A 3-Day Pass in Lake City

The Lake City Ice Park the day after the festival; this is a moderately busy day.
The Lake City Ice Park the day after the festival; this is a moderately busy day.

I feel more than a wee bit guilty spending a long weekend in Lake City while Jess is home with a snuffly little girl, but it hasn’t made the climbing any less fun. In fact, the climbing has been pretty darn good. Andy and Gretchen picked me up on Saturday morning at a little past 7:00, and we were on the road shortly thereafter. Although there was snow in the forecast, we got over Monarch Pass and all the way to Lake City with pretty much dry pavement and arrived by about 12:30. We checked into our room at the Matterhorn Motel (same place Pete and I stayed last year) and grabbed some lunch at one of the two open eateries. By the time we sauntered over to the ice park, things were well underway. The top rope and and lead climbing comps were set up in the same spots as last year, and the ice appeared a bit thinner. Andy and Gretchen walked up to the top to set up a top rope on a short little climb just to the left of the little mixed cave in the park while I relaxed below watching the comp and waiting to give advice (only if necessary, of course) in regards to rope placement. We spent a couple of hours taking turns doing laps on the climb in what was a consistent snow that soaked just about everything we had. Just as we were packing things up, someone got clobbered by a large piece of ice from an adjacent climber. It looked for a while as though he may have dislocated a shoulder, or worse, but he managed to regroup and finish the climb after a few minutes of what appeared to be intense pain. We didn’t end up with any pictures and had to hang up the ropes and gear to dry in the closet, but we had a fun time. Later that evening we made the 2-minute walk down the hill to the Packer Grill for a little ice festival afterparty and some beer. Sadly, there was no live band this year, but they did have the skills competition from the weekends NBA All Star Gala on the tube. Although the Packer Grill might be named for Lake City’s famous cannibal, I tried not to hold the decorations from Wisconsin’s famed football team against them.

Gretchen tearin' it up on our day-two route.
Gretchen tearin' it up on our day-two route.

The next morning we slept in a bit, as things are pretty laid back in Lake City. I made it out the door first and trekked to the coffee shop for a mocha and a bagel. A few minutes later, I was joined by the rest of the team. We chatted a bit with the proprietor before heading back to the room to grab our gear. A few minutes later and we were back in the ice park contemplating our options. This time Andy and I hiked up to the top and we ended up setting up a toprope on what was the lead comp route the day before. Since the climbs are fairly long, we used some cordalettes and a bit of static line to extend the anchor about 40-50 feet from the post glued into the ground until it reached over the lip. It ended up working well with both ends of the 60-meter cord reaching the ground and no rope drag. This was especially nice as there was about 6 inches of fresh snow along the top of the climb.

We managed about 3-4 laps each of the former comp route. It seemed to get easier with each lap despite the growing fatigue in my forearms, so either I was climbing more efficiently as the day went on, finding more of the hooks left from a constant barrage of assaults the day before (quite likely as we were slowly cleaning the snow from the route), or just making more big holes with each ascent. Regardless, we had a splendid time on the ice and thoroughly enjoyed beating ourselves to a pulp. Andy managed to clobber himself in the chin with a decent-sized hunk of ice (there wasn’t really any blood, so it ranks as fairly minor) and I got a little bruise on one knee.

After another night of bar hopping (Lake City has 3 functional bars in the winter), I’m comfortably back in the motel room able to share these pics from the weekend and planning out tomorrow’s climbing. As was the case last year, the festival was a fun low-key weekend in a city full of fun and welcoming people that seemed legitimately glad to have us in town, and just like last year, I’ll be heading back to the front range tomorrow certain that I’ll return next year. Maybe  next year Jess and Phoebe will be able to come.

Andy on the comp route under overcast but snow-free skies.
Andy on the comp route under overcast but snow-free skies.
Here I am shaking out some pump about half way up the comp route. Believe it or not, the routes steeper than it appears in this image.
Here I am shaking out some pump about half way up the comp route. Believe it or not, the route's steeper than it appears in this image.

Ice Climbing

While Grammie and Pappy were visiting and babysitting (thank you! thank you!), Dave and I were in Ouray ice climbing. It was our tenth Ouray Ice Climbing Festival, and we had a great time, as always. Every year I expect it to be too cold or not fun for some reason, and every year it’s one of my favorite trips. Our friends Andy and Gretchen agreed to drive so that we could leave our car with Grammie and Pappy, so on Friday, January 7, we met them in the Barnes & Noble parking lot at 1:00 p.m. We had already enjoyed lunch at Noodles with Grammie, Pappy, and Phoebe, who really likes to share Daddy’s macaroni and cheese with chicken. Andy and Gretchen have been carpooling with us long enough to know that it’s more sensible to just let Dave repack everything, so they got some lunch at Whole Foods while Dave packed up their Outback. When he finished, Andy could still see out the back window! You wouldn’t believe how much stuff four people need for a weekend…and we’re not even camping. Grammie took credit for Dave’s packing ability and Don and I just got out of the way. I said goodbye to our little peanut, realizing how much I was going to miss her.

Andy drove straight through to Ouray with only a couple of gas and bathroom stops, so we got there in plenty of time to check into our hotel room before the first slideshow of the weekend. We always get the same room—maybe it’s the only one with two bedrooms and one bathroom—so we’re pretty familiar with it.

Gretchen in the living room.
Gretchen in the living room.

Creatures of habit, we put our stuff into the same rooms and places we have for years and then headed over to the theater (next to the post office) for the slideshow.

You pay your money, and you drink your beer.

The Ouray Ice Park is, remarkably, free to use. Including more than 100 waterfall ice climbs, it’s the largest ice park in the world. Liability issues mean that the town can’t charge climbers, so most of the money for day-to-day operation of the park is made during the festival. Each slideshow costs $15 per person, but comes with all the beer you can drink. Not a bad deal!

Zoe Hart spoke first, and was completely delightful and inspiring. She calls herself an “Ice Princess” and part of her story was about meeting her prince…a French Canadian mountaineer who didn’t know what was in store for him. Her talk was particularly great for those of us who get scared in the mountains; she owned up to being really scared plenty of times. Mind you, she was climbing in the Himalayas! I get scared on the Flatirons. Next was Emily Harrington, whose talk centered on a really strange and kind of cool art film she participated in as a rock climber. An artist named Matthew Barney was making a modern art film that needed a woman climbing the inside of a museum, and he thought Emily fit the part. She agreed, and showed us a “making of” presentation. The movie is really strange…but even stranger is that European climbers fall into stacks of cardboard boxes! Finally, Sam Elias talked about his life, moving from skiing to rock and ice climbing to traveling the world to climb. I tried not to feel old and lame. We headed “home” to watch crappy TV and get a little bit of sleep before climbing the next day.

On Saturday, we got a late start after sleeping in and bumming around town to get some breakfast and coffee. Dave and I headed up the canyon and checked out the exhibitor tents and ice sculptures before climbing up to South Park (part of the ice park) to find a climb.

Ouray Ice Festival sculpture.
Ouray Ice Festival sculpture.
What could be better than an ice-cold beer?
What could be better than an ice-cold beer?

It used to be that you couldn’t get a climb unless you were ready early in the day, but the festival has become somewhat less popular and the ice park keeps getting bigger, so we were able to find a route, although it was pretty close to the end of the canyon. Dave set up our toprope and I walked down the walkdown to let him know if the spot looked good. It looked really good! Pretty hard, with some fun mixed climbing possibilities.

Dave on the route.
Dave on the route.
Jess trying the easier side.
Jess trying the easier side.

(Mixed climbing is when you climb both rock and ice in one route.) Remember that I hadn’t climbed in two years…a year ago, I was pregnant, so I was the photographer instead. While I waited for Dave to join me at the bottom, I talked to the couple who were climbing on the rope next to ours. They had recently moved to Telluride from the Midwest and were rock climbing like crazy. They each took a turn on our rope and sailed up the rock to an ice pillar like professionals. It was the woman’s second climb ever! Dave met Andy and Gretchen on the way down, so they all arrived at once. I got on our rope and tried my best on the rock, but I was weak and out of practice. I ended up getting mad and throwing my gloves, but I calmed down enough to enjoy the rest of the day. We all took several turns climbing, trying to pull off some sick moves (mostly to no avail). It was really fun to be back on the ice, though. At the end of the day, I climbed up the walkdown and helped clean up the gear. We walked back down to town and made a reservation for a 6:30 dinner at the Outlaw—our favorite steak restaurant. As always, it was delicious. The show that night was a movie by Conrad Anker that Dave and I saw last year on our fabulous vacation to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. We decided to go anyway, but got in line too late and couldn’t fit into the theater. Too bad for Andy, who wanted to see it! We thought about going to the zombie party that was being held that night, but decided that we were too tired. (I’m not much for zombies, but Dave is a big fan!)

The next morning was snowy, so we took it easy getting ready, figuring that it would be warmer later in the day. Dave and I had a delicious breakfast; my potato boat was so unhealthy that I could only justify it by its deliciousness and the fact that I was going to hike up the canyon and climb that day. We decided to try to find a climb in New Funteer and found it only half full of climbers. We put up a rope and when Andy and Gretchen arrived, they put one up too. I rappelled down ours (I love rappelling!) and checked out the climb. It looked much easier than Saturday’s. I love being down at the bottom by myself…it’s so quiet and pretty. I discovered that Andy’s rope hadn’t made it down, so I tried to yell up, but couldn’t catch him.

Our rope.
Our rope.
Andy's rope.
Andy's rope.

I got on rope first, climbed about halfway up our climb, and then traversed out to the left to try to free Andy’s rope. I spent ages trying to unknot it, but I eventually had to give up. I topped out on our climb and went to try to pull their rope up and fix it. I pulled it up, but every time I threw it again, it got stuck and knotted again. Dave eventually climbed up our climb and helped me with their rope, but it was still stuck on a ledge. He ended up rappelling down to fix it, and I came down after him. That was the first time I’d ever been warm that long! All that moving around really helped, despite the snow. We all climbed on both ropes for a while and then had to leave to get back in time for the awards ceremony and slideshow. We decided to climb out. I was last, and Andy belayed me from the top. He did a great job, but man, was I exhausted! He helped haul me up a bit at the top, and when I finally topped out, I had the screaming barfies. I shook my hands a while to warm them up and recovered.

Back in town, we had to head straight over to the theater. They handed out awards for the climbing competition, auctioned off the “Got Stump” t-shirt to raise money for current projects at the park, and then Barry Blanchard gave a terrific talk about his long career as a mountaineer. We got some chocolates from Mouse’s and ate the chili that had been cooking in the crock pot all day. We had already decided not to try to climb on Monday so that we could get back in time to have dinner with Grammie, Pappy, and Phoebe, so we did a little bit of packing and hit the sack. Despite the snow, the drive home was uneventful. I had been hoping that Phoebe would be so excited to see us that she’d flap her arms like crazy, and she didn’t disappoint. I had really missed her! But it was great to be able to do whatever, whenever, without worrying about when she would need to eat/be changed/nap/play. Hooray for the ice festival! Hooray for long-distance babysitters! Now we just have to have some other good adventures between now and next year’s festival.

The view from our hotel.
The view from our hotel.
Downtown Ouray on Monday; it was a gorgeous, sunny day.
Downtown Ouray on Monday; it was a gorgeous, sunny day.
Ouray finally has a brew pub!
Ouray finally has a brew pub!
Even Barbie's ready to hit the outdoors!
Even Barbie's ready to hit the outdoors!

Digital Photography

A traditionally captured image with Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency film. This shot was scanned commercially to yield a MB jpeg.
A traditionally captured image with Fuji Velvia 50 color transparency film. This shot was scanned commercially at ~2200 dpi to yield a 1.92 MB jpeg (roughly 6.3 megapixels). This image could easily yield even more detail if scanned at a higher resolution.

So last weekend Pete and I went out to Buena Vista to climb Mount Hope and pick up Taco. I’ve already written all about our 50% success rate in last weekend’s endeavors, so I won’t bore any of you again with the extended details. Instead I thought I’d spend a few minutes outlining one of the new techniques I’m really getting into with digital photography.

For starters, let’s just say that digital photography is just plain different than traditional photography. While the differences are many, for my money, the biggest single difference is sensor size. I’ve been excited about photography for a long time, and for me that means a lot of different cameras. Along my journey there have been countless 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras, an old 110-format camera, and even a funky disc camera; remember those? Later in high school I got a lot more serious about photography and purchased a nice Minolta SLR. I was also shooting occasionally with my grandfather’s old 6×9 medium format Graflex Speed Graphic press camera. The more portable 35mm was an all manual system with a few nice lenses before some French thief swiped it in Paris. Oh well, c’est la vie!

My first multi-image stitch with the Nikon D5000 and Hugin. This one was calculated with manually selected control points.
My first multi-image stitch with the Nikon D5000 and Hugin. This one was calculated with manually selected control points.

Since insurance massively depreciated the camera it was quite a while before I could afford to purchase a replacement. When I did, I switched to another Japanese brand. Now I’ve been shooting Nikon for several years. Since I mostly enjoy shooting landscapes, I don’t bother carrying a light meter. The TTL spot meter does just fine, and I’ve learned through years of practice the value of bracketing. I don’t tend to carry a tripod as often as I should (although one of those ultra-light carbon fiber units would sure make a swell Father’s Day present). Luckily I prefer to work with a fairly open aperture and relatively fast lenses for the reduced depth of field and selective focus control. This allows me to typically get away with hand holding the camera and still pull off some pretty good sized enlargements.

The point of all of this rambling is to drive home the importance of sensor (or film) size when it comes to enlargements. With an excellent 35 mm negative, you can pretty easily make enlargements all the way up to 20″ x 30″. Given the size of the original image (slide, negative, etc.) is 24 mm x 36 mm, that’s about a 21.2 x enlargement. If the same image had been recorded with my 6 cm x 9 cm view camera, a 20″ x 30″ print would have only been a 8.4 x enlargement, and a 21.2 x enlargement from the resulting image would produce a whopping 51″ x 77″ print (rounded to the nearest inch). Going the other direction, with a sensor measuring only 15.8 mm x 23.6 mm the same 20″ x 30″ print requires a massive 32.2 x enlargement. The same 21.2 x enlargement would result in only a 13″ x 20″ print (again rounded to the nearest inch). It’s still a good sized print, but I’ve got prints of both size hanging in my living room, and the 13″ x 20″ seems way smaller than the 20″ x 30″ print. The point, to get the same enlargement from a smaller image requires much higher resolution which is even more demanding on your equipment. This is a case where size really does matter.

One of the multi-image composites I put together from images recorded while climbing Mount Hope last weekend.
One of the multi-image composites I put together from images recorded while climbing Mount Hope last weekend.

Luckily the computer age has has really matured as of late. It’s now possible to carry around a relatively portable digital SLR with a single lens and get some of the benefits of a medium or large format view camera. You may even be able to achieve all of this without the bulk of a tripod. I wish I could take credit for some of these ideas, but alas, they aren’t mine. Nevertheless, I think they work well enough to share with you all. Having shot with medium format sheet film in a lovely, yet old, view camera, I won’t pretend to tell you that a larger image size is the only benefit. I also won’t pretend that portability is the only down side to the medium format camera. For starters, shooting without a tripod is just about impossible with a view camera. Even with a rangefinder attached, it becomes increasingly difficult to hand-hold the beast.

A 24 mm perspective correcting lens from Nikon. For a cool $2,200.00 you too can have one of these bad boys. You can see the little knob on the top that controls the horizontal lense tilt.
A 24 mm perspective correcting lens from Nikon. For a cool $2,200.00 you too can have one of these bad boys. You can see the little knob on the top that controls the horizontal lens tilt.

The basic approach here is to expand the image size captured with the digital SLR. In theory this approach can be used with traditional film cameras, but the darkroom work would have required unbelievable levels of skill. In the modern digital darkroom it would be a lot more practical, but still much more time consuming. What we are going to do is stitch together multiple images to make one larger image. In principle, if we stitch together enough images, and they align well enough, we can get something comparable (at least in size) to the much larger images recorded by traditional view cameras. Much of this concept came from landscape photographer Jack Dynkinga. In brief, he is using some fantastically expensive perspective-correcting lenses to expand the sensor size of his full-frame Nikon digital SLR. Check out this article about his techniques for more background.

Even without perspective-correcting lenses and a full-frame digital SLR, we budget-constrained photographers can reap some similar benefits. For those unfamiliar with perspective-correcting lenses, these little marvels have a built in hinge within the lens and a small knob to control the tilt of the front element. They often crop up in architectural photography when the artist wants to avoid perspective effects that cause parallel lines to converge towards the horizon. This effect is averted by positioning the film (or sensor) parallel to the vertical or horizontal lines and tilting the lens to capture the image. If instead, you lock the camera in place (tripod) and use the tilt feature to grab more of the image in both directions (up and down or left and right) you get several images that you can stitch together perfectly. In essence, the final stitched composite image is similar in size to one shot with a view camera and a much larger sensor.

Another multi-image stitch composed with automatically generated control point. this one includes 8 highly-overlapping images.
Another multi-image stitch composed with automatically generated control points. This one includes 8 highly overlapping images.

Now, this isn’t a new technique. Point-and-shoot cameras have come with panorama stitching software for years. Our old Canon offered this very feature, and we’d tried it out on several occasions, but the results were always pretty sub-par. While I too cannot afford PC lenses, I can get pretty good results with this technique. The first major change from taking “panoramas” is to turn the camera sideways. Rather than stitch the images together length wise, we’re going to stitch along the longer edge. The resulting images will be much closer to the traditional 3:2 aspect ratio of 35 mm photography. The other main trick is to set everything manually.

What I like to do is survey the scene from one extent to the other with the aperture I intend to use. This is important as the aperture setting will dictate depth of field (what’s in focus) throughout the resulting image. I then look for the brightest and darkest spot within the scene and set a shutter speed that keeps the brightest spots from blowing out and losing highlight detail while also avoiding the complete loss of shadow detail in the darkest regions. This can require a bit of compromise. Of course, I can correct the exposure for all of these images after returning to the digital darkroom, but it’ll be far more time consuming, with no guarantee of getting a good composite image.

Once the aperture and shutter speed have been selected, the only thing that remains is to focus and shoot. I list focus as a specific step, because this too is a spot where allowing the camera to take over might reduce the quality of the finished product. If you’re shooting with a tripod and your camera allows manual focus, you can set the focus for exactly the point you desire. As an alternative, I’ve achieved good results using Nikon’s focus point control and centering a point for each image on either the same feature or another feature at a similar distance. This is much easier if working without a tripod, but increases the odds that two regions in adjacent images will be differently focused. If this occurs, the stitching algorithms won’t work as well. Also, unless you’re really worried about the exposure, resist chimping and taking looks at all of the images as you capture them.

As mentioned before, and featured prevalently in Jack Dynkinga’s article, perfect alignment will be assured if the optical center of the lens doesn’t shift during the picture taking process. This is only really possible with a tripod and perspective-correcting lenses. Of course, you could also get this effect with a view camera with a lens bellows, but you wouldn’t really need to if you had such a setup. Instead, concentrate on moving the camera through just a single plane with as little shift about the lenses center as possible. If you’re mounted on a tripod, you can pre-align the pan to maintain the camera alignment. You can also purchase, or make, some mounts that will help to position the camera’s nodal point right above the tripod’s axis of rotation. This will simulate the effects of a fixed sensor and PC lenses so well that the alignment might still be very nearly perfect.

So far, all of this sounds pretty easy, but the daunting task of stitching all of these images together still remains. If your alignment is perfect, just drop the images into Photoshop or the Gimp and git ‘er done. If, like me, you have less than perfect alignment, a dedicated stitching program might be a better way to go. There are myriad programs available, but being a big fan of open source software (and unwilling to pay hundreds for Adobe products) I’ve really glommed onto Hugin. You can get the software from SourceForge. To make the best use of the software, you’ll also need to download one of the automatic control point generators. I painstakingly located about 5-10 points per stitch for the first composite I produced with Hugin and the results were pretty good; however, the automatic control point generators will locate about 1000 points for each overlap and downselect from those to obtain the optimal fit. A number of good tutorials exist to discuss the multitude of options like projection, so I won’t cover them here. Just check on the SourceForge page and follow the appropriate links.

If you don’t follow my advice regarding the manual exposure settings and instead let the camera select the exposure for each image, you can still stitch them together, but you may not like the results nearly as much. This image is a good example of how Hugin attempts to deal with widely varying exposure values at the individual image boundaries. As an alternative, you may adjust each image individually to a standard, but again this will result in a slow and time-consuming process. Using all of the details outlined above, I was able to perform the RAW conversion and stitch 4 different composites I recorded during a recent climb of Mount Hope in just an hour at the coffee shop. It would have taken much longer if I’d also had to adjust exposure and white balance for each of the individual images. I did add a little sharpening through the Gimp’s unsharp mask and increased the color saturation of the final composite slightly. These were performed on the TIFF output from Hugin based on the 8-bit high-quality jpegs I used as the input. I’m sure the color saturation and sharpening would have been a wee bit better if I was working with the 12-bit RAW files.

An un-edited multi-image composite made from several images captured with auto exposure. As you can see the software did a pretty good job of correcting for the widely varying exposures, but the clouds and especially the colors in the upper left-hand corner are clearly a bit distorted.
An un-edited multi-image composite made from several images captured with auto exposure. As you can see, the software did a pretty good job of correcting for the widely varying exposures, but the clouds and especially the colors in the upper left-hand corner are clearly a bit distorted.

While Hugin doesn’t support any of the popular RAW formats directly, it can work with HDR-type images through 16-bit TIFFs and a few other formats. If you anticipate significant modification after the stitching has been done, you might want to convert all of your RAW images to TIFF prior to the stitching. To date, I’ve performed all of my stitching on high-quality jpegs, but I’ll be re-stitching a recent composite with 16-bit TIFFs, and I’ll post the results once I’ve finished so that you can see what impact you might expect. One thing is a certainty; it’ll take the software much longer at every step in the process than with compressed jpegs.

Climbing Mount Hope

Faithful blog readers will be aware of the latest saga with Taco; unfortunately, the saga continues. As you may recall, the water pump bit the bullet last weekend painfully close to Buena Vista. Todd and I had to leave the girls and the kids along the side of the road while we went in search of a tow truck. While Henry thoroughly enjoyed the tow truck operation, it signaled the start of a long weekend of trying to shuffle too many people to and fro with too few seats. Of course, it doesn’t help that Henry and Phoebe have massive custom seats that take up more then their fair share of the back seat.

Originally the car was to be ready on Thursday; however, some extra parts were required. It turned out that the upper engine mount was a bit rusty and broke when it was removed. You could see the cracks in the mount, so I wasn’t totally surprised to hear about this. We also needed a new harmonic dampener to finish the timing belt replacement. The old one was pretty worn, and it seemed a good time to have it replaced while the water pump (driven by the timing belt) was being replaced.

Since I knew Pete was keen to do some mountaineering, I though he might want to do a climb in the BV area on Saturday. That way I could pick up the car afterward without having to plan a special trip just to retrieve Taco. In principle this was a great idea, but in practice the shop wasn’t 100% confident it would be ready when I talked to them Friday afternoon.

Based on the less-than-ideal prognosis, Pete and I planned to stop by the garage when they opened at 8:00 to pay for the work and make arrangements for them to leave the car outside with the key locked in the glove box until we returned from the climb. We got to the repair shop at about 7:15, and as expected they weren’t in just yet. We detoured back to Bongo Billy’s for a cup of coffee and a bagel. By the time we returned they were in, a little before 8:00 as well! It took a while to get everything squared away, but eventually we were headed to the trailhead. I was even able to retrieve my sunglasses from the back seat of Taco. I’d lost at least a half hour of sleep the night before searching the house for those glasses. It was a good thing too, because spending a day up on the snow without sunglasses would have been a very bad idea indeed.

The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.
The awesome view down-valley from our first snack stop about 1,200 feet above the trailhead.

The climb Pete had picked for the day was the Hopeful Couloir on Mount Hope. Hope is a high thirteener, which means it’s one of the tallest mountains in North America, but at 13,933′, it’s around 67 feet shy of mattering to most Coloradans. This meant we were almost certain to have the mountain to ourselves. We pulled into the Sheep Gulch trailhead (~9,900′) by about 9:15. By 9:30 we’d repacked our bags and were ready to set off up the trail. We’d totally blown the “alpine” start and it was already pretty hot, so we opted to hike in shorts and stuff some pants and gaiters into the bottom of our packs. I pulled the SLR out of its case and wrapped it into my emergency belay parka to save a little weight. I had been mentally debating taking a 2nd tool all morning and made the decision to go light with just a borrowed piolet.

The sheep gulch trail is brutally steep. You get about 50 feet of level ground as you walk out from the parking lot before it turns straight up. From there it’s something like 2,700 feet of elevation gain in around 2.5 miles to Hope Pass (12,540′). The steepest part is probably the first mile, which is also rough and choked with broken rock, etc. We encountered a couple of creek crossings. Some of them were more like walking through the creek as in places it had swelled beyond its banks. We also stumbled on an awesome vista looking back down the valley. We stopped for a brief packs-off snack and took a few pictures. From this point, the trail seemed to become somewhat less steep; nevertheless, the average grade to Hope Pass remains about 20% and you feel every bit of it.

The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.
The view from Hope Pass at 12,540 feet.

Continuing on, we encountered a very well preserved prospector’s shack. As we got closer to the pass, we came across our first snow fields. We were fortunate to find relatively little snow south of the pass. Surprisingly, most of the snow south of the pass was well consolidated and easily crossed. There was a bit of post-holing but nothing too epic. When we reached the pass, we could see the amount of snow sitting in the northeast bowl of Mount Hope. It didn’t look too bad. We changed into our pants and gaiters and pulled out the axes. Our plan was to drop down from the pass and contour the slope until we intersected Hopeful Couloir. That way we’d only lose a few hundred feet of elevation before hitting the route.

The first snow field was nicely consolidated, but unfortunately that wouldn’t hold for all of the snow fields between the pass and the couloir. In fact, the next couple were so bad that we wondered if we’d be able to climb the intended route. We noted several other gullies and rock bands that we might be able to ascend as an alternative if the couloir was in poor shape. Luckily things firmed up a bit as we approached the climb. This was especially welcome as many of the rock bands and gullies spit the occasional boulder—making for unappealing escape routes!

We took another short break on a lovely rock adjacent the climb and fueled up. After a few minutes Pete set up the climb kicking great steps. I started about 10 minutes behind him and thoroughly enjoyed both the climb and the relative ease of following in Pete’s footsteps. It was a longish and somewhat slow climb with frequent panting stops, but otherwise pretty straightforward. Most of the guidebooks seem to report that the couloir averages about 36 degrees and steepens somewhat near the end. About 400-500 feet below the ridge, Pete kicked out a small ledge where he cramponed up. I discovered the ledge, but never felt that crampons were necessary (great steps Pete). I did have one small slip, but my ice axe placement held nicely and I was able to recover with some new steps and a bit of extra panting.

It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?
It's pretty comfy up here and I'm tired. Do we really have to go down?

About 20 minutes after Pete hit the ridge, I too popped out the top to spectacular views. From the summit (or near to the summit) of Mount Hope you get an incredible view of the adjacent mountain, and you really feel walled in by high peaks. We dropped our packs and made a quick run to the summit with the camera, where we grabbed the obligatory summit photos and some additional shots of the surrounding splendor.

After returning to the pack we had another short snack break (both Pete and I ran out of water on the climb) before packing up for the glissade back down the east ridge. The glissade was fun, but the snow was a bit too soft for the relatively gentle slopes and petered out a bit early. This led Pete to contour the slope back to the trail, but I was post-holing miserably. I managed to find an alternative route that seemed to work reasonably well. We rendezvoused back on the trail and stripped off our pants and gaiters. Mine were soaked and quite muddy from the down-climb, so I turned them inside-out in an attempt  to keep everything else in the pack clean. We stowed the ice axes and began the still brutally steep hike back to the Jeep.

At just before 6:30 the trail flattened out and the Jeep came into sight. All told it was about a 9-hour round trip. A bit longer than we’d hoped, but with around 4,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain a pace of around 1 mile per hour didn’t seem that bad. We also had some bad snow in spots, so there’s another excuse.

Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.
Some of the incredible panorama view from the summit of Mount Hope. From here it's pretty much mountains everywhere you look.

The whole day had gone pretty darn well, so I guess I should have expected something to break the string of good luck. When we got back to BV we discovered that Taco was not sitting out in front of the repair shop as expected. Jess had left a message on Pete’s cell phone that one of the parts that arrived in the morning was the wrong part. Once again the repair would have to be delayed, thanks to the relative isolation of Chaffe County. So we hopped back into the Jeep and stopped at City Market to pick up some “dinner” we could eat during the drive back to Boulder.

Lake City Ice

This morning Pete and I headed out to Lake City to sample some of the new ice in the Lake City Ice Park. It’s not a very large park, at least compared to Ouray, but it’s a very chill setting. When we arrived in town at about noon, there was absolutely nobody out on the ice. We had a relaxing afternoon and still managed to get at it before anyone showed up. We set up a top rope on the far right hand side of the park (climber’s perspective) and ended up placing a couple of screws for the belay as my 60-meter rope wasn’t even close to long enough to reach the bottom.

Later in the afternoon, we met up with Craig—one of the park’s main volunteers. He gave us some of the rundown regarding both the park and the town. We had a blast hanging out with some of the locals at the Packer (named for the cannibal, but sporting some number 4 memorabilia as well) Saloon. We’re thoroughly looking forward to tomorrow’s festivities.

The small but steep Lake City Ice Park. There are a ery chill gully climb on the climber's right.few mixed lines on the climber's left, and very chill gully climb on the climber's right. In between, the cliff averages about 60-meters tall from base to anchor.
The small but steep Lake City Ice Park. There are a few mixed lines on the climber's left, and a very chill gully climb on the climber's right. In between, the cliff averages about 60-meters tall from base to anchor, so double ropes will be necessary for a safe, full-length top rope.