"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Sheer rock walls rise over a 1,000 feet on all sides of me.  In front lies Grays and Torreys peaks, the two highest peaks on the Continental Divide.  But I pay all of this no attention.  I'm staring down at my feet.  Two steps forward, slip, slide, off-camber trail in slushy snow is a challenge at sea level, let alone at 12,500 feet.  I concentrate on my feet.  Trekking poles are next to useless as they sink two feet into the snow every time I stab the ground.    My legs are dead from the start; for some reason I ran 22 miles on rocky mountain trails yesterday.

I'm with Ryan and Alaina, fellow midwesterners who are also too ignorant to be turned-off by the challenge of summiting 14er's in the snow.  Its early June after all, summertime right?

The trail finally quits its off-camber slushfest, and takes a sharp left turn.  At least we think its the trail.  Its become a little difficult to decide which set of half-buried eroded footprints to follow.  The sharp left turn is greeted by a change in the incline of the trail, and not the good kind of change, it gets steep, a lot steeper.  Cody the dog runs on past me as if we aren't two miles above sea level.  I might not be acclimated yet.

Im trying to smile

More paincave

We reach the saddle between Grays and Torreys.  Dang, the trail we were supposed to take was going to have us summit Grays before we hit the saddle.  Oh well, more climbing for us.  We decide to hit Torreys Peak first, and another slog begins.  Alaina giggles somewhat uncontrollably every time I fall down in the snow (which is quite frequently).
Looking up at Torreys from the saddle

Sometime during this climb, my legs start to wake up and I feel stronger than I have all day.  Which is strange because now we're at 14,000 feet.  "Keep climbing fool" I repeatedly tell myself, its my new mantra.  We summit Torreys and there is a couple up there, preparing to ski back down.  Yeah, there is that much snow still on the mountain.  Some photos are taken, food eaten, and we look for a line to ascend Grays.  As we run down to the saddle, we are slalom running, each of us weaving in and out, keeping our momentum under control in the deep snow while avoiding sharp looking rocks and precarious cornices that look ready to pop.  

I preferred staying away from these

Looking...  badass

Now that my legs were feeling better, I enjoyed the climb up to the summit of Grays, actually leading the charge to the summit the first time that day.

Rock field on the summit of Grays

Notice the dark skies and rain beginning at the top of the photo. 

We had planned our trip so that we would be leaving the mountain before any weather was forecasted to hit the area.  The last thing any of us wanted was to be near a lighting storm while we were well above treeline.  Ryan and I did a quick anti-rain dance known as the Tootie Ta on the summit of Grays that was meant to help hold the storm back until we were back at the car.  Indeed, as we were beginning to descend from Grays, we could see the clouds beginning to hammer the peaks probably a mile or two west of us.  We noted that there were a lot of people who were still on their way up to the saddle while we were glissade-ing down from Grays.  Some of them were not dressed safely if the weather became worse.  Be careful folks, I may just be a farmboy from the midwest, but I'm not taking any chances in the big mountains.

I think its snowing over there

Notice the sky color.  Lots of people still going up.  Glad we're going down.

Blue skies giving way to dark clouds
After a few silly falls in the snow, we make it down to the off-camber trails leading to the valley in which we started.  There is a loud boom-ing noise, and I immediately think thunder.  Wrong, Ryan yells "avalanche", probably the last word anyone standing on snow in the mountains wants to hear.  Luckily it was a long ways away, but I can still feel the adrenaline as we watched dirty snow and rocks tumble down one of the colours leading up to the summit of Torreys.  I'm not sure if its the same colour used for the Dead Dog Colour route, but its damn close, and fascinating to watch.  The hardpacked snow has become extremely soft and its not uncommon to posthole down to your knee without warning.  But at that point, it was all fun and games.

Tremendous adventure.  Can't wait to see whats next.  Good reminder that even if you're suffering, if you keep moving forward, you can find yourself achieving your goals.

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