was the altitude. Anyway, I sat on the summit for about half an hour, resting, refueling, and trying to take pictures that did justice to what I was seeing...
For some reason my wife said I should title this "50 Shades of Grey" I told her to stop reading that crap.
From the summit of Mt. Sneffels, 05/17/12, 0838hrs.
So the descent was....long, but uneventful. Made it back to the car at 1100, for a total time car-to-car of 6 and a half hours. I ate, changed into some comfy clothes, and drove back to Albuquerque. And yes, that sucked.
So that's my story, hope you enjoyed it, and now is the part when I shout out some thanks and love:
To my amazing wife and daughters, couldn't have done it without your support.
To Chris and Hiroki, who taught me how to be a mountaineer all those years ago.
To Mattie, my buddy who had never climbed a mountain in his life, but joined me for an aborted attempt on Mt. Yale this past winter. Next year Mattie!
And finally, to everyone on this site who answered my questions about training, or who motivated me, or made me laugh, which is a really long list but off the top of my head: #tmathews, #kushrocks, #geojed, #rjensen77, #peter303, #kiefer, #surfnturf, #dancesatmoonrise and well, a whole lot more. You guys don't know me from Adam, but you all helped me in a very small, but very special way. And a great big shout out to the one, the only, Bill Middlebrook. You've done an amazing thing here Mr. Middlebrook, and I'm very grateful to be a small part of this terrific community.
Now I'm done. Peace.
Thanks for reading. Peace!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):