Climbing Long’s Peak (14,255ft)

August 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

The 2012 Summer of Summits has ended with a bang! As I (oh so discretely) alluded to in my last post, we had a big plan and a big goal for this summer. To finally, after staring at this mountain for 8 years, climb Long’s Peak.

Our first view of Long’s from below the Boulderfield

Long’s is the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s steep, craggy slopes were carved by glaciers millions of years ago, and each day it casts a long shadow over the tiny houses built along the Front Range.

Mark and I attempted to do this climb a few years go, but were turned back after a series of mistakes ended with a 14 mile hike and me getting sick at 12,500ft. This year, I tried to learn from those past mistakes, and planned and planned and planned for this trip.

First light over the rockies

The crux of the climb for Long’s is really the approach. And for us, the approach started back in June when we started our training. We then had to set aside a weekend, arrange for an over-night babysitter (thank you HiTruck! :), get a backcountry pass to camp at the Goblin’s Forest, borrow a tent, decide on the climbing gear to carry, buy all the food… and you get the idea.

Sunrise on the slopes of Long’s Peak

By the time we rolled into the parking lot at the Long’s Peak trailhead, at 8p on Friday night, we were totally ready to go. We hiked the 1.2 miles into the Goblin’s Forest campsites, set up a tent and slept for 6 hours.

At 3:45a my alarm went off in the darkness. We moved all of the climbing gear into Mark’s bag, and I packed some sunscreen and a hat in my little daypack. I joked that I was really just going to the beach that day.

Hikers on our long trail at dawn

When we got to the trail, we joined a long line of headlamps in the darkness. I have spent more pre-dawn hours hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park than I like to think about, and it still creeps me out. The darkness is thick around you, the wind rushes through the trees above, and mysterious creeks crash through distant dark pools.

We made good time on the upward hike. We tried to recall what locations we hit at what time on our last attempt, but couldn’t really remember. The sun rose slowly over a hazy, clear morning, and we enjoyed the beautiful orange alpinglow as we hiked up the slopes of the Long’s Peak massif.

Wading through a sea of alpinglow

And that’s pretty much where the fun ended. After that, it just got hard. I felt great in the Boulder Field, so we started our scramble up the north slopes. The talus was steep, but stable, and after what felt like an eternity, we were finally at Chasm View and the start of our technical climbing.

Mark on steep talus below the technical climbing

Sitting at this lofty spot was unnerving, and my anxiety started running circles around me. I freaked out when Mark tried to sit on the edge of the rock. My hands were tingling when I took my pack off, and I was suddenly sure that I had MS. Or some kind of altitude-related brain damage. Or maybe I was just an idiot and a terrible mother for setting off on this adventure in the first place. I tried to ignore all of the worry and fear, and focus on the amazing and beautiful place where I found myself that Saturday morning.

Looking North along the Keyhole ridge

Mark led up the two pitches of climbing beautifully. Even with ice coating the cracks and chimneys, without having quite enough slings, and having to dodge pebbles and ice shards tossed down on him from climbers above, he lead the route cleanly and without complaint. I followed with a bit more whining.

Mark on the 5.6 pitch – filled with ice and water!

After 200ft of wet, icy cracks, we sat on a ledge and looked up at more talus and scrambling to the summit. A group of climbers were starting their decent, and they peppered us with advice such as: “It’s not hard, just a pain in the butt. You might get ledged out. If you end up on a scary slab, climb down and head more left. You’ll want to stay away from the Diamond, but the easiest route goes almost to the edge. There’s some cairn’s marking the path, but we lost them after a while. Make sure you pay attention on the way up, so you can get back down. Oh, it will only take you about an hour with some route finding issues.”

So, another hour of steep scrambling over giant granite blocks. This time, they hovered over the edge of a 2,000ft abyss, and mistakes entailed more serious consequences. Mark and I debated heading down, but we got great encouragement from the other climbers to give it a whirl. We had the gear, the skill, and the clear weather to keep going. All that was stopping us was our good sense.

I don’t know how long that last scramble actually took us. Maybe an hour? We followed cairns, and made some new ones to helps us down. We went the wrong way once, but were corrected by another group of climbers. None of the scrambling was difficult or overly exposed, and finally, we crawled up onto the summit!

Batman arrives on the summit!

Of all of my summits on all of my mountains, this one is now probably my favorite. The views weren’t so amazing, the crowd wasn’t so big. But we got granola bars and jerky and high-fives from strangers who were up there with us. I signed the summit log and dedicated the climb to our son. I opened up the sunscreen, which promptly exploded all over the rocks around me. I was happy to have finally, finally, made it.

On the summit of Long’s Peak, Aug 25 2012, 11:30am

After all of the pain and effort of the climb, the trip down was shockingly smooth. We followed new friends Keith and Linda back down through the talus field (much easier on the way down, as you can see where you’re heading). We tied our two ropes together and rapped the entire technical section in one long go. We laughed and joked and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon. “Throw the rope towards the cheeseburgers!” “I’ll carry the heavy pack if you carry me!” “Forget that slab, use your MAN MUSCLES!”

The scramble back down to the rappel was much easier

And with smiles and cheer all around, we scrambled down the mountain. We had to jog the last 6 miles out to make it to the car by 5p, and we actually managed a 3 mile per hour pace for the whole way down. My knees were killing me, and my feet were covered in blisters, but we were successful.

Our route to the summit – the Cable Route (5.6 – Grade III)

A few notes on what we did differently this time (better than our last attempt):
1. We didn’t hike 6 miles the day before. In fact, we didn’t do any strenuous activity the week before in an effort to be fresh for the climb.
2. We camped along the trail. This got a mile of the approach out of the way the day before, and meant that we could sleep in a bit.
3. Mark carried all of the gear. Seriously, I had a jacket and some sunscreen, and this worked wonderfully for us. No shame here, I let the strong guy take the weight.
4. I had a liter of water and that was it. We filtered twice on the hike and carried a lot less water.
5. I took a dose of Advil at treeline and every 4 hours after that. No headaches!
6. We brought a lot of tasty snacks, so eating was fun. Choking down foodbars is not necessary, and on Saturday I had chocolate milk, fruit snacks, ritz cheesy crackers, and yogurt covered raisins. Yum.

A beautiful day to be up high in the mountains

So, hooray for the Summer of Summits and finally bagging the peak that got away. I can now stand in my front yard, point at the tallest mountain on the horizon and say proudly “I climbed that!”

Where did my summer go?

August 24, 2012 at 6:39 am

You know that “Author blurb” I have at the bottom of each post? Where I describe myself as a “Scientist, rock climber, adventurista, crazy mom, and administrator of this blog?” Well, last month was devoted to science and mom, and not much of those other things. I had five presentations to give in less than four weeks, two conferences and a week of travel. The good news is, my real-life career seems to be doing well these days. The bad news is, we didn’t get out in the mountains as much as we wanted (or needed) to.

I had all of these awesome plans for Summer of Summits 2012, and we did manage to tick off a few little peaks, but we lost some momentum in the blur that was our August. Hopefully, we’ll make up some of that time in the few weekends of warm weather we have left this year!

Weeks gets taped up!

All is not hotel conference rooms and keynote presentations, though. We did get out for a couple of fun little climbing day trips, and I wanted to share some pictures from these.

We had a friend-of-a-friend, now a good friend, move into town in July. And to protect their privacy a tad, I’m going to give them the fun pseudonyms RockMomma and Charmed. If YOU would like a cool pseudonym, just ask! :)

Mark and I met RockMomma once maybe 10 years ago, when she was living in Chicago and we were in Indianapolis, and we all went on a climbing trip to the Red River Gorge together. None of us remember that meeting, of course.

RockMomma makes this climb look easy

These days, she and her family have moved to Northern Colorado, and we have been busy getting her and her daughter Charmed out to all of our favorite kid-friendly climbing areas.

Our little G-Man and Charmed have a ball when they get together. They spend hours running and laughing and hitting things with sticks. It makes climbing so much easier and more fun than the days of intensive baby care last summer.

G-Man and Charmed spent a lot of time “climbing” this rock

We took HiTruck (long story), RockMomma and Weeks (our mutual friend) up to Vedauwoo for a day at the end of July, taped them up and set them loose on a couple of off-widths. Even though this is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea climbing-wise, we all had a fun day.

Girls are ready to go!

On the first weekend in August, Mark and I took advantage of RockMomma’s Jeep to drive right up to Punk Rock. We ticked off 5 fun pitches that day, and climbed until our fingertips screamed.

Kate cleaning the anchors while everybody plays below

So, there is four weeks of science, family, sun, rocks, mountains, clouds and giggles in one blog post. I can’t wait to see what this fall has in store for us!

Camping in Style with an RV Trailer

August 22, 2012 at 9:31 am

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?

First camping trip at 5 months old

I’m sure when David Byrne wrote those lyrics, he was considering much headier subjects than camping. But I think they apply to any transitional period of life, and our transition from tent-camping non-parents to RV-owning parents was just as crazy as any.

A new definition for “camping” in March 2011

I can remember the days when I thought RV’s were just for rednecks. I remember my mom scoffing with indignation at my dad’s proposal that they might buy an RV when he retired. And I can remember that first trip when our friends Dylan and Ann brought their camper up to Vedauwoo, and I loved it so much.

A few years later, and Mark and I were camped for a weekend in the desert in January. We both realized we were facing a choice. Once we had a baby on board, we would either have to give up these clear, cold nights in the desert or upgrade to a camper. Neither one of us thought it was a good idea to try to keep a little kid warm in a tent on one of those long, frigid Shelf Road nights. But we weren’t sure what we wanted to do instead.

Camping at Shelf Road, CO (May 2011)

We talked about camper vans, as we had seen some really great Eurovans at climbing areas around the country. But these had a few problems for us. One was the price; we would have to sell one car to buy the camper van, which meant that Mark would be driving it daily to work. The second was seating; most of these vans have only one bench in the far back (if they have a kitchen), and this would make road trips with a kiddo (or two) tricky. And finally, we knew climbing areas often have camping distant from the trailhead. So a camper van would have to be packed up each morning and driven to the climbing.

Camping in Vedauwoo, WY (June 2011)

A trailer just made more sense for us. We could tow it with Mark’s truck, which had plenty of seating, and we could leave it at the campsite when we went climbing. But even once we decided on a trailer, there were lots of choices. Should we buy a pop-up? They are often the least expensive, but we felt that the wild winds of Wyoming would make any trailer with tent sides an uncomfortable place. So, we needed the smallest trailer we could find, that would sleep at least three, and had all hard sides. And wouldn’t break the bank.

Camping at Moraine Park in RMNP (June 2012)

We found it on my first trip out, of course. I presented my long list of criteria to a salesperson who looked at me incredulously and then showed me a brand-new Jay Feather Sport. While JayCo doesn’t seem to make this particular model anymore, we think it’s perfect for us. At only 18ft long, we can fit into almost any tent site. It is light enough to tow with a V6, and sleeps 3 people separately from the dining area.

Camping at Glacier Basin in RMNP (June 2011)

There have been plenty of learning experiences since this purchase, but I love our camper. We learned that you can finance any RV with a long-term loan. So an inexpensive trailer like this one, and a 12 year loan, well, it works out to less than what we were spending on fancy tents and sleeping bags each year. And, these “mortgage” payments are actually tax deductible as a second home.

Camping at Dillon Reservoir, CO (August 2011)

There have been unexpected expenses, of course. We pay to store the trailer ($25 a month) and we pay to have it winterized and de-winterized each year. We have been lucky with maintenance, and so far only bought a new battery and a new propane tank (after the old one fell off on the interstate – exciting!) So it is more expensive than a tent, and it is harder to get to some of those off-road free campsites we used to frequent.

Camping in Vedauwoo, WY (second trip of May 2012)

But we have gotten out camping with our kiddo so much. We have taken him to all of our favorite local places, and on a week-long road trip with the Grandparents in this trailer. We have played inside during monsoon rainstorms, and spent chilly mornings with the furnace roaring and coffee on the stove. I nursed the baby on hot desert afternoons in that trailer, bounced him around to get him back to sleep on clear mountain nights, and snuggled up to read Dr Seus books with him over and over again.

Camping at Chambers Lake, Colorado (July 2012)

It may not be everybody’s style, but it’s definitely our style of camping… for now!

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Same as it ever was, at Acorn Creek, CO (August 2011)

For more thoughts on styles of family camping, check out these other great posts: