I am proud to announce the grand opening of PullHarder CO. That is not to say that Ian and Buster have not been pulling ridiculously hard in the Rocky Mountain state for quite some time, bronchitis but this is the first trip report to take place in Colorado and involve 2 Coloradans (I just got residency and registered my car here yesterday). That's right folks, viagra I now have mountains on my license plate and I live in a town called Boulder. And yes, denture I drive a Subaru Outback, have long hair, go weeks without shaving, buy organic food, Listen to Jam Bands, vote liberal, don't own a television, climb the rocks, and do many other things Coloradans like to do. Coloradans such as Ian and Buster also climb hard scary rock routes and free solo mixed climbs, the latter of which I was introduced to this morning...that's right, here in Boulder, CO, one does not have to drive very far to access all sorts of awesome climbs on 13,000 + foot peaks. Front-rangers simply wake up at midnight, drive to the trailhead, send, and are back in time to catch our favorite midday NPR shows and sip lattes (I don't like lattes). Welcome to Colorado.
Monday morning, 12am. I woke up with a sore ass from an embarrassing biking accident, after sleeping for a shitty 2.5 hours, jumped in the Subaru and drove to Micah's house to meet up with Micah and Buster (M&B). Buster greeted me with disheartening news. A weather system was moving in. This was serious news to me, having climbed mainly in sunny California for the past 3 years. Visions of the infamous "marine layer" flashed through my brain...terrible clouds, dashed sunbathing plans, and the horrors go on and on. We reached the Long's Peak Trailhead 45 minutes later, a light rain falling from nowhere in the pitch black morning hours. I followed M&B up a gentle well built forest trail. Snow patches on the ground became more frequent and soon the trail was covered with heavily tracked hard snow. Only the abnormal amount of fallen pine trees, a result of Colorado's Pine Beetle infestation, suggested which forest we were in. Otherwise I could have been out for an evening stroll in the monotonous Appalachian woods, the sound and occasional rendezvous with streams, and the falling snow, always the same. By the time we broke treeline, the snow had stopped, and a pale morning light dispersed through the blanket of clouds above us cast the bare and rocky high alpine landscape in a colorless tone. It was sunrise and the clouds had not lifted, nor could we see more than a couple hundred meters in any direction. Buster made the call to turn back. At first I felt the utter devastation when faced with a failed climb. But M&B pointed out that we could simply come back and do it later in the week. No 5 hour drive to the mountains, no deadline to be back in San Diego, no worries man. Welcome to Colorado.
Friday Morning. 2am. The stars were out as I drove up to the trailhead to meet Buster. I had only slept for 4 hours, but had taken 3 mg of Melatonin, something I had read about in Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight, so the sleep was restful and I felt ready to send. We started hiking at 330am and reached Monday's turn-around point 30 minutes faster. The sunrise was spectacular, with clear skies overhead and a fleet of smoky silhouetted clouds suspended over the eastern plains. The sun had fully risen by the time we reached the base of the route, but was still hidden behind the eastern ridge of Mt. Meeker.
Mt. Meeker was named after Nathan Meeker, former agriculture editor of the New York Tribune, who founded the town of Greeley, CO in 1869. It has been rumored that Nathan Meeker also invented the Winter Cock Jam, which is simply a standard Cock Jam done above 12000 feet between the equinox and the solstice. At 13,911 feet, Mt. Meeker is overshadowed by its taller and more famous neighbor, Long's Peak (14,255). It is in fact meeker than Long's peak, whose east facing Diamond wall is Colorado's most impressive and challenging alpine rock face. But despite Meeker's relative humbleness, it holds several impressive mixed routes. The most famous of which loomed above us as we dawned crampons and double ice tools. The Dreamweaver culior faces Northeast, and gains roughly 1700 feet of elevation from moderate snow slopes , up through several narrowing crux sections of mixed rock/alpine ice, and ends just below Meeker's summit ridge which is gained by a couple hundred feet of class 2-3.
At only 21 years old, Buster is the youngest climber on PullHarder. But his age belies both his prowess as a mountaineer and his experience in the high country. He had previously soloed this route 5 times, and has a reputation as ice climbing ropegun. This would be my first time using ice tools and my first summit attempt in CO. We had brought a 30m, 8mm rope which I carried in my pack and Buster had several ice screws and some scanty rock protection. Feeling a bit scared by the unknown terrain ahead, I suggested that we rope up and begin simulclimbing so that if a hard section was encountered, Buster could place some protection and possibly belay me. But Buster said that the route would be cruiser and that we could rope up if needed. I took that as a sign I should shut my mouth and step it up.
The culior turned out to be mainly a snow climb between 45-50 degrees with 4 or 5 distinct crux sections. The cruxes came when the culior narrowed and steepened for sections of 15-20 feet. We took turns going first so that we could snap some pictures and video. I remember stepping up to the first crux section and about halfway up, Buster started giving me an impromptu ice climbing lesson. "just maintain 3 points of contact." The last 2 cruxes were the most committing and required some finesse. The overall climbing was moderate in difficulty, but never sustained for more than 20 feet. We both used a leashless system, having the tools tethered to our belay loops via dynamic shock cord. Before I knew it, we had cruised past the technical sections without removing the rope from my pack, and the only difficulty I had was my SLR camera, which was attached to my hip belt, getting in the way while trying to mantle over an icy bulge.
Cresting the summit revealed a panoramic view of Rocky Mountain National Park and the painfully flat expanse of eastern Colorado. The summit block of Mt. Meeker is big enough only for one person, and we both took turns braving the high winds to get these glorious Pull Harder poses on the top.
The 3rd class descent followed some snowy ledges and tallus down to The Loft, a giant plateau which rests between Mt. meeker and Long's Peak. From there, we glisaded for about 1000 feet down a 45 degree snowy slope. Buster went first and got some video of me coming down...notice the part where I hit an icy block in the snow and scream like a pansy (see video).
We had summited in just under 5 hours, after 3 hours of approaching with about 3200 feet of elevation gain , and another 1.5 hours on the 1700 foot route itself. If roped up, this route could involve 8 or more pitches and take over 5 hours. Evidence of this can be found on Mountainproject and Summitpost, where people report approach times of 4-6 hours and roped climbing times of 5-8 hours, making for 12+ hour days car to car. It took Buster and I roughly 7.5 hours car to car, including some unnecessary pausing to take photos, adjust layers, and drop high altitude deuces.
The proximity of the Rockies to the town of Boulder, and the magnitutde and diversity of the range is clearly the main draw for me. While The Long's Peak/Meeker cirque offers incredible rock and ice routes, it also offers easy access and hoardes of hikers and climbers (the parking lot was completely filled on Friday by the time we returned to our cars at 11am). There was also a pesky helicopter delivering supplies for a new stone ranger hut which is being built in the base of the cirque. Unfortunately, the Rockies cannot compete in the areas of quality or quantity with the sierras when it comes to rock climbing, and the front range does not offer the solitude of the backcountry high sierra. But every mountain range has its price, and what the Rockies lack in quality of 5th class alpine rock routes, they make up for in vast beauty and accessibility. Weather is also more of a issue/concern in the Rockies, but while this can make for less pleasant ascents, it provides an opportunity to hone trip planning and inclement weather experience, both of which are essential for climbs in the greater ranges. There are many similarities between climbing in CO and climbing in CA. The tingling of Alpine glory in ones nether regions is still the same in both the Sierra and the Rocky Mountains, hand rolled cigarettes can be found dangling from the corners of many a mountaineers' sunchapped mouth, the sun still rises in the east, heralding the arrival of warmth, and sets behind the western peaks bringing an instant chill.
Pull Harder CO will surely yield some awesome experiences, especially at the hands of Ian "rockmaster" Huang, and Buster "the iceman" Jesik. Hopefully I will prove myself worthy of a witty mountain nickname in the near future. Although there are several lifetimes of climbing in this vast range, I still long for the clean white granite of the Sierra Nevada and the consistent weather of the golden state, but my eventual return to the Sierra, whenever that may be, will surely be much appreciated and seen with different eyes. In the meantime I can rest assured that the CA hardmen and hardwomen will continue to pull nice and hard.