Winter is flying by and spring is nearly upon us! The holiday weeks passed by so excruciatingly slowly that I was dreading the “dead of winter” weeks and months with their extreme cold and long boring hours of darkness. But thankfully it has been an eventful and rewarding two months, starting with a discussion with one of my church buddies about climbing a 14er. He said, “the trailheads don’t look good for a winter ascent.”. I thought, hmmm… although Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado, it has a fairly approachable trailhead and although steep, it is very climbable so I said “What about Elbert?”. I saw the gleam in his eye and knew immediately that we were going to do it. Got the call from Ralph and we had a good weather window, so the trip was planned. Friday, January 22nd was the day and we were off for Mount Elbert at 5:30 a.m.
It turned out to be a beautiful day and a successful climb. We encountered a couple of obstacles on the way up, including an unmarked snowfield that I didn’t think we were going to be able to cross. But using my ski poles I was able to feel the packed trail under the windswept snowfield and we eventually made it across. Near the summit the trail was also not marked and we became somewhat discouraged as we discovered not one, but three false summits along the insanely steep approach to the top. We made summit right at about 2 p.m., just as we were starting to think we would never make it. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when we got there, but it wasn’t long before the wind kicked up and made a summit rest a short lived idea. Back down we went. On the way down we discovered that we had taken the long way up and were relieved to avoid the path right past the 2,000 foot deep cirque and the steep icy non-trail back down. The hike back down seemed to go on forever, but we finally made it to the truck at about 5:30, just as it was starting to get dark.
I thought we would have some time off from such difficult adventures, but as a snowstorm was forecast to dump deep snow on the mountains, it seemed like a good idea to try to bag the west face route up Pikes Peak. Saturday, January 30th was the day before the storm, so we hit the trail early in hopes of getting up and down before the weather began to change. One wrong turn took us a mile the wrong direction, but we felt we were still making good time so we continued the trek to the summit. Once again, the trail was covered with snow and the tracks from previous hikers led us straight up the treacherously slippery side of the western access. Finally we made the top of the ridge and the peak and summit house came into view. 50mph winds at our backs were not enough to convince us to cancel the attempt at the summit, but we were discussing the idea of going down the other side on the Barr Trail to avoid the ice and wind. We spotted a rock wall and decided to make that quarter of a mile or so and take a lunch break. However just as we got our packs off and started our break we were suddenly knocked over by a hurricane wind which was blowing snow up the mountain and probably a thousand feet in into the air. What was a bearable temperature suddenly became unbearable as the wind driven snow felt like gravel on our faces. The wind was blowing snow so hard it was going between my glasses and my face causing ice to build up on the lenses so I was barely able to see. I could see Ralph’s face was beet red from the pummeling it was taking from the wind driven ice. I wandered around a bit trying to see if I could find the trail we had taken, but could not. I said to Ralph, we have to get off this ridge now, but I can’t see where we came from! And we knew there would be no time to get out the GPS… we had to move. Ralph had done that route before and spotted a rock pile that was on the way. We quickly agreed and ran towards the pile. Soon we recognized the tundra slope we had come up and began running down. Just as it had been so many other times on the big mountain, just getting a few feet down from the summit was enough to make all the difference. We were laughing on the way down that God had tried to warn us away with the 50mph winds, and when we weren’t deterred the Almighty blast was hurled at us as if He was saying “Get off My mountain NOW!”. The winds quickly scaled back to the previous 50 mph or so and it was considerably warmer. By the time we got to the parking lot it was 50 degrees and the snow was melting furiously. It would not be so the next day though, as the biggest winter snow yet enveloped the Pikes Peak Region.
February also brought some adventure to my life with two winter climbs on the Manitou Incline an one summit of Bald Mountain on snowshoes. 50 degree weather has replaced the frigid start to the winter and spring feels tantalizingly close. I have stepped up my daily workouts at the gym and on the Pike National Forest Trails as plans are being made for spring and summer summits. 2015 was an awesome year with hikes in Cheyenne Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Red Mountain and the Intemann Trail still fresh in my mind… but 2016 is shaping up to be one of my best years yet! I am hoping for that and a good spring and summer for my friends and fans as well 🙂