“In a strange kind of way, lifeless landscapes have so much to say.” –Porcelain Raft, Shapeless and Gone
April on the Front Range had record snowfalls, so a trip south to the desert made sense. Joe had a planned rendevous with his uncle in the Grand Canyon and my apartment sublease was up and I needed a long, hot run to get ready for Transvulcania next month, so figured, why not?
Joe’s and my first road trip together was the 22hr epic out to Western States in 2010 where he drove the entire way; the long, crooked arm of the law shamelessly profiled our unkempt, hirsute visages half-way across Nevada (thanks to the “Runners To Watch” section in the WS100 Handbook, we were able to finagle a warning); and I learned the meaning of Joe’s moniker “Joe G FM”—with his olympic abilities as a conversationalist, we never turned on the radio in over 1000 miles of driving.
Gold Hill, CO running at dawn. Photo: Joe Grant.
I knew it was a different morning on Longs when I left the parking lot with a bare head and bare hands. Usually I’m pretty chilly at the trailhead, but on this day the sweat was pouring off my eyebrows and nose on the very first steep cut up through the trees, and instead of dreading the breeze at treeline I welcomed it for its cooling properties.
Whenever one has a mishap in the backcountry, the chain of decisions and events that led up to it always seem so obvious in hindsight. But I suppose that’s just the way it works. I was battling a bit of a head cold and was feeling beat down from a previous 10 days of high-volume outings, so on this morning I resolved to just wake up whenever my body wanted, not interrupting my slumber with the typical 5am alarm that I set when I’m planning on an ascent of Longs Peak. As such, I arrived at the trailhead an hour later than usual, and on top of that it was a gloriously warm day—temps in Boulder later in the day would reach the low-70s.
This morning was my 10th summit of Longs Peak so far this year, and the third this week. My previous two times up the mountain earlier in the week were both probably the toughest conditions I’ve experienced on the mountain. Temperatures weren’t unreasonable, but on both Wednesday and Friday the mountain was completely socked in by unforecasted, heavily-snowing clouds, and whipping winds sent constant waves of spindrift through the air. Though it was a week late, it felt more like winter than any of my previous true winter ascents of the mountain.
This morning was quite a bit different. On the way up there was plenty of snow blowing in the wind, but once I had made it to the west side of Mt. Lady Washington the wind mostly died and the rest of the day was exceedingly pleasant. All of the snow on the north face made the technical climbing feel easy and secure, so on the way down I just downclimbed instead of rappeling, and since the sun was now high in the sky I actually stripped down to a short-sleeve t-shirt at 13,000′ and ran back down to the trailhead in comfort.
Getting up the hill this particular day wasn’t going to be easy. When I awoke, the gently flaking sky seemed benign enough, but now, half-way up Green Mountain, my jacket is soaked through, I’m slogging through shin-deep powder and a raucous north wind is inducing periodic white-out conditions. Up here on the hill, the snow rate has officially crossed the line from “bucolic snow-globe scene” to “blizzard”. A quick tag of the summit and I turn to begin the slalom back down, eager to regain the shelter of the forest.
As I’m running the streets back down to my apartment—indulgently striding right down the center, taking advantage of the universally higher amounts of inertia that exist in homes on weekend mornings, especially when it’s snowing—I am reminded of my roots as a runner. When I was 13, I would regularly run 20 milers in this kind of crap, I think. Thirteen. Over 15 years later, my current pursuits—100 mile mountain races, all-day peak-bagging efforts—suddenly make a lot more sense with that kind of perspective and history.
It almost always starts as little more than a twinge. You’re shaking out the usual kinks in the first few minutes of an early morning run and you notice that one of those kinks takes longer to dissolve than all the others. No matter, a couple hours later at the end of your outing, you’ve forgotten it even happened. Except the next morning, maybe it never goes away completely. You’re not forced to alter your stride—or your planned run, just yet—but now you’re carrying this twinge all the time. Soon, it’s always in the background of your mind: you test it while jogging across the street to beat a speeding car, while ascending or descending a flight of stairs. And then, a day or two later, you find that you are limping when you try to run, ignoring the pain hasn’t done anything to make it go away (duh!), and you’re finally confronted with the initial, anguished decison: maybe I should stop? Am I being weak or is this a legitimate reason to not run? Goddamnit, but I want to go to the top of the mountain… Continue reading
The east face of Longs Peak presents a complex and intimidating visage. This aspect of the peak, afterall, contains the 1700′ sheer wall known as the Diamond, the most important high-altitude big wall in the country from an alpine-climbing perspective. However, lucky for unskilled climbing neophytes such as myself, there exists a relatively moderate line through this terrain that still offers some of the thrill and position that defines the east face: Kieners Route.
I was fortunate enough to achieve many of my adventure running ambitions in 2012 (including three outings that were so good that I am determined to repeat them in 2013: the Ten Mile Range Traverse, the Glacier Gorge Traverse in Rocky Mt. Nat’l Park, and Gannet Peak IAD (in-a-day) in Wyoming), though I was just beginning to realize the potential for fun that exists when one combines running and moderate technical climbing; in 2013 I am excited to further explore this hybridization of activities and tackle some even bigger and more committing objectives.
Encountering some tech on the Ten Mile Traverse last spring. Photo: Joe Grant.
The other day I was thinking about what it is that compels me to maintain Boulder, CO as my home base (i.e., my winter crash pad and touchstone of all things urban and civilized in the summer season). Aside from the fact that I have friends here and I enjoy the compact layout of the city, more and more my motivation has become the city’s iconic Flatirons. Not the trails that surround these 50-55 degreed slabs of stone, nor the pair of peaks (Green and Bear) upon which they reside, but rather, the towering chunks of rock themselves and the proximity they have to a thriving city center. Quite simply, if I lived anywhere else on the Front Range I know that I would spend most of my time dreaming and scheming as to when I could make a trip to Boulder to link together a few thousand feet of scrambling. Makes a lot more sense to just continue residence and save myself all of that inevitable stressful yearning.
Scampering up the final pitch of the Third. Photo: Joel Wolpert.
Looking east from the summit of Gannet Peak.
A year ago, to the week, I climbed the Third Flatiron in Boulder, CO for the first time. Legendary mountaineer and guidebook author Gerry Roach stridently proclaims its standard East Face route (5.2) “the finest easy rock climb in the world”. Back in June of 2011 I had broken my leg and last Fall–with the bone finally knit but other lingering soft-tissue issues still preventing me from doing any consistent running–I decided it was time to start actually getting back on the rock (I live in Boulder, afterall, practically the rock climbing center of the universe) after letting it fade away as a consistent practice when my main climbing partner graduated during college way back in 2003. Plus, words such as Gerry’s made me think that I had to be missing out on something.
Grand Teton, South Aspect.
After a hot, mostly flat, nearly 5hr, post-Speedgoat 50K drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Frosty and I suffered through the downtown tourist traffic (such novices! take the side streets to skirt the masses!) and headed directly to Teton Mountaineering where, with nary a pause, I dropped $40 on A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range (3rd Edition), justifying it as a birthday present to myself. The cashier quipped, “Getting the bible, eh?” I didn’t need to, but I like books and I like mountains, and this book is an exemplary nexus of the two.
UPDATE 8/23: Andy Anderson just took 59 seconds off Kilian’s time … the Grand FKT stood for 29 years until finally surpassed by Kilian, which only lasted for 12 days!