Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Uphill in the Uintas

We spent the weekend in the Uintas doing some hiking above 10,000 feet, as part of our preparations for Kilimanjaro next month. Almost all of our Kili group converged on the Moosehorn campground -- Lisa and Mary, Karla (along with Darrell, and Max the dog), and Frank and Patty flew in from Los Angeles for the weekend. What a great group!

On Saturday we hiked the Lofty Lake loop, with an out-and-back spur most of the way to Cuberant Lake. About 6.5 miles or so, with perhaps 1000' or so of elevation gain/loss. We saw a bull and cow moose pair, up close and personal; fortunately they were very calm. The scenery is spectacular. Here is Lisa looking down to Lofty Lake.

On Sunday morning, Frank and Patty had to drive back to SLC to catch a flight home. We were all impressed with how well they were able to fly in from sea level and spend the next day hiking above 10,000 feet. Karla, Darrell, and Max also headed back to the city. Lisa, Mary, Jill, and I did a morning hike up Bald Mountain, a very popular trail. The summit elevation is 11,943, reached by 2 miles of good trail from the trailhead 1250' below.

Fortunately the weather was cooperative while we were hiking. About an hour after we finished, the thunder and lightning started. Lisa and Mary then headed back to Smog Lake. Jill and I stayed another night at the campground. It rained hard Sunday night, we stayed comfortable in the Scamp. That was our first trip into the Uintas, but it won't be our last. It is gorgeous territory, and only about 4+ hours from Jackson via Evanston.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Static Peak Divide

I originally had good intentions for Saturday, but after spending most of Friday evening/night on YouTube videos it was way too late by the time I got to bed and I hadn't called anybody to make some plans. So after sleeping in a bit late, I decided to get some elevation by going up to Static Peak in the Tetons. I had never been there, it was supposed to be easy enough for me, and the trail was reported mostly snow-free. I started hiking from the White Grass trailhead a little bit before 11am; nothing like an alpine start!

There were lots of hikers on the Death Canyon trail. Several people mentioned seeing a bear cub near the junction of the Death Canyon and Valley trails, but I didn't see one.The trail to Static Peak Divide hangs a right at the Death Canyon patrol cabin; I had not been on this stretch of trail before. The patrol cabin is at 7850' or so; it is 4 miles and some 3000' vertical from the patrol cabin up to Static Peak Divide. From the patrol cabin on up, I saw 12 other people on the trail, all headed down while I was still going uphill. Here is a view of Static Peak from the 10,200' divide just north of Albright Peak. In the full-resolution version of the photo, two people are visible on the summit.

From this point going up, there were four places where the trail was still snow-covered. Two of them were easily bypassed, and the other two were snow-filled couloirs that could not be avoided. Although there were footprints cut into the couloir traverses, the consequences of a slip would have been huge; I was very glad to have my ice axe along. Here is the view to the northeast, looking down into Stewart Draw.

I reached Static Peak Divide (10,790') about three hours and forty-five minutes after leaving the trailhead. The views are of course very nice, looking to the west-southwest...

and looking to the west-northwest at Buck Mountain. There were climbers visible on the summit of Buck.
The weather was warm, probably 70 degrees and light winds. From the divide, it is only another 500' of easy terrain in perhaps 0.5 miles on the ridge up to the summit of Static Peak. Unfortunately, there were clouds building up to the south and it wasn't clear that I had another 45 minutes before the weather might deteriorate. So, I declared victory at the divide, ate my sandwich, and started on my way back down. An hour after leaving the divide, the clouds had filled the sky and thunder was rumbling; glad I wasn't up on Static Peak racing that weather!

I didn't see any bears on the way back down either. It rained briefly, just hard enough for me to put on my rain shell and pack cover, but not hard enough to get the ground completely wet. The skies cleared again, and I finished the hike under mostly sunny skies. 3:45 on the way up, 3:15 on the way down, a total of about 4400' vertical including the up-and-back-down over Phelps Lake Overlook. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Browns Creek trail

Jill's friend Grace, from back in medical residency days, is vacationing in Colorado, doing some fly fishing. We managed to meet up with Grace in Salida CO for a day of hiking. Based on some quick online research, we decided on the Browns Creek trail, in the national forest about halfway between Salida and Buena Vista. That turned out to be a good choice; we were ready for a lower-key day after two days of fourteeners. The trail description mentioned some small waterfalls, I'd say this one is larger than we were expecting; that's Jill and Grace in the picture. We timed the hike perfectly, too; we turned around after about 4 miles and 1500', and by the time we were driving back into town the afternoon thunderstorms had started.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another day, another 14er (Handies Peak)

Yesterday we enjoyed hiking Uncompahgre Peak, today we are off in search of another one. We're planning to drive to Salida this evening to meet a friend of Jill's, so we wanted a relatively short hike. We chose Handies Peak, 14048'. From the 4WD trailhead it is only a 2500' 6-mile round trip, or from the regular trailhead 2800' in 7.3 miles. The creek crossing to the 4WD trailhead is a bit ugly for a long wheelbase vehicle, not worth scraping the back bumper just to save a mile of easy walking. The drive from Lake City took about an hour, the last couple miles would have been doable 2WD high clearance but it was less stressful with the gear lever in 4WD. The road is part of the Alpine Loop scenic byway, there was a vehicle every few minutes including lots of rental Jeeps and ATVs.

Handies Peak is supposed to have better than average views, as Colorado 14ers go; based on a sample size N=2 I would agree. The weather was once again almost perfect, but with 20-25 mph winds on the summit we only spent about 15 minutes there. It took us 2:35 to get to the summit, all easy walking on a good trail at a comfortable pace, and 1:45 to get back down, not counting the lunch stop at Sloan Lake (a small scenic lake at 12900').

At the summit, I was impressed by one guy we met there. He said Handies was the first peak he climbed after moving west from the flatlands at age 65 just after retiring. He hiked it every few years since then, this year he is 79, and says next year at age 80 he might hang it up. It took him two hours to summit from the upper trailhead. You gotta have role models....

It is a very busy trail, as you might guess by the relatively easy access. As we were ascending the last few hundred feet, stopping to add layers against the wind, we were passed by this guy demonstrating another way to gear up for a 14er hike -- T-shirt, headband, no water, no nothing. We overheard him say it wasn't his first time there...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My First 14er -- Uncompahgre Peak

All of the above-10000-foot hiking back home is still snowbound, and we want to do some higher elevation hiking in preparation for Kilimanjaro next month. So, with a perfect weather forecast on the horizon we headed for Lake City, Colorado to hike some 14ers in the San Juans.

First on our list was Uncompahgre Peak, 14,309 feet. The last four miles to the Nellie Creek 4WD trailhead were okay in the Ford Ranger, 4wd low range, with only two very minor undercarriage scrapes. The 4WD trailhead is at 11,300 feet so we had 3000' of elevation gain in about 4 miles. Most of it was easy walking, with one section of about 150 vertical feet of steep loose rock; the guidebook says Class 2 but I'd give it a Class 2+, I really wanted handholds whenever I could get them. It took us 2:50 to get to the summit; the weather was gorgeous with almost no wind, and we hung out up there for an hour. Then 2:35 later we were back at the truck, cold beers in hand. We saw about 15-20 other people.

This was the highest elevation I'd ever been to outside of an airplane; Jill had been at similar elevations when she was trekking in Nepal. We survived the trip with no issues, and plan to do another 14er on Wednesday.

Lake City, Colorado is a cute little tourist town, built up a lot more than I was expecting this far out of the way. We camped at the county campground (Wupperman) on Lake San Cristobal about 3 miles south of town, it was fine, there is also a Forest Service campground (Williams Creek) another 5 miles down the road.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We're on our way to Lake City, Colorado to climb some 14ers. Along the way, we checked out another national park -- Black Canyon of the Gunnison, east of Montrose Colorado. Pretty spectacular canyon, we spent about 3 hours walking to all of the viewpoints from the scenic rim drive. Access to the bottom of the canyon is very difficult (very steep) with "unavoidable poison ivy". Oh boy. We skipped that part. Maybe another time. But the fishing is supposed to be superb, with an amazing salmonfly hatch...