Rock Scrambling is the new hiking

Notice: Many of the photos in this post are from Mr. Man because, to be quite honest, I was trying to survive. Thanks honey!

So, last weekend, I had a brutal two-day experience that I’ve only just begun recovering from. I took a Rock Scrambling class with the Colorado Mountain Club, which is described very briefly because I really have so little time today:

Day One: practice and discussion in Ute Valley Park.
Day Two: a 13+-hour hike covering only 7.45 miles of brutal terrain

Day Two is what I’ll focus on in this post because that’s where the work really occurred.

We started out at pre-dawn (of course and ugh!). Here’s the first non dark shot I took:

rock scrambling class

That’s the ridge to Quandary, which we climbed just a couple of weeks ago! In this picture, we’re across that broad valley from Quandary. Here is Quandary in the early morning light:

Quandary Colorado Peak

So, we came along to this snowy field, which we were going to practice snow climbing on. Here is part of the group with our instructor:

Pacific Peak Snow Field

… and here I am working my way up the snow:

Pacific Peak Snow Field

After you climb the snow field, there’s a lovely flower field where we stopped for pictures (Quandary in back of us):

Pacific Peak Snow Field - Quandary in back

Aren’t those hats cool? You want one, you know you do. More hiking, more talus, more climbing, and then we get our first good look at the ridge we’re going to cross:


If you’re not scared yet, you will be.

Here’s another view of the talus and the ridge:


Along the ridge, there are a bunch of towers – big piles of big loose rocks with valleys in between. Some of the ridge is well above 13,000 feet – a thirteener, which is something we haven’t targeted yet, but here’s the cool part about thirteeners: no traffic. We saw only two other hikers and they were traversing way ahead of us and from a different starting point. The ugly part? No trail. It’s bushwacking and route-finding, which we were out here to figure out.

Here’s a photo to give you some perspective of what this climb looks like from one side:


Here is most of the group on top of that pile:


Another view for perspective on the other side of the ridge:


And another, just to show you the distance:


I did get to climb a Class 4 bit, however, and I’m really proud of this. Here is the tower we climbed:


It doesn’t look like much until I put in a little perspective – note the instructor peeking over the top and me starting my climb.


Here I am about to top out:


When you get to the top, this is what you see when you look to the right:


The ridge just continues to challenge and exhaust the group – note the instructor WAY ahead and all of us bunched up and looking for a way out:


OK. It was probably just me hoping for a helicopter, but you never know.

So, I’ll skip the grueling miles of heart-pounding survival … we got to a second snow field and here, we were going to practice self-arrest (using your ice ax to slowly slide but avoiding death at the bottom) but the snow was too soft and I think the instructors knew we were all beat. So, we practiced down climbing instead. Take a look at how steep this snow field is:


And this is what down climbing looks like – a lot of checking between your legs so you don’t crash into the ones below you.


Everytime I look at this, it cracks me up. There’s a rhythm to it too: place ax, move one foot, next foot, when stable, move ax. I know you’re wondering, and of course, my feet did slip and I began sliding, but I was able to stop myself with my ax. Oddly, even after I got stopped, everyone kept screeching at me: “roll over onto your ax!” I was already stopped, but this was apparently important to everyone else, so I did it to shut them up. They were probably scared I wasn’t really stopped and would wipe them out too and we’d all slide to a rapid and ugly death. Hey, I understand.

Then, I used my feed to kick new holes in the snow for my feet to stabilize myself before I moved my ax and got back in line. Geez!

Now, with everyone thoroughly exhausted, water bladders empty for many, we continued across snow and grass fields for what seemed like many more miles.


GORGEOUS! Too bad I was so tired and in so much pain, I couldn’t frickin’ enjoy it! I must come back here and just do this portion of the hike.

Yes, we were below to the ridge we’d traversed, and we could see it in all it’s glory.


Dudes, that is one gnarly traverse! But wait, don’t buy yet, we’re not finished! We encountered the end of our ‘trail’ which ran smack into a difficult spot – between a snow bank (which can collapse at any minute as it gets warmer) and a rock face.


We traversed it … here is the last of our group crossing:


After that, many more pounding miles of sore feet until we got back to the Jeep. That’s all I’ve got. I’m re-exhausted just writing about it.

fourteenergirl Written by:

A mother, sister, wife, and daughter who writes, knits, hikes, and practices yoga on the west coast. Loves a zippy chardonnay or a tart margarita!

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