By John Anderson
Here is an old joke. What word starts with F and ends in UCK? Firetruck. A Firetruck is a very loud and noisy vehicle that draws attention to itself. I “Firetrucked it” over the course of my New Year’s trip to Colorado, I am known for having a very calm and easygoing manner but that is not what my partners got this trip over the New Year’s holiday. They got a side of me that said “Firetruck” as a full sentence and acted much the same.
The day before I am scheduled to leave for a weeklong trip to Colorado I come down with a cold. A total bummer but coughing and a runny nose was not going to stop me from going. Even if I did not climb well, I needed to get my new Black Diamond Alpine Touring Skis assembled. I picked up Bret after work on Friday and headed west. Our planned vacation did not start well, as the weather across Nebraska was shutting down highways and interstates. Firetruck it, swing south thru Kansas, add a couple easy hours of driving. We roll into Boulder, CO and drop our skis off at a local well-known shop. After a couple of hours in the shop, we leave with high hopes to get our skis back before our time in Colorado is up. After all, we brought the shop workers some of Iowa’s fine IPA to help. We head up to Estes Park to the Hagen Vacation house.
The second day found us hiking up Deer Mountain to do some winter photography. Due to the government shut down, most of the roads in Rocky Mountain National Park are closed. We loaded our packs with too much camera gear and wandered our way to the summit. With it being a beautiful weather day, we took our time and talked with people along the trail. We spent a lot of time taking pictures on the summit and listened to a video blogger selling his goods and “likes” on this “god knows what mountain!”. The irony of some guy being a “Firetruck” on an easy mountain next to a family had us laughing for days.
Summit of Alpine Pimp Cane
The next day it snowed and we slept in and had coffee and watched it. We plotted and planned the following days. Jamie would roll in that night and the crew would be assembled, but after spending most of the day in the house we decided to say “Firetruck it” and let’s climb something. There is a small rock outcropping that you can see from the house’s picture window. It was covered in snow and called us to climb it. We quickly assembled a light rack threw on our boots and hiked to the base. Staying just right of the arête, we completed a first accent of Alpine Pimp Cane, in reference to my Grivel Condor hiking pole. Getting back to the house right before dark, it was a fun way to end the year.
Jamie and Bret getting packs Loaded
With the full crew assembled, we packed up and drove to the Mount Bancroft Trailhead. Along the way, we scouted ice conditions around Boulder and Clear Creek canyon. After an easy hike in to the last year’s campsite, we found creek still had running water. We quickly set up camp as the temperature dropped to well below freezing. Rushing to stay warm I hopped into my sleeping bag with plans to boil the water and make dinner warmly wrapped in down. I started the stove and started to place the pot of icy water on it. “Firetruck!” I spill most of the pot of freezing water onto my sleeping bag and in my tent. I reflexively threw the offending pot into the vestibule and onto my MSR pocket rocket stove. Quickly realizing what I had done, I pull off my one of my socks and try to mop up the water before it spread around the tent. It froze, my hands froze, and the stove froze. Luckily, Bret’s stove was working but we had to keep switching canisters as they would freeze up and lose pressure. Continuing with dinner, I poured hot water into my dehydrated meal and safety tucked it into my sleeping bag then proceed to boil water needed for the climb the next day. We got my stove up and working and then “Firetruck! Firetruck”, I roll on top of my meal and exploded it inside my bag. I set record for “Firetruck” as I strung it out into full sentences. “Firetruck it”, I cleaned up my mess, flip my sleeping bag inside out, put all my layers on in preparation of a cold night, and it was a very cold night.
Moving along the snow ridge. Photo by Bret Parkhill
For once, the morning could not come fast enough and we set off after quick cup of coffee. Bret was hoping to be on the ridge to catch the morning rays and get that awesome picture. As I slowly snowshoed behind the group, I pronounced “if I throw up, I am turning around” as the long cold night, did nothing to help my illness. The sun greeted us well below the ridgeline as we stashed the snowshoes and placed crampons on our feet to start up the snow slope. With the warming sun, our pace picked up and we quickly reached our high point of last year. Soon we were at the rappel stations and Jamie took the lead. He quickly set an anchor as Bret and I rappelled into and across the narrow notch. The pitch is rated as 5.2 but with crampons and the high level of exposure, you definitely did not want to “Firetruck it” up. Once we all got up its just class 4 scrambling along the ridgeline with a thousand feet of exposure on both sides. The mountains weather smiled on us and we had a windless day.
Bret on Steeper snow on ridgeline
I took over the lead as Bret and Jamie stopped for pictures. I crossed Knife Edge Snow field slowly, then even slower crossed a balanced block. I moved a safe distance up to wait and scan the route ahead. Suddenly I hear “Firetruck!” I look back, see Bret wobbling, and hear a large block cutting loose. Lucky for us, it fell away from Bret and went crashing down the north side of the ridge. We catch our breath. It was not even the balanced block I had worried about.
Jamie and I rock scrambling high on the ridge. Photo by Bret Parkhill
We continued to pick the easy path up the ridge being extra careful to look for loose blocks. Soon we reach the top of the route with a short slog to the summit. “Firetruck it”, we are skipping the true summit of Bancroft today. We traverse over the descent ridge but the snowfield calls us to plunge step. “Firetruck it”, down we go plunge stepping and glissading to save time and dropping elevation quickly. Soon we were back to breaking down camp and hiking back to the car and heading to get pizza.
On the way back to Estes, I call the gear shop hoping my skis were done and I could take them out on my last day. “Firetruck”, they will not be done until close of business tomorrow. I guess they did not like the beer. Back at the house, we talk plans for the next day, rest day. Moreover, what a glorious rest day it was. Back in boulder at 5pm, the shop still working on my skis. The service person asked three times if I knew my Helio 180 bindings were “race bindings.” I am sure he was thinking that I had no business with them and was going to rip my knees out. I thanked him and loaded them into my car. The next day as I drove home, Bret and Jamie went AT skiing on beautiful Colorado day. During the long drive home, I reflect back on the trip. Why did I make such silly but serious mistakes? Why did my ego get so angry and feel the need to express itself in such a negative manner? A lesson in humility and to stay alert. Just because you have climbed Everest does not mean anything in the cold of a Colorado winter. Or maybe it was just a “Firetruck” to the rescue.
Two cents on Gear
- Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket continues to be impressed with warmth of this jacket. It did not absorb the water that was dumped on it.
- Grivel Condor pole has such versatility. I did not need Ice axe on Bancroft because of integrated pick.
- My black diamond ski set up; Helios 105 skis and Helios 180 bindings. Although I did not use them on this trip, they are preforming fantastically.