- I soloed climbed route 17.1 West Slopes, from Gerry Roach's (1999) book, Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs Second Edition . This route starts from the Baldwin Gulch Trailhead, and is 16 miles RT, with 4,900 feet of elevation gain.
- I hiked up three miles (1h 48m) and camped above the summer 4x4 TH at just under 11,000 feet.
- I left camp at 6:30 a.m. and made the summit in 4h 39m. I stayed 10 min. at the summit, and it took 2h 10m to get back down to camp, and finally another 1h and 4min to trek the 3 miles back to the Jeep. The total time was 9h 53m.
- Overall Impression: This was a great route to do in winter or early spring for an easy mountaineering route. The route is straight forward with snow and ice and limited exposure. However, if done in the spring--snowshoes, skins, snowboard, ice axe and/or snow goggles/glasses would be extremely beneficial.
Trip Report (Part I - The Summit)
Leaving work on Friday afternoon, I headed out to obtain the peak of Mt. Aterno, solo. It was a three hour drive to the Baldwin Gulch TH, and I made it with plenty of time to hike up and setup camp so I could summit the following morning. I had a three mile hike to 11,000 feet (just above the summer four-wheel drive trailhead) where I had planned to setup camp for the night.
Since my usual responsible person (Ash) was away on a cruise with some of her friends, it was up to my friend Rew to save my life should anything go awry. I gave him all the info: Where the trailhead was, what route I was attempting, where I was camping, when I expected to be back, and what number to call should he not hear from me at the designated time. He is the perfect choice because I knew he would follow the schedule, not worry about me, and ultimately do the right thing if he needed to.
It was a perfect solo trip. I didn't see another person the entire trip. Furthermore, since there was snowpack the entire way to the summit, it was apparent that no one had done this route in quite some time (there were no tracks). I was able to be alone in nature with the creator. Nothing is better.
Leaving the Jeep, I debated with my sub-conscience whether or not to take my snowshoes with me. The 4x4 trail I attempted to drive up, was covered in ice and frozen snow, and I could see the summit and it appeared to be windswept and without snow. Therefore, I decided I didn't want to carry the extra four pounds of my snowshoes if I wasn't going to use them . . . biggest mistake of the trip. After about an hour of hiking on the 4x4 trail, it quickly became apparent that I was going to be "post-holing" for a while. However, I didn't want to turn around and head back down to get them and add another three miles on to my 16 mile trip. Plus, I rationalized to myself, when I leave early in the morning all the snow will be frozen and it will allow me to walk on top of it like a sidewalk all the way to the summit. I decided I'd risk the added frustration of "post-holing" for saving the extra mileage of turning around to retrieve my snowshoes.
Post-holing (Please skip this is you know what the term means)- When you are walking in snow, and your foot/leg inadvertently, and randomly breaks through the snow and your foot/leg creates a deep whole in the snow (like when digging a whole to insert a post). In my case there was about 2-3 in. of fresh snow, with a harder packed snow under that which supported my weight . . . most of the time. Occasionally, my foot would break this under-layer of supporting snow and my leg would sink to mid-shin, to knee, or all the way up to my upper thigh. This is completely random when it would happen. For example, say I'm stepping with my right foot, it could either land on the snow like I was walking on a sidewalk, or sink in unexpectedly one-three feet. So, say in this example, it sinks in up to my knee. Well, then my left leg tries catch the weight of me "falling." Then I move my left to pull my right foot out, now my left foot has the possibility of sinking in, or standing like normal. Thus it's a vicious cycle. It's hard to explain, but it's similar to Russian Roulette with each step. To say the least, it's not enjoyable.
With my decision to keep going, sans snowshoes, I noticed I had another situation creeping in. There were some hot spots developing on each of my heels. I stopped to investigate and noticed that I had small blisters (it hadn't even been an hour yet). So, I got out the first-aid and attempted to remedy the ominous situation. It worked good enough to keep going and get to my campsite.
The evening festivities were uneventful. They consisted of digging out snow to setup my tent, get in my bag ready for bed, melt some snow for water, and eating a delightful Cliff bar for dinner. Quickly, it was lights out and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I woke up ready to bag the summit. I quickly melted some more snow/water for the summit attempt, and downed another delicious Cliff bar for breakfast. I got dressed, setting my sunglasses aside, saying to myself "don't forget your sunglasses." I was out on the trail by 6:30 a.m.
Everything started out great: The trail was easy to follow, the snow was packed, which made for easy travel, and there was not another person for miles. However, the trail I thought was going to be easy to follow because it was wide, turned out to be just a snow drift accumulator above treeline. Therefore, after following the trail and taking one step forward and two back in the sand-like snow, I decided to forgo the switchbacks and just head straight up the mountain kick-stepping mountaineer's style.
By the time I got to the ridge between Point mountain (13er) and Aterno, the sun was out in full force, and it was a gorgeous "blue bird" day. I reached for my shades, and realized I had left them in the tent (I paused, gritted my teeth with the "you're an idiot expression," and threw my head back in disgust). Obviously, it was too late to turn around and get them, because I was only about a thousand vertical feet from the summit. Well, there was nothing I could do about it now, thus I mentally kicked myself for leaving them, and kept kick-stepping on my merry way.
Now, the ridge between Point and Aterno is probably nothing more than an energetic walk in the summer, but in the winter and spring, it becomes a little more treacherous. One side is jagged and rocky, while the other has a steep 1,000 feet slope of snow. I decided to continue kick-stepping and ice-axing on the snow side, because if I fell I could arrest myself with my axe, (which I did), and the worst thing that could happen is I'd have to hike back up a steep face a thousand feet. To add to the adventure there was a relentless wind that was blowing hard enough to make the traverse much more interesting.
This is the ridge, I stayed slightly on the right, so if I slipped, I'd slide down the snow slope
Finally, after about 4.5 hours of upward climbing, I made it to the summit of Aterno. It was a beautiful day, and very rewarding standing on the summit. I thought about turning around many, many times throughout the trip, but was very happy I persevered.
To start the descent, I really wished I had hauled my snowboard in, because the snow was softening and it would have been a brilliant ride, but alas I didn't bring my board (who am I kidding, even if I would have, I probably would have left it in the tent). I was able to glissade about 1,500 feet, so that made it much quicker and more enjoyable. Then, when I got down to the lower elevation, where the snow was softer, the snow wasn't able to sustain my weight and glissading was out of the picture for further means of travel. Every time I attempted it, I just ended up sitting in the snow. So I continued walking straight down the couloir, sinking in to mid-shin with each step.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. The further I descended, the warmer it got, which made the snow softer and the post-holing more prevalent. It was very, very frustrating but I was able to make it to camp, pack up, and head back down to the Jeep.
Trip Report (Part II - The Aftermath)
When I arrived home I noticed my eyes were dry and "tired." I watched a movie, then decided I should chill in bed early, opposed to staying up and reading my book. After about 30 min. or so of laying in bed, my eyes were becoming painful to keep shut, but when I opened them, they would tear constantly and abundantly. The more I kept them shut, the harder they were to open again, and the pain was increasing. I fumbled around for some Ibuprofen, and discovered a bottle of generic sleeping pills. I squinted at the bottle's label to see how many to take (just one, the directions read). I downed the IB and the sleeping pill, thinking that would diminish the pain, and I'd sleep it off. Much to the contrary, the pain became much worse. Each movement of my eyes brought increased pain. Have you ever tried to shut your eyes and not move them? That lasts for about eight seconds until they flutter uncontrollably.
I wasn't exactly sure what was going on, and didn't really know what to do. I had just watched a special on Mt. Everest where two climbers became "snow blind" after withdrawing their goggles for 20 min. on the summit. I feared this is what I was developing and I was without goggles all day! The pain was pretty excruciating. I don't have the highest pain tolerance, but this was nearing the top of my scale. When it reached the point where I had to take my hands to force my eyes open, I decided it was time for action. However, what could I do? I couldn't see; therefore, driving was out of the question. It was approaching 11:00 p.m., so I hated to call someone and say, "hey, if you're not doing anything would you mind taking me to the E.R." On the other hand, I couldn't call anyone. I have a touchscreen phone, and I literally couldn't open my eyes to dial.
At this point, I knew I had to go to the E.R., and I wanted to call my friend Matt, but ironically he couldn't drive because he had broken his tibia and fibula the weekend before skiing, and now has a rod and a myriad of screws holding his bones together. Anyway, I couldn't call him because I couldn't see to dial. Luckily, I knew I had called Ash last. So, I grabbed my phone and pressed what I thought was redial. She picked up (even though it was almost midnight where she was). I asked if she'd call our friend Roxanne (Matt's wife) and ask if they could pick me up and take me to the E.R.
Anyway, to shorten this unnecessarily epic story, Ash called Rox, and her and Matt immediately came to save the day. When they arrived, Rox escorted me from our front porch to the car and helped me into the backseat like a kind, gentle police officer. A few minutes later, the three of us arrived at the E.R. We must have been a sight (I wouldn’t know because I had a hand towel wrapped around my head). When we arrived Rox said, “Levi, wait just a min. I have to help Matt with his crutches.” So, Roxanne is guiding me making sure I don’t walk in front of a speeding ambulance, and Matt is hobbling behind us on his crutches.
Most of this is a blur to me (remember the sleeping pill I took about an hour ago?), as soon as we arrived, the nurse said “what happened to you guys” while looking at the three of us. Then she forced open my eyes, even after much complaining on my part, and gave me some numbing drops which were instant relief.
Finally, the doctor put some dye in my eyes so he could see better with his eye microscope thing. He said I had a severe case of “snow blindness,” (he called it some medical term of course) and I would be able to see again in 24-48 hours. He gave me some pain pills and special eye drops and sent me back out to my rescuers (Matt and Rox). They were kind enough to take me back home and walk me to the door, where I could feel my way to bed (where I didn’t leave for the next 16 hours) . . . it was heaven!
As I’m writing this, my vision is still a bit blurry, but I’m well on the road to recovery. Overall, it was a great trip. Yes, I decided to leave my snowshoes in the car, forgot my sunglasses, which lead to my hospital trip, acquired blisters on both heels, bruised my shins from post-holing in the soft snow, but through all of these trials, I found what great friends I truly have.
- Posted by Levi