During the summer five years ago, for a last hurrah before starting med school, I opted for a cross-country road trip. From Richmond, Virginia I beelined across the country to Rocky Mountain National Park as my first stop. When I caught my first glimpse of the beautiful craggy summit of Longs Peak, I knew I wanted to hit up the class 3 scramble route to get to the summit. After years of living on the East Coast with mountains no bigger than the foothills at the base of the Rockies, I was hooked at first sight. A few days of acclimatizing got me to the Boulderfield, the campsite at 12,700 feet elevation at the start of the scramble part of the Keyhole Route to the summit of Longs. While eating dinner and chatting with another camper, we saw two guys rappel down another route on an imposing face and come strolling through the campsite. I asked them how they got into that and got the scoop. Step one: join the local gym. Beyond that everything else would fall in place. It seemed like an arduous process for someone who was used to being rapidly self-taught. But as I’ve learned, mountaineering is no joke and definitely takes time to get down. Continue reading Longs Peak Winter Cables Route Summit
With the fall and winter months approaching quickly, Colorado mountaineers are whipping out the crampons and double boots in lieu of the trad rack and trail runners. But if you’re new to the big mountains, the cold and snow can be quite intimidating for good reason. If you’re looking to bag some winter 14ers but don’t want to risk your life to do so, this list list can help steer you to some solid safer climbs. Whether you’re looking for a more intense climb than the summer hikes or love the solitude of the off-season, winter 14ers can be an amazing experience.
However, before even considering attempting any of these winter 14ers, I would recommend that you have experience with climbing 14ers or at least 13ers in the warmer months, or at minimum go with someone who is familiar with the mountain and the cold. For nearly all of these climbs, I recommend having at minimum microspikes and trekking poles. It was a very rare day that these aren’t essential pieces of gear. In addition to that, most of the climbs call for snowshoes, especially after a storm or on the less travelled routes, and many of them necessitate an ice axe and the experience with using one. 10 point crampons are rarely if ever necessary on most of these routes.
This is not meant to be an all inclusive guide to each climb, just merely an introduction to help you decide which climbs to do. Always check weather and route conditions beforehand. I’ve linked to some helpful resources at the bottom.
The short and sweet winter 14ers:
We were dilly dallying, procrastinating on packing, wanting to be there but not wanting to do the 6.5 hour drive to actually get there. So we farted around, took dogs for a walk, got some dinner, took dogs for another walk, and finally around 6pm we were ready to go. We were headed to Looking Glass Rock in southwest North Carolina, closer to Birmingham, Alabama than to Richmond, Virginia. We had deliberated for a while on where to climb. We knew we wanted something the trees, something south facing, some place warm-ish for late December, and ideally some place for trad climbing. Stone Mountain in NC had been our original goal but highs in the low 30s thwarted our desire compared to highs in the low 40s at Looking Glass Rock. So we committed to a longer drive for warmer temperatures and cruised southwest. Continue reading Climbing Looking Glass Rock
1. James Pearson on “The Walk of Life”
James Pearson making the first ascent of The Walk of Life with runout poorly protected featureless slab with a HUGE whipper. Doesn’t get any better than this. “You start off and you climb almost 10 meters with no gear and then you get a really, very bad nut which is, maybe you’d hang your coat of it.”
So with the first realization that I might not get to stand on the summit, I was pretty friggin bummed. But I still had hope despite the horribly gloomy outlook. Snow was coming down hard now and we were getting destroyed by the wind. But I understood that the weather wasn’t the problem. We could bundle up and proceed no problem. But where we were, where we had to go, and where we had come from all had a risk of avalanches, especially after large snowfall. We climbed for probably another 45 minutes to an hour and it got much worse. Continue reading Chimborazo Part 3: The descent
I looked over at Raul, the snow blasting my face, and saw him shifting his jacket to better protect his eyes. He was constantly shifting, looking down the mountain at the train of headlamps below us piercing the bitter darkness. The snow and spindrift split through seams between my jackets and pants. It bombarded my neck and ripped at my exposed cheeks. But I wanted this summit. I’d never summited a mountain over 14,500 feet and here we were at 18,500 feet, just 2,000 feet shy of the summit. We could roll and be back down before dawn at the pace we were hitting. The snow would let up and I’d hope for a moment, and then it would return and crush any prospect of continuing up the mountain. We needed to go down. And we needed to make that decision while we still had time.
My granddad just turned 83 a few days ago. And as a former cop, he didn’t get there by being a dummy. He has always taken care of himself, paid attention to risks around him, avoided alcohol, and kept himself busy. I’ll never forget seeing him clearing downed trees in his driveway despite being in his 70s. But one thing that has always stood out to me was how he refused to fly on planes. He had helped clean up a plane crash with the bodies of 74 corpses of young soldiers just outside of Richmond in 1961. But despite improvements on air travel and being told about the safety of flying, he decided he would never accept the risk of it, and there was no changing his mind. Continue reading Assumption of Risk
It’s days like this that put it all into perspective. I remember trudging through knee deep mud in New England, fording flooded rivers that threatened to sweep my legs out from under me and send me downstream. I remember hypothermia, the cold rain seeping into the cracks and seams of my rain gear and drenching me to my core. I remember having to hike faster to stay warm, wake up and get moving to stay alive. I remember being wet for day after day after day, throwing away a rotting pair of shoes that had never seen dryness. I ate soggy food with swollen hands, slept in wet clothes in a wet sleeping bag. Continue reading Indoors
Today was my first day of round two of M2 and as I sat through repeat classes I realized I can do this. While it’s certainly daunting, second year of medical school feels much more manageable this time around. I watched all my friends move on and progress in their studies, pass the first step of their board licensing exams, and their success gives me confidence.
Read Part 1 here: Climbing Taylor Glacier
In the dry, cool gusts in the Bear Lake parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took off my steamy boots and replaced them with my booties, exchanged the puffy down jacket for a soft fleece, and my grimy fleece cap for open air. I headed for Estes Park with my heat blasting, and as soon as I knew I had cell service, pulled out my phone and called my mom. She panicked when I recounted the details of the day but I continually reminded her that I was safe. It was nice to tell the story from the comfort of my heated car and come to grips with what had actually happened and addressing the mistakes while they were fresh in my head. I guess it was sort of the start of my coping with what I had done. I faced the fact that it happened and I could choose to make something of it and grow or ignore it and shame myself. Continue reading Misadventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, Descending Taylor Glacier: Part 4