July, '02


Koren's first backcountry climb...

(An alpine experience on Mount Alice)



    Over the 4th of July weekend, Koren and I hiked into Wild Basin with the intention of climbing the 1,200 foot east face of Mount Alice. We walked away three days later with vivid memories of a cold, wet, remote, alpine wall and a new respect for each other that only comes from shared adversity.

    Taking three days for this climb allowed us to enjoy the 8-mile hike which leads to the east side of Mount Alice. Highlights of the trail included Ouzel Falls, a short cave/fissure system that ran through a rock buttress, and definitely Lion Lake. In fact, I can't think of anyplace more beautiful than the Lion Lakes valley. Multiple waterfalls, beautiful views of the surrounding mountains which shoot up to 13,000 feet, lush grass surrounding the lake, and a whole lot of mosquitoes. Koren scored big points for bringing bug juice!

    Along the way we ran into someone Koren knew who told us that Holly, another friend of Koren's, was planning to climb our route the same day. I was both happy and saddened by the news. While it would have been nice to have the whole mountain to ourselves, I felt a little better knowing they would be there. I knew this was going to be a day of mental challenges for Koren and having a friend on the wall in another party might make it seem less remote. 

    We stopped for lunch at Lion Lake #1 and waited out an afternoon rain shower cuddling under our tarp. Soon we were finishing the last mile of the approach across tundra. A huge boulderfield was waiting for us at the base of Mount Alice but we eventually found a level place to bed down for the night. Koren used a bivi sack and I slept on a tarp as was required for the type of permit we had been issued. No Tents is the first rule of a bivi permit. After a delicious diner of burritos, we slept.

    We awoke at 5:15am which was too late. I wanted to be the first on the route so we would not have to worry about rocks being knocked on us from above. We took too long for breakfast as well and were greeted by Holly and her partner on the approach.  I was upset with myself for not being more disciplined. Koren's good attitude set me straight I forgot about it as the day's activities began.

    There are two approaches to the Central Ramp (III 5.8). One is a steep and loose ramp that leads in from the right and the other is an obvious snow tongue which come in from the left. Holly and her partner took the ramp and I opted for the snow. I was making all the climbing decisions for the day as this was Koren's first backcountry climb. I felt that the snow could be made safer than the ramp with a running belay. 

    We roped up and I started out gingerly kicking steps across the snow. I was able to place several good pieces of protection in the rock to my left, so I wasn't too concerned about the consequences of a fall. My hands were freezing though. Using my nut tool as an ice axe, I made my way over to a broken buttress where I started rock climbing. The climbing was very easy with the exception of the first 6 feet and soon Koren was out of rope to feed me. She started climbing and we simu-climbed up to the base of the first pitch over 5.4 terrain. Holly and her partner had arrived shortly before us and I watched them lead the first pitch as I belayed Koren up the last 200 feet of our approach.

    The first pitch is supposed to climb a broken chimney, but it didn't look interesting so I opted for a nice clean dihedral to the left. After a few last words of encouragement, I began to climb. The dihedral proved to be an outstanding pitch of 5.8 stemming and offered adequate protection. (I am not sure why this is not the "recommended" first pitch)  Koren was starting to get nervous about the height and exposure but did a fine job following the pitch. She did, however, take a couple falls which amounted to the length of rope stretch. Unfortunately, she sprained her ankle slightly on one of them. She was able to "walk it off" though and soon I was starting the next pitch.

    It was starting to cloud up and I was keeping an eye on the weather,  hoping we could get to the big roof a few pitches up before it rained. We stayed one pitch behind the other party for two more pitches of quality climbing before the storm was upon us. To our dismay, this left us one pitch below the big roof where Holly and her partner were waiting out the storm... dry.

    Things were not looking good. I was leading the 5th pitch when it started to rain. I looked out into the Wild Basin valley and saw low lying clouds moving toward the face. I hurried and just finishing building the anchor when it started pouring. Water was running down the rock in sheets and the wind made it difficult for Koren and I to communicate. I asked her if she wanted to wait it out down at the last anchor or if she wanted to climb up to me. Climbing the pitch totally wet was something I did not want her to do if she did not want to. Especially considering that she was safe where she was at an anchor. None-the-less, she decided that she wanted to climb. She eventually joined me at the belay after climbing what must have been one scary pitch. I had protected it well so that she would not be hurt badly in the event of a fall, but there was still some danger. I can't express in words how mentally demanding it is to climb that pitch, in those conditions, on your first big, backcountry climb. Koren really dug deep and found that she had what it took. I was thoroughly impressed!

    As Koren climbed, I was considering our retreat. The next pitch looked relatively difficult and it was still dripping wet. To make matters worse, the low lying clouds had swept up the face at 100 feet/second and, in an instant, we could only see 40 feet. As Koren approached at the 5th belay anchor, the temperature dropped and it began to hail.  I was shivering when she clipped into the anchor and it only took one look at her to know that we were going down. We were getting too cold, the rock was wet, the hail was piling up on the ledges, we were not having fun, and my girlfriend was scared and wondering why she ever agreed to this in the first place. Although I didn't take the situation lightly, my biggest fear was that I was going to get us off this mountain, only to have her kill me. :)

    I yelled up to Holly that we were bailing and equalized two Camelots in a crack as a rappel station. I rigged Koren's rappel on an extension as I gave her a pep talk and explained how the retreat was going to work. I would rappel down and build the next anchor. Then she would rappel and I would give her a fireman's break. I kissed her and told her that it would all be fine and that nothing was out of control. After making sure she understood what was happening, I  rappelled into the mist and out of sight.

    When Koren met me at the bottom of the first rappel, I was dismayed to find that the ropes were not pulling. We were eventually able to get them to pull but only after attaching two prussic knots to the rope and pulling hard. We would both pull, then I would stand on the rope so that it would not spring back up (from rope stretch) as we slid the prussics back up the rope and prepared to pull again. To say that I was elated when the ropes finally fell clean would be an understatement. By the time I started the second rappel, the mist was starting to fade and we were getting intermittent views of the upper wall and the valley below.

    Another rappel to a big grassy ledge and some easy down climbing led us to our last rappel station. We had our game down by this point and I was soon on my way. 50 feet down, I lowered over a 7-foot roof and completed the 40 foot free hanging rappel. The technical part of the day ended with a a slippery diagonal rappel across the icy snow at the bottom of the face. Koren did a great job handling these final obstacles and soon we were sitting on the talus. Koren ate a candy bar while I coiled the ropes and we headed back to camp. Slowly.  

    It was a hell of  a day. Koren's first pronouncement was that she had never been that scared for that long in her life. From my perspective, it had been one great big adventure in bad weather and I am happy to have shared it with Koren.  :)

    Back at camp, Koren's ankle injury worsened. She was in pain for a while but eventually, a combination of pain killers and elevating the injured ankle brought relief. We ate some good mexi-stew and turned in. 

    In the morning, a herd of bull elk stopped by to greet us on their morning grazing pattern. Koren's ankle was better and we took our time breaking camp. After pictures and food and lots of looking at the mountain, we meandered our way down to Thunder Lake. Hot chicken noodle soup pulled its weight once again. 

    The hike down was slow and uneventful. We talked with a family from Hawaii for a while who took our photo but we generally went at our own paces. My shoulders and feet were both feeling abused when we finally arrived at the trailhead. Koren's ankle bothered her a little on the return hike but she was able to use it carefully. She declined when I asked her if she wanted me to take some of her weight. Tenacious to the end. Koren decided not to kill me and we instead stopped in Estes Park for some bad food before driving back to the Fort.

    Looking back, it was too big of a goal for us, but it provided one of my most treasured memories of the mountains.  We had gone to the mountains seeking adventure and the mountains has delivered. Thanks Koren for the wonderful memories!

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Mount Alice

The 1,200 east face of Mount Alice.

Mount Alice with our route marked

Mount Alice with our route marked.

The entrance to the cave.

The entrance to the cave we found three miles up the trail.

Koren leading us through the cave.

Koren in the cave.

Me following through the cave.

Me exiting the cave.

Lion Lake #1  and Chief's Head peak.

A picturesque view of the Lion Lakes area.

Koren filtering water at Lion Lake #1.

Koren filtering water at Lion Lake.

Resting at Lion Lake #1.

Hanging out after a rain shower at Lion Lake.

Hiking around Lion Lake #1.

1 Mile from camp!

Waiting out the weather under our tarp at camp.

Avoiding the rain at camp.

The base of the route.

Trying to wake up at the base of the climb.

Starting out acroos the snow.

Starting up the snow pitch. Balance... Balance...

It looks like a long way up there!!!

You know, this is a big mountain.

One of the ramp pitches.

Belaying at the end of the third pitch.

Koren, looking a little nervous about the weather that is moving in.

Koren, looking concerned about the weather we can see approaching from the other end of the valley.

This is NOT fun!

This is after the storm hit us. We were in the process of running with our tails tucked between our legs. :)

Using prussics to pull the rappel ropes.

Using a prussic to help pull the rappel ropes. Wheee...

The second rappel.

At least the weather is clearing.

A herd of bull elk in the morning.

A herd of bull elk greeted us in the morning.

Me below Mount Alice.

I'm thinking... "Do I want to come all the way back here to get that gear?"

A Ptarmigan sunning itself on the hike out.

A Ptarmigan sunning itself on a rock.

Koren hiking next to a wonderful patch of wild flowers.

This was an amazing flower display. The smell of them was really remarkable.

Isn't she cute?

See... it even made us giddy.

Thunder Lake and southern Wild Basin

Thunder lake from the plateau below Pilot Mountain.

Lunch at Thunder Lake.

Stopping for lunch at Thunder Lake.

Only 5 miles to go!

Nearing the end of a long hike.

Click here to read the story of the 18+ hour gear retrieval that transpired the following Friday.

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