Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grizzly Peak - Dec. 6, 2008

So after many months of being lazy, at least when it comes to writing up my trips, I've decided that if I'm ever going to get caught up and really use this blog as a journal, I need to make a concerted effort to post all my backed up trips. Which brings me to a cold day on Cupid and the birthday of a good friend.

The initial plan for this trip was to make an attempt on Torrey's peak from the North starting at Loveland Pass. This would include the ridge line traverse of numerous other peaks both out and back, including Point 12,850, Cupid and Grizzly. The topo for this trip is actually incorrect because at the time, being under nearly whiteout conditions I'd thought that I had made it as far as the bottom of the Northeast ridge of Grizzly. As I came to realize on a later trip I was a bit off and after successfully making this traverse I now feel that it was probably a good thing.

On the morning of the sixth I woke for a typical alpine start at around 4:30AM and was on the road near 5:00. Making my way up the I-70 corridor the weather was good and just what I would expect for a pre dawn mountain drive in the winter. The first indicator of the conditions to come was terribly icy roads on I-70 just prior to the Loveland Pass exit. Fortunately as I made the exit and began the ascent up the pass, the nagging slush and sleet subsided for a very peaceful though snow packed drive to the summit. Nearing 7:00AM I was at the summit and to my surprise found a few other people already parked there. From their gear and the direction they set off it was evident that they were getting an early start on a ski descent of the bowl directly adjacent the ridge line I was to about to climb. By the time I was geared up, including a heavy winter coat in addition to the normal 3+ worn and packed winter layers, snow shoes in hand I was on my up the West ridge of Point 12,850. Beta on this trip had indicated that once reaching the summit of the first peak (12,850) care should be taken, possibly marking the location of the trail as in a whiteout situation the trail may be hard to locate given the broad summit of the peak in conjunction with the broad saddles between each of the coming peaks. At the time the weather was fairly peaceful barring a strong wind moving South by Southeast which had been a minor nag for the duration of the initial climb. Though I was quite comfortable in terms of temperature regulation I was beginning to be a little concerned about a heavy cloud cover that had developed... or a least become visible since sunrise. Given the fact that I was going to be traversing multiple ridge lines, particularly up and down Grizzly, the threat of walking of a cornice was a consequence that I needed to be aware of.

A side note on the usage of the term consequence; Generally in the world of mountaineering, or climbing and likely many other disciplines, consequence is used as a way of relaying the evaluation of danger in the prospective situation. So when I say that walking off a cornice is possible consequence, it's not meant to be a retrospective description, like "wow, I chose that ridge and walked off a cornice as a consequence" but rather an evaluation of the action like "my current consequences are a 500 foot free ride off the mountain, lightning could strike, etc".

By the time I had made it to the Northeastern side of the first ridge the weather had changed from thick cloud cover to heavy blowing snow or possibly a snowstorm, all being relative. I took a moment to snap a few photos of the current conditions and well as an ad-hoc shot of myself all bundled up.

From here I began to question if I should continue given the weather but ultimately decided that visibility was good enough and that due to the short distance that I had traveled, if conditions worsened I had an easy trip back, so I mustered on. Continuing down off Point 12,850 toward Cupid the remainder of the trip up Cupid's ridge line, the conditions remained unchanged with low visibility and difficult trip finding. At some point after my descent from Cupid I made a critical error. In retrospect its hard to determine what caused it, possibly cold on the brain or the unanticipated difficulty of ascending the minor peak just below the West ridge of cupid, nevertheless I had at the time mistaken Cupid for Grizzly Peak which I was now approaching and thought the West ridge of Grizzly was the West ridge of Torrey's Peak. By this time the terrain was becoming increasingly difficult, class 3 under normal conditions but now made for a bit higher pucker factor. I continued to descend further down the ridge line stopping to rest and get a shot of the climb.

Once I completed the descent, the West ridge of (Grizzly) though I thought Torrey's was now visibly across a broad snowfield. Looking at the snow field and feeling a little uneasy about both the visibility, allowing for the potential to walk out on to a cornice and slow slope of lower portion of the ridge I had descended I decided to stop and re-evaluate my situation. The ridge line had begun to thin out and had given way to a noticeable drop on either side, I felt that the center would provide adequate protection from cornices but in moving in that direction I would be directly below the previous slope and was worried about the avalanche danger. I stopped and took time to dig out a trench with my axe and perform a compression test. Not surprised to find that the snow pack indicated high stability but going off instinct I felt that I should call it a day and turned around for the return climb. Up until this point my error in route finding had caused no immediate problems, but as I previously described I was now one peak West of where I thought I was. By the time I made my way back across the ridges towards Point 12,850, my tracks were long blown over resulting in now reprieve in terms of route finding. Making my way up to the top of 12,850 which I my mind I had though was the first peak North of Grizzly... Cupid, I continued on to the North expecting to reach the top of the adjacent peak and head West back down to Loveland Pass. Along the climb of the next ridge I encountered two other climbers on their way down. We stopped to do the normal swap of stories and plans, and to our surprise we both relayed that we were heading back to the Loveland Pass trailhead, me going up, them down. We took some time to compare notes and fortunately the other group had a GPS device which they had used to mark the trailhead. Low and behold I was already too far north and moving away from the trailhead. As dire of a situation as it seems, I was really not in that bad of a position. I had already begun to question my direction as I didn't recognize the terrain and had made up my mind that if I couldn't find the trail leading West from the top of the following peak I would double back to the previous peak and retake inventory of my position. Though I failed to mention previously, on my descent from Cupid I ran into two additional climbers that I felt given the terrain would likely turn back near where I did and I was likely to encounter them again.

Given the current situation myself and the two hikers with the GPS decided that it would be safest to stick together until we made it back to the main trail up to 12,850. Shortly after the three of us ran into the other two of whom I had encountered and as I suspected they also had turned around near where I had. As I made my way back to the car atop Loveland pass I was surprised how much visibility had improved, now a few miles or so and quite surprised at the hoards of skiers and snowboarders now packing the top of the pass.

Reflecting on the day I decided that a GPS was mandatory for future trips. In the topo above the red line shows my digression from the planned route.

Additional Photos