San Juan County Highpoint: Mt. Peale

Mt. Peale has been on my list of mountains to climb since I first went to Moab in 2009. The La Sal Mountains tower above the red rocks, often graced with snow during “desert season” in the spring and fall. Being based in Norwood this year brought fresh incentive to climb Mt. Peale since the La Sals grace the western skyline on most of my after school runs.

The highest peak in Utah outside the Unitahs, Mt. Peale comes in at 12,721′ above sea level. Moab, to the northwest, sits at only 4,000′ while Paradox Valley to the southeast is at about 5,300′ of elevation. Peale is on a whole slew of peakbagging lists, including clocking in at #57 on the USA prominence list (it’s the 3rd most prominent peak I’ve climbed to date).

Early this winter, my rooomate Katherine mentioned that she wanted to climb Mt. Peale in the winter and wanted to know if I would join her. I was somewhat hesitant considering that I wasn’t sure when I could commit to climbing the peak since I was working 7 days a week and as a result of all that work, I wasn’t running very consistently. She basically ignored me and just kept talking about the hike like it was something that was Going To Happen.

Excellent move.

As it happened, I suggested March 12 for our ascent. I had paid no attention to daylight savings time beginning at exactly the time we planned to depart from the house (2am MST/3am MDT). Somehow I figured I had plenty of time to finish my shift at Mouses at 9pm, drive 50 miles to the house, sleep a bit and still climb a giant mountain? I was, however, committed, so I was in. Three hours of sleep and all.

Also throwing a wrench in our plans was that the weekend prior, Katherine had twisted her ankle in an ice climbing fall. I was willing to let her off the hook on the hike (in some ways, I saw an escape that would prevent me from facing my fears about my own fitness) but she continued to insist that she would be fine despite not wearing real shoes at school all week. (#realchampion)

My alarm didn’t go off because I very wisely set it for 2:45am, a time that actually didn’t exist that day. Katherine gently woke me up at 3am and then attempted to lay out to me that she was 75% sure her ankle could handle the hike. It was 3am, I was out of bed, and we were leaving. That was that. We jammed to T-Swift in the car on the way to the trailhead (which meant that I had “Bad Blood” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay” in my head for 16 miles…) and I kept my eyes peeled for deer lurking on the roadside.

Honestly, when we strapped our snowshoes on at the start of the snow-covered road, with Peale looming in the full moonlight, I gave us a 50/50 shot of making the summit. We had a long slog of road before we could even think of moving up the slopes. The magic of hiking in the dark took over though and we made great progress. I didn’t even turn on my headlamp because the moon was totally sufficient for light.

The day dawned just as we reached the start of our ridge ascent. Once we left the road, the snow got steep fast. My 2nd hand snowshoes purchased when I lived in Montana (in 2010!) don’t have ascenders. They’re small, definitely not designed for mountaineering on 30% slopes, and some of the quick tighten bindings don’t stay very tight anymore. It wasn’t long before my calves were screaming and I was tugging on my bindings every few minutes to keep them tight. I was tired and just wasn’t feeling it. The sky was greyer than I’d expected and I felt terrible.

I’d seen the exposed rock on the ridge from the road and all I wanted was to make it there. As soon as I could, I removed my snowshoes and strapped them to my pack, opting instead to go up the scree with microspikes and ice axe. On the rock, I started to find my groove and the sun started to come out. I moved efficiently upward grabbing short breaks while waiting for Katherine to catch up; during one of these little breaks I actually fell asleep in the wind at 10,000′. It was sort of nuts.

At the top of the exposed rock on the ridge, we crossed some steep snow on our way to the summit. We were both tired but the summit was only 150′ above us. Most of the way, we managed to stay below the ridge and were somewhat protected from the worst of the strong winds out of the northwest. On the final walk to the summit, however, the winds were definitely something to contend with. I braved the wind to take a couple of selfies and then it was time to head down.

Our short summit stay was sort of disappointing since the views were incredible. We could look north to the bulk of the La Sals, including Grand County highpoint, Mt. Wass:

Looking south over South mountain the Abajos and the Henrys were visible along with most of canyon country:

Looking back to the west, there was the Uncompaghre, Pardox Valley, and my beloved San Juans:

We debated a little how to descend and eventually settled on a glissade down the gully. It was steep in some places but it worked out okay. The day was getting warm and the snow turning to mashed potatoes so our pants were soaked. By the end, when the grade had lessened, we were both laughing and mentally preparing for the long slog back out to the Jeep.

12 hours after we’d gotten out of Ruth, we arrived back in the parking lot and headed out hoping to make it to Naturita in time for burgers and milkshakes at Blondie’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two milkshakes consumed that fast.

At home in Norwood, we attempted to have celebratory beers but I was sleepy by the time I’d had two sips. We’d covered somewhere in the ballpark of 15-16 miles and climbed 5000′ in elevation. That’s definitely not too shabby for an afternoon on the snow.

Thank you so much to Katherine for an awesome day in the mountains. I learned a lot and I reached the summit of a mountain that had been taunting me for years.

 

Lately in #joyrunning: Sanborn Park

I admit it, I let the grind and the darkness take over for November through January. I was trying not to fall behind on school while working all weekend. It was kind of tough. I holed up in front of the woodstove instead of dragging myself out in the waning daylight.

As always, I suffered with that a bit. Sprocket and I are easing ourselves back into action and our February spring weather snap hasn’t hurt. We headed out to run at the top of Sanborn Park road last week and it was glorious. I wore shorts, just because.

 

2016 In Review: By The Numbers

As I alluded to in my 2016 review post, this was not necessarily my best year for tallying big numbers since there were other priorities on the docket but I want to document things for posteritiy anyway. (My 2015 post is here if you’re curious!)

Hiking:

This year is a bit complicated in the hiking section since I definitely trail ran things that I would have counted as “hiking” in the past but I didn’t split my runs in my tracking between “trail running” and “road running” but I’m not going to stress too  much about my data.

I hiked 176 miles in 44 different outings down from 50 trips and 277 miles in 2015 (including some snowshoe adventures).

Peakbagging

I hiked 43 summits in 130 miles with 30,115 feet of elevation gain. This was a pretty small decrease in the number of peaks but a pretty substantial plummet to my mileage and vertical from 2015.

I hiked 17 county highpoints in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma. My goal of finishing Colorado’s County High Points by the end of 2016, took a beating thanks to the fact that I deferred to my goal of building a house. Taking a Spring Break trip to collect most of the plains highpoints taking me to 73.4% (47/64). I grabbed my first two Utah county highpoints over Labor Day weekend. I also added three of Arizona’s County High Points, reaching 66.7% (10/15) on my annual Thanksgiving road trip adventure. I made it to the summit of Oklahoma’s state highpoint, my only state highpoint of the year.

Running

I did much better at running in 2016 (and started supplementing running with some cross country skiing). Sprocket and I started practicing #joyrunning and found ourselves exploring trails much more. I got my behind out more than 200 times covering 345 mi! This is still nothing amazing but I’m getting better; we’ll see if I can do more than that in 2017!

Last Week In #joyrunning

I had a slow start to the week with some yoga on Monday and then took Tuesday off because it was cold pouring rain sideways. I didn’t have my winter running fortitude or anything going I guess.

Norwood, Colorado

Wednesday I got out for a lovely little road run. I got to say hi to the cows. I forgot my sunglasses and got tired of squinting into the wind. But I did it and the weather couldn’t have been lovelier.

Cows

Thursday, I headed out to complete the last of the four Thunder Trail loops. I guess I must have taken all my photos on Snapchat and they’re lost to the ether now… But it was pretty! This week’s run, Naturita Rim Loop, seemed to be less on the rim than Portis Loop but was less rocky than Portis and less steep than Thunder Loop.

I think I need to find a race to train for. My aerobic capacity in the mountains has increased back to a point where I don’t feel quite as embarrassed and I need something to kick my butt into higher gear. Any 4-Corners region runs to recommend? Trail runs in central New Mexico or Arizona would be awesome sauce (aka potentially semi-warm escapes?)

Lone Cone

Lone Cone is, as its name might imply, a loner. It stands at 12,613′ off to the west of the San Juans. The mountain groups containing 13er Dolores Peak and the Wilson Group definitely appear to be part of the mass of mountains to the east while “The Cone” stands gracefully to the west. It’s easily ignored from the higher peaks around Telluride but as you start to travel around canyon country to the west, you realize how much it stands out. On my rambles around Utah recently I was really struck by how much it stands out over a huge area. That visibility plus the fact that I stare at it walking around Norwood and from the bedroom window of my rental meant that I really wanted to tag its summit before the snow flies (which this time of year could be any day…).

Golden fern

Taking advantage of fall’s low propensity for thunderstorms and the gorgeous day forcast, I didn’t leave Norwood until about 9am to start the drive to the trailhead. The route was kinda bumpy and the going was slow. For as close as that peak looks from town, it’s actually quite far south! Hitting the trail around 10am, I climbed up towards the northeastern ridge promised by Summitpost to be “3-4 class” (I found it to be no more than 3rd class but it was really rotten in areas.)

Lone Cone from low on NE Ridge

Emerging from treeline, the views were simply amazing. While the peak itself was blocking the view to the south and southwest, pretty much everywhere else I ever play anymore came into view. Off to the west were the Abajos and La Sal Mountains standing over the canyons, to the north were the Book/Roan Cliffs, Grand Mesa, the Uncompahgre, and the southern Elk mountains. To the east were all of the mountains of the San Juans.

Views from the cone

Starting up the ridge proper, I found the Summitpost route suggestion to stay just to the north of the ridge crest for the first section to avoid rotten rock helpful. While it was still a huge pile of scree, there was a faint climbers trail to follow and it wasn’t too difficult.

Rotten Ridge chunk

The section above the rotten but relatively flat section had looked really intimidating from below. As it turned out, however, it was a ton of fun. Just fractured enough to have lots of awesome hand and footholds but solid enough to feel safe, it was a pretty easy skip up to the summit from there.

Final Ridge Approach

Lone Cone

Summit view

Rather than downclimbing the NE ridge scramble, I descended the north ridge, crossed “The Devils Chair” and then retraced my route back to the car. Lone Cone was an unexpectedly fun climb (scrambles, yay!) with a view of pretty much the best adventuring anywhere.

Colorado 13er: Brown Mountain

Saturday morning, after lesurely enjoying some coffee, I headed up Brown Mountain jeep road once again. (I kinda love that road: it’s not too difficult to drive and gets you up to the high country pretty quickly!) This time, I had my sights set on the highpoint of the long Brown Mountain Ridge. Located at the southern end of the ridge (Mt. Abrams is at the north end), it tops out at 13,339′. Since I was going up the western side of the ridge, I spent most of my drive and then the climb up to the ridge in shadow watching the sun make its way ever so slowly down the eastern slopes across the valley from me.

Looking west from Brown Mountain

The steep climb up the gully from the end of the jeep road always kicks my butt. It’s only a half mile but it is steep. I also knew that once I hit the ridge the sun would help warm my chilly bones (I was greeted with ice coating puddles and ponds along the way up… fall is in full swing in the mountains!)

Selfie on Brown Mountain

Once I got to the ridge, I started ambling along not worrying much about making good time. Looking north, I could see the route I took back in July to the summit of Mt. Abrams:

North towards Mt. Abrams

Looking south, I realized that the ridge was a lot longer than I was picturing it being. The highpoint is visible on the far right of this photo. I decided to traverse below some of the subpeaks in between to minimize elevation gain and loss–that turned out to be a mistake, going over the summits on the return was a lot easier than traversing the steep and slippery scree on the eastern slopes!

 

image

I further realized that ascending this peak from the Alaska Basin spur road off of Hurricane Pass would be way shorter. I didn’t particularly mind the extra length but the Brown Mountain road is not the shortest or least elevation gain route by far!

Alaska Basin

At the highpoint I found the summit log next to the Duco benchmark and just soaked in the sights for a bit. Somehow, I’d forgotten how absolutely magical fall is in the mountains. #Summtsummer is a beautiful thing but honestly, fall summits are even better. They’re lonelier, the weather is better (until that moment the snow falls and it’s terrible), the colors are beautiful, and the air has a crisp fresh smell that is totally indescribable.

Benchmark and register

Panorama

I am so glad that I had a chance to ramble in the high mountain air alone and drink it all in.

Summit Selfie

Brown Mountain views

Last Week(s) in #Joyrunning

Oh man! I never got around to a Week in #joyrunning post last week so here’s two in one!

Week of September 4:

I started out with a bunch of running around Natural Bridges National Monument on Sunday (more on that this week!) that was AWESOME. Tuesday I toughed it out through an under-fueled 3 miles around town, and Wednesday I headed up to the Thunder Trails for my weekly loop (Thunder Loop). Thunder Loop has a pretty killer uphill on the southern end and Sprocket and I definitely engaged in some power hiking between small running bursts there!

Thunder Loop

Week of September 11:

The week started out … poorly. I worked a bit on Sunday and then just relaxed when I got home. Monday, I was in a terrible mood and convinced myself that I didn’t “need” to run. By Tuesday the “I don’t wanna” had magnified itself to a point where I was in a terrible mood and I rationally knew that getting out and doing something was the fix. I convinced myself to get dressed and tackle two miles and that I could quit then if I wanted to. At just over a mile, I realized I felt human again and threw down five…

Goshorn Loop

Back in the groove, I reeled off 6 road miles Wednesday and about 4 miles on Thunder Trails’s Goshorn Loop Thursday. I kept things rolling with a fun ridge hike on Saturday!

Lone Cone from Goshorn Trail

Last Week In #joyrunning

I only got out for a couple of runs last week but they were both on the long-ish side for me (one run at 5.5 miles and the other at 5.7). In February and March I was averaging about 20ish miles a week of hiking and running only to see that fall off in April and May and wither away to almost nothing in June, July, and the first part of August. It feels so good to be back to moving at least 12-ish miles a week (and hopefully climbing at bit as we move into fall.

Beth and Sprocket

I’ve really been granting myself “permission” to drive somewhere between five and ten miles to get to a trail or quiet Forest Service road to do my runs on. I’m finding that on the trail I’m way more likely to do more miles and more hills. Sprocket approves of this choice.

Joy running

I’ve found some sweet trails to run on around here and I’m finding more all the time. A lot of the time I just drive around until I find a jeep road or ATV track and run that. During the week I almost always have it totally to myself. I’ve also been checking out the newly constructed Thunder Trails near town. My longer run (5.7 miles) was running the Portis Loop. It’s my goal to run one of each of the four loops every week in September so I can check them all out before the snow flies.

Portis Loop

Beth on Thunder Trails

The views from here can include the La Sals, the Abajos, Lone Cone, and the Wilsons depending on where you’re at and how the hills and the trees are. Makes it hard to complain.

Lone Cone from Portis Trail

 

 

#JoyRunning

#JoyRunning is back my friends!

I needed to get back to running and exploring so I am so happy to be back to a little bit more regular schedule. Sprocket and I are back to our usual tricks of exploring gravel roads and happily romping along.

Norwood running

Norwood running

Lone cone on run

I’ve been puttering along roads leaving Norwood seeing where they go and realizing that laps around town aren’t going to cut it (it’s less than a two mile loop…). Being back on my feet exploring with Sprocket is the best.