Chapter 7: Sparks, DUI, Dark Pyramid, Fall Gathering, Aspen Castle
"Probably not good to risk death while driving to a mountain to risk death again." -- Roald First a thank you to Craig and Kevin for putting together the Fall Gathering thus giving me an excuse to notch another in 2012 before closing my first 14er season.
If I don’t find adventure, seems like adventure finds me.
And so. . .
Instead of I-70, opted for US-24 out of Limon, riding through Colorado Springs and the night with a goal of an early Aspen morning into the Maroon Bells Wilderness. But out of Limon the bike runs increasingly rougher at higher speeds until an inefficient 45mph top end dictated stopping under the porch light of a tow garage in Lake George. For dozens of miles I had been mentally troubleshooting, ruling in or out causes and settled on the ignition points as the symptoms fit: gradual degrading of top speed, reaction to throttle, etc. No spark; no go. Rough spark; rough going.
Care to guess where there nearest set of points and condenser for an over 30-year-old European bike would be in the middle of the night? Why in my tankbag of course! A half-full freezer bag containing the motorcycle first aid equivalent of little parts, spares, and building-blocks-of-improvisation that in concert with the bikes tool kit yields great get-you-home confidence in the boonies.
Pic from the web showing where you adjust the points gap with a screwdriver, which is always more fun with the advance unit in place (necessary). Points location shown at front bottom of motor on the end of the camshaft.
So after replacing the points, setting the gap with a feeler gauge, setting the timing statically with a pair of jumper wires I made attached to the new condenser and ground at one end and the bulb+reflector terminals I removed from the turn signal pod on the other (why pack a test light when you can make one out of the existing parts of the bike?), I can get back under way.
With this set back duly noted by my chronometer, I fire up the bike and resume west once again fully capable of the legal limit. It isn’t long before I encounter a driver who’s possibly dancing with another legal limit.
As I close, the sedan has an inconsistent speed, crosses the centerline at times, the fog line at others, and even drives with the right wheels on the shoulder, both the two feet of paved and beyond. To keep it interesting, an unclear combination of turn signals and 4-way hazards are also thrown into the mix until he finally stops on the shoulder. I give a wide berth as I pass the now stopped import telling myself, “Perhaps it’s mechanical, like a tie rod or ball joint going out making for an unpredictable ride the driver is just relieved to get stopped safely.”
Then in my mirrors I see him pull back onto the highway and follow me. Oh joy. So much for mechanical. Looks like he’s “broken down” in a different way, one that now has him uncomfortably close behind on an undulated two-lane through the forested darkness. Joy. Given the challenge staying within his lane occasionally poses him and the remoteness, there are few points to turn off with a good margin of safety until I come upon a rest stop, well Wilkerson Pass and info center, that the road broadens into multi-lanes allowing for moving far left before slowing and letting him pass with plenty of boogey-room and outs if needed.
Wilkerson Pass: it looked just like this... but black.
Answer nature, adjust scarf, and resume the road. Even with that lead, his inconsistent speed and the valley floor allow me to see that he’s still weaving as his headlamps vary from illuminating the yellow or white lines even while he’s farrrrr away. Subsequently I’m behind him, again, and performs another weaving-shoulder-signal-lights display before pulling over for me to pass again. Uh, no thank you.
I pull over as well and pop out my cell that I powered up at the pass and enter the code for a popular model by Porsche to reach a group who also likes an excuse to drive fast. Meanwhile, the driver turns on his hazards, then off with headlights, off with hazards, off with park lights, in an apparent attempt to employ the ultra-expensive factory option: the Kia Kloaking Device. Too bad he didn’t read owners manual, you know, the line that says, “can be defeated by interior dome light”?
Did you know the lowest BAC you can have and still get a DUI or DWAI in Colorado is 0.00?
Dispatch gets the road, direction, mile marker, but vehicle color is problem at night and passing vehicles lights don’t help much at this distance other than to say it’s not white. So I shove the chocolate bar in my helmet, verify she can still here me, and do a slow roll by calling off the license plate number and color as I do. She copies, but guess what turns on? And pulls back on the road? And tailgates? With highbeams? Then lows for a second, then back just so I know they’re high (Ooh! Ooh! Double entendre!).
I relay the latest nagrivating twist and she says CSP has been notified and she needs to let me go (perhaps to coordinate). I keep it below the posted limit like I would with any tailgater to give them ample opportunity to use any of the passing zones, not that there isn’t any oncoming traffic at this hour. Despite this, I still have a muffler-leach for a few miles until finally he passes, during which I cover the brakes should it boost his eclipse speed enough to ensure he merges ahead of, not into, me.
He’s clearly not happy with this situation, but the safest place is behind him, well behind him, and I’m now on the lookout for any gumball-topped cruiser with a bitchin’ front bumper. He tries pulling left at US-285, likely wanting to follow US-24, then moves far right and stops so I can take the left ahead of him. Uh, no. He pulls farther right and into the highway, perpendicular to (non-existent) traffic flow to entice me with a wider berth. Uh, no, as turning down to my park lights with signal still flashing on the shoulder convey. I’m behind (Ooh! Ooh! Second double entendre), but I can wait.
He takes off… fast. Well, an import family sedan ain’t going to lose a bike in the mountains. No need for me to push it, though, just be consistent unlike him. Couple miles and I see a vehicle in a wide gravel turn out, but this one has a broken right tail/brake light. No, wait. Same one, same game, as he goes lights out parked off the road, so do I much farther back but still in the turn out. I’m not passing only to find out what he has planned for Act Three.
After a while, he peels back out onto US-24 allowing me to resume progress toward Aspen. And after many more miles he passes an oncoming sedan with a ski-rack silhouette… FINALLY! I triple-honk as he passes me, see that he U-turns, triple-flash brake lights, and wig-wag my turn signals thrice as in, “Yep, this one.” He closes behind me but neither passes nor flips on the cherries-n-berries so I begin to slow as I pull right and wave my left arm ahead thrice to point, “Ahoy, matey! Yar fish be yonder!” and thus he goes round disappearing over a crest. A sigh of relief.
Maybe the response would have been faster with one of these?
Several loping curves later there’s Christmas lights in the valley. Per prior instruction from dispatch, I pull off behind, way way behind and wait. It’s still totally dark, but by the time a jovial, badged lad finally comes back to talk to me it’s full light –- no alpine start today, Yogi Bear. Though partially blocked by the cruiser, I’ve seen they’ve had a conversation, a look-n-point as a “ooooh, what happened here” with the right rear light, a leaning against the trunk, a back up cruiser arrive, and an equally well-attired lad escort the driver as he does a knee-bent shuffle across blacktop to a very secure backseat.
Now walking back to me, my first question to the trooper is, “I know I have to appear if called, but I have to ask if he gave you enough rope that I won’t have to commute 700 miles one-way to court?” which would be a worthy but nonetheless steep price for me to pay to ensure he doesn’t walk after swerving at an oncoming Goldwing (distinctive headlights they have), striking something while driving, much less all the above.
“I observed him weaving and he had a broken taillight. Either is reason to pull someone over.” He nodded when I asked if it was all downhill from there. “He was REALLY gone. You probably saved his life. You know how bad he was? … He thought he was driving TO Colorado Springs!” Hence, he says I don’t need to fill out a report, but he would appreciate one. I oblige and after filling out a page and a half of details (Who? Me? Wordy?) with cold motorcycle hands, the pull-offs, questioning and FSBs under the lamplight of a shiny hydrogen/helium ball in the sky.
We’re at a bridge near mile marker #222, and a later approximation on my return trip puts the start of the encounter around #260 – wrong way for over forty miles worth of signage. Mechanical, medical, or influenced, I’d just hate to anyone needlessly impacted, even the driver who could have issues unknown to me. Only other time I’ve done this was a guy pinballing off curbs and medians through the suburbs at night. May not seem scary unless you’re there -- 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of steel, glass, and rubber can do a lot of remodeling.
(Outcome for driver added in comments section.)
I draw the consolation prize of seeing the Ivy-League Points and Independence Pass in full color without further hindrance.
What be these, my dear scholars?
‘Tis NOT a bad prize, truth be told!
I’ve caught the sunrise, though be cold.
Coils of blacktop, unwound and unrolled,
Thru evergreen swaths, ‘twixt aspen gold.
Hmm, Independence looks just like Wilkerson, but without the black.
Riding straight through the night really harshes one’s iambic tetrameter. Holy carp, have I really gotten back to writing about mountains?! Sating my McHunger in 'treetown' frees me to the Bells overnight* lot to make a summit pack and put foot finally to trail at 11am (* no way I’ll be done by 5pm). We’s be hiking, we’s be!
So up the now-familiar Crater Lake trail, and turn to the EAST behind the Pyramid cairn, and continue sniffing out the proper trail amongst socials and ‘sites at a goodly clip.
Maybe the pre-CFI trail went this way, but I remember going left, opposite where the arrow points.
North Maroon at switchback by a recovering area. Oh, that's like, what, five minutes from here? From the amphitheater lip.
Up the CFI rock steps switchbacking to the amphitheater’s spout, three large cairns mark the transition to open talus – so large as to remedy off-route forays of yore. I can only imagine how many climbing groups have had to prod their geo-tarrying friend to get their schist together and pick up the pace. Some had striking hues or pyritic glitter which the camera didn't catch well.
Dear Mr. Pyramid, may my pine-boxed shadow NOT be foreshadowing Cairns (not Karens) leading to a trail on the right of the bowl.
Doubling back across from a trail I found to the west, I hear, then see, others picking their way down the loose 1,000’ foot slope to the ridge. First a gal who turned back sub-peak. Then her two summited friends who beta that it’s no worse than North Maroon. Last, a solo who said he was turned back “by a wall” he couldn’t get around near the toop. Stands at fifty percent now, but will Pyramid hold a forty or a sixty edge at the end of the day with me?
Vestigial glacier shot as I suck it up on the slope... looking up... and down at the last hiker I passed. You can make out the trail in the upper middle. There's cairns leading between it and the base of the slope.
Pulmonarily, the slope was the roughest part as riding from 1,000’ elevation less than 24 hours prior to do a 1,000’ steep ascent often has me stopping after just two steps from dizziness, light-headedness, and a couple small headrushes. Each time I bias my stance into the slope, uphill knee bent, downhill locked, and a hand brace if convenient. So much for residual acclimation, I compensate by dropping it into Low 1 step-wise and my ascent time shows it. I figure at least the ridge will offer respite until… Oh no. Not again!
Further up... I see... these guys.
Let’s assess. Prior climbers said they had no issues with these ones. They do have a kid with, but while I do get an occasional eye, none are alternating solely from me to the group, rather I seem to be just a curiosity. As they’ve walked the ridge down and settled to climber’s left of the trail, I schist-whack (lightly) to the right to afford a wide berth and lop the corner off the trail to rejoin the route.
Gaining the ridge. (Click photo for panorama.)
My satisfaction is short-lived as I traverse the ridge only to see another higher up with much narrower options. Ok, let’s try this again. No direct eye contact but watch what it does. Seems I hold only passing interest with him as well and move past whenever his head is behind the rocks until I’m around the ledge lower and to the left.
Ahh... The fun stuff! The green wall was like climbing up the stuff on the left, but it got worse.
Now it’s getting fun, with the only bitters that it’s well into the afternoon, I haven’t summitted, and I’ll also need light to get back down to the saddle. At points I can see the shadows creeping up the east side of the amphitheater’s bowl which I use like an Egyptian Sundial. Their upward creep is directly proportional to the unsettling fact I may have to turn back before topping out to regain the lower ridge and avoid Class 4 downclimbing at night. The route guide says it could take an hour, if you’re quick (and have already done the route no doubt). Gonna have to play it by ear.
The backside of Pyramid shows signs of snow, but they’re light signs. When I can’t spot the next cairn (kayrn, not kar-en), I look for most logical path of least resistance, then scout it for verifying shoe prints. There are two that I consistently see and an occasional third which I take for the two successful and one nearly so hikers I met earlier. In hindsight, I could have asked to see the soles of the successful two to hedge against following less-successful ones from days prior. Occasionally the only tracks I find are those of a single mountain goat, one-way, which I take as “there’s gotta be a better way” unless it’s clearly a viable option, one that I can see will get me to another cairn e.g.
The exposure keeps you sane, while the terrain dictates calculated risks be taken. Going up the “green rocks” they look like they’d carry you to the top, but they do not. They end in what I’d call red-black rocks with gravel strewn ledges which lead to a wall that might be climbable, if you don’t slide right back off before getting to it. I assume this is the wall that third climber found and turned around at. Sun’s getting lower and I can smell the summit, so I downclimb a bit looking for a traverse to the left.
I find a way around and while I see neither cairns nor tracks, I spot a way to the ridge directly and crest to a path that I can see is valid for the summit ridge as the light begins to amber. I spot a cairn on the way to the benchmark and summit my fourth 14er at 6:00pm. I have one bar of cell when I power up, check two texts and try to send one before powering back down, snack, hydrate, photo, and head back down within about ten minutes.
I guess this answers my prior musing of whether these boots had another 14er left in them. Pyramid summit. (Click photo for 360 panorama.)
Looking down at a hop-across point during the downclimb.
Backtracking to the cairn, I find the standard route down. Spotting these is soooo much easier from above, and occasionally they afford two routes. I figure steady smooth progress unencumbered by ascending-acclimatization should see me back to the bowl ridge in an hour or so –- out of the rough by daylight!
Happily atop the lower and goat-free ridge, it’s time to chug down the steep loose slope. It’s full dark by the halfway point and I let my eyes adjust to pick my way sans flashlight until about the last third or quarter when increased rockiness obfuscates the trail more.
Actual photo. Yeah, I know, it looks a lot like Wilkerson Pass. Crazy, eh?
Like Halo on Holy Cross, the limited range of my LED light keeps me nearsighted and only able to make out the grossest of terrain features. I bottom out the slope and begin the trek across the amphitheater talus to the trail on the far side. Though dead reckoning in the dark, I'm consistently finding cairns on a regular basis nearby -- a reassuring indicator.
I find the west trail and follow it into the lower bowl but don't find the large cairns where I expect them to be and search a bit around the lip. I try using the light on my cell phone (video mode) which doesn't help much, then mull the possibilities of my "other" light. I pull out my Samsung camera and use its flash to catch glimpses of lit terrain. It helps, but not much. Same for the pictures. Hmmm...
Camera flash no so good help me 'um thinks.
I hike down some more figuring I'll intersect the trail but am now clearly over the lip and in the slide zone. A large, flat disc-shaped rock about 20 feet across and a few feet thick offers a great place to sit, snack, hydrate and reassess (yes, the thought of it being the ultimate disc sled crosses my mind). The weather has been totally calm, clear, dark, and thus far conducive to only wearing an unbuttoned flannel over my longsleeve wicking t-shirt. I've left my NatGeo topo on the bike so that's out. I've reviewed the photos on my camera earlier and none are much help. So I review the route guide I printed off and there it is. The trail is on the east edge of the bowl, not the spout where I am.
Rather than re-ascend, I decide to carefully traverse east across the gravel slope. The pebbles are imbedded in the dirt and I cause a few to break free and listen to them roll down, down, down, down... down... down... down in the dark for quite a while -- not a place to lose footing, and not much to be had.
As soon as one is within reach, I grab part of a tree root and clamber aboard more secure ground. Picking my way through trees and brush I'm greeted by the rock steps of CFI egress to which my knees soon sorefully protest. Yet figuratively and literally, I'm not out of the woods yet.
I still have to find my way across the relatively flat valley to the Crater Lake trail. Sometimes a cairn confirms my path where the trail is vague, other times a little bit of hub-n-spoking is needed due to informal campsites or social trails. Only once is my pace significantly interrupted when hub-spoking doesn't pan out. Hmmm... Three seemingly viable trails. My LED flashlight has a blueish hue, so I try my cell phone light and viola. Traces of grass are on two but not the third, and that's the one out. Things seem to take longer in the dark even when walking at a good clip, but I eventually T-bone the C.L. trail and even with faint light all the familiar landmarks, the hill, the low point, the tree roots, the slides, the rocky dogleg, the blocking boulder, go quickly by.
Then I hear what at first I thought was wind, but was actually rushing water, and I pass it. Now the trail is getting unfamiliar. I give it a go before backtracking to a known correct point in case I missed a fork. With my cell now dead. I decide to swap in new batteries into my flashlight, but it's a bit tricky in the dark as they clip into a plastic pyramid like a dynamite stick bundle and the + and - aren't always in the same direction.
Not wanting to lose anything in the dark, I hold three new AAAs in the left side of my mouth between my lips so I can pop out an old one, feel its orientation, stick it in my right side, pop the new one in correctly, and rotate to the next one revolver style all by feel. WTF? The old battery begins to burn my lip! Ok, spit out that one, reassemble the light and, suspicion confirmed, it's a Chinese battery -- you know, the country known for using lead paint on child's toys? I use my bic lighter to identify the next chamber in the light gun and resume in the dark, dropping the old ones in a divot on my bag, reassemble and WOW. Much brighter light!
Don't see any wrong turns here, so back down I go. Then I spot some other headlamps on a parallel track going the other way who say they're on their way to Crater Lake. Doh! Sure enough, I'm on an unfamiliar path because I've usually cut down to the lake by now but couldn't see that hitch with my dimmer light and was on the fork that stays forested longer. Home free.
I changed back into warm riding gear, repack the bike, open the gate to roll quietly out of overnight parking, close it, and start coasting down the road who's slope quickly lets me reach the speed limit without ever firing up the motor.
Up past Basalt, to Carbondale and a 7-11 burrito, then south past Redrocks to Marble. The last bank clock I pass reads after 3:00am. I find the 14er.com turn off and campsite with many trucks and SUVs but not a sole to be seen. Every parking space seems to be dirt, so I pitch between the campfire ring and the river on the only flat grassy spot my headlight illuminated, shut off the motor to minimized disturbing those sleeping and get to work so I can crawl in my bag and do the same for the first time in two days. When you're this tired, you don't miss a wink by skipping the thermarest.
Though I originally thought about joining the group getting an alpine start from Marble for Snowmass, I sleep in through the undisturbing din of people leaving. When I finally wake to the thermal alarm clock that a sunstruck storm-shielded tent sauna becomes, all the cars are gone and I have the place to myself. Over 800 miles and I still haven't seen the face of another 14er. Brian shortly arrives after getting some supplies and libations to get the party and lunch started. I opt for a riverside catbath as its too cold for my taste to swim.
The rallying point for the 2012 Fall Gathering... river behind... and hill opposing in Marble, CO.
Before long Jim joins us, while I'm already in the second half of adjusting the valve tappets on my motor. Unlike the earlier poor running, on the trip over from Aspen the night... uh... that morning earlier, the bike would sputter or pop at low RPM or idle but be fine when revved up -- opposite problem. Figured the exhaust clearances closed up a bit which would allow that to happen as the faster flow through the combustion chamber at higher RPMs overcomes it. Sure enough they're tight and when done the ol' twin purrs away in its austere cadence.
With only a broken bench and two folding chairs, I set out to create benches out of available materials, washing caked mud off scrap wood planks, finding large rocks and log sections to rest them on, get a fire going for Brian's pork lunch, and then collect larger fire wood while it's still light.
By ones, twos, and threes, folks start arriving, some who hiked Snowmass the day before, others who did Sopris or Treasure Mountain. I plastic bag some bombers to chill in the river. Wanting to bring a taste of Kansas City to the Fall Gathering, I pulled from my cellared stash of high-gravity artisan brews, Boulevard Smokestacks. No way I could haul enough to sate all on my bike, so high-quality tastings will have to do. Boulevard does distribute in Colorado so for those who missed out or liked one they tasted, the evenings selections were:
(Click bottle for more info.)
For those missed it, those attending included Brian, Scott, Jim, Scot (piper), Kevin, Scott (drunk), Bergsteiger, Skott, Nate, Scott (female), sCott, and Skaht. Also present was Lily, a German (not Scottish) wirehair rescue who I accidently dropped a small log by whose tip hit her sleeping snout. Naturally stand-offish to me afterwards, I leveraged turkey pepporoni to apologize which seemed to do the trick (or so I thought, read on). Bitches love a good sausage. You did NOT just read that. Move along, folks. Move along.
Piper Scot had his pipes but was iffy about playing noting the demands it places on ones lungs and how he planned on saving his song for the summit. Fortunate for us, he reconsidered and out of the dark emerged a highland tune much to the enjoyment of the fireside revelers. What goes better with music than dancing? Why a dancing gorilla with cape (a Flying Monkey to us Kansas folk), naturally! I was remiss for not packing some 151 until Nate lit up the night breathing fireballs and striping flames across his torso, hands and arms. What more could you ask for? Good company and conversation, both present in spades.
Here's a pic MountainHiker posted on the Fall Gathering thread that has more. Ah, yes, I can find the porta-potty now.
For those who did catch semitrueskerm's reference to "PIPER DOWN!!" on the list or 'round the fire:
Late to the party were the Snowmassers who had quite the full-day slog, but not so late as to miss the last round of barley samples. Everyone returned safe, though reportedly one gal not with the group fell 20 feet, was assisted down to safety then promptly split her own way. Given the length and conditions they reported, and my leg soreness from Pyramid, I'm glad I chose to stay in camp to recupe'. Thanks to scottfarish who gave me quite a bit of beta and his print out of a more detailed route guide which he said was invaluable compared to the standard one. While I didn't use it this trip, I'll pack it with for my next one.
By the way, ScottFarish has been here a while. His profile number is 22 whereas mine is 28,289! Only 28 thousand and 267 profiles have been added on 14ers.com between us!
Closing out the fire, I stoke down its coals, and am the last to retire. Another sleep in and I douse the pit with water once folks have finished using it for breakfast. Keith packs out a large trash bag and takes my suggestion to toss it inside on the trailered porta-potty's floor versus in his truck should it start leaking. Minutes later he nudges me, points at the off-color trickle coming out beneath the door, and winks, "Good call." Jim also packed out garbage, more specifically dried recyclables.
Aspen colors towards the pass just south of Marble, CO. (Click photo for 360 panorama!)
I take my time to repack the bike knowing it's too late for Snowmass and decided to do some road recon for nearby Castle and Conundrum. Just an abounding autumnal afternoon for a bi-wheeled constitutional up Castle Creek Road.
Aspen along Castle Creek Road. (Click photo for panorama!) Aspen-colored classic car!
Take a small detour at Ashcroft, one of the countless mining ghost towns, then onward to the trailhead.
Castle-Conundrum 4x4 Road BETA
The road’s bad for sedan, not so for a 4x4, and so-so for a motorcycle.
Roadside pond on the way up to Castle/Conundrum. (Click photo for panorama.)
I ride up to the water fall taking advantage of the pedestrian bridge to bypass the lone water crossing. At the recommendation of a hiker coming down, I park at the waterfall and scout ahead on foot.
Doable on a street bike, but definitely better suited to a dirt or dual-sport. For those wanting serious 4x4, there’s a fork for the Pearl Pass Road.
The road worsens after the waterfall. If the following doesn't look fun, park just before nearby the huts. Waterfall is middle left. You can see some parking turnouts here. (Click photo for 360 panorama.) Jeep coming over from Pearl Pass Road. Pearl Pass junction.
Farther up I meet another hiker who’s summited who says the road’s just more of the same, so I join him for span back to my bike. He’s on 14ers.com and said, “Seems like every hiker is now.”
I had contemplated a late start for a summit if I rode to road’s end, but the clouds look iffy and I’m still a little sore from Pyramid. I ride most of the way down with the engine off for three reasons: no need to waste gas, kind of fun to ride in silence, and as a wet sump’s pickup is in the rear, there’s always the chance of sucking air which is no borno for the conrods’ big ends.
Tunnel through the aspen heading down the 4x4 trail. (Click photo for 360 panorama.)
Coasting's also fun to do once back on Castle Creek Road as many a coasting bicyclist demonstrates.
Click photo for brief video.
Turns out to be a good call about the clouds as I hit a couple showers before Aspen and some spots on the road over Independence Pass are wet as well. Riding home, I wonder how many others ride-to-hike, and of those how many would be up for motorcycling up the 4x4 road to do “two peaks on two wheels.”
Guess this is a fitting photo to leave you on. Sincerely yours, ...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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