4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Harvard Education, Blisters, and Fembots

The Platinum Team was thankfully successful for a summit bid of Mount Harvard. The original plan was to meet a mutual friend of the team, Dave Callais, a Colorado Mountain Club WTS instructor on the summit. Dave is currently hiking the entire CO Trail and he would be coming up Harvard from the Pine Creek Trail while we came up from Horn Fork Basin. The weather did not look like it was going to cooperate for a meeting on the 24th as planned. So the Platinum Team pushed back the summit attempt to the 26th. It was difficult to miss Dave but the delay did allow all the members of the team to climb Mt. Harvard.

During the hike up to base camp, and after many hours of diligently planning and packing as light as I could, two members of the Platinum Team (Erin and Don) saw fit to load me up with a few pounds of granite as they hiked behind me. Now coincidentally, and I am sure unrelated, I also somehow developed a blister on each heel on this short hike up. More on this later.

This hike was a total of 12 miles with about 4,600 feet of elevation gain from trail head to summit. We elected to backpack in a few miles just below tree line and set up a base camp instead of tackling all of this hike in one day.

We built a small tent city from one and two man tents and then set to work making a fire and hydrating some dinner. We finally sat around the familiar fire and dug into some re-hydrated cuisine after all was set up and in order in camp.

We awoke around five am on Saturday with some concern about the weather. The entire week had a 40 - 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms. Saturday was no different. So we elected to get a pretty early start in order to be leaving the summit before any sort of cumulonimbus tomfoolery could get started. A good portion of the team had been caught thousands of feet above tree line on La Plata Peak in a violent storm a few years back and we did not want any part of that again. So off onto the trail we started to overcast, but friendly skies. The overcast made for some lousy pictures as the light was completely flat. Oh well.

A short time into the hike the blisters that had started on my heels the night before began to get quite aggravated. I got very worried that if they continued to worsen then my summit bid would be in serious jeopardy (rocks - Don - Erin). Finally, I asked the team to stop while I tried to re-tape everything to see if I could find a way to keep hiking.

Above Erin recoils in disgusted terror as she views my right-foot blister. The worse one. We taped and bandaged and taped some more and we were again hiking in no time.

Needless to say the blister fix did little good and just a short time later I bravely instructed the remainder of the team to continue without me. I was out. I sat next to the trail as the Platinum Team faded into the distance. Thinking that I did not want to be the only one on the team in Buena Vista that afternoon without summit stories, I re-bandaged again and just thought I would start hiking and see how far I could get. 500 feet at a time...

In the mean time, the rest of the team was working their way towards the summit about 2,500 feet above and a mile or so distant. A few other teams of folks were working their way towards the summit as well though the gray rock under a gray sky. Its hard to imagine that this is beautiful but you have to spend some time above tree line to appreciate the high mountains.

This was an interesting hike but as we all knew, as most hikes are in the Sawatch range, these mountains are l-o-n-g, and high, and steep. And this was our Harvard education. The great portion of this hike is at a pleasant grade rising relatively evenly...for miles. There were even some parts of the trail that descended gently as the path traversed high alpine tundra.

The last mile of this hike, which started at the far end of the tundra shown above, presents the hiker with a short but very steep unpleasant grind to the summit. Which, by some undiscovered force of nature, appears to be exactly same distance from the hiker no matter how far they have walked, crawled, or fallen towards the summit.

Finally, after what seemed like days, the summit approached. The remainder of the Platinum Team had already made the summit and were sitting on what looked like a sort of natural balcony cheering me on. After several more days of hiking towards the summit. I scrambled up the remaining hundred feet or so where I collapsed in a heap. Luckily Don, in order to attempt to assuage his guilt for the "rocks in the pack" joke the day before carried my 2.5 pound tripod to the summit. In retrospect this may have really helped me. Between the blisters and fatigue I was glad for every pound I did not carry.

After a short rest and forcing down some food I revived enough to take the summit shot of the entire team.

We milled about on the summit. The weather was still overcast but non-threatening. Erin and Sara contemplated traversing the HUGE ridge connecting Mt. Harvard to Mt. Columbia. This is a long grind. After some initial discussion Erin and Sara decided to descend with the team and go for Columbia another day. We headed down to a point just below the summit where we picked up some gear we left behind for the scrambling section.

This was a great hike. We were all very happy that we all made the summit. The views are incredible from this smallish summit. We started our descent towards base camp a few miles away. During the down hike Sara had a small misstep (as all of us do now and then...some more than others) and managed to stumble. Unfortunately she fell across a small but pointy rock and ripped a small gash in the front of her shin.

Now this is where it gets a little weird. On a normal person if you rip your skin open you would bleed and you would expect to see some sort of human tissue in the wound. So, on Sara the skin was torn away but underneath no human tissue. Just white. Not bone either mind you. Just white. Still no blood. The white actually looked like some sort of fiberglass under structure. It became apparent that Sara was indeed a Fembot! But at least she is friendly and makes good brownies so we let her stay on the team.

We patched her up with some epoxy and glass tape and she was as good as new for the remainder of the hike back to camp and then back out to the cars. We drove to Buena Vista and stopped at the Coyote Cantina for chips, beer, and a hearty meal. And, we were all able to tell our stories about our successful climb of Mt. Harvard.

A special thanks to team member Mike O'Hearn for supplying several of the images for this post.

GPS track for the Mt. Harvard climb.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What We Did for our 4th of July Vacation - Humboldt Peak

What a great time and what great timing. Don, Sara, and I had planned on climbing Humboldt Peak while Mike and Erin were out in California climbing Mt. Whitney. I received a text from Erin that indeed she and her dad had successfully summited Mt. Whitney on July 1st. At that time, and for a few days after that both Mike and Erin needed some recovery time after a very long and difficult ascent up the lower 48's highest peak.

But it soon became clear that our time lines would allow them to meet us in Westcliffe if they decided to climb Humboldt...which after some needed down time they did. We met in Westcliffe on the evening of the 3rd and had pizza at Pizza Madness. This was the first time that the "core" Platinum Team would hike together since Missouri Peak September 2007.

After some final planning and hearing stories and seeing pictures of Mike and Erin's climb up Whitney, we hopped into our cars and drove to the Humboldt 2WD trailhead where we then somehow piled a total of five people and one small Jack Russel Terrier, Callie, and all of our gear into Don's Cherokee. We drove up the 4WD drive road banging our heads together as Don gingerly made his way up towards the trailhead 5.5 miles away.

Finally we emerged into a clearing where there were several vehicles parked at the trailhead. We surveyed the parking area and started talking to a guy. I didn't get his name but he gave us some GREAT beta.

First off; he pointed us to a supreme camping spot and then even better he showed us a slightly different trail up Humboldt that cut off a good bit of distance from the "standard" 14ers.com route and also avoided a good bit of snow. The camp site was just off the trailhead of this new route, which joined the standard route right at the southern South Colony Lake.

We started hiking on the morning of the 4th to a bluebird day at about 6:30am. All five of us, and Callie, left camp with blue skies and optimism with scenery that is some of the best I have seen in Colorado. With the Crestones, Broken Hand Peak, and the South Colony lakes for company we started up towards Humboldt's western saddle. At right, Erin pauses to take in the views of Crestone Needle and the South Colony Lakes.

We crossed a few well consolidated snow fields and headed up the steep grade towards the Humboldt Saddle. The weather was perfect and everyone was feeling great. The switchbacks up to the saddle were long and tedious but we climbed through them in a relatively short amount of time. From the saddle we had a good view of the remaining hike up Humboldt's west ridge to the false summit.

We started up the long west ridge which was mostly class 2+ hiking with some trail segments and some easy class 3 scrambling. The route was well marked with cairns. We stopped a few times to rest, take pictures, or watch Callie try to rustle up some fun with a Whistle Pig (Marmot).

The final pitches up the west ridge were a blast. Just enough scrambling to make the climb interesting. We skirted just below the false summit following the well marked path through the boulders and talus.

This picture of the group was shot below the false summit looking back down towards the South Colony Lakes and the Crestones. You can see the chunky blocks of rock that made up this portion of the hike. Now and then Sara would have to pick up Callie to help her up a particularity high step that she could not jump. All-in-all that tiny dog pretty much cruised all the way up the mountain without any problems.

The weather was still perfect as we passed just below the false summit. The rest of the climbing group moved ahead of me as I slowed to shoot pictures and enjoy where we were.

While the terrain was rough on the upper ridge, the grade had eased somewhat making the traveling a little easier.
We eventually reached a short flat saddle between the actual summit and the false summit.
To the north of the trail the drop-off was deadly, which was fine as long as you didn't, "drop off." It was the kind of thing that was safe as long as you didn't go wandering. I would not want to try this at night however.

We strolled along this portion of the climb with the weather showing blue skies and just a few friendly fair weather cumulus clouds. The final steps to the summit were beautiful. The surrounding landscape was amazing with views of several other 14er ranges, the San Louis Valley, and the lands to the East of the Sangre de Cristo range.

We set up on the summit for some food, drink, and rest, and a lot of picture taking. As I approached the summit I looked down at Callie who was standing near what looked like some sort of party hors d'oeuvre made up of some sort of meat and cheese rolled together into a log. I asked Sara, "What the hell are you feeding that dog." Sara looked down and answered, "Apparently too much!"

All of those ingredients had gone into Callie without much chewing and then came back up and out in a nice neat meat and cheese hors d'oeuvre log. No worries though. Callie finished it all up before we left.

Looking west from the summit we had an unbelievable view of the Crestones (left) and Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak (right) with the summit team in the center foreground in a rock shelter.

Still the weather was perfect. Just a hint of clouds and a slight breeze.

We all posed for our summit shot with the Crestones in the background. Don, Sara, Callie (the dog), Erin, Mike, and me. This was Sara's first 14er and she did perfectly. Sara cruised right up with a minimum of whining. The team hopes Sara will join us on more hikes. And I think she caught the 14er bug on this trip.

Now...If you have read the blog below on our Bierstadt warm-up hike you know for some inexplicable reason I tend to run into a lot of folks from Ohio (specifically Cincinnati) at the the tops of these 14ers. Well, when the team got to the top of Humboldt we had the summit to ourselves. Indeed a treat in and of itself. However, as we got ready to descend two other guys showed up. We talked for a few minutes and gave them some info about the shortcut to the trailhead. Just as we were leaving, on a whim, I asked, "Anyone here from Ohio?" One of the guys answered, "I am."

We all busted out laughing as it had happened again. To make matters more improbable not only was he from Ohio, but specifically Cincinnati! In fact he still lived there and was visiting Colorado just to climb.

On the way down we paused a few times for a quick break to take in the views before we were too low on the mountain. The lighting had changed since early morning and in this later portion of the day the scenery took on a very different look from earlier. The Crestone ramparts looked so massive as to be almost unnerving in their size.

As we descended near the lower portion of the trail close to the South Colony Lakes we spotted a heard of curious Big Horned Sheep. They were milling about munching on the local flora and keeping an eye on us.

We shot a few quick pictures of the sheep and then we continued down the lower and less steep portion of the trail towards our camp site. As we neared the sheep they cautiously walked and jumped up towards the Humboldt saddle.

This hike was definitely, for me, in my top 3 as far as fun hiking and great scenery. The company was great and luckily all the logistics worked out perfectly. It was great to finish Humboldt. I had previously thought this peak to be undoable due to the rough 4wheel drive road in. But Don (and Becky) made this hike possible with the use of their capable Jeep Cherokee.

Parting Shot
And until the next hike...This is The End!
GPS Route: