Sunday, April 30, 2006

A fun beat

There are days when you know it's going to be a tough day. Maybe you get QQ, your first hand after six orbits, and it runs into KK.
Saturday I knew was going to be tough, and it had nothing to do with poker. I was up at 3 a.m. and left my house at 3:45 a.m. to climb my first mountain of the year.
It was a beautiful night. The stars shone, and the forecast of less than 20 percent looked good.
And then I reached Copper Mountain, a few miles before my turnoff near Breckenridge, and it started to snow.
It was the same feeling I would get after getting that QQ. You gotta be kidding me. My first climb (my first hand) in a long time (in xxx orbits) and I run into snow (KK)?
The weather, however, cleared a little as I headed up the road that would lead to the trailhead. My partner greeted me and said the weather looked good, huh? I glanced up. Blue sky.
And then I saw the clouds racing across the sky like big, white, poofy aeroplanes.
Uh oh.
That means wind. Wind means ugh. Especially in winter, when a strong wind can turn a cold day into a frostbite-inducing terror.
I wanted to climb Peak 10 and Crystal Peak near Breckenridge. Many don’t chose to stop at Peak 10.
I didn’t really choose to stop there, either, but I did.
Saturday I attempted Crystal, a 13,852-foot peak, to try to knock off one of my Centennials, one of the top 100 peaks in Colorado. Now that I’ve finished all the 14ers, I’m going for those next, in the hopes of finishing them in the next 15 years.
I enjoy climbing in the winter. The mountains are even more beautiful, you don’t have to worry about thunderstorms or roasting in the heat, and the snow can be really fun, giving you chances to slide down some slopes and plunge step down others.
But, as Saturday showed, winter can also turn Colorado’s peaks into challenges worthy of any mountaineer.
Crystal, when hiked through the Spruce Creek Trailhead, isn’t much more than a difficult day hike in the summer, something you don’t want to take too lightly but well within the reach of anyone in good shape and some understanding of a peak’s potential dangers.
Saturday we faced steady, punishing winds of more than 30 mph, slapping the wind chill down to sub-zero temperatures, clouding our visibility and sending the snow pellets up to sting our faces. Our packs were loaded down with ice axes, snowshoes and extra clothing. And walking in snow is always harder than walking on bare ground, no matter how much more fun it is.
Hiking in the area would be fun regardless of the season, even if you don’t want to climb Peak 10 or Crystal. Once you take the Crystal Creek Road after traveling 300 yards on the Spruce Creek Road and make it just above treeline, you’ll run into Francie’s Cabin.
The area is beautiful, with outstanding views of Father Dyer, Mount Helen and a chance to visit Lower Crystal Lake, and the cabin gives you a place to stay for the night. For information on the cabin or to make a reservation, visit
If you want to continue, follow the Wheeler Trail, which is marked with large carins (we could see them even with all the snow). Continue up and soon you’ll see Peak 10’s summit.
The final ridge that leads to Peak 10 is an exciting walk but shouldn’t give anyone the willies. The summit is a quaint little spot, like a den with just enough room for a chair and a typewriter. I’m told skiiers like to get high there, but I was already feeling a little dizzy and chose my gatorade and my (ironically named) summer sausage and cheese instead. The views are inspiring enough.
If you want to continue to Crystal, head down to the saddle between the two peaks and climb the steep ridge to the summit. In the summer, it won’t be anything but a climb up talus, but in the winter, bring your ice axe and some confidence on steep snow.
Mistakes compound each other in the mountains. I didn’t get enough rest the week before, thanks to my infant son, Jayden, so leaving the house at 3:45 a.m. was especially painful. It was so cold my water bladder froze, which meant I didn’t hydrate enough, and I didn’t want to eat in the cold, but I didn’t eat enough breakfast to get away with that. And I didn’t bring goggles or enough face protection, so the snow stung my face and made it impossible to see.
I really thought training for my half marathon, something I’ll do next week, along with my previous experience, would make me strong enough to overcome any obstacles.
But what I needed to remember is that the mountains, sometimes, will win even when you’re at your best. On days like Saturday, they don’t need any help.
I didn't get to summit my main goal, but I did get to climb a peak.
It was a fun day and a tough beat. Sometimes the two do actually go hand in hand.

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