Fourmile flood photo survey: Logan Mill to Gold Run

In my last post, I looked at the flood damage to lower Fourmile Canyon, between Poorman Rd and the “Smokey the Bear” fire danger sign (approx. 0.8 miles from Boulder Canyon Hwy 119).

This post is a survey of the flood damage higher in the canyon, between Logan Mill Rd. and Gold Run Rd. All photos were shot between 6 and 7pm on 9.15.13.


First, I’ll say that I found Fourmile Canyon Drive to be intact and passable from Poorman Rd. (where I live) up past Logan Mill Rd. on the evening of 9.15.13. This does not mean that it will remain that way, or that it’s safe to travel there. There’s the constant threat of further flooding, as well as rockfall. I don’t recommend travelling anywhere in Fourmile Canyon. Logan Mill Rd is inaccessible, as the bridge there has failed.

Access to Fourmile Canyon is only possible via Sunshine Canyon and Poorman Rd. There are a few damaged spots on both of these roads, and they are restricted to residents and emergency vehicles.

overview upper fourmile

upper map

About 0.5 Miles past Logan Mill Rd, near 4367 Fourmile Canyon Dr, the road is washed out and impassable to vehicle traffic. This is at 40° 2’50.22″N 105°22’2.18″W

upper fourmile pano1

first damage

The first road damage encountered when driving up canyon from Poorman.

downed bridge

This bridge accesses 4367 and 4369 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

The first damage is just below these mailboxes.

The first damage is just below these mailboxes.

Looking back down canyon at the first damaged spot.

Looking back down canyon at the first damaged spot.

The second damaged section of road is just around the bend at:

40° 2’54.45″N 105°22’4.59″W

It’s below 4451 Fourmile Canyon Drive.

The second damaged section. The road is completely gone.

The second damaged section. The road is completely gone.

Same spot.

Same spot.

Looking back down canyon at the second damaged spot.

Looking back down canyon at the second damaged spot.

The second damaged spot is just below 4451 Fourmile Canyon Dr. and this house, 4472 I think.

The second damaged spot is just below 4451 Fourmile Canyon Dr. and this house, 4472 I think.

The driveway to 4472.

The driveway to 4472.

The third damaged section is just up the road at:
40° 2’59.66″N 105°22’4.42″W

The third damaged section.

The third damaged section.

Same spot. This entire section of pavement appears to be detached.

Same spot. This entire section of pavement appears to be detached.

An undercut section at  40° 3'0.32"N 105°22'7.01"W

An undercut section at 40° 3’0.32″N 105°22’7.01″W

The next damaged section starts at:
40° 3’3.41″N 105°22’13.63″W
Just below 4726 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

This 250 meter section, to the junction of Fourmile Canyon Drive and Goldrun Road, is almost completely destroyed and barely passable, even on foot. Travel here is definitely not advised.

fourth damaged spot

pano 2

Mailbox for 4726 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

Mailbox for 4726 Fourmile Canyon Dr.


There's no road here.  40° 3'3.08"N 105°22'16.87"W

There’s no road here.
40° 3’3.08″N 105°22’16.87″W

Looking back down canyon at the same spot.

Looking back down canyon at the same spot.

Coming around the corner to the junction of Fourmile and Goldrun, I was shocked. This little crossroads was a beautiful little cluster of homes. I can only hope that nobody was hurt when the water came through.

goldrun pano2

goldrun pano


Looking up Gold Run rd. towards Gold Hill.

Looking up Gold Run rd. towards Gold Hill.

Again, please contact me at if you have any questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on missing people, please contact the Sheriff.

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After the flood

UPDATE: I just posted another set of photos, this time of Fourmile between Logan Mill and Gold Run.

This post is a survey of flood damage in lower Fourmile canyon, between Poorman road and “Smokey the Bear”

The last few days have been intense living up in Fourmile Canyon. Over 7″ of rain on the night of 9.12.13 caused major flooding. Mudslides, from the 2011 burn scars up canyon, scoured the channel of Fourmile Canyon Creek.

puzzle pieces

One of the only pieces of trash I found in the flood debris, fittingly. Good job, neighbors, for keeping fourmile clean!

fireman boy

Father and son on the southwest side of the creek, near Smokey the bear.

This morning (9.14.13), between 8:45am and 9:45am, I walked down canyon from our house, which is located at the junction of Poorman and Fourmile. Staying mostly on the northeast side of the road and creek, I surveyed the flood damage on the road. I stopped at the “Smokey the Bear” fire danger sign, which is approximately 0.8 miles from Boulder Canyon (hwy 119). In this one mile, I saw many spots where the road was completely washed out, undercut, or flowing with water. Below is a series of photos, tagged with the GPS coordinates. They start near Poorman, and end at Smokey.

I spoke with a few residents who told me that, below the Smokey sign, Fourmile road was mostly undamaged, with just some debris on the road. If true, this means that the stretch between Poorman and Smokey is the worst section in the lower canyon. Above is passable via Poorman, and below is accessible from Boulder Canyon (if hwy 119 is open).

If you are resident of Fourmile, or just interested in more detailed photos, please email me and I’ll try to help. I have hundreds of photos of this stretch of canyon, all tagged with Lat/long.

overview map 2

Overview map

location 1

pano 1

Looking upcanyon at the water on the road. This location had the greatest amount of water still over the road, so it was difficult to guess how much damage was done to the road itself.

flipped truck pano

That looks like a classic truck! Note the road is in the foreground, completely covered by water.


looking down from loc 1

Looking downcanyon from N 40 1′ 48.4″ W 105 20′ 25.8″

fourmile pano

A panorama from same.

loc 3


This was on of the worst undercuts, with almost the entire road surface gone.

biggest undercut



1267 map


40 1′ 36.4″N 105 20′ 16.2″W
Just downcanyon from 1267 Fourmile Canyon Dr.





Bridge at 1175 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

I think this house is 1175 Fourmile Canyon Dr.  40° 1'34.82"N 105°20'14.36"W

I think this house is 1175 Fourmile Canyon Dr.
40° 1’34.82″N 105°20’14.36″W

This house barely survived.

This house barely survived. Not sure the address, but very near 1107 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

Same house.

Same house.

In front of that house.

In front of that house.


The driveway bridge at 1107 Fourmile Canyon Dr.

This couple, and their pup, were on the southwest (wrong) side of the creek. They did find a bridge, though, and (I think) hiked successfully into town.

This couple, and their pup, were on the southwest (wrong) side of the creek. They did find a bridge, though, and (I think) hiked successfully into town.

Hikers on their way

Hikers on their way

map 4




Taken from : N 40deg 1' 30.7"  W 105deg 20' 7.6"

Taken from :
N 40deg 1′ 30.7″ W 105deg 20′ 7.6″

Scary propane tank!!

Scary propane tank!!

Just downcanyon from the propane tank. Mailbox for  1033 Fourmile Rd. on the right.

Just downcanyon from the propane tank. Mailbox for 1033 Fourmile Canyon Dr. on the right.

A paper-thin piece of asphalt.

A paper-thin piece of asphalt.
40° 1’31.08″N 105°20’5.26″W

Don't get on the bus!!

Don’t get on the bus!!


A surviving bridge!

A surviving bridge!


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East Buttress of the Angel

Angel from glacier

revs stitchGraham and I have just returned to Talkeetna after spending a fun-filled ten days in the Revelation mountains. This remote range, on the far southwest end of the Alaska range, has been visited a few times in Spring season, and climbers have returned with stories of amazingly huge mixed lines and perfect “J-tree” white granite. We had found almost no information on summertime rock climbing activity in the range, so we were excited to make a reconnaissance mission and see what these mountains could offer.

We flew in with Talkeetna Air Taxi on their new R44 Helicopter piloted by Will Boardman. Lack of snow for a ski-plane landing made the helicopter essential, so we’re very thankful to Will and TAT for their help. It should be mentioned that landing a helicopter in Denali National Park is illegal, but the Revelations are outside of the park. It was TAT’s first helicopter insertion for a climbing trip.

inside heli

During the hour and a half ride into the range, during which we saw no roads and few signs of human life, we got a visceral feel for the scale and isolation of Alaska. Once the drone of the chopper faded, and Graham and I were left on the glacier with our gear, we’d entered our own little mountain kingdom, sole rulers and inhabitants.

Once we had gotten a feel for our realm, we realized that we were camped directly underneath the most enticing objective: the East Buttress of the Angel!

We began climbing on July 13th, starting up a beautiful granite wall with cracks and corners aplenty. 600 meters of quality rockclimbing, with difficulties up to 5.10, filled most of our day. Everything was climbed onsight and followed free. We were stoked to find a perfect bivy spot on the ridge, where we set up our comfy little tent and sheltered from a passing squall. After a few hours of rest during the midnight sun we began climbing again surrounded by blue skies! A low cloud layer below us brought the surrounding peaks, jutting through, into beautiful relief.

bivy morning

Another 500 meters of classic ridge terrain separated us from the summit, and we occasionally donned crampons to navigate snow and ice while simul-climbing. At this point we shared terrain with the 1985 ascent of the Southeast Buttress made by Greg Collins and Tom Walter (full history below).

graham following ridge

Reaching the summit midday, we paused to remember our friend Zach Orman, who passed away earlier this year in a paragliding accident. We miss you Zach!

zach orman

Zach smiling

We descended to the North and then rappelled 600m down the Eastern aspect of the North Ridge to a hanging glacier which we able to mostly walk down back to the main Revelations Glacier.

rappel cave

After this point our options became extremely limited due to multiple core shots in our ropes and terrible weather. On the 21st of July we flew out of the range after five days of being pinned down in heavy rain and wind.

Huge thanks goes to the Mugs Stump Award for it’s generous support, as well as the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Expedition Fund.

As always, I had the best kit imaginable thanks to Rab, CAMP, Scarpa, and Nudefood!!!


The Angel was first climbed in May of 1985 by Greg Collins and Tom Walter. They succeeded , after four attempts, in climbing “Snow ramps with an occasional rock move or two along the left flank of the [East] buttress.” After a crux slab (5.10), they gained the East ridge and followed that to the summit.(Tom Walter, 1988 AAJ, p. 119)

(In the report they describe their route as taking place on the ‘Southeast Buttress’ of the peak. We think that their route is on the south side of what we are describing as the ‘East Buttress’. It seems that our route joined  the 1985 route at the top of the buttress and followed the same moderate ridgeline to the summit)

In April of 2012, Clint Helander and Ben Trocki made the second ascent of the mountain by opening the South Ridge. Clint was super helpful and inspirational for our trip, in driving us around Anchorage, giving us photos and maps, and generally sharing his enthusiasm. Thanks Clint, you’re the man!


flyin in

Light rain on the flight in


up glacier flyin in

Our first view up the glacier


graham corner stitch edit

Graham leading up a gorgeous corner (poorly stitched composite image, sorry)

triple cracks pitch

Graham moving from one splitter to the next on the “Triple Cracks” pitch. Fun-fun-fun!!

scott in bivy

Peeking out of the little bivy tent. Photo by GZ


Graham approaching the “Terror Towers”, named by Collins and Walter in ’85. It was less chossy than it appears, though, and we found easy passage.

graham lost his keys

Graham lost his keys high on the mountain….

summit snowfield

Slogging on the summit snowfield.

matching sunnies!

Matching sunnies, how cute (:


After our route, we spent a few rainy days, entertaining ourselves by aiding up boulders. FUN!!

tent drops

Tent bound boredom…


We think the central rock buttress here on the Hydra is unclimbed!

hydra corner

Here’s a close-up of a beautiful corner system on the Hydra. Go get it!

heli on glacier

Waiting for the fog to lift so that we can fly out. What a proud little bird!!

heli eyes

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Summer Plans

Hey friends-

Some of y’all probably know about my efforts, with some good friends, to make it to the most amazing and rugged granite mountains in the world: the Pakistani Karakorum.

I wrote a post over on Mountain Project about these efforts, and why we’ve failed, two years in a row, to secure the needed permits and visas. Read the post, but beware that it gets a bit political.

Moving on to something more positive, I’m currently in Talkeetna Alaska! It’s my first time in Alaska, which coincidentally was the 49th state to join the Union, and also the 49th different state that I’ve visited!

I’m hanging with my good friend Graham Zimmerman, and we’re packed and ready to fly into the Revelation Mountains! We got the idea from our friend Clint Helander, who has made annual trips to this obscure range over the past several years, putting up rad ice and mixed lines on massive (mostly unclimbed) faces. 

His photos of big granite buttresses and ridges, all unclimbed, enticed us.


The Apocalypse, photo by Clint Helander.

We’ll be flying in on this little chopter:

our lil heli

It’s a long flight, nearly 200km, and so we’ve gotta carry a good amount of fuel. Meaning a limited payload for climbing gear!


It’s a good thing we’ve got all sorts of techy lightweight gear, like these hybrid Aluminum/Steel crampons and carbon fiber boots! Thanks CAMP and Scarpa!!


Will, our pilot, using Google Earth and old-fashioned paper topos to plot a route for our little bird. We need to cross the crest of the Alaska Range to get to the Revelations, so we’ve gotta find the right pass!

We’re planning to fly in today or tomorrow, as soon as the weather in the mountains looks amenable. Plan to be back out on the 29th of July, so check back here!



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Kit for RMNP

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time this winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Front Range’s alpine playground. From big solo days to scary mixed routes to speed climbing on the Diamond, I’ve refined my clothing and gear kit down to the most essential and practical items. A few folks have contacted me with questions about the ideal gear, so here’s a breakdown of my favorites for winter climbing in RMNP.

Note: For the past year I’ve been working closely with two amazing companies: Rab and CAMP. These great folks provide me with cutting edge clothing and gear, which helps me pack the ideal kit for the mountains. Previously, I’ve been hesitant to plug their gear on my site, so as not to seem biased. Now, though, I’ve had plenty of time to judge the gear on it’s merits, and feel as though I can offer honest recommendations.

Below I’ve described my recommended gear in general terms, and then provided links to the actual items that I use.


Hallets Peak and the Dragontail Spires


RMNP, like Patagonia and many of my favorite alpine areas, tends to have predictable weather in the winter. Good climbing days are typically high-pressure, sunny, windy, dry and cold. The ideal clothing setup consists of multiple layers, to prevent overheating while approaching and avoid hypothermia at belays. It should be windproof but breathable; tight fitting but non-restrictive; light but warm.


Powerstretch Fleece Pants: These comfortable pants are form fitting and stretchy. They dry quickly, so any sweat accumulated on approach won’t keep you cold while climbing. Rab PS Pants, 220g


Fleece hoody: This is an essential piece that I wear on literally every winter climb. Mine is tight fitting; the balaclava-style hood that fits under my helmet and doesn’t restrict my vision. Rab Baseline Hoody, 340g.

Balaclava: When it’s really cold, I layer a thin balaclava under my baselayer’s hood. I can wear it just as a neck warmer, or pull it all the way up to protect my chin and cheeks. Rab Meco 165 Balaclava


For day trips with good forecasts, I’m less concerned about moisture from outside (precipitation) than I am with sweat. Breathabilty is key to staying dry when you’re working hard in the mountains, so I opt for a lightweight softshell that keeps the wind out. I also aim for a tight fit, especially in the pants to prevent crampons from catching on excess material.

Softshell pants: I wear my summer-weight softshells, over the fleece pants, and I think they  keep me warm enough in temps down to -15c. Mine are modified for winter with the addition of glove-friendly zipper pulls. Elastic hems at the ankles, plus elastic spats to hold them down, negate the need for gaiters. Rab Scimitar Pants, 380g.


Tip: Make glove-friendly zipper pulls by melting little loops of 2-3mm cord with a lighter.

mike on hallet

Mike Arnold, in his Scimitar jacket, starting up the Englishman’s Route on Hallets (M6, 300m). His Infinity belay jacket is clipped to his harness.

Softshell jacket: Fit is key here. You need to be able to raise your arms high without pulling the waist up (and out from under your harness.) Also look for a hood that fits well over your helmet. I love Rab’s wire brim hoods, which keep falling snow and rain off my face. Drawstrings getting caught in my gear is a major pet-peeve of mine, so I tie up the elastic into knots, so they don’t hang down by my harness. Rab Scimitar Jacket, 580g.


My Infinity puffy tries to cheer me up in a cold snow cave on the East face of Long’s.

Belay Jacket: Whenever I’m not moving (while brewing up, belaying, etc), the very first thing I do is pull on my puffy. In dry environments, down is unbeatable. Look for a jacket that packs the most down into the lightest package. Find a stuff sack that’s easy to stuff (I hate wrestling jackets into tiny bags!) and sports a bomber clip-in point. Rab’s Infinity Endurance jacket uses 210g of 850 fill power down to stave off hypothermia, and weighs just 480g (with a water-resistant outer to boot!)


Climbing gloves: Dexterity is crucial; find tight fitting leather gloves that will allow you to handle ‘biners and ice tools. I also love rockclimbing in gloves; jamming is comfy and crimping is surprisingly secure. Practice gloved climbing on chilly days at the crag! Rab Alpine gloves.


Alpine gloves, cranking on the Diamond!

Belay gloves: As with the puffy jacket, I put on my warmer gloves as soon as I stop moving. I don’t like huge unwieldy mitts, since I always need dexterity to put on layers, work the stove, belay, etc. Rab’s Latok gloves are my standard here: a good balance of warmth and usability. The eVent lining is nice when you’re swimming through loose snow, too.

Approach gloves: I’ll usually bring a third pair of gloves to wear on approach, to prevent my other pairs from getting sweaty. Thin and windproof is nice. Rab Phantom grip gloves.


colin n chmmy

Colin Simon in the North Chimney, below the Diamond. We took one tool each, to save weight while climbing the Diamond.

TOOLS: There are a million considerations when looking at ice tools, but for RMNP I generally look for a lightweight and versatile tool capable of plunging up steep snow, getting sticks in thinly bonded ice, and hooking on small incut edges. A hammer is important for pounding the occasional pin, but I don’t find an adze useful. I use Cassin’s All Mountain Tools (with one hammer), 628g/tool. Because I’m clumsy, I like to use an elasticized tether on my tools. CAMP’s Gyro is nice, as it allows the tools to rotate independently. 

CRAMPONS: For steep climbing, on ice and rock, I prefer a monopoint setup (easier to balance on tiny holds). Cassin’s C Comp model (850g/pair) is a minimalist ‘pon that keeps you light on your feet, while still providing enough points for all manners of climbing. After scratching around for a season on RMNP granite, dull front points can easily be replaced (an advantage over single-piece ‘pons like the Petzl Dart).

c compxlc nano

For lower angle climbing, on steep snow and icy gullies, I sometimes opt to go even lighter  with the XLC Nanotech hybrid Aluminum/Steel ‘pons. Steel frontpoints let you kick into ice, while the aluminum body keep the whole rig at 478g!

RACK: In RMNP, where ice is rare and most of the climbing is on snow covered rock, I will often take my standard summer rack, maybe with a few small pitons. I do swap out my Nano mini-biners for the full sized Photons, which at 29g are still as light as most competitors mini-biners.

PACK: I find that I’m more likely to bring a pack along on winter climbs, since I often carry over a peak, and have stove, jackets, etc to lug. As always, weight is important, as well as flexible capacity, a streamlined profile, and good ice tool attachments. The Cilogear 45L fits these requirements perfectly! After removing the lid, framesheet, and hipbelt mine clocks in at 635g. On route, the narrow shape keeps it out of my way, and the buckle system lets me vary the capacity from 75L to 22L. As with all of my packs, I replaced the framesheet with a piece of sleeping pad foam, which I can use as a butt-pad at breaks.


Cilogear’s simple tool attachment sleeves.


Tip: Once you make elastic “spats” on your pants, cut a channel on the bottom of your boot for the cord. This keeps it in place and prevents abrasion.

BOOTS: I know I harp on weight with all of my gear, but it’s most important with boots! Weight on your feet makes climbing cumbersome and awkward. I’m currently rocking the Asolo Cholatse (1700g/pair), which climb rock amazingly and sport a integrated neoprene gaiter to keep my ankles warm and dry. Though I haven’t tried them yet, I’m really excited to check out the Scarpa Rebel Carbon Ultras soon, which at 1420g/pair should feel like rock shoes!

STOVE: Even for day trips, I almost always carry a stove while winter climbing. Consider that the Jetboil Sol TI weights 245g, and a small fuel canister is 200g. (1mL of H2O=1g). So you could carry half a liter of water, or bring a jetboil and have the ability to melt snow into unlimited hot drinks! Of course, melting snow takes time, and in very windy conditions can be impossible. So I usually bring a 500ml thermos with hot tea, and brew up a couple times per day to refill it.


I like to bring a variety of hot drinks, including tea bags, Emergen-C packets (excellent warm!), hot cocoa, and instant soup. Adding milk powder to tea provides extra calories.

Have redundancy in your stove lighting tools! The jetboil’s built-in ignitor fails after a few months, in my experience. After that I tear it out to save weight. Mini lighters are handy, but are useless when wet. I love the simplicity of  flint and steel (Light My Fire FireSteel Mini, 28g), which still won’t work when wet, but is more easily dried.

Fuel canisters can have trouble in extreme cold. Most canisters have a mix of Propane and Isobutane. Isobutane has a higher boiling point (-1c) than propane (-42c), so in cold temperature it will remain in liquid form (it won’t create the vapor pressure needed to force it out of the canister). Look for canisters with a  higher propane content, so that the fuel stays in gaseous form at a lower temperature. Warm the canister inside your jacket prior to use, and with your hands during use.

rap line

ROPE: Decide, based on the route, if you need to bring one or two ropes. If the descent allows, I’ll usually choose a single line for weight and simplicity. A 70 or 80 meter cord allow for long pitches and rappels, and is especially useful while shortfixing. On easier routes, where you might be simuling long sections, a 6om rope will be less cumbersome. Look for a dry coating, and go with the smallest diameter with which you’re comfortable.

On solo adventures, when I only need a rope for rappels, I like my Edelrid Rap Line (6mm x 60m).

I hope that helps inspire you to get out in “The Park” and enjoy it’s unique style of climbing. With the right kit, it can actually be fun!

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The Sprint and the Marathon

In the last couple weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to get out with some super-capable climbing partners on two of my favorite routes: Eldorado Canyon’s Naked Edge, and Rocky Mountain’s D7, on the world-famous Diamond. Both were routes I’d done before, in the case of the Edge probably a dozen times in the last few years, and in both cases we set new speed records.  Here’re the stories of those ascents.

(Think speed climbing is lame? Me too, kinda. My thoughts can be found in this previous post.)


Eldorado Canyon, just south of Boulder, is dominated by the Redgarden Wall. A complex bulk of towers, ramps and ridges carved in colorful Fountain Sandstone, Redgarden hosts many of Boulder’s classic routes. Perhaps none are more famous or recognizable as the Naked Edge.


which line do you think it is…

Local (err…global) legend Layton Kor made his first attempt at the route in 1962. At age 24, Kor was already the most visionary climber of his era, and in that same year he brought his gangly physique and efficient free/aid style to the Diamond with his notorious Yellow Wall (V, 5.8 A4). It took two years for Kor to return to the Edge, when he and Rick Horn completed their test-piece at Grade III, 5.9, A3.


Lookin’ good, Layton

Though the route’s finger locks and crimps have now been cleaned (and over-gripped!) by generations of climbers, and nearly everyone now approaches the Edge as a free-climbing challenge, it still commands respect. Most parties allot at least a solid half-day to attempt the route, which includes 100m of technical approach pitches and 120m of intricate, often run-out, climbing up to 5.11b.

But there is a crew of local climbers for whom the iconic route has become a familiar friend, and perhaps a race course. Though I’m sure many climbers were inspired to run up and down the Edge quickly, the first speed record of which I’m aware is 1:38, by Michael Gilbert and Rob Slater in the early 1990s. Bob Rotert and Dave Vaughan took up the playful challenge in 2006, with their self-imposed “traditional style: no french free, no simul climbing and no skate boarding down the East Slabs” and posted a remarkable 1:22.

bob on the edge

Bobby Rotert himself, following the Naked Edge during a casual sub-two-hour lap.

Bob, who doesn’t let his grey hair stop him from rampaging on his dirt bike and cruising 5.11R, goaded me into attempting the challenge in 2010. As training for our first Patagonia trip, my friend Blake Herrington and I chose the windiest day in the forecast and battled 50mph gusts on the exposed arete. It must have been a tailwind, because we trimmed 9 more minutes from the time, finishing the round trip (bridge-to-bridge) challenge in 1:13.

In early 2012, the competition got more serious as local crushers Jason Wells and Stefan Griebel introduced simul-climbing to the event, and sliced our mark by a third, down to 49 minutes!!!

All year, while enjoying sunny granite in the Cascades, dodging seracs in the Waddington, and learning to scratch around in RMNP, the Naked Edge was in the back of my mind. Blake was now living in Washington, and so I had trouble recruiting a partner for the effort. Friends balked at the idea of simul-ing the insecure climbing and bombing down the fourth-class descent. Brad Gobright, a young rock-star from Orange County, was eager to try, but all through the fall season was recovering from a broken ankle (bouldering is dangerous!).


Bradley G leading, with me belaying, on the Venturi Effect.

Come winter, I was ready to give up on the Edge for a while, since ice on the descent rarely melts and would make a speedy round-trip (even more) dangerous. And of course the route closes from February 1st to July 31st, to protect the nesting sites of Peregrine Falcons. Oh well, maybe next year…

Luckily for me (and unluckily for skiers!) this winter has been historically warm and dry on the Front Range. Since Brad’s ankle was somewhat healed, I began to badger him: “c’mon, just give it a try!”

brad g

Brad on China Doll, photo by Rob Kepley. As you might have guessed, we don’t have any photos from our climb…

So finally we were on the bridge, watch in hand, racked up, shirtless, and stoked! We’d done a lap on the route earlier that day, and reacquainted ourselves with the tricky sequences. I started the time and we were off. A few hundred meters of trail, just enough to get our hearts racing, brought us to the base of a long water-polished ramp. We soloed the easy fifth-class in tennies, trying to keep our breath in check.

At the base of the first pitch, I pulled on my climbing slippers and started up the glorious 5.11a fingerlocks. I tried to focus less on speed and more on perfect footwork. Though not the crux, I find this pitch to be the most sustained, and I placed small cams every few meters. When the steep crack gave way to a pleasant slab, I sped back up and enjoyed the feeling of my toes gripping the small edges and knobs.

I stretched the rope to 75 meters, reaching a sloping ledge and setting a belay for Brad. I pulled up rope as fast as I could, keeping pace with his breakneck climbing. We tried to yell back and forth, but the wind scrambled our words into unintelligible noise. It wasn’t until Brad pulled over a ledge 35m below, and I could see him, that we communicated and decided to keep simul-ing.

The final two pitches feature the most interesting climbing on the route. Any seasoned Eldo climber can probably mime the beta for the notorious “Bomb-bay” pitch from memory. As I began this lead, I had just one cam left on my harness. Luckily, there’s plenty of “historic” (read: manky) fixed gear and I had enough draws to clip most of it.

At the top I slung a boulder, put Brad on belay, and yelled down “yer on be-layyyyyy”. I don’t think Brad heard me, but our friends on the other side of the canyon did and responded with cheers and monkey calls. Brad would tell me later that the rope was somehow caught under his leg and my forceful belay almost flipped him out of the bomb-bay…. Ooop, sorry bro!

Glancing at my watch, I was nervous. I’d reached the top of the route in just 29 minutes, a great pace, but with Brad’s suspect ankle I wasn’t sure how quickly we would blitz the descent. But Brad is tough, and with me running in front and finding the best path, we nearly reached terminal velocity on the slabby “walk-off”. I pulled out the watch on the bridge, cheered Brad on, and stopped the clock as we both touched the plaque in the middle of the span: 44 minutes!!



Photo by Colin Simon

The Diamond is one of my favorite playgrounds here on the Front Range, and though I’ve been up it dozens of times in summer, I’d never thought about it as a winter objective until this winter. My friend Colin Simon got me psyched on going up there two weeks ago, and we enjoyed awesome conditions. The snow on approach and in the North Chimney was consolidated, the wall itself  was free of snow, and temps in the 20’s allowed for some freeclimbing. To my surprise, it was actually a type-one-fun day, and we climbed the route to Table Ledge before descending.


Colin Simon and I before our first Diamond attempt





Leading on D7, photo by Colin Simon

While it’s sometimes tough to find partners for these weird winter missions, my friend Joe Mills was chomping at the bit to try the Diamond, and I agreed to go up again a week later (Feb 3rd). Joe had been emailing with Josh Wharton, who’s 2001 ascent with Jonny Copp held the speed record for the Diamond in winter (14hrs 17m car-to-car). Josh encouraged Joe to go for the record, since it would give Josh an excuse to go try it again!


Jonny Copp, before the original Triple Lindy linkup in RMNP. Photo by Kelly Cordes.

Joe and I went light and fast from the parking lot (just one headlamp, one rope, one backpack, one set of ice tools, etc) and power-walked up the approach trail. Since my last attempt, over a foot of fresh snow had fallen in the cirque, and the unconsolidated powder made for slow going past Chasm Lake. Once in the North Chimney, a 150m 5.4 approach route, we were wallowing and swimming in the loose snow, cursing our timing and lamenting that we’d never break the record at that pace.


Colin mixed climbing in the North Chimney with one ice tool, on our first attempt.

Once on D7 itself, I was similarly frustrated by the fluffy powder that filled every fingerlock and camouflaged every crimp. That, combined with colder temps (biners would freeze to my lips if I tried to hold them in my mouth) meant less free climbing and more aid. Years of practice in Yosemite paid off, though, and I quickly established a rhythm of aid placements, high stepping and pulling off snowy holds to extend for my next piece.



joe on table

We reached Table Ledge, traversed over to the Kieners Route, and stumbled to the summit completely out-of-breath. We rapped the North Face and jogged back to the car, both our throats swollen from dehydration. One look at the clock, though, and we didn’t care: 12 hours and 31 minutes, a new Diamond-in-winter record!


Cumbre with Joe Mills

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Rationalizing our absurd games

I kinda feel ashamed when I set out to race the clock. I love climbing because I love being outside, seeing beautiful places, and exploring my own physical limits. Ego driven competition is for meathead sports and macho show-offs.

But I love speed climbing, and especially trying to break records on my favorite routes! So how do I reconcile this contradiction?

Why I like climbing speed records:

-When at the crags, climbing fast means climbing more. Or maybe just getting back home in time for dinner instead of epic-ing all night.

-In the big, remote mountains, with short and uncertain weather windows, speed in essential to success and safety. Moving efficiently and quickly over complicated terrain is the difference between sending (and sitting out a storm back safely in base camp) and fighting off hypothermia in a snow cave for days.

-Quantifying speed (racing the clock) allows you to measure improvement, and prompts you to think creatively. If you try hard on a route, yet still don’t get the time you want, you’re forced to reevaluate your strategy and consider innovative tactics. Perhaps you’ll simul-climb, shortfix, take lighter/less gear, or simply break up pitches differently.

It’s not about ego and one-up-manship, it’s about training and having fun. Records are silly,  but we all find silly ways to motivate ourselves.


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A Long Dreamt Linkup

Last week, on New Year’s Day, I thought I might lose my toes. Halfway up Long’s Peak, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, I huddled in a snow cave and coaxed my stove to a ragged boil. I hadn’t felt my feet in hours.


I was trying to solo the East Face of Long’s, a 600m aspect dominated by the Diamond. To the left of that famous bigwall, a complex of ledges and couloirs offers a surprisingly moderate passage up the massive cliff. Trudging up Lamb’s Slide, the first couloir, a combination of thigh deep snow and sub-zero temps choked off any warmth in my feet, leaving them useless lumps in my boots. Now, sheltered in my cave to escape the blowing spindrift, the decision to bail was an easy one.


Spindrift swirls above Broadway

Back at home, a glass of whiskey dulled the pain and the memories. My frostbite worries seemed melodramatic, and a new plan began to take shape. Next time I would start earlier, and go bigger.

before and after

Attempt #1, before and after

whiskey time

While the East Face of Long’s dominates it’s cirque, it’s not alone. It’s neighbor, Mt Meeker, presents a broad Northeast face, cut with vertical slashes and serpentine buttresses. The twin mountains form a natural arena for the sport of mountaineering, and I’ve long dreamt of climbing routes on both peaks in a day. My first attempt came in summer, two years ago, with my friend Graham. Having driven all night to arrive at my house at 4am, Graham ran on pure adrenaline through routes on the Diamond and Red Wall. When it came time to hike over to Meeker and complete our linkup, though, the high had worn off; we headed home.

Since then, I’ve had many big days in “The Park”, but never gone back to complete the Meeker-Long’s link. Now, having tucked tail and bailed from my New Year’s solo, I cast about for a big plan to redeem myself. The answer was obvious.


Meeker and Long’s. Dreamweaver is the long couloir in the center of Meeker. The Notch Couloir ends at the prominent notch just left of the summit of Long’s. Broadway is the long ledge cutting across the face.

frozen lake

Beautiful ice on the frozen Chasm lake

ice crack

More amazing lake ice

Saturday January 5th

My feet are warm, but now my lungs feel ready to disintegrate. My breath is rapid and shallow in the frigid thin air. Halfway up the Dreamweaver Couloir on Mt Meeker, a quarter of the way into my day, and I’m sure that this will be better than my last attempt.

The lower portion of Dreamweaver was that same unconsolidated snow that I’d found on Lamb’s Slide, but instead of thrashing and wallowing, I cheated out right onto a rock buttress and found moderate glove and boot climbing.

I traverse back into the couloir just in time to scratch up a series of chockstones, each presenting a tricky drytool crux. Spindrift avalanches come whistling down around me, and I pull my hood brim low.

Higher, firm snow allows for rapid progress, or at least as rapid as my wheezing lungs would allow.


A choice between a snowy gully and an awesome handcrack? That’s no choice at all!


Better snow!

The summit of Meeker is a treat, my first time atop a mountain that I see almost daily. The wind has swept clean the granite ridge, and for a moment in the bright sunshine I convince myself it’s summer.

Meeker summit

Squinting in the sun atop Meeker, with Long’s behind.

Studying photos, and Google Earth, I’d figured out that I didn’t need to descend very far to reach my next route. From the Loft, the broad col between Meeker and Long’s, I sneak over to the head of Lamb’s Slide. Descending this, I then hook up with Broadway, a ledge across the whole East Face of Long’s, and simply traverse over to the base of the Notch Couloir. Within an hour I’m climbing again.


The East Face of Long’s. The big steep part is the Diamond, and the snowy ledge below it is Broadway. The Notch couloir is out of sight, to the left of the big D.

Again I encounter that awful powdery snow, but this time I have the determination to put my head down and slog. As I gain elevation, the cleft around me narrows; snow gives way to bare rock and the final challenges of the day. The initial steps are fun, with solid edges and little smears of ice.

boots ice

Soon I’m staring up into a narrow chimney; doubt and fear seep into my head. I can’t fit with my pack on, but luckily I’ve brought a chunk of 6mm cord as a rappel line.

I wedge my pack below me and use the cord as a haul line, tying one end to the pack and the other to my harness. Unencumbered, I begin to squirm up the crack. My crampons grate against the bare granite, and my chest is squeezed tightly. My heart rate was already high, but now it red-lines as I gasp for oxygen. I hunt around above me for some purchase with my picks, but scraping the back of the snowy chimney just yields loose dirt and gravel. Another wild burst of effort, another centimeter of progress. Finally, after I catch up with my racing breath, I can reach up and hook a solid chockstone. I flop over into the loose snow, pull up my pack, and continue climbing.


There’s a constant battle in our minds between aspiration and inertia; big dreams and creeping doubt. Soloing, I think, intensifies and exposes that internal struggle. Without a partner to rely upon, or to blame, we’re forced to recognize our own motivations and fears.

longs summit

I reached the summit of Long’s at sunset. After fighting with conditions and with myself, after bailing and trying again, I knew that it was just a fun day of climbing, hopefully one of many more to come.


1.5.13 Solo linkup of Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker and Notch Couloir on Long‘s peak. ~800m of climbing with difficulties to AI3 and M3. Total elevation, including approach, ~18oom. 11 hours, car to car.


All photos and words copyright Scott Bennett 2013

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Restoking the home fires

Buena ventura, che!

“Have a good adventure, bro” I said to Neil yesterday. In typical scatterbrained fashion, he’d spent the morning running around, finding boots and crampons, stuffing his duffel, and saying his adios‘s. All just barely in time to catch an 11:30am bus to the Denver airport, the first leg of a 48-hour, stiff-legged, red-eyed, travel marathon. I was so jealous.

Neil, and his brother Joel, were the first of my amigos to make the Great Southern Migration this year, bound for El Chaltén, Argentina. Many more will follow in the next month, all stoked beyond words to climb on that perfect Southern Patagonian granite.


Cheyne is headed south, too!!

I won’t be joining them this season; I’m a bit jealous. But, overwhelmingly, the excitement and possibilities of spending a winter season in the Northern hemisphere are forefront in my mind.


Eldorado Canyon and the Flatirons

One thing about which I’m ACTUALLY motivated, for the first time in MONTHS, is to write on this blog. So keep an eye out for photos and stories recapping the last summer and fall, and plenty more from adventures this season.


And if you want a little Patagonia action, too, check out Joel and Neil’s page:

and Cheyne Lempe’s blog:

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New Tech Page: Cameras

I’ve been busy, for once! Here’s another new technique page, this time about how to get the most from your camera while climbing. Check it out!

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