Report by Eric Robinson.
Trip started June 19, 2013. Report posted to the Nolan's 14 list on June 20, 2013.
I bailed at North Cottonwood (5 peaks) after about 24 hours. Nothing terribly wrong, just not very well trained for a longer outing.
June is a great time of year for Nolan's. Conditions were very good, though windy, not a bad trade for essentially no chance of thunderstorms for 3+ consecutive days. Quite a bit of the snow still present -- about half of what was there last week -- is beneficial for the South to North direction. But it all freezes pretty hard at night and I was very glad to have a set of microspikes.
Had a decision to make at the very start. The old trailhead at Blank Cabin has been moved about a quarter mile downslope. I briefly considered starting at the old location (which, for the curious, is at the cattle guard on the Colorado Trail at the northwest corner of the fenced-off meadow). Doing so would have saved a few minutes, but felt unsatisfying.
So at 5:02:45 I started immediately after a busload of 30 hikers disgorged onto the trail. Not sure if they were climbing Shavano or just hiking on the Colorado Trail (I passed them before the summit trail junction).
The first two summits were windy but uneventful. Angry squirrels below treeline and four sheep above. The drop to Brown's Creek still had some snow, almost all of which was avoidable. Once across the creek, I opted for the direct Hourglass Express, which I'm certain is faster than the Orange Route, but can be tiring. The Antero summit seemed crowded for a Wednesday.
Baldwin jeep road was rockier than I remembered, and I walked most of it, trying to recover from the climbs I had done. With the summits so windy, it was very hard to eat or drink on the climbs, so easier sections like the jeep road were the best opportunity for refueling.
The start of the miner's trail out of Alpine has been rerouted, something we only discovered a few days ago. The old location is signed with a bizarre 100-word essay, plus pictorials, that amounts to "no trespassing", The trail now starts at the cemetery at the end of highway B, and has a sign describing the route, complete with names like Molly's Meadow. It was a long climb to the ridge, then lots of fun bumps to pt 13971.
I dropped my pack for the out and back to the summit, carrying only the SPOT. There was still just enough snow for a nice glissade into Maxwell gulch (only six minutes to the upper lakes, not counting the time to traverse to the snow). Then lots of easy tundra to the Maxwell cabin sites, a mile or so of abandoned miner's road, about 5 miles of Colorado Trail, and 2 miles of highway. I found myself glad to have an extended easy section for recovery.
I decided to climb Yale by reversing the descent route I used in 2003 (Avalanche basin to the saddle between Yale and pt 13460). I was able to climb a good bit of frozen snow using my microspikes. So I can now say that this is a great route in both directions, if you can stay on course below treeline. The terrain kind of forces you into roughly the correct place (keep the creek on one side and the steep base of Ginger Ridge on the other).
Descending Yale into Silver Basin was a challenge. After summiting, I back-tracked East looking for the snow descent I had used in training. That was 11 days before at noon -- a very fast, very steep glissade. At 2 am, frozen solid, with an unknown quantity of snow remaining and blind run-out, a glissade was obviously out of the question. I was hoping I could walk down on the microspikes, but it was far too steep for my comfort level. So I traversed a bench, half snow and half rocks, back west underneath the entire length of the summit ridge, looking for a safe descent. Didn't find one until reaching the northwest ridge.
Once into the basin, it was pretty confusing. Last time I was here in the dark, I went through the wrong notch in the ridge and ended up in the wrong basin. This time, I was determined not to make that mistake.
The moon had already gone behind the mountain and was no help at all. The wind was gusting around 50 mph and was killing my concentration. Still, I was confident that I was descending the ridge to the correct notch. If I look left, I should see the North star.
No North star. Panic. It's directly behind me and I am heading South, back towards Yale. Somehow I had hooked to the right on some sort of subridge, mistaking it for the main ridge. I have a gps track of this route on my watch but had been tightly conserving any use of the device (limited battery life and no opportunity to recharge). Time to put it into play.
Luckily, I am very, very close to the correct location, just facing the wrong direction. Problem fixed, now it's just a slow slog down the chute. Still some bad, fragile snow in places, not too hard to avoid by going through brush. Cottonwood creek is very high, considering that it is less than an hour from dawn, but in training I found a good log crossing. I found it again only after a bit of thrashing through deadfall.
Ginny had brought a sleeping bag to the Horn Fork trail junction and I laid down for a nap. After an hour or so, I decided that the next section, four more peaks before a reasonable bail point, was too much. I think I was reasonably well-trained for what I did, 5 peaks in 24 hours, but not really for a 60+ hour effort. I had simply forgotten how demanding and exhausting these climbs and descents really are.
I enjoyed the run but I'm glad I stopped before it became too fun. I spent much of last year struggling with a herniated disk. A day I can climb mountains is a gift.