After 16 hours, I had accumulated 40 laps! 20 up, and 20 down, done in succession with little rest in between. A fantastic day of moving meditation after weeks of preparation on the route searching for the most efficient route to climb. 16 hours of staying in the same 900 foot rib of rock, netting 11 miles, gaining/losing 10,600 feet of elevation. Such an intense concentration of expressing various mountain disciplines in a familiar setting just a few miles from the house.
With another run of the Tour Divide this year, I’m reminded again of this awesome cross-country route and the many great memories I have on it.
The last time I was riding on the GDMBR was on my Tour of the Highest Hundred, where I rode up Marshall Pass after riding the 100 miles from Lake City to summit my first Sawatch of the trip: Mount Ouray.
The route itself was excellent, and provided a relatively quiet and mostly dirt route linking two disparate mountain ranges. The GDMBR barely gets into the San Juans, which is a real shame, as the San Juans are truly one of the crown jewels of Colorado. I’ll explain the route from Salida to Lake City, as this is where you’ll get on it via the GDMBR, then detour off towards Lake City. Once at Lake City, you’ll have to make a choice of where to go, as detouring back to the GDMBR is a trip in of itself and is also, sadly, all on pavement.
The Mosquito/Tenmile range in Colorado runs south to north between Buena Vista and Frisco, CO. Inspired by Peter Bakwin’s nearly futuristic vision and attempts to traverse the entire ridgeline from Weston Pass (outside of Leadville, CO) to the Mount Royal trailhead, I awoke early Saturday morning from my bivy underneath a tree at Trout Creek Pass, 30+ miles to the south to start on, “The Line”.
The Complete Mosquito/Tenmile Range Traverse is almost completely off trail, with terrain covering everything from shifting talus to crumbling spires, hours of Class 3/4/5 scrambling, twenty-seven contiguous miles above 13,000′, and dozens of separate peaks – named and unnamed. It’s hard to even fathom, let alone describe succinctly.
I was (irrationally?) determined to first cover the *additional* mileage to Weston Pass from the true southern terminus of the range, then continue on to Frisco. I knew realistically I had little chance of completing. From my research, no one has even tried this traverse from Trout Creek, and only one documented traverse from Weston had ever been completed by Jeff Rome in ~2012. I’m no Bakwin, nor Rome.
What chance did I have? Why should I even try? Well – what did I have to lose? With little prep. (I lied to myself – spinning a yarn that this was a scouting mission to myself – to friends…), and bringing along food I thought would last for three days, I set off on terrain that I was completely unfamiliar with to see what lay ahead.
91 hours, 87 miles, and 30,000’+ of elevation gain later – completely unsupported/unaided and carrying everything I needed except water, I had run out of mountain range to *range*, and was at the northern terminus. The Mosquito/Tenmile was traversed!
And I was myself shattered to pieces. It had taken everything I had to keep it together, to make it through without incident, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other in moving (and stumbling, and falling – often) meditation. But, “The Line” had been traced as best I could have hoped for, given what little talent I really have.
As with every challenge in life: mandatory – or I guess recreational (for those so privileged to have the resources for the latter), the act of transcending your perceived weaknesses against imposing odds… then finding the other side leaves you perhaps in that self-awareness state of serenity for just a second. Then life begins again – the Earth never did stop revolving – maybe you just stopped thinking so much?
I have much more to write, share, and teach about my experiences this past weekend (and all those other days/months/years I’ve found myself doing silly things in the Wilderness), but that’s itself its own separate, much larger project, for which I’ll spend much of my life practicing. Thank you to everyone that has helped me with this and my other misadventures. Sometimes, I’m chanced with Awesome things coming together. Find a line out there – real or imaginary, and fill it in with your own experience.
I’ve found the Garmin eTrex Touch pretty useful on my long distance trips, and I love the touch interface, but the unit is a real pain to use in the rain, even if I’m not interacting with it. I’ve found that the unit will think I’m tapping the screen to navigate through things like menus and settings, when I’m really not – the unit is just being jostled in my pack.
This video goes over a few simple steps to mitigate this problem.
Sometimes it’s seems that it’s hard to follow up something like the Tour of the Highest Hundred with the next project. It took years to get myself physically and mentally ready to take something like that on – save nothing for the financial burden of taking so much time off work and the burden of that food bill!
Still, in the heartbeat, I’d do it all again. But the world is a big place, and there’s so many fun and challenging things to do – even so close to where I live. I don’t necessarily like to repeat myself, but I do like to progress in what it is I do, and in doing so: explore different facets of the talents I’ve taken a life to develop.
Anyways, the future! What’s on my mind to do this summer (or next)? Here’s two projects I’d like to try (more coming, later…)
The Complete Mosquito Tenmile Traverse Traverse (Fastpack)
Mosquito Tenmile Traverse
The Mosquito Tenmile Traverse is a beautiful ridgeline of mountains that start north near Frisco, Colorado, and end at Weston Pass, 38 miles later. 38 peaks are within this one line including two 14ers, 24 13ers, and eight 12ers – and the meat of the traverse doesn’t dip below 13,000 feet for about 26 of those miles – most likely the longest ridgeline above 13,000 feet anywhere in the lower 48 states. See Peter Bakwin’s stories on his attempts (one, two). It’s only been completed once and Jeff Rome’s trip report about it is curiously bare.
I can’t think of a most perfect challenge for someone like me! To sprinkle a little of my own style into the challenge, I plan to attempt my Mosquito Traverse at Trout Creek Pass, where the range actually starts/terminates in the south and do a little bit of a prologue by hiking up East and West Buffalo Peak, before tackling the rest of the range, starting at Weston Pass, all the way to Frisco, CO. The peaks before Weston Pass are of a different geological makeup than the rest of the range – volcanic in nature, rather than gneiss, so the peaks don’t line up as much in a ridgeline as they do for everything north of them.
I plan to do this as a completely unsupported fastpack, taking around three or so days. Hopefully, I can do the challenge when there’s still a bit of snow on the ridge, and just bring a small stove to melt water for drinking. Finishing in Frisco will be intentionally convenient, as I can grab food any hour of the day, and catch the bus back to the front range if work requires!
The timing of hitting these peaks seems important. The vast majority of this traverse seems to be doable at any time of the day, but I’d like to have that Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic dashed off with plenty of daylight, and perhaps after a few winks of sleep. Doing the first part, Trout Creek Pass to Weston Pass leisurely with an early quitting time, followed by a very early wakeup call to start up from Weston Pass should deliver me to the col before Fletcher before I completely lose my mind. Then, giving myself plenty of time to get through Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic in the early morning on firm snow should set me up for the rest of the traverse that is in front me.
Sangre de Cristo Range Traverse
Sangre de Cristo Range Traverse
Another unsupported Fastpack, it makes the previous one look like a mere warmup. I… I have no idea how many named peaks this one traverses over (a lot – at least 83 peaks over 11,000 feet), but the line from the beginning of Lake Como Road outside of Blanca, CO (the southernmost public access point) to the TH for Methodist Mountain outside of Salida Colorado is a little more than 103 miles. It’s quite incredible that there is a line of mountains with such a well-defined ridgeline that goes on for so far.
Some highlights of this trip: there are no paved routes intersecting the range for the entire 103 miles. The traverse of the entire range also includes doing two of the four great 14er traverses: Little Bear to Blanca (and right afterwards Ellingwood Point – another 14er, to California Peak, a Centennial) and Crestone Needle to Crestone Peak – right to Mt. Adams, another Centennial.
From what I can tell in my research, this route has only been tried once by Brendan Leonard and Jim Harris (see The High Lonesome, Backpacker Magazine and beta). Leonard and Harris, starting in Salida, weren’t able to reach Lake Como, and finished off at the Lake Zapata trailhead, as the 100 year flood of 2013 was just starting to rage.
Cruxes here will definitely be the two 14er traverses – neither of which Leonard/Harris took on. I’ve done both traverses twice, so I’m not too concerned about them – can’t wait to revisit! I’ll start from the southern terminus to get the business out of the way, before continuing my way south toward Salida (and guaranteed burritos).
I can only guess how long something like this would take, but I would wager a solid week. The first part of the trip would be the slowest, and after Mt. Adams, it would be time to put on the afterburners to cruise (albeit relatively speaking). Little Bear would be the first peak I’d get on, so that makes timing the traverse a bit easy – if the weather holds to complete the traverse all the way to California, I could really put in some extra miles before stopping. It’s very hard to estimate when I’d be in the area for the Crestone Traverse, but I would first need to summit both Milwaukee and Broken Hand Peak before reaching them. I’m guessing I’ll be bivvying on Broken Hand Pass between Broken Hand Peak and Crestone Needle, to get an extra super early start for the day.
After cruising through the Sawatch, I had to once again cross west over the Continental Divide – this time with an unruly bear canister in tow, to dash off the Elk Range.
A fairly stout portion of the tour was awaiting me, featuring some interesting climbing, some fairly loose and dangerous routes, and some unknowns for me with Hagerman, Cathedral, and Thunder Pyramid.
Timing wasn’t very good. It was coming up on Labor Day weekend. I certainly didn’t want to visit the Maroon Bells at that time – an already busy area would be a mad house (lots of people = lots of potential rockfall), so I opted to take the range in a strange order: first Capitol, Snowmass, and Hagerman in the west, then Cathedral, Castle, and Conundrum at the east side of the range; and finally the Bells and Pyramids right in the middle.