| This Ain't No Picnic!
Dallas Peak. For the last couple years, this one's stuck out in my mind as where the buck stops in my quest for the centennials. I am not a rock climber. I no longer live in the San Juans. I get tired after about 5000' of gain. Teakettle went by without too much trouble, but this one looked to double or triple the challenges and--hopefully--the exuberance on its summit. When Brian (lordhelmut) mentioned back in May that he and Ben (Benners) were planning on this peak, I was all ears. I don't know squat about placing protection and wouldn't be going after this one without the kind of partners you can trust for everything from picking up a sixer of IPA on the way to the TH to being totally solid, competent, and dependable on the mountain if things go wrong. With these two along, I figured I had a shot. Once we recruited Tom (tommyboy360), I knew good times were ahead, no matter what the outcome.
In 2007, I hiked up Uncompahgre Peak for the first time, and had a stellar day. One of the highlights? I met Ben (Benners) and his buddy Stewart on the summit. Five years later, and we're dumbfounded we'd never hiked a single peak together. We sure picked a winner for our first time out. Here goes...
In researching the peak, we came across a bunch of fine reports from the Mill Creek TH, particularly the ones from the Los Alamos folks...
Scott and Amy's Party of Three (how's parenthood, you guys?)
Strudolyubov's recent photo journal ..and some others that document well the trip from Telluride.
We also read with interest Furthermore's report from the Blue Lakes side. It's the only one. There must be a reason for that, right? Since we all had to work on Friday, the idea of sleeping 45 more minutes before this peak started to grow on us. Longs with two hours' sleep is one thing. This looked to be on another level. I petitioned the author to get his take on whether we ought to try Dallas from Blue Lakes. The response?
"If I were to go again, I would do the Mills approach despite the extra driving."
I dug my heels in and pushed for Mill Creek, reviewing and printing out TRs from that TH. However, men make plans and God laughs. Tom and I left Denver a couple hours late, and Brian and Ben hit I-70 only to find that the Eisenhower Tunnel was closed. Shite. As it got later, the group consensus moved toward Blue Lakes, and we chose sleep and scree over smooth(er) sailing. In hindsight, while this proved an amazing day, the lesson is clear:
LISTEN TO FURTHERMORE.
The alarm went off at 3:45, and I was on the trail at 4:30. Our forecast wasn't stellar (30%), but we compromised with this start time, figuring the extra hour of sleep would make up for any chance of storms. We stormed up the Blue Lakes trail in darkness, arriving just with the first rays of sunlight. We took a food/water break and considered our options while enjoying generous alpenglow that persisted for a few hundred feet of ascent.
We headed up the grass at left, then toward the middle of the photo and to the right.
The route ahead
Morning light warms the peaks
"S4" and Blue Lake from a little bit up
We kept telling ourselves that the rock wasn't as loose, footing nearly so bad, our dispositions hardly as nasty as we'd expected from down below. Somehow, on "big" peaks, I manage to put on blinders, to forget about how hard it's supposed to be, and just put one foot in front of the other until the job's done. It worked on Capitol. It worked on Teakettle's miserable dinner plate approach. Somehow, we make this happen again. Making any and all effort to divert our attention from the suckiness of this slope, topics of conversation flowed from the ridiculous name (and stellar academic achievements) of New York Jet D'Brickashaw Ferguson to Al Bundy's obsession with the Ferguson toilet, to the facial expression of one who has just finished the centennials upon Dallas Peak (we should be so lucky), to carrying a keg up the Coxcomb, then tying Missy to it and throwing it off the summit, just to see how much of Bill's bandwidth could be wasted with pissing matches, LNT preaching, felony crusades, and faux sentimentality (no, we'd never do that--wasting beer is a crime, and I love dogs). None of that is what the mountains are about for me, but this kind of scree nightmare can bring out the darkest part of the imagination in the nicest people...
Up we go!
Tom and Brian on the best rock until we reach the saddle
As we approached the top, things got progressively less pleasant and Furthermore's words rang loudly in my head as the multitalented Paula Abdul returned to the record player in my head. Damn you, woman!
Fortunately, the 12945' saddle came quickly enough, and we got our first view of Dallas' remarkable summit towers.
The approach looks trivial from here right? Ha! This peak gives you nothing. Nothing.
As we motored over toward the towers, things began to look more interesting, and we saw the first sign that others had been here before--a Karen!
Lacking much beta, but knowing others had success on this route, we pressed on, figuring we'd find a way. Ben contemplates what lies ahead:
Photo by Brian
We cruised around the block seen at left and found some interesting terrain.
We were faced with an uncertain traverse across steep scree gullies, class 3-4 rock ribs strewn with loose garbage, and undulating gullies. Down. Up. Across. Up some more.
At this point, the sheer size of this mountain and magnitude of our endeavor became apparent.
Here are some shots of the journey.
Before we lost the view, I took a look over at Red Mountain.
Photo by Tom
Photo by Tom
Approaching a 4th class section
After topping out on the 4th class section, we found a rappel station and gave a few seconds' thought to whether we'd use it on the way down. We continued to the bottom of the 4th class entry to the summit tower's base. Here, we stopped to don harnesses and drop non-essential gear. A tandem of climbers spoke very little to us, but started up while we munched on a few pre-summit snacks. With blue skies shining on us, we gave them a few minutes to get ahead. I heard Willie Nelson canceled an appearance in the Front Range recently d/t illness. I said a prayer for him as we waited and his classic sound chased Paula from the space between my ears. The other climbers had passed on, and our moment was approaching. We made our move.
Ben puts his ass into it
Here's a shot of this section without Ben's arse splayed across the center.
Once through this, we found one of the other climbers belaying his guide. We waited. Suddenly, my hands were cold.
Was I nervous, or was it the wind blowing with clouds covering the sun? I wasn't sure, but I sure as hell wished these two would hurry up. The last of the two climbers was very courteous, warning us each time he approached sections of loose rock so we could take cover. Thanks. Here's a shot of the belayer and the first section of the summit pitch.
Once he let us know he was clear, Tom took off and soloed to the summit. We put Ben on belay and he shot up the pitch in no time.
Ben sets anchor (Tommyboy photo)
Again, I'm no rock climber, and I've stayed home all summer while Brian and Tom head to Clear Creek and North Table to climb. Somehow, I've managed to pull off all kinds of peaks using only sheer determination and faith in myself. Sink or swim. I tied in, sacked up, and climbed up. The first move (5.3) is really the only "rock climbing" move on the route, from my perspective. I started on the left to avoid stepping over the rock, put my foot onto a corner, and pulled myself up. Whew! Brian followed me and cleaned up the pro Ben had placed, which, thankfully, no one needed. The remaining sections are 4th class/5.0-5.2 and go quickly, as the exposure lessens once past the first move.
Look at those calves! Eat your heart out, Bean.
Exposure (Helmut photo)
Brian followed right behind me and suddenly we were all on top! This one felt good--really good. Forget the spellbinding views of Sneffels, Teakettle, and Blue Lake. Who cares how many centennials I have left? Not me. No summit ever feels pedestrian--reaching the highest point of any peak--from Two Buttes to Mt. Rainier--fills me with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that doesn't come from many other things. But... Standing atop Dallas Peak was something I wasn't sure I'd ever find myself doing. Damn, it felt good!!! Brian was on top within seconds, and we let the moment sink in. It wasn't long until I was hungry.
Jimmy John's and Sneffels. Top that!
A big CMC group, complete with walkie-talkies and a trip leader, had preceded us and was ensconced in the long process of getting everyone rapped down. We knew we'd have plenty of time, so we settled in, perused the register, and enjoyed sublime views. BTW, congrats to 14ers members Uwe and Zeekzilch, as well as 14erworld holdouts John and Renata Collard, who'd rapped down before we topped out. The register held plenty of familiar names (people I've actually met, like Carpe DM), too. Here are some shots of our time at the top of Dallas.
Sneffels, Teakettle, Potosi
Summit Gapers (Benners photo)
Crackheads (Tom photo)
After about 30 minutes of enjoying ourselves, we decided that Deviant Dales at the car sounded pretty damn good, and Ben set up the rappel. He went first, followed by Tom, me, then Helmut. It's a sizable drop, one that gets interesting as you drop through a hole.
(Photo by Tom)
Once we were all through, we returned to the spot where we'd dropped our extra gear, chatted with two wildly attractive French women now living in Telluride (one of whom looked me in the eye and told me flatly, "I need a boyfriend who can climb this"), and headed down. I suddenly wished I'd never moved to Denver...
We tried to retrace our route, but stayed too high, leading to some difficulty and some resounding Helmutisms, the likes of which I've never heard. With dark clouds over the Wilson group and distant thunder urging us on, we beat feet back to the saddle that drops almost 2000' to Blue Lake.
At the saddle, we realized the weather had shown us mercy, but this slope wasn't about to.
Putting it mildly, this ain't no picnic! It was more like what mountain climbers do in Hell. Rocks too big, dirt too hard to ski. Rockfall that could easily turn deadly. For the first 200 feet of this, every step unleashed a torrent of tumbling talus. We spread out. Ben moves like the wind on this stuff and beat the rest of us old timers down with enough time for a nap at the lake. I could hear Furthermore laughing at us. I cursed gravity, scree, pain, and anything else that crossed my mind, knowing it was all just to pass the time until I arrived at the shore of Blue Lake. Eventually, we got there and chilled out. I soaked my feet in the cool water and was grateful to be alive. What a gorgeous place to relax!
The hike out went quickly, but 3.3 miles still affords time to reflect. I couldn't have been happier. While our route choice definitely added suffering and extra effort to the day, I was left with the kind of contented satisfaction and cheeriness that comes around once or twice a year in the mountains, no matter how many times I get out. While I never really doubted I'd make Dallas Peak, the fact that we had really didn't sink in until somewhere on trail out. Thoughts of upcoming pizza and IPA at Colorado Boy Brewery in Ridgway took over, and before I knew it, I was chowing down and comparing photos and impressions with Tom as we filled our growler and headed to meet Ben and Brian at the Courthouse Mountain Trailhead over in the Cimarrons.
This was an amazing day with the best crew I could imagine. Thanks, you all. I'm looking forward very much to the Weiminuche in a couple weeks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):