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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adventure is overrated (Part II)

By Mark

You'd think we'd learn our lesson (about this whole "uncertain outcome" thing. But no. We have to ride more 4 wheel drive roads to get to South Colony Lakes trailhead to do a technical rock climbing route (old school 5.7) to the summit of a 14,000 foot mountain. Everything went fine (for the most part) getting there, and we had a nice quiet evening eating and preparing for the coming day-- 4 mile hike to the base of the Ellingwood Arete, about 3,000 vertical feet of climbing, and then an easy walk back down the "standard route". We went to bed early.

So I'll try to make this brief. The climb went well, and we thought the crux was in the first pitch. Turns out it was on the third, which surpised us. Katie was leading at the time, and decided to lower off and let me try. Let's just say that 5.7 in 1920 (during the first ascent) is a little different than the 5.7 we are accustomed to. We summitted with clear skies but ferocious winds-- with all the cliffs surrounding the summit, Katie didn't even bother with scrambling the last few feet to the tippy-top.

We had the summit all to ourselves which is kind of rare in Colorado, and the view was fantastic.

We ate a bagel with tuna salad for lunch, and began what we thought would be a fairly casual and quick "walk off" type descent. It was not casual, it did not involve walking, and it was certainly not quick. ...And all that was my fault. I made some assumptions and didn't research the descent route. Katie trusted me, and we unwittingly walked right past the ridge we were supposed to scramble down, and headed into the gully from hell. The photos below don't do it justice. High winds, Loose rock, steep snow, and some rappels from dubious anchors made the 3,000 foot descent a 4 hour, miserably scary and cold experience. We took our time, helped each other, and eventually made it to the bottom, utterly frazzled. In the first photo below, notice the lake at the bottom of our gully. We looked down at it the whole way, judging our progress.

By the time we reached the lake at the bottom of our gully, we were out of water, energy, and in the wrong drainage. This is where we had our second "trail angel" experience. The guy in the photo, whose name we didn't get either, gave us elk jerky he had made himself, let us use his water filter to pump some clean water, and most importantly, gave us directions out of the drainage. Again we were struck by how uncanny it was to have someone just "show up" at the right time to help us out. My heart still fills with gratitude even as I write. Katie even got a bit of a dog fix, playing with Gracie, the man's energetic dog.

It eventually got dark, and with one meager headlamp, we stumbled down the trail to our campsite. 15 hours round trip to the summit of Crestone Needle and back.
We woke up the next morning with a definite "mountain hangover". We were exhausted, sore, and hungry. After a leisurely breakfast and pack-up, we rode to my parents' house, only 60 miles away. While telling them the story of our harrowing descent and miserable, dark walk out, my mother retrieved a photo album from 1981. She produced the photo below, and reminded me that when I was 4 years old, and at almost the very same spot, I had declared that, "I hate hiking. I never want to climb a mountain again!" At least I'm wearing a 'Dukes of Hazard' shirt.

My whole family (parents and sister) along with my mother's parents. Funny how my dad is wearing a cowboy hat in this photo. I wore my own cowboy hat for the hike... right past the same spot. We are greatly alike, in ways I don't even notice sometimes.

Since then, we've been recovering and enjoying Southern Colorado. We've walked around the local lake with my parents, done a few small projects around the house, and cleaned up the bikes. It's of course great to be with my parents, and we've enjoyed many good conversations and small cups of ice cream out on the patio.


  1. Well played! ...and nice jug, by the way. I'm suprised you ran out of water with that in your arsenal.

  2. know, Mark, that's the year Katie was born! I'm glad you declared you'd not hike again. We all come around eventually :)

  3. Great post! I'm curious to know what the other "trail angel" experience was?

  4. What a great story. The heinous sucker gully reminds me a lot of when Katie and I led the way off the Clyde Minaret:

    You were just getting her back, right? I'm loving reading about your adventures, keep 'em coming!

  5. Joy, it totally reminded me of Clyde Minaret too! Hope we are able to cross paths this summer. Loving seeing your pictures from this summer too.