Thursday, November 28, 2013

El Diente to Wilson Peak Traverse

Brian and I took a late August trip down to the San Juan mountains to climb Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente.  As one of the four great traverses in Colorado, I was very much looking forward to the ridge run from El Diente to Wilson Peak.

Approaching Ridge Crest

El Diente ascent to ridge

First good scramble

El Diente Summit

El Diente to Wilson Traverse
These mountains are the furthest fourteeners from Denver, so it took me awhile to get down there.  Two other factors delayed my trip: a stop in Grand Junction to have dinner with my mom and a wrong turn which dumped me in Norwood.  I knew I should have taken that left turn in Placerville.  I have childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Placerville, so it was nice to return to this area again.

I made it to the trailhead and found Brian's vehicle before midnight.  I hit the bag immediately in the back of the Frontier under the stars.  Brian and I got a good start the next morning on our way to El Diente.  The first part of the trail is a nice but never ending hike through the woods in the basin.  Eventually the waterfall comes into view and the ascent starts in earnest.

This part of the hike through rock rubble is definitely taxing.  Finally we hiked what looked to be past The Tooth which looms like a monarch above.  The hike starts to become a climb as we approached the ridge.  Brian and I took different lines and we used other climbers as our cairns.  With much scrambling ahead of us, I played a bit on the rocks but didn't get too screwy.

Once on the ridge line, the final push to the top of El Diente is quite an interesting scramble.  We made the top and took some great pictures.  There were a couple of military guys on top as well as a guy and gal hiking partners.

Brian wasn't feeling up to the traverse, so he decided to descend back to the valley and meet me at the top of Wilson Peak.  Maybe we broke the buddy rule, but my desire to tackle this traverse was too great.  Even though makes the ridge approach clear, I was reluctant to loose the prescribed amount of elevation and cut to the ridge too early.  This put me on the wrong side of the ridge and I had to scramble-slide down and loose the elevation anyway.  I was a bit nervous because there were no other climbers in sight, but eventually I found a few cairns which made me feel a bit better.  It is mostly the fear that you won't be able to rejoin the route that gets me.

I made my way to the ridge crest and spied other scramblers.  The views are spectacular and the route is epic.  The next section involved a lot of easy but very engaging scrambling.  It takes some time, but there is nothing I would rather be doing.  Then I came to the crux ramp.  This looks quite ominous and I had time to evaluate the approach as other climbers ahead of me were planning theirs.  One of the three in the group decided not to even tackle the pitch and bailed off the ridge.

The climb of the ramp was definitely Class 4 and probably lower Class 5, but I was never nervous due to the nice selection of holds and the solid rock.  I would like to put down more adjectives to describe this awesome section and will do so as more memories come to me.

The final pitch to the top of Wilson Peak turned out to be quite a challenge.  There is one rock that takes an awkward belly-rubbing pull to get over.  It was even tougher coming down.  There is some exposure here to make it even more interesting.  Coming down as a short guy leaves ones feet dangling, searching for any kind of a footing.  In the end I survived and was the last guy off the summit.

I heard Brian shouting from down in the valley and assumed he was headed back home.  I couldn't exactly make out the words, but was still amazed at how voices carry in the mountains.  I was trying to keep up with the others just to make sure I was on the right track.  Part of the way down the descent, I realized that their group was taking a different route than Brian.  I wanted to be sure and hook up with Brian eventually, so I had to make my way back up to the ridge.  This was a bit of an endeavor because I was already spent of energy and more ascent was not easy.

Once back at the ridge, I descended the correct valley.  This was a long and arduous crossing of scree and a sea of boulders.  This took a very very long long time.  I didn't catch up to Brian until past the waterfall and down to tree line.  Brian had waited for me there.  The long long hike out was beautiful but there wasn't much left in our gas tanks.  In the end the entire day was as epic as any other I can remember.  Scrambling one more of the great traverses was the highlight of the summer.  Very much recommended!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Elk Hunt 2013

Opening day of hunting season: one very anticipated day!  On Saturday Steve and I took the spur off wells gulch road.  Dave's knee was hurting so he had to sit opening day out.  Steve and I reached the end of the road while it was still quite dark, but we could see someone camped there by the light in there small tent.  Burr... that had to be a cold night.  With other hunters in the area we decided to stick to our plan.  I hiked straight up from the road, Steve hiked over to meadow.  The hike was easy in the dark even without a solid trail.  At around shooting light I saw 7-10 elk at about 600 yards away.  I then spotted a cow elk at 400 yards and debated taking a shot.  Instead I tried to work my way closer.  The pinions are thick in here and I heard them barking but could not see them.  Finally they spooked and I heard two shots down below.  Damn, I guess my strategy was wrong. Steve didn't get a shot due to the safety on his gun.  I hiked on up to Alkali Basin then across to the far ridge and down.  At the end of the day I saw the two hunters there on that far ridge.  I surmised that the elk went across and down toward the private land ranch.

On Sunday we decided to hunt the Mesa Pt Road and the next road over to lover's rock.  I took my ATV and went over to lovers rock and hiked up.  I was surprised nobody else was there.  Once above the burn if you stay too low you get into some thick oak brush as seen in the photo above.  I fought the oak brush for over an hour.  It sucks.  I then fought my way through the aspen groves.  In this area there are lots of small streams and downed trees.  I got a text from Dave saying there are elk below Indian Point.  I heard shots and he got his rag horn.  After much bushwhacking I actually spotted the elk bedded down right where he said they were.  Check out the photo to the right.  I worked my way up high and came upon boot tracks and saw a blood trail. The tracks were going the wrong way for me, so I followed the bootprints backwards to the tall pines.  Knowing I couldn't get much closer, I worked my way down to some boulders where I could shoot across a small valley.  I took off my orange and tried to hide behind the boulders.  As I scoped out the herd, I saw many cow elk, 3 spikes, and one bull who looked to be legal.  Finally he turned his head to prove it.  I set up my shot on the boulders using the snow for a solid base.  I took the shot and elk scattered everywhere!

I saw the bull standing on the hill side and tried to bring him down again.  Finally all elk were out of sight, so I walked over along the one elk "highway" through the black timber and boulders.  I spooked a calf who was separated from the herd.  When I got to the meadow where they had been bedded, my bull elk stood up and I dropped him with a final shot. A very nice 5x5 bull!

After hurriedly doing a gutless field dressing, I started down the mountain.  As I crested the ridge, I seen the elk herd again just below me in the meadow.  A couple of the spike bulls were sparring.  The lead cow was barking to get the group to gather and go down.  It was quite a beautiful scene.  There must have been 40 elk.  Check out the photo to the left.

I watched the elk as long as I could, then tried to make my way down the mountain without disturbing them too much.  It was getting very late and I needed to get to the trail before it was too dark.  Busting tail, I made it to Dalton's Rock before dark then walked out on the trail in the dark.  Johnny, Dave, and Clark came back to get me at the radio towers.  I ended up leaving my ATV and pickup over at lovers rock for two days.

Here's a nasty picture of my bull.  Nobody was with me to take a nicer picture.  What an awesome day of hunting!  It started out brutal with the oak brush and downed quakies, but ended with the best elk hunt I can imagine!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Deer Hunt 2013 - Opening weekend

As my fourth option, I drew a buck tag for gmu 18, 28, 37, and 371.  I've never hunted in this area, so we did a little scouting in the two weeks leading up to the second season.

First we took the county road 21 off of highway 125 north of Hot Sulphur Springs.  This road is a bit rough, and there seemed to be a lot of people around.  Not sure how this area around Elk Mountain is to hunt, because we never hunted it during the season, but I'm guessing the deer hunting is best around the radio towers.

The next weekend we scouted the area around Meadow Creek Reservoir.  We met a game warden on Road 8, and he said he had seen 200 head of deer that day.  This got me excited so decided to hunt here there opening day the next weekend.

Opening day I decided to hunt behind Meadow Creek Reservoir.  It had snowed the day before, so it was perfect conditions.  In fact I almost got my Nissan Frontier stuck just off the road because the snow was so deep.  I found a good trail, but it was cold and with the snow Shelz didn't want to continue.  She didn't have tall enough boots.  I found many sets of deer track and what turned out to be moose track.  Finally saw three moose!  Very cool.

That afternoon I hunted Strawberry Road.  It seemed that the deer would be lower than all the snow and Shelz could go with me.  We took the right spur and found a mountain bike trail at the top of the road.  We hiked this road but didn't see any deer.  On the way out, a warden had a check point set up.  He said only three deer had come out of this area today, and only one out of Corona Pass Road.

On Sunday we went back up Strawberry Road and took the left and longer road.  We found a great spot and we hiked out across great looking deer country.  Again on a mountain bike trail and again no deer.  So we decided to hunt Corona Pass in the afternoon.  It started snowing but we hunted a spot where a fellow hunter said he saw a buck.  Instead we saw three moose!  A mother and two young bulls.  The one bull was a year older than the other and we watched them sparring and playing a bit.  The area looks like good deer and elk country, but the only deer we saw was a buck that some boys from Kansas had harvested at the start of the road.

All in all, the beetle kill is causing an affect on the deer population I believe.  This is also very high country, so maybe not the best in general for deer.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Grand Traverse

I have had the Grand Traverse on my wish list for a couple of years now.  The Grand Traverse is on the skyline above Vail as you are heading East.  It is part of the Gore Range.  We left Denver early and arrived in Vail at about 6 am.  We stashed our mountain bikes at the Deluge Lake trail head and parked at the Bighorn trail head about a mile and a half away.  This trail head is a bit tricky to find.
The first section of trail is quite steep.  You can imagine the fall colors would be spectacular on this hike, but we were here on August 18, 2013.  It is still a very pretty hike.  After about a mile and a half the steep slope relents and you have easier walking in the valley.  There are many species of mushrooms here if you look for them.

Once you reach the cabin, take the trail to the left of it rather than to the right.  We went right and made it into the upper valley fine, but it just added a bit to the hike.

The trail peters out and you have to do a little bushwhacking to get to the steep slopes of North Traverse Peak.  We were eager to get on with the scrambling so we probably started up the slope too early.  I wonder if going all the way to the saddle would have been better.  The bushwhacking/scrambling starts here and is a good challenge.  It is very untame and wild in the Gore Range.
Here you can see the kind of true bushwhacking you get yourself into!  My climbing partner Shelz was getting a bit put out with it.
Once you climb past the cliff bands the vegetation thins out but the steepness of the slope remains.  The grassy slope is hard on the calves and quads.  The views of Vail start to appear and you can see all the way to Holy Cross.
Then the scree starts.  You get boulders of all shapes and sizes.  None of them are very stable (as you would expect).  For people who have spent there lives boulder hopping, it can be fun to gauge the terrain and find the best way to surf your way up.  For people who have less experience, it is not fun at all and can be frustrating and scary.  The scree becomes interminable. 
This is a very long climb and a bit much for us on this day, so we turned around with the summit of North Grand Traverse peak in our sites.  To touch the top was tempting, but the goal has always been to scramble the traverse, so we will be back. 

The descent down through the scree and then the cliff bands was just as challenging as the ascent.  At times we were almost cliffed out and had to use some unorthodox climbing moves to get past the thick ground cover and water trickling rocks.

The long hike to the truck got us back after 7 pm and in the darkness.  If you aren't a fast hiker/climber you should start this adventure as early as possible.  We'll be back.  We'll see you up there in the summer of 2013!