Monday, June 12, 2006

14er update, the latest on the Sangres

Over the weekend I hit the Sangre de Cristo mountains to climb Little Bear Peak. Normally, this time of year, there can still be a fair amount of snow in the high country, especially in shaded couloirs like the ones that lead up to the summit of Little Bear. But this is not a normal year. The Sangres had almost no snow this winter, and a warm spring has dried it all up.
When we headed up Little Bear Saturday, we only saw one patch of snow, about the size of a city bus, near the top. Not that it was smooth sailing. In the crux couloir near the top of the mountain, which many climbers call "the bowling alley" because its shape tends to funnel rock fall down into a narrow corridor where it has K.O.'d more than one climber, we found ice instead of snow.
Little trickles running down the rocks had frozen during the night and made the bowling alley as slick as a skating rink. My partner and I had to swing out onto some exposed V Class rock to avoid it. It was one of those climbs where at some point, just for a moment, you realize you could really hurt yourself, so you better not screw up. I was particularly thinking this because my buddy is about to get married and if I brought him back mangled, or worse, I'd probably get in trouble.
But of course everything was fine. We reached the top and had it all to ourselves. The view was sublime. On the way down, we scrambled down the ice using an old rope left in the couloir, which was a little scary, but better than any alternative we could think of.
All the the Sangres are now snow-free. We drove past the Collegiate Peaks on our way back, and they still have quite a bit of snow. The season is in full swing. Climb away. Bring your gaiters and watch for lightning.
I have five more fourteeners to climb and I hope to finish them all this summer.

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