Monday, October 1, 2012

GORUCK Ascent 2012- Resentment to Redemption

"Hey, let's go climb some big-ass mountains!"

There was a time (I call these years my "smart years"), when I had those stupid conversations with friends in bars... and they stayed there. I'd wake up the next day and ignore the fact that I'd promised my friends - mere hours earlier - that I'd drive to Vegas with them next weekend or pool our money for a jetski. When you're drunk in a bar, everything asinine sounds like the best idea you've ever had. If I followed through with any number of inane plans, I'd be living in Key West and running a bar that sold only Pina Coladas, tacos, and fortune cookies. The Hunt for Red October and the Back to the Future trilogy would be played on a loop over the bar.

Don't judge me.

Back then, my friends and I would never bring up our convoluted, drunken plans the next day for fear that one of us may have actually been serious. Ah, the good ole days.

Now, when I come up with something stupid to do... it only makes MORE sense in the morning. Stupid alcohol... killing brain cells and whatnot. Sadly, my travels have introduced me to others with similar failings, and we egg each other on.

"Yea, filling a beer bottle full of tequila and chugging it DOES sound like a good idea!"

"Well, I suppose you COULD do that, but why not do it while carrying a huge rucksack full of bricks?"

Yea, why not...

So, as a graduate of the GORUCK College of Poor Decision-Making (read about some of my poor decisions in Savannah, Washington DC, or the GORUCK Challenge in general), I latched on to some of these buffoons for some jackassery in the Collegiate Peaks area of Colorado where we would be climbing 14,000 ft peaks in a masochistic ritual that has become known as GORUCK Ascent.

This exercise in insanity began (for me) on the Thursday before Labor Day at Cadre Brian's place near Nederland, CO. I say "for me" because I opted out of the optional Gun Day on Wednesday. Though the opportunity to fire off hundreds of rounds of ammo with America's Special Forces was enticing, the price was a bit much for my tastes. Plus, since I have a standing invitation from a friend (when we doing that again, Geoff?) to go back up to Quantico and play war with the USMC Competitive shooting team, I have been wholly spoiled. In one day last year, we blasted through thousands of rounds of ammo thanks to the SVT, AK-47, M110, A5, PKMs, M4, MP5... No offense to the GORUCK folks, but you can't compete with that.

So, we arrived Thursday and spent it learning rope skills and applying them. We built tag lines and come-alongs... and we rappelled off the face of nearby cliffs. It was pretty bad-ass. I can honestly say that I learned stuff that has come in handy since. That's something that I can't even say that about college, though one would assume math would be useful at some point...

I can honestly say I kicked ass at this
Then, at 10PM, we piled into the buses for a 3-hour drive southward to the mountains. Now, I should take a moment here to discuss my packing list. I wore TAC pants, compression shorts, boots, a t-shirt, and a hat. In my pack I had:

- two pairs of socks
- compass
- headlamp
- change of compressions
- fleece
- wind/rainbreaker
- Gloves
- Knit cap
- my tent
- sleeping bag
- lickies/chewies
- toothbrush
- Advil

There ya have it. I used it all, though the fleece would be a bit of a burden until the last night. My pack wasn't overly full like many others. (Cadre Chris spent an hour systematically destroying the rucks of others. "What's this? You don't need eight pair of underwear!"). I returned a couple things to my car (like a spare pair of shorts and my bulky DSLR camera), but I used what I took.

And, we were off... The Collegiate Peaks range gets in name thanks to the apparent competition of early explorers to claim the peaks for their Alma Maters. It was like us planting our flag on the moon... but with beer instead of Tang. The range has impressive peaks such as Mt. Harvard, Mt. Princeton, Mt. Oxford, and Mt. My-Daddy-Paid-for-College-Thanks-to-Oil-Money.

We arrived at 0100 hrs and started to climb Mt. Yale, a quite lovely hike that we were told would put us at the summit around sunrise. There were 37 of us at the start. One dropped out almost immediately. Chain-smoking at the trailhead prior to stepping off is not recommended.

The peak of Mt. Yale (14,202')
[Note: Awesome pics by Mike Petrucci]
The trail led us up to about 11,000 feet through some beautiful - if dark - countryside. A full moon was right around the corner, so we had a nice view even at that time of the morning and kept most of our headlamps off. Eventually, we broke from the trail and took a short break while we waited on some of the trailing hikers to catch up. We were blazing our way across the East Ridge. At night. This wasn't hiking, this was bouldering, leaping from ledge to ledge and struggling around narrow-to-non-existent paths. After the 8th false summit and thousandth expletive (it's amazing how they echo around a canyon's confines), we could see the end. The route, hazardous and steep, claimed more of our number including two cadre that had apparently failed to recon it. They brought their dogs and couldn't negotiate the trail with them. They had to turn back.

We reached the top of Mt. Yale (14,202 ft) and waited on others strung out for a half mile behind us. Of the 37 that started, 31 reached the summit... impressive when you consider that we hadn't made camp, yet. We still had all of our gear, including tents and sleeping bags, strapped to our rucks.

We started down and got lost. Even with a cadre. I won't go into details, because the 6-hour trek down the mountain turned into a huge goat-screw. This was the 'resentment' part of the trip. The lack of route recon coupled with the inability of our team leads to get us off the hill was extremely irritating. I voiced this opinion frequently and loudly. Others shared my discontent but not to the degree that I did.

I was annoyed.

We eventually reached camp, but I was ready to call a taxi for home. After setting up tents, we were treated to a mix of burgers, MREs, and stew. I understand this was different from the previous year in which food was harder to come by. Well, 2012 was essentially a camping trip with good people and not an orchestrated event with time hacks and cached food. I was okay with that.

Land Nav Instruction
The next day we spent the morning learning land navigation (MGRS) from Rob, and I can confidently say that I will be okay in the middle of nowhere with a map and a compass. Very interesting. The afternoon was spent with Matt learning emergency survival skills. Again, great stuff. I could do an entire blog just on what these two guys taught me. But, I digress.

While we were learning how to build shelters (ours was awesome... I'm just sayin'), Cadre Brian came around asking what we each wanted to do on Sunday. We could leave right after dinner and - staying up all night - attempt a double climb of Mt. Harvard (the highest peak in the local area) and Mt. Columbia. Or, we could set out early the next morning for an attempt on Columbia only. A third option had us maintaining the camp.

People were tired. No one jumped at the double peak.

Except me. I went there to climb mountains, and I wasn't going to miss the daddy of the local scene. Through some lobbying, I was able to increase the number of poor decision-makers. Like I said, all we need in order to be convinced to do something is for a person to ask us. We're idiots.

The top of frozen Mt. Harvard (14,402')
We ate a brief dinner of cardboard and smoke and made our way into the night. No offense to the others that were at Ascent, but this team was awesome. We tore through the night and were hours ahead of our pace. We'd hoped to make it to the roof of Harvard (14,402 ft) by 5AM.

We were there at 0230.

As the highest point for miles, the wind was howling. We were cold. We took a quick picture, then damn near jumped off the side. At 5AM, we took a well-deserved break at 12k ft for 45 minutes. It was cold. I'd have rather we kept moving. We assaulted Mt Columbia.

The scree face of Mt. Columbia
looking back at parts of our team
We went the wrong way, blazing a trail up a 60 degree, scree-covered slope. This surpassed the cascading boulders of Mt. Yale as the 'Bad Idea' champion of the trip. In the winter, I'm told that the route we took is a class-4 climb requiring ice crampons. Yea... so that happened.

After a brutal climb in which we leaped up three feet only to slide back two... over and over... we reached the ridge. Mt. Columbia was within reach, and we were still ahead of schedule. Of course, we went the hard way, so finding either 8-year-olds or geriatrics that had summited (14,079 ft) via the 'easy' way was slightly strange. But, we bagged both mountains.

Adding in the ascent of Pikes Peak that I completed with my buddy before the formal GORUCK Ascent began, it made for four 14ers in five days. Having come from sea level only 16 hours prior to my Pikes summit, I'll call that impressive.

The 'A' Team at the top of Mt Columbia (14,079')
14er #4 for the week
We returned to Cadre Brian's place on Sunday, all of us asleep as the bus driver careened along mountain roads, to find beer and a pig roast waiting for us... as well as the GORUCK Trek team that had just completed Boulder. It was drunken, exhausted, hungry hilarity, and I found it hard to leave my new Ascent comrades.


Would I do it again...? Probably not. It was a good time but a bit pricey when you consider flights, hotels, car, and gear. This is especially true when one considers that I've done the Collegiates. Admittedly, there are other 14ers in the range, but I don't think I'd be jazzed about heading back there. Now, if someone pulls together something similar for another Colorado area or something up in Alaska, I can be down with that.

But, if any GRTs out there are considering Ascent, it's worth your time.

Yale looking East

Descending Columbia
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1 comment:

  1. Great post Russell! Shared sentiments for sure. You want to do some other 14ers, give me a holler--there are 50 others... :)