Pikes Peak Trip Report #2

Trail: Parked 18 or so miles up the road, Class 5.2, ~3 miles, ~2000 ft elevation gain

Matt LaCoco and I had been playing phone tag all week with the ultimate goal of meeting up on Saturday and trying to tag the Y Couloir on Pikes.  Matt had been told by a local guide that the route was completely in more than a week before and no new snow followed by several days where the temperature remained below freezing had us confident in attempting the route.  I also wanted to get back and hit Pikes because I want to redo the 14ers Jen hasn't done, with her, so that we can maybe finish them together.   Jen had previously accompanied me on our first attempt which aborted after gaining more than 6000 feet and 11 miles on the Barr Trail due to a nasty bout of AMS I experienced right near the end.

I met Matt at his home in the Springs around 7:30 after which we grabbed a quick bite to eat and drove up to the entrance to the Pikes Peak Tollway.  We hung out and chatted for a while until the road opened and then took off up it.  For those interested Little Italy looks absolutely bomber right now.   We made good time up the road and parked behind some signs   which described the alpine environment.  From here we geared up, headed up to the left of some little hump and strapped on crampons before descending some snow. (around 10:00 in the morning)

Our plan had been to attempt the Rumdoodle Ridge and down climb to the bottomless pit but this failed for one very simple reason: I didn't bother with much in the way of beta.  I have found that routes are increasingly more interesting if you bring along technical gear and play choose your own adventure. This feels much more like mountaineering than following precise descriptions in books.  Couple this new found way of hitting peaks with a barometric altimeter that was badly out of whack and you have three people on the Heroe's Traverse.  We realized this pretty quickly and went for it anyways.  

Jen down climbing (not as steep as it looks)

The downclimb ranged from 30-45 degrees and after awhile we found several cliff bands.  We spent a good bit of time trying to find a route down only to be ultimately stymied.  While the snow was fine and the weather good we were still concerned that we had spent to long playing around to get back to the truck by 5:00 (closing time).  It turns out that Matt and /I think allot alike and neither of us had a problem switching plans midday to accomadate the situation.   Jen was adamant about hitting the peak and Matt and I still wanted a climb of something so we picked a random couloir which we could see topped out back on easy rock above.

Another shot of Jen on snow

We decided to go for it and headed up to the couloir.  As I was carrying my Canon 20D I didn't take any shots in the couloir proper.  Whatever route we choose ended up being great.  The couloir itself was of the constricted type with rock walls/bands on either side and reached constrictions of 3 feet.  

Jen heading up to the start of our mini-adventure   

I was pretty comfortable aiming up it as I had brought my usual assortment of rope, cams, slings, pickets, and nuts.  We all harnessed up before entering just in case we encountered stiffer terrain.  The couloir itself was great.  While it was only ~500 feet in gain the angle stayed between 45-55  degrees in the constricted region and had two sections of short vertical climbing on snow and moss covered rock.  In both these sections Matt and I went first and I would then set up a quick anchor system (one took quite a bit of looking and digging for before a place for two Aliens could be found), girth hitch five 48 inch runners together and throw it down to Jen who would then clip in.  In both these sections she flew right on up.  After the second rock section we had to navigate a 60 to 70 degree section of rock which was snow and moss covered.  As it turns out moss takes crampon and axe points quite well.  I scrambled right up what was ~5.4 slab on crampons out as I thought it was a more direct route than that Matt and Jen had taken. It was, but it was also the one point on the climb that I got nice and sketched out. After this portion the constriction eased and the couloir opened back up until the top.

Climbing out of the constriction (I'm vertically above them in this shot)

I have to thank Matt for his generous kick steps up through the constriction,  He would go on ahead and scout the route as I belayed or waited for Jen to pass the tricker section.  After the second section where I belayed Jen up I insisted she stay on the anchor past the snowy slabs so she would be ahead of me on safer grounds.  This meant Matt got to kick steps up through the steeper sections.  We reconoitered at a series of rocks and found that the final part of the couloir went at about 60 degrees with a short (5-10 ft) section of 70 degrees.  

I headed up after after scrambling up a final series of rocks and kicked steps through this portion (Matt had already had a larger distance of equally steep stuff so I figured it was my turn).

Matt and Jen Finishing up (way steeper than it looks)

I was supremely proud of Jen this day.  We had allot of steep snow, wet climbing in crampons, and all in a couloir which was pretty darn cliffed out in.  The only downside to the day was that this little couloir topped us out 500 feet above and a quarter mile away from the car.  This was enough to give us all a good laugh since we all felt like rock stars for getting up the damn thing we had just climbed and then found ourselves a stones throw from the truck.  Since we had gone through all the effort we headed on up and summited Pikes anyways.  This puts Jen at 21 14ers now and on a stretch much harder than anything one would encounter on the standard routes.  

Jen Owning Pikes Peak

I had a blast climbing today.  I think taking a mountain by unknown routes is allot of fun.  Sure, you might have to bail if it gets out of hand but if you go up something you can get down and don't mind turning around then why not?  What I've slowly learned over the last few years is that the climbs are not about the summit or about lists.  Climbs are about the experience, how or if you get to the top doesn't much matter as long as you do it safely and have fun in  the process.  The top is really just a place to enjoy a sandwich, some soup, get a marmot shot, and to kick back with friends and loved ones.  I'm really looking forward to redoing the 14ers with Jen as I spent to much time obsessively driven by 'The List' and didn't properly enjoy the experience. (OK, I'm not looking forward to redoing the Sawatch...)

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