To 13,000 and Beyond- back to the mountains.

The last mountain I climbed was the end of August 2016 with Sarah, and it was Blanca Peak at 14, 345′. I was injured a little over a month later, which lead to my surgery in June 2017, and my extended recovery.

I have been anxious to get back out there, I know it sounds silly but the surgery was one thing, it’s the mental part that takes time to get over it. I lost all of my confidence in the mountains.  It took me finally realizing that’s why I hadn’t been out in the mountains so much this winter, and I realized I just need to do it.

So fast forward to now, Ashley, Sarah, and myself decided to hike James Peak, a 13er on the front range. My only real goal was to get to 12K, and if I was having a hard time, we’d practice glacier travel, self arrest, then go home.

We started at the trailhead at 8AM, it was icy with rocks…very much late spring conditions all the way up to the lake.

St. Mary’s Lake with Kingston straight ahead.

We made our way over to the glacier, and began the up hill trudge to the flat meadow above.

Courtesy of Sarah Engel.

The sun was blazing, it was a beautiful blue bird morning, and I was down to my base layer with my pants pulled up above my calves. It’s rare when there isn’t howling wind coming down off of James Peak, but we got incredibly lucky.

We made it up to the top of the glacier and sat down for a break.

Courtesy of Sarah Engel

After some discussion, we decided that we would give the summit a try, I was feeling pretty good, and trying to stay hydrated.

We continued across the high plateau towards the base of James Peak.

Our trail!
Ashley heading towards James Peak, Courtesy of Sarah Engel
My beautiful strong friend Sarah!
My beautiful strong friend Ashley!

The higher in elevation we got, the harder it got for me to breath normally, I hadn’t been up above 12K in almost two years, so my red blood cells that helped me with elevation, had disappeared. Sarah encouraged me up the hills, telling me to take 50 steps then take a breathing break, then repeat. It really was helpful for me not to concentrate on the fact that I was having a hard time.

We made it to the last 200 vertical, and the clouds had started to close in and as I was counting to 50 for my last few steps up to the summit, it lightly began to snow.

That light snow, within a matter of a few minutes became near white out conditions, and remained as so all the way to the middle of the glacier.

Looking across at Bancroft.

As we headed down the mountain we had to select a spot in the foreground and keep moving,I continued to check the GPS as we made our way across the high plateau. I was mentally exhausted, and a bit out of sorts. The elevation was really getting to me, and I tried to remember to eat and drink, but it’s difficult when you are so tired. I wasn’t quite walking straight, and I kept thinking that I should turn down a different basin. When I was having these thoughts, I’d stop and check my GPS, it was hard to see more than 200′ in front of us, and I was trying to stay focused.

We finally made it back to the rock outcropping that we took our first break at, and located the edge of the glacier, we were home free!

We had also thought that we would be able to glissade, but with all of the fresh powder…it just didn’t happen. Sarah’s Jump-n Jostle Glissade. Sarah had a genius idea, click the link to watch the video.

Once down from the glacier, we worked our way down the icy path, which was now covered in about 3 inches of snow, back to the car. It was baffling to see the difference that 8 hours had made, it didn’t even look like the same place!

We though an ice ax shot was appropriate when we got back to the car, totally worked.

The drive back to town was….special, slick roads and steep turns– but we made it to WestBound and Down, for dinner.

Food could not have come fast enough and just as we finished eating, about to pay….the electricity in town blew. Like the whole town.

It was a great day, and we all made it home safely. I was glad that I had made it there and back without having any major mishaps. Though, next time I’ll make sure to have a larger breakfast and more water.

Thank you Sarah and Ashley for pushing me, I’m grateful for such wonderful friends and climbing partners.


Lake Helene Snowshoe

Lake Helene is perched at the base of Notch Top Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, known for beautiful views, and dramatic scenery. I also had not been up to this lake yet, and thought it’d make a nice, mellow snowshoe, for my injured knee- and the Trailblazers. I hadn’t been able to lead a hike since my  MCL popped back in October, and I was itching to get back out.

We arrived at the Bear Lake Trailhead around 7:30, it was sunny and cold,but very windy- but not in the trees. We strapped on our snowshoes, and made our way up the packed trail.

Some of our Happy Snowshoers!

The first mile or two was on the leeward side of the wind, but after that it was absolutely terrible- we went on as long as we could- within a quarter of a mile of the lake- when most of the group was ready to turn back. Only two members of our trip made it to the lake, then came scrambling back to the trees to meet up with the rest of the group.

First really windy spot. 
The wind on the side of Flattop
Notch Top right before we turned around. 

We slogged our way back to the trailhead, tired, cold- but it was a great trip out…despite the wind. After the hike, our whole group stopped at Oskar Blues to have lunch- it’s great when you have such a fun group on a hike!

Square Top Mountain A

For Sarah and I, backpacking nearly 30 miles was not enough- we decided to climb Square Top Mountain A- a bicentennial 13er in the Front Range.

We left the Riverbend Tap Room/ eatery, and drove to the summit of Guanella Pass, and set up camp in the back of Jinxy Jeep. It was a lot warmer up there than expected, and we got a lovely sunset while we were changing out things in our packs for the next morning.

Looking across at Bierstadt and Evans.
All of this came out of her bag from our backpacking trip!

Our incredible sunset!

We woke up the next morning around 6AM with no alarm, and began preparing breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny day, though some little puffy clouds were building over near Mt. Evans– otherwise it was perfect!

Square Top reflected in Square Top Lake

We made our way up the shoulder to the summit of Square Top 13, 794. The view was beautiful- looking out towards the rest of the Front Range, the Ten Mile Range and even some of the Mosquitos!

Great summit shot!

After taking a well deserved break, the clouds began to build, so we move back down the ridge towards the car. We stopped briefly near the lake, and watched these idiot kids come down a really steep, very loose, snowy, face- above the lake. We kept moving slowly, keeping an eye on them every once and a while…just in case we had to call Search and Rescue.

Once back at the car- we made our way down to Idaho Springs to grab some food at Westbound and Down- Brewery- VERY good food- and good beer!

With Gannett drawing near, I felt like this wild combo of mountains and backpacking has helped with my confidence on this trip.

Guardian of the Flatirons

This is a great local training hike, with over 4K gain and 12 miles- beautiful scenery…and I didn’t have to wear a glove on my swollen hand.

We had  terrible weather in the high country, so trying to find elevation in the low lands- is not too difficult in the Boulder Flatirons. Here is the description of this hike! Here are a few shots from this awesome hike!

On South Boulder Peak, looking at Bear(right), and Green (left)
On Bear, looking at Green. 
Finally standing on the summit of Green…. my hand hurt, i was tired, and Hungry. 

Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake is in the heart of the Indian Peak Wilderness, and a great- easy snowshoe when there is high winds forecasted for other, higher locations. Greg also needed somewhere with snow to check out his ski rig for his upcoming trip to AK- so Brainard was perfect!

It was a bit windy for sure, but in treeline it wasn’t so bad. We stopped at the Colorado Mountain Club’s Cabin to chat with whomever was there for the weekend and enjoy a nice hot chocolate. It was really a great hike! The Indian Peaks gave a great show!


Bear Peak

Just because a hike is close, and lower in elevation- doesn’t mean that it’s not beautiful, and challenging.

I climbed Bear Peak 6 years ago when my best friend visited from the east coast, it is 8 miles and 3K gain- via Fern Canyon. I’ve been rather lazy this winter- mostly ice climbing- no cardio- so this hike kicked my butt. My calves were sore for 5 days after- though I’m sure glad… and my body needed that sort of ass kicking.

I figured I’d share some photos from this hike- it was a gorgeous warm day in January….60 degrees- felt more like 90.

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First Climb of 2016

I’ve spent quite a bit of time up in Rocky Mountain National Park this last year- and we determined that we were too lazy to hike the full 5 miles up to the Black Lake Slabs, that day.

Jewel Lake ice it was- compared to the end of November- the ice had melted some, and chopped out a bit. We decided to lead the first section- and then set an anchor over to another flow we saw last time.

Glacier gorge from Mills Lake
Greg checking out the mixy- sort of pillar climb.

We spent some time playing on an odd, pillary- mixed climb thing- then I made the decision- after checking out a smaller flow to the left- that I was ready to try leading. I had done one mock lead…and placed a few screws- here and there. I was feeling strong-and ready to try and tackle a WI2 lead.

Midway through my first lead(Courtesy of Greg Miller)

There was one spot I sort of ran out…but the ice I was trying to screw into was thick mushy mush. I felt pretty good about it- we hiked out and celebrated at Avery Brewing Co after.

I’d say that’s a good start to 2016.