Category: Trip Report

Reports, logs, journals, images, etc. of an actual climbing, hiking, training etc. trip

Ice Climbing First Tracks

I got a message from my climbing buddy Ryan, from suggesting we go ice climbing up Provo Canyon to our favorite spot, Stairway to Heaven. He said it was early season and thin, but that a few days more of freezing should solidify it enough to get in some decent climbing.

Sadly the next few days were on the warm and rainy side. On Friday night he messaged suggesting we shoot for Pricecicle (Dirtcicle) which at a higher elevation was in better condition overall. I had some family events to attend to over the day, and didn’t have time for the 3 hours round trip drive, so that was out of the question. We settled on going out before dawn prepared to run a mixed line if needed, just to get in some climbing before my family event deadline.

At the base of Stairway to Heaven, in the dark, with Mount Timpanogos behind and the highway below.
At the base of Stairway to Heaven, in the dark, with Mount Timpanogos behind and the highway below.

We met at the Nunn’s Park lot at just a few minutes before 6 AM, and hiked in the dark the 3/4 mile to the fork in the trail heading up the gully to the base of Stairway. I had misplaced my good headlamp, so borrowed one the kids’ and it was really dark heading up the steep gravel in the dark. Remind me to dig out my good headlamp and keep it attached to my helmet at all times.

Thin ice indeed. Darktime view of the route at Stairway to Heaven
Thin ice indeed. Darktime view of the route at Stairway to Heaven

The route was really thin looking, but doable. There were thin slicks of ice over rock with some tiny pillars like melted candle wax hanging over rock depressions. It would be interesting. I had brought some slings and lockers for setting the toprope. Ryan went up with his rope and my pro and was gone for quite a bit longer than expected. I assumed he was having trouble crossing icy patches on the sloping shelf at the top of pitch one traversing the 50 or so yard to the chains for this route. I assumed he stopped to put on his crampons. He had his TNF Ice Project backpack [HERE] and I love the top crampon pocket. Envious.

Ryan rappelling over the falls at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan rappelling over the falls at Stairway to Heaven

I heard some rocks tumbling down to the right of the route and ducked out of the way just as he rapped over the edge. The rope was slightly to the right side of the route, but that’s where the best ice was, so it would do the job. I was really frozen standing there, so took first crack at the route to warm up. It was 23 with a real-feel of 17, but there was a really cold humid damp wind that made it feel more like 5F. Dang it was cold. I went up in my OR VERT gloves [HERE in a newer version] instead of my thinner climbing gloves. I also kept my puffy jacket on. Did I say it was cold?

It's not often I get to climb this dressed up.
It’s not often I get to climb this dressed up.

My hands froze really good, but the ice was decent. More decent than I expected. I got in some good sticks, a few good hooks, saw some sparks fly from the ends of my tools and popped out some really brittle toe points. One spot in particular felt off balance, backwards leaning slightly clearing a small bulge over some candlesticks. It had bad hollow sounding feet. But I was on toprope, so it’s all good.

Ryan climbing up the right side of the one doable route at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan climbing up the right side of the one doable route at Stairway to Heaven

I went up again on the right side as soon as Ryan was thawed out enough to belay. I went up much faster and my hands were warmer, having gotten that blood rush post-screaming-barfies. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. Ryan again booked it up the right side. We were both really stoked and while the ice wasn’t that great, the climbing was.

Ryan climbs another line slightly left of our first line
Ryan climbs another line slightly left of our first line

I took off again, as far left as the thin flow of ice would allow. It was much worse ice, with small blobs of ice to stick and thin smears to scratch. I did one of those “6 inches at a time” toekick ascents, breaking off the candle I was climbing with each kick. It was tough. Ryan followed that same line and afterward said it was really good fun.

Ryan working his way up the left side at Stairway to Heaven
Ryan working his way up the left side at Stairway to Heaven

I decided on the next lap to push it even further. I tried only hooking and placing. No swings. About halfway up I felt like my right tool was bomber, my right foot bomber. My left foot was nothing and my left tool was sketchy. I tried standing up on my almost nonexistent left toe point, and popped off. Solid pop. One split second moving up, the next split second hanging ten feet lower. In that split second I realized my left tool was following me so I ducked my head low and slammed my forearm over behind my neck. Sure enough it hit my helmet and dragged along my forearm for a split second. I wondered if it had hung up there or not. I heard the clatter a few seconds later, and turned to watch it bounce into the gully about 100′ below.

Dripping ice freezing instantly on our boots, tools, gloves, clothes. Water in our bottles freezing.
Dripping ice freezing instantly on our boots, tools, gloves, clothes. Water in our bottles freezing.

Ryan lowered me and thought maybe he could lower me into the gully and I could get a boost from the rope on the way back up. I looked at my watch and it was go time anyway. We could get it on the way past down to the car. Ryan said he’d rap down after cleaning. After his last lap I started putting my gear away and helped clear the rope for his descent. We hiked down the gully to the tool, and I hung it on my backpack waist belt. I don’t recommend that on a steep gravel descent, by the way. You don’t want pointy things interrupting your tumble down the scree.

That little tiny white stripe of ice to the left of center is where we were climbing at Stairway to Heaven
That little tiny white stripe of ice to the left of center is where we were climbing at Stairway to Heaven

At the bottom I paused for a photo and gosh did it look bare. Really bare. Had I done the approach at daylight I might have turned around. So glad we had this first day of climbing Stairway to Heaven for the 2015-2016 winter ice climbing season. Hope we get plenty more really good memorable days climbing this year.

Mount Olympus with Todd

On July 12 I went out for a short hike with Todd Gilles. Remember we went together for Orizaba, and then to Elbrus Race 2013 [BUY BOOK HERE]

We went up Mount Olympus, a Salt Lake City classic that I’ve done quite a few times over my life. I’ve used Strava for some of my hikes and trail runs over the past handful of years now, and for this one I would use it for tracking, but not really work too hard for a PR or anything. I set a 10K PR in Frisco Colorado in early June. I climbed Mount Rainier via the Emmons route in late June [PHOTOS HERE]. I did a slew of PR’s on Quandary just the week before, July 4 [PHOTOS HERE]. All in all I was pretty wasted and not fully recovered. We were going to just have fun.

Todd was staying with us on a trip as a figure skating coach to train my wife and others here in Utah. We took off around 5:30 and got to the trailhead off Wasatch Blvd and hit the trail around 6:30. It was still twilight and cool. We took it really slow up to near the creek crossing, then booked it up the rough section and up to the saddle. There we slowed down again for the scramble to the summit. In spite of our casual pace down low I got a handful of 2nd and 3rd best times to the saddle. Imagine if I booked it some down low too? I guess that’s next.

Todd Gilles and I did a Salt Lake City classic today. Mount Olympus. After this brief pause at the saddle we climbed the 600′ class 3 scramble to the summit. I should have more pics and videos in the next few days.

Posted by Seven Summits Quest on Sunday, July 12, 2015

We hung around up top for only a few minutes then returned to the saddle for our trail lunch. I had two bottles with me. The Ultimate Direction 20oz in my front pocket, and a Platypus 1 liter in the back pocket. I used the larger one to fill the smaller one, and chugged the rest. It was going to get hot soon. Then we took off downhill carefully and slowly. Todd was beat from skating and I was beat from setting a downhill PR on Quandary, knocking off nearly 30 minutes from my previous best. Downhill beats me up pretty bad so I normally don’t run that fast downhill anyway.

We discussed and shared tunes and stories and plans. Our big plan at the moment is a possible return to Rainier for me to get in a second summit this year with Todd. We’ll see how that goes. We have a few hurdles to leap for that one. If you want to stay in the loop and possibly give us a hand, or at least cheer us on, please subscribe to our newsletter [CLICK HERE].

Quandary in Snowstorm

October 27, 2014

Last night my wife suggested I do Quandary. It had been a couple months since last time and a few months longer before that. I checked the weather on

Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather at the summit
Quandary Weather at the summit

Looked like it was going to be really cold and windy and a bit overcast. I gathered up a few of the things I would be taking, including my Suunto Ambit 2S and my Salomon Spikecross shoes. I had seem some beta pics on Grays that implied there would be a fair amount of snow up high and I hadn’t used these shoes in a while. Strava says I only had 15 miles on them, but it’s probably more like 100 with all the winter summits I did do in them previous to Strava.

My daughter was already in bed, and I keep a lot of my stuff in her closet, so it would keep till morning. At least in winter you don’t have to beat the lightning. The next morning it was snowing hard. I got the rest of my gear together and dressed then took the kids to school and continued on to the Quandary parking lot. I followed a snowplow much of the way. I assumed they were going to work on Hoosier Pass, because the road was pretty slick. Quandary was socked in good, from this pic at the pull-off near the other road in.

Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9
Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9

At the parking lot I put on the HR belt and it took a good 10 minutes for the Suunto to pick up a GPS signal. Later I heard from a few friends who also had GPS acquisition issues today, so not sure if it was the weather or the system. For pants, I was wearing a pair of UnderArmour briefs, a pair of REI fleece tights (my favorites for cabin wear on expeditions) and some Pearl Izumi cycling wind/water shell pants. They’re really light and flexible and I wanted to test them out under stress today.

Where the rubber meets the trail - Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes
Where the rubber meets the trail – Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes

As I mentioned previously, I was wearing my Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes. They have carbide spikes that I feel work a bit better than Kahtoola on the rocky sections of the trail on Quandary. Under them I had my classic combo of Injinji liners (the really thin ones) under Point6 Summit Mountaineering Wool Socks (Eddie Bauer brand). I normally don’t wear gaiters if I can help it, though I do have some Mont Bell softshell running ones that I wear now and then.


Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road
Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road

Up top I had on a Columbia Omniheat (reflective) zip turtleneck and a Salomon hybrid softshell/fleece jacket under an OR Goretex jacket. My gloves were a home-brewed combo of Columbia Omniheat Cell-compatible liners inside Mountain Hardwear mountaineering shells. For a hat I’m wearing an Icebreaker beanie (very thin) under a Salomon Swag Cap. Yeah, Swag as in they gave it to me at the finish line of a 10K run. I also have a buff on, though I wasn’t able to locate one of my favorites that I think is in my ice climbing backpack.

Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line
Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line

I wasn’t moving too fast, with a target of about 2 hours for the summit so I didn’t sweat too bad, though I did open up the neck of the two outer layers and the pit zips on the Goretex.

View of the upper layers if you're interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill
View of the upper layers if you’re interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill

When I got to tree line, just about 12,000′ I switched the Goretex out for a Mont Bell puffy synthetic jacket and cinched up the hood. It was really windy and cold and blowing snow pelting me. I’d say that 35-40 MPH wind forecast was about right. I passed a couple struggling near the top of the point at about 12,600′ and after a while looked back and didn’t see them. There had been three sets of footprints on the way up and one was still barely visible ahead of me and I followed it up the regular summer trail which was still easy to follow.

As I passed the flats at 13,300′ it became much rougher going with snow drifted in between the boulders making for difficult footing. Your foot would either hit wind crust and stick, hit crust and punch through into the boulders, or slide down into the powder and bounce around in the boulders until  you either stuck or fell.

At about 13,700′ I saw the owner of the third set of footprints heading down from way off to the North, angling back onto the trail. That implied the trail was hard to follow up high. I’d have to remember that. I ran into her after a bit.

“Windy” nodding her head up.

“Yeah” just nodding

And that was all we had the energy to say in the blustery day on Quandary.

Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.
Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.

Finally after 2:45 I got to the summit. 45 minutes later than goal, but the conditions were pretty bad and I had to face out of the wind braced on my poles several times to stay upright in some of the worst gusts. I made a short video on top then took off for the bottom without eating or drinking. I did that on the way down once I was out of the wind. Footing was even worse on the way down so it was slow going until I got down below about 12,000′ and then it was pretty quick.

So I’m back in training for mountaineering and have plans for some cool objectives coming up. As soon as any of them get past the “how much, what dates, how many climbers” etc I’ll let you all know. Subscribe to the newsletter if you want to be among the first to know.

Elbrus Race 2014

So, Elbrus Race. Obviously I didn’t go. Just as obviously it didn’t happen.

A friend on the Front Range took a group to Elbrus during the race at my recommendation and they had a blast with Nick and the rest of the gang. But they didn’t summit. Their pictures and video from 18,000′ are insane! Wish I had permission to show you some.

There’s a pic from Elbrus Race from the organizer. So in the big scheme of things, if I were doing the race I wouldn’t have gotten my summit. But the day before was amazingly blue sky gorgeous. A part of me thinks I might have gone that day and finally gotten it out of the way. I hope I can go next year.

I finally got my passport straightened out, got my invitation and voucher for a new set of dates, and then had a terrible time getting flights lined up that fit those dates, and then couldn’t get to the visa center in time to get my visa processed in the dates available. It was a mess from the beginning. I suppose that the second the lady at the visa center said my papers were out of order I should have just quit while I was ahead.

Kilian wasn’t there either, so I’m not sure what his plans are for Elbrus. It’s on his list.

I did get a lot of work done though, including two published books, one on training for hiking HERE and one on self-help finding time to train HERE – both have done awesome so I recommend you go check them out.


Waffling on Elbrus Race 2014

Elbrus Race 2014 is being held the week of September 6-13, according to the itinerary posted below and HERE.

IX international (2014) Elbrus Race program :

Date Days Day’s program
06.09.2014 day 01 Flight arrival to Min Vody. Transfer to Baksan Valley, Azau station. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
07.09.2014 day 02 Acclimatization walking nearby. Accommodation in the Hotel Elba.
08.09.2014 day 03 Transfer to Azau lift station. The opening of the competition. Going up to refuge “Barrels” ~3710m. Night at refuge “Barrels”
09.09.2014 day04 Qualifying speed climb from Barrels hut to the Pastukov rocks, 4800 m.
10.09.2014 day 05
(full moon at 15:00 pm)
Relax day. Night at the refuge “Barrels”
11.09.2014 day 06 Speed Climb of Mt. Elbrus West 5642 m. “Classic” from hut Barrels (3710) & “Extreme” from Azau 2400m Descent from Barrels to the Valley
12.09.2014 day 07 spare day for the Race or Awards Ceremony at the morning & The farewell party at the evening
13.09.2014 day 08 Transfer to airport. Flight from Min Vody..

I was forming a team of 3 to go DETAILS but over the past year since the 2013 Race a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Some of us were really sick for quite some time. Some of us had endured injuries. Some of us had endured financial hardship. I myself was involved in legal finagling to extricate myself from a series of business partnerships and investments. That took up a great deal of stress and in spite of any other factors contributed greatly to a deficit in training hours.

In other words, I wasn’t able to train the way I had for the 2013 Race, in which I took 5th place. Sadly though, since it wasn’t all the way to the summit due to weather I wasn’t able to achieve my Seven Summits Quest goal with Elbrus, the highest mountain and highest volcano in Europe. After a lot of deliberation I sent an email to my friend in Russia asking if there were a trip in August that I could attach myself to so that I could share expenses at the Barrels (cook/food) and he sent an itinerary for me that seemed to fit in with my own plans so I agreed and sent the deposit. I received the Invitation and Voucher and not coincidentally I happened to be in Seattle where I could go in person to the Visa Center.

Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013
Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013

At the Center I was informed that a technicality in the requirements for available Visa Pages in my Passport prevented my application from being processed. Thankfully it was not rejected, which would unnecessarily complicate future applications. I needed to get additional pages inserted into my Passport, which isn’t a very complicated process, but can take up to 6 weeks plus additional time for shipping back and forth both ways. They recommended Overnight mail, but in this county there really isn’t such a thing. Long complicated story. USPS won’t even deliver to most of the resort units even to full time residents.

STP - 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles
STP – 13 year old rode with Puget Sound Mini 200 + miles

In the middle of that process of course, I spent a week traveling to Utah and Seattle to drop off my 13 year old who would be riding in the Seattle to Portland 200+ mile cycling ride with his uncle. Immediately after returning home to Colorado I spent a week at the Boy Scout camp near Castle Rock Colorado as the Assistant Scoutmaster for my Frisco CO Boy Scouts. It rained a lot, and I was really happy that my son and I had done a lot of camping in a variety of conditions so that at least one of the boys had good morale during the week. Seriously though, it was great fun to help the boys earn a slew of merit badges, including the Wilderness Survival, which required them to spend a night out in a low impact shelter built on the spot.

BSA camp activity - dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO
BSA camp activity – dueling on the ropes near Castle Rock CO

To make things even more fun I had a house listed in Utah and it expired without being sold so am in the middle of dealing with the legal implications and handling the repairs necessary to list it again in a different price bracket so that we can appeal to a different market. That’s going to require several trips to Utah over the next month added to the other fun things I need to do. Full plate!

Of course, all of this wasn’t enough time for the whole 6+ weeks to pass. Once I do have my passport in hand it takes a minimum of 30 days to process a Visa Application to Russia by mail (for those centers that accept mail). Going in person is an option that cuts the time down to a week to 10 days depending on the Visa you’re applying for. In any case, as it is, I am getting close to the deadline necessary to go to the 2014 Race. The 30 day window closes in a few days. The 10 day window closes in a couple weeks. I am hoping that my Passport arrives quickly and that all goes well. In the past couple months of training I’ve achieved quite a few PR (PB) and top-3 personal records for some of the Strava segments I’ve run on. I even got a Male KOM (ascent speed best) for a segment on Rainier up to Pebble Creek. And I was “walking” it with a heart rate of 100. That inspired me that maybe I could go back to Elbrus Race and make a decent attempt. On the other hand, going up with the Photographers to the summit to await the champions (possibly with another attempt by Kilian) sounds enticing as well. Not sure yet. Still have to get that Passport back in enough time for the rest of the process.

I’m not telling you all of this so that you can pity me, or so that I can excuse myself. Rather I tell you all of this so that you can understand that I am working hard to overcome all the difficulties that the world is tossing at me seemingly to prevent my success. I fully believe that you are able to overcome your own difficulties even when it seems there is no way to do so.

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013
The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

I really want to go to Russia this year and get this one done!

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls Part 2

Todd Gilles and I had a great time Ice Climbing on Lincoln Falls, an area at about 12,000′ elevation on Mount Lincoln, a Colorado 14er. The approach and walk-off are part of a hiking route to the summit of Mount Lincoln called “The Amphitheater”. I don’t think there are too many ascents of that route in a given year, according to the reports on HERE.

I posted a photo gallery of some of the photos I took while climbing the route most often called “Scottish Gully” HERE and now I can share some of the photos taken by Todd Gilles [FACEBOOK PAGE]. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ice Climbing Lincoln Falls – 5 Apr 2014

Ice Climbing in Ouray

Todd Gilles and I haven’t had a chance to climb for a few months, so at the prompting of my wife we arranged an ice climbing trip to Ouray Colorado. Todd, if you might remember, was the star athlete I coached to a 3rd place finish at Elbrus Race 2013 [Book of the same name]. We arrived late on Thursday night. Actually very early Friday morning. We stayed at one of my favorite hotels, the Twin Peaks Lodge [CLICK HERE]. If you book online you can get a huge discount. The breakfast is decent and the pool and spa are good. It’s also right at the base of the trail up the canyon.

Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise
Ice Climbing in Ouray Colorado with beautiful sunrise

We set the alarm for 7:30 to try and get at least a little shuteye before heading out on our ice climbing adventure. The breakfast was decent and we enjoyed watching the little tourism video playing, noting that the skiers were the only sportsmen portrayed as proficient. We packed up for a day of ice climbing. I took the rope and Todd took the bag of pro. We took off up the canyon trail. The little ice rink by the fee building was buried in snow. I was wanting to climb in the Five Fingers area, but parts of it were roped off and closed. The park was almost empty.

Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park
Todd tossing the rope down our ice climbing route in South Park

As we passed the Scottish Gullies we saw a few ropes and heard a few climbers. We weren’t alone after all. We walked around to the road to see the Fingers, but it looked really beat up. We decided to head up to the School Room to see what it looked like. We put on our crampons at the base of the Kids Wall. We didn’t really need them though. The path was pretty solid. The ladder down into the bottom of the School Room was closed. We saw some groups ice climbing and a few of the routes were free. Todd wanted to take me to the South Park area where he’d climbed with friends the week before.

We kept going past New Funtier, where there were a lot of people ice climbing. We got to the South Park area of the Ouray Ice Park. There had been several inches of snow the last couple of days and we were happy to see someone had dug out the bolted anchors for the route Todd wanted to do. I set up a couple of long 6-mm and 8-mm static cords and equalized them. I’ve gotten a lot faster at that over the last couple of years. Todd flaked out the rope and found the middle. I clipped that into the twin opposed lockers and Todd tossed the rope. I let him have the privilege of rappelling down first. That way I could watch the anchor and make sure it was equalized. In ice climbing you might wander a bit more than in a rock climb, since you don’t have to follow the line of the available holds. You make your own.

Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park
Todd rappelling in to our ice climbing area at South Park

We climbed for several hours, pacing ourselves pretty evenly. With only two climbers it’s possible to climb too hard too fast without enough rest. We alternated turns and took an extra ten minutes to eat and drink between each set of laps. That allowed us sufficient recovery time so that we didn’t burn out on ice climbing. We walked down the canyon (North) and found another route we wanted to try with a lot of variety. I climbed out with my pack then belayed Todd out with my Petzl REVERSO set in Auto-Lock mode. It was a bit of a struggle as the bolts were on the ground so I tied in a little below the anchor so that I stood with the Reverso at about knee height.

South Park wasn’t too busy that day so we were able to get on one of the ice climbing routes we’d found from the bottom. I did a backed-up anchor on a tree with 8-mm cord and a 13-mm sling. Todd stacked the rope, then tossed it down and rappelled in while I watched. I don’t like tree anchors so much. That’s why I back them up, probably more than I need to. We had a blast climbing. Todd has only been ice climbing a little over a year, but he’s gotten really good in that time. Probably because he pays attention to good climbing and tries to emulate it.

Ice Climbing Video: Todd Gilles Tops Out in South Park

I saved for last a short stretch of slightly overhanging ice at the beginning of the route, where a curtain formed over a large rock. I climbed it in my pack on the way out. This time I belayed Todd from the tree with a Petzl Grigri, which is a lot easier to do one-handed or no-handed. I took that short video of Todd topping out once I could see him where he transitioned off the vertical ice into the narrow chute at the top between the ice-making nozzles. I love the happy look on his face.

We hiked out then after a great day of ice climbing and talked about dinner on the walk down. We decided to go to Buen Tiempo for Mexican, then head to the motel hot springs. On the way into the parking lot we saw some deer that were walking in the little dog park in the middle of the motel courtyard. That was pretty neat. Since we arrived in the middle of the night we had to go to the motel desk to recode our keys. Just to make sure it’s me I suppose. After hanging out for a few minutes we walked the few blocks to town.

Apres Ice Climbing Activities in Ouray

Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site
Deer in the middle of Ouray Colorado is a common site

Buen Tiempo was closed for another half hour so we walked to Ouray Mountain Sports to see if there were any ice climbing toys that we didn’t own yet. Nope. You can dream though, right? We walked back to the restaurant and they were open. After, we went to Mouse’s for hot chocolate and a chocolate treat for a midnight snack. It was getting late and we were pretty tired. The hot spring pool was very hot and felt great after our day of ice climbing. We soaked for about a half hour. Just long enough to feel really cooked. We went back to the room and crashed.

Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado
Rainy morning in Ouray Colorado

The next day we woke to rain. We drove through the park and saw that School Room had only one rope set up in it. I’ve never seen it that empty. The routes in the Fingers area had fresh snow on them from overnight. I imagine they’ll be gone soon. In the Gullies there were horizontal cracks. The season is wrapping in the Ice Park. I think a couple weeks more at the most, depending on the weather. A few cold days should prolong it. But for me it’s over now. I won’t be going back to Ouray for ice climbing until January 2015 most likely. I will miss it until then.

Winter Hiking for the First Time

I took my 13 year old son out winter hiking for the first time on a Colorado 14er. I selected Quandary for a few reasons.

  • I’ve been to the top in every month, in almost every condition and know the routes well.
  • I’ve helped several other people do their first 14er on Quandary.
  • He’s been up it twice in the summer and knew what to expect.
  • Winter access to Quandary is the same as in summer, so no long approaches.

Winter hiking for the first time can be daunting, but he has seen me preparing for my winter outings. I trail run, snowshoe run, ice climb, and climb lots of mountains all year round. I knew how to prepare and properly outfit him for the adventure. The weather called for temperatures into the mid 20’s with possible winds to 20 mph. He’s a bit smaller than I am, and younger. He hasn’t adapted to winter activities like I have.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette

My son has a few favorite clothes items so I based his outfit around those to make it easier for him. I suggest that if you are considering winter hiking for the first time you do the same. It’s a lot easier. He wore base layers, insulated snow pants like for sledding, a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a mid-weight down jacket. On his extremities he wore a thick knit cap, ski gloves, and on his feet, wool ski socks and some Sorel boots. We brought along a couple pair of snowshoes but I really didn’t want to wear them unless we had to. He didn’t have enough experience with them that I thought it might slow us down some.

At the trailhead we discovered that there was some mountain club group hike going on, the lot was full and the road was almost completely parked up. We parked way down by Hwy 9 and decided with that many people ahead of us snowshoes were definitely not needed. We started out dressed light, with his puffy (nickname for down jacket) in his backpack. Along the trail we bumped into Alan Arnette, whose Everest Blog is quite popular CLICK HERE. We passed through a few deep spots with a bit of wading. I expected these, since they’re always in about the same spots every year. In my opinion it’s worth slowing down a bit to break trail in hip deep snow for a couple hundred feet in return for going a bit faster and lighter the rest of the trail.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind

When we got up in the wind I had him put on his jacket and have some food and water. At about 12,500 – 13,500 feet a lot of people run out of gas. Add in slick snow surfaces and cold and wind and it’s very difficult sometimes to convince the newbie to keep moving. We finally hit the summit about a half hour behind my initial target for him, but we did take a few more breaks and 3-1/2 hours is still a respectable time in the winter. We hung around at the top with about 100 members of whatever the group was, eating and drinking and taking pics.

We then headed down the trail, which was a little bit more slippery. I didn’t have any spikes to fit his Sorel boots, so I didn’t wear any either. It went okay though and in about 2-1/2 hours we got to the car. One funny thing was that having parked at the mouth of the turnoff to Hwy 9 we could see our car almost the entire way down. That was a great incentive to keep moving. His adventure with winter hiking for the first time was a great success and on the drive home he asked me about ways to improve his time and beat it the next time out. That makes a dad proud.

Video of my son winter hiking for the first time

Suggestions if you want to try winter hiking:

Winter hiking can be dangerous. I am very experienced and knew the route well. I knew the local weather patterns and what to expect. I’ve also had several sessions of outdoor training. I’ve been up Quandary with a handful of friends, some having never done a 14er before, some having never been hiking in the winter. I recommend that if you are going to try winter hiking for the first time that you find a mentor to help you.

I suggest that you also have snowshoes and/or microspikes. I’m used to running on winter trails in running shoes, spiked running shoes, and running shoes with Kahtoola Microspikes. In general you want to be safe and prepared. Snowshoes are a bit clunky to haul around, but microspikes are pretty light and great insurance. They would have been handy on the way down.

I recommend trekking poles. They will help you stay up when the going is slippery. They’ll help you stay in balance on the way down. They can help you transfer some of the work to your arms on the way up and down, taking a load off your legs.

I can’t stress enough the importance of going with someone experienced, so I’ll say it again. An experienced friend can monitor you for signs of exhaustion and cold injury. An experienced friend can help you remember to eat and drink and adjust your layers for your body’s thermal state – too hot or too cold. An experienced friend can keep you from being lost. I’ve had to help people find their way down Quandary a few times now. For some reason there are a couple of spots on the way down where people make wrong turns on a regular basis.

If you need any more information about winter hiking for the first time let me know in the comments. I want your first experience to be a good one.

Elbrus Race 2013 Wrap-up

As I prepared for the Elbrus Race 2013 with my team mate Todd Gilles, I worked hard to increase my fitness for the vertical ascent of the Classic, from the Barrels Huts to the summit of Elbrus at approximately 18,500′. Normally you do that a couple days after the Qualifier, about half of the distance and elevation gain of the Classic.

Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013
Myself, Kilian Jornet, and Todd Gilles at the opening ceremony for Elbrus Race 2013

At the same time my friend and climbing partner Todd Gilles said he’d like to
join me on Elbrus. I gave him a training program to follow to help him adjust his
current fitness levels more toward fast vertical travel. I’ve known him for a
couple years now and just last December we started climbing together. I went
with him on several Winter Colorado Fourteener climbs and attempts, as well as
several ice and rock climbing trips. He refers to me as his “Mountain Mentor”
and that makes me feel really good. As a former competing champion in
figure skating he was in really good physical condition and not afraid of hard
work. We were going to have a blast. — From the Preface to Elbrus Race 2013

We had the usual hassles with the Russian Visa process, and the generally slow responses of the Russian Logistics companies. Finally there, we ended up staying in the Barrels with Kilian Jornet and his crew. They were there to do a video on Kilian’s attempt at a base-summit-base speed record on Elbrus. Sadly, the weather was not cooperative on either the Qualifier or the two days of the Race. The Qualifier was cut short, the first Race day it was cancelled after the Extreme (base to summit) Race had already started, and when the Race was finally run, they brought the finish line of both the Extreme and Classic routes down to a bit below 17,000′.

The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013
The Qualifier in whiteout conditions for Elbrus Race 2013

Elbrus Race 2013 – the book

When we returned from the Elbrus Race 2013, I compiled my notes into a book, and published it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and then on Google Play and Google Books. We were quite successful, though we did not reach the top. My 5th place, and Todd’s 3rd place finish were momentous occasions as the best US results in nearly 20 years. For a press release from Elbrus Race 2013 CLICK HERE.

A lot of people didn’t qualify, qualified but dropped out before the Race, or dropped out and turned back in the storm. It was pretty tough conditions and I was thrilled that Todd and I stuck it out. He placed, and I finished and we’ve been an inspiration to others to join us for Elbrus Race 2014 STORY.

Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles
Elbrus Race 2013 Classic 3rd Place Trophy for Todd Gilles

If you’re interested in mountaineering, skyrunning, adventure travel, the Seven Summits, or even a great story, Elbrus Race 2013 is the book for you. For more information CLICK HERE for the rest of the story.

Having never read about or experienced mountaineering and extreme incline races before, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s firsthand recount of his and Todd’s experience in Elbrus Race 2013. I am in awe of their accomplishments, and have an even greater respect for their quest and dedication to their dreams. I can’t wait to hear more! — 5-star review on Amazon