Monday, January 24, 2011
It Takes Nuts to Climb Mt Whitney
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Smiley, Party of Six
“Wanna go climb a 14er with us this weekend?” I asked into the cell phone as soon as we got into cell service coming back from climbing the Petit Grepon. Jake, my good friend since 4th grade, was on the other end. “Of course” he said, “let’s talk more when you get here.”
By the time we arrived at his place in Lafayette, CO, he was already trying to get out of his newly appointed fatherhood responsibilities for the next three days with his wife, Becca, and maintain a happy marriage. Their new twin girls were still the size of footballs. Since mother’s work is never done, this was a tough sell.
Becca is an amazing woman. The following day she cooked us breakfast and wished us well on our adventure. As we piled in the Sprinter, I’m pretty sure (but not positive) that she grabbed Jacob by the throat, pulled his ear to her lips, and said in a loud forceful whisper, “If you die, and leave me here with our babies, alone, I swear I’m going to kill you!” Then smiled, kissed him on the cheek warmly, and shut the door. You might be able to argue the logic, but you can’t argue the point.
We hit 25 minutes of bumper to bumper in Denver, which made me want to chew off my own hands and throw them at something. You see, we live in a small mountain town and the only traffic jam happens when the ranchers drive 500 head of cattle down the road to switch pastures. And that only happens in the Spring and Fall. So I have lost all patience for waiting on other cars. “How do people do it?” we wondered aloud. Our answer: Money, lots of money, and a health plan that includes dental coverage.
South-central Colorado is great. The mountains are tall, the ranches are big, and the people are friendly. We rolled into Westcliffe, where the elevation is 17 times greater than its population, and met up with the rest of our team. Janelle’s younger brother, Owen, came down from Aspen, and Steve and Melody Hanford came from Bailey.
The Hanfords worked as rafting guides in Buena Vista just after the turn of the century, and we have stayed in touch since then through various climbing adventures. It was great to see them again. We had dinner in Westcliffe and then made our way to the trailhead. Excited hunters, eager to get some meat early the next morning for opening day of rifle season, joined us at the trailhead “campground.”
At 3:00AM the hunters fired up their un-muffled four-wheelers and were off. We got up an hour later, ate some oatmeal, and continued up the too-rough-for-our-rig road on foot. The miles passed quickly as we talked to our friends, catching one another up with our current affairs.
Creston Needle is very striking. The Ellingwood Ledges route is visible from miles away, cutting up through the sky like…..something really sharp, and big. We rounded the alpine lake at its base and headed up the talus field to the base of the climb. There were already five other people on the route! I guess it was a weekend, and it is a classic route. Several rocks came shooting down, dislodged from the climbers above. So we waited at the base for them to climb much higher, thus eliminating the danger.
Janelle led Owen and Melody and I took Jake and Steve. Janelle climbed the first pitch, made an anchor, and started belaying her team up to her simultaneously. I started climbing right on the heels of Melody, clipped in to the anchor Janelle had made, and belayed Steve and Jake up. While I was doing that, Janelle started leading the next pitch. Soon we were on lower angle ledges (the name sake), so we coiled the ropes and scrambled several hundred feet.
The mountain tipped back again, and it was time to rope up. So Janelle and I went back to work. Climbing, trailing two ropes, and belaying our friends as they climbed at the same time. It was pretty cool to be right next to Janelle at every belay ledge. Normally she is either climbing or belaying me, so we don’t get to see one another very much during the climb.
At 1:00PM we arrived at our self-declared “lunch ledge” and busted out the sandwiches. We were livin’ the dream, soaking up the warm afternoon sun, laughing, and lazily enjoying the view.
The final section presented the crux of the route. The climbing turned out to be really enjoyable. We crested the summit ridge and touched the top at 14,197’.
The way down was sporty with several sections of scrambling and some exposed steps. This, along with general fatigue, brought the conversations to a halt. We made it down without any drama, and headed back down the jeep road to Lulu. A couple miles before arriving at the van we had to bust out the headlamps for the second time that day….indicating it really was a long day.
Back inside Lulu we brought forth the bounty and enjoyed chips and salsa, refreshing beverages, war-stories of the day, and ideas of our next adventure together. Hopefully that will be sooner than later.