| Great Unexpectations
Last weekend was full of Great Unexpectations. Saturday was full of unexpected danger and Sunday was full of unexpected snow.
The goal on Saturday (July 11) was to take our flatlander friend, Andy, up something easy and close to home. Greyrock seemed like the perfect, nice and leisurely option. But it ended up being a hike full of danger.
Even though Jen and I have climbed Greyrock many times, we've never done it in the summer, let alone at 8:30 in the morning. By that time the trail was already nice and toasty. Andy kept talking about how much he loved the smell of pine, but all I could smell was flesh searing under the sun.
As we were complaining about the heat, I looked down at my feet and noticed a swarm of bees crawling in and out of hundreds of nests (that looked like little holes drilled into the dirt) right under the trail. It was absolutely disgusting. Sorry, no photos … we had to move quickly through those sections.
The trail was also really overgrown, most likely from all the spring rain we received. This wasn't a problem with me until Andy pointed out some Poison Ivy about a half-mile up. Then we started to notice it everywhere, and all along the trail. I am extremely allergic to the stuff so you can imagine how horrified I was. In order to avoid coming in contact with it, I had to do a little Poison Ivy "dance" for the entire hike.
If that wasn't bad enough, there were plenty of trailside cacti to avoid:
We somehow managed to summit and get back down to the trailhead without getting heat stroke, poked by cacti, stung by bees or poisoned by that evil plant from hell. These are just some of the reasons why I prefer alpine hiking, by the way.
The following day (Sunday, July 12), Jen and I set out to climb The Citadel. Based on the limited beta we could find on The Citadel and other peaks in the area, we expected to encounter a bit of snow, but we thought the Class 3 rock on top would be dry.
Unfortunately, we were wrong, and we ended up turning around about 100 feet or so short of the summit. Even though we didn't make it, I thought I'd still share pics / conditions.
If you can believe it, this was our first time up Herman Gulch. It's a beautiful place, just off I-70, and now I understand why it's so popular.
Within minutes the cascading creek drowned out the din of the highway. Soon thereafter we popped into a lush valley teeming with wildflowers.
Here is a pan with The Citadel (left, far back), an unnamed 13er, Pettingell, and Herman Lake:
The trail to Herman Lake was great. But beyond the lake it's almost all bushwhacking through willows, over humps of rock and spongy grass, and across creeks.
For the most part, we contoured the basin at about the 12,000-foot level. In total, we lost and regained at least 100 feet each way.
Here was our rough route up to the saddle (there is a faint trail up to the saddle, which lasts for a couple hundred feet):
Looking back on our route from Herman Lake; photo taken from just below the saddle:
Hiking up to the saddle:
View to the southeast:
Continuing up the grassy-rocky, Class 2 ridge:
The Citadel-Pettingell ridge:
Encountering snow near the top of the ridge (it ended up being a really short and easy section, but a fall to the left or right would be serious, as they're both super-steep and long slopes):
One route description we read says to go to the left at this headwall and then pass under a few chutes (photos are best viewed large):
Unfortunately, the summer trail was buried under many feet of snow. We considered descending below the snow, but the talus looked way too steep, loose and sketchy. So we decided to traverse across the snow.
This was about the time I heard what sounded like a rock slide coming from one of the gullies. It scared the crap out of me, but it ended up being just another climber who stepped on a bit of loose talus. He had just turned around after attempting to climb one of the chutes.
Those chutes, by the way, looked way too dicey to climb, IMO. They appeared to be Class 4 and 5 with tons of loose and wet rock … no thanks!
Halfway across, the snow seemed to be getting steeper, especially near the entrances to the gullies. It appeared to be pushing 45 degrees in some spots.
Lower down the snow, it was probably a little under 45 degrees, but it looked icier.
Here's a shot of the mid-section of the snow (lower down it looked icier and higher up it looked steeper than this):
The snow we were on was pretty decent and we weren't having any trouble at all, but there was absolutely no room for error. It was so steep, one slip might have turned into a tumble, making it difficult to self-arrest in time to avoid the big boulders below.
We sat there for a moment, trying to decide if we should continue on or turn back. As a litmus test, I asked myself: If I had rope and pickets with me, would I set up a running belay here? Without even thinking about it, my answer was yes. So we turned back.
As a side note, we were really up there just to climb some good, dry Class 3 rock, and we weren't expecting to do a steep snow climb.
Heading back to the ridge:
Me walking back across the snow on the ridge:
Jen walking back across the snow on the ridge, with Herman Gulch on the left and Dry Gulch on the right:
On our descent (close to 11 a.m.) we noticed some climbers still heading up, making us wonder which couloir they were aiming for:
Jen took a nice pic of some wildflowers back down in the basin:
And another Columbine pic here:
Even though we didn't make it all the way up The Citadel, we weren't very disappointed. We planned on coming back for Hagar anyway, so now we hope to just climb them both together.
After they melt out completely, that is.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):