Sometimes it’s seems that it’s hard to follow up something like the Tour of the Highest Hundred with the next project. It took years to get myself physically and mentally ready to take something like that on – save nothing for the financial burden of taking so much time off work and the burden of that food bill!
Still, in the heartbeat, I’d do it all again. But the world is a big place, and there’s so many fun and challenging things to do – even so close to where I live. I don’t necessarily like to repeat myself, but I do like to progress in what it is I do, and in doing so: explore different facets of the talents I’ve taken a life to develop.
Anyways, the future! What’s on my mind to do this summer (or next)? Here’s two projects I’d like to try (more coming, later…)
- 32 miles
- 10,000’+ elevation
- 1 day, 2hr, 30min
Three Centennials Summited:
- “Phoenix Peak”
- San Luis
- Stewart Peak
I questioned framing this leg of my Tour of the Highest Hundred as a, “Fastpack from Hell”, as the numbers really don’t compare to the Crestones, Sierra Blanca – let alone the mighty Weminuche. A motivated person, starting early with fine weather, could potentially do this course between sunrise and sundown. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my situation, when I left my bike far above Creede, CO in the summer of 2017.
- 81.4 Miles
- 34,847’+ elevation
- 5 days, 1hr, 44min
Nine Centennials Summited:
- Pigeon Peak
- Turret Peak
- Jupiter Mountain
- Windom Peak
- Sunlight Peak
- North Eolus
- Mount Eolus
- Jagged Mountain
- Vestal Peak
The Weminuche. This was the make-or-break section of my tour. A large project within an enormous project. Lots of terrain to cover, lots of mountains to top. Technical scrambling in a desolate setting. For example, Jagged Mountain’s easiest route rated at 5.2 is one of the technical cruxes of the whole trip and is located more than a dozen miles from any trailhead. Jagged is also one of the more remote peaks in the Highest Hundred itinerary. I also planned to take Vestal’s Wham Ridge (5.4) to summit, rather than the easiest, if much looser, Southeast Couloir. I would have to descend the Southeast Couloir anyways, but Wham Ridge seemed too incredible to pass off in the name of speed.
Let’s talk logistics of even getting in there. There are nine peaks of the the Weminuche (sans the isolated Rio Grande Pyramid, which I did in a separate trip). First the good news. Five of the them: Jupiter, Windom, Sunlight, North Eolus, and Eolus are clumped into one area, easily accessible from each other in the quite popular (for Weminuche standards) Chicago Basin.
Now the bad: Turret/Pigeon, Jagged Mountain, and Vestal Peak are spaced quite far away from each other, separated by gnarly mountain passes, with no trail connecting them together.
Further complicating matters is the weather: it can be terrible, especially in the monsoon season, which is when I inevitably hit the area. With the trip being a multi-day affair and my goal of moving quickly, I could only afford bringing just so much food in my 35 liter pack, which limits how long I can stay out for. Margin of error is low, or I would face the problem of needing to go back into town to resupply, and making yet another unplanned backpack approach in, which I imagine would feel completely demoralizing for someone like me going for clock time.
For Seekers of the Self-Powered Way, there are only a few access points that make sense to gain these summits. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is often used to cut down time/distance to access many of these peaks. For me, that would be of course: off the table.
The 2018 FKTOFTY Awards have been announced. I’ve very thankful that the Tour of the Highest Hundred was selected in the lineup! Although, it didn’t “win”, I really had no reason to think I would! I’m actually a little confused how different FKT attempts can even be compared to each other, but if all we want to do is celebrate FKT projects in general, I think that’s a worthwhile reason to make such lists.
But if I hope that the Tour of the Highest Hundred would win something like a popularity contest… forget it. It’s too long, too hard, too weird, and too obscure to ever become the type of, “Destination FKT” something like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim or the John Muir Trail are quickly becoming. And that’s totally fine with me. A litmus test is this: try to visualize exact what teh Highest Hundred challenge would entail. Kinda hard, right? What do you focus on? The distance, the peaks themselves, the elevation gain, the route? It’s a complex mother.
But, there’s a lot of reasons I think going for the Colorado Centennials by bike and by foot self-supported makes a totally life-changing challenge, even if you don’t make it your own FKT.
The Crestones! A highlight of my Highest Hundred trip – the mountains of this group are awesomely steep, the rock is solid, the scrambling: divine. This is truly a Fastpack from Hell-yeah!
- 36.1 Miles
- 15,200’+ elevation
- 1 day, 17hr, 28min
Seven Centennials summited:
- Kit Carson
- Columbia Point
- Crestone Needle
- Crestone Peak
- 33.1 Miles
- 15,085’+ elevation
- 2 days 25min
Six Centennials summited:
- Ellingwood Point
- Little Bear Peak
- Blanca Peak
- “Huerfano Peak”
- Mt. Lindsey
- California Peak
To make the Tour of the Highest Hundred work, my general strategy was to keep the number of separate trailheads I needed to visit by bike as low as possible, while designing my route on foot to tag as many mountains in an area as possible. Transitioning to/from bike-mode/hike-mode and superfluous riding are big time sucks.
One of the largest puzzles is the Sierra Blancas. Even enthusiastic peak baggers will separate this group of mountains into >= two trips:
- Approaching from the east for Mt. Lindsey and “Huerfano Peak” via the Huerfano/Lily Lake Trailhead
- Approaching from the west to access Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, and Blanca via Lake Como Road
- And well, also approaching from the west for California Peak (if the Centennials are part of your goal), which is accessed from an altogether trail head: Zapata Falls.
Three different trips to three different trailheads is a lot of bike riding for six mountains that sit close together. Visiting the eastern trailhead, then the western ones means either crossing a northern mountain pass (Mosca Pass), or going around the entire southern end of the Sierra Blancas (La Veta Pass) – I was willing and needed to do one, but not both.
Disclaimer right away: much of the gear I’m showing has been provided by me from the companies that produce them, and many of the links to their product pages to purchase the gear are affiliate links.
To my surprise, people seem curious in the gear I use that comprises my sleep system. I’ll be describing my current setup that I’ll be using for the Tour of the Highest Hundred, a two-month bikepacking and peak bagging adventure. Like everything, it’s a constantly evolving kit, that changes depending on weather, seasons, geographic location/environment, and conditions. There’s no One True Sleep System. My own sleep system is constrained by some pretty crazy requirements:
I’ll be out from ~July 15th to ~September 15th, mostly in the Colorado high country and sleeping at an elevation from around 6,000′ above sea level to well, let’s say 12,000′ if I’m feeling frisky. I’m expecting temperatures at night from around 50 degrees F to well below freezing and foul weather including wind, rain, sleet, snow, grauple, and everything in between. Mostly though, I’ll be hoping for clear, calm nights, and the occasional monster thunderstorm. My sleep system has to protect me 100% from precipitation of all the forms listed. Even one night exposed to a freezing rain could be dangerous.
For the most part, I’ll be sleeping at trailheads of the Centennials, around 6,000′ – 10,000′, well below treeline in the subalpine forest. I’ll have ample opportunity to find enough flat ground to at least put my sleeping bag down. In rarer circumstances, I’ll be camping above treeline, around 12,000′, so I’ll need a system that doesn’t rely on using something like a tree to set up my shelter.
For lack of a better term, my sleep system really just needs to keep me sheltered from any weather and to be warm enough – it’s not going to be a basecamp for weeks on end as I lay siege on a mountain, or a place to whoo a ladyfriend – or even to play an extended game of cards well into the night. I need it to be easy to set up and take down without a lot of fuss, and flexible enough to work in different environments. I don’t want to take a lot of time to find the perfect spot – I want to get there, set things up within minutes, throw some food in my mouth, and pass out underneath it.
The Fundamental Parts: Tarp/Bivy/Bag/Pad
My sleep system is comprised of these four parts that, when put together, can keep me relatively comfortable in all the extreme cases I can think of. What’s even better, is that each one is really optional, so I can make decisions on just what I want to set up, given my current circumstances.
The GDMBR in yellow; alternative in red
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is without a doubt one of the preeminent off road touring routes in the US/Canada. Now that I’ve ridden the route essentially twice and have done some extensive touring within Colorado, I can’t help but think how one could enhance it.
Personally, I enjoyed my time more when the route stuck close to the actual Continental Divide, rather than opting to drop down into a relatively easy going valley or basin to gain some mileage towards the end goal (finishing!). I always greatly anticipated gaining the summit of the passes, then rocketing down. Knowing Colorado a little more intimately now, it’s a shame how much of Colorado is missed with the relatively easy path the GDMBR takes.
The GDMBR has many goals, and one of the most important one is to get a heavily laden bicycle and rider (cyclists on a mountain bike, pulling a trailer) eventually to the end of the route. If the route is too long, too hard, and/or with too many Divide crossings, it’s just never going to realistically happen for a good majority of people. If we throw these constraints out of the window, and focus on the goal of staying as close to the Divide as possible, while also keeping the route terrain somewhat similar: gravel roads to 4×4 trails, we start drawing out something a little different.
Below, I’ll be describing a route that takes you off the official GDMBR just before Ute Pass, and rather takes you up and over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, parallels the James Peak Wilderness as you travel south to Idaho Springs, then brings you back west to go up and over the Continental Divide again at Argentine Pass, finally depositing you once again onto the official GDMBR in summit county. It circuitous and it’s a whole lot of fun .
The Front Range 14ers Grays and Torreys make an excellent beginner 14er hike – it was one of the first 14ers I ever did. Being so close to the Front Range Urban Corridor – less than an hour from Denver, it still affords some dramatic changes in environment, not the least because of the sweeping ridgeline going West to East to Northeast from Grays Peak, and ending essentially at I-70. When hiking up (or driving, I guess) up the beginning of Stevens Gulch, you can’t but feel that the world is closing in on you, and you’re now entering a different place altogether.
You may also, like me, have the urge to be on top of this ridge line. Not many obvious entrance points present themselves from the start of the Summer trail head to Grays Peak, to the summit of Grays Peak itself. The ridge is rocky and broken, with much rockfall danger. You could, and people have, find a weakness in the ridge to climb up, but I don’t suggest it. In this route, I outline what is sure to be a classic traverse over the entire Steven’s Gulch; bagging you two 14ers, a Class 3 ridge scramble, and at least 2 13ers – one of which (Mt. Edwards) is a Centennial. If that’s not enough, you’ll also go over a mountain that used to be labeled a 14er, McClellan Mountain – actually height: 13,587′ which faked out turn-of-the-century tourists!; as well as many smaller 12ers, in your hike to close out the loop.
Some stats of the route as I describe it:
- 14.5 miles
- 7,000 feet elevation gain/loss
- mostly off-trail, w/Class 3 scrambling
- no easy bailout point after Grays Peak
- crampons/ice axe recommended until late in the summer season
This route is not to be underestimated, it’s a requirement to get an alpine start, and to not be afraid to bail, if weather comes in (bailout points are noted, below). Be strong in your logistics game.