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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Making The Most Of Numbered Days

We've been lucky this summer. Up till the past week or so, southwest Colorado has not been subjected to most of the haze and smoke from infernos north and west of here. But for the monsoons extending their stay well into August, there go we. 

Therefore I shall refrain from whining about a little smoke and haze from "elsewhere" fires messing with my photos. Additionally, given Houston and much of the Texas Gulf Coast, I shan't complain when one of our outing objectives gets thunder-stormed out...like it did a few days ago on 13'er Whitehouse Mountain south of Silverton, and smack against the border of the Weminuche Wilderness Area. 

We decided to connect a few more "dots" on our ever-shrinking map of places yet to explore within a fifty mile radius of Lovely Ouray. Chief Hike Researcher, Bobbie, found a great looking loop-hike that winds it's way between two virgin (for us) 13'ers. 20% thunderstorm probability and Haze-be-damned; off we go.

The only "unfortunate" part is that in order to get to the trailhead we must navigate Petroeous Rex up Kendall Mountain Road, one of the loosest, rockiest 4WD roads in the San Juan Mountains. 

We know this because, way back in our mountain running days, the Kendall Mountain Run was one of our favorite races. Starting near Silverton's historical courthouse (9,318 feet), foolhardy participants race 6.5 miles to the summit of Kendall Mountain (13,338 feet) and, of course, back to town. It's a steep, grueling, 13 miles through loose rock, with a free-for-all scramble from road's end to the top...an anything goes section where there is no fixed route. It was common to see racers with bloodied palms and faces lined up at the medic tent at the finish line.   

Driving up that stream-bed of-a-road dredged up fond memories for Bobbie and I. There was no sightseeing running down Kendall Mountain Road; every single foot placement required 110 percent focus and quad strength beyond measure to "brake" on such a steep descent.  

"Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way."
                                                               Popularized by Mary Hopkin

On with the hike...which started at timberline and went up, up, up to treeless, jaw dropping "Sound of Music" wide-openness. Honestly, we hiked the entire day with out seeing another soul. Weather was t-shirt mild, excepting breezy summits/passes, and we noticed Ms Autumm had dropped by... adding some blondes, reds, and umbers to the high lonesome tundra landscape. Sneeze Weed had mostly gone to seed, all but a few petals. The trail is friendly, though, and climbs without hast as if it's got all summer. There is no "Agony" to be found; It's all "Ecstasy," baby, and we are ecstatic.   

Stoic Engineer Mountain stands alone over Durango way...summited oh-so-long ago it almost slipped my mind.

Autumn's tease...

Gentle passes...

Oops...got off-trail.

Some may question why Bobbie is in so many of my photos. I like to use her for "scale," to demonstrate both the enormity, and remoteness of the world above timberline.   

Getting small...

Vestal and Arrow...through the haze.

The mild summit of Whitehead does not feel like a summit, tho it's over 13,250 feet.

Vestal and Arrow (again), from the summit of Whitehead.

Just a hop-skip-jump to Highland Mary Lakes...

Once home I discover that No Name has a name after all... Meet  "Rhoda."

Gazing west from Whitehead

Bobbie summits Whitehead's non-peak against a stirring backdrop of a former playground, the Weminuche. Above, in the haze and to the right of Vestal and Arrow's abrupt slabs— nearly lost amongst row upon row of similarly grandiose peaks—are Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight, all proud 14'ers. A nightmarish flashback ensues...

Having summited 50 out of 54 Colorado 14'ers—some incredible, some forgettable, but none regrettable—it's reasonable to understand how they might begin to run together after a few decades. In fact, if queried, I doubt I could recall all their names. But hey, that happens with people, too. Be it peak or person, I need something to stand out in order to remember a name. Such is the case for Eolus...spooky, sketchy, Eolus 

Eolus is forever indelibly etched into my memory, the only mountain to totally unnerved me to the point of panic. We got off-route on the final pitch of Eolus' near-vertical face; Bobbie was climbing in my footsteps. I looked down to see how she was doing, a big mistake. Being slightly acrophobic, the "air" and drop got to me. I felt it coming...that queasy knot in the stomach, dizziness, quivering legs, weakness, loss of control...in short, panic. 
We're fucking off route!

There was no going down on such a pitch, and there was no safe way to continue going up. The only move was to traverse right in hopes we could get back on route. Moving helped...it gave me something to focus on and took my mind off our precipitous predicament.

Don't stop...never, never stop. But if you must stop, Don't look down. It gives panic a foot in the door. 

Having no rope, I couldn't enjoy the summit. Always more difficult, I was too worried about how to get down. Bobbie found a couple of tiny cairn's close to the nose and we were able to work our way off the the mountain. If you know Eolus, then you know of the infamous "Catwalk," a knife-edge section that, for some, requires a change of underwear. I was so relieved to be off that mountain and back to camp.  

With grassy Whitehead down, we set our sights on Rhoda next door. Slightly taller by a couple hundred feet, she had the look of a summit, all rocky and with an edge. As the day wound on, clouds continued to build eastward. Rain and corn snow spat off and on. We kept an eye on the storm trying to see which way it was going. It never seemed to move... 

I recalled the old weather adage: If you see a tornado and it isn't moving, then it's coming at you!  Thunder rolled, right on cue... Shit!  We're about as exposed as you can get, running a ridge between two 13ers. No place to hide for a mouse, let alone hikers.

Bobbie on the saddle between Whitehead and Rhoda (in shadow).
More spits of rain; a few balls of corn-snow. We are so close, maybe 15 minutes to summit. Let's wait to decide on bailing when we reach the base. Bobbie agrees.

Clouds darken; a roll of thunder in the distance. 
We play it safe. Ugh...it's painful...like, it was right there, 15 minutes and we're on top! Halfway down the steep run of scree/talus, the storms skirts south of us. We are too tired to re-climb in loose footing. 

Rhoda; so close, yet so far...

Good light and virga on the way down...

Engineer Mountain, isolated in the distance. We had a top-of-the-world view from the summit, after a short sketchy section where a rope would have come in handy on the way down (sigh).

Though Whitehead was a gentle walk-in-the-park, it recalled some sketchy climbs in the "neighborhood." 

When someone asks, "why?" most real mountaineers answer, Because it's there. I'm not a real mountaineer, though...my answer is not so pure and simplistic. No, my answer would be, Because I still can, and I've reached the age where one realizes that those days are numbered.  

I will always want need another peak in my "bag" before I'm forced to take leave from wilderness and mountains. It's what I'll treasure and cling to when such adventures are beyond the realm of choice.  

Lovely Silverton...


  1. Thanks for the picture of Silverton, my favorite place in all the world.

  2. It's nice to read that you hiked something "easy"...stunning photos as always and nary a tree in sight!

  3. Now that looks like a lovely hike! We did a hike in the Weminuche Wilderness yesterday but it was not above treeline so not nearly as scenic.
    Just reading about your summit of Eolus gave me that panic knot-in-the-stomach feeling!

  4. Wonder what those broad, sweeping vistas look like during peak wildflower season...could be another "secret garden?"

  5. That would have been a good one to do a video on Mark; would love to hear you huffing & puffing while telling us the tale of Eolus, then add in some music like Ain't No Mountain High Enough, ending with a wide pan and you & Bobbie arm in arm :)
    I know, you should have had a companion to record it all.
    Any how beautiful hike, great narrative.
    Don't stop now for any reason.

  6. Love the brilliant greens and golds! Looks like a fairly decent hike!

  7. Another fabulous header pictures. I just can’t believe you guys racing up a 13teener. Love the lyrics and the photo of Bobbie below it looks like a painting. Having her in the pictures really does provide the scale of the grandeur. What a simply gorgeous hike. Hard to believe you’d never done it before. Sorry about Rhoda but 50 out of 54 14teeners– wow!!

  8. I love love love the San Juans. Thanks for sharing your adventures and the beauty!

  9. How close do you guys live to Durango? That is where I was born, and the only place in Colorado I've been!


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