Saturday, December 06, 2008

Colorado Day Five: Taking our Lumps




Thud, thud, thud EEEEYOOOOOONNNKKK!!!


Thud, thump, THUD

"Jello's" comments in italics

We arrived in Estes Park late, and had little idea as to where we were going. I remember arriving in town and thinking two completely opposite things: 1) that Estes Park was a quaint little town, not unlike the one I grew up in and; 2) the causeway (North Saint Vrain Ave) that cuts across Estes Lake seemed to be one of the most wasteful public project I had seen in quite some time, and I live in Boston. Seriously, the lake isn't so large that it needed to be split by a causeway in order to get from one side to the other. My first impression of driving over the land bridge was one of skepticism - it seemed so unnecessary, but I tempered my thoughts because we were driving in the dead of the night and I couldn't see the edges of the lake very well. It wasn't until we left later the next day with enough sunlight that I started giggling at the road. Seriously, they couldn't have found a way to make Fish Creek Road and Brodie Ave a little more traffic friendly in order to avoid dumping dirt into what appears to be a rather pretty lake? I can understand not connecting Route 36 to Big Thompson Ave because that's on the other side of the lake. But still, it's not like this is a big town (that was rant #1 of three). Anyway...

We made a few wrong turns downtown in Estes Park in search for the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (and Moraine Park, where we were going to camp), and I'm kind of glad that we did. I really liked what I saw downtown. It seemed loaded with life and character of the small town sort: with independently owned businesses lining the street and catering to the outdoor playground that sat to its west. I could have envisioned myself living here, and I asked "Jello" why he guided out of Colorado Springs when he could be guiding up here, in Rocky Mountain National Park, year-round.

- Can't. Only one company is allowed to guide in the park and I don't work for them.
- Huh?
- What do mean, huh?
- I'm confused.
- What is there to be confused about?
- One company?
- One company.
- As in, less than anything two and above?
- One company
- What the hell is up with that?
- Don't know, but that's the way it is

You know what, I'm calling bullshit on this. Hey, I don't want to slander the company that is benefiting from such an outrageous agreement (Colorado Mountain School - I'm not linking it, so find it yourself!), as I'm sure that they offer a very high quality product and do their utmost to respect the park. But let's face it, they are able to exclusively use a public park, a resource intended for all the public to enjoy, without so much as a blink of any other private company's resources. Let's not fool ourselves here, because we know that no other company is even remotely capable off offering such a high quality service as CMS is (editor's note: the past sentence was written with rolling eyes), but let's put this into perspective: I grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine and my hometown is spooned by Acadia National Park. It's so close that, well, I could've mistaken Estes Park with Bar Harbor (in fact, this is what I liked so much about Estes Park), and one can walk from the Village Green at the center of downtown to the Park Loop Road (the road that drives around the bulk of Acadia) in about 10 minutes. Bar Harbor, along with the town of Mt Desert (Northeast Harbor), Southwest Harbor, and Tremont, make up the outer edges of what is the third largest island on the east coast of the United States (sixth largest in the US - OK, OK, I'm bragging, but there is a point en route). Nearly the entire center of the island, along with the famed Ocean Drive from Sand Beach to Seal Harbor, is home to Acadia: just shy of 46,000 acres, and one of the smallest national parks in the system. In comparison, Rocky Mountain National Park weighs in at just under 266,000 acres... ... ...and Acadia is big enough to have TWO climbing guide companies. And climbing in Acadia is an afterthought in relation to all the other activities (unlike, I presume, RMNP where climbing is very likely an important activity). This is simply insane! And for those who think that the park is better able to manage one company then my comment is that you're lazy. Yes, that's right, you're a fat-ass sitting on the couch with a bag potato chips in one hand, a two-liter bottle of Coke in the other and the remote control between your thighs. At least I put the bag of chips on the coffee table in front of me when I'm not chowing down! If I ever become a mega millionaire, then I'm going to contest this monopoly out of spite. A monopoly in our national parks? Shoot, I could probably sell the National Park Service logo on the street and not get sued. Look, I'm not foolish enough to think that this doesn't exist in other parks, but there should be at least a bidding process (e.g. - how concessions are managed) and a contract that expires every so many years (three years sounds fair to me). By allowing one company to dominate the industry, well, that's just plain un-American, and while there's a great many more serious things to get under my skin out there, this one still boils my blood.

After finding our way to Moraine Park, we nestled into our cool sleeping bags with the hope that we'd be up and out of the tent early enough to head over to Lumpy Ridge before the crowds showed up. Little did we know at the time that Lumpy doesn't get crowds like Eldorado and Boulder Canyons do.







- What the hell is that?
- I guess we know what elk sounds like now.
- Where the heck is this thing? It sounds like it's right on top of us.
- Why don't you stick your head out and find out?
- What, and discover that it's actually a mountain lion instead? No thanks.
- Wimp.
- Jerk.
- Weak.
- Ass munch.
- Coward.
- Shit stain.
- Your mother's leg.

I kicked "Jello" in the head and we both tried to get a few more winks in before we realized that the on-coming daylight was proving to be too strong of a force against sleeping. The only thing keeping us in our sleeping bags then was the cool, late-September mountain air. We tried to guess how many feet the elk were from our tent. I guessed 10 feet to "Jello"'s 100. To our amazement, the elk turned out to be several hundred yards away, and so we wandered over to the bathrooms to both relieve ourselves and join the crowd of tourists already snapping photos of the worriless animals.

After taking care of some daily business we packed up and tried to decide what to do about our camping fees. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fee skimper but we honestly slept there overnight on the ground, and if we paid the fees we were supposed to it would cost us about $30 - not too much considering it was a national park, but we weren't planning on visiting the rest of it and so I didn't want to pay to have my car in the park when I wasn't going to be there, and I wasn't really to keen on paying just to sleep there, either. Ok, I'm lying; it really pisses me off to pay park fees in a national park. What the hell, the tax payers put money into it, why only do people with the extra cash get to enjoy it? People wonder why certain parks are so crowded and why they cost so much. My answer: infrastructure. If Yosemite didn't have a highway through it, if RMNP didn't have RV dump stations then there would be a lot fewer people there. Want to decrease the costs of parks? Don't build so much crap in them and fewer people will be interested in going as opposed to it being out of price range. I would rather a park be inaccessible to those without 4WD (that includes me) or working body parts than overrun with hotels and RV's. All that ease of access only means more maintenance and more personnel. Not necessary, it's the backcountry; leave it the way it was.

In any case, I was excited, with butterflies in my stomach. Lumpy has some of the longest climbs in Colorado outside of the Black Canyon, and I wanted to climb it all. So while we drove - at a high rate of speed of course (my personal modus operandi when on the free road), we discussed the climbs we wanted to do. We decided to be optimistic in what we actually could do. Kor's Flake was a must - a classic of historical proportions. But what else? We decided to keep it 5.8 and below with that many pitches, the longer the better. The folly; how could we know what lay ahead?

We left after paying and headed to the other side of town, toward MacGregor Ranch and the new parking lot built for Lumpy Ridge just a bit up the road from the ranch. We were a little disappointed that the ranch was no longer the parking area for access to Lumpy, mainly because we were heading to Sundance Buttress, the western-most section of Lumpy Ridge. The new parking lot is closer to the eastern-most section and the ranch is right in the middle of the two. But that was fine. Neither one of us have any beefs with property owners protecting themselves against the government. In fact, I was kind of happy to see that they had won some sort of concession against what will likely be a long-term eminent domain battle over their land.

Lumpy Ridge: Rocky Mountain National Park
Sundance Buttress: Guillotine Wall

Kor's Flake (5.7+) - Five Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led

Approach: We realized quickly that, despite our early arrival, crowds were not going to be an issue. I might even go as far as saying that maybe the parking lot is a bit too big for the area, but hey, I don't know what the traffic is like on any other day, and so I'll stop digressing and get to the point: the hike took us about two hours from the car to the start of the first pitch, with half of that time on the shortest section at the end where all the switchbacks lead up to the buttress. It could probably be done in half the time if you were in strong hiking shape, which I am only marginally so, but it is a long walk despite the easy nature of it. I would say the first two-thirds are fairly flat on a well-groomed trail with the final third being on equally groomed ground but much steeper.

From the car at the Gem Lake Trailhead, follow the signs to either Sundance or Black Canyon (not the same Black Canyon with the long climbs "Jello" notes above) until the final approach trail (will say "Sundance"). Follow the switchbacks until near the base and then begin to fade up left when you see a massive boulder leaning against the cliff. Look for two arching flakes that converge into a roof about 25 feet up with a wide chimney up to the left from there. By looking even further to the left you'll see a left-arching flake / roof. Kor's Flake goes over this, and starts to the left of the wide chimney noted above. Hike up and around to the left, past the wide chimney, to a narrow chimney that is right of a fir tree and a right-facing corner.

We walked out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. What can I say? I want to get things done. I was there to climb, not walk around all day. We knew it was a bit of a hike to Sundance Buttress. A little over two miles according to the map. So we walked...and we walked, and walked, and then we took a break. Then we walked some more and some more, and after walking for more than an hour we came to the fence that signals the uphill portion of the hike to Sundance Buttress. So we took a little break and after catching our breath we began the long, slow, switchback progression up the hill. It's always kind of a kick in the pants when you are walking towards something large. You never seem to be getting any closer. Kind of like the time Greg thought it was OK to walk from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Empire State Building in New York City. The stupid shit even did it with boat shoes on. He told me later that he could barely walk the entire next week as a result. After walking for another hour or so we were finally able to see the bottom of the buttress. A good two and a half hours or more after we left the car and we were finally at the bottom of Kor's Flake.

Pitch One (5.6) - 130 feet - "Jello" led

We had decided that "Jello" would take the odd pitches and I would take the even ones, and I have to say that this was a difficult decision for me. Neither combination set me up to climb what I wanted to climb. While the odd pitches had a beautiful roof on the fifth pitch that I knew could easily handle, the first pitch was an awkward chimney and I just wasn't ready to lead something that seemed so unprotectable that was not within my bag of skills. On the other hand, the even pitches had not only the hardest pitch grade-wise (pitch two) but also a hand crack on the fourth pitch. The decision came down to whether or not we would take the pack with us. I swear that the pack was easily 50 lbs, but "Jello" insists it was no more than 20. Still, I didn't want to lug the bag after the last time we had decided to take a bag up a route with us (and for good reason). On that occasion, "Jello" had to have the other end of the rope tossed down to him so that he could get over the crux without the weight on his back. I didn't want a repeat of that, especially if I was going to take the even pitches and leave the crack to him near the top. But he had concerns about where the walk-off took us, and whether we'd have to hike a distance back in the wrong direction to retrieve it at the end of the day.

The line seemed enjoyable. Nothing too intimidating. A nice enjoyable five pitch climb. How foolish we were. While Greg stretched, I looked at the guidebook again to further memorize the route description and to check out the descent. The more I looked at the picture the more I got the feeling that the descent would put us on the other side of the ridge at the top, and far from our bag. After convincing Greg that it would be a huge pain in the ass to hike back up to the bag from the other side, he agreed that taking the bag would probably be less work (to be clear, it was not easy to convince him of this). So we split up the pitches that gave me the squeeze chimneys and Greg the more hand size cracks. With neither of us playing to our strengths, we decided to get started. After racking up, I waited for Greg to finish stretching (I really should stretch more).

Climb the chimney and escape out to the right at the top. Then climb up to the base of the long, left-leaning ramp that is the second pitch.

Looking up, I couldn't quite see how to attack the chimney. The more featured looking face to the left looked like a more enjoyable path but I wasn't here for enjoyment. This is rock climbing, leave your whining at the door ya big baby. So I started into the chimney. A few easy moves and I was standing inside the base of the chimney. It was nice and cool and I looked around. The unpleasantness was yet to come, so I thought that I might as well get it over with and squeezed and thrutched, bitched and moaned. After a while I looked for a gear placement and found an old sling on a chockstone. I decided to clip it and not fall. Not like falling out of a chimney is easy anyway, despite the fact that in two pitches I was to learn just how easy it could be. Noticing that I had only moved about ten feet from the ledge at the base of the chimney, I wondered how much longer I could hang on before claustrophobia set in and so I dove from the maw of that hateful menace. As the chimney pinched down I started to search around for something else to grab. Do I jam the crack? Are there face holds? Where do I go? After searching for a few minutes, I found the jug I needed to pull around the corner. The rest of the pitch was barely fifth class and as the belay ledge surrounded me rather comfortably I thought to myself, what's Greg going to do with that stupid pack?

I really had mixed emotions about this. I mean, I watched and heard "Jello" struggle up through the chimney and was glad that I wasn't leading it. However, all the while I watched him press his back and feet against the opposing walls with little or no protection most of the way up, I kept wondering how I was going to squeeze my way up this narrow space with a pack attached to me. It was obvious that I couldn't wear it on my back, and "Jello" didn't want to haul it because, well, he's poor and didn't want to destroy what was likely one of his better bags (I can't say as though I blame him). So I had to attach it to my belay loop via a sling, allowing it to swing between my legs, and I made one key mistake that turned out to be a major pain in the ass: the sling wasn't long enough and, thus, the bag was always at such a height in relation to my body that it always got in the way of whichever foot I was trying to bring up to the next foot hold. This was great. Seriously, it made for a fantastic first pitch. Not only did I struggle on the chimney itself (I swear to God that I was this close to having my entire, stiff body break into shards over the unnatural tension I was placing on it), but I also battled a 50 pound bag dangling beneath my crotch that had a great knack for continually getting in the way of my feet (I put in on my shoulders after exiting the chimney, and all that did was make my arms that much more tired from having to keep the pack from pulling me backward). This sucker was heavy, and it took all my strength to climb that first pitch. It was to the point that I was genuinely worried about my stamina for the remaining pitches. Still, I'd say that without the pack, this probably wouldn't be a bad pitch to climb. Looking back, I think I could have led it easily.

- Whose idea was it to take this heavy pack?
- I believe that was your idea.
- Bullshit.

Pitch Two (5.7+) - 80 feet - Greg led

Finally, I took the damn thing off and started up the short second pitch. I kind of wanted to link the second and third pitches together, but we didn't have a long enough rope (we were using a single rope) and the two combined did curve enough to make us think that maybe linking the two together would be troublesome. Still, I think you could link the first two pitches together, particularly with two ropes taking up the rope drag despite the total distance being 210 feet between them. There are plenty of belay options leading up to the highest belay point on the second pitch, and belaying lower than expected on the second pitch isn't such a bad idea. By the way, I don't think this pitch is 5.7+, but hey, maybe I was feeling stronger than I realized after lifting that bag over the first 130 feet.

Climb the ramp about 80 feet, and stop before the belay options run out. I stopped just as the ramp turned into the flake at a blue sling that was attached to the final set of blocks just below where it becomes wide. Make sure you stop here. Just trust me, you don't want to go any higher than this without bringing up your second first.

The ramp/flake looked pretty straight forward, and I felt a slight bit of envy that I would have to second with the damned pack. Seemingly refreshed, Greg made his way away from our comfortable ledge into the unknown granite above. Lucky bastard. Watching him make his way along the ramp I looked ahead of him. From my vantage point the rest of the ramp/flake didn't look like anything to worry about. Another miscalculation on my part. Greg called off belay and I quickly worked to get ready to climb. A few moments later and I was off. What can I say? The pitch was pure fun. Even with the pack and fiddling with gear it was highly enjoyable. If it would have been a single pitch near my home I would solo it ten times a day. Despite the weight of the pack, I quickly met Greg at a much less substantial belay spot than the last one. The wideness of the crack was fully evident now I wondered, "Why hadn't we brought the #6?"

Pitch Three (5.7) - 120 feet - "Jello" led

I think I can safely call this the "swearing pitch." Good ol' Layton Kor never heard his name used in vain as it was on this day. First off, this is a long pitch that is terribly run out without a #5 or #6 Camalot (which we did not have). Secondly, we were both tired after having hiked in for two hours and each getting a shot at climbing with the stupid pack on our backs. Thirdly, well, I'll just let "Jello" tell you about this pitch, but I have to get the essentials out first: follow the wide lieback / chimney to the top and set up the anchor right of the face that leads to the right-facing corner that is the start of the fourth pitch.

Still feeling good about the last pitch, I quickly exchanged gear with Greg and made my way higher. The first ten feet were relatively easy and I plugged in a few easy cam placements. As I came to the wide portion of the crack I saw a mess of slings and tat that looked to be twenty feet long. I wondered, "How did they get that in there?" Slipping into the slot, I looked for a gear placement. With nothing available I squeezed inside the chimney and slowly inched my way upward. I squirmed and squeezed with my inner caterpillar calling forth. Now a good twenty feet above my last gear, I looked for something, anything to sling, give me a twig, a crystal, just something. I couldn't fall out; gravity prevented me from tumbling out of the crack. Instead, I was worried I might tumble down inside and the great heaves of the mountain would swallow me whole, never to be seen again. Anyway, how would Greg get down if most of the rope remained tied to my crushed, battered body? I continued anyway, cursing Layton Kor all the way. Maybe if I could get out of the damned squeeze then the plunge wouldn't be so bad. Better the quick, painful breaking of skull and bones as opposed to the battering, bruising, and slow starvation of being stuck in that dark hole below.

After a few more moves, I could almost see the end of it. It pinched down and finally I was able to clip something. Beforehand a fall would have been at least eighty feet. Who knows how deep that would be? I put a nut into a small dirty seam and made my way out of those malicious granite jaws. From here I climbed quickly, plugging #1 and #2 cams the rest of the way. The hard climbing was done, and as I came to the end of the crack I looked around at my options. I knew we followed a crack and somewhere there was a roof. So my choices were the leftmost roof, crack system, and a right-hand crack that seemed rather small and difficult. After messing around with them and asking Greg for some route finding help I realized I was supposed to stop climbing and belay him up. So after fixing an anchor I waited, hoping that he'd be able to manage the pack on what I considered to be a longer and much more technical chimney - all with that pack strapped between his legs.

I knew the pack would be trouble. It was only about twenty pounds but the climbing wasn't so easy that it didn't make much of a difference. Besides that I didn't know how he would get in and out of the crack. As he started climbing, I worried that he might get stuck. How would SAR deal with that? Amazingly enough he was moving rather quickly and, a lot sooner than I expected, he peaked his head above the crack with the pack not dangling between his legs but strapped to his shoulders instead.

- That was pretty fast, how'd you do that with the pack on?

- I laybacked the whole thing.
- What?
- Yeah, it wasn't actually that bad.

After all the bitching I had done, and with the huge runout, I couldn't believe he just laybacked the whole thing. The crack is at least a foot away from the opposing wall for about twenty feet. It would have been ridiculously hard to do, but he did it anyway and with that stinking pack, too!

Pitch Four (5.7) - 90 feet - Greg led

I was exhausted. This day had possibly been one of the hardest days that I had ever done as a climber. Sure, "Jello" and I had two massively long days on Cannon (and I had one with "Ratherbe", too), but this was turning into more of a brute strength kind of day with little or no rest available for the taking. We were fighting the pack's weight, time, and our own ability to get up a must-do climb because there was no way down. The hike in had nearly sapped my endurance while the pack had stripped me of my strength, and now I was about to face the real unknown: how to disregard the lack of those two major physical assets and climb what is likely my weakest skill - crack. The route goes left from the anchors to the right-facing corners and then steps left to the exposed crack. Climb the crack to the small ledge below the roof.

Greg looked at me, thoroughly exhausted.

- I don't know if I can do this.

I knew he was tired. I also knew he was physically capable of finishing the climb. The question in my head was if he would push himself to do so.

- Give yourself a little break. I don't think we're going to get any other climbs in today.

We'd been climbing for about three hours, which in addition to the two-and-a-half-hour hike in, put us at around three in the afternoon. We still had another two pitches before the descent, and the sun was setting earlier these days. After a few minutes of peace, Greg decided to go ahead.

I think the first 20 feet of this route took me about 20 minutes to complete. It's not that it was hard, but I was tired and scared. The corners looked OK, and they were climbed easily enough, but the lack of strength and fear of the unknown was keeping me from committing. I kept looking back at "Jello" and telling him that I wasn't sure if I was going to get up through this pitch. He kept looking back at me both encouraging me to continue and letting me know that it was my decision in the end. I guess it came down to what was worse: climbing my weakest skill on the sharp end on exposed terrain while exhausted or climbing it as the second with a heavy pack on my back. I remembered why I chose to lead this pitch to begin with, and decided, after several minutes of catching my breath, that it was my job to do this pitch, and so I went.

Gaining the upper part of the corner was scary at first because there wasn't much gear and I wasn't sure if I was moving toward good or bad holds. Remember, a good hold in a crack isn't necessarily one that I'm going to feel comfortable on. I could tell, too, that the crack around the corner was slightly overhanging. That meant that I was going to need every bit of technique that I could muster, because I couldn't see myself holding my heavy body in with brute strength alone. So as I looked up at the top of the corner, and as I wondered what I was getting myself into, I finally said to myself, "Fuck it, Greg. Just do it. Just go. Seriously, this is part of the reason why you climb. You lack the courage to commit to the unknown, and this is a perfect opportunity to forge ahead." And so I committed. It was one hand over the other, one foot after the other, and one move at a time. I grabbed, secured, moved, scoped, and started all over again. Each time was a little more committing that the last time, and with each move a little more pressure was added to my physical constraints while a little less pressure weighed down my mind. I finally came to the moment of truth, stepping around the corner and entering the crack system, when I stopped, breathed three quick breaths and shot my left foot out onto the exposed small ledge that I needed to gain in order to pull around the corner. This left my body in a specific position that I couldn't have easily retreated from had I wanted to. I needed for there to be a specific hold in a specific spot to make this work, and so I blindly reached around the bulge in search of my saviour. It didn't take long to find the hold, because it turned out to be a massive jug. I pulled myself up straight, plugged a cam, and looked back at "Jello" as he said to me, "Nice job. I knew you could do it. Well done." He was right, and I was even more grateful for what I saw above me. The crack was just my size, and the only over-hanging section on the pitch turned out to be the bulge that I had just passed through. For the first time as far back as I can remember, I happily plugged one jam after the other all the way to the top of the pitch.

After he called me off belay, I got ready with the pack. Whose stupid idea was it to bring this thing? It must have been Greg's. A few moments later and I was climbing. The slab was not as bad as I thought it would be and getting into the corner was even a little fun but as I came to the roof I realized why Greg had paused. It's hard to see where you're going and the position feels slightly insecure. The pack throwing me around didn't really help, but I steadily moved around the corner and was soon cruising up the crack. When I reached the belay I was immediately astounded by what I saw, a huge roof. This pitch would be spectacular.

Pitch Five (5.7) - 50 feet - "Jello" led

I never felt better on my Colorado trip than I had after that last pitch, and I was both super bummed and happy that I wasn't climbing the next one. I was bummed because my confidence was sky high and I wanted to crush the roof as a symbol of how far I had come this climbing season after being so leery of roofs at the 'Gunks. I was happy, however, because "Jello" gave me a shot at the crack and I was giving him a shot at the roof. Plus, it was almost over. We'd be at the top in no time and down at the bottom in even less time than that (or so I thought). The sun was out, the wind was light, and there was no one within view of us (and we could see for miles). It was so peaceful that I actually enjoyed watching what appeared to be sparrow hawks (don't quote me on that) buzz the both of us as we neared the summit. "What the hell," I thought to myself. "I had my glory and now he can hammer home his own."

I took a moment to just look at it. It's such a beautiful pitch to see, and the climbing is everything you hope. So I started up; the moves were fairly easy. Hanging out on the roof for Greg to take a picture, I enjoyed the exposure - several hundred feet off the ground. One more move and it was easy ground. I didn't bother placing a lot of gear because the angle was less steep and the moves easy. We needed to get going anyway, and the sun was low in the sky. After a while of climbing I decided to set up a belay because I knew there wasn't much rope left. As Greg came up, he commented on how lucky I was to end up with that pitch. I felt lucky. The climb had been fantastic.

This is an easy pitch to follow. Simply climb up the right of the roof, pull out to the left of it, and finish in a gully not too far away. "Jello" hung for a great photo and then he was gone. It was then my turn, and it was difficult with the pack, but nothing that me and a few loud grunts couldn't handle. We were at the top soon enough (after scrambling through gullys for about 100 feet to the summit), and sat back and relaxed in the silent air before packing up to head down to the car.


The descent was, well, not quite what we expected. After we sat near the summit for about ten minutes we looked for the saddle (the low point between the two peaks on either side), and headed in that direction. We knew that the descent was going to go on the back side, but we figured it would be more of a walk-off with a couple of easy scrambles than anything else. It turned out to be much more difficult than that. The scrambling at the top was pretty scary for a while because we couldn't really see where we were descending to. For all we knew we were moving down in the wrong direction because we couldn't see past the boulders that were right in front of us. We moved up and down a few times, with one of us at a time scouting ahead so both didn't make the same mistake. Eventually, after scrambling down about 50 or 60 feet or so, "Jello" spied a stout tree with rap slings and rings on it to our left. We made the dicey walk over to the tree and then made the easy rap down to the small and loose descent trail that would eventually take us back to the base. The frustrating thing is that it is very easy to lose the trail once near the base, thus making it difficult to find the original approach trail that leads back toward the parking lot. But there were two good things to note: 1) while it was easy to lose the descent trail, it was easy to wander and, eventually, find the approach trail and; 2) the descent trail took us back to about 100 yards from the base of the climb. Let that sink in for a few seconds... ... ... Do you know what that means? Yeah, it means we could have left the stupid pack at the base and saved ourselves a whole hell of a lot of pain and suffering (mostly me because I'm both older and the one who had to carry it the most going up - "Jello", God bless his soul, carried it down the descent trail for my benefit).

Once we found the main trail, we stopped for a few minutes and watched the sky slowly begin to darken. We figured that we'd be getting back to the car just as daylight ended, and so we decided not to rest much on the way back. I complained about not being able to see the mountain turn purple, and "Jello" made it back to the car a few minutes before I did. But that was only because he's a good sport and always waits for me when he gets too far ahead. I suppose that's the right thing to do, just in case something bad happens to the guy bringing up the rear (always me, regardless of partner). Our timing was spot on, as we needed the headlights to pull out of the parking lot. It was nine hours car to car, and we had another several hours of driving back to Colorado Springs ahead of us. Thank God for rest days. We both needed one.

Despite the minor painfulness of the descent we were able to get back to the fence a lot quicker than we made it to the rock from the same fence. From there we were practically running. The sun was setting and I didn't want to be stuck in the dark. As I made it back to the car I could feel the twilight creeping into everything. I waited for Greg. Our long week was over and Kor's Flake was a good end. When Greg came over the hill and arrived at the car, we threw our stuff into the backseat and made our way for Colorado Springs - at a high rate of speed, of course.

Click here for all 2008 Lumpy Ridge Photos

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