Monday, July 25, 2016

"Fast Pfiffner" Traverse

The Pfiffner Traverse is described in Gerry Roach's guide to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, although it includes a bit more than just the Indian Peaks. The start is at Milner Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park and traverses 70 miles south along the continental divide to the next paved road, Berthoud Pass. Along the way awaits numerable summits, peaceful meadows, ridge scrambles and very few people. There a few notorious sections along the divide where the tundra morphs into steep and jagged knife edges, the "Fast Pfiffner" avoids these sections by dropping into basins to the West then returns to the divide once the coast is relatively clear.
The route.
We weighed our options quite a bit on whether or not we would plan for sleep. Its a long ways, but carrying extra gear for just a couple hours of what would likely be sub-par sleep seemed silly -- you can sleep when you're dead. There is only one other completion of a single push on this route (that I'm aware of), and thankfully, I know the man! Mark Oveson completed the route in 37 hours in 2011 and graciously responded to a bombardment of questions promptly. He said the route for him was an experiment pre-Hardrock, and hey what-do-ya-know Abby and I both need that same sort of experiment -- no sleep it is! He also volunteered to meet us at Monarch Lake, roughly the halfway point, at what would likely be a very dark hour of night.

Inspirational words at the Pearl Dragon restaurant the night before in Granby
We dropped one car at Berthoud Pass Friday night then attempted to get some sleep in the car at a trailhead parking lot only to be kicked out around midnight. The ranger was nice and recommended us another place to sleep outside the park. The impact though was that with the commute to location number two we got maybe 2 cumulative hours of sleep, maximum.

The highly official permit the ranger told us to right down and leave on our windshield. Ranger 421 for the win!
We began our journey just after 5AM Saturday morning by headlamp followed by sunrise up to the first peak, Mt Ida. It was a very moderate gradient which would be the theme for the next several peaks. As the sun rose in the sky further, we made our way across 7 more gentle summits, passing through a massive heard of elk and trekking through bountiful wildflowers. Hallet Peak, our 8th summit, marked the end of the first section of the continental divide.

Abby nearing the summit of Mt Ida
A rather large herd of Elk on the way towards Flattop Mountain
Refilling water from some snowmelt along the divide.
We descended on good trail west for a couple miles toward the North Inlet before turning south -- our last segment of trail for many miles -- to Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita. On this section I felt very tired; heavy eyelids and cloudy mind. I found my rescue from the doldrums to be singing to myself out-loud for a bit -- a bit weird I suppose, but it worked. Abby was feeling the same way here, but I figured she would be fine pulling herself out of it as I had. Nokoni and Nanita were stunning to say the least. We made our way over a small saddle just northeast of Andrews Peak, through a small basin and then down a rather nasty bushwhack to the East Inlet drainage.

Just above Lake Nokoni
Ptarmigan Mountain from Lake Nanita
Unnamed drainge northwest of Andrews Peak
Upon finally reaching Fourth Lake, Abby's condition hadn't improved much but she remained far more upbeat and optimistic than I could have expected. Maximum stoke. We found a very faint social trail which lead us to treeline, but here the weather turned a bit sour. With a long climb ahead of us and rumblings of thunder we elected to play it safe and wait out a short storm under an overhanging boulder. The scenery was still unbelievable and despite the setbacks the journey thus far had been phenomenal. It wasn't long before the clouds parted for us to continue on. We had lost even more time here though and I was beginning to get apprehensive about how late in the day it was, we still had many miles ahead before we even got back to a trail, and then several more miles of trail to Monarch Lake. I voiced my concerns and began trying to accelerate our pace.

The southern geology of the East Inlet drainage. The prominent arĂȘte just right of center is Aiguille de Fleur, a promising looking alpine scramble I'd love to check out.
A distant Abby climbing out of the Andrews-Alice col
Refilling water and while waiting for Abby to finish the climb to Isolation's west ridge. (Sponsor Plug:) Loved the gear choice for the day: X-Alp 20 pack was perfect, I used the dedicated crampon pocket as a dedicated food pocket! Would never attempt something like this without my trusty wizard sticks either!
We slowly made our way around the loose southwest slopes of Isolation Peak. The sky adopted a tint of orange as we rejoined the divide and after weighing our options I decided to start making executive decisions. Abby was only getting deeper into mega-bonk-land, the primary goal now was to get her moving as fast as possible and dig her out of the hole. We stopped briefly on the divide: I made her drink as much water and eat as much food as she could stomach then took her pack to carry myself. I told her to just keep hiking south on the divide and I would catch up in a few minutes. I changed into my warmer clothes in preparation for night and prepared her warm clothes. I then caught back up to her so she could gear up for night. I had been very thoughtful about my nutrition and maintaining a positive mental state and was glad to be feeling almost the same as I had 15 hours earlier.

Shadows getting longer heading further up Isolation Peak. Longs looms tall in the background.
Longs poking out from the beautiful west face of Isolation Peak.
We had to bop over two more mountains before we could start the long descent, they are very moderate inclines but forward progress remained slow. We reached the (almost) summit of Ogalalla in complete darkness. Abby was barely awake, we had one short climb left and then we could descend significant elevation which I hoped would help immensely. I stood on the summit of "Ooh La La!" a little after 10PM and took in the moment. It was both surreal and intimidating. Miles to the east and nearly 8,000ft below the city lights of the front range twinkled; to the west I could see Abby's light traversing just below the summit (uphills were on the edge of impossible, so she skipped the true summit), what appeared to be a lone campfire in the distance and very far away, the few lights of Frasier Valley marking our eventual endpoint.

The final rays of light behind the Never Summer mountains to the northwest from the south ridge of Isolation.
The next section was terrible. Completely off trail, we needed to descend to a saddle east of Cooper Peak, contour around a small tarn, then around Island Lake, over a small rib then down to Gourd Lake where we would rejoin trail. Some remaining snowfields were a godsend to shoe ski down with ease but the final half mile wound its way around short slabby dropoffs and painfully healthy fields of willows scattered among trees. I had the route well committed to memory on a macro scale as well as the navigational operations on my watch, but the nuances of hiking through the complicated terrain was immensely time consuming trial and error without the ability see more than 20ft in front of me. I'm not sure I've ever been so frustrated! It was very mentally taxing to be so focused on route finding, making sure Abby was moving well and safely and trying to remember to keep my own self in good condition.

A daylight picture taken from SummitPost of the complicated terrain below Cooper Peak (there is even more not pictured above too!), many curses were said.
After what felt like a year we finally rejoined the trail, it was the homestretch, Abby's condition was starting to improve and the overall mood was drastically more positive. Still, we had a long 10 mile hike out to Monarch Lake to meet Mark who we had been in radio contact with intermittently throughout the journey. By following our SPOT he had been able to keep track of us all day long. It would have been nice to jog back out, but running wasn't quite in the cards so we marched along as quick as walking allows. At the Cascade Creek (Pawnee Pass trail, essentially) I was happy to see Abby moving much easier and complaining less of of "almost falling asleep every 5 seconds" and "seeing less faces in trees and rocks". Stellar, but we weren't done yet. The remaining 4 miles were easier flatter trail and we were able to jog a few sections. My watch started beeping, I looked down and realized the time was 4AM, it was my wake-up alarm from 24 hours earlier. We passed the Arapaho Pass junction, went around Monarch Lake and after 23 hours and 31 minutes were finished.

Despite the horrible time of day, Mark was patiently alone in the parking lot on a fold out cot with water boiling and a pot of hot soup. I can't express how thankful I am for his immutable generosity and support. I wolfed down the soup and tripped over my now untied shoe lace and took an actually very hard fall in the parking lot, spilling a cup of hot chocolate  and cutting my knee and elbow. An ironic and fitting conclusion.

Well, we didn't finish the whole traverse, Monarch Lake was 45 miles into the ~70ish mile route and is the same place Mark bailed the first time he tried the route. The vert was only around 11,000ft but Mark agrees that on paper the route looks a lot easier than it feels in real life. Out of two Hardrock 100 finishes in two attempts, the Pfiffner took Mark one DNF and a time longer than both Hardrocks when he did finish it. I can't wait to get in the ring with this traverse for a rematch next summer! The overall experience was amazing, the scenery far exceeded expectations, the company was great and I was able to gain tons of experience and confidence going forwards.

Looking back north from Hallet Peak
We summited 10 peaks : Mt Ida, Chief Cheley Pk, Cracktop, Sprague Mtn, Knobtop Mtn, Ptarmigan Pt, Flattop Mtn, Hallet Pk, Ogalalla Pk, (well, apparently we just missed the summit of Ogalalla in the dark, but pretty close) and Ooh La La!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

June 27 - July 17

6/27, Monday - Chiefs Head Pk, Mt Alice, Tanima Pk - 21 miles, 6800', 6:52
From the Wild Basin TH its a long 7 mile approach to the start of the climb up Chiefs Head and this morning my grogginess almost made me turn around. Luckily when I got out of the trees and could see the peaks I felt more alive. Getting up Chiefs Head was a simple talus march with great view of the Longs massif. I was excited for the 3rd class hourglass ridge on Alice, but I didn't find any 3rd, all 2nd -- still, a cool peak. Tanima is about a thousand feet lower than Alice so it was a fairly easy traverse over. The one problem of the day was my premature descent down the north face of Tanima's east ridge. It got fairly tricky in several places so I ended up traversing back and forth along the face looking for a line that wouldn't cliff out. Long run back in on progressively more crowded trail the closer I got (its technically in RMNP so it gets mobbed).
Timer-shot on Alice, Longs is the high point on the left with Meeker just between my legs.
The terrible downclimb choice.
6/28, Tuesday - AM: High Lonesome - 15 miles, 3000', 3:01 || PM: Salomon Group - 4 miles, 800', 0:52
Morning trip to the high country with Jack and Ford until his shoe catastrophically tore. He walked backed to the car while Jack and I finished up the classic loop. Salomon run in the evening.

6/29, Wednesday - Bike - 14 miles
Feet hurt from the miles the past two days so I kept it easy and rolled around the creek path on my commuter bike.

6/30. Thursday - Eagles Nest - 8 miles, 1300', 1:08
Took a recommendation from Jack to get in a run on my way to the Sawatch, awesome trail. Perfect "California" smooth single-track winding into the alpine that was 100% running, which was good to do.

6/31, Friday - AM: Mt Belford, Missouri Mtn - 12 miles, 6000', 4:13 || PM: The Dome
Jack and I made it up to Belford in a cold snow/sleet/rain storm at a casual pace. Jack was in shorts and a light coat so he turned around while I in slightly warmer garb continued on to Missouri. Well, I actually got a tad disoriented in the clouds which socked in the summit and by mistake ran towards Oxford. I realized my mistake when the clouds parted and turned around. Once actually at Elkhead pass I elected to scope out the rather notoriously precarious East Ridge. I certainly found some loose rock but nothing to out of the ordinary for alpine scrambling, in fact I found a nice line with one 4th class dihedral then a traverse across gully to a ledge system that took me to the summit no problem. It took some time and trials to find but to climb this in the rain inside a cloud gives me plenty of confidence in this route for the future (which potentially will be at night). Easy jog back down to Missouri Gulch TH. In the evening the rain never arrived so Kyle and I went over to East Slab on the Dome. Kyle led it once (placing 2 pieces the whole time) then I followed. We then each solo'ed the route twice feeling confident on the bomber jams and jugs.

7/1, Saturday - Green Mtn & Dome - 13 miles, 2300' 2:15 || PM: Dome - 1:17
Raining when I got up so I killed some time waiting for the rain to stop and the rock to dry by doing a quick lap on Green. I decided I felt good enough to put out a moderate effort and made the round trip Gregory-to-Gregory in 0:57 (up in 37min, a PR). By the time I was done things had dried out so I biked to Boulder Canyon and found Kyle up on the rock already. I did two laps on the East Slab before biking back home. I couldn't help myself and rode back up in the evening, I only did one lap, but on the approach I carelessly slipped on some wet dirt on a rock (this is on a completely flat official trail...), I fell and smacked my elbow and hip pretty good on another rock. Extremely stiff in the evening, hoping it resolves quickly by morning.

7/3, Sunday - Off
Hip hurt too much to really even consider getting out.

Week Totals:
70 miles

Still managed a reasonable volume week despite being forced to take a day off.

7/4, Monday - Dome Tonerre Tower, 1st Flatiron, 1st Pinnacle
Biked to the dome for one lap on East Slab with Kyle then was picked up by Jack to head further up the canyon for sport climbing. We did 3 pitches of fun climbing before I had to get to work. After work I biked straight to Chautauqua to scramble the 1st Flatiron via Red Slab and 1st Pinnacle via the SE Face with Kyle. Lots of biking in between everything.

7/5, Tuesday - Dome, Salomon Run
Same old bike to East Slab for 3 laps then up to Chautauqua for the Salomon group run. Since I can't move too well yet I was sweeping at the back. I'm really not a patient person when it comes to running so it was mentally testing to have to move so much slower than I wanted to. Biking between everything.

7/6, Wednesday - Dome, 2nd Flatiron
I snuck in front of two parties gearing up at the base and was thus limited to only one lap on East Slab. I felt incredibly efficient today though, going bike-to-bike in 18min. I had a good bit of time to kill so I did hill repeats on the bike below Chautauqua for 25 minutes. I then met Abby to pace her to the women's strava CR (a couple ladies not on strava might have fast times on this) on the freeway car-to-car time. Anyways, she shattered it but could take off 10 minutes once she learns that her Sportiva Mutants will stick to everything.

7/7, Thursday - Bike: 4 x NCAR - 22 miles, 2400', 1:31
Four repeats up and down the NCAR hill. Can't wait to be back on my feet.

7/8, Friday - Tonnerre Tower + Hygeine Loop - 35 miles, 1000', 1:50
Climbed in Boulder Canyon with Kyle before an easy spin around the plains. I was happy to lead Stayin' Alive without issue and then we took turns getting Before the Deluge dialed in.

Sun beams on the plains.
7/9, Saturday - AM: 3 x East Slab || PM: Longs Peak 13 miles, 5100', 6:46
Made a trip up to the Dome with Kyle in the morning before work. After work Abby and I set out for Longs, leaving the trailhead around 5PM. The ranger on duty looked very worried until I told him this would be my tenth or so time on the route, then he laughed and wished us well. I had never brought this much stuff in summer: crampons, axe, rope, harness, belay device, headlamp, water, food, an extra layer and gloves. We climbed the snow all the way up Lambs Slide rather than scrambling the loose rock rib to the left, this was way more enjoyable. Broadway was fully a-bloomin' with flowers and the sunset was going off in similar fashion so we took our time with a long stop on Table Ledge. We made the summit at around 9PM when it got fully dark, but were able to faintly see the trail of smoke billowing out of the fire at Caribou Ranch. Since she had never been on Cables at all, I had hauled a 30 meter, 8mm rope up. She would have been able to figure it out just fine down-soloing, I think, but it was nice to not worry about doing that in pitch darkness. My headlamp was definitely on the tail end of its batteries so I poached light from the sun Abby seemed to have on her forehead on the way back down. Hip felt great!
Ascending Lambs Slide
A few wildflowers on the Broadway at the step-around boulder!
Good exposure on lower Kieners
Taking a break to watch the sunset on Table Ledge
Final light from the summit.
7/10, Sunday - Off
Work and then left for the Sawatch.

Week Totals:
25 miles

Injuries....At least it healed up quick.

7/11, Monday - Mt Yale, Mt Columbia, Mt Havard, Mt Oxford, Mt Belford, Missouri Mtn, Huron Pk - 28 miles, 15400' 14:59
Whooof, long day. Set out at 3AM heading towards a planned pickup at Missouri Gulch at 6PM, meaning I had a few options on how I would finish. I took the Avalanche Gulch route to Yale for the first time, didn't seem that different from Denny Creek but it would cut off road, so its a winner. My planned descent was thwarted by hellacious winds on the NW aspects so I just took a scree gully straight down, which actually worked quite well and I found the old airplane wreckage! I found the long plugging climb up Columbia wonderful but my experience on Rabbit Ridge was miserable. Its really quite terrible on loose and unstable rock, I backtracked and went around when I wasn't comfortable and wound up annoyingly wasting about 2 hours here. Once on Harvard by conventional means I didn't really try to find a nice route down besides just aiming for the avy chute on Oxford, which meant a bit of willow thrash but it was over quick. The climb up to Oxford feels sooo long, despite being the shortest of the day's big climbs. I suppose its just very steep (2,000ft in under a mile). Anyways, I was running low on calories here and the day was winding up so I had a 5 hour energy to power me through the rest. Unfortunately, I didn't quite have enough calories in me for it to work well. Instead I felt the mental stimulus, burnt up all my energy sprinting down to Elkhead Pass and then slowly meandered up Missouri. Even had I not lost all that time on Rabbit Ridge I don't think I would have had time to finish my plan to Huron. I had to push the downhill to keep my car shuttle from waiting -- and also sneak under 15 hours, by 20 seconds. Ended feeling very tired but as much due to the caffeine snafu, with more consistent fueling and a couple tweaks in the route I'm getting really excited!
Sunrise heading down Yale, un-picture-able is the death wind which was ripping over the ridge to the left. I strayed a bit from my plan so as to not be literally blown away.
A nice flowered spot to empty my shoes, time for some gaiters! Nice maiden voyage for these new kicks!
On top of Belford, Harvard is the high point on the left, Yale is the distant highpoint in the center with snowfield just below the summit. Missouri is just out of the frame to the right, as well as Oxford out of frame left.
7/12, Tuesday - Royal Arch - 4 miles, 1200', 1:00
Easy with the Salomon Group and my trusty poles. The left was is being a diva and refuses to collapse without the force of the earth pulling it apart.

7/13, Wednesday - Tonnerre Tower Climbiing
I finally took the packaging off of my rope! Abby and I went to Tonnerre Tower since it was already dark and I knew exactly where to go. I lead the first route then set up a top rope. I was able to use my mega-bright bike light to flood the rock so it was actually quite lit up. Across the canyon moonlight was bathing Dream Canyon and Boulder Falls, pretty cool evening!

Beware of the evil doctor pineapple-head shadow
7/14, Thursday - Ypsilon Mtn & Fairchild Mtn - 18 miles, 6800', 6:05
Started from Lawn Lake and ran up to Ypsilon lake -- with a black bear sighting on the way! -- where I shortly thereafter identified the thin but easy to follow approach trail to the beautiful Spectacle Lakes. From Spectacle I hiked up a gully to mount Blitzen Ridge. The scramble was phenomenal in rock quality, sustained technicality and exposure. Its the best alpine scramble I've ever been on. I felt pretty tired on the final push up to Ypsilon but found some energy to climb strongly up to Fairchild. From Fairchild it was a short jog down to the saddle and join the Lawn Lake trail.

Ypsilon's imposing east face from Spectacle Lake. Blitzen Ridge ascends the right side.
Looking back down the ridge from near the top.
7/15, Friday - 3 x Dome + Green Mtn - 7 miles, 3000', 1:59
Bike to the Dome for 3 snappy laps, I'd like to learn Cozyhang or the Owl on ropes so I can add that to the circuit up there; maybe something on Elephant Buttress too. Then I biked to Chautauqua for a moderately paced lap in 56:44 (38:22 up, 18:22 down). Pushed the bike home hard to go under 2 hours for the outing -- barely, 1:59:55. Pretty cool to be able to pack rock climbing, cycling, running and hiking all into a 2 hour excursion from my doorstep! Oh, Boulder I love you so.

7/16, Saturday - 2 x East Slab - 6 miles, 600', 0:57
Two easy laps by bike. Would have done at least one more but a roped party had begun on my second time down.

7/17, Sunday - Longs Pk - 9 miles, 5000', 2:26
Tempo effort after work. Up in 1:35 and down at just enough effort to break 2:30. Felt very flat on the climb, just didn't have a high gear to work uphill on -- tough workout to end a tough week.

Week Totals:
63 miles

Lots of time on my feet this week. Looking for a generally easy next few days before a nice experiment next weekend!