Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Colorado Rockies Road Trip

This is catch up, now that I've described the drive home I'll go back and cover the trip down and the climbing itself. Should have done it at the time, but camping and climbing don't leave much time/opportunity for blogging!

Sept. 11 - Saskatoon to Gillette, WY

Not much to report. The only campground we could find in Gillette was one in the middle of town, but it actually turned out to be reasonably quiet and clean. Getting in late and leaving early we never did manage to register or even find out the rates. We dropped $20 in the slot, hopefully that covered it!

Sept. 12 - Gillette, WY to Estes Park, CO

Stopped in Laramie, WY for lunch. It seemed like a nice little university town - bookshops and good places to eat. We ate at Jeffrey's Bistro - a good choice, lots of vegetarian options and a pleasant atmosphere. Picked up a copy of Blessed Unrest at the Chickering Bookstore. Driving through busy Fort Collins was a bit of a shock after so many hours of deserted prairie roads. Luckily we got out of the traffic before too long and headed into the mountains. Quite a narrow canyon road up to Estes Park. We camped at Estes Park Campground (recommended by one of the climbing guidebooks). It was fairly empty and quiet.

We stopped in at Trailridge Outfitters to try to get a climbing guidebook but they were out of the ones they recommended. We picked up a guide to the Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet (4267 m) and they were good enough to recommend some rock climbs and photocopy a few pages out of their store copy of a guidebook.

Ate at Sweet Basilico Cafe, it was recommended to us but wasn't anything special.

Sept. 13

Climbed an easy route on the Pear at Lumpy Ridge to get a feel for the rock. (Gina's Surprise
5.4) Interesting descent down into a notch on the back of the Pear. A short day so we could get ready to climb Longs Peak the next day.

Coffee at Coffee on the Rocks just outside town. Good coffee and next to a pond with ducks.

Supper at Dunraven Inn - quite nice.

Sept. 14

Got up at 4:30 am, left the Longs Peak trail head at 5:40 in the dark by headlamp. It got light by about 6:30. We did the Loft route above Chasm Lake, a "classic" Class 3 scramble. Once we left the trail at the shelter below Chasm Lake the route was fairly well cairned and quite straightforward. The ledge that is the key to getting through the cliff band was pretty obvious. It had some icy patches but luckily you could work around them. The morning started out clear but got cloudier. It was increasingly windier as we got higher and more exposed. From the Loft (a large saddle/plateau between Meeker and Longs) you drop down a bit on the far side. Cairns led to the gully where you descend, but after that it was unclear where to start traversing. I think we went a bit too low. According to the guide you should see "Carver's Arrow" painted on the rock but we didn't see it. We passed a ranger a little farther on and asked him about it, but he'd never heard of it! You traverse a bit and then ascend again up to join the standard Keyhole route at the "Homestretch". We reached the summit around 10:40. We were happy enough with 5 hours for 5000 feet of ascent. The summit is large and flat. We had a bite to eat and took a few pictures but didn't hang around too long since it was cold and windy. There were quite a lot of people coming up the Keyhole route but we didn't see anyone on the Loft route other than the ranger. We decided to descend the Keyhole route since we thought it would be faster. Although it's a longer route we were imagining more of a trail than a scramble. But it was actually quite a bit of scrambling, fairly exposed and fairly steep in parts. In retrospect I think it would have been quicker to descend the loft route, but it was interesting to check out another route. We made it back to the car at 14:40 for a round trip of 9 hours, with sore feet after 14 miles (23 km) and a lot of up and down.

Had supper at Mama Rose's - pretty good.

Sept. 15

We drove the spectacular road through Rocky Mountain Park and then south down to Dillon. Stopped for lunch in Grand Lake. We had gotten directions to a "climbing store" in Dillon but it turned out to be a "sport mart" type of place that didn't have any maps or guidebooks. But the mall it was in had a Borders which luckily did have them. We picked up a copy of Rock Climbing in Colorado, which at least gave us an idea what was around.

While we were at the mall we saw a sign across the parking lot that said "Malbec". Since we visited Chile and Argentina (to climb Aconcagua) we've become fans of Malbec wine so it caught our eye. We went over to see what it was. It turned out to be a wine bar/restaurant but it looked like it wasn't finished yet. As we were standing there a women (one of the owners I assume) came out and invited us in. They were planning to open the next day and were having a private celebration. So we had a glass of Malbec wine and hors d'oeuvres. They even gave us a recommendation for where to eat that evening. (The Boatyard in Frisco.) It was a pleasant surprise.

The campgrounds around Dillon were all closed for the season so we stayed at the Holiday Inn in Frisco. (after driving as far a Breckenridge in the dark searching)

Sept. 16

We originally intended to climb four adjacent fourteeners (Lincoln, Cameron, Bross, Democrat) that you can do all in one day. But when we looked at the map there was a note that said access was closed. After trying several phone numbers we managed to find an open wireless connection to the internet and found out that access was indeed still closed. So instead we climbed Quandary, ascending by the West ridge, another "classic" Class 3 scramble. The day started out nice but soon after we started big dark clouds rolled in and it started to rain quite hard. We put on rain gear and very nearly turned around but then we saw some patches of blue sky and continued on. The weather continued to threaten but it didn't rain (and snow) till our descent. The final stretch of ridge was a fun scramble that traverses left and right to circumvent the steep towers. Car to car it took us about 5 hours (only 2600 ft of ascent)

After our pleasant surprise at Malbec the evening before we figured we'd better go back for supper on their opening day. We stayed at the Comfort Inn next door which was handy since we could walk across the parking lot to the restaurant. Supper was very good and quite inexpensive for a "fancier" place. We had a bottle of Zamba Malbec for only $15 - pretty rare to get a bottle of wine so cheap in a restaurant, let alone a decent one.

Sept. 17

Drove south past Breckenridge to Fairplay and then west to Denver which we bypassed to get to Boulder. The rain turned into heavy snow going over one of the passes.

For some reason my image of Boulder was as a small mountain town, but it's actually quite a large place which makes sense considering it's university and it's popularity. One frustration is that there are virtually no campgrounds anywhere around Boulder. I guess land is too valuable. Luckily the information booth in the Pearl Street Mall pointed us to Boulder Canyon Lodge - a small motel with half a dozen campsites. It was perfect for us - close to Boulder, yet quiet and secluded. Luckily it was off season or we probably wouldn't have got in.

Tapas for supper at the Mediterranean - nice.

Sept. 18

Climbed the East Face of the Third Flatiron, an 8 pitch 5.4 "superb classic". The book talked so much about crowds and lineups that we set out early, just as it got light. But we never saw any other climbers - either because of our early start or because it's off season. It was another easy but fun climb. We were down by noon, in time for coffee at the Fulsom Street Coffee Company (free internet). Picked up a copy of Serious Play - An Anotated Guide to Traditional Front Range Classics at the Boulder Book Store, as much for it's hand drawn illustrations and quirky climbing advice as for it's routes.

Supper at Antica Roma - good.

Sept. 19

Climbed East Slab (2 pitches 5.5) and Cozy Hang (3 pitches 5.7+) on the Dome in Boulder Canyon. We need more practice on crack climbs! (don't get much of that in the Canadian Rockies)

Visited the Neptune Mountaineering store. Gary Neptune and his store are somewhat famous in climbing circles and the store is huge and lined with climbing memorabilia. Definitely worth the visit.

Ate supper at Bacaro Venetian Taverna - good.

Sept. 20

To round out our tour of Boulder area rock climbing we went to Eldorado Canyon and climbed Calypso (4 pitches 5.6) on Wind Tower and Clementine (2 pitches 5.5) on Whale's Tail. Unfortunately, we had dressed for the cool of early morning in long pants and long sleeves, but by the time we were done it was +28 and we were sweating!

After climbing we drove in to Denver to the Adam's Mark Hotel where Shelley's International Women in Policing conference was starting the next day. After visiting the Wilderness Exchange store we drove out to Cherry Hills to visit an old high school friend of mine.

And that catches up to where I started describing my trip home.