Decided to climb Thursday. Was going to go for Mount Meeker at first, but decided against it, since I'd have to leave the house at about 2am to do it, and start on the Longs Peak trail in the dark. I had been at sea level for almost 3 weeks, and wanted an easier time, so I opted for Apache Peak 13,441 ft, in the Indian Peaks. I LOVE the Indian Peaks, they are beautiful, rugged and much less crowded than their neighbors in Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park.
[Just another day at the office (I'm not spoiled or anything):]
I got up to the park about 5:30am, pulled in next to one other car in the lot, and started hiking about 5:45am. A little past sunrise. I am more selective about hiking in darkness this year, especially if I'm alone...since I had the creature incidences last summer. I'll get back to that later in the post.
I wanted a snow climb, so I opted to check all the snow routes out on the approach and see what looked good. I made decent time getting up to the glacier, I wasn't in a hurry...around 9am I was at around 12,500 ft. There were routes on the east face of the mountain, but they looked steep, I was hoping for a more leisurely climb being solo, so I kept going up to check out the northerly "Queens Way" route. It was supposed to be "moderate" and I knew the snow would be more crisp being on the north side. I got up there, and Queens way looked really steep to me. So, I went up next to it because it looked more gentle and thought I could traverse over to meet it at it's top. The snow was perfect to kick steps into. My axe was getting solid purchase 6-8 inches down...nice.
[Red line: Queens Way (the RIGHT way), Blue line: Becky's plan to avoid the right way, Green circle: water world...abort mission:]
Turns out the way I went was more gentle at the base, but more gnarly at the upper parts. But I thought I'd stick with the plan. When I got to the top of the glacier I suddenly heard a bunch of rushing water. I heard it earlier, but was so focused on getting to the top that it didn't register. FYI...rushing water under you while on snow slope/glacier = bad. I topped out next to the cliff and proceeded to look down into the 1 foot wide but 20 foot deep precipice between me and the rock, viewing said rushing water, as it came down from above, skirting the rock, all the while under the snow slab - not in plain sight - rushing down the rock beneath me where it disappeared under the snow. I was on a slender shark fin of ice/snow, balanced basically in thin air parallel to the rock and above this melt water stream at the top of a 55-60 degree snow slope. How slender? Well, on my last step up to look over the top my axe punched through...that's how slender. GREAT....
[See, it sounds bad, but I'm still having fun, yes I'm hanging on the side of the glacier here, but not the gnar part yet, couldn't afford the frivolous use of arm up higher on the tough stuff:]
After standing there for a minute processing my options, I realized I had NO options. There was no point in trying to get onto this rock band because the entire top of the glacier was in this condition...for as far as I could see either way. Falling here was not an option. Self arrest was not going to be easy on a pitch this steep. If this thing I'm standing on collapsed, it could trigger a big slide with me on it. Descend immediately FOOL! I have never been forced to down-climb such a steep snow slope, so that was interesting. It's a much more unnatural movement, down-climbing, so everything was a little uncoordinated.
Some things to note if you find yourself in this situation: You'd better have a solid belay with your axe, since you can't totally gage the quality of the footstep you're stepping into until you already have stepped...They aren't as deep as you think they should be. They may have melted out a bit since you stepped there before. Maybe you need to kick a new one. It's easy to slip with all these variables. You have to look down between your legs mostly, occasionally around the side. So your neck hurts after a while. Be ambidexterous with an ice axe: My right arm started getting burnt from all the axe duty. I was punching it in as far as I could get it in. For a brief time I tried to switch over to my left arm...but it wasn't coordinated or strong enough to get the job done. I hit my thigh one time with the pick of my axe pretty good with bad aim punching it in with lefty. I'm lucky it didn't break the skin. That was the end of that experiment. Just call me Popeye-arm-Hulk-neck.
I got back down to a reasonable pitch after 20 minutes and started considering my next move, after all, it was only 10-something-o-clock...I was considering traversing the 100 yards or so over to 2/3 up the Queens way route, as from my current perspective, it didn't look so steep. Just as I was about to start kicking my next step in that general direction, my left instep cramped up. You know...that cramp in your foot where you cant really do anything but scream until it's over. And you really CANT do anything but scream until its over when you are perched on the side of a glacier wearing crampons and mountaineering boots. I guess this was my feet's way of voicing their opinion on the new plan. I stood there for another couple cramp rounds and called it. Descended about 100 more feet, took off the crampons and started my 1000 foot glissade down the snow slopes = MAXIMUM FUN. At least I could then walk through the oncoming cramps vs. just standing there and taking it helplessly.
[Blue line: Becky's route up, Green line: down climb (STEADY) then glissade...wheee! Red circle: two dudes and a dog going up to ski Navajo, the cone shaped one on the left in the first pic. (you THINK you know how big it is up there, but then I always toss in the people shot and then you REALLY get it, huh?)]
I guess I got what I wanted...a nice hike/climb around on a glacier, on a beautiful day, a nice big glissade, a tinge of danger mixed in to get the blood pumping...what more could you ask for, REALLY?
I'll be back soon, Apache...soon...to claim my summit.
So I'm hiking back down and I hear this person walking behind me. Nothing creepy, he was making plenty of noise and keeping distance. There were people all over the place at this point...noon-ish. He stayed behind me all the way down...then when I came out to the car, turns out it was the dude I parked next to early in the morning. I asked him if he was the one behind me coming down and he confirmed...then he said he was the one also that I briefly encountered at Lake Isabelle early in the morning...I had forgotten about that. Gave the wave to a dude early today right where the trail branches...he went up the Pawnee trail, while I went the other way up to the glacier. He told me he was up here hiking at about 4am (IN THE DARK) because he was a photographer and wanted to get some early light alpenglow shots up at the lake. AND that consequently he will not do that again, since at some point he stopped hiking for a minute for a routine adjustment/rest and HAD SOMETHING GROWLING MENACINGLY AT HIM IN THE DARK but didn't see what it was. Just crapped his pants and got the hell outta there. THAT, my friends, would have been me last year, and would have been me this year, had I not waited for some other sucker to distract the "thing" first.
That's it, I need hear no more. I now OFFICIALLY hold the stance that the creatch is everywhere at all times and you'd better at least be in the light to see it coming if you are going to piss it off and invade its space...