Winter Mountain Climbing

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Thursday I had a crazy work day broadcasting from Kaufman Stadium. DSC_1489

So I was not sure when I would leave work for the day. Once the games rain delay got going I headed back to the station to put away the gear and then off to get ready for Colorado.

Amanda dropped Jon off at 6 and shortly later we hit the road. Jon took the first driving shift and the weather was pretty foggy and rainy. I drove the middle shift and Jon tried to nap and then he drove the last part and I napped. We stopped just off hwy24 about an hour from Buena Vista and pulled over. We got in out sleeping bags in the truck and went to sleep. I was already pretty much asleep before and slept great even though it was 20F outside.

In the morning we got up and finished the drive into Buena Vista. We got some breakfast at a little place called Panchos and then went to a gear rental shop called Trailhead. We had planned to rent some alpine touring skis and spend the day teaching ourselves to use them. We discovered they don’t rent them out without an Avalanche Safety Certification showing we had completed a class. They didn’t have any classes or lessons in anything that day and we were unsure what to do. We told the guy our plans and delima and asked for suggestions and he showed us some 3 pin skis.

We decided to give them a shot and got a few good places to go from him.

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Our first stop was the cottonwood lake. We parked and got our gear together and strapped on the skis and headed out on what we thought was the trail. The boots that work with the skis feel pretty nice and like normal hiking boots but they have an extra big chunk of rubber on the front that clamps down onto 3 pins on the skis. The heal stays loose all the time. The skis have a real light edge on the sides to help with turning and a set of scales in the middle that help them to move downhill easily but offer a little bit of grip going uphill.

It was tough at first and we were needing to use our poles to push us up. We had little control and after figuring out we were on the wrong trail we decided these did not work well at any kind of big incline.Then we found the right trail and it was along a big frozen lake.

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We cruised around the edge of the lake until we found an open area with a slight hill. We worked out way up and down the hill getting a feel for what angles we could climb at and how to control ourselves on the way down without hitting any trees or falling down.

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Then we wondered though the valley just exploring and found a gravel road covered in slow and followed it a long ways. It was great for these skis and had a lot of cool old cabins on it. Eventually we headed back to the car and drove to another spot the rental guy recommended called Collegiate peak campground. We didn’t find a trail here but the campground was under snow and we followed the road around the sites. We found a loop with a gradual incline and then a pretty fun downhill area and did that a couple times.

We headed back into town hungry, thirsty and feeling pretty good about our 3 pin ski skills but with no desire to rent them for any mountain climbing.

We ate food we had brought with us on the way back to the rental place and then turned in our gear and walked to the Brewery that brought us to Buena Vista and got some Epic Day IPAs from Eddyline brewery.

After a few beers we checked into our hotel room and unpacked and got dinner cooking in the crock pot. Then we broke in the hot tub and pool with a few incognito beers from a 6 pack we picked up at Eddyline. After we were refreshed we walked back into town and tried out a distillery.

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It was okay. Then we tried out a cool bar called the Jailhouse that was a hole in the wall with a cool atmosphere and good beers. We had enough beers and were ready for dinner and an early bedtime so we walked back. We ate enchiladas out of the crock pot in our room and then got to bed a bit after 8am.

Around 6am we got up and got all ready and then hit up the continental breakfast when they opened at 6:30. We packed in as many calories as we could and then drove the hour to the trail-head for Quandry. Unlike last year there were lots of cars in the parking-lot, the sun was up and other groups of hikers were headed up. We got all ready and left the car at 8:15am. We started in just our hiking boots and quickly passed the group in front of us when they stopped to put on spikes of some sort. A bit of a trench forms where the trail is with the snow packed down hard in that spot and the light fluffy snow besides it.

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Having the trench is really nice, you can hike in boots pretty well or in snowshoes or alpine skis really well. If we accidentally stepped off the trail though we sank to our knees or more really quick. Shortly after starting we realized we were way overdressed. There was no wind and we were hot. We started shedding some layers but knew it was going to get cold and windy as soon as we left the trees.

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Fortunately it never really happened though the weather stayed great as the trees thinned out.

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And as we left them behind.

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The snow did get a bit thicker and we switched to snowshoes. They also really helped when it was steep as the spikes on the bottom would dig in. Clouds were moving back and forth but for the most part the views were amazing and unobstructed.

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After the treeline we climbed onto a ridge and pretty much followed the ridge up in a straight line the whole way. DSC_1546It was steep hard work but we didn’t have to worry about getting lost or rough trail. At one point I could see 13 people (as dots) various distances ahead of us and 4 people behind us.

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At times the climb felt never-ending but also that we were so close. Finally we got to the last steep part and just crossed a little section to a big group of people on the top.

Our timing was not the best as the clouds were on us but it was still great.

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We quickly made friends with guys from Colorado, Oklahoma and Florida. I had my victory beer and it tasted great.

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We had many questions about the alpine touring skis and the Colorado guys demonstrated them to us and they all really liked them. They planned together the safest and funnest ways to ski down and then off they went.

It was one of the nicest climates on top of a 14er I have ever had. We could feel the warmth of the sun and there was no wind to speak of so we hung out a while resting and talking.

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When we did head down we put our snowshoes back on and went pretty fast. It was steep and pretty easy to do a gliding lunge down the hills. We flew down past a ton of people coming up and a few coming down. A really funny guy traded me an extra victory beer for his sandwich. He was really confused if his sandwich had nuts in it or not so Jon ate it. After hitting the tree line I topped to take off the snowshoes and we discovered that Jon’s snowshoes were gone. At some point in the trudge down both his had fallen off without him knowing. We looked a bit but did not see either.

It always feels like your going really fast but seems to take a long time to get down. There were lots of people enjoying the day on the mountain we saw as we worked our way to the truck. We both were getting the starts of an altitude headache when we reached the truck and had some Ibuprofen and drank lots of water on the drive back.

When we got to the room I realized I was really sunburned and my headache was increasing. We sat in the hot tub and talked to some guy a bit then decided we would at least mentally feel better with a plan for the next day. We drove around town and tried to find some cheep used snowshoes and looked into rentals and stuff but there was nothing very good. We went back to the room and ate a couple bowls each of crock pot chili. We looked over maps, trip reports, weather reports, snow reports etc. We read about a guy who did Pikes peak a few days before and didn’t need snowshoes at all. We also liked Pikes because it was right on our way home.The downsides were it was close Colorado Springs but the only rental places we could find there opened at 10am. Also it was a 2 hour drive from our hotel so backtracking to return snowshoes was not an option. Also there were no reports of how far the road was open and best case we had a 14 mile round trip to the peak.

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(picture unrelated but seemed like too much text)

We got all packed up, and cleaned up and ate another bowl of chili each and sat in the hot tub again and the same guy joined us. Then we had some chips and salsa and watched tv till 8 and went to bed.

Our alarms went off at 4:45am. We got ready quick and loaded all our stuff in the truck and took off. It was lightly snowing on us most of the drive. We went as far as we could until we hit a gate 1.5 miles from the planned trail-head. There was one car there but they were not hiking. We got ready and hit the trail at 6:30. It was not dark enough to need headlamps but the sun was a ways from up. There was 1 set of footprints visible in the road and a bunch more with ~ 3inches of snow on them.  The road was easy hiking and we hit the trail-head pretty fast.

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After a bit of a bathroom break we got started on the real trail.

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The lone set of footprints turned around before we got to the trailhead so we were doing our best to follow old footprints. We broke through the crust of snow a lot more then the day before but the trail was not as step and we were moving quicker. It was mostly a really pretty really thick forest but we got occasional glimpses out of the trees.

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We saw a big thick cloud DSC_1590

The trail got a bit thicker and the trail got more remote so we put on our crampons.

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They actually helped a lot but it made it even more treacherous if you broke through the crust of snow. I poked a few holes in my pants when one leg broke through and the other followed it in spikes first. We had great weather again with no wind and not that cold. I was really afraid of the sun by this point though so kept my hood and hat on.

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Our trail got more remote but we still were making good time. DSC_1606

After a few wrong turns we left the treeline and found a bunch of cool boulders.

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We had seen signs for the Devil’s playground and our best bet was this was it. We were just over 12,000′ and didn’t have much motivation to go further. We had a long drive home ahead of us. The clouds looked like a storm was coming and even though we had hiked farther then the day before we still had almost half the climb ahead of us.

We were motivated to eat a snack, get a drink and try to get on the boulders.

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They were actually real slick and much harder to climb then we thought. Also the snow was so deep around them finding a good way up was rough. So we got some pictures next to them.

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Then headed for the truck.

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We didn’t use crampons on the way back and even slid on our butts a bit in the straight areas.

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It was a really nice hike out and felt good even with not hitting the peak. As we got near the truck we saw a lot of people heading into the trails. We got to the car just before noon and changed and headed home. We didn’t stop for lunch but ate piles of leftover trail food pretty non stop the way back. We did pick up some McDoubles for a late dinner at one of our gas stops but otherwise went home as quick as we could.

We got home at 10pm Sunday and I dropped Jon and his gear off at home and then went and unloaded the truck, and got cleaned up and in bed.

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