| Communing with Friends on Mount Evans- a 14ers Calendar Winter Completer
Route- Winter Variation Echo Lake to Mt. Evans
17 miles RT
Echo Lake: 10,650’ Mt. Evans: 14,264’
Elevation Gain: 3613’
The Gang- Representatives of my family, friends, 14erworld, 14ers.com. I wish you all could have been here. I know you were in spirit.
Summit “Partiers” (L/R) Kiefer Thomas, Bill Gladbach, Kevin Baker, Sarah Meiser, Steve Gladbach, Mark Schmalz, Darin Baker, Greg Gorrell (foreground)
Participating Alcoholic Beverages (standing in for those who couldn't make it!)
Dekuyper 100 Proof Hot Damn Schnapps (Cincinnati, OH, Good 'Ol USA)
Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny Port (Portuguese Foriegn Exchange Climber) Steve, Kiefer, Sarah
The last trip report that I submitted extolled the virtues of losing oneself in the backcountry experience. I had recently completed a seven-day solo winter trip into the Weminuche Wilderness and was high on the adventure and introspection of communing, one on one, with the wilderness. It was a John Muirian moment.
Our hike up Mount Evans last week, by quantitative measures, appeared to be in complete contrast to last year’s solitary Chicago Basin experience. This was not a solo climber spending seven days reflecting on the ethereal nature of travel in the unspoiled wilderness. Instead, eight hikers and a dog marched up miles of closed asphalt highway. However, by qualitative measure, the day provided as much joy and wonder as the lengthier trip.
My friend Randy Jacobs wrote the Official Guide to the Colorado Trail. When it was first published in 1988, in conjunction with the grand opening of the Colorado Trail, he was asked many times about his favorite section of trail. “It is all my favorite”, he used to say. He couldn’t fathom choosing a tundra stroll across the trail’s highest point at Coney Summit over a long day hiking the 20-mile, heavily-forested ridge from Sargent’s Mesa to Lujan Creek. It would be tantamount to embracing one child at the expense of another; each is beautiful and unique. He is keen on appreciating each mountain experience for its distinctive qualities.
So which do I prefer? Seven solo winter days in the Weminuche or eight people and a dog on an alpine asphalt road with a view of Denver?
(However, February, 2011 it was the asphalt road.)
In February of 1988, I hiked Grays and Torreys for my first venture above timberline in the middle of winter. Gudy Gaskill provided experience and advice needed to make that February ascent a fun and successful experience; she accompanied me to the top of Grays and waited for me on the valley floor until I returned from Torreys. The 1988 Christmas card received by my friends was comprised of a “Season’s Greetings" sentiment and a photo of me beaming ear to ear in Steven’s Gulch; Grays and Torreys formed the backdrop. For the next 18 winters, I often found myself running a tundra ridge on snowshoes, bound for a summit.
Gudy (Watercolor Self Portrait)
Though most of my winter ascents between 1988 and 2006 were 13ers accomplished in pursuit of another goal, there were several 14er summits that were repeated on a regular basis. I enjoyed climbing and re-climbing Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, Quandary, Lincoln, Bross, Culebra and Elbert many times over those years. I climbed Lincoln and Bross almost every year, but I climbed each the others at least three times in those days. However, at the time, my other goal of climbing all the ranked and unranked 13ers fogged the view of any concurrent winter goals.
After finishing Colorado’s ranked 13ers, I heard about Chris Davenport’s one-year 14er ski project, and I began to consider climbing all the ranked and unranked 14ers between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. At first, I simply re-defined my paradigm about the length of a winter daytrip. I figured out that a winter climb can take longer than ten hours and it is OK to begin and end in the dark. I quickly added most of the Sawatch Range and Mt. Democrat. Next, it was necessary to improve my winter stamina, camping skills, and technical skills. Toward the end, 24hour + “day hikes” or lengthy, solo winter backpack trips moved from the realm of impossible to “I can do that.”
I learned of Tom Mereness and Jim Bock, the pioneers of Colorado winter 14er bagging and discovered Aaron Ralston’s blog. Though Mereness and Bock had accomplished the first (1976 to 1992) and second (1984 to1997) Winter Grand Slams, respectively, their pre-internet adventures were not widely available as a resource.
Still, you heard stories! During their climb of Pyramid, a significant avalanche was released. Bock grabbed Mereness by the back while their third partner was swept 800' down the mountain. All three escaped un-scathed. Their friend Joe Burleson is still in the hunt; he began the project with them many years ago but is taking a more leisurely approach. He has but a few winter 14ers remaining.
Historical Articles on Mereness and Bock
Tom Mereness working his way up North Maroon - Undated Photo
Jim Bock on Mt. Princeton -Undated Photo
Between 1997 and 2005, Aron Ralston became the youngest person (29 yrs. 5 mos.) to climb the 14ers in winter and the only person to do all of them solo. I climbed 54 solo and may, someday, repeat the other five. A child of the internet age, Aron had a useful and informative blog about his winter summits. However, shortly after I turned my sights on the winter 14er goal, Aaron’s life changing experience re-defined him as a writer and motivational speaker. Now that his experiences had become his livelihood, he was forced to pull his blog as its contents were being poached to the enrichment of others; he was losing income. In contrast to Tom and Jim, Aron is pretty easy to research on the internet.
Aron Ralston 3rd Winter Finisher- Aspen Times
Aron Ralston on Capitol Peak ca. 2003
Aron Ralston (Self Portrait- Used by Permission)
In contrast to the first three to join the "Frozen Fourteeners" Club (phrase coined by Jim Bock), my attempts to ski the peaks and their approaches seemed to put me in significant peril. I had tried a few times (of course, at the time, it meant telemark skiing on 220cm skis with three pin bindings.) I KNOW that I'd have broken a leg or hit my head (again!) had I attempted to ski like my predecessors. However, I claim the title "Expert Snowshoer." I can keep up with any skier who's headed uphill and I'll be glissading right on their tail as they ski a steep couloir. The only significant disadvantage comes when they ski out the long aproach on their return to the car.
Without good info from Mereness, Bock, Ralston, or other sources, a winter climber must develop their own routes. It is important, though, to have a peer with which to bounce around ideas. Enter Ken Nolan, the state’s most active winter climber and the definitive holder of first-hand knowledge on winter routes. Before truly beginning my winter 14er quest, I had completed the 14er circuit three times in the summer; I’d been on most of the 14er summits more than 5 times and ten times on half of them. Not only does Ken have this kind of summer 14er experience, he takes things a step further by hypothesizing and scouting unusual 14er routes for their possible potential as the safest winter routes. Before he attempts a winter route, he has repeatedly visualized every step and then waits, patiently, for the convergence of appropriate weather and a window of expected low-avalanche risk. My introduction to Ken (through a friend) became an important turning point for me as I began the most difficult of the winter 14ers. Whether or not Ken had completed a particular route, he had certainly contemplated it. His advice became invaluable.
Ken Nolan (Jim DiNapoli)
I find Lou Dawson’s 14er books invaluable. He, alone, wrote a 14er guidebook which chooses to include winter climbers in its demographics. His two-volume guide should be the FIRST guidebooks purchased by a new 14er bagger aiming for the Grand Slam in any season. It is not the most popular, but it is the best. However, it’s tough to ask a guidebook specific questions about routes or get feedback on an alternative route that you’ve conceived. That’s why you need friends like Ken.
Recent years have seen an exponential growth both in the numbers of winter climbers, the difficulty of their routes, and the number of 14ers climbed per winter. If you count only my most recent ascent of any given winter 14er, I was able to complete them in six winters. One well-publicized attempt was made to climb all 59 in a single winter, but that attempt fell quite short. However, I think the six year mark will be broken quite soon and that the “single-winter” goal is attainable by a climber who has the perfect winter alignment of weather, avalanche conditions, and time available to climb (i.e. must be un-employed!) The first winter Wonder -Woman will accomplish the goal before too long and it could well be the woman who accompanied me to Evans this week.
The current “Game”
If you want to follow the precedent set by Mereness, Bock, Ralston (also Nolan and Burleson who are still playing), this is how they did it. If you want to play a different game, you’ll get no criticism from me; however, this is how it’s been done thus far!
First, of course, you must summit all of Colorado’s 59 fourteeners in winter. Aron set the current precedent of counting 59 fourteeners in the winter quest. Mereness and Bock climbed 58 (That is 53 ranked + 5 unranked.) Aron further added North Massive, a not-too-difficult, soft-ranked 14er that only recently has gained popularity.
“Winter” means that in late December you cannot leave your car to begin your climb before the first minute of the winter solstice (which changes year to year). Furthermore, in late March you must return to your car one minute before the Vernal Equinox.
You can drive a standard vehicle to the WINTER trailhead. Specialized winter-modes of motorized travel that can be used to ride beyond the winter TH are not allowed. That is, no snowmobiles or ATV’s equipped for snow travel. Public Transportation not designed for snow travel (i.e., the train from Durango to Cascade) are allowed. Since you are not using a winter vehicle, it is similar to driving to the Winter Trailhead.
I wanted my final winter fourteener to be something special and, thanks to old friends and new, IT WAS!
When I completed my 14ers the first time around, I saved Mt. Evans for last. My parents joined me and it became their first fourteener. My children’s mother finished her 14ers on Mt. Evans. The same day, both my girls did their first 14er and I completed mine for the second time. My final 13er (friends and family in tow) was Mount Warren, Evan’s closest neighbor. It’s a nice place to celebrate.
It was important to me that my brother, Bill Gladbach and my oldest friend, Mark Schmalz, both have an opportunity to join me. But, they are not active winter climbers and I wanted somewhat reasonable conditions. After twice cancelling due to blizzard forecasts, we settled for exactly that: SOMEWHAT reasonable conditions. We were joined by some great partners who each have winter experience aplenty.
My brother Bill is an active rafting and fishing guide as well as a bow-hunter. He is plenty comfortable in the back-country. But, he doesn’t climb peaks very often. His last winter 14er was on Bierstadt over 20 years ago. He’s been my little brother for over 40 years (amazing when you consider the fact that I’m 32 years old.)
Bill working for Gunnison River Outfitters (David Sikes)
Bill Gladbach on the SW Ridge of Sneffels - His 3rd 14er?? (Steve)
Bill and Steve (Mark)
Mark is in line to be the next person to finish all Colorado’s 13ers (he has less than 15 of the 637 to complete.) We’ve been friends since we met on the Colorado trail 23 years ago. We have climbed 219 mountains together; that’s a great partner. However, Mark lives in Grand Junction; he has the canyon lands next door. When the weather turns cold, his eyes turn west. Today, he joined me for his third winter 14er. We were together on all three.
Mark and Steve on a 13er (Steve)
Mark Schmalz and Steve Gladbach (Bill)
For those of you who are used to seeing Steve's orange Columbia Yazoo hat: I'm wearing it!
It's more than a bit UV damaged and Mark is borrowing the my next replacement. I bought a supply a few years ago when Columbia quit making them. After I need to retire the one that Mark is wearing today, I have two "Mossy Oak" patterns in reserve. If Bill had his hood down, the astute purveyor of hats will notice he is wearing a Yazoo that I gave him 20 years ago.
We had clear skies, temps around 20F combined w/ 40mph winds, and a -17F wind-chill. However, people were properly clothed and, as long as we were moving, everyone was comfortable. Only the stinging spindrift and periodic, knock-you-over, 65mph gusts caused discouragement. There was much more to be excited about: inspiring views of Mt. Evans and its neighbors, 100+ mile views over Denver and on to the east, a beautiful sunrise, pleasant people, good conversation (during the 10% of the time when you could hear over the screaming banshees!) I was so fortunate to have such wonderful people to share the day.
The winter trailhead on the east side is located at the Echo Lake pay station. This is located at 10,650’, fourteen miles and 3600’ from the summit. However, there are shortcuts. We left the cars about 5:45AM and carried our snowshoes while we walked the well-packed Mt. Evans Highway for one mile. Next, we strapped on snowshoes for slightly more than a mile through the woods. By doing so, we cut out two miles of highway switchbacks. When we exited the woods, the sun was just lighting the peaks and we were able to stash our snowshoes for the remainder of the day.
Strapping on snowshoes at 6:15AM (Darin)
Stashing the snowshoes a half-hour later! (Sarah)
The next 4 miles involve hiking the same highway that summer tourists use to drive to Summit Lake, a tundra pool with a grand view of Mt. Evans North. We were at mile marker #9, but had only hiked seven miles. By road, it is still 5 miles to the summit, but a shortcut up the ENE gully would get us there in 1.5 miles. In other conditions, this portion would be un-eventful, except that the winds were un-relenting.
May the Road Rise up to Meet You (Sarah)
Road Trip (Kevin)
It’s All Good! (Kiefer)
We were joined by only one woman, but she has better resume than all the alumnae of Wellesley College. Sarah Meiser will likely be one of the first ten to fifteen women to complete Colorado’s 13ers and has more unique winter 14er ascents than any woman. I’d been looking forward to meeting her for a while, but our paths had only crossed in cyber-space.
Sarah’s photo should go here, but her close-up is on the editing room floor. Sarah was our only casualty. At the end of the day, a wind gust caused her to slip on the icy road. Her sunglasses drove into the bridge of her nose and every single article of her clothing was bloodstained. Greg, an intensive care nurse, assured her he saw no signs of concussion, but he predicted stitches. He was correct; eleven to be exact. At any rate, Sarah has captivatingly beautiful smile and a bloody image, smile and all, is not required here, so I've posted a photo from a 2010 winter trip.
Mt. Rosalie is visible just across the way. Last week, another experienced climber, Alyson K., had a similar simple slip and a life-threatening ordeal ensued. It doesn’t take much, even on an “easy” winter peak.
Sarah (intact) and her husband, Dominic (photo by Jim DiNapoli)
Greg Gorrel (aka summitlounger) was along. Greg is the nurse who tended to Sarah. His expertise and trailside manner are quickly evident; he must be a great nurse. He’s also a very fast hiker. We didn’t have much snow to break, but when we did, he was our man. He spent a good deal of time waiting up for us (and we weren’t dawdling.) I met Greg last June when we did a couloir climb on Lightning Pyramid, then headed over to Thunder Pyramid. With Kevin, Sarah, and Cooper along, the backside traverse on spring snow was a definitely dicey. Again, Greg was our “front’ man.
Greg on the summit of Vermillion- His final Colorado Centennial (100 Highest peaks)
I met Kevin Baker through the CMC about 10 years ago. He is a strong hiker with a positive personality. His amiable nature is always welcome. Unfortunately, he was fresh off an ancillary involvement with the Mt. Rosalie rescue; his part in the drama had left him second-guessing his role. Undeserved self-criticism Kevin, “Sh$%” happens, and we are not in control. The “what ifs” are often harder to deal with than the realities. My own 1992 experience with that those “what ifs” led to four years of over-the-top drinking. Forgive and forget (even yourself.)
Kevin, Marauder of the Mountains, models the alpine pirate’s eyewear (Kiefer)
I also met Darin Baker (no relation to Kevin) through he CMC at the same time I met Kevin. Darin has a deserved reputation as a truly nice guy and has always there when his friends need help. He has developed Ice Climbing as his mountaineering specialty. He recently wrote a particularly poignant trip report which featured his brother who had unexpectedly passed away. It caused me to be that much more appreciative of my own brother’s presence. Darin provided the “Hot Damn.”
Darin Baker remembering his brother Dale’s service to God and Country
Finally, we were joined by Kiefer Thomas who in recent years has become a new very important friend. He calls periodically to check up me on independent of mountaineering. in, 2009 the two of us had a magnificent winter backpack trip into Snowmass Lake where I got to share his final 14er. We had the place to ourselves. Of the 5 winter 14ers that I did not solo, Kiefer was with me for three (Evans, Snowmass, and Capitol.) He originally wasn’t going to be able to join me for Evans, but the earlier weather cancellations led to this fortuitous opportunity. Apparently more classy than Darin, Kiefer supplied the Port.
Kiefer on Capitol (Mark Nieport)
Once we reached Summit Lake, we had 1 ½ miles and 1400’ to go to reach the top. The Bernoulli Effect was causing some 70mph gusts as we crossed the plain between Mt. Evans and Mt. Rosalie. It was here, Bill and Mark would tell me later, that they were most doubtful they could proceed. But, proceed they did and the ENE gully provided more wind shelter than it did problems (though we had our share of “moments.”)
One of "Those Moments"
The high plains below Evans. Views of Evans, Spaulding, Gray wolf(Kiefer)
Evans Summit via ENE Gully
Final Push- We Can Finally See to the West
Panoramic View - East (Darin)
His Claims to Fame? As fourth Frozen Fourteener finisher, Steve is the oldest completer and the first non-skier. Wait!! Are those claims to fame??
Jim and Regina Bock hosted a Get-Together-Luncheon for what Jim has dubbed the "Frozen Fourteeners" club. Here are two additional photos:
Jim, Aron, Tom, Steve
Wilson Peak as Viewed from El Diente
Pueblo Chieftan Article on Steve
Thank you to my family, friends ,and the Fourteener community for your prayers and support on this journey.
Steve and Cooper on the Winter Summit of Mt. Evans (Kevin)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):