Mt Sneffels, a blind climber, & pet goats

This would be an interesting day.  It started out pretty normal with a 0530 wake-up in the back of the 4Runner at the Yankee Boy Basin trail head at around 11,300' near Ouray.  I left the chicken-wired truck at 0610 and headed up the trail.  I decided to leave the crampons in the truck and ultimately would come to regret that later in the day.  I carried a rock helmet, ice axe, and micro spikes along with my normal summit gear. 

A ways up the trail I noticed 3 guys up on a scree field several hundred feet above the trail on what appeared to be a 12/13-er next to Sneffels.  It looked nasty to say the least and it really worried me as I was not anticipating a fight like that.  At first I thought they were on the standard route to Sneffels, but then realized they were doing something else and moved on.  I eventually made it to the standard route scree gully and started heading up the miserableness.  I ran into a dad and his 8 year-old son both wearing Wranglers and hunting boots.  After talking to them I realized he had climbed Sneffels a dozen times and lives nearby in Montrose.  I guess you don't need to wear Arcteryx and Patagonia to be a successful mountaineer.  You just need to be as tough as nails.

After a lot of miserable scree and talus hopping I made it to the top of the col at 13,500' and saw the final approach gully (the "Lavendar Col") to the summit.  The surrounding views of Dallas Peak, Tea Kettle, the Wilson/El Diente group, and Imogene Pass were absolutely stunning.  Unfortunately the view of the final 600' to the summit wasn't very stunning.  About 400' were covered in snow and ice.  I couldn't see the crux move (the V-notch) at the top, but the local Wrangler-wearing guy claimed it was a pretty straight forward class 3 move.  While he was telling me that I was asking myself how he was going to get him and his son up the couloir without an ice axe or crampons.

This is where I think I probably made my biggest mistake ever.  I put on my helmet and microspikes, tethered the ice axe to my belt and headed up the couloir.  I couldn't kick steps as the snow was still rock hard and microspikes don't have frontal spikes like crampons.  I used the pick on my ice axe to stabilize every step and continued up the col on all fours.  Unfortunately it wasn't until I was 3/4 of the way to the top that I realized I wasn't going to be able to safely get down the col.  My heart started racing realizing that I might not walk away from this one.  I had never learned how to self arrest and only had done one previous snow climb (Angel of Shavano).  

I continued to the top of the couloir and found the crux move at the V-notch.  There was no way I was taking my microspikes off as there was a large snow field below it, but there was no way I could make the leap and move while wearing the spikes.  Ugh.  This is where I really started to panic.  I took some photos and decided that I probably needed to get back down the couloir quickly as the sun was softening up the snow.  I spent about 5 minutes evaluating options and calculating my odds.  I figured if I made it to the other side of the V-notch and the summit I could probably go down a class 3/4 route on dry rock, but I'd much rather descend a route that I climbed up.  I've taken a lot of risks through the years, but for some reason I couldn't stop thinking about my son and not being able to introduce him to this stuff if I didn't make it back down safely.  I don't think I've ever had those thoughts before.  Perspective.  Ultimately I decided to quickly descend the snow couloir and quickly.

This is where I regretted leaving the crampons in the truck.  I couldn't kick steps with the microspikes, so I was pretty much on my stomach strategically placing each step while ensuring the pick of the axe was anchored before each move.  There were occasional steps from previous climbers (probably from the last few days) but they were so inconsistent that it was difficult to follow any pattern.  It was 400' of living hell.  By the time I made it to the rock band about 150' above the base of the couloir I was soaked in sweat and melting snow.  Thank God I made it.  I probably sat there for 15 minutes resting and reflecting on my poor decision making.  I should have never done that climb without crampons.  Or I should have just followed the local who took an alternate (more difficult, yet snow free) route.  That's when I made the video I posted above.

As if that's not enough craziness, it gets more interesting.  As I'm descending the remaining 150' of loose talus in the col there's quite a large gathering of other climbers preparing to head up the col.  I yell down to ask if they have axes and crampons.  Several folks reply with "no".  I explain the conditions and urge them to either turn around or head up an alternate route.   At this point I notice 2 goats on the saddle.  Wonderful, just what we need.   I notice they appear to be interacting with the people below.  WTF?!?  As I get back down the saddle somebody tells me that they're his pet goats.  Okay, now I've seen some crazy stuff on mountains, but I've never ran into a goat herder taking his pets up a class 3 gully.

Back on the saddle I pull out some water and food and am talking to a bunch of guys from Golden who were complaining about how the goats were kicking down rocks.  After talking with these guys for 5 minutes I learn that one of them is blind.  Yes, I said blind.  Apparently the 2 others were guiding him and to make it even better he had climbed Everest 15 years earlier.  I know, I know.  Insane.

Anyway, I spent the next 2 hours getting back down to the truck with the blind dude and his guides.  I figured that I probably shouldn't complain about the loose scree and talus on the way down as I could actually see what I was sliding on (vs. him).  I guess I just need to put things in perspective more often.  That made what would have been a miserable descent into a painful, but interesting route back to the truck.

I technically didn't summit Mt. Sneffels today, but I did get to 14,005' and had a thrilling snow climb.   All things considered the views were stunning and the weather held up.  I made some bad decisions, but I still walked out under my own power and had a pretty good day.  I'm up to 36 distinct 14er summits now (would have be 37 if I made it another 145') and 44 summits with repeats.

I headed up to Montrose for lunch and debated whether to head back over to Cinnamon Pass to re-climb Redcloud & Sunshine or to head into the Weminuche to backpack for 2 days.  I decided on repeating Redcloud & Sunshine and ultimately couldn't be happier with the decision.  The Hard Rock 100 ultra-marathon was going on and the Redcloud/Sunshine trail head at Silver Creek / Grizzly Gulch was the 67.7 mile aid station.  Let's just say it was an awesome night.  I'll explain more about the HH100 later.