| 4 Mountains in 3 Days - Making the Most of the Fall Gathering
Starting Fall with new friends
When Kevin posted the thread for this years fall gathering, I cleared my schedule right away. I have always wanted to meet the people I read so much about, and needed to climb some of the peaks in the area. I was excited. My plan was to climb Redcloud and Sunshine, and maybe Uncomphagre. Well, that's how the plans started.
On September 1st, Mike (larkinrx2) posted a comment asking if anyone was interested in tackling Sneffels the Friday before. I was very interested, I had already requested that day off and had been eyeing up the Southwest Ridge for over a year. In no time we were prepped to climb on Friday. This would be Mikes first class 3 climb and based on all of my research, while more sustained, the exposure was rated lower than Wetterhorn, which was also on his list for the weekend, so I figured it would be a good intro to class 3. I promised to start from the upper trailhead without complaint, and descend the standard route, and Mike was all in. Nancy (Sunny1) expressed interest, and before we knew it we had a solid group.
The week before the climb, the weather went to crap, and the entirety of the San Juans got their first real dose of snow for the year. Despite this, I was confident as I headed out of Denver on Thursday, because the forecast was for reasonably high temperatures Thursday afternoon. I hoped that the forecast was correct and that Sneffles had only gotten a light dusting that would melt off by Thursday afternoon.
On Friday morning, anticipating a short day from the upper trailhead, we left Ouray at 630am. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the upper trailhead, and had to start at the restrooms on the road. As we started up, I was happy about our luck, because the sun was casting beautiful light on the peaks around us, giving us the chance to enjoy something we would have missed in the jeep.
Mike approaching Blue Lakes Pass
A look at the Ridge ahead
Nancy and Mike discussing the Route ahead
We made the upper trailhead in good time, and the ridge looked doable, not too much snow and amazing spires singing a siren song to us. We headed towards Blue Lakes Pass, and got our first look at the ridge. I was excited, but worried with the amount of snow I was now seeing. I knew we could do it, but was really hoping the warm forecast would help clean it. The ridge was a blast, but avoiding the hard snow was not so easy, and the snow that was soft, softened the rock and robbed our footware of their traction, making the first half of the ridge much more spicy then I had expected.
Mike starting on his first real scrambling
Nancy ready to head up a lower gully
Mike getting ready to head up behind Nancy
some of the towers we passe, these things were impressive!
We made our way up to the notch, and looked down at slick snow, making what should have been a very straightforward downclimb, a rock hug fest. On the way back up, we choose to climb the rock rib next to the gully, offering some steep scrambling but avoiding the slick, snow covered rock in the gully.
Trevor heading down the snowy, slick rock as we crossed over the first notch... not what we expected - Photo by Nancy (Sunny1)
Mike headed down the gully behind me - Photo by Nancy (Sunny1)
Nancy coming up the 6 foot vertical wall we had to climb to get off the loose snow coming back up through the gully
Mike scrambling up off the snow - photo by Nancy (Sunny1)
At the top of the gully we encountered our first real challenge. Our goal, climbing a steep class 3 rock section, was utterly impassible while keeping it class 3. I crossed some hard snow, and found what should have been obvious, and easy class 3 rock. The only problem was those hand and footholds were covered by a solid inch of ice. I told Nancy and Mike I would give it a shot, and 2 moves up realized my only options up or down were small holds that would be unreasonable to downclimb, I was committed. In an effort to avoid the ice, I have to utilize holds consistent with class 5 climbing for 5-10 feet of climbing.
As soon as I was safe, I warned Mike and Nancy away from what I had just climbed. However, from where I was, I could see an easier, albeit vertical but dry wall that looked doable a very short and easy class 4. While not on route, the only way up without navigating what I had in my effort to avoid the ice. Both Nancy and Mike scrambled up without flinching, and we were on easier terrain.
Mike coming up the wall avoiding the ice on the other side of the gully
Nancy coming up the final notch wit the Kissing Camels in the background
Mike looking out from the ridge crest at a paraglider you can see if you look closely enough.
Nancy on the upper ridge, the last couple hundred feet to the summit with super solid scrambling
Mike and Nancy coming up the last little bit to the summit of Sneffels
While there was snow, we were able to navigate the climb above the kissing camels without too much issue. The snow on the rest of the route made it interesting, but a whole lot of fun. Route finding was an issue, as there were really no other tracks, and the cairns were difficult to spot.
We made the summit together, took a long break and pulled out our route descriptions for the route down the standard route. As we came off the summit, we continued to struggle to find the correct route. The tracks leading down the standard route led every direction, and there were multiple cairns, seeming to lead a couple of different directions.
Nancy and I saw a guy pop out from the side of what, from our position looked like a cliff, and we asked about conditions, and route finding. He reported that he had just climbed up a 15 foot wall, and that while the v-notch was where the route would normally go, they had opted not to climb it due to conditions. He also reported that they were the first people to even attempt coming up past the v-notch due to the conditions. We discussed the situation briefly, and I decided to climb to where he and his partner came up, and quickly identified the V-Notch, after comparing it to the route description. I looked down it and immediately knew why it had turned other climbers around. I walked over the 4 feet to look down the wall the other climbers had come up, and knew that was not an option to down climb without rope. Nancy climbed up to where I was and we looked down, talking about options. We decided that we would have to give the V-Notch a shot, and Nancy volunteered to head down first.
While Nancy headed very carefully down, I held onto the rock and kept my hand an inch from her pack handle in case she fell she is small enough I knew I could manage at least slowing any slip if I could get it in time. She made it down and let me know that the safest way to come down would be to pass packs down, which we happily did. The ice on the holds that would have normally not been any problem made the notch an unpleasant down climb to say the very least. Mike passed his pack to me, and he worked his way down, doing what we had done, facing into the rock and working our way around the corner to avoid stepping on the down-sloping, ice covered slab immediately below the notch.
Mike coming down the first couple of steps into the V-Notch. After this move he had to face in to work around the icy slab below
Mike starting down the upper gully of the standard route of Sneffels below the v-notch
Thinking the worst was over we started down the gully. It was loose an slick with all the snow, slowing our progress to a crawl. I am happy to say, not one of us sent a rock, but it was not easy, several times I was wishing for my ice axe through the soft snow for the psychological comfort at least. We all made it down safe, but Nancy and I were starting to feel a little bit bad for Mike, this was his intro to class 3!
The Lavender Col was actually the easiest part of the down climb, as it was the only section that provided a helpful strip of snow down the center. Since we had anticipated a short day, I had not taken too much snow with me, and was ravenous by the time we got to the Xterra back in Ouray. I cracked into the turkey and pepper jack cheese that would make the majority of my food for the next 3 days happily, devouring my sandwich as I drove out of Ouray on my way to Lake City.
Looking back to Yankee Boy Basin, it was a beautiful day!
Redcloud and Sunshine
When I pulled into Lake City at 930pm, I was ready for bed. I found a spot not even a half mile up the road to Engineer Pass. I was supposed to meet Nancy at her hotel at 6am, and wanted to get some sleep before the second straight day of climbing. This time, I made a sandwich for the next days climb and got all of my food ready. I was not about to treat the climb as a short day. I had attempted to get both Redcloud and Sunshine the previous November, but had just come off steroid's due to breathing issues caused by the swine flu, and barely made it up Redcloud. This was a humbling experience, and was not ready for a repeat of that failure.
I woke up feeling like I had gotten a lot of sleep, wondering when the alarm would go off. It crossed my mind that I remembered setting the alarm, but not turning it on… I rolled over, pulled out the phone, and saw that I had failed to turn it on and I was supposed to be at Nancy's in 5 minutes! Before going to sleep, Nancy had called to let me know that we would probably miss our other team mate, as they were meeting at 630am… now that was a sure thing!
Nancy let me fill up my camelback and nalgene in her sink before we headed out, and was very gracious about me being 15 minutes late! We headed up to the trailhead, and were hiking by 730am.
Nancy dubbed this flower "the old man of the mountain" holding on as fall comes
We made good time up the trail, and I felt good. Under a perfectly blue sky, Nancy and I chatted our way up the mountain, taking our time to look at the small anomalies along the trail, like a single yellow plant with 2 flowers, hanging on to life. Nancy called it, "The Old Man of The Mountain", I thought that was awesome, and had to take a photo. We took a break at the saddle below the summit of Redcloud, and then continued all the way over to Sunshine, passing over the summit of Redcloud.
Redcloud from the saddle
Nancy on the summit of Sunshine
looking back over to Redcloud from Sunshine - Photo by Nancy
Nancy On the way back to treeline
On our way across, we ran into a couple of groups who had come up from the route that leads to the saddle between Redcloud and Sunshine. They both said it was horrible, and that they had no plans to go back down that way. After taking a long break on Sunshine, we headed back to Redcloud to summit it for the second time of the day. The trip down was worth it, as we passed through rows of golden aspens, as I dreamt of the beer that was sitting in the cooler, waiting for the Fall Gathering. I drove Nancy back down to her car, where we parted ways so that she could make it back down to Denver.
this photo is one Nancy took of me taking one the photo of the forest... she took a bunch of me taking photos that made me laugh! I guess I am a bit of a contortionist when I take photos
Nancy pointed out how the moss looked like green carpet on red rock and I had to take the photo!
a look at another face of redcloud on the way down
Nancy hiking through the aspens
A pretty scene on the trail
After dropping off Nancy in Lake City I drove straight up to Matterhorn Creek, excited for the gathering. I made it up just before dark, and found Mike and Wes. They were planning on climbing Uncompahgre with Randy and Jodi the next day. I hurriedly asked if I could join them, and was happy when they said yes. I got my car ready to sleep in, threw a sandwich together grabbed some beer and headed over to the fire, expecting to be up for a while. I had brought a bunch of bombers of beer to share, but at 9pm, just couldn't stay awake. I happily found someone to take 3 of the bombers to share with the group and headed to bed, sad to miss the festivities, but happy to be getting some sleep.
I woke up at 5am with my lips burning and realized I had not put lip sunscreen on the last 2 days of climbing, and didn't have any with me. I was not about to give up the climb for chapped lips, and got ready to head out.
We rolled down to the turn off for the Nellie Creek Road, where I parked my vehicle and hopped in with Mike for the ride up to the trailhead. My wife had informed me that if I damaged her new Xterra, I would loose some body parts I would rather keep, so I had a whole lot of willingness to ride as opposed to driving myself…
Mike, Wes and Randy hiking towards Uncompahgre
We were at the trailhead in no time, and hiking. Jodi caught up with us a little over a mile in. She has an amazing memory! I met her on Lindsey several years ago, and totally forgot about it. The hike up Uncompahgre was not a particularly difficult mountain, but it was very beautiful. The only thing that took us off guard at all was a short loose gully up the cliff band, but once Jodi pointed out the trail, it wasn't a problem at all. We all made it to the summit in no time, and chilled up top. It seemed almost everyone there (and there were quite a few people) had come for the gathering, and there was lots of conversation about the mountains in general while everyone took advantage of the amazing views and clear skies to load up on summit shots.
Jodi and her pup heading up above the loose shallow gully
Wes and Randy heading up above to loose shallow gully
The final little bit - you can see Randy, Jodi and Wes in the distance
The guy who took our summit shot, we thought it would be funny to take a photo of him taking a photo... then he posed
The group heading down the "gully", it was much better when we found the route, thanks to Jodi!
The trip to the car was uneventful, and it seemed like the day was over too quickly. Most of the group was heading down to the Italian Restaurant in Lake City for lunch, but I decided to pass, so that I could stop and take some photos on the way back to Denver of some places I had passed on the way in. Also, I really wanted to get home to take a badly needed shower… you know it was a good weekend when you can smell yourself afterwards.
I have to say that the weekend ended up being one of the best I have had in the mountains. Not just because I got so many climbed, but because I got to meet and hike with some amazing people that I might have never met otherwise! Thanks to everyone I hiked with, I look forward to doing it again!
Now some photos I took outside the hike on the way home! It was an all around amazing day!
A Waterfall Mike spotted on the Nellie Creek Road
Driving down the Nellie Creek Road, like I said, amazing color!
A defunct dam along the Henson Creek Road
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):