Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 5 (September 1, 1999)

My original plan was history now that I was running so far behind.  The way I saw it, I had seven mountains left in the San Juans and two days to climb them.  Unfortunately, over the next two days I would come to find that I had greatly underestimated the importance of driving time while considering my plan for the San Juans.

Laura was starting to complain about the trailer and the broken down motorcycle.  It was a hassle to drop it off before the dirt roads got tough, and to pick it up afterwards, especially because I was always so tired that she would do it by herself.  She drove over to Ouray and she was driving around like a crazed lunatic because she could not find the trailhead.  Laura gets confused with north and south, much like I do when I am in the mountains.  While the directions indicated to look for the road south of Ouray, Laura was north of Ouray, driving up and down some dirt roads.  I was perfectly happy, glad to have the time to sleep in the back of the truck.  Finally, she stopped in Ouray and asked for directions, and got on track.  We were headed up to Yankee Boy Basin on a dirt road that would supposedly get rough.  The road was bumpy and slow and in the back I could only imagine the crazy things she was driving over near the edge of some monstrous cliff.  Whenever you are in the back of my truck, it seems like the driver is out of control.

Happily, we made it to the trailhead and Laura kept going, wanting to get me up the road as close to exactly 3000′ below the summit as possible.  We got to a rough spot just below 11,000 feet and Laura wasn’t sure we could continue, so I hopped up front and gave it a try.  I made it over the rough spot, but didn’t want to lose my momentum so I had to leave her behind.  Finally I decided I had gone too far, so I waited for her to catch up.  Then, with her help I turned around and we parked at exactly 11,100 feet, 3050 feet below the summit of Sneffles.

I figured I would be going slow enough that Laura could come up with me so I pleaded with her to come along.  We got started at 11:00am.  By now my feet were bad enough that when I started hiking, I would have to limp and go slow for the first twenty minutes.  Then the pain would numb out and as long as I didn’t stop for too long the pain would usually stay pretty minimal.  My butt was another story, it was a dominating pain, except on the downhill when my knee would hurt.  We cruised on up and after my body warmed up I left her behind (which was the plan), although I was impressed with how fast she was able to go.

I’d look back and see her following.  At one point I saw her going the wrong way, and she didn’t have a map.  So I yelled at her and she kind of paused, looked around and then headed in my direction.  It was about this time that the clouds rolled in and it started raining, so I put on my poncho.  Up to this time we had seen almost nobody and I figured we must have the mountain to ourselves.  I made it up to the scree col at about 13,500 feet and was starting to get a little chilled, but I didn’t want to have to stop so I pushed on.  That is when I ran into a huge herd of about 20 people all headed down.  Some were very miserable, others recommended that I go down, saying that it only got worse as you went higher.  I happily said that I loved the conditions and continued on my way.  In reality, it sucked.  The wind was blowing the rain and sleet up the col so that it stung any exposed body parts.  However, compared to the day before, it was pretty darn good weather!

I summited Mt. Sneffels at 12:51pm (no summit register, but lots of summit marmots).  I finally stopped to put on some warmer clothes, then headed down slowly to meet Laura at the bottom of the col. We headed down together, and on the way down she was much faster than me.  My knee was going to make me slower on my descents than my ascents for the rest of the record attempt.

We were back to the car at 3:20pm, and I was very happy because we had a long drive ahead of us.  It was running late, so we decided to drive over to Redcloud and Sunshine, some easy mountains that I could climb in the dark.

The drive took about four hours.  It would have been much faster to drive over Cinnamon Pass, but since we didn’t have a 4 wheel drive we had to take the long route to Lake City.

We made it to the Grizzly Gulch – Silver Creek trailhead at about 7:00pm.  I was complaining about my butt so much that Laura told me to clean it with this antibacterial stuff she had.  She said it would sting a little, but that she thought it would help.  So I went into the outhouse and applied the stuff.  It was probably the most intense pain I suffered on the entire trip.  I wanted to scream as tears raced out of my eyes.  Finally, the pain subsided, and I went out and whined about how much that hurt.  Then I put on my gear and headed up Redcloud starting at about 7:33pm.  I was out of dry shoes by now but at least the shoes I put on were mostly dry after the long drive.

I limped up the trail for about a half hour before my feet stopped hurting and then made good time in the dark all the way up the good trail to Redcloud’s summit at 10:21pm.  It had been sprinkling most of the way up, and near the summit I entered some more dense fog.  By now I was so frustrated with the weather that I was shouting obscenities at the clouds.

I contacted Laura with the radio, and told her I was on the summit but that I was fogged in again.  She said that she thought I should wait awhile to see if it would clear up.  Once again I didn’t have my compass.  I waited for about forty five minutes but it didn’t clear up, and I was getting cold so I headed down what I thought was the South Ridge.  When I reached 13,600 feet according to my altimeter I stopped because it just didn’t seem right, I was dropping in elevation much faster than I should have been, according to the map.  I didn’t have a clue where I was.  After sitting down in frustration for several minutes, the clouds cleared up a bit.  I looked up in the sky and thought to myself, “What is the North Star doing over there?”  I had gone done the West Face, not the South Ridge.  So I climbed all the way back up to the summit.  By now the sky was almost totally clear, but I could see more dark clouds heading my way, so I moved as quickly as I could on the long ridge over to Sunshine.  The desire to sleep in the truck and not bivouac weighed greatly so even though I was tired, I forbade myself to rest at all.

I reached Sunshine at 12:04am, then descended the North Slopes route and followed a pretty good climbers trail all the way down.  I was back at the trailhead by 2:36am and was happy to finally get to sleep in the truck.  We decided to sleep for a few hours, then head towards the American Basin Trailhead so I could climb Handies in the morning.