Back from the Basin

We arrived in Durango last night and I will head back to Houston tomorrow. The trip surpassed all my expectations. I summited Mt. Eolus on Sunday. Alan Arnette finished his final 14er Sunlight Peak after a dramatic 24 hour battle with the weather and also summited North Eolus, Mt. Eolus, and Windom Peak. Patrick Vall sumitted Mt. Eolus and North Eolus. Kevin Martin, Anne Martin, and Robert LeClair each summited Eolus, North Eolus, and Windom.

It was a great adventure with amazing people. It all still seems very surreal at the moment but once I get back to Houston I’ll start work on a full trip report.

Windom Peak, Mt. Eolus, & Sunlight Peak – Follow the Climbs Live

I’ve spent the day checking and re-checking gear. The Osprey is finally packed – and a couple pounds lighter than when I left Houston. The gang is assembling in Durango this evening. On saturday morning at 9am the six of us (Alan Arnette, Robert LeClair, Patrick Vall, Anne Martin, and Kevin Martin) will board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train. The train will take us to the middle of nowhere and drop us off so that we can begin the over 6 mile hike up 3,000 feet to the Chicago Basin. There we will make camp and prepare to attempt Windom, Eolus, and Sunlight.

If you want to follow the climbs live you’ll have to get up early. We’ll be leaving in two teams each day. I’ll be in the first team and it will likely depart camp around 3-4am each morning. The first attempt will be Mt. Eolus on Sunday morning followed by Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak on Monday. For more details on the routes we’ll take and images of the mountains we hope to climb check out my earlier post.

I’ll be carrying a Spot Satellite Messenger on the trip since we will be far beyond cell phone range. To follow the climbs live just click on the “Track John” button to the right. I will also use my Spot to send status updates to Twitter and Facebook. Alan Arnette will also be carrying a Spot and his updates can be found here. Don’t miss his blog post about this trip either.

Before I go I want to thank the many friends, family, co-workers, and members of the online climbing community (from around the world) who have offered their support and advice. My nervous but incredibly supportive girlfriend deserves special mention. This has been a long and difficult (but extremely rewarding) process and my support network has helped tremendously. Summits aren’t guaranteed but just being in position to attempt them with great friends in one of the most beautiful spots on earth is reward enough.

Pass Creek Trail – Engineer Mountain Trail

I wanted to get in one more good workout at elevation before the adventure begins on Saturday so I drove out 550 to hike Pass Creek Trail up to Engineer Mountain. The trail covers just over a couple of miles, gains over 1,400 feet, and meets up with the Engineer Mountain Trail somewhere around 11,500 feet. My goal was a relaxed hike to 12,000.

The concentration of oxygen at sea level is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, the concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the barometric pressure is only 483 mmHg, so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. – The OA Guide to High Altitude

I was the second person at the trail head. The weather didn’t look great, it was damp and cloudy, but wasn’t especially threatening. I expected light rain, possibly even hail, but didn’t see either during the hike. The trail itself was pretty muddy from showers the night before but that didn’t present any real problems until the final 400 or so feet.

I moved quickly through the initial switchbacks. This is an amazing beautiful trail through alpine forest, small streams and waterfalls, and small lakes. I had the trail completely to myself until I reached the highpoint. Traveling solo in this kind of territory is new experience for me but I loved every minute of it.

I didn’t really notice the altitude until 11,300 but even then it didn’t give me too many problems. I had a little less power but felt great. Very few breaks were required throughout the hike and when I did stop to catch my breath I noticed that my recovery time was much improved. The few breaks that I did take lasted no longer than a few seconds. It felt good to keep pushing up.

Somewhere around 11,400 or 11,500 you leave the treeline and Engineer Mountain comes into view. The scene is stunning and well worth the hike. My camera phone doesn’t do it justice.

First View of Engineer Peak from Pass Creek Trail

First View of Engineer Mountain from Pass Creek Trail

A couple hundred yards up the meadow and you run into intersecting trails at the “T”. I was feeling strong so I took the steep rocky, and today quite muddy, path directly up Engineer. What followed was a bit of a struggle but fun. Slipping was a constant threat but my trekking poles and careful foot placement kept me moving up despite the mud. I had to occasionally move off trail a few feet but eventually made it to an awesome bit of rock that allowed amazing views of the valley and rock glacier to my left.

View from 12,050 Feet on Engineer Mountain - Back toward Pass Creek Trail

View from 12,050 Feet on Engineer Mountain

View from 12,050 Feet on Engineer Mountain - Back toward Pass Creek Trail

Back toward Pass Creek Trail

It had taken me less than two hours to reach this point. That’s not record time but I’m happy with the way my body responded to the altitude. I even briefly considered moving further up to around 12,500 or so but decided that I didn’t want to tackle the even steeper muddy trail above.

I hung out at 12,100 for a while. A trio of college girls (or recent graduates) caught up with me and said they were going to the summit. I wished them luck before tackling the steep muddy descent. The descent turned out to be easier and faster than anticipated – largely because I moved a few feet to the right of the trail, into a rocky gully, and avoided the mud. Once I was back to the intersecting trails heading down was predictably easy and fast. I moved quickly and only stopped to chat with hikers on their way up.

This hike was worth the trip in itself but my main goal was to test myself and get some altitude prior to our 14er attempts. That adventure starts Saturday morning with a 6 mile hike 3,000 feet up to about 11,200. I’m a little more confident (just a little) after this morning’s hike.

Hiking Above Durango – Raider Ridge

I felt surprisingly good late yesterday afternoon despite the fact that I’d been on the road since 3am. So after checking in and getting settled I took a trail across the road from the hostel for a short hike. It felt good to get the heart pumping again so after reaching the top of the hill, maybe 100 feet or so, I hiked back down, crossed the road, and started hiking the steep ridge behind the hostel.

The initial couple hundred feet was pretty tame dirt trail but I eventually found a steep, rocky, section that took me pretty directly up another 400 feet. The hiking was easy from then on but beautiful. Most of Durango was in view directly below me.

Hiking Above Durango

Steam from the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train as it pulls into town

Locals apparently spend a lot of time up here. There were several structures built from dead wood and stone – like these impressive chairs.

Hiking Above Durango - Interesting Seats at 7,400 feet

Interesting Seats at 7,400 feet

I eventually picked up about 1,000 feet of elevation before heading back to the hostel. Friends and family think I’m nuts for hiking the same day I arrived but it felt great to get moving – not too challenging at all.

Today will be a full rest day but there may be another hike Thursday. There are some easy trails nearby that pick up a couple thousand feet to 12,000. Whatever I do will be relatively easy because I don’t want to go into Saturday’s 6 mile +3,000 foot hike, and the climbs that follow, tired.

Summer Climbs Update

 
Planning for summer climbs has been heating up and it looks like things are starting to settle. Wetterhorn was an initial thought but it looks like a hike into the Chicago Basin with potential attempts at Mt. Eolous, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak are in store. Most of the group will be attempting all three but I will probably attempt Mt. Eolus (Class 3) and Windom Peak (Class 2). I’ll post more details soon.

Changes

It’s been sort of quiet around here since the Mt. Belford climb but training and planning for future climbs continues. However, some things have changed.

First, my former climbing partner Jermaine doesn’t have plans for any attempts in the near future. A new job and other issues require most of his attention. So the story of two out of shape guys getting fit and climbing mountains is now the story of one guy getting fit and climbing mountains.

Some of you will also notice that I’ve also merged a lot of my blog and social media channels. This site is still about climbing, and learning to climb, but it will also serve as my personal blog. You may see non-climbing content from time to time.

Twitter updates will continue but @TeamNSC will be phased out in favor of @johnwlittle. My tweets are not public but I approve most requests to follow – especially from fellow climbers.

Hopefully, these changes will free up some of my time and allow me to post regular updates. I definitely have more to say about training and the mountains ahead.

Back to Belford: Tracking John & Alan

Never Stop Climbing: Mt. Belford & Mt. Oxford Climb - Colorado 14ers

Mt. Belford & Mt. Oxford Climb

 
I leave for Colorado Thursday morning. I’ll have a couple of days in Leadville before meeting up with Alan Arnette for an early Saturday morning attempt at Belford and Oxford.

The first attempt at these mountains, earlier this year, was a posthole nightmare that took us to only 10,600 feet before turning back. We won’t encounter snow that deep or rotten on this trip although some early snow might make the trip interesting.

I’ll update this post periodically before the climb.

Final Pre-Climb Update
The weather forecast for Saturday’s climb is excellent. We were both able to safely cut some our heaviest gear since cold and excessive snow won’t be a problem. This helps.

We probably won’t be able to communicate once the climb starts since the area is somewhat remote. However, we will be carrying a SPOT Satellite Messenger that will allow you to track our progress via the link below. The SPOT should be active by 6am when we hit the trail. Its signal may not get out at times so don’t be alarmed by whatever you see.

Thanks again to the many of you who have been supportive of this effort.

Routes
Mt. Belford – Northwest Ridge (Standard)
Mt. Oxford – From Mt. Belford (Standard)

Satellite Tracking
SPOT Messenger Updates (?)

Twitter
TeamNSC – We’ll be sending periodic “OK” status updates to this Twitter account from our SPOT satellite messenger in addition to any other updates we can get out.
Johnwlittle (John Little)
Alanarnette (Alan Arnettte)

We may not be able to respond to messages during the climb but we might be able to read them so feel free to send them on. We’ll reply when we can.

Photos
Photos will be posted on Flickr

Weather
National Weather Service

Back in Houston

We’re back in Houston. We made it to 10,400 feet after significant struggle with sometimes deep, almost always unstable, snow. There were a number of issues and challenges but also a lot of lessons learned. We’re mostly happy with our effort – we definitely gave it everything we had and we learned much from Alan Arnette.

I’ll post a full trip report Monday. Many thanks to all of you who followed along and offered advice and support. The adventure will continue.

“Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory. A lot of people get focused on the summit and forget that.”
- Ed Viesturs quote

The Next Climb: A 14er – or Three

Never Stop Climbing: Missouri Mountain (Colorado)

Missouri Mountain

 
The best part of this project has been, without a doubt, the connections we’re making with climbers around the world. Our next climb is a perfect example of that.

We’re just getting started here but climber Alan Arnette has been a major source of support for us – providing much needed feedback, climbing tips, contributing a post to We Never Stop, and even volunteering to be the subject of our first climber interview. Now he’s offered to host our next climb – a valuable learning opportunity for climbers in our position.

The plan (it’s still evolving) is for the two of us to meet Alan and two of his experienced climbing buddies (Patrick and Robert) in April for camping and crampon/ice axe assisted climbing in the snowy Collegiate Peaks section of Colorado’s Sawatch Range.

Day 1
Drive to the trailhead and hike, likely with snowshoes, to a camp at 11,500 feet.

Day 2
Climb a long ridge to the summit of Mount Belford (14,197 ft – 4,327 m). We’ll break there before making our way over the saddle to the summit of Mount Oxford (14,153 ft – 4,313 m). From there we’ll make our way back to camp for the night.

Day 3
We’ll be climbing early – up a fairly steep snow wall before turning up a steep, somewhat exposed, ridge and heading for the summit of Missouri Mountain (14,067 ft – 4,288 m). We’ll return to our initial camp from there.

Day 4
Break camp. Search for steak and beer.

Needless to say, we’re pretty geeked out about all of this. It’s the perfect challenge for us at this time and fantastic learning opportunity. We also expect it to be a hell of a lot of fun. You can’t ask for more than that.

Stay tuned for more updates as planning and training continues.

Note: The photo of Missouri Mountain is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License by szczepan1990.

Back at Sea Level

We’re back, and as many of you already know we successfully reached the summit of Guadalupe Peak. The trip was highly successful. We achieved all of our objectives and learned a lot in the process. Extremely high winds, sub-freezing temperatures, and bad road coffee were just some of the challenges we faced along the way.

We’re processing photos, video, and writing the trip report now. We’ll be adding new content throughout the week. We’ll even have some reviews of some of the gear we took with us.

We’d like to thank all of you who are following us at this early stage, contributing your own stories, offering climbing tips, and generally cheering us on. Sharing our first summit experience with so many friends, family, and climbers is not something we’ll ever forget.