Thursday, July 31, 2008

South Arapaho Peak Pt 2

This is the story of the second time I tried to climb South Arapaho Peak. The first time was discussed some while back and turned out to be a nice outing, but I made the mistake of taking directions from a random passerby who didn't know what he was taking about, and who put me on the wrong trail. The day was still interesting but I ran out of time before work and had to come back to Denver not having done the peak.

This time I did a bit more research first and figured out what was up. The goals of the trip were to make an attempt on Skywalker Couloir, and then make the traverse from South to North Arapaho.

An odd thing occurred however when I got to the fourth of July Trailhead late at night. There was an ambulance and a few official looking mountain rescue people standing around. I turns out two hikers had gotten lost and a search was sent out for them. Their story, and my comment on it, can be found here. They were found the next morning alive and ok, which was great to learn, but I didn't learn that till the night after this hike. That all cast a bit of dark, ominiousness over the trip!

I set off at sunrise

Mt Neva (peak on right) looked very pretty in the glowing alpine morning:

Most versions of the climb up skywalker from Summitpost make it look easy. All the photos they have show the couloir under conditions of heavy snow. Well by late July most of that snow had gone. What remained looked a lot steeper and less forgiving.

There was only about maybe 3 or 4 inches of snow on top and then pretty solid ice just beneath that. This made it less easy to stick into. You really had to hit your crampons in hard.

About half way up there were sections where the snow was gone:

A bit after that a pair of binoculars I had purchased from the Sports Authority decided that the nylon straps securing them to me ought to break. As a result of that particularly oppertune timing they fell and picked up a fast spin and probably made it several hundred feet down to the base of the peak. I last saw them spin up over a rock outcrop before they disappeared. After this climb I did meander down there to see if I could find them but I could not. So now I need to figure out how to get this warranty to work.

Maybe 65% of the way up to the top I decided that I didn't feel safe on this climb... the incline was very steep and with that little snow and that much exposure I decided to alter the route. I turned east and headed up a narrow rock gully to the summit. A lot of this rock was rotten and would fall apart of fall loose so proceeding was slow and careful. However it did feel a lot safer.

Finally I got to the top and was rewarded with a very beautiful view:

You could see all the Front Range peaks rather clearly, as well as all the way west to the Gore Range.

North Arapaho peak was right there:

And you could peer down into the very beautiful Arapaho glacier- which is one of the southern most glaciers in the US

The base of it had that beautiful blue glacier water color.

I started on the traverse but unfortuantely I felt compelled to stop and turn round... Heavy clouds were building and blowing in from the West; with rain just about to fall to the east. The traverse is only half a mile but it is very slow going due to the difficultly and steepness. I decided this was not the place to be if a storm came so I began the descent, this time down the much easier Arapaho Glacier trail.

Other observations were that there are A LOT of marmots here... I say maybe 15 or more all day. In one little area at the base of Skywalker I saw five marmots at once. They would stand on their hind legs and look up at you. There were also many smaller ground squirrels who would chirp loudly at passerbys.

Here's someone else much nicer looking pictures of South (left) and North (right) Arapaho peaks from the East:

Here's a page from NASA showing how much the glacier has retreated in the past 100 years due to global warming.

Well, it was a little frustrating to miss out on the highest peak in this wilderness for the second time, but it felt good to err on the side of safety... Getting back to Nederland was great though. I took a brief nap in the car in the parking lot of the grocery store and then called work to figure out whether or not I had to come it. It turns out I got the day off. It was starting to rain so I sat inside a small coffee shop made out of an old train car and drank some hot coffee, while wearing a jacket, and appreciating the cool, wet weather. It's been a bit of a heat wave in Denver lately so this felt really good!

Anyways... this climb was interesting for two other reasons... it sort of proved once more to me just how overrated '14er' climbing can be. So many of Colorado's peaks over 14,000 feet are very easy walkups. A lot of peaks under that height may have more interesting, and steeper, technical routes, which can make it a lot more of an accomplishment to get up.

Also, I've decided that while I do really dig tall mountains, I'm not as into the 'alpine' environment as some other environments. For whatever reason, desert mountains seem a lot more aesthetically pleasant to me. Fields of green and wildflowers emerging out of pine forests is nice and all... but the desert just seems a lot more interesting.... perhaps in a mysterious, menacing, and desolate sort of way. I need to spend more time in Utah or Nevada... or at least perhaps the western slope, or the Sangres...

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