Posted by Tony Down at 8/19/2011 1:45 AM Categories: uncategorized

FIRST ASCENT    During the summer of 2011 many experienced teams of climbers have descended upon Dolores, the “Katmandu” of SW Colorado, to see if they could be the first to climb the Eagle Falls.

A sudden blizzard at the CC Base Camp delays operations
Of course the climb is considered far too difficult to attempt in full winter and with spring run off in the mountains August is perhaps the preferred month although there are risks of summer monsoon rains.

A team leader shelters from the “cats & dogs” of a summer monsoon
The Falls were recently opened to the public on 25th June and since then have been in full flow with many advanced expeditions arriving to plot possible routes over the gnarly rocks. First reports indicate this will not be an easy climb and so far two avenues of attack seem to be clear favorites.
From Base Camp all routes favor a trek under the gently sloping terrain of the “Bismark Plateau” where they can pass behind the main falls and cross to the other side of the fjord and then negoiate the fast flowing water before reaching  Camp 2.
Passing “Travelocity” the purple route crosses behind the  Bismarck Falls  before gaining Camp 2 on the far side of the fjord  A fairly flat crossing of the sandstone boulders and crevasses leads to the slippery and treacherous ascent over the Eagle Head Pass with it’s fast flowing torrents crashing down on all that try to cross. For those that make it a welcome respite on the relatively dry zone at Camp 3 at the base of the North Wall.

From Camp 3 the current teams favor different attacks to reach the summit with the French team planning on a direct assault on the North Wall while the New Zealand Expedition prefer the longer climb passing along Lower Balcony before clearing the Hillary Step and then scaling the tricky South Col.
Breaking news just in ……… we have just heard that a US contingent is entering the race with a team from Disney sponsored by cartoon favorite Snow White ! We await their arrival with interest. Father Christmas may send a team from the North Pole as they are in “low season” and have been practicing on rock overhangs and sheer walls without their traditional ice and snow hazards.

The North Pole Team show plenty of skills  Preparations are well under way with supplies arriving on a daily basis. Base camp is a sea of tents and activities with much testing of equipment and tentative exploratory treks to the Bismarck Plateau.
From the Cozy Comfort Base Camp teams were able to view the summit, which today was clear, and assess the massive challenge they face assuming they can clear either the North Wall or the South Col.

The Summit is finally clear of cloud
With water cascading down the falls and low cloud and mist over the “Eagle” teams decided on an exploratory trek to the rear of the falls to see if it was possible to make Camp 2 via the hazardous, but dry, Back Passage. Another untried route, but sherpas say it could be done if the cliffs can be scaled to gain access before the long repel into the Bismarck Plateau.

The “Eagle” shrouded in low cloud and spray

The unknown of the Back Passage

The French are first at the “Butt Massive” but state it was “trop difficile!”  With the French failing to find a route up the Back Passage they concentrated their efforts  on finding a way to Camp 2 via the Bismarck Falls and Plateau. By nightfall Jacque and Claude returned to Base Camp well pleased with their endeavours.

Jacque and Claude pose for a photograph at Camp 2

Claude guides Jacque down the lower reaches of Bismarck
Sir Edmund and the NZ Team set off for their attempt at the Back Passage claiming the  route requires more traditional skills for which they are famous. A long trek through the rock jumbles brings them to the base of the “Butt Massive” otherwise known as the “Back Passage” which was caused by a shifting of the Macdonald’s tectonic plates resulting in the obese overhang so often associated with Macdonalds.

Sir Edmund leads the team through the boulder field
The New Zealanders work their way down the “Plumbers Crack”
Sir Edmund directs the team up the Back Passage  Meanwhile back at the Cozy Comfort Base Camp we wait for the other teams to arrive  and will keep you up to date with any serious attempts on the summit.


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With some persuasion, I was eventually sent to the “other” Mesa on one of my “Off” days to learn to
drive the tram. Wetherill Mesa is on the other side of the Mesa Verde National Park and is certainly the
area less travelled by the the hoard of summer visitors, although it is becoming increasingly popular.
It is however home to Long House which is the second largest cliff dwelling being only one room less
than Cliff Palace on the other Mesa which has 151 rooms.

Long House at Wetherill Mesa

As part of the recovery program post the major recession 3 purpose built trams were given to the
National Park Service and Aramark is the operator, hence we get to drive them. The Park Service’s
answer to the Bullet Train operates at a cracking 15mph along a purpose built tram road some 5
miles in length. The road is now begining to break up and is just wide enough for the single tram to
pass so we have a crossover point where the incoming tram has to wait until the outgoing arrives
and then we are clear to go back to the start along the narrow one way road.

The trams are bio-diesel, a two car design seating 30 in the back car and 17 in the front plus the
Park Ranger and the driver. These trams take the tourists out to the Long House tour every half hour
between 1000 and 1600 and then we run a couple of “sweepers” to collect people before a final run
at 1730 to close the park.

The National Park Service 15 mph Bullet Train

The rear car is a foot wider than the front

Driving one of these is a bit trialslike as on nearly every corner, of which there are many, its all about
front wheel position to keep the back car on the road, and to make it even more fun on each of these
corners there is an under road culvet which is marked by two big posts hammered into the dirt on
both sides of  the road acting as section markers or a skiers slalom gate !

Approaching the uphill right slalom gate

The wider rear car just goes through….. see lower mirror!

Usually the first morning run is straight forward dropping off all the passengers at the Long House
Trailhead and then a gentle 5 mile meander through the park looking at all the wildlife of which there
is plenty including a 50 strong herd of wild horses who came up onto the Mesa after the 2000 fire and
have been there ever since.

Wild and free

At the water hole

My favourite horse, not that I’m a horse person, is a gorgeous roan stallion who I call “Hot Chocolate”.
The old stallion died last winter so there a four younger ones looking to take over the job. HC tends to
be just on the outside of the herd and gets chased off on a regular basis by a rather scruffy battle
scarred black male who clearly doesn’t like him.

“Hot Chocolate”

Other wildlife includes a multitude of squirrels and chipmunks and birds a’plenty. A very young
Kestrel landed in front of the tram and rolled over a couple of times from the impact, he then flew into
a tree and immediately fell out! Second attempt at the tree was better but his balance was poor.
Clearly this was Day1 of flight training and the “first solo” wasn’t going too well. About an hour later
he was gone.

The baby Kestrel takes time out after crashing on his first solo

Other things flying in the park this week were the Medivac Chopper who was called when a woman,
with a history of seizures had one!  Of course no medical bracelet or necklace and she didn’t have
her medication with her. Within 40 mins of the attack the ambulance had her out of the area and on
the chopper, all for only $12,000 on top of her $3.00 tour ticket! As they say you can’t fix stupid and
she was lucky we had someone on hand to kickstart her after her heart stopped 4 times.

The chopper lands near the waiting ambulance

all aboard for a $12,000 ride

While I enjoy driving the tram the Tour Bus still remains my favorite task but it seems I’m getting type
cast over here!


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