Housemate Nolan wanted to do the Flatiron Quinfecta for his 25th Birthday Challenge (climbing the standard east face route of each of the five numbered flatirons) and I was happy to help him make that happen. I started off guiding him on the the easiest flatiron routes just a few months ago.
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.
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.
I’ve long since seen, “mountaineering” as the ideal stage in which to set my practice of suffering in the outdoors. Although I’ve certainly danced around mountaineering, I’ve done so only on its periphery. I borrow its terminology with jealousy as the basis on how I explain the other disciplines I practice. For example, Alpine Style: going light and fast. That’s exactly how I explain bike races I do, that take weeks to finish. I also describe no-holds, lightning-quick bike rides as, “Disaster Style”, which itself is coined by alpinist, Kelly Cordes.
But, mountain biking is not mountaineering. Nor is trail running really, nor even rock climbing in the classic sense. They all take a small aspect of mountaineering and focus on this one thing, disregarding the rest. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do. But mountaineering – I want to imagine at least, comprises a large set of skills to be competent in, to allow you to reach your objective and come back down alive.
So when Peter Bakwin and Kendrick Callaway invited me to climb the Notch Couloir with them – truly a classic mountaineering route on Longs Peak, I was excited to take it on, as well as relatively scared out of my little head. As much as others may want to believe, I’m not the boldest of climbers.
After crossing the finish line, letting out a long slow exhale, a big smile – and then a little cry to myself in the corner of the parking lot: my 2015 Dirty 30 was in the bag @ 5:50:33. Relief.
The days leading up to the race were a little less than ideal: I caught a cold! Right when the weather relented from the weeks of rain, rain, rain. I missed a few runs I wanted to do, and exchanged them for very easy sessions of spinning on the bike indoors, or doing nothing at all. Better to let the cold pass, than to potentially make things worse. A bit too sheer of a drop off for tapering for my tastes, but it’s what I was given. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I have years of base building, I’ve been relatively injury free all year – save a small hamstring strain I’ve consciously worked to prevent in the future, and I’ve been PR’ing all over the place. Time to line up!
The morning of the race started for me at 3:00am. Awake, I rode my bike to C’s, and she drove us to the fairgrounds parking lot, where I caught the shuttle to the start, while she slumbered in the back of the Sub for a few more hours before her own 12 mile race. Waking up four hours before the race seemed less than ideal, but it gave me plenty of time to drink coffee and graze the food I brought: raw cashews, dates, oranges and bananas; without being overly caffeinated or giving myself cramps during the race itself.