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.
July 1, 2012 –
The Glacier Gorge Traverse, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of Colorado’s “hard man” classics. It’s really difficult – 19 miles with over 10,000’ of elevation gain, most of which is above 12,000’, and all of which is gnarly and technical. I had been wanting to do it for years, but was never able to wrap my head around the technical crux of the route – the west ridge of Pagoda. This reputedly goes at 5.6-5.7, or some rappelling. It is so remote and difficult it is impractical to scout – you just have to go do it. This is probably why the Traverse might only get done once a year.
So when local legend Bill Briggs suggested we tackle the traverse together, I jumped at the chance. Bill might be the only person who has done this burly traverse more than once, having completed it several times since 1982, with a mind-boggling PR of 7:17. When someone like Bill asks you do join him for a rare gem like this, you are very well advised to agree!
While the Sawatch Range in central Colorado is impressively high–it’s home to 15 peaks over 14,000′–it’s not a very technical group of mountains. Most routes are Class 1 or 2 walk-ups, and the mountains themselves have often been accused of not really being much more than giant talus piles. (This reputation is not without basis, but I happen to enjoy talus fields.)
One of the notable exceptions to this is the uber-classic Ellingwood Ridge (really the mountain’s northeast ridge) on La Plata Peak (14,336′). This burly sawtooth of a line looks incredible when lit up in soft evening light, but no matter what time of day it is it commands one’s attention, whether viewed from the trailhead parking lot, Independence Pass, or the crest of the NW Ridge on La Plata’s standard hiking route.
Although the guidebooks allow that most major difficulties on the line can be kept to Class 3 with some creative route-finding and some humble descents below the actual ridge, these same guidebooks also warn about just how long the ridge is (2mi), and thus, how much time it takes to summit (a lot). Sean O’Day’s trip report from almost exactly a year ago–while completed in markedly different snow conditions (Colorado is incredibly dry this year)–cites 9hr just to make the summit! And Sean is a strong trail/mountain runner and experienced mountaineer.
I didn’t see how that could possibly be the case, though, so only compromised my usual bare-bones approach by bringing 13oz of water and a gel…just in case (I would consume both).