| Memorial Mmmmmadness
Day 1 via Willow Creek: Challenger to Kit Carson, down the OB couloir
Distance 15 miles
Willow Creek, so far, has been my favorite approach to a 14er. A gentle climb with stunning scenery. I was hoping for more wildflowers but I suppose it's too early? The full moon lit the way through the endless switchbacks. There are brief patches of manageable snow as I approach the headwall. Upon reentering the forest the trail is snow littered however snowshoes aren’t necessary from all the recent traffic. The waterfalls and stream crossings are just a hoot and raging with a fury in the afternoon. The sounds of flowing water are refreshing. I managed through the lake area just fine then climbed up and over into Southeast grassy area. The snow here was firm. As I made my way up the North slope of Challenger the snow was a sheet of ice. I picked at it with my axe and kicked it with my micro spikes to no avail. I scurried closer to the North so I could get on solid rock and stay there. (I took a picture of my route and colored my approximate track in red. ) Once I gained the North ridge I saw another hiker coming down the standard route from Challenger and wished I could let them know what the conditions were.
Once on Challengers summit Kit Carson dares me to come closer. The Kit Carson ledge is also a sheet of ice and getting solid footing while slamming my axe into it is exhausting. I get to the top and look down Kit Carson Avenue and contemplate my options. The sun is blazing the snow, which is softening quickly. I found it difficult to get a good axe hold and my micro spikes were essentially useless as they became impacted with slushy ice. I found a clever way to traverse however, left hip down in the snow, right foot kick a good step, both hands desperately pound the axe into the snow, left elbow as a rest then left foot kick a good step. This process was painfully exhausting and about 2/3 of the way down there is an ice filled crevasse. I knew the remaining route was not promising and sun facing so I climb up into the crevasse and checked the ice with my micro spikes. It’s solid. I would not recommend this climbing option unless you are comfortable with sustained class 5 climbing. I know, it’s totally nuts but the conglomerate rock is supporting and I find all kinds of good jugs and hand holds. I had to take my gloves off so I could feel the rock. My hands and fingertips got pretty beat up from the climb but finally I topped out and within 10 minutes I summited. For sure, this is the craziest thing I have ever accomplished. I took a picture with my approximate route in red and another looking down from the top. I wished I had three hands because I would’ve taken another picture of what I climbed while climbing.
Descending over to the Outward Bound couloir was a slippery feat and nerve wracking. I was pleased with my decision to not continue down the avenue and up the rock rib. Finally I stood on top the OB couloir and was elated to see the packed trail from a team of ropers just finishing their descent. Thanks ladies and gentleman, good work. The OB descent was a breeze. A couple glissades and I was down and out safe. Awesome. Looking back up really makes me want to learn to ski these couloirs. I’m certainly salivating every time I read a ski trip report. Maybe next year?
Now back to the creek at the base of the cliffs; post holing is hit or miss but not excruciatingly painful. I’m in awe at how the scenery changes from early morning to midafternoon with all the melting. I can hear the lake ice and waterfall cracking. I find a better way back through the trees and run into some day hikers in tennis shoes at the lake. I feel silly and bogged down with all my mountaineering equipment but just keep smiling, slowly winding my way down Willow Creek reminiscing in my adventure.
Day 2: San Luis attempt from Equity Mine via bike
Distance ~6 miles
I’m not sure which I like best, hiking or biking, but my favorite thing to do is combine them. The road up to the Equity mine is in great shape. However, after the first creek crossing combined with spring runoff, the morning conditions are icy and the afternoon a muddy mess. I biked up to the Wilderness boundary and stashed the bike in the bushes. I was surprised how quickly the sun warmed everything and by the time I got up and over to meet the Colorado Trail I was attacked by a post holing nightmare in the small forest. My snowshoes sunk into the soft snow/mud combo and became a heavy burden so I ditched them. I climbed the second saddle and my heart sank. The entire basin up to the third saddle is snow covered. No fun. I dropped in and another post holing nightmare began. I sat there and looked up at San Luis oh so close, but really hours away. Coming back was going to be worse so with my head hung low, defeated, I turned around. Lesson learned. There’s a reason there are no tracks there but mine. As always, I am elated to see my trusty steed to carry me back down the mountain. Good boy.
I’ll be back….
The drive over to Cinnamon Pass from Creede was long. Slumgillion pass is in rough shape with what I’d estimate a 4:1 ratio of dead vs. thriving pine trees. Once pass the beautiful San Cristobal Lake, I was greeted by a wavy horizontal rainbow. I’ve never seen such a thing. Cinnamon pass is in good shape with just two obstacles that would stop a low clearance 2WD vehicle. I really wanted to save the day and climb Handies but by the time I cleaned all the mud from my gear from the San Luis debacle and 4WD over to the TH it was too late to attempt. The mighty Forester aka “Roobie” did a fine job at clearing all the obstacles and robust creek crossing. There was a slushy snow drift approximately 1.5 miles from the TH that stopped me so I turned around and set up my car camp at the Silver Creek TH. Like a jerk I propped my bike against nearby truck so I could flip Roobie around and got busted. Geez, the truck owner was pissed. If I were a man he would’ve surely given me a shiner. He was so mad that I didn’t know what to say. I wished I would’ve apologized. A few climbers were coming back and I could see no one had snow shoes so I decided to take my chances as I got my pack ready and leave them behind, which was good decision.
May 27 Happy Memorial Day. Thank you to all Veterans for your service.
Sunshine to Red Cloud via the South Fork then down Silver creek
Distance 9 miles
Again the moon shined the way on the dark trek up Silver Creek. The cairn was not obvious so my GPS came in handy when locating the South fork. The creek crossing was difficult with it being so full. The rocks were ice covered and slippery. Somehow I hopscotched my way across and found the good trail up toward the trees. There are patches of snow here and there with lots of previous traffic so it’s pretty easy to navigate. The South end of the Sunshine basin is like a glacier and solid enough in the early morning to breeze on up. I could see the gendarme but right in front of me was an easy snow filled gully. I didn’t drag my ice axe and micro spikes up here for nothing. I gained the NW ridge in no time and scurried over to the final 800 foot steep scree, oh how I despise thee, NW face. I summited all 14,000 and one feet by 0730, how cute.
The descent on the Red Cloud connecting saddle has snow and ice but with micro spikes is no problem. The climb up Red Cloud is gentle and essentially snow free. There are weird snow formations combined with the red dirt that remind me of fire coral. I’m on the Red Cloud summit in under an hour. I had a feeling the view from here would be stunning. I can see Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn and Sneffels to the North. Spanish Peaks, and the aloof San Luis to the East. Bristol head is obvious as well. Handies is happy and begging me to climb, next time. I haven’t climbed the Wilson group so it’s difficult for me to pick out to the West. So are Sunlight, Windom and the Eolus’. My time on top of Red Cloud with complete solitude gave me time to reflect on why I climb. Why, "...by bringing myself over the edge and back, I discovered a passion to live my days fully, a conviction that will sustain me like sweet water on the periodically barren plain of our short lives" thanks -- Jonathan Waterman
The hike back was uneventful. The marmots teased me, I teased them. They are bold. The basin has snow here and there but again, lots of traffic makes for easy navigating. The wind is blowing up the basin and with the bright sun, it is refreshing. I finally get to Roobie who whisks me away. We drive up the scenic highway 149 and I’m wondering what time of year I like to hike the most. My 14er obsession started last July in an unusually dry year, which continued through the winter. I’m slowly building up my winter gear and have a long list of wants. We had a very wet spring and summer is fast approaching. I wish there were more wildflowers and more trees in bloom. Patience. Now it’s time to go tend to my shin bruises from all the post holing this holiday weekend. Who loves spring, raise your hand? Hey, BTW don’t forget to donate to CFI for all these wonderful trails!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):