Tag Archives: explore

Sphincter Level 5 – Mount French

I’m not really into writing trip reports.  There is tons of info already on the internet if you take the time to look for it, and I’m always happy to share a GPX track if someone requests it.  That being said, I go a lot of places where I don’t really recommend other people to go.  I end up off route and bushwhacking on most of my solo trips.  It’s rare that I finish a trip where I don’t have at least a few cuts and bruises.  I don’t feel the need to inflict those wounds on other people.

Today I will make an exception to this rule.  I had such a good time on Mount French that I feel the need to share my joy.  This was easily one of my favourite mountain outings ever!

(Small caveat here, I went through a bit of a mountain withdrawal while I was working on my road running, my joy at being back in the mountains is definitely exaggerated right now.)


One week out from my Trans-Alberta adventure, I wasn’t sure if a big scrambling trip up Mount French was a good idea.  However, I had been eyeing this mountain for 3 years and if I was serious about it I likely wouldn’t have a better opportunity: the weather was perfect, the trip was being lead by experienced peakbagger Brandon Boulier, and we would be moving at a hiking pace so it shouldn’t be too intense.

I messaged my friend Philippe who always seems to be up for crazy adventures and he agreed to tag along.  Brandon brought along Sheena, another scrambler, which made our party a team of 4.  We arrived at the Burstall Pass trailhead at 5:30am, just as the sun was rising.  The views were already breathtaking.

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The trail up to French glacier was recently maintained, with fresh flagging and much of the deadfall cleared.  It made for a very pleasant walk in the crisp morning air. 2 hours into our hike we had reached the toe of the French glacier.

The snow was frozen hard and I’m a chicken so I immediately put on my microspikes.  Brandon is more confident that I and he was able to hike up without spikes and no issues.  The views opened up as we climbed up to the pass and when we crested the top I was blown away by what we saw!  The Haig glacier had been groomed for cross country skiing and there were about 20 skiers out for their morning workout.  I knew this facility existed, but seeing it in person was a whole new experience.  I would highly recommend  this hike to anyone who cares to put in the effort, just make sure you get there early before the snow gets slushy so that you can see the skiers. I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Now comes the part of the trip which I would not recommend to most individuals.  This route has a lot of hazards, and is only appropriate for experienced scramblers.

After ogling the skiers for a few minutes we began our ascent of Mount French.  The slope is very steep and loose, so we had to be careful not to kick rocks on each other.  The scree up to the summit ridge is horrible.  We did not find a good line and there was a lot of treadmilling going on.  At one point Sheena wondered if she was even moving at all.

Just as our frustration level with the scree was reaching a maximum, we crested the summit ridge and all of our effort was worth it for that view!

The summit ridge is narrow and very exposed at times.  The rock is loose and you must be careful to always push into the mountain instead of pulling on the rocks.  Route finding is very simple, in most cases you only have one choice for where to go.  The entire ridge is over 3000m, and I have not been in the mountains as much as usual.  I could feel that my heart rate was much higher than normal, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the altitude, or just adrenaline from the exposure.

I felt surprisingly comfortable for most of the scramble.  Everything appeared worse than it was.  My least favourite section was not the narrow ridges, but rather a loose, narrow ledge we had to walk along.  I felt like someone should come up here with a broom and sweep all the loose rocks off.

The final challenge during our summit ascent was a short chimney.  We weren’t sure if it would be filled in with snow and ice, so we were happy to discover that you could ascend it by climbing on dry rock.

After snacks and photos on the summit block we made our way back. We were elated to have successfully navigated the ridge, but a little apprehensive about having to do it all over again in reverse.  The return trip on the ridge proved to be a little tougher – exposed downclimbs are always scarier than exposed upclimbs – but we all managed by taking it very slowly.

The scree route down was much easier, and the rest of the trip was just a very nice walk down through the valley.  It was a hot day, and the mosquitoes were out in force so we did not lollygag. 12 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, sunburnt and high on life.

It will be hard to top this trip, and I enjoyed it so much that I am pretty sure I will do it again.  Maybe as a point to point trail run via Turbine Canyon, just to keep things fresh.  Who wants to come with me?

Happy Trails!

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Before I Forget – Colorado!

I don’t feel the need to do a 2017 year in review, but I do have a lot of awesome 2017 memories that are slowly fading away.  I want to take the time to record these experiences before they are completely lost.

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It’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything about our Colorado trip on my blog.  It’s time to rectify that situation. I lost my photos from Colorado when I destroyed my phone, so this blog post is all I have left other than the photos I uploaded to Strava.  Thank God for Strava 🙂

Matt, Moxie and I drove down in our Toyota Sienna minivan (aka Lucy), which we have converted into a camper van.  Out of our 2.5wk road trip, we only spent one night in a hotel.  The rest of the trip was spent exploring the National Forest.

Our first majour stop in Colorado was in the Crested Butte area.  The landscape in this area is stunning and Matt and I had lots of “wow” moments.  Unfortunately there was still a lot of snow hanging around so we weren’t able to find a spot to camp higher up in the mountains.  There were a few areas where our poor van almost got stuck in the snow as we explored up and down random gravel roads, trying to find a good spot to spend the night.  Eventually we settled on a camping spot along Cement Creek.  It was very hot out, so it was nice to camp next to a cold, raging stream. The next day we bushwhacked up to the top of the mountain we were camped on.  The offline map I had downloaded told me the mountain’s name was Double-Top.

Our first Colorado summit, and first time over 12 000ft!

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I noticed a high mountain lake on the map which appeared to have a road going to it.  Naturally, I suggested that we head there for our next camping spot.  After 20km of gravel road we finally reached the lake.  It was hot and I was looking forward to a swim, but when we walked over to investigate the lake we found it was filled with thousands of giant, mutant tadpole looking things.  Needless to say, I decided to forgo the swim.

The next day I woke up early and ventured out to the closest mountain, labelled Baldy Mountain on my map.  There was a LOT of snow and the trail was completely obscured. Thankfully the snow had a thick crust, if I walked carefully I did not break through.  Eventually I found my way out of the forest to a mountain pass.   Here, the snow had melted and I was walking through a river of melt-water.  I could see Mount Baldy high up to my right so I power-hiked up a steep, mostly snow-covered slope.  The summit of Baldy is connected via a ridge to several other summits.  I had hoped to traverse the ridge but I was worried about the sun softening the snow.  My hike had begun at 6am so there was still tons of daylight left, but if the snow softened my trip back to the campsite would be nearly impossible.  I reluctantly turned around.

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Matt and I spent the rest of the day driving towards Telluride.  As we approached the San Juan mountains one peak rose above the rest.  It seemed to be calling to me. I looked on my map – it was called Mount Sneffels.  I told Matt I was going to climb it and he replied, “of course you are!”

We never actually made it to Telluride.  Instead, we found an interesting gravel road and followed it up to the Blue Lakes trailhead.  Matt maneuvered the Lucy off-road to an awesome campsite next to a creek.  This was our first time camping with neighbours, but our neighbours were awesome!  The dad was a mountain enthusiast himself and he told me what to expect for my hike up Mount Sneffels.  I was concerned about possible avalanche risk but he didn’t seem to think that would be an issue.

I set out at sunrise the next day on the Blue Lakes trail.  The trail was very well-maintained and it wasn’t long before I found myself at Blue Lakes – a popular camping and hiking destination.  From the lakes I continued up to a high mountain pass. The trail was obscured by snow at times, but the route seemed pretty straightforward. I caught up to a Colorado native who was also headed up to the summit and asked him if he minded if I tagged along.

We climbed the rest of the way up together – across an awkward boulder-field, up a snow-choked couloir, and along some exposed slab to the summit.  I had planned for this trip to take me all-day, but it was actually super-straightforward with no majour issues.  The view at the top was spectacular and we spent some time taking photos before heading down.

I ran down ahead of my new found friend.  The snow in the couloir was super fun and I couldn’t resist a little glissading.  Unknown to me, Matt and Moxie had hiked up to Blue Lakes while I was up on the mountain.  I missed them on the way down and spent quite a bit of time back at the camp napping in the hammock before they got back.  I had expected the trip to take 12 hours, but I had been gone for less than 8.

This was my first time climbing over 14 000ft and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

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The summit view on Sneffels had awakened my imagination.  From up there I could see several other 14ers and I wanted to see if we could get to them without an off-road vehicle.  We left our Blue Lakes campsite and headed towards Ouray. We were both really tired and filthy so we decided to find a cheap hotel.  Eventually we found a hotel in our price range ($50/night) and we enjoyed a nice evening in town.  Ouray is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited.  Set in a deep valley, the sunset lit up the surrounding mountain cliffs in brilliant shades of pink.  This is definitely a town we will come back to.

The next day we drove out to Silverton. What a tiny town!  I loved it! It was cool to see all of the old rocks from past Hardrocks and imagine myself possibly running that race one day.  We spent the day exploring roads not meant for a minivan. We pushed Lucy to her limits, scaring ourselves sh*tless at times.  Eventually we settled on an awesome campsite next to the creek and not far from town. We were camped across from a mountain ridge and after reviewing my topo map I made plans to run the ridge and tag as many peaks as I could the next day.

My ridge running day was much easier than I had anticipated.  I discovered a trail up the nearest mountain and so I was able to summit without any bushwhacking.  The only problem was that I had apparently left my brain back at the campsite.  I had bags of Oreos, Sour Dinos and Starburst with me.  I left my bag of Oreos on the first peak, Sour Dinos on the second and Starburst on the 3rd.  I am embarrassed to admit to so much littering. I tried to make up for it on the rest of the trip by picking up every bit of litter I saw.

My ridge running route was excellent, but due to my excessive littering I decided to head back to the van after my 4th peak. I was out of food and I still had a long way back.  My original plan had been to follow the jeep road back to the campsite, however the jeep traffic looked to be out of control, so I opted to bushwhack down an alternate route. Not for the last time, I discovered that Colorado bushwhacking is not that fun.  There are thorns on the bushes!  Oh well, I survived and eventually made it back down to where Matt and Moxie were waiting for me.

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From Silverton we went for a long drive to Lake City.  I really wanted to check out Handies Peak and run on part of the Hardrock course.  We scouted around, Matt did some fly fishing, and we found another great camping spot.  After freaking ourselves out with the Jeep roads in the Silverton area, we decided that I would run the road to Handies Peak instead of attempting to drive there.  It turns out the road to Handies peak is fine for a minivan, but I didn’t mind the extra running.  It was early and the Jeeps weren’t out yet.  I kept the pace really easy as I was planning to summit 3 14ers in a day, and I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to hold up – turns out my legs were fine.  The trail up to Handies Peak was beautiful and I especially enjoyed the meadow, which was filled with marmots and wildflowers.  After reaching the summit I ran back down the trail and across the valley to the Sunrise and Redcloud trail.  This trail was not as lush as the Handies Peak trail, but I loved the arid landscape and red rocks. When I reached the col which lead to the summit I looked over to the other side for a possible alternate descent route.  There weren’t any obvious hazards, and the drainage led almost directly back to our campsite.  I wasn’t looking forward to running back along the busy Jeep road, maybe this would be a better option.  I still hadn’t learned …

Sunrise and Redcloud are two 14 000ft peaks connected by a 1 mile ridge.  I had the trail to myself, and I enjoyed dancing along the red shale while soaking in the views.  Unfortunately my trip off the col and into the drainage was not so smooth.  Before dropping down I studied the terrain carefully and examined my topo map.  It looked like I could get cliffed out at the confluence of two drainages, and I needed to do a lot of side traversing to get over to a rib and avoid getting sucked into steep terrain.  It’s amazing how even when you know better, you still make the same mistakes.  I did not enjoy the side traversing and so I allowed myself to get sucked into the confluence. I didn’t get cliffed out, but I did have a very awkward descent and I spent a lot of time battling some very aggressive, thorny bushes.

Eventually I made it back to the campsite, dusty and a little bloody, but otherwise in good shape. I was on schedule but Matt wasn’t there.  I looked around, he had thoughtfully left out a chair and Gatorade, so I made myself comfortable.  My adventure had covered over 45km and had taken 12 hours, so I was happy to relax 🙂  Matt showed up 30 minutes later, after getting some supplies in town.  Wanting to explore other areas in Colorado, we had a brief discussion about where to go next.  We decided on Colorado Springs, so I jumped in the van and off we went.

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The next day we spent some time exploring the Garden of the Gods, which is very neat, and attempted to visit Pikes Peak so that Matt could summit a 14er.  Unfortunately we don’t have much patience for tourist attractions, and when we discovered a long line up of cars coupled with a $50USD toll rate we bailed on that idea.

The Colorado Springs traffic was a nightmare and we spent the next few hours lamenting our decision to leave the San Juans.  Eventually we made it up to Boulder where we breathed a sigh of relief to escape the big city.  The drive up through the mountains out of Boulder was nice, but there weren’t any places to camp so we just kept driving.  We drove through lots of defunct mining operations and Central City, the craziest town I’ve ever seen!  Central City is entirely composed of casinos and marijuana dispensaries.  There doesn’t appear to be anyone that actually lives there, and we wondered if there were any patrons in the casinos.  I feel like the town must be some kind of massive money laundering scheme.

We kept driving and found a beautiful campsite near Jones Pass. The next morning we went for a family hike up to the pass.  There were tons of marmots and Moxie had a blast.  There was too much snow to reach the summit of the pass, but we made it pretty close.  It was a good farewell to Colorado.

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Matt was eager to get back home so we packed up the van after our hike and drove north to Wyoming.  That evening we found a beautiful campsite just outside of the National Parks and I went for a sunset run up to the nearest pass.  On my way back I discovered very large, very fresh grizzly tracks headed in the same direction as me. I slowed to a walk, not wanting to catch up to the bear.  Wyoming is so wild!  I think it’s my favourite state.

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The next day we braved the tourists and visited Yellowstone National Park.  I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone and now we were finally here!  The hot springs were cool, and I am sure we would have been totally awed by them had we not been to Iceland last year.  As it was, we were suitably impressed but I couldn’t help comparing them to last year’s adventures.  In Yellowstone there are hordes of people everywhere and boardwalks to prevent you from getting too close to the hot pools.  In Iceland there are also hordes of people, but it’s very easy to get off the beaten track and you can easily find hot springs with no people around.  There are no boardwalks to keep you safe, you could jump right into the boiling water/mud pits if you were so inclined.

As we exited the park there were really cool rock formations formed by mineral deposits from the hot springs.  I would have loved to explore this area but the parking was full, so we continued to drive north to Montana.


After some creative navigation, we found a camping spot near Boulder, Montana.  This was one of our favourite campsites of the whole trip!  The forest was filled with piles of massive boulders that seemed to materialize out of nowhere.  We spent the evening doing forest parkour, scrambling up, down and around the giant, granite rocks.   I think we could spend a week there and not get bored.  Alas, it was time to go home and the next day we drove back to Canada.


See you again in 2018 Colorado, and this time I will back up my photos!

Happy Trails!