Tag Archives: climbing

Never meet your heros

Mayflower Gulch (the location of which Instagram can’t ever seem to decide on – I’ve seen Breck, Dillon, Silverthrone, and Frisco suggested – apparently it’s actually Leadville) has become our most frequently repeated hiking area. It’s easy to get to… after you sit in I-70 traffic for many hours in both directions, very scenic, has plenty of mine ruins to check out, can be used as a trail head for at least three 13ers, and is always loaded with snow in the winter so it’s a great backcountry snowboarding spot too.

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Summer conditions – lasts for like 3 months of the year
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The rest of the year conditions

There’s mining evidence all over the basin in various states of decay. In the back towards the Atlantic-Fletcher ridge there’s a surprisingly good condition cable tram tower that ran a bucket hoist to a mine sitting only a few hundred feet below Atlantic’s summit.

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View of the cable tower far below Atlantic’s west ridge
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At the cable tower, looking up to the mine (tiny black square below the ridge in center photo)

Incredibly, the 100+ year old lift cable is still attached to both towers. I remember seeing all this the first time we went to Mayflower a year ago and thinking it’d be awesome to check out such a secluded mine. It’s been kind of an unofficial goal to find a mine that’s difficult enough to reach that it’s basically been untouched since it was abandoned. Given that it sat at least 1,000ft up multiple cliff bands, this one seemed pretty promising. It also seemed pretty much impossible to reach, so I never thought about it beyond “would be cool if we could, but…” Every time we went back to Mayflower I looked at that mine and what appeared to be a pretty intact lift platform/loading chute and had the same “would be cool, but… it’s not possible.” But as our scrambling skills improved and I either lost my fear of heights or ascended that hyperbolic section of the increasing confidence curve right before an accident or close call sends it plunging to new lows (see: rule 64), looking up at the platform went from wishful thinking to determination and route finding. USFS maps confirmed a known mine tunnel and given the effort and expense that must have been required to build a tram run that I’d estimate at a half mile long and 1,500ft of vertical, certainly it was a very extensive mine working that would make for epic exploring.

Finally the day came when I looked up at the platform and a doable route seemed obvious – maybe even a few doable routes. The risk:reward suddenly seemed realistic. By all accounts it should be a very large, untouched mine, likely full of artifacts/cool shit, and at this point my opinion of the climb had gone from “impossible” to “it’ll probably go, maybe even easily.”

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Our actual route, which ended up being exactly the same as my initially imagined route. Hard to judge scale, but for size reference if there was a person at the base of the route, they’d be too small to see.

I’ve learned three rules after a year of being in the mountains out here.

  1. Everything is further away than it looks – much, much further away
  2. If a climb looks hard, it’s impossible. If it looks easy, it’s really hard.
  3. If the rock looks loose, it’s a death trap. If it looks solid, it’s really loose.

No exceptions to those rules here. Standing at the lower mine tunnel at the base of the climb, the rock was much looser than I thought it would be, the slope was steeper, and what was an obvious route looking at the entire mountain from a half mile away became disorienting and impossible to see beyond the couple hundred feet to each successive cliff band.

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The lower Gold Crest tunnel is the largest mine we’ve found so far

While getting ready at the lower mine tunnel, the dog took off after a mountain goat. In only a couple of minutes he was half way up and one gully to the west of the route. Locked in a stand-off with the goat on a tiny ledge, he wasn’t interested in listening to any commands and certainly wasn’t coming down on his own. If there were any remaining reservations about the climb, they were gone or ignored as we began up (at that point simply to get him down).

Due to a time crunch (had a really important massage to get to that afternoon), the focus on getting the dog, and the danger of the route, I took almost no photos during the climb. The dog was eventually called back over once we reached parallel to him and I had the pleasure of climbing with him tied to me the rest of the ascent and descent. The route more or less alternated between very loose gullies/dirt between the cliff bands and easy class 3 climbs on solid rock and/or slabs through the cliff bands. None of the route was exposed and none of the climbing was technical. Nevertheless it was slow and tendous with careful route finding being necessary. By far the largest objective hazard was rock fall, with literally everything small I touched coming out and plenty of large (fridge sized or more) ready to go with very little prompting. Thanks to the uniformly steep slope, everything that went, went all the way to the base of the climb.

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A little ways below the platofrm. Lower 1/3 of route drops over cliffs and is out of sight. Cable run visible to the upper left.
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The mine still looked promising at this point.

The crux of the climb actually ended up being trying to get onto the lift platform, which overhung the slope significantly (easily 30ft+ off the ground at its most outer point) and was located on the steepest terrain of the climb, leaving only a scramble over very large, very loose rock to the left, a 20ft 5th class block up the middle, or a “run fast and hope for the best” crumbling sand/rock ledge to the right. We went right and pulled ourselves up to the most disappointing climax of any climb so far.

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Platform with semi intact dump chute precariously overhanging the cliff 20+ft. Whatever was on top of the platform is totally obliterated by rock slides.
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The only… anything… not completely demolished. Lift cable is snagged in the chute, NOT still attached to the pulley. Could fall out at any time.
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Maximum disappointment. Mine tunnel went in 15ft, took a 90 degree right turn, then was completely blocked by the strangest wave of floor to ceiling ice that I stupidity got no picture of. Why the hell was there a wheelbarrow?
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Coolest (but totally not worth it) find of the day… carbonated Gatorade (gross). Left it for some other disappointed climber to find.

I think we spent a total of ten minutes at the top, mostly to eat, because there certainly wasn’t anything to explore. The views were incredible and of course it was a “route” totally free of other people, which is always a bonus. I also managed to find a drill bit for a souvenir. But otherwise it was a tedious, fairly risky climb and the biggest reward was a vintage, canned Gatorade (which was actually still full).

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Views were certainly incredible. Thankfully the route was south-facing and totally free of snow, unlike everything facing north.

I’d still do it again though. I’m not sure why people say, “never meet your heros.” I’d rather know that I totally overhyped them; that up close they’re decimated by rock fall and blocked by 6ft of ice. Why would I want to keep staring at them delusionally and building them up, always wishing I had gone for it? The only real problem is that I now need a new hero.

 

 

 

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Survival of the least stupid

Within the last few posts on this blog I’ve begun to develop this odd idiosyncrasy requiring me to get the title image up before my brain will get into writing mode, even when the image has little or nothing to do with the post itself. Getting the first few lines down is always the crux of any written piece (at least for most people) and this has become just another barrier standing in the way. Luckily, being the problem solver that I am, I outsmarted it this time and used it as the opening lines.

 

i-am-so-7gtovh

 

This weekend we backpacked in to Crystal Lake and did the Father Dyer and Crystal Peak (both 13ers) loop on Saturday. The RunCam managed to survive the sub-freezing night and I was able to get some helmet video of the scrambly part of the Dyer ridge for anyone with the patience to watch it that might want to see what a typical summer route on a non-walkup 13er/14er looks like. I was merciful enough to insert some music to help pass time through the boring sections of video. I did this route last weekend in totally dry conditions and the addition of slippery snow/ice in exactly the places it needed to not be definitely took the difficulty and danger factors up a notch or two, but it was still perfectly doable and safe with extra care taken.

 

Semi-related…

We’ve been out-loud reading Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales very, very slowly for at least a month now, so we figured if it came with us on our backpacking trip this weekend we might actually be able to make some progress on it during our downtime. Of course, downtime during our trips tends to be more wishful fantasy than reality. But thanks to the not-so-comfortable evening temps of alpine camping and some hurricane force wind, we were able to find a little reading time this weekend. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m not sure if it was the exhaustion from the climb, the cold, the lack of useful content in the book, the repetition of ideas, or Gonzales’s confused, annoying writing style, but I called it quits that night.

We bought the book for obvious reasons. Many in the outdoors community consider it a must-read. Gonzales basically has a single idea in the book that he repeats ad nauseam: people die in survival situations because emotion takes precedent over logic and they make poor choices they had no control over. This is every chapter. Over and over and over. Interlaced with some flowery, metaphoric, and overly descriptive story writing that belongs in a poetry book. I have no idea how this book has the rave reviews and “must read” status that it does. The book’s tag line is “who lives, who dies, and why” but, bafflingly, Gonzales never actually answers the question. He describes (in the most, almost comically, over-descriptive manner possible) story after story of people NOT in survival situations getting killed by what he determines to be this emotional “short cut” system leading them to choices that are evolutionarily logical, but not appropriate in the given situation. The issues here are twofold. First, nearly every situation given as an example is NOT a survival situation. The examples are of people engaging in high-risk activities rather than fighting for survival. Second, in all his flowery narratives of these events he wasn’t even present for, he seems to have forgotten Occam’s Razor. He never actually presents any evidence that ties all his cited psychological research stew to the death of even a single person in his examples. The ties repeatedly made are only his opinion – and he seems ok with that, reinforcing his opinion by adding completely fictional inner thought narration to the soon-to-be dead person.

Maybe in example after example of people making stupid decisions during high-risk activities, the explanation isn’t some uncontrollable, complex feedback loop of subconscious emotion buried since our caveman days, but rather, people making perfectly conscious, controllable, rational (but piss poor) decisions in situations which are not kind to poor decisions. After all, that is what makes high-risk activities high-risk: there is little to no room for mistakes in actions or decisions. Maybe in his often repeated example of snowmobilers killed by an avalanche they created, the decision to charge up an avalanche-prone slope they were warned not to go up was made consciously. Maybe egos and male group dynamics (don’t want to be the “pussy” in the group) won out over the assessment of potential risk. Avalanche fatality statistics have shown the benefit of additional eyes and experience offered by extra group members peaks at a very small number of people, with each additional group member actually increasing the likelihood of poor decision making in avalanche terrain. Gonzales not only never touches on this, he doesn’t even brush by it. Maybe what got those guys killed was the all too common and deadly “it’ll never happen to me” mentality.

I’ve been in the type of situations Gonzales repeatedly cites. It’s not a “survival situation”. It’s a high-risk situation in which you’re faced with a choice. Every time I’ve made a choice in those situations, I’ve made it consciously after weighing my options and running them through logic and reasoning (even when things are happening quickly), just like all the people in his examples did (though he isn’t interested in examining that angle). Every time I leave the house to climb, I remind myself that getting home again is more important than summiting. It’s why I turned around within a very literal stone’s throw of Atlantic’s summit earlier this spring (though I’m still annoyed by that situation to this day) and why I’ve abandoned or rerouted several climbs over the winter due to avalanche potential. Even this weekend, I knew small amounts of snow on the route was not only possible, but likely. I knew that even a tiny bit of residual snow or ice on the wrong hand or foot hold could turn a fun and easy scramble into a bad situation. After an hour and a half drive on a Friday night, backpacking in two miles in the dark, and hiking up to the ridge on a freezing cold morning, I still would have pulled the plug and gone back home if I was uncomfortable with the situation. Every other person that’s playing in the mountains and surviving keeps that same mentality near and dear to themselves: err on the safe side and live to try again. Even my dog was capable of looking over multiple route options before moving and avoiding ones where the difficulty to exposure ratio was out of wack.

That’s not to say that all incidents in the mountains come down to decision making. Some people draw life’s short straw and have a bad day. No one is immune from bad luck and that’s why sometimes even the best decision makers don’t come home. This is when all the internet mountaineers come in to Monday morning QB the situation with after-the-fact woulda/coulda/shouldas that no non-psychic person could have possibly acted on during the incident. But bad luck aside, if you’re the type of person that snowmobile charges up avalanche terrain on a “red” day, then your days in the mountains are numbered (it’s a small number too) and to blame it on some deep, subconscious human thought loop that was uncontrollable means you’re either horribly naive or trying to sell a shitty book.