Saturday, August 28, 2010

Colorado - A Trekker's paradise !!

I owe an apology for hurting the sentiments of my fellow trekkers by calling 'Capitol' a 'hill' in my previous blog (Last line of
As I realise now, it certainly was an understatement to a great extent. It turned out to be one amongst the highest and toughest peaks in the US. Hope this offers some solace to my terribly deeply hurt fellow trekkers...

Now back to Capitol and its story ...

So, my tryst with the US continues. I have travelled more in the US than in Canada now in the past ten months or so (Canadian jokes are NOT welcome please !!). I was accidentally counting the number of US stamps on my passport and realised that this one was the 5th in the last ten months ! And I must say, each of these five trips have been uniquely different. The diversity is amazing - reminds me of the diversity at home (India) and doesn't fail to entice me into more trips into the US...

Image Source -
Colorado - Welcome to the land of mountains. A land where all four directions lead to mountains (I am exaggerating of course !). A land for which 'exquisite' would be an understatement (No exaggeration here !).

All the pre-planning was just about perfect. Our group consisted of networking bonds (Pushkar, Rahul), Vertical thinkers (Ali Sagar Oops Asgar - Chances of seeing him on the ground are bleak, the one who introduced me into skydiving), no-life-without-internet always-online apple geeks(Deepak 'twitter' Iyer), Apple veterans (Thai Wey), expert photographers (Tannu of the Sushi fame - He has just landed in US after a 5 yr stint in Sushi Land) and 2 undergrad classmates of Pushkar.

From Left to Right (Athma, Deepak, Ali, Rahul, Pushkar, Thai Wey, Ady (Alias Aditya Tannu))

The trip begins with a bang - All our flights were cancelled. A terrible coincidence considering the fact that our flights were from Montreal (QC, Canada), Raleigh (NC, US) and San Francisco(CA, US). I somehow manage to get another flight to reach Denver on time along with Tannu who flew in from LA. The others could not start their journey...

Luckily, Pushkar was able to arrange stay for us in Boulder at one of his undergrad friend's place.

DAY 1: University of Colorado, Boulder downtown, Rocky Mountain National Park

Now Tannu and myself (later on joined by Ali) had half a day in Boulder before rest of the gang sets foot in Colorado. We went around picturesque Boulder clicking pictures at will.

Near University of Colorado
University of Colorado

Tannu at University of Colorado

Ali n Myslef at Boulder downtown (Just after tannu returned with his lost wallet!!)

After spending some time in Boulder, we were joined by the rest and we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, which offered some outstanding views. Here is just a sample:

Not sure what we were trying to show !! None of us had a great built...

 Wide angle cameras can do wonders !! (Courtesy Tannu)

After this exquisite drive, we head to our camp site where we were to spend the night before we head to starting point of Capitol Peak the next day.

Inside Tent No 1.

DAY 2: Ride to Capitol Peak trailhead, Hike upto Capitol Lake
After spending the night in our sleeping bags we head to what was the main objective of our trip - Capitol Peak. If I were to provide an analogy - If this entire trip was dinner, then Capitol Peak was main course, Rocky Mountain/Boulder was Dessert and flight journeys to and from Denver were Salt and Pepper !! (You are not the only one still trying to interpret this !! )

We start the day early and start the drive towards starting point of the hike to Capitol Peak. We halt around one of the lakes for breakfast. And every stop is reason enough for some more photos !!

The three musketeers

Tannu's magic again !

After a nice breakfast, which we didnt realise was going to be our last meal of the day, we head towards the trailhead of Capitol. We were running late and had to do a good job if were to reach Capitol lake by Sunset.

Just before we began the hike

The majestic Capitol Peak visible right at the center towards the far end (Image Courtesy: Ali)

Ali n Thai Wey on the trail (Image Courtesy: Ali) - Capitol still visible in the background

Rahul on the Trail (Image Courtesy: Ali)
It has been a long time since i did my last trek (Jivdhan-Naneghat, Maharashtra, India, 2005) and all that showing up. Adding on to this was the carbon monoxide (for your interpretation !) intake which had done significant damage to my stamina. I was lagging behind frequently and somebody had to stay back with me all throughout just to make sure i make it to the end.

But, I did push myself and was able to reach Capitol Lake (the lake just before final summit of Capitol Peak).

It had begun raining by the time we reached capitol lake and dark too as we missed our timelines. Figuring out vacant campsites itself was tough. Our ordeal continued. The rain didnt stop and by the time we had our tents erected, we were wet and cold. My jacket was not holding up water as i would have liked it to.

There was water seeping in through some ends of the tent as a result of us trying to fix it up during rain. Finally, we succeeded in setting up all 3 tents and managed to get in and change clothes which by then had taken in lots of water. None of us were in the mindset to setup cooking stoves and start cooking. We decided to manage the night with just nuts and energy bars. The last meal we had was more than 14 hours ago !!

So here we were at 12000 ft, trying to catch up with some sleep amidst heavy rain and thunder.

DAY 3: Capitol Peak - The FINAL Summit
After about 4 hours of sleep we get up to a completely overcast sky with slight rain still dampening our hopes of making it to the top. We have some bagels and get started for the summit leaving our main bags behind and carrying only our summit bags. Gatorade powder was added to each of our water containers, later to be filled in at the lake.

At about 430 AM, we head to Capitol lake to fill our water containers. Thai Wey and Rahul were working hard with the water filter to make sure all of us had our containers filled.

Rain was still hitting hard, the sky was overcast with no stars visible even on a no-moon night. The last 2000 ft or so had the famous 'Knife Ridge' which was a narrow rock patch with vertical falls on either sides. That patch is risky and sometimes fatal (as per wiki) even during a regular bright sunny day. The chances of making the final summit in such weather was really bleak.
I was the first one to QUIT.
I dropped out and insisted on going back to the tent and wait till the others return. I was no more enjoying the hike and there was no point in continuing the same way.

This sparked an intense discussion which was capable of giving a scare to any of the corporate boardroom discussions. Here is how it was structured:

If we make a decent pace for the next 1000ft (which was a regular hike), then we could be at the knife ridge for sunrise, if at all we have one. The summit might be possible if the knife ridge is dry and has good visibility. If the weather doesnt clear up, we make the hike back to our tents and then to the trail head.

There were 5 (out of 9) of us who were betting on the odds of weather clearing up and continuing the hike. The rest, 4 of us, decide to go back to the tent, catch up some sleep and wait for the others - This would enable us to be ready for the hike back which again was not an easy task for somebody like me (at this point of time).

So, 5 amongst us continued. 2 more dropped out after an hour or so and 3 (Ali, Thai Wey n Deepak) continued on till the start of the knife ridge. Luckily for them, the weather had cleaned up. In fact, we could see them from our tents through 10X optical zoom cameras.

Now, there was another issue at hand. Ali had a flight later during the day and with the pace at which they were able to make progress on the knife ridge - there was a bright possibility of him missing his flight. Adding on more troubles was my passport, which was with Deepak, who was one amongst the three who were making the attempt to the top!!
The 'Knife Ridge'

The 'Knife Ridge'

Ali at the 'Knife Ridge'
Deepak at the 'Knife Ridge'
Thai Wey at the 'Knife Ridge'

The photos they have taken are stunning.. The knife ridge is the highlight of Capitol Peak and we were all disappointed that even those three had to return half way... Since it would take them considerable time to head back, we six (4+2) head back to trail head.

We return rental gear in Aspen and visit Maroon Bells to have a look at one more majestic peak (14000ft+) in Colorado before heading to Denver Airport.

The Deadly bells disclaimer !

All turns out well - All of us are able to reach on time. I get my passport on time (my 'on time' considers immigration at US airports too !!).

We leave Colorado slightly disappointed but really happy that we were atleast lucky to attempt Capitol. We head back with the learning that we need to respect weather and listen to what it says & along with the fact that these enormous peaks are more a test of mental strength rather than physical endurance.

If all goes well, we might land up same time next year for the same hike - Possibly a different result !! That leaves enough time for me to build myself up !!

Photo courtesy:
All Images from Aditya Tannu ( unless otherwise specified.



Abdullah said...

saw the link on ady's FB feed!!!! gooood to c u guys havin a go at the mountain's .. seems like one hell of a great trek!!!!! keep them boots walking!!!

R Athmanathan said...

Of course Abdullah !! I went for one more in Canada after this one. Pushkar and Deepak are planning Maroon bells this month..

Hectic travel season this summer !! :-)

Pushkar said...

Good job and thanks for posting this. Looking forward to North Maroon and Pyramid Peak now.

Shobana said...

Too much! enjoying thoroughly it seems! and great shots, i am sure someone else is putting ur camera to good use :P

R Athmanathan said...

@Shobana: I'm lovin it !! It was a friend's camera - much better than mine !

Brijesh said...

To start with i though 'Capitol' was some sort of a bong mountain, but then Wow! was the word that kept coming out of my mouth repeatedly as i read through the post.(Person sitting next to me in office might think i am reading porn!)

Amazing experience buddy, i could almost feel the Adrenalin rush.

The wide angle shots were just amazing. Hats off to the photographer & some grunts for triggering a definite expense (wide angle lens for my nikon) towards my account.

Keep it going. Enjoy!

Ady said...

Nice pictures :P

Bhuvan said...

Great pictures, oh well not sure if you did again, update please

R Athmanathan said...

@Bhuvan aunty, Well, i couldnt do it again the next year as i went to the arctic.
Hope it will happen in future !