The Hard Way Up (written for Mountain Standard)

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If you know much about me, you know I love the mountains—hikes, climbs, drives, anything. Since moving to Colorado in 2012, I've fallen in love with summiting peaks, 14er or otherwise. My first Colorado peak, Mt. Bierstadt, was an epic winter battle. At least it was at the time, I guess. The challenge excited me, and the solitude spoke to my soul. Needless to say, I was hooked. While I've since done many of my climbs in the winter, none of them had truly required technical equipment or experience. Recently, I got my first shot at a technical alpine ascent with a couple of friends, Chris and Jared (who is also a guide), on the aptly named Guides Ridge (Mt. Crested Butte). For those who are unfamiliar, Guides Ridge is an exposed 800-foot long route to the summit spanning from class 3 to 5. Add in Winter conditions and you’ve got yourself one authentic Colorado alpine experience.

Jared provided much of the equipment and a whole lot of needed confidence and experience. Not to say I was scared, but the stakes here were a bit higher than many of my previous climbs.

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Chris, a fellow grad student, had not climbed any peaks other than Kilimanjaro. While he was familiar with altitude and a physical challenge, he wasn't fully in tune with the all of the technical aspects needed, just like me. Prepared or not, we were both ready to learn.

By the time we reached the point of committing to the climb, there was some very suspect weather in the surrounding Elk Mountains. We decided as long as we climbed smoothly and efficiently, we would be fine.

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I was deemed the ‘least likely to fall’ between Chris and I, mostly because I had microspikes on. So throughout the remaining pitches, I was on the tail of the rope while Chris and I simul-climbed through the easier terrain (for those who have never simul-climbed, it was interesting…)

There were some hiccups on our “smooth” and “efficient” ascent. Some sketchy ice on an exposed section spurred an impromptu anchor set up and added on a half pitch of climbing. The storm clouds had moved over our area, but somehow the weather wrapped around the peak, leaving a punchout hole of blue sky above our route. With the sun preparing to set, we arrived at the summit.

As we descended the backside of the mountain, the surrounding Elks Mountains burned in the setting light. It was almost a congratulations, a pat on the back from Mother Nature for accomplishing what we did that day. We joked about the "suck factor" during the descent, but now I think theres something important in the "suck." The satisfaction of accomplishment is often proportional to the challenge and obstacles overcome in the effort--a real yin and yang balance. I haven’t had the opportunity to get back on any technical ascents since Guides Ridge, but I can't keep my mind off what the next challenge will be.

Power on compadres,

- Mitch

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