Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bells Traverse in pictures

Part 1 - gaining the ridge

  • aka "the warm-up" aka "the Incline without steps"
  • 3,000' gain in just over a mile

Part 2 - Maroon's south ridge

  • aka let the fun begin
  • It's much more of a face than a ridge, but what do I know.

Part 3 - The Traverse

  • The fun part 
  • aka don't tell mom

Part 4 - descending North Maroon

  • aka "the hangover" 
  • aka "the payback"
  • aka "rock glacier hell"

This was my second time ringing the Bells, the first being back in 2010 with Patrick.  I would say this time was as much, if not more fun, than that trip.  On the traverse specifically, we made many different micro-decisions this time around.  Last time, the fear of choosing the wrong line on the traverse had me pretty wigged out.  This time, it became clear that there are many ways to skin a Maroon cat.

As you can see by the pictures, Jake and I "picked up" a random dude named Dustin.  He was prepared to do South Maroon only and we were prepared to cut ties with him.  Other than the absence of a melonguard, his decisions were solid and it was evident he was a guy we could trust.

Both Jake and I felt much better than the day before on Holy Cross.  I only went through a little over a liter of water, whereas the previous day saw me put down at least four liters by the time I went to sleep.

It is easy to view this route in its parts - basically, everything under 13,300' sucks.  I'd rather do a burpee mile than cross North Maroon's rock glacier again.  The climb up South Maroon is steep and relentless - slightly more pleasureable than a 75-minute series of kicks in the pants, but not much more so.  However, the short sweet spot in between more than makes up for it.  There aren't many places out there where one can earn the right to crawl around like a monkey while experiencing some sick views.  It's a classic.  Simply put, if you CAN do the Bells traverse, then you SHOULD.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Halo Ridge

Jake has been bugging me for nearly a year about doing Holy Cross via the long but striking Halo Ridge route.  After spending a few weeks on the couch thanks to a vicious weed-pulling incident, I knew I was nearly ready.  Needing to find that extra edge, I timed the climb for the day after coming back from a two-week road trip at sea level.  Just to add a little more spice, we also had the Bells Traverse planned for the following day.  I was ready to rock.

13.5 miles
6,160' of gain
Notch Mountain (13,237')
Point 13,248'
Holy Cross Ridge (13,831')
Mt. of the Holy Cross (14,005')
8ish hours

Background - I had done a casual climb of Holy Cross with friends via the standard north ridge route a few years back and thought it was fine, but nothing special.  I'd been looking for an excuse to come back and either do the Cross Couloir or Halo Ridge.  Jake and I had been planning on two full days in the Elks, but a freak mudslide just west of town diverted us through Denver and we decided to swap out our first Elk climb for this one, which we had slated for later in the summer.

We pulled into a campsite at the trailhead just after dark, bunkered down, and were on the trail the next morning at 4:45.  We decided to add in a little more spice, opting to go over 13,237' Notch Mountain from Half Moon Pass, whereas the normal Halo Ridge route starts out on a well-defined trail east of the ridge for a couple of miles before ascending to the semi-famous Notch Shelter midway through the ridge.

Notable facts about Notch Mountain.  It may be the state capitol for spiders.  Furthermore, the concentration of non-aquatic mosquitos on the north ridge of Notch Mountain is impressive.  Those guys spawn from rocks.
Looking east toward the Mosquito Range from Half Moon Pass

For the uninformed, a halo is a circular angel-thing one wears when they pick up trash that isn't theirs or eat their vegetables.  Halos happen to be somewhat circular in shape, much like this ridge.  Actually, Halo may be a misnomer.  Maybe Horseshoe ridge or mostofaHalo Ridge would be more accurate.  This picture is taken from the summit of Notch Mountain, near the beginning of the horseshoe.
The reason we opted to summit Notch Mountain was for a short bout of class 3 between its two summits.

Going over Notch Mountain took us a bit longer than we anticipated, and we didn't stumble upon the shelter until about 3 hours into our morning.  I had heard it was a condemned shack these days.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this four-star alpine resort.

With Point 13,248' in the background

From Notch Shelter until the summit of Holy Cross, the views remained impressive while the footing became blockier and blockier.  By the time we got the the summit of centennial peak Holy Cross Ridge, I was ready to be done.  It was hot.  Windless.  I had a throbbing headache - something I don't get all that often at altitude.  Unless I'm out of shape and coming from sea level.  Hmmm.

Bowl of Tears

sub-peak of Holy Cross Ridge
Mt. of the Holy Cross from Holy Cross Ridge, which isn't really a ridge, it's a ranked peak.  Or, more precisely, it's the second-highest point of a couple-mile long ridge also named Holy Cross Ridge, whose highest point isn't the point Holy Cross Ridge but the Mt. of the Holy Cross.  Got it?
 We were on Holy Cross's summit sometime around 10:30.  I wasn't having much fun; the sun had really sucked me dry, and I made Jake stagger with me back to the Jeep.  Man, I can't tell you just how excited I was to re-ascend that 900' back up over Half Moon Pass at the end of the day.  Those of you who have done it know what I'm talking about.  Those who haven't...you'll love it.  It's like a bonus climb.

HC and the Bowl of Tears basin.  
Holy Cross feels very much unlike any of its Sawatch brothers.  It's not a long drive from Vail, but it sure seems far away by the time you're standing atop it.  The approach is more committing than the other Sawatch peaks.  Its north face holds more ferocity.  It offers a few challenging alternate routes.  And the Bowl of Tears Basin and Cross Creek just seem to have a personality unlike that of all the others in the range.

Halo Ridge whooped me up pretty good, to the point where I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to rally for the Bells the next day.  Jake and I stopped at the Glenwood Hot Springs to cool down while on our way that afternoon.  Big surprise, there's a reason they're called HOT Springs.  Maybe not the best choice for trying to cool down on a scorcher of an afternoon.