Rocky Mountain Highs!

8 Aug 1996 - by Rich Calliger

Grays Peak,    14,270, (2 August 96)
Torreys Peak,  14,267, (3 August 96)
Mt Evans,      14,264, (4 August 96)
Bierstadt,     14,060, (5 August 96)
Pikes Peak,    14,110, (6 August 96)
Longs Peak,    14,255, (8 August 96)
After too many 7 day workweeks, I boarded an aircraft to Denver, Thursday, 8/1 (w/ a good Alpine Flight start at 4AM) and rented a Cherokee for a week of mountaineering and hiking via the highest possible attainable 4WD TH's. Grays and Torreys indeed were at 11800 and could have been pushed a little further but was not really safe to do so. In fact I spent most of the week at/above 11800' easily except for the TH @ Longs (abt 9500'). I reacclimated easily since I had been at altitude a lot so far in 96. I also drank freely of the melting snow-pack streams with no adverse (so far!)

Moderate (2-3") gravel-sized hail, snow, wind and lightning occurred Aug 2nd & 3rd at my high backpack camp of abt 12500. Lasted ~ 8 hrs but no real near strikes (flash-bang got down to = 1 however!) and it was actually a pleasant, if not a little scary, break from the heat! The wind seemed to stick around 20-30 MPH and got no worse than semi-serious rain-fly flapping.

Otherwise the weather was absolutely perfect on all summit days and the views majestic to the extreme as the air seemed significantly clearer to me than the Sierra of 3 weeks earlier with much more intense cobalt blue colors. (You've seen pics of a water-pool nuclear reactor-blue.. Cherenkoff radiation? That's it!) For the most part I drove as high as I could, parked and took the heavy back pack up to 12500 or so and made camp.. from there getting to 14000+ was a relatively quick & easy 1800 gain/5-6 miles avg in a few hrs or so with a light summit pack.. I wanted easy anyway to save my ankle which had been tweaking me for 2 months now.

Grays and Torreys

Class 1-2, SE approach- Navigation was a little bit of a problem as REI & everyone I checked were out of topos-(bring your own before hand)-- but these two were easy ridge walks of less than 2800' total gain and 9 miles (from my high camp) with smallish summits but excellent panoramic views (if I got the correct 14'ers!) A nearby lower peak had an observation (?) hut on it that looked geodesic and interesting... but I did not go over to check it out.

3-4 open & ominously deep mineshafts (vertical, with no covers, rails or warning signs, but spooky dripping water- (especially at night) ) livened up the approach walks a little. Seriously, at the lower elevations around 10000-11000 between the peaks, in several areas I went exploring in on the approach- there were numerous meadows w/tall, dense-ish blooming wild flowers which grew right to the edge of these mineshafts. This presented a real hazard as the shaft entrance appeared quickly out of "nowhere!" (Jeep and other trails were mostly non-existent in my approach. If I do it again, I might take one of the more beaten down goat paths on the W-SW side from Loveland Pass and hike the Continental Divide trail... (Starts at 11400+ from HWY 6 just off I-70) but it was too populated for me.. so I drove around other side to make high camp and make my own (minimum impact) TH. (since it was legal ya know!!! :-) )--- it is about a 40 mile drive to get around.. but well worth it.

Best guide book I have seen is "Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes To Climbs," By Gary Roach. He defends the "foot" over the "meter", BTW, with a very simple but in my opinion, powerful statement which he is serious about:

"There would be no 14'ers if we switched to the metric system."

Ever climb a 4,267'er???? but I guess everyone has heard that before.

BTW- at this time in August at this elevation it was mid-spring season weather here as everyone probably knows, and there were numerous meadows of reds, whites, blues, oranges, whites and innumerable species of other exquisite flowers in full bloom that seemed to go on forever and seemed to cover hundreds of acres-- but looked like thousands-- in several of the large meadows I came across-- they will leave a lasting impression to say the least- it was so inviting to lie down in and rest---yup... so I did--:-), and had a great nap on the way back down!

Mt Evans and Pike's Peak

Class "0" ??- are both drive-up 14'ers. It is stated on my map that Evan's is the "Highest Paved Road in the United States" (lower 48 ??) Unlike the Pike's Peak drive (which is "sealed" dirt most of the way) Evans did not cost $5 in toll fee to get to the top- and Evans' road is much better maintained.

The views from both were gorgeous and spectacular beyond belief.. I have been told that the Colorado ranges are noted for having the highest concentration of 14'ers in the smallest area and it sure seemed like it as I tried to identify various peaks from the guidebooks. The Pike's Peak drive was more enjoyable as it was about 5 miles longer than Evans, but Evans is 13' (so what?) higher and has more areas to explore.. Pike's Peak is located west of Colorado Springs and Mt Evans is west of Denver. Each drive was on the order of an 2-2.5 hrs depending on # of stops. Both roads do offer some pretty good "exposure" with no guard rails or lighting. One last factoid- I had forgotten, but "America The Beautiful" was written on the top of Pike's. BELIEVE IT!! You can see both oceans (oh well... gotta get around the horizon though!! just a little stretch here- sorry.)

Bierstadt

Class 1-2: at Evans' approximate 10500 level is located a parking area which serves to my understanding as a TH for Bierstadt, westerly ~5-6 trail miles. I moved out of peak-bagging mode as I put a little more time into the search (see below) effort than I realized or maybe even should have, plus the approach walk was more than satisfying as again I encountered numerous fields and high meadows of flowers between stands of forest. Snow fields were smallish sized on almost all peaks. As I gained elevation the views were even more spectacular, again the quantity, density and close proximity of peaks amazed and almost overwhelmed me in their beauty. I reached 13500 in about 3.5 hrs over indistinct trails, but easy route finding, and no bushwhacking. I sat on a prominent ledge for about an hour scanning the area with binoculars for the search effort but to no avail. (I went AROUND the dense willows and growth!)

A mid-sized search and rescue was underway at this time in this area, for a 16 year old female had "wandered" off. I counted at least 8 S & R vehicles plus a CP with generator set up. A helicopter was standing by but in discussions with the pilot he said it was too windy aloft to go up. After getting a description of the missing person I set off on my climb/jog.. Upon returning down I circled a mile or so but ran (there's a pun!) across no one... Subsequent conversation at day's end revealed that she had had a fight with her boyfriend, dumped her pack off a cliff, and went home. Oh well! I suggested that they send her and her parents the S & R bill. A serious laugh from the pilot resulted as I told him I thought it was being considered in California.

Longs

Class 3 after Keyhole-(13100') I only partially succumbed to the Rangers advice of being on the trail head at 3AM and "slept in" till 4:30 and arrived at the TH at 5AM ready to go w/ a 5-LB backpack,parka & gloves, shorts and running shoes. I jogged most of the way up and reached the keyhole at about 7:15 AM for a gain of about 3500' in 7 miles and ~2+ hrs... I was quite pleased with it all-- the gentle switch backs and tundra presented a very pleasant run. However, I was past most of the Ledges at about 7:30AM and would have probably summited before 8:30 AM(!) but my vertigo-ish/agoraphobia took over and I had to return to the keyhole very nauseous. If anyone can help me or give advice on this--it has been getting serious/ worse the last year--.. I never had this problem before.

After one more failed attempt to get past the ledges, with my vertigoishness kicking in worse now, I returned down a few hundred feet and traversed south with the objective of achieving the SE-NW ridge from Meeker to Longs. So for about another 1.25 miles I boulder-hopped and scree- scrambled to the south-south-west just under the Northern face. There were two short Class 3- ledges and I obtained the southeastern ridgeline at 13,700 for another summit attempt with no exposure. However I did walk out onto a cornice-like stone overhang that I did not realize was one until I saw in front of me a square vertical hole running the thickness of the overhang (about 2') with a spectacular TV set like view 2500'++straight down. Continuing on, a vertical wall & slabs blocked the way at 13,900 so this route proved just to be good exercise & I had a short but exhilarating 500' glissade down one of the remaining ice/snow packs on the peak. I returned down to 12500 and then back up to the keyhole. After a leisurely brunch there talking to some of the many people on the trail, I completed my return run/jog back to the TH, arriving @ about 2 PM. Clouds had started accumulating about 1PM and we had scattered light but pleasant showers at high camp that evening with light 5 MPH wind gusts.

By The Way-

I was surprised to hear that no permits were needed!!-- No permits needed? No quotas?--- I babbled quite foolishly to the NFS Rangers I met...! It had been too many years since I had done any Colorado peaks, so I had forgotten this gem of information when I inquired as to where I may or may not pitch my tent and where or where not I could have a fire (they said just keep a few hundred feet from streams and the roads and go ANYWHERE you like except watch out for private land and just don't build too big of a fire) have fun and treat the land correctly! Quite a change!! I will certainly not let so many years go by before going back again! BTW- one Ranger stared in wonder at my NFS California fire permit when I told them they were issued and supposedly good in any National Forest and mused why they even bothered!

I highly recommend a minimum 3-4 day stay if you can swing it.. the pleasure of not standing in line/dealing w/for permits, moving camp withoutworrying about a forest boundary, and just "freelancing" to anothersite because you felt like it, was absolutely wonderful. This governmental approach actually heightened my awareness for minimal impact to the areas I camped/bivied in.

Also- the supposedly somewhat dicey new Denver airport & its fully computerized baggage handling system worked perfectly as I had two aborted flights in a row (mechanical difficulties with plane change-outs) before I got to DIA I had to go via LAX, then to DFW, just to get from SFO to Denver!). The trip was not starting out the right way to say the least! Sooo... it was quite a sight to behold (I expected the worst at this time) as my backpack and gear slid out of the carousel door on-time and intact in Denver after 2 and 3 unplanned plane and city changes! So much for early starts & good planning!

However I did also have the unplanned pleasure of traversing the Sierra on the return flight almost directly over Whitney, and I should have gotten some pretty good aerial photos to share.. that is... if my pack arrives ok....as I understand we have been rerouted to Phoenix.... (I actually UPS'd the pack back in Denver to make the airport scene more humane).


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