White House announces Mt. McKinley to be officially renamed Denali

Alaska's Denali, North America's highest peak.

Alaska’s Denali, North America’s highest peak.

It was a move that was not only a long time in coming, but also somewhat of a no-brainer. On Sunday, the White House announced that Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest peak, would be renamed Denali, an Athabaskan word for “the High One.”

The Obama Administration says this is within the powers of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and that it was time to give the mountain’s name to the native people who knew the peak as Denali well before the United States was even a country.

I’m sure there will be some sort of political backlash. First, because President Barack Obama made it happen (one congressman is already calling it “constitutional overreach”). But second, because there is some historical resistance to officially giving the mountain its original name.

Ohio politicians have long fought the name-change. The mountain was named after William McKinley, a former U.S. president who is from the Buckeye State.

But Alaskans have been working on a change for some time now. Their contention is that most people in Alaska know the mountain as “Denali,” and that McKinley had no ties to Alaska or its highest mountain whatsoever.

The mountain is located in Denali National Park, and any federal employee associated with with the mountain calls it Denali. So do the mountaineers who climb it. And just about anyone else.

Aside from ruffling a few feathers in Ohio, the only inconvenience I see is having to change the name on new maps of Alaska, Denali National Park, and maps of the U.S. and North America.

We give a lot of respect and deference to our dead presidents. But in this case, it seems to desires of the living (as well as Alaskans from many generations back) deserve the name more.

So Denali it is. Finally.

— Bob Doucette

Video: Cheating death on Colorado’s Maroon Bells

This video caught my attention. Anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows that rockfall and loose rock underfoot is scary stuff, particularly when you’re in highly exposed places.

Setting up: The climbers here are doing what is called the Bells Traverse — they’ve climbed Maroon Peak, and are traversing the airy ridge connecting Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. Both are 14,000-foot peaks, and are considered two of the toughest in the state. This is a short but difficult and risky route between the peaks. Seeing this video, taken at the aptly named Leap of Faith, you’ll see why…

If that dude were a cat, he’d be down to eight lives or so. The Elk Range has been described as “red, rugged and rotten.” Now you know why. One fall there, and we’re reading about that fella the next day.

Happy Monday!

Bob Doucette

The king of the Colorado Rockies: Longs Peak

All hail the king.

All hail the king.

Throughout the Rockies of Colorado, there are nearly 700 peaks that rise over 13,000 feet. No other state in the country comes close to that, at least not in sheer volume.

Among that number are 58 summits topping 14,000 feet, again, unique to Colorado. In this mix are mountains that run the gamut: large, hulking lumps, craggy, vertical spires and behemoth peaks that dominate the surrounding landscape. Some are hikes, requiring only a strong set of legs and lungs to reach the top. Others play harder to get, if you get my drift.

Pikes Peak is probably Colorado’s most famous, towering over Colorado Springs and visible from Denver. Mount Evans is the centerpiece of the Rocky Mountain skyline from Colorado’s capital city, its distinct concave bowl easily discerned. And back in the day, Mount of the Holy Cross had special allure: Its cross-shaped couloir became the desired sight of many travelers, and the subject of numerous painters’ canvasses. Mount Elbert rises gently over Twin Lakes and Leadville, the state’s highest point and the second-loftiest peak in the contiguous 48 states. Capitol Peak is known as the toughest of the state’s highest 58.

All of these and more have their own claims to fame. But if I were to pick one to rule them all, it wouldn’t be Colorado’s most famous, highest or whatnot. I’d pick one that could take the same place that Rainier has in Washington, dubbed simply as “the mountain” by those in the Upper Left. If you had to pick one in Colorado to get that designation, it would have to be Longs Peak. Let me make my case.

Longs Peak, at 14,255 feet, isn’t even the highest in the Front Range, though its bulk sets it apart from its three higher siblings to the south. It’s visible from Denver, the centerpiece of Rocky Mountain National Park, and to borrow some terminology from a friend I know, it’s one burly mountain.

Because of its proximity to a number of east slope cities (and being smack in the middle of a widely visited national park), more people attempt to climb it than almost any other peak in the state. A paved road takes you to the trailhead. But Longs’ proximity and accessibility belie its challenge: About 50 percent who try don’t reach the top.

Longs also has a reputation for risk. More fatalities have occurred on Longs Peak than any other in Colorado, about 60 at last count. There are plenty of stories about people getting injured, lost or otherwise stranded on the mountain, underestimating its difficulty or getting marooned by bad weather that can pounce much more quickly than most realize. Longs Peak was named by Outside Magazine as one of the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world.

The route to the top is lengthy, no matter which one you choose. At a minimum, expect at least 14 miles of hiking and climbing to get to the top. And getting to the top, even by its easiest route, is still a significant undertaking –much more so than most of the state’s 14,000-foot peaks. A lengthy hike takes you to a rugged and taxing place called the Boulder Field, a rock-hopping, joint-jarring and awkward ascent to a feature in a ridge called the Keyhole, which serves as a gateway to another mile of narrow traverses, steep climbs and airy drop-offs for the final 1,000 feet or so of the ascent.

The mountain’s other routes are a tad shorter, but more steep, more exposed, and more dangerous: the steep and often snowy Loft route by Chasm Lake, and, at its most difficult, a vertical, multi-pitch rock climb up Longs’ most recognizable feature, the Diamond, a sheer wall as high as most skyscrapers in America.

There are other ways to the top — none as hard as a trip up the Diamond, but all difficult nonetheless. No matter which you choose, count on giving yourself a lot of time: Most people start the hike around 2 a.m.

These facts are all well and good, but for me it goes beyond that. Longs Peak has to be seen and experienced in a more personal way. You’ve got to see the huge summit block at sunrise, and gaze on the dark, forbidding rock that towers overhead. You have to absorb its scale, and that of the features that make it distinct — the Diamond’s imposing wall, the twisted tower of the Ship’s Prow, the dark outline of nearby Mount Meeker, a daunting peak in its own right.

You need to feel the blast of wind that greets you at the Keyhole (if that’s the route you choose) and marvel at the swirl of clouds that rushes by.

I am by no means an expert mountaineer, but in 12 years of bagging peaks I can say that I’ve never seen a more dramatic, more muscular peak in Colorado than Longs Peak. It embodies everything that its kin scattered across the state possess — sweeping, wooded slopes, vertical rock spires, imposing cliffs and dizzying heights. It’s everything that any 14er in the state is, but more of it.

And I might add, it’s beautiful, particularly up close when the rays of the morning sun bounce off the summit.

Many will rightly note that there are more than a few mountains that are more difficult, and certainly several are higher. But when you add up everything that makes Longs Peak what it is, I think it goes beyond being the monarch of Rocky Mountain National Park. Crown it the state’s king. It’s Colorado’s Rainier.

It’s The Mountain.

Got another take on this? Or a good story of your own from Longs Peak? Let’s hear about it in the comments, and be sure to take the poll.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain is safe… for now

fall1

When it ended, it was not with a thud or a bang, but with a slow, last gasp.

On Monday, representatives with the Simon Property Group told the city of Tulsa that is was dropping its plans for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. A new site, likely in the suburb of Jenks, is now being targeted as the place where the retail development giant will turn next.

Some folks at city hall are not happy about this. They really wanted that sales tax money, and they’re not giving up on finding a new place inside Tulsa’s city limits for the mall. But it ain’t happening at Turkey Mountain. Of that, we’re quite certain.

“It’s the nail in the coffin for that particular site,” Clay Bird, the director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Development, told the Tulsa World. “As far as I know, they haven’t decided anything for certain or officially.”

For Bird, uttering those words had to hurt. He was a big booster of building at the intersection of U.S. 75 and 61st Street, a site overlooking the Westside YMCA kids camp and a lot of wild, wooded acres that outdoor enthusiasts have come to love. But there it is. No need for a city council vote for final approval (or denial) is needed, and I’m sure there are some on that board who are all too happy about that.

So what did we learn? A lot, really.

First, you can never underestimate the power of ordinary people. Thousands signed a petition to stop the mall development, and the social media campaigns to prevent it were numerous. A lot of folks stepped up, let their voices be heard, and faced down big money and (to an extent) city hall to save what they saw as valuable.

Second, the optics of a big retail development looming over a kids’ outdoor camp proved to be the proverbial last straw. Opposition was stout regardless, but the prospect of a kids’ camp losing its most important aspect — that of being in the woods, and away from the city — soured a lot of people on the mall.

And third, there is still a good deal of work to be done. Just because Simon won’t be hauling in the bulldozers doesn’t mean someone else won’t try. The best way to secure the boundaries of Turkey Mountain is to take that piece of land out of play. To preserve it, someone needs to buy it.

Who might that be? It’s hard to say at this point. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition won’t come right out and say it’s gunning to buy that specific parcel. But it has been working to raise funds for the purpose of acquiring property to secure Turkey Mountain’s long-term future. You can read between the lines there yourself.

But the price tag is in the millions. So if the coalition is going to do it, it needs help. So here’s what I know:

The coalition has a site set up through the Tulsa Community Foundation to accept funds specifically for the acquisition of land. You can donate to that fund online at the link above.

TUWC also has a GoFundMe site established to raise money for land acquisition and other operating costs.

My guess is that if enough people donate, people with deeper pockets will notice and join in. Suddenly that huge sum of money looks like a much more reachable goal.

So there you have it. The future of Turkey Mountain is safe, for now. But there is a good way to make that future much more permanent. Check the sites listed above, and if you are so inclined, go ahead and donate. It’s a fantastic long-term investment.

Bob Doucette

Seven signs it’s time to bail on a summit

When you're so close to the top, it's hard to turn around. But there are times when you must.

When you’re so close to the top, it’s hard to turn around. But there are times when you must.

In 12 years of peak-bagging, I’ve found there is hardly a greater moment than topping out on a hard-earned summit. The post-climb eat-feat that usually follows, complete with exultant friends and brews aplenty, makes for sweet memories as well.

But mountains can turn on you with little warning, making that high country adventure more than you bargained for. Summit fever is a real thing, and it gets some people in serious trouble. Lightning strikes, heart attacks, rockfall injuries and avalanches — these are just a few maladies that strike would-be hikers, climbers and mountaineers when they push on despite the warning signs and forget uber-climber Ed Viesturs’ cardinal rule: getting the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.

So here are seven signs it’s time to bail on a summit bid…

  1. When the mountain says no. Defining this can be a bit murky, but when you see it, you’ll know. The route may be too icy and steep, or perhaps you are seeing too many signs of dangerous rockfall. Maybe that cornice above you looks menacing, and temperatures or wind conditions tell you that a slope is ripe for an avalanche. If a route you spied is too dangerous, or would take too long to be safe, reassess and back off if needed.
  2. When the weather says no. This is pretty straightforward. When storm clouds arise, it’s time to bug out — regardless of season. Thunderstorms can bring lightning and heavy rain. Being caught in an electrical storm is clearly nothing anyone wants to mess with, and a doable route in dry conditions can become treacherous when wet. Snowstorms often lead to whiteouts, and then can get you lost, stranded or, in the worst possible scenario, lead you right off a cliff. If you get pinned down in a snowstorm, hypothermia and frostbite become real dangers. Keep an eye on the forecasts, and always watch the skies. When they turn on you, turn around.
  3. When your skill level says no. There is nothing wrong with pushing your limits to get better. But there comes a point when your experience and skills don’t — and won’t — measure up to a challenge you come across at a specific time. The thought of bragging rights after a climb might sounds awesome… until you get cliffed out or injured and need to be evacuated from the mountain. Or worse. Don’t end up being a headline because your eyes were bigger than your stomach, so to speak. Be excited, be daring, but be realistic and honest with yourself.
  4. When your body says no. There are a lot of factors to consider here. Some of it might be conditioning, which is often the case at altitude. Perhaps the route was too long and too taxing, and you are out of steam. Or maybe you end up suffering from dehydration, altitude sickness or some other sort of illness that is making your summit bid too daunting to continue. I’ve pushed through pneumonia to bag a peak, but I don’t advise it. It’s better to listen to your body.
  5. When your partners say no. This is a biggie, and can be complicated. You may be following an experienced buddy and are amped to do something great, but he/she tells you it’s time to bail. Or perhaps you’re leading a group and your friends are too sketched out or too tired to continue. Listen to them. The only way you can split up a group is if you’ve planned for that contingency, and this is a rare exception. Even if you are sure you can go on to tackle a peak, or you’re certain that your partners are being overly cautious, listen to them anyway. The dangers of splitting up a group and the risks of alienating your friends/partners is not worth an iffy summit bid.
  6. When your preparations say no. Whether it’s the clothes you bring, the gear you hauled or the food/water you packed, if your adventure is going to outstrip your provisions it’s time to face the facts: being too hot/cold/wet/hungry/thirsty to reach your goal is a good sign it’s time to back off. Take a few mental notes, learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to try again another day.
  7. When a combination of those first six items say no. Sometimes it seems that the world is plotting against you. When it really feels that way, maybe that’s less of a cosmic conspiracy and more of a giant series of red flags that it’s time to call it a day. Trust your instincts when lots of things are going really, really wrong before committing to topping out.

So that’s my list. Any tips of your own? Feel free to share in the comments!

Bob Doucette

Andrew Hamilton, the 14ers speed record, and the magnitude of the feat

Andrew Hamilton gets some summit cookies from Noel, and poses for a pic with well-wishers after breaking Cave Dog's 14ers speed record. (Craig Cook photo)

Andrew Hamilton gets some summit cookies from Noel, and poses for a pic with well-wishers after breaking Cave Dog’s 14ers speed record. (Craig Cook photo)

Andrew Hamilton doesn’t know me. But as it turns out, I’ve met him. Twice.

If you’re into the Colorado hiking and mountaineering scene, you know who this guy is. For those of you who don’t, a quick primer…

Hamilton, 40, broke what looked to be an unbreakable record, climbing to the top of all of Colorado’s 58 14,000-foot peaks in nine days, 21 hours and 51 minutes. The previous record, held by Theodore “Cave Dog” Keizer, was 10 days and 21 minutes, and stood for well over a decade before Hamilton broke it on the slopes of Longs Peak on Wednesday night. It became official once he’d descended 3,000 feet below that mountain’s summit early Thursday morning.

My first encounter with Hamilton was when I was sitting atop the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross in the fall of 2012. I was exhausted, having driven straight from Tulsa, where I live, to the trailhead the day before, then hiking six miles (with nearly 5,000 feet of gain) with no acclimatization and questionable conditioning. Hamilton strolled to the top shortly after, his wife and two young boys in tow, as if they were taking a walk in Washington Park.

A little conversation with him showed that he and his wife had summited all of Colorado’s highest peaks numerous times. His oldest son, just a grade-schooler, had also climbed all 58 of the 14ers. And the youngest, a preschooler, already had a few peaks in the bag as well.

I thought to myself how amazing this family must be, and how those kids were fortunate to have parents who instilled a sense of adventure and accomplishment into them at such a young age.

“That was one inspiring family,” I wrote at the time. “They would pass me down the trail, energetic and laughing as if they’d just gone for a walk through the mall. The thought that went through my head was how far ahead those two boys are from their peers: They’d tackled physical and mental challenges that other children hadn’t even sniffed and had learned quite a bit about how tough they could really be. That has to be a lesson that will translate into something positive for them later in life. Well done, mountain parents. Your kids are gonna rock.”

Fast-forward almost three years, and the story is much the same. Hamilton’s mountaineering resume is still lofty, and both his sons now boast finishing off the list of 14ers. And yes, they’re both still in grade school. Little did I know that Andrew Hamilton was just getting started to make his mark.

A lot of people have tried to break Cave Dog’s record, and they usually fail miserably. A lot of it has to do with the rules.

Yes, you can have a support crew. And if the mountains are too far apart to link together, you can use a bike or motorized transport to get from one peak to the next. But you have to ascend at least 3,000 feet to the top, then descend 3,000 feet on your own two feet. Simple enough, right?

For some peaks, this isn’t too daunting. A number of Colorado’s mountains are “walk-ups,” or mountains that can be summited by hiking. But others are not — some involve time-consuming climbing, nerve-wracking drop-offs and loose rock that make speedy ascents all but impossible unless you’re a bit of a freak. Cave Dog fits that mold, and so does Hamilton.

And since this is a speed challenge, that means Hamilton would be attempting this on minimal sleep, at all times of day, and in all kinds of weather. Bluebird day conditions? Sure. Howling winds, snow, and wet rock in the middle of the night? Yes to that, too.

The upper portions of Longs Peak.

The upper portions of Longs Peak.

In fact, that is what Hamilton faced on his last peak on Wednesday, Longs Peak, smack in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park. The approach hike is lengthy, and by its standard route, you face a punishing section of boulder-hopping to a ridge feature called the Keyhole, then a series of narrow ledges and steep, rocky scrambles for the last mile and 1,000 feet to the top of the mountain. He did this in the middle of the night, in foul weather, and horrible route conditions that would turn back most climbers.

But he did it, then met a small crowd of well-wishers who hiked to 11,000 feet to greet and congratulate him for breaking the unbreakable record. About 3 a.m. or so, me and a few friends who were on our way up the mountain met him as he was coming down. He was tired but lucid, in good spirits, even accepting a gift of cookies from my buddy Noel and stopping for photos from people who wanted to preserve a moment in which they can say they were there when Hamilton completed the feat.

My first brush with Hamilton left me with a sense of admiration. My second, a sense of appreciation. There are more than a few famous names in mountaineering lore, and they’ll get the accolades and endorsements that come with bravely tackling the challenges of the high country. I don’t know if that sort of attention is coming Hamilton’s way, but I’d say he deserves it, achieving in less than two weeks what takes most people years.

Will Hamilton’s record be broken? It’s hard to say. This has been a week of records being broken, with Scott Jurek setting a speed record on the Appalachian Trail. Others will surely try. But take a moment to consider what a huge precedent Cave Dog set, how long his record stood, and the guts it took to break it.

Bob Doucette

Gear review: A first look at the Salomon Sense Pro trail running shoe

The Salomon Sense Pro trail shoe.

The Salomon Sense Pro trail shoe.

After hundreds of miles through dirt, rocks, mud and snow, through numerous races and scores of training runs, I finally had to retire my trail runners.

Salomon had generously provided those shoes to me back then, with the idea of testing them out and letting all of you know how I felt. They performed well and lasted a long time, especially considering the abuse I put them through.

Salomon approached me again about testing their Sense Pro – an upgrade from the Sense Mantra I tested previously, and I was all too happy to oblige. Would the Sense Pro live up to the reputation of its predecessor? The final verdict has yet to be given, but some of my initial thoughts are here.

Features

The Sense Pro comes in with a sole that is 10 mm at the forefoot, and 16 mm at the heel for a 6 mm drop – still light enough to give you a feel for our running surface, but thick enough to protect your feet.

The sole’s traction system is designed to give you grip in multiple directions. This is particularly helpful on uneven surfaces, and on uphill and downhill stretches where trail-grip needs change. The nugs are not as large as you would see in a more aggressively cleated design but I can tell you from experience that you’ll be able to climb walls with the traction you get, and in a variety of conditions.

A look at the tread design on the Salomon Sense Pro.

A look at the tread design on the Salomon Sense Pro.

The Sense Pro also includes Salomon’s OS Tendon, which is geared to give you proper flex in the sole as well as energy return.

The lace-up system is also different than your typical shoe lace. The Quicklace system allows you to tighten up and stay tight, and the loose end tucks under is a small pocket on top of the tongue. I want to say that the system is improved; my prior pair was a little more stubborn, whereas with the Sense Pros, it’s been smooth and easy, yet secure when tightened. This was a minor annoyance before (and a common gripe with some runners who prefer traditional laces) that seems to be moot now.

As in prior models, Salomon also included an extra layer of material called Profeel Film built in to the sole that extends from the arch to the toes, giving you a little extra protection from rocks, roots and stumps.

The Sense Pro also has a sleeve on the interior of the shoe that hugs your foot. So no sliding around in the shoe, a concept that dovetails nicely with the security you get with the Quicklace system. Anyone who runs any sort of distance can appreciate blister-free training, which is just one benefit here.

At 8.8 ounces, it’s also lightweight, though a tiny bit heavier than the Sense Mantra (8.5 ounces).

Finally, as you would expect in any decent trail shoe, there is added, tougher material around the toe box.

Performance

I had no reason to believe the Sense Pro would not live up to the experiences I’ve had in the past, and I was correct. My initial run took me through muddy and at times watery singletrack, and with the exception of the sloppiest grades, I had no trouble keeping my footing.

On another test run – hill repeats on a steep, loose and rocky incline – I found similar security on the uphills and downhills. Truthfully, I could have probably pushed harder downhill had I not been a little banged up in my knees.

Needless to say, in dry conditions, I hugged corners, climbed hills and bounded down slopes with high confidence. My feet were comfortable and the weight of the shoe was not a burden. The fit was snug and secure, but not tight, and I had plenty of room in the toe box.

Salomon is marketing the Sense Pro as a “city trail” shoe, but on the wilder, rougher and more technical trails I run, they did just fine.

I’ll come back to these shoes for a second look when I’ve put a bunch more miles on them. If they show the same durability of my previous pair, I’ll likely be running in the Sense Pros for a long time.

The Sense Pro retails for $130.

Bob Doucette