Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bierstadt to Evans - Sawtooth Scramble

Matt and I bagged two fourteeners and scrambled the Sawtooth ridge on Sunday July 15th, 2007. It was a great day and a great to spend time in the mountains with my son Matt. He has become quite a 17 year old mountaineer.

Getting to the Beirstadt trailhead at the top of Guanella pass, we were delayed for a short time by construction on the road. Once at the trailhead we noticed one thing: lots of people climb Beirstadt. I would guess it is top 5 along with Gray's.

Crossing the willows is no longer the adventure it used to be. The trail and planks now make it easy. The trail to the summit is uneventful, yet quite scenic. Close to the top is a snowfield to cross and a bit of Class 2 rock scrambling. This was the goal of most of our fellow climbers, but Matt and I were just getting started. After sharing a Busch NA, away we went!

The ridge between Bierstadt and Evans is called the Sawtooth. It is aptly named and recommended by Colorado Scrambles. The first half of the Sawtooth requires quite a bit of downclimbing. Although challenging, it is less fun for me than climbing up. Matt took the lead and did a great job of route finding. Just past the low point of the ridge the climbing gets more intense. Matt scrambled away and I lost him. As I climbed the steep rock I started to worry more and more. I have told him not to get separated, but you know teenagers. I met up with some other hikers with a dog, at this point they had to turn back because it was just too steep for Fido. Don't bring your dog on this route: humans have this advantage over dogs. It turned out Matt didn't get too far ahead and was waiting for me at the top of a nice pinnacle (not the one pictured.)

We were killing quite a bit of time, so Matt convinced me to leave the standard route which circles the last cliff to the left (NW). Instead we headed straight for Evans, circling to the right above Abyss Lake. Leaving the recommended route is something that experience has taught me is usually not a good idea. In this case the obstacles included some boulder hopping, loose rock and especially one snow couloir that was impassable without crampons and an ice axe. We decided to climb further down to go around the snow rather than risk it. Finally we decided to climb a gully which got us back into some fun scrambling. We again gained the ridge and met up with the trail to the top of Evans.

We were quite tired by now, yet trudged on to the summit of Evans. We started to hustle a bit because the clouds were rolling in and the day was aging.

On the descent from Evans we again deviated from Dave Cooper's route to Mount Spalding and instead headed straight down the creek. Following the creek is the only way to avoid the cliffs of the Sawtooth. The trail was steep and loose plus it started to hail pretty intensely. Luckily we were prepared with light coats which we donned. Once we climbed down the cliffs the weather cleared up and the day was beautiful again. The only problem was the two or three miles of swamp and willows to cross. There is a nice path through the willows so it wasn't too bad and we passed a nice waterfall. Matt and I talked about how we might hunt this valley and I tried to give him some pointers on how to hunt.

As we reached the Jeep it started to downpour again, so we were feeling relieved to be back. All in all it wasn't my favorite scramble and it was a very long day. We probably covered 10 miles.

Mount Elbert Scramble

On July 4th, 2007 Matt and I climbed the tallest mountain in Colorado: Mount Elbert. While Mount Elbert is the tallest at 14,333 feet, it isn't the hardest mountain to climb. The normal route is only a Class 1 trail. We left Denver at 6 AM and arrived at the trail head at 9 AM. We got a bit of a late start, since normally you want to be off the top of peak in Colorado by noon to avoid thunderstorms and lightning.

Matt and I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting by following a variation of this route up the gully on some Class 3 rock. My focus is not to climb all the 14ers, rather I am interested in climbing all of the scrambles in Dave Cooper's Colorado Scrambles book. On the other hand it is surprising that it took me over forty years to bag this peak!

I must say this scramble was as much fun as some of the scrambles in Cooper's book (photo at left). The climbing isn't sustained, but is long enough to be as good as the Kelso Ridge on Torreys. Dave explains in his book that there are thousands of Class 3 climbs in Colorado's mountains and he couldn't include them all. He also purposely left some classic climbs out. While not quite a classic climb, I suspect he left this route out to protect it from the throngs of people who might want to bag the biggest and get in some scrambling. My advice is to always look for adventure and not to rely on documented trails all of the time (all while respecting nature).

The route to tree line is sustained elevation gain, with some steeper sections. At the start you follow the Colorado Trail, so I completed a small bit of that goal. About a half mile above tree line we left the main trail and headed for the small lake. I believe you could make the climbing above the lake as difficult as you want: easily 5+.

Above the cliffs is the false summit where we rejoined the trail. Matt was getting pretty tired at this point and he vowed to take a nap on the summit. Arriving at the summit we encountered a light crowd. The views of all the mountains surrounding Elbert is amazing.

The descent seemed very long. Matt smoked me on the way down, so I guess that nap was a good idea!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Flatiron Scramble

Matt and I took a trip up to Boulder for a day of scrambling. Our goal was to climb Angel's Way which Gerry Roach's Flatiron Classics book describes as mostly F3 with a few F4 cruxes. F4 translates to a 5.0-5.2 climb, but we were going to see if we could make it over the cruxes without ropes.

We approached Angel's Way via the Skunk Canyon Trail as I understood from the book. I was glad we took this route for the adventure, but it is not the most direct approach to Angel's Way. Instead you should just go to NCAR and take that trail.

As it turns out the whole area around Angel's Way is blocked until July 31st for raptor nesting. So Matt and I decided to just head over to the Shanahan crags.

I was a bit disappointed because I thought I had thoroughly explored the Shanahans, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. Last year I had tried to climb the northern most Shanny, but it proved to difficult. This time we started farther north on the rock, just passed the Slab.

The scrambling on the second Shanahan is very similar to it's brother, but a little more intense. You can make it as hard as you want; well up to 5.1 I would say. The route is punctuated by a vertical cliff that looks climbable, but with ropes (see picture). Instead we traversed south for 100 yards and then back across polished rock to bypass the cliff. Matt went on up, but we weren't sure of a walk-off from the absolute top, so we decided to descend near the area of the cliff. We found an escape off the south side of the rock by passing under a chock stone (picture without people).

We then walked up and around this rock and found another piece of scrambling rock above the Shanahan. This proved to be fun easy scrambling to a nice summit. We planted a dead stump in the pothole at the top as our flag.

Walking off we found a very nice hidden cave on the south side of the Shanahan rock. It looks like a great place for a guy to bring his girl ;-)

We will be back in late August to attempt Angel's Way again. Stay tuned.