Your morning vert: Grizzly Peak D from Loveland Pass

Grizzly Peak D, near Loveland Pass, Colorado.

My first trip up to Loveland Pass was two-fold in purpose. First, I wanted to see what the hiking was like. Second, I wanted easily accessible mountains close to Denver where I could get a little altitude.

I checked both boxes with a short hike to Mount Sniktau three years ago, a good training exercise just days before a more difficult outing far to the southwest in the San Juan Range redoubt of Chicago Basin.

But as a bonus, I got to see a more extensive trail system that led to a number of other peaks nearby. A year later I was back, but adverse weather conditions cut my trip short, with just a quick jaunt up Cupid, a 13,000-foot bump near Sniktau, as my sole summit. Still, that hike allowed me to get a closer look at its taller neighbor, Grizzly Peak D, and a couple of 14ers in the distance, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak.

A wise retreat that day left me hoping to return and go a little farther down the trail to get my next Loveland Pass summit.

Another two years passed before I got my shot. Following a great three days in New Mexico, I was hoping to build on my altitude training by coming back up the pass to explore more of the area.

Grizzly Peak D is, in its neighborhood, a relatively minor summit along the Continental Divide. At 13,427 feet above sea level, it’s overshadowed by its 14er neighbors, and doesn’t have the dramatic profile of some of the other 13ers nearby like Lenawee and the Citadel. But for my purposes, it was perfect.

I hiked this one solo. Which is to say, in the Front Range during the summer months, hiking solo doesn’t mean you’re alone. A half-dozen other people were on the route that day, with two couples sporting dogs.

Front Range morning views.

The entire route is above treeline, with the trailhead at the top of the pass – 11,990 feet above sea level. You get a few dozen yards of easygoing strolling before the route steepens dramatically. It’s a shock to the system, especially for a flatlander like me. But unlike the past couple of times I was here, it didn’t feel as rough as normal. Plenty of hard breathing to be sure, but I made good time to a turnoff away from the Sniktau route and toward Cupid.

That piece of trail is pleasant hiking, being relatively flat. A quarter-mile later, a series of switchbacks starts the vert in earnest to gain the ridge connecting Cupid with Point 12,915. Soon after, I was atop Cupid – just as scenic as I remembered it, but this time with clear, blue skies and none of the threatening weather that was present a couple of years earlier.

Going up Cupid, looking toward Mount Sniktau.

It also gave me a good view of the connecting ridge between Cupid and Grizzly D.

My memory failed me a bit, seeing that I thought I remembered only one bump on the ridge between the two mountains. Inspecting the route now, I saw plenty of up-and-down between me and my goal – a series of small high points on the ridge that signaled a surprising amount of vert to be gained on what is just a 5.5-mile round trip.

Coming down Cupid, looking at Grizzly Peak D and the connecting ridge.

Grizzly D, with Torreys Peak and Grays Peak seen to the left and in the distance.

On the way up Cupid, I passed the first couple I met, two Colorado natives and their dog who were repeating the Grizzly D climb. They weren’t in a rush and were happy to chat. I envied them a bit, as it seemed like they lived close enough to make hikes like this a regular part of what they do. No such opportunity at home for me, deep in the Southern Plains. Grizzly D was a bigger deal to me than them. Still, outpacing a Colorado pair gave me a little confidence boost. Maybe my conditioning was a little better than I thought.

Heading down Cupid, the scale of these “bumps” became clearer. The hiking up and around them was steeper than they seemed at first glance, but again, I was feeling pretty good and plowed through. Going over the last one, I got a good look at the path up Grizzly D: It looked steep, and ahead of me, a couple of other hikers were picking their way up.

In the middle of the ridge, looking back on Cupid and a high spot on the ridge.

Still in the middle of the ridge, looking toward another high spot, with Grizzly D in the background.

I figured it would be a lung-buster, but the final ascent was only about 500 feet or so. I could grind this out and reach the summit without eating too much time.

The hike up Grizzly’s summit pitch was as tough as it looked. Already, I was dreading the downclimb, as the path was steep and, in spots, sandier than I would have preferred. My pace slowed some, but I could tell that I was closing in on the pair I spied a few minutes earlier. I had no plans to catch them – I mean, what would that actually prove? – but it was useful observing them and the time it was taking them to negotiate sections of the climb that were still ahead of me.

Starting up Grizzly D. looking back toward Cupid. Not bad at this point, but it was getting ready to get steeper.

About three-quarters of the way up, it seemed the route relented a bit and before long I was on top. A younger couple, also from Colorado, and their dog were resting and taking in the views when I got there.

“You were making good time,” the man told me.

“Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good today,” I replied, letting my head swell a little bit at the idea of being close to passing two – count em, two! – pairs of Colorado natives with my flatlander legs and lungs.

On the Grizzly D summit, looking toward Torreys Peak (left) and Grays Peak.

Summit view looking west.

We all looked toward Torreys Peak, and what would have been a ridge traverse very similar to what we just did, just much longer and bigger. It wasn’t in the cards time-wise for me, and really, I wasn’t here to blow myself out just for some hiking bragging rights. I still had a couple days of mountain ascents ahead of me. I snacked a bit, drank up and headed back down the mountain.

The downclimb turned out to be easier than I thought. Part of the reason is I spent my winter and spring pounding my legs in the weight room. It’s amazing how much that made a difference, both going up and down the hill. I also descended at my own pace, which is pretty slow. But I felt good when I got to the bottom.

Looking at Cupid on the way down.

It was there that I ran into my last pair of hikers on the route. Two fellas were on their way up, and we talked for a bit about the mountain and what they were up to.

These guys were 69 and 70 years old. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see people at that age still slaying summits. Even better, the older of the two was doing his last training hike before heading up to Washington state to climb Mount Rainier, a mountain he’d already climbed years ago. They passed along some tips on breathing technique, and you can bet your butt that I listened.

Now down from Grizzly’s summit ridge, I looked at the work ahead. Unlike most mountains, this one wasn’t a lengthy downhill to the trailhead. Instead, it means going up and over all the stuff I’d already done just to get here. The sneaky fact about this hike is even though the elevation distance between the trailhead and the Grizzly D summit is a tad over 1,500 feet, the actual elevation change you experience is closer to 3,000 feet. Regaining all those bumps on the ridge as well as the Cupid summit proved a bit tougher on the way back. Ordinarily, the trip down is much quicker than the ascent, but not so this time. My pace got a little more leisurely as the morning wore on, and the sandy surface of the trail on the last half mile or so was a nuisance, threatening to upend me and land me on my butt more than a few times.

Pleasant singletrack hiking back to the car.

When it was done, I got exactly what I wanted: a few miles at elevation, a new summit, and a look at a more ambitious hike for the future, maybe with a partner. I envision an earlier start, parking one car at the pass, another at Stevens Gulch, and hiking from the pass to Grizzly D, then on to Torreys Peak and Grays Peak before heading to the second car waiting below. That would be a big day, but possible.

And that’s what I like about Loveland Pass. It’s close enough to Denver to avoid the commitment of climbs farther west, but it’s also filled with possibilities for future efforts. There’s still plenty left for me to do.

I dig the colors of the alpine.

GETTING THERE: From Denver, take I-70 west until you get to the U.S. 6 west exit, which takes you to Loveland Pass. At the top of the pass is parking on both sides of the road.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the trailhead, hike up some stairs, then toward the hillside leading to a high point between Mount Sniktau and Cupid. Instead of hiking to the top of the high point, turn right at a side trail that takes you toward Cupid. This will be easy hiking for about a quarter mile before reaching some switchbacks that gain the ridge leading to Cupid. The trail can take you to Cupid’s rocky summit, or you can bypass it just below the top before getting a look at the remainder of the route. Descend Cupid along the ridge and you will encounter four bumps between Cupid and Grizzly D. Some of the hiking is somewhat steep. Upon passing the last bump in the ridge, the rest of the route leads to Grizzly D’s summit. This is the steepest part of the hike, but does not exceed Class 2. The route eases somewhat close to the top before putting you at Grizzly D’s summit.

EXTRA CREDIT: Tackle Torreys Peak by hiking the ridge between it and Grizzly D. And if you’re really feeling yourself, continue on to Grays Peak, This would best be done with a two-car strategy, with one left at the Stevens Gulch trailhead and the other at Loveland Pass.

Bob Doucette

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Despite the risk, climb on

Others have been here before us. And yet we still go. Any why not?

Others have been here before us. And yet we still go. Any why not?

Not long ago, I was reading a book titled One Mountain, Thousand Summits, a tome about the 2008 K2 climbing disaster. The writer, Freddie Wilkinson, makes a point of not only documenting what occurred on the mountain, but also what happened around the world in response to the tragedy. In doing so, he followed media reporting – and reader comments – on the Internet.

For the sake of context: Eleven people died directly and indirectly from a serac collapse high on K2, one of the worst disasters in mountaineering history.

Some of the online comments quoted in the book are as follows:

“Spirit of exploration? Please. K2 has been climbed before. Many times. It was ‘discovered’ a long time ago. Climbers today climb 8,000-meter peaks for one reason: themselves.”

Another was even more blunt:

“This was not a voyage of discovery; it was an ego trip, as most mountain ascents are today.”

Similar sentiments were made after the 1996 Everest disaster, and just about any other report of a mountaineering accident that includes someone’s death.

Let’s go beyond the callousness that goes into writing screeds like these. There is a deeper philosophical question to be posed here: Do these armchair quarterbacks have a point?

Why do we climb mountains? For that matter, why do we do a lot of the physically challenging and at times risky things we do?

The great mountains of the world have been climbed. The poles have been reached. The jungles and deserts of the world have, for the most part, been traversed and explored.

And yet we still climb these peaks, journey to the poles and travel in some of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Often, people do this with a twist: trying to be the “first” at something (oldest, youngest, first woman, first blind person, etc.), and admittedly, some of these efforts are done for publicity’s sake. But more commonly, we merely retrace paths already taken – often many times before – only for our own benefit.

I can relate. Every mountain I’ve climbed and every route I’ve taken has already been done, maybe hundreds or thousands of times.

So outside of space and the oceans, much of the age of exploration has come to an end, the purposes of which have gone beyond the greater good and now veer toward the strictly personal.

So why bother? Why risk injury and death to climb?

I set my book down and let this question rattle around in my brain for awhile, and then let the thought broaden. Mountaineering accidents, particularly high-profile mishaps, get a lot of attention. News articles, TV specials and books usually follow. But there are other things we do that draw parallels.

People die running marathons. Not often, but it happens. Why run a marathon on Pikes Peak? People have had heart attacks and dropped dead trying that race. Even in my city’s local marathon there has been a fatality. The people who have died in these races possessed, for the most part, the fitness level needed for the task.

I know that’s extreme, but there are other less severe yet still noteworthy examples of how people have suffered incredibly by trying to run 26.2 miles or more. Training for such races can do a whole lot of damage to your body, consume a lot of your time and energy and change your lifestyle in ways that are not always positive.

Here’s a fact: The overwhelming number of people who run ultramarathons, marathons, half marathons, 15ks, 10ks and 5ks do so without even the slightest chance of actually winning. Or placing high. Or even winning their gender, age group or whatever. It is supposed to be a race, right? Why run a race you have no shot of winning? Or no shot of even being the slightest bit competitive?

Let’s move into other sports, say football. It’s a great game, one of my favorites. Pro football in particular interests me because it is the game played at the highest level by the biggest, fastest and most skilled athletes in the sport. It’s such a difficult challenge to even win one game, not to mention a championship.

But at what cost? The concussion debate has been raging now for a few years. But there is a host of other injuries these guys suffer on top of that, maladies that leave these fantastic physical specimens barely able to walk (not to mention run) when middle age sets in. Obviously, the money is a major reason why these men do this, but when the crowds no longer cheer and all you’re left with is a broken body (and in some cases, mind), can you say that those years of abuse were worth it?

Here’s another question: What’s the alternative?

The alternative is not to pursue the difficulties of planning, training for and finally attempting a mountain climb. The alternative is to stay inside, substitute your running shoes for a pair of house slippers and spend yet another mindless day on the couch watching TV or playing video games (which often portray characters doing epic things. Kind of ironic). The alternative is to never plumb the depths of your abilities to see how far you can take your God-given talents.

If you never push yourself to see how strong you can be, you’ll never be strong. And that’s not just in terms of physical strength, but mental and emotional strength as well. These tests tell us how tough we can be and often lead us to personal growth that can’t be replicated in the world of the easy and mundane.

None of us will ever be the first to climb Everest, K2 or thousands of other peaks. We won’t be the first to reach the north or south poles. Almost no one in this world of seven billion people will set a new world-record marathon time, and the tiniest fraction of all athletes will even do something as comparatively normal as actually winning a long-distance race. Sorry to burst your bubble.

But so what? These are the ways we measure ourselves, promote growth and even inspire others to try and do great things. Obviously, some pursuits are riskier than others, but you won’t see me discourage people from such endeavors, provided they weigh the risks, prepare thoroughly, and do so with a healthy degree of humility for the task at hand.

Lace ‘em up, people. Buckle that chin strap. Climb on. If you want to criticize that, then enjoy your time on the couch. I’m sure it will be your faithful companion on your journey to the perfectly average for some time to come. For those who choose to go out and “do” things, you never know what reward awaits you when the challenge is accepted, then met.

NOTE: What’s written above is an excerpt from a larger writing project I’m working on about the outdoors.

Bob Doucette

Caught in a lie: Storytelling, personal branding, and the temptation that befell Brian Williams

Stories of adventure are often some of the best, but they're only worth as much as the truth within them.

Stories of adventure are often some of the best, but they’re only worth as much as the truth within them.

Going back a few years, I can remember a conversation I had with a gal named Katrina during our freshman year in college. Being a dippy 18-year-old trying to impress a cute girl, I was trying my best to give off a positive vibe that I hoped would be returned. So I started telling all these goofy tales of what my friends and I did back in high school.

Her response: She said I was good at telling stories. “I guess I am a storyteller,” is what I said in return.

Nothing ever happened between me and Katrina, but that conversation stuck. At the time, I had no clue what I was going to become later in life, but here I am, many years later, and being a storyteller is a major part of who I am.

The process of becoming this thing, this “storyteller,” has been a gradual one of learning to observe and to write, to work for peanuts while honing my craft, and of course, reading the works of good writers who have taken their trade further than me. Storytelling has taken me to desperate neighborhoods, lonely rural towns, sporting events and crime scenes. The horror of the Oklahoma City bombing, the destruction from some of the most powerful tornadoes ever recorded, and interviewing a death row inmate two days before his execution (then watching him die in the death chamber) stick out as some of the most colorful and unforgettable moments in this still evolving career in writing.

Lately, I’ve shied away from all that stuff and turned my efforts toward the outdoors. The stories I find there – the people, the places, and how they interact – have become far more interesting to me than what had turned into an endless parade of shootings, stabbings, criminal trials and storm stories.

The one constant in all of these experiences, however, is that a good story carries itself. If it’s really worth telling, it won’t need any add-ons, embellishments or unnecessary injections of self to make it worth reading.

The temptation, however, is for storytellers to make something more of the story – and maybe of themselves – than what’s really there. Infamous fabricators like Greg Mortenson,  Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass come to mind, creating stories from composites of different people they know, or even just making things up as they went along for the sake of beefing up their careers.

Sneakier still – storytellers relating a real event, one in which they had some proximity, and then making their own experiences something bigger than they actually were.

Brian Williams has made a lot of headlines of late for growing a story over the years about how a military helicopter in which he rode during the early days of the Iraq war came under fire from Iraqi troops.

Brian Williams, who is now sitting out the next six months as NBC Nightly News anchor because of falsehoods exposed in his stories about his experiences in the Iraq war.

Brian Williams, who is now sitting out the next six months as NBC Nightly News anchor because of falsehoods exposed in his stories about his experiences in the Iraq war.

The real story is that it was a different helicopter that absorbed a round from an RPG, not the one Williams was in. That chopper landed in the same place Williams’ ride came to rest minutes later, which is how he learned about what had happened.

The two things I get from this: First, it sounds far more dramatic to say that it was your helicopter that took fire, and certainly it gives you more “cred” as a war correspondent to be able to tell a tale in which you were in mortal danger while doing your job. But second, is there still a good story to be told by sticking to the facts?

The answer, obviously, is yes. Talking about others whose experiences are as dramatic as wartime combat is fodder for excellent storytelling. But given the choice between the more exciting version of events in which he falsely inserted himself into the action or a more pedestrian approach of putting others’ stories above himself, Williams chose the former.

That, my friends, is the danger facing any storyteller today, maybe more so now than in times past. There is so much emphasis placed on building personal brands, even in professional journalism, that the temptation becomes that much more intense. The problem is if a fabrication is unearthed, the damage to personal credibility is crippling and a brand is ruined.

I see this as a huge pitfall among those of us writing about outdoor experiences. Unlike mass media journalism, outdoor writing as a niche is much more cramped with far fewer opportunities to make hay than what you see in other realms. Building personal brands becomes that much more crucial, and when it comes to establishing credibility, a lot of it depends not just on how well you can tell that story, but on the things you actually do while outside. So people spend a lot of time carefully crafting an image, documenting trips and feats, dragging along their friends to film/photograph them or, in increasingly common fashion, employing the use of GoPro cameras or selfie sticks. The more rad, the better, because Lord knows no one wants to follow a lame Instagram feed.

Fortunately, the fakers are usually easy to catch. Routes can be checked, and photos can be compared to similar images other people have taken. The Adventure Journal recently wrote up a really good piece on Cesare Maestri’s decades-old claims on an ascent on Cerro Torre in 1959, and how they’ve come under new scrutiny. There is a lot to be gained for someone successfully gaining a summit like that, even before “personal branding” became the thing that it is today. There is also much to lose if that feat is exposed as false.

Cerro Torre. Any attempt to summit that peak, successful or not, would make for dramatic storytelling. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Cerro Torre. Any attempt to summit that peak, successful or not, would make for dramatic storytelling. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

I could easily see how getting turned back on a peak like Cerro Torre would be extremely dramatic. There just aren’t many towers like that in the world, especially those in harsh places like Patagonia. It might not be as compelling as overcoming the elements and gaining the summit, but it is far better than a falsehood unraveling for everyone to see.

So that brings me back to the essence of good storytelling. The tale has to be compelling and well-told, but it also has to be true, even if you have to diminish yourself during the course of its telling. Readers are interested in a good story, but Katrina and people just like her know the difference between a storyteller and a bullshitter. That’s something Mr. Williams knows all too well right now.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Adventure on the Amur, a new ultra, grizzly hunting in Yellowstone, and an appreciation of rocks

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

The Amur River, eastern Siberia. (Wikipedia commons photo)

Reaching deep into the online outdoor universe, there are some cool things to be learned. A few nuggets to whet your appetite for adventure and achievement on the Weekly Stoke!

Four women went on an extraordinary journey, paddling the largest wild river (not dammed anywhere on its length) left in the world, the Amur of Siberia. This is the heart of adventure.

If you like altitude, amazing scenery and a physical challenge, a Texas transplant who now lives in Ouray, Colo., is planning a 100-mile ultramarathon in his new hometown. It’s scheduled for early August next year.

Speaking of ultra runners, this link has a short video about a blind ultramarathoner and his running companion. Inspiring stuff!

Could there be grizzly hunting in Yellowstone? The door may be opening for that soon.

Back to adventurous women: Here’s a Q&A with solo sailor Liz Clark, who sails across the globe.

And finally, Semi-Rad’s ode to rocks. If you’re a climber, hiker or mountaineer, well, you need to give it up to rocks.

Have an amazing weekend!