| No One Here Gets Out Alive
The alarm is set for 3 A.M. and I'm restless in the wee hours above the Telluride Night. I can't remember the last time I had the yips before a climb. Maybe it was Thunder Pyramid back in June of '09 or possibly Little Bear? I don't know…
I'm nervous but not scared. I mean, I don't have to be here. I could easily be one of those guys who sits at home every weekend fretting over tee times and car washes in some heavily medicated neighborhood. Workin' the lawnmower and workin' the barbeque. Three fingers in the glass and one foot in the grave. I don't know…
Dallas Peak and the Mill Creek TH. I never thought I'd make it this far. You never do. Class 2 to 3. 3 to 4. 4 to 5. You can hear a pin drop right now. Should I check the time?
I burrow deeper into my bag and think about things.
No One Here Gets Out Alive
Ascent of Dallas Peak, East Face (Class 5.3)
Failed Ridge Traverse to T 0
Successful Screeeeeeeeee Ascent and Descent of T 0
11 miles and 6500 vert (give or take)
15 hours 25 minutes
Team: Greg, Joe, Sarah
"I thought about giving Ken or Steve a call to see if the traverse goes, but I wanted some adventure. See something that interests you and just give it a try. See what you run into and decide on the spot. We all came back alive…"
- Greg, on the traverse
"The loose rock bar has been reset."
- Joe, on T 0
4:04 A.M. and we are off. Hot as hell too. I make out faint No Trespassing signs to our right as we slowly gain elevation up to the Sneffels Highline Trail. We don't expect to encounter too much water along the way. I carry two liters and am already sweating profusely. So I take in some salt and fall back. I'll eventually catch the others.
"I hear the secrets that you keep, when you're talking in your sleep."(1)
We rendezvous at a small creek that crosses the trail. It is nearly dry. Dallas Peak catches some early morning sun and stares down at us. We leave the trail here and ascend steep grass.
Approaching the start of the difficulties
Soon we arrive at an area I'll call "Hardpan Heights". There is a lot of loose junk on slippery terrain - some big but mostly small. Hardpan is my favorite alpine vagary. We put away the trekking poles and use three and sometimes four points of contact here. Joe sends a grapefruit-sized rock down and Sarah and I scatter. He apologizes and I tell him it felt like three cups of strong coffee all at once. No worries. The area is wide enough to fan out and not terrible, just a touch on the tedious side. I can't say what it would be like descending, however.
Hardpan II: The End is Near
Cimb and angle. Climb and angle. We're reach 13,000 feet, catch some sun and some views to the east and northeast. The terrain from here to the summit towers is pretty straightforward.
Summit Lounger says lounging is not a physical act but a state of mind. I concur.
Terrain above 13K
The summit towers
Greg, Joe and Sarah ascend a 4th class gully which gives access to the north face of Dallas. But I find the second move to be a tough one. I try to ascend a narrow crack to the left and back off. I try a move to the right in front of a bulge but feel like if I commit, I may come off. Greg asks if I want the rope and I say no. He downclimbs to me, gives me a spot and I make it through on the left side. Damn.
Troublesome 4th class gully
Greg enters the north face as we put on our harnesses. I notice I am a little shaky now. Not freaked or anything, just conscious and alive.
We walk down the ramp on the north face of Dallas as Greg throws a rope down after freeclimbing it. The standard route has some junk in it. You definitely do not want to stand directly below somebody climbing it unless you want a talus tattoo on your forehead. There is plenty of room to chill here without feeling like you are clinging to the side of the mountain. There is also a little bit of snow at the base of the climb but nothing problematic. With a little bit more, I could see things getting interesting.
Base of the summit pitch
Sarah goes first as Joe and I watch a good ninety second rockslide roar down the northeast face of West Dallas. Pretty wild.
I'm up next. The first moves involve a quick traverse to climber's left. It helps to stay low here (I find out after false-starting twice). Sixty feet up, the rope catches on a rock and I ask for some slack. I move the rope and then finish the climb. Joe follows me and we're all up top around 9:15 A.M.
The views of The Blue Lakes and the surrounding peaks are unreal.
The Blue Lakes
The Next Objective
T 0 is still on the table so we don't linger long. We're not sure what we're going to find but we've got rope and pro and four sets of eyes. We rap off the summit, walk down the sloping ramp past the final summit pitch, and survey the scene.
I submitted this image to Trojan Condoms (Magnum Division). I'll let you know what they say.
The terrain doesn't look too inviting. There are a handful of sinister snow patches lingering. The snow is soft but not deep, and sitting atop hardpan so we avoid it. There is about 100 feet of runout to our right before the terrain flattens onto a platform for 10-20 feet. Beyond this is a sheer drop of at least 1000 feet. I don't feel like going down to confirm it but I can feel the yawning of the abyss.
Game on (can you see all three of us?)
We slowly pick our way across, crimping and easing, testing sometimes two, three, four holds before finding anything trustworthy. And that is just for the hands.
We drop about fifty feet down one of the loosest gullies I have ever encountered. Greg goes first, picks his way down through the debris before disappearing around the corner. I inch my way down and figure it is gonna take me an hour to drop the fifty feet. Sarah stands above and I can only imagine her facial expression.
But I make it down and slip around the corner to a protected spot. I yell to her that I'm clear and pass the time counting the rocks she sends down. I don't know whether to laugh or whimper.
I found this to be a pretty lonely place to chill.
She reaches my perch and we compare f-bombs in the Saturday afternoon sun. Two Colorado cats lost somewere on the north face of Dallas Peak. Looking west the terrain eases and we press on. At this stage, what else are we going to do?
No Fall Terrain has now ratcheted down to No F--- Around terrain. It is dinner plate talus, more loose than stable, but we'll take it.
"They hide it up in Telluride, I mean it's here to stay."(2)
Greg says we've got smooth sailing ahead and I point-blank ask him if he's bullshitting me. He isn't because within a few minutes we are walking a class 2 superhighway toward West Dallas. Clouds are beginning to build all around us and we begin contemplating our bail options. It feels great to relax again.
There is a bump in the ridge that we try to skirt on the south side. We hope for friendly terrain beyond it but are forced to climb up it as it starts to cliff. Once on top, we notice a large notch in the ridge to the west and it is blocking passage.
We could see the top of this notch from Dallas and the contours on the quad were obvious. We just didn't know how big or how bad it was gonna be. With rope, pro and time, we figured we had a chance.
But the notch was too deep and the rock too crappy to even think about a rappel. And let's just say the upclimb on the other side would be a great place to test the strength of Depends undergarments. I'm not saying it can't be done - this is Colorado - but it would definitely make for a challenging day out.
So we scree surf down to 12,100 feet and get briefly pelted by graupel. It is 1:00 P.M.
To T 0 or not to T 0
Joe: 1600 feet to T 0.
Papillon: 90 minutes tops?
(cue the "Happy Days" laugh track)
We see a wall of talus in the distance. It looks loose. We've already got about 4800 vert under our legs but we all feel good. The clouds are iffy but almost everything seems to be missing us. So we press on.
The wall of talus is very loose and we all search for that sweet spot that will hold our weight (none of us find it). Near the top, driveways of the stuff start to move with each step. This is No Hesitation Terrain. If you get caught on this stuff and pause and freak out, you are cooked. You just gotta go. Trust me.
We head for T 0.
Class 2 Blues
We reach the top and come to a little amphitheater. Grayish teeth guard the ridge in front of us. I'd say the terrain reminds me of that scene in Star Wars where The Sandmen live but I'm not a Star Wars fan and don't want anyone to think I'm a Star Wars fan so I'll just leave it at that.
Enter The Sandmen. I try to put together a slipshod Boba Fett impersonation in case things get tricky with the locals.
We hang a left and approach a second wall of talus which also looks loose. This one turns out to be more loose than the first one. Damn. We angle to our left and ascend, leaving a wake of dinner plate rock behind us.
From the saddle, we can see T 0 above us and to the left. But we still have some nast to contend with - towers and cliffs - that prevent us from taking a direct line toward the summit.
"Five to one, baby one in five. No one here gets out alive."(3)
The terrain steepens and we navigate little rock walls and fins, gaining elevation slowly. Greg is in the lead and comes to a gully which requires us to take a sharp left. He says it will go.
The pecking order is Greg, Joe, Sarah, then me. Greg enters the gully (which I cannot see) as Joe and Sarah stand at the base of it. They are on a little three foot wide platform. At this time, Joe can see the gully but Sarah cannot. I am clinging to a tiny platform about fifteen feet behind them and let's just say the rock is a falling down that gully.
After what seems like twenty minutes, Greg yells that he is clear and Joe enters the gully. More rockfall.
This is pretty alarming to me because I've hiked quite a bit with these guys and they hardly ever trundle routes.
Sarah can now see what she has to climb and it is evidently not pretty:
Wooderson: I don't think I can climb this.
Papillon: How bad is it?
Wooderson: Real bad. It is f---ing loose as hell. I don't even know if I can get into it.
Papillon: Is it 3 or 4?
Papillon: How many feet?
Wooderson: Maybe 200?
Papillon: Jesus #%&$^@# Christ!!!!!
Wooderson: Do you want to bail?
Papillon: I'm not downclimbing that shit we just came up…
The gully turns out to be about 100 feet, loose and lifeless, with a tricky entrance. I make it a point to spend as little time as possible in it and quickly elevate to my partners.
Sarah and I talk about the gully here as she is looking up it. She never turns around. It is a precarious perch.
Looking down the gully. Joe in the upper right and Sarah in the lower left. Her red helmet is barely visible.
Joe: We're committed now.
Papillon: That gully should be called "1 of 10" because only 1 of 10 handholds are actually solid.
You bet your ass we're committed.
T 0 is still above us and to our left but the difficulties seem to be just about over. All that remains is a final traverse on loose choss. We go one at a time and driveways of this stuff move again. It seems like you don't even have to step on it either. The stuff has eyes. I lift my foot and the rock shifts. No hesitation, just go.
Encore une Fois
I think this would sell.
We eventually top out on the Dallas-T 0 ridge for the first time in hours. Nothing left but an orange ridge run over a couple of falsies. Within minutes, we are there. Finally. 3:45 P.M.
The dark clouds are still lingering but it seems like Sneffels is getting the brunt of it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Sneffels is getting meteorologically violated.
This brings a smile to the faces of the 13er climbers in our crew. Joe is a 14er climber mostly, and we somehow hoodwinked him into this trip. He counters by telling us 13er climbers have an oxygen advantage.
We all laugh and scree surf to the valley floor below.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Until next time...
(1)The Romantics. 1983. Talking in Your Sleep. In Heat. Nemperor Records.
(2)Glenn Frey. 1984. Smuggler's Blues. The Allnighter. MCA Records.
(3)The Doors. 1968. Five to One. Waiting for the Sun. Elektra Records.
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