I’ve got a new favorite peak here in Colorado: Homestake Peak. Elevation: 13,209 feet. I gawked at it a bunch this summer as I drove up and down Highway 24 between Minturn and Leadville. It’s visible on the west side of Hwy 24 just a bit south of the Tennessee Pass summit. I like the look of a nice, pyramid peak. And this one has a long, gradual ridge leading to its summit.
I finally got to get closer to Homestake Peak on my recent visit to the 10th Mountain Hut, but we only stayed in the hut for a night and didn’t get out for a long ski day. The entire ski-skin in to the hut, we faced Homestake, and I could see it in my shoulder every time I looked behind me on our ski out (photo above, at right).
The ski conditions have been sketchy at best this season, but I’d still like to get out before the spring’s over, ski up the east ridge, and see what the world looks like from the top.
Manhattan in the evening, as seen from the window of a 1979 VW Westy crossing the Kosciuszko bridge:
My friend Rich and I both agreed on the Torreys summit that speed climber Ueli Steck was on our minds as we recently speed-scrambled up Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak, one of Colorado’s fourteeners at 14,267 feet.
The ridge looks sort of daunting from this angle—you can see me just barely in the distance wearing an orange shirt. Rich and I met up with a group of people for an early morning hike in Denver and then decided to hike Torreys on our way back to Vail. Since we didn’t get a very early start here, we just decided that we’d motor up it from the Gray’s Peak summer trailhead at 11,280 feet.
Coming along the ridge was the most exciting part. The website 14ers.com lists this as Class 3, so there weren’t any moves were you felt like you needed a rope or anything. There were a few sections of upward climbing…and you probably wouldn’t want to fall, as there were a few places that wouldn’t leave you in a pretty place. But there were lots of good places for hands and feet scooting across the ridge.
An hour and forty-five minutes after we left our car, we were on the summit. We both wondered out loud how long it would have taken Ueli to make it up that. In case you don’t know who Ueli Steck is, check out this amazing five-minute YouTube video from his speed solo on the Eiger—it took him only 2 hours and 47 minutes! I think he could have made it up Kelso Ridge in about 20 minutes…or less?
I’ve been digging the art in airports thing, and on a recent whirlwind trip visiting friends and family, I saw something at Denver International Airport that really struck me: Brianna Martray’s “Shadow Happy” exhibit. First of all, this exhibit involves folded cranes—something I nursed an obsession with while at McMurdo Station, Antarctica earlier this year. And Martray’s 7,000 folded cranes happen to be made out of an abandoned book manuscript…something else I understand.
Martray’s exhibit is installed in DIA’s terminal A, so as you’re gliding by it on a moving sidewalk, the cranes cast shadows on the walls to which they’re pinned. They’ve been arranged in beautiful waves and flight patterns.
After Martray folded her abandoned book manuscript into the cranes, her computer and back up hard drive were stolen, so now all that exists of her novel is in these cranes, “the shadow of thousands of hours of work, the history of [her] creative journey, remnants of a former self.” Amazing, huh?
To see some gorgeous photos of this exhibit and more information about it on Brianna Martry’s website, click here.
The Sandstone Alps? I didn’t believe it when I heard it, but as I’ve started getting back in summer climbing mode, I went with a friend to climb in an area west of Green River in Utah called San Rafael’s Swell. This area has been dubbed the “Sandstone Alps.” After spending a few days there, I wouldn’t say that San Rafael’s Swell compares to the Alps— but climbing in a desert setting like this one is a good, local alternative.
We wanted to get in some long, easy trad routes—and there were many to choose from…if you’re okay with sandy, slabby rock and long run-outs. The first route we did was on a big rock formation Mountain Project calls “Aguille du Gieant…similar to the French alp of the same name.”
I think Mountain Project’s spelling is a bit off, but we went with it and found our chosen route sort of like climbing a sandy flatiron with no equipped belays or rap anchors. Getting off of the route required us to traverse over to a class IV gully and downclimb some more sandy, slabby rock.
The next day, we went over to Three Finger Canyon…(pictured below…)
…to climb a route called “1000’ of Fun,” and it was indeed much more fun. I’ll post some more photos from this nice climb upcoming.
Three Finger Canyon was a great place to explore. Tom (below) and I came across some good watering holes…
Despite the so-so climbing, I had a great time just being in the desert landscape. We’d get back to our campsite and hang out in the evenings—cooking, reading…
…and watching the evening clouds cruise across a pastel sky.
I returned at the end of last week from five days of Canyonlands bliss. A true desert fix. My Boulderite gal-pal Cathy (at right) joined me for three days in Canyonlands National Park’s Needles area along the Upper Salt Creek trail. Instead of sticking with the normal route—a 22.5-mile trek along the creek wash—we decided to go adventuring and leave the main Salk Creek Trail at Big Pocket to link up with the Lavender Canyon Loop. But…due to lack of water in that area, we backtracked to Cathedral Butte (below), the namesake of the remote trailhead where we started. We drove nearly 20 miles of washboard-dirt road to arrive there on Day One.
From Cathedral Butte, we hiked down a steep, technical section before reaching the Salt Creek wash, a big sandy opening in the surrounding landscape.
The sand gave way to reeds as we passed through a marshy area. I’m not sure our boots will recover from the red-sand-grime we mucked though.
Despite the lack of water we’d encounter on Day Two of our proposed hike, we found this area to be lush. Pretty green for a desert, eh?
A fantastic watering hole with cascading pools explained the amazing greenery we encountered along this portion of the trail near Kirk Cabin.
Soon enough, we reached Big Pocket, where we left the main trail. This is what I come to the desert for: Big. Wide. Open. Space.
We set up camp in an at-large camping area at the border of Big Pocket and Lavender Canyon.
It gets cold quickly in the desert at night, so we piled on the layers and cooked in the wind. All food in the desert gets tainted with sand. No coyote howls this eve—instead it was so windy that sand got forced through the tent netting, and we woke up to sand gusts all night long.
The cool thing about settling down is that you get to know a place—I mean, really know a place. Since I returned to Colorado at the beginning of March, this place for me has been a heavily forested 12-acre section of Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest. I ski in and out of my living quarters in the area, a backcountry cabin at 10,500 feet—surrounded by lodgepole pines and a pond (currently frozen). Since the snow is so deep, it’s not even possible to snowshoe in. I tried it one night and failed, post-holing into hip-deep snow. A ski-only approach is fine with me, since skiing is better transportation and more fun.
I’m often skinning up to this place in the evenings, and one night last week, I found myself surrounded by some good night color:
The clouds lit up in a beautiful salmon light—
And not too long after that, a crescent moon appeared in the sky.
I don’t like to turn my headlamp on until I’m tripping over my ski tips, so it feels pretty spectacular to be out in the wide-open like this in the inky night light. Without a headlamp on, I watch the trees turn black against their blue backdrop.
And by the time I’m on my deck, I’m watching the stars spread out across the sky, one point of diamond light at a time.