Thursday, October 4th, 2012
The final attempt to work on my project for this year. As some of us know change happens very quickly in the high country. The last time I was at my project on September 20th, it was a cozy 50 degrees with sunny skies and no wind, basically as nice a day as can be up at 14,000 ft. Unfortunately on such a perfect day I managed to forget my wrench. I did as much as I could without it, and headed back down. I was super excited as the weather looked good for at least a week. All was good on the hike down except for the one wrong step that led to a sprained ankle. Noooo!! This threw a monkey wrench in my plans and goals for the remaining time I had in Colorado. In addition to work on my project I had been training pretty hard and hoped to complete Jade (V14) and Vogue (5.14) in the same day and now walking any distance even on flat ground was a challenge. Well the good weather sailed along as my ankle recovered. Then the first significant snow of the season came to the mountain tops. I passed my time by doing as much gym training, overhanging sport climbing, and a little bouldering – albeit very cautiously and low to the ground. I gradually started up hiking again as pain allowed, hoping for one last visit to my project.
I watched the weather very closely and it seemed like Tuesday the 2nd of October was the day to go for it. With all the new snow that was not melting I knew that I must take the safe route on the south side which started at the Wild Basin entrance. I did some research and found descriptions that stated Mt. Meeker (13,911) was the hardest 13ner to summit in Colorado, but I felt it was for sure the safer route as the Loft (the route I usually took) had turned into an icy, snowy death trap… No consistent estimates of distance to the summit of Meeker could be found. I had bumped into a ranger a few days earlier and he said it was about 17 or 18 miles round trip to the top of Mt. Meeker from the Wild Basin. He had of course never been up there and seemed scared of the hike. I just wanted to avoid the snow so with a few silly delays I started up the trail marked at 8,300ft at 12:16 p.m. with my pack fully loaded and prepared for a big hike. As anticipated, the south facing slope was plenty warm. In fact it was pretty hot. I broke away from the Sandbeach Lake trail and headed off into the wilderness with only a slight foot path which led me up to a really nice meadow at the base of Mt. Meeker just below tree line. It looked good, meaning no snow. On the way up I passed through a really nice grove of bristlecone pines. The trees were really healthy and seemed to really like living there.
All was fine as I broke the ridgeline at around 13,000ft and even better news was that I didn’t have to summit Mt. Meeker two times to get back down, as I identified a path that skirted the summit and brought me to the saddle between Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker. This was great as snow had showed up at this point, around 13,200ft, and it had turned sharply colder with a brisk 50mph wind. I made it to my project at 6:35pm and it was viciously cold. The temp was probably 24 degrees with wind gusts in excess of 90mph. The sun was setting and all that could be heard was the howling wind and the cold cracking of snow refreezing from a slight melting from the sun. The harsh environment was literally crushing everything into a deep freeze. No work on the project today!! I rushed to snap a few photos before my hands were totally numb while watching chunks of snow that clung to the cliff slide below be ripped off the wall and flung 70ft or more into the air above me. I quickly departed as the sun was dipping below the horizon. I was pretty glad to be hauling 70lbs of pack weight back down the 11 or so miles I had to get back to the trailhead as that kept my blood pumping and warm. I made it back down to the safe hiking zone just before total darkness. The moon poked up over the horizon and made for serene pauses and rests on the way back down. I was very cautious and patient on the descent because that is what it took to make the 20+mile hike with 11,600ft of elevation change (approx. 5,800ft of that going up) possible without injury. I made it back to the car at 12:03am. My body hurt pretty much everywhere, my recovering ankle was pretty swollen. I was totally exhausted however I felt at peace and grateful for the whole experience. While no work was done that day I took the steps towards completing this project, by understanding what it will take to do it, and that I can do it! I’m in love with this pursuit and will take myself to a new level to try and attain this goal next summer!