Castle Peak (and Conundrum)

It’s been a few weeks since we made this trip, but the pictures are so gorgeous I thought I’d write a little something and post them throughout. Castle Peak is considered a class 2 climb, but near the top I personally would classify it as a 3. Conundrum doesn’t technically count as a 14er due to the rules about it being to close to another peak, but it was still a gorgeous view point of Castle Peak.

Molly and I got to our camp spot really late on a Tuesday night and woke up early to get started on a long 13 mile out and back with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Fortunately the first 4 miles are on a rocky 4wd road that leads up to the base of the mountain. We made great time and even got an incredible encounter with three moose as we began.

Once we were at the base of Castle the trail goes up into a notch covered in boulders and ice. We lost the trail a few times in this section and ended up just decided to go straight up the notch until we found the trail again.

Once we were at the top of a small rise in the trail we had a gorgeous view of Castle Peak and the trail the leads up to the ridge on the north side of the mountain. We sat for a while and ate some lunch before we made our way up the gradual slope.

Near the top of the mountain the trail goes through some sketchy exposure with some difficult areas to move around comfortably. There was ice and snow on small passes we had to cross climbing up and over huge rock spires and around others. After pushing our fear down multiple times we made it to a smoother section and made our last move to the top.

Once we were on the peak we took a few pictures and headed down the west side of the mountain to connect the ridge over to Conundrum. The trail was really smooth throughout this section and in the saddle we noticed a small trail that shot straight down the ridge. We thought about taking this on the way back, but were sketched out by the grade and loose rock going down.

We slowly made our way up Conundrum and admired the grandeur of Castle Peak blanketed in snow and protruding higher than anything in sight. We didn’t stay up for long and decided to give the saddle trail a try. I made my way down first and felt like it was safe enough for us to continue. This trail was a huge blessing as neither of us wanted to continue back up and down the North side of Castle Peak.

We were in the valley right above the glacier as we came down and noticed a huge crevasse in the ground under Castle Peak. We made our way across the boulder field and eventually got back on the trail that led down to where we had parked.

This peak took us about 10 hours to complete and totally wiped us out. As hard as it was, it definitely paid off in the end. Castle Peak is definitely my favorite peak I’ve climbed so far and can’t wait to do it again.

Kit Carson and Challenger Point

With an entire Wednesday off, Molly and I decided to head south to the Sangre de Cristo mountains and attempt two 14er’s. In preparing for the climb I didn’t do a ton of research, but noticed the mileage at 14.5 and an elevation gain of 6,000 ft. I figured it would be a more difficult climb than anything I had done yet, but I was not expecting to feel the way I did when it was over.

Molly and I pulled into a camp spot a quarter mile from the trailhead around 11 pm. The weather looked like it was going to be perfect for our summit the next day, but we still wanted to get an early start. We set our alarm for 5:30 and passed out immediately.

It was warmer in the morning than either of us expected it to be at 8,000 ft., but we still got our base layers on as we began a gradual uphill towards the trailhead. The trail was smooth and sandy covered by a canopy of aspen and conifer. With the morning light rising on the high peaks to the west of us we were given gorgeous color as we climbed.

The trail switch-backed up the north side of this range and kept a very steady incline for about five miles. Eventually we made it up to Willow Lake, which is backed up by huge cliffs with a narrow waterfall. We skirted the west side of the lake and came around to where the trail began to get incredibly steep up Challenger.

We couldn’t see the top of Challenger down in the valley, but we could see the ridgeline that led towards it. It was intimidating to look at and with Kit Carson covering the Northeast view we knew we were in for a challenge.

  • Kit Carson to the right.

The climb up was slow, but steady. We stopped almost every ten feet to catch our breath. The ground was covered in scree and loose rock making every step a challenge. After almost an hour we were near the ridgeline where we could see the other side of mountains down toward the plains far below. Looking east along the ridge we could see Challenger and the dominating Kit Carson beyond it.

  • Kit Carson, Crestone Needle and Challenger from left to right.

  • Looking back West.

The ridgeline was covered with big rocks. We tiptoed across the line with wind smacking us from the north coming over the ridge. We had every layer on with the sun shining unhindered by clouds. Slowly we made our way up to Challenger for a beautiful view down the valley we came from and the mountains beyond the mountains that enclosed us below.

Once we were on Challenger we noticed how far down we had to go to begin climbing again up Kit Carson. We were both feeling pretty worked from already gaining 5,000+ ft., but decided to push on. Once you leave Challenger you hit a small saddle between the two peaks where the trail veers off Southeast up along an incredibly steep and narrow track. You come around the side of Kit Carson and begin heading East again going down the backside of the mountain. It all feels very counter intuitive like you’re just passing the mountain, but eventually the trail turns North and then West as you begin the final climb up to the summit.

  • Looking Southeast down to the plains. The lighter brown on the left before the rest of the Sangre Mountains begins is the Great Sand Dunes.

  • Narrow track going around to the back side of Kit Carson.

This final push was pretty damn challenging. We were both exhausted and near the end of our water. The trail disappeared a few times so we had to do the best we could to make our own path. Kit Carson is a Massif and once you’re at the top you have a ton of space to walk around and enjoy the view. We were at the top a little after 2 pm and ate lunch taking in the grandeur of the Crestone’s to the East and the rest of the Sangre De Cristo’s to the Southeast.

  • The final push!

After about half an hour on the peak we decided to turn back and hopefully make it to the car by 6 pm. We knew we had two small climbs left that kept nagging at us until they were finished. Going back down Kit Carson and up Challenger took us some time, but eventually we were along the ridgeline again and headed West to begin a long decent down to the valley.

The way back was quick and steady. We made a few stops along the way to rest from the never ending downhill and also stopped to enjoy the lake and the huge cliffs on the north side with the narrow waterfall. We made it back to the car a bit after 6 and immediately threw our tent in the car to get water and food as quickly as possible. We stopped in Crestone for burgers and drinks before our long four hour drive back to Boulder. Another successful trip up some 14ers!

  • The West face of Challenger and the plains below.

  • Willow Lake

  • Kit Carson on the left.

Quandary Peak

This past week was shit weather all across Colorado. Molly and I were planning on driving south towards the Sangre de Christo range, but decided to stay closer to home just in case we got rained out of an attempt. We picked Quandary Peak since it was a class 1 and if the weather did turn on us we could bail easily. We set off once I was out of class on Tuesday and made the gorgeous two hour drive into the mountains towards Breckenridge.

We slept in a tent right next to the trailhead tucked away in the pine forest. We woke up at 5:30 to the sound of rain pelting our tent so didn’t feel the need to rush and get ready to go. Eventually we did set out around 6:45 am with rain lightly falling in slushy form. As soon as the trail began to climb the rain turned thicker and snow began blanketing us.

The trail was incredibly well maintained and allowed for solid footing on the white path we were following. It didn’t take long for the snow to really build up and block any chance of views on our ascent. Within an hour of hiking we were entirely in white out conditions and getting colder and colder in our shorts.

Eventually we pulled over and put our base layer bottoms on when the wind picked up around 12,500′. Around 13,000′ we passed a woman on her way down that said she didn’t make it to the top and had gotten too cold to continue. A bit of anxiety rose up as we continued on, but we both felt confident in our gear and making it to the top.

We slowed down a lot around 13,750′ with the wind really knocking us and the lack of oxygen becoming more and more noticeable. The final push was more steep than the rest of the climb and we took our time lugging up the East side of the mountain. We final made it to the peak around 9:30, but didn’t stay for long. We took our summit picture and added on another layer and turned back down. Wind was blowing past our faces and every rock was completely covered with half a foot of snow.

The way back down was quick and easy. The hardest part was not getting too excited and slipping on the frozen rocks as we descended. We made it down as the snow continued to fall in about an hour. We past tons of people on our way down who decided to turn around or were curious if an attempt was safe. It was definitely unexpected weather.

Once we were back down the sky opened up and the air felt so much warmer. The biggest bummer is that as we packed up and started to drive away the sky really opened up and we could see the entire peak. Anyone up there was getting some killer views. It was cool to see the mountain covered in snow knowing we were just up there, but it would have been really cool to see the surrounding mountains like Lincoln, Democrat and Bross, but maybe next time.

This was good peak to climb in the shitty conditions we were given, but hopefully next week we will get down in the Sangre’s and knock out a few in that range!

Tour de Abyss

Last Sunday after work I met up with two friends from my Grad School Program to head west for Mount Evans. We pulled into our camp spot around 9:00 p.m. and relaxed a while in the back of a Four Runner until it was time for me to set up my tent spot. I opened the door of the car and the wind almost ripped it off the second it cracked open. Hail pelted the windows and my head and the sky darkened with clouds quickly blowing into the saddle coming up from the valley below. I was nervous about the weather getting worse and decided to pack into the car with two other people for a snuggly night sleep. We woke up around 5 with the wind blowing the car around as if a bear were attacking us and decided to wait a bit longer to see if it calmed down. At 7 am the wind seemed only to have grown worse and the ground outside was covered in hail and ice. We were most likely going to be shut out of an attempt at the loop of Mount Bierstadt and Evans. We decided to drive to the top of Evans and look around before we left. At the top we could hardly stand straight without the wind knocking us off balance. With a this loop being a class three we decided it best to turn back for Boulder and try again another time. On Wednesday when I made it back to the trailhead myself, our decision to turn back was validated by what I found on the route.

  • Headed down into the valley.

So Tuesday night I set off for Mount Evans by myself with the plan of sleeping in my car and waking up around 5:30 am to begin the Tour. The weather seemed nice enough to give it a try, but I had to be back for class by noon so this would be a quick turn around if I could do the whole loop. I made it to the trailhead around 10 pm and fell asleep soon after arriving.

When I woke up in the morning the wind was stronger than I hoped it to be, but I got dressed and readied myself for whatever was going to happen. I stepped out of my car and felt the sting of cool air encompass my exposed skin and smiled at the experience that was before me. I found the trail right in front of my car and immediately and began straight downhill on the West side from the saddle I was on. The path almost immediately disappeared and I could tell this was a free-for-all-get-yourself-down kind of hike to get in the valley. I began sliding down scree and picking sturdy foot holds to level myself out as I made my way down the steep bluff. Eventually, I got to the valley and began a quicker pace headed West towards the East side of Bierstadt.

When I got to the base of the mountain I noticed the grade of the climb and took a few breaths in preparation for what was about to happen. There was splotches of grass tucked in around bigger boulders, but most of the mountain side was smaller rocks and scree. Every five steps up I had to take a full minute to catch my breath. After about thirty minutes I made it to a ridge that ran North towards the summit of Bierstadt.

  • Reaching the ridge, about to head north.

Here is where the route went from hiking to scrambling. There were massive boulders that shielded my view of what was ahead and forced me either to climb up and over them or scale the side of them. The problem with that was the exposure on either side of these boulders. It was pretty much a knife edge leading North to the summit and the safest way to me seemed to stay high and scramble up and over the boulders as they came. This took way longer than I expected. Up and down I climbed for almost an hour when I noticed the boulders getting smaller and turning into rock fields that gradually led up to the summit. This allowed me to speed up my pace and I made it to the summit of Bierstadt with excellent weather and 360 degree views.

  • Looking back south.

I looked East towards Evans and noticed the Sawtooth section and immediately got excited. This was going to be like the ascent up the South side of Bierstadt, but with more exposure and steeper drops. Also, Abyss Lake would be in view the whole time and alpine lakes are just gorgeous.

  • Sawtooth

  • The south side of Bierstadt

Shortly after I ascended Bierstadt I took off for the Sawtooth section and met a guy along the way who seemed to have more experience than I on class three climbs. So I followed his every step. We slowly made our way across the expanse and came to what I believe is called the Willows; a huge rock wall at the end of the Sawtooth that leads up to Mount Evans. I’m glad I was with this guy because I had no idea how the hell to get over this wall.

We picked a line that led around the North side of Evans that brought us to some insane exposure with little foot holds and hand grips to steady ourselves along a 200-foot rock wall with gradual divots in the rock that would hopefully catch us if we did fall. Further down below I saw the “normal trail” and cursed myself for following this dude up a crazy climb. However, it was such a blast and so thrilling to have that kind of intensity towards the end of the route.

Slowly, we made our way to the top and finally came out of the Willows to a beautiful alpine field that gradually lifted us up towards Evans. The last mile was a cake walk across a meadow that led to a lighter rock scramble up to the peak. Standing on Evans I could see Bierstadt and the Lake below and parts of the Sawtooth connecting the peaks. This loop is a rush with incredible views along the way. I definitely recommend summiting Bierstadt and Evans along the Tour De Abyss.

P.S.- I made it to class on time.

Four 14er’s

Last Monday night some friends and I met outside the house I’m staying at 8:30 p.m. to drive to the Kite Lake Trailhead where we would sleep for a few hours before attempting to climb four of Colorado’s 14er’s. I had been following the weather all week long hoping that the forecast for Tuesday would change, but even on the drive to the trailhead it looked like we’d be getting some rain and heavy cloud coverage. The goal was to get up early and beat the rain before it got too bad. We kind of succeeded at that.

We pulled into the trailhead around 11:00 pm after a thirty minute drive over some eroded rocky road that my Toyota Camry championed over. There wasn’t much to do when we got there other than pass out so we laid out a tarp and fell asleep with clouds slowly encompassing the sky and beads of water slowly forming on top of our sleeping bags.

I think we slept about four hours total, but woke up at 4 am feeling surprisingly alert and ready to go. We made a quick cup of coffee, downed some delicious pop tarts and got hiking a little before 5.

We decided to do the loop backwards and begin with an ascent up Mount Bross in order to get the illegal summit over with early in hopes no one would see us. The uphill kicked our ass and took us almost two hours to go the mile and a half up the mountain side. There were a few areas where the trail was being maintained and rerouted so we picked lines up the steep scree that felt as if we were sliding down the mountain more than climbing it. Eventually we did make our way up the wide ridge of Bross and crossed the trespassing sign to summit a little bit before seven. The mountain is owned by the city of Alma and it is posted that it is illegal to summit the mountain, but it’s 25 feet from the trail and feels so dumb to not run up, snag a picture and then go back to the trail. So that’s what we did.

  • On the way to Lincoln

After Bross we descended to a wide saddle going North towards Cameron and Lincoln. On the way, the wind picked up and a dark cloud began blowing from the West straight for us faster than we expected. Before long we were in our rain gear and getting pelted with hail. The small storm caused a white out and we were following a single track trail as best we could to summit Lincoln. My anxiety grew as the wind blew harder and the hail covered the ground with a white icy crunch, but we were able to get to the top of Lincoln without a problem. We didn’t stay at the summit for long in order to stay moving and warm, so we turned back to head for our third summit up Mount Cameron.

  • Final bit up to Lincoln

The trail to Cameron is a cake walk on another wide ridge where you hardly notice you are ascending at all. The only challenge was walking straight West into the oncoming wind with hail and snow pelting our faces, but luckily about a quarter mile from the peak the hail and snow stopped and we were only facing heavy clouds blocking our view of the surrounding valleys. We made it to the top of Cameron, which is not considered a legitimate 14er in Colorado, but is still a 14,238 foot mountain, and took our summit pictures when the wind pushed the clouds over the summit and the entire valley opened up before our eyes. There was much rejoicing.

After taking a lot of pictures and celebrating our views on Cameron we began a long descend down the West side of the mountain where we would begin our last trail and climb up to Democrat. The trail was rocky and a little wet from the storm, but we made our way down in high spirits with a gorgeous view. There was a little fear of the clouds still coming from the west, but we hoped to be up and down Democrat before they hit us.

  • Views down the south face to Kite Lake

  • Down and up to Democrat

After summiting three 14er’s we were pretty beat up and Democrat is already a challenge on its own. Needless to say, this final climb kicked our ass. There is a false summit after a long climb up the East face of the mountain, but when you are at the top of the false summit you can easily spot the true summit not a quarter mile further west. We hauled to the top and celebrated our accomplishment and adventure.

  • View back to Cameron

After a while we made our way down Democrat, which took a lot longer than expected. There was rain intermittently as we descended, but over all we had great views of Kite Lake and the valley to the North. Eventually we made our way to the car when we heard a huge lightning strike coming from the West. Counting ourselves lucky to be done for the day, we road down the rocky road where little Camry crushed it again. And that’s that! 4 14er’s in a day! Glad my first 14er was illegal. 3 out of 53!

Getting Home

It would be pretty easy to just buy a bus ticket and get home to see Molly and relax in Santa Cruz for a while, but I still have a few days before a wedding I’m going to be at so why not keep the adventure going?

I met this dude along the way hitching down the coast. Such a trip.

I wanted to stay as coastal as possible and see as much of the California coast line as I could. I accomplished that mission.

My first night out I was picked up by a couple who offered me their couch and some dinner. They had a baby and a dog that kept me highly entertained.

I made my way down south quicker than I thought I would and of course met some insane people along the way, but mostly met incredibly kind and generous people who offered me food and drinks and even muscle relaxing salves. On of my longest hitches way with a brother and sister road tripping around the continent. Together we went to glass beach and took a lot of breaks to take in the grandeur of the California coastline.

AmaIngly I was able to make it to Santa Cruz by 11:30 last night and surprise molly thanks to so many kind people in the bay area helping me navigate the chaos of hitching through Frisco. I’m finally home and ready to relax and prepare for our next adventure in Vermont! Stay tuned.

Day 23- BFT

Day 23- BFT

Well, it is done! I finished today around noon after a beautiful walk through the redoowds. When I woke up it was cold, so getting moving wasn’t the easiest, but I didn’t have far to go and the trees were so incredible to be around.

After an eleven mile walk I got to the ocean and celebrated by getting in the water for a bit before calling my new friends for a ride to their place for a shower and laundry.

In a little while I’m going to head out to begin my long trip home to Santa Cruz. Thanks for reading!!

Day 22- BFT

Day 22- BFT

Well it’s not a thru hike for me until I sleep in a public bathroom. On the AT, Ryan and I slept in one in the Shenandoahs, on the PCT I slept in one in northern Washington and now tonight on my last night on this trail I’m sleeping in one in Jedediah Smith state park in Redwood National Park. Why? Because I hiked my ass off to get to this camp ground and there are no spots anywhere! Also, it seemed fitting.

Other than my sleeping situation the day has been pretty good. I started with a twelve mile road walk in the burning sun, but was feeling lucky in finding three amazing springs to drink straight from without needing to clean the water. A huge help since I lost my filter.

Eventually I got back on trail for one last little climb over Little Bald Hills trail with views of the ocean, but a huge fog bank was rolling in and I didn’t get much of a view.

After that climb the trail eased me down into the redwood canopy and the terrain became magnificent. I made miles surprisingly fast seeing that I felt like I was walking like a snail in awe of the size of the trees surrounding me.

I ended up going into a small town just past the campground I’m now at to get a coke and on the way back tried to hitch instead of walking the mile back to the campground. A car pulls over and it’s none other than this girl named sketchy who I past getting into Etna with her boyfriend! They we’re hiking the same trail going the opposite direction and now she is giving me a ride to the trailhead. There’s no I could ever believe that unless it happened to me.

After catching up with her about their hike I began to wander around the campground for a place to sleep and was directed to the day use area. When I got there everything was being used and the ranger apologized for being out of spots. I hung my head, but went to use the bathroom and realized how big it was and how late it was and figured no one would mind me sleeping in there for the night. There are five other rooms so I’m not dominating the only space. We will see how this goes. I might wake up in the middle of the night by a ranger, but at least I’m keeping my streak up in sleeping in public bathrooms on thru hikes. Hiker trash to the core. I feel a little wrong for doing this, but I’m so exhausted at this point anything sounds good. Let’s see how it goes.

Day 21- BFT

Day 21- BFT

Well today was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. After all the bullshit bush whacking and poison oak dodging I’ve had to do on this trail I was expecting an absolute shit show since the guy who wrote the trail guide only mentions this section as difficult. Compared to Yolla Bolly and the northern side of the Trinity Alps, today was a walk in the park.

I slept in this morning because I was denying the call to get up and hike uphill first thing. Eventually I got going and came to find the trail fairly easy to find and the grade smooth and enjoyable. It took me a while, but finally I came to the highpoint and over the ridgeline saw the ocean for the first time! I enjoyed the view and the last time I would be near 6,000 feet on this trail before I headed down.

Unfortunately the trail did become hard to follow at this point and I had to do some steep down climbing and at one point I guess my filter came loose and I lost it. It’s not a huge deal since I only have two days left out here and I have a full can of fuel to boil water.

After finding my way back to the trail it began to even out on a nice hike down to a river with a smooth grade the whole way. When I got near the bottom I started to notice the forest look a lot like home in the Santa Cruz Redwoods. The Madrones we’re back, the sword fern, the tan oaks and of course the Douglas firs. Tomorrow I’ll be in redwood territory with less than fifty miles to go.

I am camped near a shelter next to Buck Creek and listening to the Smith River in front of me. After a lot of water boiling I’m finally filled up and ready to sleep to prepare for one last full day of hiking on this trail. It’s been a roller coaster for sure.

Day 20- BFT

Day 20- BFT

Trail today was one of the most diverse days I’ve ever had on trail in terms of terrain and surroundings. I woke up early at my camp spot right off a dirt road and began a smooth easy road walk until I met my trail and everything changed.

At first things felt normal like a single track trail with an occasional Rocky climb to get over a Ridgeline to spit me out on the other side of a creek system. However, when I got to the south side of my final Ridgeline I descended towards clear Creek and immediately things changed. Clear Creek had a fire a few years ago and since it’s not a frequently used trail there has been little to not maintenance on it. So there were fallen trees, roots everywhere, occasional trail disappearances and random bush whacking. This was the last ten miles of my day and tomorrow I still have 13 more miles of it to go.

I did have two highlights of the day. The first is that the trail goes past wilderness falls where an awesome waterfall appears and a gorgeous swimming hole begs to be used. I took my last break of the day there and enjoyed the solitude of that beautiful creek. The second highlight was another bear encounter. This one was a bit too close for me though. I was fighting my way through the trail when I came upon a huge fallen cedar tree whose trunk was so wide that as it laid on the ground the top of it came up to my head. I stood for a second wondering how I could climb it and when I got closer I could see the other side when I stood on my tip toes and across the trunk there was a black bear right on the other side doing the exact same thing. We were as close as the trunk was wide. I saw its expression change as we spotted each other and I immediately backed away from the tree and started hollering and heard it romp away. My heart was thundering.

After a long and battling day I’m happy to be in my quilt next to the creek. My legs feel worked and my body is exhausted. Tomorrow is another battle day, but I’m crossing my fingers that after the bullshit it will be a smooth walk for the last thirty miles to the coast. Knock on wood.