Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 8 (September 4, 1999)

I was happy to finally be able to try one of the days from my original plan.  Today I would attempt the Triple Feat (climbing the Maroon Bells and Pyramid in one day), then I would take on Castle Peak.  I was hoping to finish all of the mountains by dark and get some good sleep at the end of the day.

I was very comfortable, sleeping in the Volkswagon again with the Mouser when I was rudely awakened.  It was 3:00am and time for me to get going.  During the night, my dad had not arrived, but my friend Kelly Tappendorf and her roommate Chris Clarke had surprisingly come to offer me some support.  I could see that Laura was already feeling less stressed out.  Laura fed me some oatmeal, and everyone helped me get ready to go.

I limped out of the parking lot at 4:00am, my feet needing their customary twenty minutes of pain.  On the positive side, my butt amazingly was totally healed.  Laura’s stinging medication had apparently done its job.

The trail up North Maroon isn’t super easy to follow, the first mile or two are on a good trail.  But at one point you have to turn off the trail and follow a light climbers trail.  I might have had a difficult time since it was dark, but I remembered the trail in great detail from the year before, when I had previously climbed the Maroon Bells.  I made good progress.  The trail up North Maroon always amazes me because it turns a corner and then goes straight up the mountain.  When viewing North Maroon from Maroon Lake, most people probably have no idea that there is a trail going right up the spectacular northeast side of the mountain.

The sky began to light up just as I reached the snow.  The Maroon Bells, like Capital, had been laced with snow once the elevation became greater than 13,000 feet.  Unlike Capitol, there was also a lot of ice, this slowed me down.

I finally reached the snowy summit at 7:15am.  There were no clouds in the sky.  At last, beautiful weather had arrived.  There was a very icy wind blowing, but I wasn’t complaining.  I quickly began the traverse over to South Maroon.  This was the last of the four class 4 traverses that I would have to do, and completing it would be a load off my mind.  The going was slow, however, as I had to contend with ice, snow, and a couple of relatively scary, exposed downclimbs.

I made the summit of South Maroon by 8:30am, and although I was moving slower than the year before, I was optimistic about my ability to make quick work of Pyramid and Castle.  Then I had to descend South Maroon.  This descent could easily qualify as one of the least desirable descents on a 14ers.  First, a loose class 3 ridge.  Cairns everywhere make it confusing to find a trustworthy way down.

Some where along the way I missed the best route and had to do a nasty 40 foot downclimb off a little cliff.  After about 50 minutes I reached a point on the ridge where I could start to think about descending the steep East Slopes.  I headed down and was miserable for the next couple of hours.  Although I only had to descend about 3000 feet, it was steep and treacherous, and my knee was about ready to call it quits.  I limped, hopped, skidded and slipped my way until finally, around noon I made it down.  I had told my support crew that I would be back around noon, and I hadn’t even started climbing Pyramid yet.  After my experiences of the previous week, I wasn’t even considering attempting the more direct, West Slopes approach to Pyramid.  Instead, I would descend down to where I could access the standard route on Pyramid, the class 4 Northeast Ridge.

My knee had been so brutalized by the downhill that even when I turned uphill on the Pyramid trail, it would scream with every step.  I had to stop often to massage it, and the going was slow.  I found a method of going up that was less painful, however, and that was to take a giant step with my left leg, and just bring my right leg up to be even with my left leg.  I was proud of my left knee, as it had come through for me.  It is the knee that I typically have problems with, but ever since the second day, it had been painless, and was working extra hard to compensate for the right knee.  My left foot was in bad shape though, as all of the compensation had taken a heavy toll on it.

At about 13,000 feet, I met some people from Boulder, and they were headed down.  They had recognized me from an article in the newspaper.  I asked them to relay a message to my support crew, saying that I was running late but that there was nothing to worry about.  The people I met offered me some Motrin for my knee, but I refused.  That was a silly thing to do.

I continued up Pyramid, slowly and painfully, and reached the summit at 2:30pm.  From the summit I picked up a weak signal on the cell phone, so I left a message for Laura and Dad that I was running late, I didn’t want them to worry.

I slowly made my way down.  I discovered that on the descent if I never let my right leg drop below my left leg, then I wouldn’t get the sharp pain.  I also found a good way to get across the rock fields.  I would step on high rocks with my left leg and on low rocks with my right leg.  I would sing “high, low, high, low, high, low” in synch with my steps so I would not screw up, as a mistake resulted in a sharp pain.  When I got to the steep stuff after tree line I turned around and went backwards as much as I could.

With all of my little descent techniques I was able to make it down by about 4:00pm.  Dad had finally showed up (actually, he had shown up just fifteen minutes after I had left in the morning).  As I walked into the parking lot my support crew, now numbering seven, gave me a big cheer.  I laid down and dad massaged my legs out and they fed me.  It felt nice to have so much support.  And it felt good to see Laura have some help, and I could see that she was much less stressed out now.

Kelly and Chris said goodbye, and the rest of the caravan headed over to Castle Peak.  I laid down in the Volkswagon and ate cookies that Natalie had made for me.  Shane had managed to get permission from Tom Bowers, owner of Performance Ski in Aspen, to use his dirt bike.  Now this was a nice bike!  You know this is a serious dirt bike because it had a racing number on it!  This was going to help me out because it would allow me to get to 11,200 feet on the Castle road, a road too rough for my truck.  We parked at the bottom of the road, Shane fired up the motorcycle and got it ready for me.  He warned me that this bike liked to go at high rpms per minute, it wanted to go much faster that the other bike.

I strapped on my helmet, put on my pack, and hopped on the motorcycle.  I revved it up a couple of times, said goodbye and took off up the road.  This dirt bike was absolutely amazing.  It glides right over rocks and ruts.  I cruised on up to 11,200 feet, parked the bike, and headed up the trail.  I lament that I did not have a bike like this for the entire attempt.  Since the bike had no headlight, Shane was hiking my mountain bike up so I could ride it down in the dark instead of the motorcycle.

At 6:45pm I started hiking the rest of the road and then on up to Castle’s Northeast Ridge.  I made the summit of Castle by 8:45pm, contacted Natalie by Radio and let her know how I was doing, then headed down.  To save my legs several hundred feet of downhill rock scrambling, I decided to slide down Castle’s year round snow slope.

It was very icy, and had numerous rocks littering the slope, so I slid down backwards digging my hiking poles into the ice as a brake.  It was scary at times because I would hit a patch of nearly solid ice and my speed would pick up, but the tips of the poles were just strong enough to keep me going at a reasonable speed.

I made it down to my mountain bike (with new brakes thanks to Laura) and rode the bumpy road down to the cars, arriving at 10:45pm.  I laid down by the fire and ate, and then we packed it up and headed over to Marble, because in the morning I would finish off the Elk range by climbing Snowmass Mountain.