2021 in review

This year I had no great overarching plan, and therefore have little to show in terms of notable achievements. Instead, I mostly have done a mixture of things of no particular significance, some of which were nevertheless enjoyable or memorable.

Bike touring

Nice pastoral riding


I had some larger plans on the bike, none of which came to fruition. However, I made some discoveries that may inform future tours. First, global warming’s inevitable advance is creating a widening window between when seasonally-closed roads in the National Parks and Forests are rideable and when they are open to cars. Prominent examples include Highway 120 over Tioga Pass, the Cascade River Road, and the road to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, but many dirt Forest Service roads are also closed to prevent damage while muddy. In addition to offering miles of quiet riding, the closures return unbearably-crowded parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon to the blessed quiet of an earlier age, without tour buses and hordes of selfie-stick-wielding tourists.

Second, while the American Pacific Coast is short on interesting mountains, it has miles of good riding, such as the Big Sur coast. The mountains behind Santa Barbara and the greater Los Padres National Forest, while not quite coastal, are another revelation, containing a network of dirt roads permanently closed to vehicles due to repeated fire and flood, but not yet completely washed out and overgrown.

Box-ticking

Scrambly bits of Zebra


Without major goals, this was a year of checking off minor items on my to-do list. Some of those include:

  • Lonesome Miner Trail
  • This route on the east side of the Inyo Mountains, connecting springs and old mining trails, is one of the most remote-feeling places I have been, cut off from the lifeless Saline Valley by slot canyons and from the sparsely-populated Owens Valley by a 10,000-foot ridge.

  • The Zebra
  • I had been defeated twice trying to summit this obscure and minor peak west of Mount Moran. I finally reached it with Robert, approaching via Moran’s northeast shoulder and the western Triple Glacier and exiting via the Skillet Glacier for a long, wild day.

  • Torment-Forbidden traverse
  • The overcrowding of Greater Seattle and hence the North Cascades has hit this route particularly hard, but a washout along the Cascade River Road kept the crowds at bay. When not overrun, it is a deservedly classic scramble.

  • Blum-Hagan-Bacon
  • These peaks between Baker Lake and the Pickets feature several surprisingly large and low glaciers, and views of some of the range’s most remote and inaccessible terrain.

  • Buck, Clark, and Luahna
  • The territory between Stevens Pass and Glacier Peak includes a number of high and spectacular peaks separated by deep drainages. In particular, climbing Buck is either difficult or long from any direction. I chose to go up the hard way (northeast face) and down the long way (Buck Creek Pass), for a mix of steep bushwhacking, tricky scrambling, and superb trail-running.

  • Little Tahoma
  • What looks like an unpleasant choss-pimple on Mount Rainier is actually a fun scramble, far more interesting than the standard routes on its looming parent.

WY 13ers

Gannett from Koven


Perhaps the only notable thing I did this year was to climb Wyoming’s 36 13,000-foot peaks quickly, taking just under nine days. Most of the peaks, and most of the challenges, are found in the northern Wind River Range. This area is home to the best Rockies glaciers south of Canada, and is one I have been meaning to revisit since doing Gannett way back in 2012. The 13er speed record was the impetus I needed to go backpacking, and once committed, I also managed to scramble Ellingwood’s north ridge, another to-do item and a candidate for the final Classic Scrambles list.

Et l’avenir, quoi?

I had opportunities to step back from my nomadic life in 2021, but realized that I harbor some remaining ambition, and value my hard-earned autonomy. With Covid’s risk for me on the level of the flu, which has never limited my plans, and with restrictions on international travel easing due to a mixture of decreased risk and increased fatigue, I hope to reclaim the plans I set aside in early 2020. The specifics will depend on my fitness and the state of the world in a few months, but you can hopefully look forward to summer dispatches from Dr. Dirtbag from Europe, Asia, or at least the Great White North.

FKTOY nominees

WY 13ers accomplished!


Peter Bakwin and Buzz Burrell have recently announced the nominees for the Fastest Known Time of the Year, and I am honored to be included for my Wyoming 13ers speed record. With the increasing commercialization and professionalization of Fastest Known Times or “FKTs,” especially during COVID times, there are fewer ways in which middle-aged amateurs like Yours Truly can meaningfully contribute. Most of the time, if I set a speed record for a route these days, it is because no one truly fast has tried; these Only Known Times (“OKTs”) usually have little interest or value, like a race with one contestant. Given that only five other people are recorded to have climbed all the Wyoming 13ers, my outing is not far from an OKT, and knowing the level of effort I put into it, I have no doubt it can be done faster, especially with full support. However, the peaks require a wide range of skills and a long time commitment, and the record is moderately obscure, so I believe my time will stand as both a record and an inspiration for quite awhile.

The winners will be chosen by a private voting process, but here are some efforts that caught my interest:

US

Alex King (Rainier)
A world-class, mind-bogglingly fast time on a hotly-contested course.
Nika Meyer (Colorado Trail)
The unsupported CT is at the upper limit of how much food one can carry in a backpack, and therefore involves significant weight loss in addition to suffering and sleep deprivation. The supported version relieves food pressure, but is still brutal. I have never wanted to try this record, but have always held it in great respect.
Jason Hardrath (Bulgers)
Massive logistics, mental fortitude, and physical resilience to climb 100 remote and often challenging peaks.
Kelly Halpin (Gannett Peak)
While I have not done Gannett by this route, I have seen the terrain, and it is rugged and hard to cross efficiently. Not to mention the Green River crossing, which is enough to deter me…
Pawel Szafruga (CO 14ers)
Through-hiking is a fresh take on this done-to-death objective, greatly increasing the effort required and obviating the need for elaborate rules necessitated by Colorado’s drive-up peaks.
Alex Borsuk (Glacier Peak)
I briefly held the record on this one before it was utterly crushed. It’s cool to see a solid female time on a classic and incredibly beautiful route.

non-US

Luis Alberto Hernando Alzaga (Aneto)
A solid time on the Pyrenees’ highpoint, which deserves a record. I did this one on my trip to Europe, though of course nowhere near as fast.
Tyler Andrews (Cotopaxi)
Beating Karl Egloff, even by only 20 seconds, is no mean feat, as is negotiating Ecuador’s arbitrary guiding and permitting rules.

Book delays

I apologize to those of you who have ordered books a little or long time ago. I did not end up where I expected to this winter, and therefore my supply of books is over 1000 miles from me. I’m working on uniting us again, at which point you will all get your books. This will definitely happen well before Christmas, if that matters. Thank you for your patience and forbearance.

Update 12/6/2021: The books are slowly making their way through the constipated bowels of the USPS. They began their journey on 11/23, with an expected delivery date of 12/2, and are currently farther away than they started, with no expected delivery date.

Update 12/20/2021: So… My books are currently on a road trip similar to one I’ve taken some summers:

  • 11/23/21 – Independence, CA
  • 11/28/21 – Los Angeles, CA
  • 12/6/21 – Seattle, WA (um… what?)
  • 12/7/21 – Denver, CO (okay, back on track)
  • 12/14/21 – Seattle, WA (WTF, DeJoy?!)
  • 12/20/21 – ??? (Skiing in the North Cascades? Climbing in Red Rocks?)

Update 12/22/2021: After rolling into Denver (again) late on the 20th, they traveled right past Santa Fe to spend the next night in Albuquerque. Realizing their mistake, they returned the following day to finally arrive at my door. This was Media Mail, but I did not expect it to take a month. Anyways, I’ll send them out tomorrow.

Update 12/23/2021: All books shipped 12/23/2021. Happy MLK Day, everyone!

Powell, Eagles Nest

Powell and Peak C from return


Eagles Nest and Powell, also known as Peaks A and B, are the northernmost of the Gore Range’s “letter peaks.” To their south stretches Ripsaw Ridge, comprised of Peaks C through H. I had traversed these peaks back in 2012, skipping H because its summit is indistinct from below, but ran out of energy to continue to B and A. Looking at C from Powell, it looks like it might not have been possible to continue the traverse. Powell is the range highpoint, making it an appealing enough target to brave the horrors of Vail on my way south.

Trailhead from pass

I drove the long, dusty road to Piney Lake, which felt much worse than I remembered, reaching the parking area outside the ranch around dusk. All of the designated camp spots along the way were occupied, but no one seemed to mind my sleeping in the car at the trailhead. I was awakened around 4:30 when two young guys pulled in next to me and packed for what I guessed (correctly) to be a traverse of Ripsaw Ridge. I found their conversation insufferably “bro-ish,” but that probably says more about me and the early hour than about them. I tried to get a bit more sleep, then started at a civilized time when I would not need a headlamp.

Bad side of Kneeknocker Pass

I passed a few photographers on the trail, likely guests of the ranch, photographing a few moose hanging out in the willows, and was passed by a couple of young women out for their morning jogs. Farther up I met a bow hunter, out on the last weekend of the season and unlikely to have much luck in such a high-traffic area. I easily found the cairned trail to Kneeknocker Pass, and turned steeply uphill on a surprisingly nice trail. The sun was finally hitting the ranch and meadows, but I remained in Ripsaw Ridge’s shade. Kneeknocker Pass was supposed to be a wretched talus-slog, but I found a decent path on the left side almost to the top.

Start of ridge

There are two ways to Powell’s summit from the pass: follow the ridge, or drop down the other side a little ways to reach the broad south slope. The other side of the pass was hardpack and ball bearings that looked somewhere between miserable and dangerous, so I opted for the ridge. After some traversing to the left, passing the occasional cairn, I returned to the right side, where I easily gained elevation on some nice slabs. The ridge eventually deposited me on Powell’s summit plateau, from which I made my way to the highest of several large talus mounds. The air was clear, and I had unobstructed views of Holy Cross and the Sawatch to the southwest. Closer, I could see the various side-ridges east of the Gore crest that hold most of the remaining letter peaks. There are also a couple of colorful lakes east of Ripsaw, fed by small patches of ice.

Eagles Nest ridge

The ridge to Eagles Nest looked long and tricky, and I knew nothing about it, but I had nothing better to do with my day, so I took off across the summit plateau to its start. I found generally smooth sailing on the first part, staying near the crest or following ledge systems to the west. Things turned much trickier near the saddle, where there are many small gendarmes and both sides of the ridge seem steep. At the lowest notch, I tried a possible ramp on the west side, chickened out at a dihedral that felt too steep to be safe, then retreated to the crest. Picking my way down the other side, I eventually found my way down a steep gully until I could cross the next rib and reclimb to the saddle. This felt like about low fifth class, harder than I had expected but not unreasonable.

Oh, hi!

Beyond this, there were more towers to go over and around, but the climbing generally became a bit easier. I even spotted a few cairns, suggesting that I was on the correct version of some route. Eventually the gendarmes ceased and the ridge began a steady climb toward the summit. Looking ahead, I was surprised to see five brightly-colored people in helmets. They turned out to be four guys and a woman, who had started early that morning from the north end and had a car shuttle back at Piney Lake. After meeting no one on the higher and much easier Powell, I was surprised to see someone on this more difficult and obscure route. They informed me that it is in Roach’s book, and that the ridge is supposedly easier if you drop farther off the west side.

Powell from Eagles Nest

I continued to Eagles Nest, where I paused to have a snack and check out the view of the small glaciers north of Powell, and the oddly-perched Dora Lake. I then retraced my route along the ridge, planning to drop west and cross the col at the head of Cataract Creek and rejoin the Kneeknocker Pass trail. I had spotted some gullies that did not cliff out as I traversed, and figured I would choose one of them. I ran into the party of five again, passing them as they began their descending traverse, then made my way to the valley bottom without much trouble. I did not say anything, but given their pace, I saw headlamp time in their future.

Goat family

The col worked well, and I was surprised not to find a use trail, since it seems like a useful connector. Stopping near the trail on the other side to get some water, I watched a family of mountain goats graze watchfully not too far away. A few minutes down the trail, I met four inexperienced-seeming people and an unleashed dog aiming to climb Powell. I gave them what route advice I could, told them about the goats, and suggested they leash their dog. They happily ignored me and continued, but I did not hear an altercation. While there were not many peak-baggers out, there were tons of leaf-peepers on the lower trail. I dodged them as I jogged and hiked my way back to the overflowing parking lot. I was hungry, and would normally have taken my time over a meal, but the crowds were too much. I drove back toward Vail, then up a less-traveled side-road, looking for a nice spot to camp. The few flat pullouts were taken, so I finally settled for a flat-ish wide spot in the road. Not ideal, but good enough.

Aiguille du Fleur

Summit plateau and Fleur de Lis


Rocky Mountain National Park is a casualty of greater Denver’s unchecked growth. It was already a bit of a circus when I visited to climb Longs in 2009, and has only gotten worse since. Recently the Park has instituted a “timed entry permit” system, in which one must have one of a limited number of permits to enter the park at a particular place in each two-hour window of the normal day. These permits are “free” through recreation.gov (there is some kind of “convenience fee,” of course), and both the far-in-advance and day-before ones seem to go quickly. Timed entry for the east-side entrances starts at 5:00 AM, and somewhat later for the less-popular west-side ones.

I have long wanted to check out some east-side routes for the next edition of my book, including the Cables and Kiener’s routes on Longs, the 5.6 route on Spearhead, and the long traverse of Glacier Gorge called “A Walk in the Park.” But between the crowds, entry permits, and increasing difficulty of camping in that part of the Front Range, I probably never will. It is sad that these potentially “classic” scrambles have been ruined by unchecked population growth, but there you have it. If I am not willing to put up with the nonsense required to reach them, I cannot recommend them to others. Given that Yosemite seems to be headed toward similar or even worse crowding and restrictions, I may remove Matthes Crest and Cathedral from the next edition.

Almost-lake creek

With the east side of the Park off limits, I decided to check out “Aiguille du Fleur,” a minor tower with a scramble route that I had read about on Steph Abegg’s site. From my camp in the burned-out forest west of Grand Lake, I drove over to the East Inlet trailhead, where I was met with timed entry signs. I had not expected them at a trailhead with no entry booth on this side of the park, and did not know what to do. I had cell service, but there were no reservable permits available online, and the explanation of when one needed a permit was not at all clear. I eventually asked a local guy what the deal was, and he said that, since I had arrived at the parking lot before timed entries started, I was fine. I have no idea if or how they enforce the system at this trailhead.

Blasted trail

I put my annual pass on the dashboard just in case, then started off up the trail. Once past some falls, it stays flat for awhile, crossing some meadows with a meandering, barely-moving creek. The trail then climbs the valley’s north wall to get up a headwall, with impressive blasting in some sections. Along the way there are named, designated camping spots — apparently camping, too, requires reservations. Above the headwall, the valley climbs past a series of lakes, from Lone Pine Lake all the way to Fifth Lake, at the base of Isolation Peak.

Aiguille from approach

I went to the third lake’s outlet, then left the fading trail to cross the small creek and bash south through the woods. Expecting a climbers’ trail here, I was disappointed to find only bits of game path, but the rough part was short, and travel became easier as the side-valley flattened. As the Aiguille came into clear view, I skirted around its slabby apron, taking a gully toward the head of the valley before cutting back toward its sheer east face. Here I could see the obvious ledge leading to the base of the north ridge route, supposedly 5.6. I was slightly tempted to try it, but I was worried about north-facing snow on potentially slabby terrain, and not feeling all that ambitious. Instead I stuck to my initial plan to climb the easier south ridge. If I had extra energy after that, I could continue to Fleur de Lis Peak, then follow the plateau west before dropping to the trail lower down.

Hard side

After an easy gully, I found a short tricky section dealing with a chockstone in the notch between the Aiguille and the ridge to the Peak. Once past this, I found more low-fifth scrambling meandering up and right, which eventually eased off to a hike to the long, flat summit plateau. I had felt off my game on the scramble, which was supposed to be only a bit of 5.4. I walked over to the highpoint, a jumble of boulders on the other side, where I found a cairn and a couple of slings. The views into the valley, and of the cirques to the south, were striking, but other than Isolation, most of the surrounding peaks are just bumps on a high plateau.

Without much energy, I decided to return the way I had come. Back at the other side of the summit plateau, I followed a ramp toward the other side of the notch, and realized I had made my life much harder than necessary on the way up. Other than a step-around and a couple of moves, this way out of the notch would have been a simple walk. I did not find a climbers’ trail on the way down, but managed to follow slightly better game paths. The trail was too rocky to be much fun to run, but I jogged the smoother sections. As I got within a mile or so of the trailhead, jogging again became nearly impossible due to crowds of meandering tourists, including what looked like a wedding party. I ate my meal in the completely full parking lot, then took off south and west toward less crowded places.

Mahler, Richthofen

Richthofen and Mahler


Richthofen is the tallest of a horseshoe of choss-peaks encircling Lake Agnes, south of Highway 14 in the Never Summer Range. Any reasonable access requires entering the loathsome and poorly-named Colorado State Forest State Park, with its arbitrary fees. Fortunately I found a fun workaround: park at Cameron Pass and bike the Michigan Ditch road. Technically you are supposed to pay $4.00 for the privilege of riding on the maintenance road, but no one was patrolling it, and the fee seemed absurd for the absolutely nothing the Park does. The road is there to maintain a canal, one of several, that drags water from Michigan Lakes across the Continental Divide to serve Fort Collins, so the water company keeps it in good shape. The fact that it parallels a canal also means that it is nearly flat, gaining only 200 feet in 6-7 miles.

Choss eating Lake Agnes

I took my time getting started, and was glad to have worn my down jacket, despite which my hands and feet were cold on the shady, fast ride. The road degrades somewhat past Michigan Creek, where it parallels an old wooden pipe made of staves like like a several-mile-long barrel. I locked my bike to a tree in this section, then continued on foot, waiting for my extremities to warm up. I soon joined the well-used trail to the lake, which is apparently popular with fishermen. I saw a couple of them standing around in the cold as I reached the end of the official trail and continued along a clear use trail through the talus on the left side of the lake. From there I followed cairns and faint bits of trail along a stream, then across a mix of slabs, grass, and talus toward the Richthofen-Mahler saddle. The upper part of this was quite unpleasant, a pile of loose talus covered in snow on the north-facing slope.

Mahler west ridge

Richthofen itself would be a short day, so I planned to add on neighboring Mahler and possibly continue to Static and Nohku Crags, a notoriously chossy fourth class feature from which I could descend a gully to near my bike. However Mahler proved more of a challenge than I anticipated. I had seen several deep gashes in its west ridge from the approach, and optimistically assumed that the cliffy ridge would be gentler on the other side, allowing me to easily bypass them. Alas this was not the case: deep, steep-sided gullies extended down from the gaps, forcing one to stay close to the crest. That, combined with the fresh snow and the region’s typical chossy rock, made this fourth class scramble quite engaging. Finally reaching the summit, I saw that it would have been far easier, though miserable and chossy, to come up the north slope.

Static and Nohku from Richthofen

After a careful scramble back to the saddle, I started up the slope to Richthofen. I found multiple faint trails, either animal or human, mostly too steep and loose to be useful on the way up. I fought the loose talus for awhile, then found a pleasant slabby rib I could follow to near the summit ridge. A few false summits created more work than I had anticipated on the way to the top, as did the lingering snow. I found a register with a couple of unexpected but familiar names, added my own, and stared at Static and Nohku Crags for a minute. Getting to Static looked easy, and the Crags looked like something I could probably figure out, but I decided I had had enough for the day. I picked my way back to the saddle, suffered down the talus to the lake, then recovered with a pleasant slightly-downhill bike to the car. Needing fresh food and better rock, I drove down to Granby, then found some National Forest to camp outside the dreaded Rocky Mountain National Park.

Clark, Cameron, North and South Diamond

Clark from near Cameron


I had more plans up north, and a passing front failed to drop enough snow to shut down the “summer” climbing season. However, at the equinox each day was noticeably shorter than the last, and the low northern sun took most of the morning to generate much warmth. I started out to do another Turiano peak, but was miserable and cold on my bike even after 9:00 AM. When two local hunters in an old lifted truck warned me of “lots of griz” in the valley ahead, I decided I had had enough, and was unlikely to accomplish more at these latitudes. I returned to the car and spent the rest of the day migrating south, following the Rockies’ best season, after the thunderstorms and mosquitoes, but before the cold and snow.

Dead forest

The Medicine Bow Mountains northwest of Denver are culturally part of Wyoming, saved from Front Range tourists by a lack of 14ers, but still significantly warmer than actual Wyoming. While access is made annoyingly pricier by Colorado State Forest State Park on the west, the range is National Forest to the east. I have driven by these mountains before, but never stopped to explore them. Clark is the range highpoint, one of a line of mountains in the Rawah Wilderness north of Cameron Pass. Given the State Park issue, I approached it from the east, via the Blue Lake (sigh…) trail. The first part of the trail is an old roadbed, apparently outside the Wilderness boundary, and I probably could have biked it to save some time. A large recent fire utterly torched the area, leaving a standing forest of dead black sticks. The well-maintained trail finally leaves the burn where the valley it follows turns north toward Blue Lake. Following a track I found online, I left the trail just below the lake to head straight uphill to Hang Lake, then followed a spur to Clark’s northeast ridge.

The Rawahs

I had been sheltered from the wind up to this point, and was surprised by a blast from the west when I finally reached the crest. Rather than staying on the crest, I tried to shelter by traversing slightly below on the southeast side. This side-hilling on talus, plus patches of fresh snow, made the traverse to the summit much longer than in would have been in better conditions. I glanced at the snow-filled summit windbreak, had a cold snack on the sheltered side of the ridge, then returned the way I had come.

Traverse to Rawah

I had initially planned to traverse the ridge north toward Rawah, but that would have been windy and miserable, so I decided instead to fill the day by tagging Cameron, a garbage-peak on the sheltered side of the range. Rather than dropping to Hang Lake, I continued along the ridge, then dropped down loose talus then tundra to the pass above Blue Lake. From there, I found a bit of a trail and some cairns leading up Cameron’s south face. This route was mostly sheltered, but the final walk to the true summit was exposed and cold. The peak has a good view of the lakes below South Rawah to the northwest, and of various reservoirs and burned forest to the south and east.

Longs and Never Summers from Clark

Rather than returning to the pass, I foolishly decided to continue along the ridge toward the trailhead, then drop down to the trail before the burned area. This proved steep and loose, with much deadfall, but I managed to find bits of game trail in places, and eventually stumbled out onto the trail. I should probably have run this section, but was neither in a hurry nor feeling energetic, so I simply walked fast. Looking up from the trail, I saw someone ahead of me, and soon realized it was a hunter carrying the head of the largest bull elk I have ever seen on his back. I congratulated him on his hunt, and we talked a bit. After shooting the buck with an arrow from 25 yards, he had spent the past day and a half carrying it out, taking three trips for the meat and one for the head. I did not count the points, but apparently the antlers had six on one side and seven on the other.

Michigan Ditch and Richthofen from South Diamond

Just a few minutes later, I ran into Ranger Fred, the backcountry ranger for the Rawah Wilderness. He was a young-ish ex-military-looking guy originally from Vail, wearing Hokas instead of the regulation ranger boots. He asked me which car was mine, complimenting me on my stylish windshield shade; apparently he was looking for the owners of the other car in the lot, which had been there for awhile. We spoke for a few minutes, then he continued on, telling me to “keep smiling.”

Back at the car, I took my time making some food, then drove back to Cameron Pass. I took a look at the Michigan Ditch path, which looked like a very rideable way to access Mount Richthofen without paying to park in the State Park, then hiked South and North Diamond Peaks to kill some time. Neither peak is particularly interesting, but they do have great views of Richthofen’s north face, and South Diamond has a mysterious chain anchor above its northeast slope, which is far too gentle for sport climbing. Maybe people use it to practice rappeling? Back at the car, I saw a USFS truck pull up, and met Ranger Fred again. He was impressed that I had the energy to get out for even more peak-bagging in his mountains, and we talked awhile longer before he left to return to his camp. Since the pass itself is littered with “no camping” signs, I drove a few miles east to sleep in a large parking lot, planning to return in the morning.

Turiano peaks

Ramshorn summit


[I am badly behind on writing, hence this catch-up post.]

Despite the blooming, buzzing profusion of information online, I am a firm believer in the value of guidebooks, particularly those expressing an experienced mountaineer’s point of view; Thomas Turiano’s Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone is one of the best of these. I first discovered it in the Climbers’ Ranch library, where I read it both for pleasure and for ideas for things to do beyond the Tetons. Sadly the book is out of print, and used copies sell for hundreds of dollars. From the thousands of peaks in “Greater Yellowstone,” an area surrounding but mostly outside the National Park, Turiano chooses 107 representatives, and describes their history, geology, and easiest route or routes. This is emphatically a mountaineer’s or peak-bagger’s guide, not a climber’s, as reflected in Turiano’s criteria:

Peaks were selected because they possess a majority of the following characteristics: a commanding view from summit; prominence from at least three directions; high relative elevation; a degree of elegance; distinction from surrounding peaks and environs; and an interesting or unique human or natural history. The overall rock and slope quality of each peak was not a factor in its selection,…

At some point, someone entered the list into the Peakbagger website, and I realized that I had done about thirty of the peaks, some because of the book, but most while pursuing other goals. With some time to kill late in the season, I decided to tag a few more before Greater Yellowstone got too cold and dark.

Sleeping Indian (Sheep Mountain)

This is the peak in the northern Gros Ventres whose silhouette looks like a sleeping Indian when viewed from the Tetons to its west, with a large belly, sharp nose, and headdress. Its official name is “Sheep Mountain,” but there are a hundred of those, a dozen of them in Wyoming alone, and it is a non-descriptive and unimaginative name on the level of “Blue Lake.” The summit, the peak of the belly, is an easy walk from Flat Creek behind the Strategic Elk Reserve. I did this on a smoky, windy day, and thus did not get to enjoy the normally stunning morning view of the Tetons. The nose looked like a chossy and possibly challenging scramble from the summit, but it was too windy and cold for me to want to investigate.

Leidy

This is one of the easiest peaks in the book, added for its summit views rather than its own character. To make it a bit more of a challenge, and to spare my car some unnecessary suffering, I camped near the highway and rode the ~15 miles of gravel and dirt roads to the trailhead. From there, it was a short hike on a decent use trail to the summit. The views both west and east, to the Tetons and Togwotee Pass, would have been spectacular if not for the smoke. As it was, I could just barely make out the Grand.

Ramshorn

This turned out to be the only “legitimate” Turiano peak I managed to do this season. Renee and I had done most of the approach before running out of time, so I knew where to go, and wanted to finish the job. I camped at the same spot, but biked the remaining 4WD road instead of hike/running it. There was some thrashing through downed trees on the way up, but not as much as last time, and I found a pretty good trail climbing out of the head of the basin. Clouds were threatening in all directions, but things were fine overhead, and the peak shielded me from the wind.

The trail ended in the barren upper basin, so I continued over easy tundra toward Ramshorn’s north end. Not remembering the route description too well, I initially tried traversing lower, only to give up on some sketchy, outward-sloping ledges covered in debris that did not seem to be going anywhere useful. I retreated some, then climbed up to the crest, where the rock is, if not better, at least flatter. The best route stays on or near the crest until the final summit knob, with sometimes-wild exposure on the west side.

The summit fin’s north side is vertical, forcing one to traverse left and deal with the stairstep choss, following one ledge until a break allows one to climb to the next one up. The climbing was sort of fun, like a less-solid version of the Crestones’ knobby conglomerate, but still stressful. Above the crux break, I found the ridiculous anchor mentioned by Turiano, some old cord around what looks like a gravel monolith held together by mud. Reaching the north summit requires a bit of careful climbing on crumbly slabs, easier going up than down. The true summit, alas, is separated from the north one by a gap that is just a bit too big to jump, perhaps 15 feet deep, with unpleasant falls on both sides. I carefully climbed into it, not quite trusting the crumbly-looking conglomerate, then had an easier time on the other side. The final knife-edge walk to the highest point would probably have felt trivial on a calm day, but the gusty wind added some spice. I signed one of the scraps of paper counting as a register, then turned to head back with barely a pause.

The weather fortunately held, though there was rain or snow farther north in the Absarokas, as well as in the Winds and Tetons to the south and west. I had to backtrack a couple of times on the ledge-maze part, but eventually managed to find my route of ascent, and other than the summit slabs, everything seemed no harder going down. One thing that was much easier on the return was the trail. It is easy to pick up on top, and while it fades and is confused by game paths lower down, it is still possible to stay on-route, and much better than the cross-country travel in the woods. The mistake I made with Renee was following game trails in the woods to the east; the actual trail stays closer to the creek, crossing small meadows and traveling through more open woods. With easy going on the way out, I was soon on my bike, joyfully coasting down the road to my car.

The Grand at night

Mission accomplished


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

I am used to climbing the Grand in June’s longer days, and have never felt the need to do any but the trail parts in the dark. However the late season and my arbitrary deadline forced me to climb the entire route in the dark. This caused me more trouble than I had expected, as I wasted some time in the boulder-field, and more in the Moraine. I passed my first headlamp folk on the switchbacks below Garnet, and some more around the Caves. The latter nearly caught me thanks to the time I wasted going too high in the Moraine, but I stayed ahead of them, and had little trouble finding the summer route to the Lower Saddle, with its bright hand-line.

Way too early

I passed a few guided groups above the saddle, then made my usual mess of the route to the Upper Saddle. I seem to do this slightly differently every time, but I had never done it by headlamp, which further hurt my route-finding. I passed a couple enjoying the first light of dawn at the saddle, then continued up the familiar route on the upper mountain. There was some snow and ice in the chimneys and on a few ledges, but nothing that could not be easily avoided or dealt with. I had debated whether or not to bring my down jacket, and was glad I did, as it allowed me to hang out on the breezy summit for a few minutes, watching the horizon lighten and the lakes come into view below.

I stopped to speak to the couple as we awkwardly climbed past each other in the double chimney. It was her first time in the Tetons, but she seemed to be handling the dark, chilly scramble easily. We exchanged names before we parted, and the guy actually recognized me, or at least my nom de plume. I passed perhaps a dozen more climbers between the upper and lower saddles, wearing the usual varied quality and quantity of gear. I had no need to hurry, merely fast-walking the switchbacks above the Meadows, but put in an effort to jog past the tourists below Garnet, and even tried to finish at a legitimate run. My much-abused body said “no” to that, but I at least managed to walk to the sign by 9:00, for a finishing time of 8 days and 23 hours. After some time to eat and reflect, I headed over to the Ranch to see who was around. There turned out to be more familiar faces than I had expected, so it was well into the afternoon before I got around to taking a shower. It was closing weekend, and I needed some time to recover, so I happily volunteered to spend a few days helping prepare the place for the winter.

Bastion to Downs (6 peaks)

Flagstone to Downs from Bastion


[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

On what was likely to be my last day in the northern Winds, I woke in an unusually positive mood, which persisted as I packed up and climbed the talus-chute to the plateau just south of Rampart’s summit. Fitting that mood, I listened to Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations — the older, manic, live recording, not the tiresome one from 1981. I circled around the back side of Rampart, one of many bumps on the northern Winds’ plateau that rises above 13,000 feet but lacks the prominence to be considered a separate peak. Map in hand, I was able to identify Bastion, the first bump that counted, and was grateful that the highpoint of a jagged ridge to its east was slightly lower.

Flagstone

From Bastion, I dropped down a tedious mix of loose talus, rock-hard old snow, and new powder to a plateau, then climbed again to the next ridge north, dropping my pack to tag Flagstone Southeast. Continuing north, I stopped for some water, then put on crampons to climb the small glacier to Flagstone’s northeast shoulder. Again dropping my pack, I made the cold, windy, but easy hike to the summit. Its name seems at least somewhat apt, as the rock is fractured in giant plates, much larger than actual flagstones.

Klondike and Downs

After returning to my pack, I went left around another bump on my way north, then dropped my pack near another flat piece of ice for the longer side-trip to Klondike. I was interested to note the changing form of the glaciers as I headed north. Those in the Gannett area are more typical mountain glaciers, with steep accumulation zones on the high slopes connected to flatter ablation zones below. Farther north, the ice transitions to small, nearly-flat sheets lying on a plain above 12,000 feet, growing and diminishing with very little movement. Perhaps the Winds once supported a single northern icefield with exit glaciers, like the Columbia up in Canada. They currently fail to support these smaller ice sheets, or glaciers in general, and many will likely be gone within my lifetime.

Klondike Glacier

Klondike’s summit used to be the highpoint of one such small ice-cap, but the piles of rock at its corners are now somewhat higher. I tagged a couple of these and walked over the highpoint of the ice, then made the mile-long walk back to my pack. Fortunately the ice-saddle separating the summit from the plateau was fairly flat, because I had not bothered to bring crampons. From there I had several miles’ rolling walk to reach the next peak, Downs South. After some meandering on a plateau, I made a long descent to a saddle near two large lakes, one clear, the other turquoise and filled with icebergs from the glacier on Klondike’s north slope.

WY 13ers accomplished!

Humping my overnight pack across the tundra was not fun, and the last eight days’ efforts were taking their toll, but at least I had substantially eaten down my load, and had no need to ration what I had left. I crossed the unmemorable South Downs, and promised myself my remaining half a pepperoni after I reached Downs. The summit is one of several humps, unfortunately not the one with the cool southeast-facing icefield, but the one to its east. With the peak-bagging difficulties behind me, I was thinking mostly of how I would return to the trailhead. I had originally plotted out a line north and west from Downs to Hunters Hump, then on from there toward Clear Creek. However it looked like I could reach the high plateau west of the crest more directly via the drainage south of the summit. I therefore dropped my pack (and sausage) at a saddle, boulder-hopped up to the highpoint, and spent a few minutes clowning around on this, my final Wyoming 13er. Granted, I still had to get back to my car, and to climb the Grand Teton the next day for the sake of the speed record, but I was still ridiculously pleased with myself.

First lake on descent

I returned to my pack, chowed down on pepperoni, then got to work. The divide at this point is a high, rolling talus plateau between 12,000 and 13,000 feet, separated from another plateau to the west around 11,000 by cliffs. This lower plateau is in turn separated from the Green River by narrow canyons and more steep drops. Kelsey has little to say about crossing the divide this far north, and even less about routes on the lower plateau (“some places are best kept wild”). Thankfully the USGS has done its job, and we have accurate topo maps of the area, so I was able to piece together a likely route to Faler Lake, from which it is supposedly possible to reach the trail along Clear Creek.

Endless granite

Starting down the valley southwest of Downs, I was struck that it is probably only sometimes a practical way off the high plateau. Late in the season as I was, I was able to descend to one side of the stream, and it is probably covered by snow earlier, but mid-season it is likely a raging torrent blocking the narrow parts of the valley. Emerging to one side of a cascade, I found myself in a rolling landscape reminiscent of the Sierra, with clean granite slabs and faces, lush grass, and many lakes, even the large turquoise one ahead of me unnamed. There were no use trails or footprints, and I only saw a few large animal tracks, either sheep or elk.

Bear Lake

I made my way west and slightly north, aiming to intersect my planned descent route from Hunters Hump. Once on track, I traversed high above Bear Lake on a bench, then aimed for a gully leading to Faler Lake. This turned into a choke of large talus that had tumbled from either side, but was not too difficult. I even found a cairn here, and faint bits of use trail leading down to Faler’s outlet. Other than an ancient and long-disused windbreak near one of the lakes higher up, this was the only sign of human presence I had seen since Downs’ summit.

Clear Lake from near Faler

I was briefly encouraged by a good trail leading along the stream down from Faler, but this soon faded and disappeared, likely just a continuation of the much longer route reaching Faler from the northwest. I found bits of game trail on the steep slope down to Clear Lake, but was glad to be headed down and with a light pack. Starting in this direction would have been miserable. Unfortunately things became dramatically worse at Clear Lake. Sometimes I would find a bit of game trail in the woods; sometimes, I could walk along the narrow, rocky beach; twice I had to climb well away from the lake when cliffs came straight down to the water.

Clear Creek arch, at last

Finally reaching the outlet, I found a couple of old fire rings, giving me hope that fishermen had maintained, or at least beaten in, the old trail leading down to Clear Creek Arch. Unfortunately this was not the case: I found one set of boot-prints from this season, and occasional trail, but progress was slow and miserable. A fire had left many downed trees and some nasty brush, making it easiest to climb away from the creek and cross talus-fields where possible. In the woods, I was forced to constantly step over or balance along fallen logs. Kelsey’s description of it as “the worst bushwhack in the Winds” may be an exaggeration, but even to someone who has spent significant time in the North Cascades, this was rough going. I continued making steady progress, but abandoned my hopes of stopping in Jackson to download some new listening material. As long as I could reach the maintained trail by headlamp time, I would be satisfied.

As it turned out, I managed to (barely) reach the car without a headlamp. I minimally unpacked my pack, threw stuff in the roof box, and took off for Lupine Meadows. Between the rough Green River Road and the lower night-time speed limits, I reached the trailhead around 11:00 PM. Having started Francs Peak just after 10:00 AM, I wanted to finish the Grand before that time to stay under the next round day. To guarantee that, I allowed myself seven hours to go up and down the Owen-Spalding. I shoved food and water in my daypack, set my alarm for 2:30, and passed out.