Friday, August 03, 2007

AAS Does Crestone Needle & Humbolt Peak!

When the tough want to take it easy, they climb a 14'er. When your AAS wants to kick it, they drive one of the worst (allegedly) 4X4 roads in Colorado, climb two 14'ers, and catch and cook their own food over fire coaxed from soaking wet wood while engaging in mildly self-destructive behavior as others whimper in the shadows, begging for scraps.

Yes, your very own AAS proved that once again, it is and forever will be the most powerful of all squads dedicated to endeavors of a certain magnitude, by which I mean those things not so difficult that one can't enjoy high-class fermented beverages, rare (legal or otherwise decriminalized) tobacco products, and various other small distractions in a relaxed post-endeavor atmosphere. And then do it all again the next day.

On Friday the 27th of July, your AAS decided to head north for a bit of Colorado flavor, settling into AAS-vanced Base Camp (ABC) in the Crestone Group of 14'ers. I had the honor of being the advance team, making an admirable (if I do say so) charge at the South Colony 4X4 road on Friday, making it about half way up before parking my Subie lest it become a permanent fixture of the landscape. 1,700 vertical feet and about 3.5 miles later, I established ABC in a prime spot at the outlet of Lower South Colony Lake at about 11,600 feet, with Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak towering overhead on either side, and went off for a bit of relaxing fly-casting for what may be Colorado's native Cutthroat Trout. About a half-hour of that went by before Eric, Dan, Paul, and Kirk arrived fresh from some quality truck rodeo on the back of Kirk's spankin'-new stock FJ Cruiser, which apparently had little difficulty in making it to the end of the road, in respectable company with rock-crawlers, lifted jeeps, and other such Earth-stomping beasts. Not being ones to waste any time, we immediately engaged in a half-AAS'd round of Hackey whilst alternately Paul and Eric fiddled with Paul's pipe in a vain attempt to make it smoke. In a fit of frustration, Paul called on his AAS-honed ingenuity to fashion a pipe from some deliciously zucchini bread-encrusted aluminum foil (thanks, Courtney! And Eric, of course, for sharing).

On Saturday morning we were on the trail a little after six, behind several other groups of hikers, moving fast. We achieved Broken Hand Pass at about 12,800 feet in short order, and by 8am we were well past 13,000 feet on the southwest side of the Needle. Some careful scrambling, expert route finding, and superior conditioning propelled us past several other hikers, and we achieved the summit of 14,197ft Crestone Needle with little difficulty under threatening skies and drizzle. Paul achieved new heights, literally, as this was his first 14'er. A somewhat slippery descent had us back to ABC at 11:15, just five short hours after starting, surprising even we elite AAS members. (Side note: Did anyone notice that we passed the infamous Aaron Ralston on our descent? My buddy Sean and his hiking partner stopped and chatted with him after leaving Broken Hand Pass on the descent a few minutes after we did). Eric was drooling over the possibility of catching dinner from a small pond below Lower South Colony Lake, so with an afternoon to pass, we headed down to try our -- officially, my -- hand at the Champagne of Fishing, or the Cadillac of Fishing, or whatever the nickname for fly-fishing is. Three fish landed before our luck ran out at the pool, so we headed up to the lower lake and continued our pursuits there, but after a minor controversy over the adequacy of certain AAS members' knot-tying skills that may or may not have resulted in the loss of what was probably a forty-pound, three-foot Cutthroat trout (if my estimates are correct), we ultimately decided three moderately-sized Trout would be a fine addition to (rather than replacement for) our customary freeze-dried fare.

On-and-off drizzle and glowering clouds told us we were probably going to be in for a soaking...and sure enough, just before dinner we were chased into our tents by the rain. Undaunted, we enjoyed premium tobacco products, our dinners sans trout, and a fine red table wine from the makers of Clif Bar (a blend appropriately called "Climber" -- highly recommended, though they need to get the bottle weight down if it's going to become one of our Ten Essentials).

Around sunset the rain let up and our attentions turned next to cooking our hard-won trout, which had been seasoning in fresh mountain stream runoff for several hours. Paul used a secret AAS technique to produce fire from soaked wood, and soon a roaring fire was the envy of all lesser groups camped in the area. The trout was, of course, delish.

Sunday dawned clear, with stunning alpenglow on Crestone Needle followed by a brilliant sunrise. After some discussion, it was decided that Humboldt Peak was indeed worthy of a morning AAS-sault, Bravado in ample supply as we were at least an hour late getting on the trail despite gray clouds quickly building. Dan, displaying superior hubris and clear disdain for the conditions, threw aside early bonking and summited triumphantly with the rest of your AAS -- let it never be said that a piece of AAS is better than the whole. Er, that is to say, an AAS parted is...well, we stuck together, and that's the main point I'm trying to get across here.

A few hours later found us back at camp and packing up wet gear for the short 1.5 mile hike back to the AAS-mobile, followed by some brief truck rodeo on the way down and a customary apres-hike grease-bomb-n-beer AAS luncheon in Westcliffe prior to adjournment.

Here's the video Paul put together: