| Day of the Tortoise on Kelso Ridge
This winter I hope to expand climbing into Class 3/4 routes, so Kelso Ridge with early season snow/ice seemed like an ideal practice climb. My first suggestion of this plan was greeted with high enthusiasm by my partner, mattb528 and it was pressed into the schedule.
Sunrise on the trail
We set off at sunrise in nice conditions with low winds and temps in the low 20s. Fast hiking up the easy trail to Kelso Ridge warmed us well.
We stopped only for a quick viewing of our objective in the dawn light. I thought about the guy who fell hundreds of feet down Dead Dog couloir but get got away with just broken bones.
Pika at breakfast
A pika harvesting seeds for breakfast allowed us to capture a few shots of this usually shy beastie. Watching it go industriously about the business of it's life was a fun break.
Soon we mounted the ridge and continued to hike up the ridgeline trail. Exposed, we soon felt the wind rising and the cold became more obvious. The climbing soon became more serious with mild Class 3 walls made more interesting with some of the footholds hidden in snow. I found the scree slopes more challenging with snow and ice blending in to make a sketchy mess. My feet would slide occasionally and the steep slope promised a long and bumpy ridge if I were to stumble. Finally, I stopped to mount my microspikes and ...... wow, what a difference! With my feet now sticking in the sand and pebbles, I climbed on with doubled confidence.
The trail was less than obvious with scattered snow, and most of the sandy scree slopes to the right (north) where the summer route probably goes were uninviting when lubed up with powdery drifts. Most paths to the left (south) side of the ridge were loose and often very exposed so we usually chose the easy rock climbing over the top of the crenellations on the ridgeline.
My hands were getting very cold from gripping frozen rock, so I initiated a procedure of warming my hands throughly in my big mitts, then removing them to rock climb quickly and efficiently with my thinner gloves to the next point where the route returned to hiking and I could warm my hands again. I left my microspikes on for the rock climbing and while my footholds were chosen with care, my boots held to the rock quite nicely.
The rock climbing was very enjoyable but between concentrating on hold placements and working to stay warm we forgot to take pictures through much of the ridge. The famous knife edge had just a bit of snow on it, and we passed it easily but stepping down onto the white rock ledge afterwards required a bit of thought.
Next, we charged up the remaining steep slope to the summit and a fine view of Grays Peak. Remarkably, I got to hear mattb528 panting for the very first time!
mattb528 on the summit
Dave happy to be on the summit
A stiff breeze kept the summit break short and we beat it down towards the saddle. There was a bit of snow piled up on the first part of the traverse, so I kicked steps for mattb528 who did not have microspikes but he probably would have been fine anyway. We had met another climber, Eric at the summit who kindly offered mattb528 a trekking pole too. Thanks Eric!
After the traverse from the saddle, I began my customary run down the trail but mattb528 was hampered by the slippery trail and his lack of microspikes. We agreed that I would run ahead and Matt would catch me up with his faster pace when the trail leveled out a bit.
Jogging the trail in the warming day was relaxing after the tension of the climb. I kept expecting Matt, but he did not appear. I started leaving him mocking messages with hikers headed up the trail, about how some old, fat guy was blowing him away. Matt did not show up until 30 minutes after I reached the trailhead but I felt badly when he reported tummy issues on the descent. Still, Matt finished the route in under six hours on an off day for him. Oh well, when you are the tortoise on the team, you take wins where you can get them!
Back at the trailhead
It was a great day with a fine partner, and a fun step into harder climbing in winterish conditions!
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