Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mountaineering Leadership with Colorado Mountain College Leadville

   The clouds hung low over the Arkansas Valley shrouding the Sawatch Range. Cool wet winds reminded us that this has been a moist summer through out the entire Rocky Mountains including our field objective for the course Wyoming's Wind River Range.

Students on Monitor Rock
   As challenging as mountain weather is to any objective we set out on our first field day namely Monitor Rock on Independence Pass. Here we climbed the moderate Rainbow Route on fixed lines. Transitioning at anchors and wrapping friction hitches the class scurried up saturated and striated granite.
   The next day we took to the road. First we headed to the Front Range for supplies. Then northward into Lander Wyoming where we camped at the town park. In the morning we were on our way to Dubois in order to meet the horse  packer. Consider there are 13 people staying in the field for 12 days  this expedition style course required a resupply deep within the Wind River Range.
   After a quick lunch and a couple more supplies we were on our way to the glacier Trail head. Once at the trail head we quickly changed clothes then weighed packs to see how much everyone was carrying. Packs were loaded with 3 days of food, personal supplies and 3 person shelters. Packs weighed in between 72 lbs and 58 lbs. What a range!  The weight was proportionate to each cook groups meal plan and each individuals personal gear needs. While at the trail head we referenced the maps and estimated distance, elevation gain, and travel time to camp.

View of Gannett from Inkwells
   The first afternoon led us 6 miles up the trail into late afternoon rain and into a wet camp at Williamson Corral. On day two we headed over burrow flats. Then the class went down past Double Lake into the Downs creek drainage and up to Inkwells. In a huge day carrying big packs we covered nearly 13 miles. Once at Inkwells we crammed food and additional supplies for the remaining 11 mile approach to our high camp on the Dinwoody Moraine
   After a comfortable camp at Inkwells we prepared for the next heavy haul. Slowly we meandered along Dinwoody creek, across a bridge and up past treeline to our camp adjacent to Elk Lake. A short night at Elk Lake led to establishing camp on the Dinwoody Moraine. While this landscape was referred to as "being on the moon" I see these types of landscapes as "of this world." That planet earth is in reality as rugged as any place we could imagine. However since we are of this earth we feel as though we can survive here but not on another celestial body. But the reality is that this high moraine, this barren landscape devoid of most animals and an occasional human, devoid of most plant life, and filled with glaciers that seemingly stand still but once our human pace has slowed their movement becomes apparent we realize our survival is not guaranteed and we are left with this impression of our world.

Sunset at Elk Lake camp

Dinwoody Moraine Camp



   Once we set up our tents and grabbed some food we quickly set out on the glacier to discuss snow walking and glacier walks with crampons on steep snow and ice. Also we covered ice axe positions and use.

Kip Demonstrating Rope Team Skills


   In addition we covered rope team techniques such as kiwi coils, tie ins, and pre-rigged prusiks.

The Class Headed Upwards
The next day we went up the Dinwoody glacier to cover self arrest with an ice axe but without crampons. Once we found a north facing slope with frozen snow and a good sliding surface we practiced self arrest. Initially we slid feet first on our backs, next was head first on our stomachs, then head first on our backs. Once everyone demonstrated adequate self arrest techniques the class headed up a nearby couloir. On this route we used simul-climbing and running belays with snow pickets for protection as each student plunged their way up the 35 degree snow chute.
   As the weather stabilized the rope teams took the opportunity to go for a summit attempt on Gannet Peak, Wyoming's highest at 13,809'. An early alpine start of 4 a.m. led us through the headlamp lit moraine. Once below the steep toe of the Dinwoody Glacier we applied crampons and started up through the dry glacier using french and 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock crampon techniques. After reaching the wet glacier the teams quickly encountered our first crevasses and this prompted us to rope up and provide some protection as we navigated around sagging snow bridges and open crevasses. Along the way team leaders employed hip and terrain belays using nearby boulders as anchors and using our bodies as belay devices. Eventually the glaciers slope eased and we reached the wet glacier where we meandered to the base of the South Gooseneck Couloir. We crossed a bergschrund to enter the couloir then climbed, clipping snow pickets, planting ice axes and steadily plunge stepped until we reached the exposed wind blown scree near the ridge line. Next we scurried along the ridge to an exposed 32 degree snow slope that took us to our final traversing summit ridge. Under blue skies in calm winds, over wet snow, along a spine of rocks we reached the summit. While there was a prominent rock precipice generally the summit is flat and covered in snow.
The Class Headed Up South Gooneck Couloir
    Finally the time came to head back down the mountain. Across the summit ridge down a slope of snow another ridge line took us to the standard Gooseneck Couloir for our descent. At this point I was given the opportunity to place pickets for the group. My rope team and I headed down slope in sloppy snow conditions. We descended starting with a plunge step and eventually we faced the slope to down climb. This allowed us to be more stable in a self arrest position. With Kips oversight I work hardened the snow as I drove the pickets into the snow, clipping our rope in, and continuing our descent. We reached a bergschrund at the bottom of the couloir. Negotiating the schrund was easy but a little risky as it was only a matter of feet to inches from punching through the snow bridge into the gaping crevasse below. Everyone made it down the couloir and onto the Gooseneck Glacier down to the standard trail, through scree, across the creek and back to camp.
Hauling 6:1

   The next day brought us rest and recovery after a long day on the mountain. However we did have a ground school covering direct and indirect haul systems.

Ryan Above Moraine Camp


   With only a few days left in the moraine camp our next objective would be a sub peak of Mount 
Woodrow Wilson. Another early morning under dark skies with a fresh few inches of snow we left camp through the moraine, up the dry toe of the Dinwoody, around crevasses, and onto the wet glacier to reach a nice steep slope of snow to gain the summit ridge and out to the summit prominence of the day.

   On the descent we rappelled 3 times. First off 2 equalized snow pickets. Next off of 2 equalized ice screws. On our last low angle slope we arm rappelled.
Students Rappelling 
   Due to an unforeseen injury we left camp the next day, down through the Dinwoody Moraine, past Elk lake and to a trail side crag. Here we covered traditional protection placement and anchor building as it pertains to the alpine environment. After a short climb integrating hip belays and natural protection  we continued down the valley, through an aspen grove along the creek and back to Inkwells for our final resupply and a hefty loading of carbohydrates.

Double Lake Reflection
Over the next two days we meandered along creeks, through forests, upon rolling trails, up steep sunny switch backs, past beautiful alpine lakes, below towering walls of pristine Wind River granite, over high mountain passes, among the big horn sheep and ghost ponies to arrive at the Glacier trail head.