Well, I guess it was a fitting morning in terms of the name of this high 12er in the Gores. It certainly hailed on Reid & myself on Hail Peak. However, hail was not what was forecasted, which was a bit of a bummer.
The night before, Kristine & I had a great car camp dinner up at one of our favorite camping spots on Red & White Mountain. Hot dogs, burgers, and corn were our dinner items cooked over an open flame campfire. It was delicious. Then, Kristine, made us some awesome s’mores for dessert. She really needs to enter a s’mores-off contest.
Me and our dinner roasting over the campfire
A tasty dinner
Now, that’s a s’more!
A gorgeous sunset topping off a great evening
One of the many great things about this campsite is we just packed up when we couldn’t see anymore and drove down the 4WD road to Wildridge and back to Edwards and were home 20 minutes later around 9 pm.
I had yet to summit this reclusive Gore peak called Hail Peak, so the next morning my buddy Reid Jennings from Denver met me around 8:30 am last Sunday morning to go out for a nice trail run up Gore Creek. The first 4.5 miles to the Recen brothers grave site is a superb trail run. Fairly mellow and flat, it only gains around 1,500′ in 4.5 miles. Reid’s knee was acting up, so we hiked it from the grave site north up the steeper trail towards Gore Lake. Our first wave of wind and hail came on this steeper trail and it was only 10am. Interesting when the forecast was for mostly sunny and 20% chance of storms. After turning north off the Gore Lake trail on an extremely faint climber’s trail and enjoying some bushwhacking through moist meadows, we reached the high basin containing Snow Lake and chose our steep ascent gully full of talus. We actually got on some nice class 3 rock to the gully’s west side to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face.
The ascent gully/slabs to reach Hail’s southeast ridge/face
It actually cleared up and got sunny for the remaining class 3ish boulder field scramble up the final 600′ to Hail’s 12,904′ summit, which was pleasant and pretty fun.
Reid on Hail’s summit ridge with Mt. Silverthorne behind
The views were great from the summit after topping out around 11:15 am (2 hours & 45 minutes after we started).
Snow Peak & Snow Lake below from Hail’s summit
Grand Traverse Peak basking in what sun there was
The weather over the northern Gores looked really nasty …Asgard Ridge and its towers (in the darker shadows) can be seen leading up to Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla (far left) in the foreground
Reid & myself on the summit of Hail Peak (12,904′). It was nice to go super light for this peak (as in a bottle of water, a few snacks, and a rain jacket)
Weather was definitely moving in from the west and so we boogied after only maybe 10 minutes on top. We got hailed on descending Hail’s boulder-strewn southeast face and by the time we reached the creek draining from Snow Lake it was a full on hail storm. I had wanted to continue a trail run up past Snow Lake, over Snow Pass, down to Deluge Lake, and back to the Gore Creek trailhead to make a nice loop out of it, but the weather dictated our descent path. We beelined for treeline and descended the way we came in. Reid’s knee was still acting up so we just hiked fast the entire way back to the trailhead. All in all, a memorable 13 mile run/hike up Hail Peak with about 4,500′ of vertical gain. It took us about 5 1/2 hours roundtrip, so back in time to watch some football and the Broncos. I’ll have to go back to trail run that loop with Kristine at some point.
Despite a not so ideal weather forecast and some initial hesitation on crowds on the routes, we had a great Labor Day weekend up in the “middle of nowhere” Wyoming on this absolutely insane rock formation called Devil’s Tower. This was a long overdue trip that we had been wanting to put together for a year or more. Devil’s Tower certainly did not disappoint. Its an amazing rock formation with the highest concentration of quality crack climbs anywhere in the country. I believe there is something like 220 different routes on the Tower. At first I thought the rock had the look and feel of granite, but its actually molten rock or magma formed 50 million years ago via a subterranean volcano. Over the millions of years the sedimentary rock eroded away exposing this awesome formation that rises almost 1,000′ above the surrounding meadows and rolling hills of northeast Wyoming.
Devil’s Tower surrounded by low clouds. Photo by Derek
J and I made the 7-8 hour drive from Vail Friday evening rolling into the KOA campground around 1:30am to find our good buds Jesse, Andy, & Derek beginning to set up their cowboy camp by their car as they had just arrived about 30 minutes earlier from Denver. Nico & Celeste and their two small kids Blake & Clara had rented a tiny one room cabin and we all basically camped in their yard out front. It worked out nice. Since Saturday was the good day of weather, we decided to climb the classic Durrance Route to the top as this was our main priority for the weekend. Despite being one of the two easiest routes to the top on the Tower, the Durrance Route is listed in the text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America by Steck & Roper. The Durrance Route was first climbed by Jack Durrance & Harrison Butterworth in September 1938 and was the second free ascent of the Tower following the first ascent by Fritz Weissner in 1937 up the Weissner Route. Durrance has 6 main pitches though we did a 125′ “direct start” to this route by default. That is, we missed the primary approach route to the base of the “Leaning Column” Pitch 1 in the pre-dawn light and found our way up to the base of the Tower’s southeast corner always having the “leaning column” in our sights. Nevertheless, this gave us an extra pitch of technical climbing so we were all glad we missed the approach route to start. We all really thought we would be fighting the crowds on the most popular Durrance Route, but we were the first ones on the route that Saturday morning and we only saw one other team of two behind our three teams of two the entire day.
Devils’s Tower’s Durrance Route is pitched out on the left side of the picture. Two other climbs we did, Soler & El Cracko Diablo, are shown on the Tower’s east side. Click picture to enlarge
After a 4:30am wake-up call, some breakfast, and coffee, we were at the base of the direct start by 6:30am. Derek and I teamed up as did J/Nico and Jesse/Andy. Derek has not done a lot of lead climbing, especially trad, so I was happy to lead every pitch. However, one note about Devil’s Tower rock climbing ratings. They are stiff! A 5.7 anywhere else, in our experience, would be at least a 5.8 here at Devil’s Tower no doubt. They are old school ratings and I heard the term “cowboy” ratings several times this weekend by several climbers. J & I believed we would be getting on several 5.10 trad climbs at the Tower, but there was no way, especially when we were not familiar with the rock, routes, or ratings. Maybe another trip up there. Though, who knows. 5.10s at the Tower are serious undertakings and are easily 5.11s or higher anywhere else. Durrance is rated as a 5.7 climb with a few easier 5.4-5.6 pitches, but we all thought the hardest pitch, the Durrance Crack, was easily 5.8 based on our collective experience. Plus, the rock was smooth and slick attesting to the fact that this route gets a lot of traffic.
Base of the “direct start” up Durrance
Team J & Nico set to go
Derek & myself
Our “Direct Start” Pitch 0 went smoothly and I belayed Derek up from a tree at the base of the “leaning column”. The “Leaning Column” Pitch 1 was fun yet fairly smooth & slick and protected by a few pitons. I think I placed one cam on Pitch 1.
Derek at the base of the “leaning column”
Devil’s Tower’s morning shadow on the landscape
Derek belaying me up Pitch 1
Derek climbing the “leaning column”
Derek working the column with J and Nico below
It sure was fun looking down on our entire crew as we ascended this awesome tower. The Durrance Crack was next and it looked challenging. However, once I got in the double crack system and got a few pieces in, it went fairly smoothly. However, it definitely felt a lot tougher than 5.7. I kept thinking to myself – “cowboy” ratings
The 70′ crux Durrance Crack from the nice bolted belay atop the “leaning column”
Looking down on the Durrance Crack and the boys from the belay
J & Derek at the belay atop the Durrance Crack
Derek cleaned the pitch well and we combined the next two pitches, The Cussin’ Crack & The Flake Crack (Pitches 3 & 4), into one pitch. The 30′ Cussin’ Crack had a legit move or two to begin with protected by a nut in a flake to a ledge and then has an 8′ off-width chimney in which there was no protection up to the belay. However, there was an easier crack around to the right, which made more sense and I passed the word along down below. The 40′ Flake Crack above was pure fun, nice folds, and smooth movements.
Derek rocking the Flake Crack
We were at the base of the Chockstone Crack (Pitch 5) and again this was solid climbing with protection to be had deep in the crack.
Me set for the Chockstone Crack. Photo by Derek
Me enjoying the lead of the Chockstone Crack. Photo by Derek
The crux was mantling the chockstone at the top of the crack, which was pretty fun. The views and pictures down the route from the top of the Chockstone Crack were amazing.
Looking down on Derek shooting J sending the Flake Crack
J at the belay ledge atop the Flake Crack
J & Nico
Nico belaying J leading the Chockstone Crack
We had two choices for the remaining climb to the summit. Either do a “jump” traverse looker’s right to the “Meadows”, a larger angled ledge on the Tower’s east side from which a exposed 4th class route leads to the summit or an additional direct pitch of technical climbing called Bailey’s Direct to the summit. We chose the technical pitch and soon I was off on this lengthy 150′ 5.7 pitch directly to the summit.
Looking down on Derek & J while leading the final Bailey’s Direct Pitch 6. The “Meadows” is the grassy ledge system on the left side of the picture
I am so glad we did this direct finish to the Tower’s summit. In my opinion, it is much more aesthetic and fun than a “jump” traverse and scramble. I finally topped out at a nice belay ledge and two bolt anchor and belayed Derek up to me. J was on Derek’s heels leading the final pitch and soon enough he and Nico were up with us as well.
Nico finishing off Bailey’s Direct
Ready to roll to the summit
We hung around for a bit, went to the summit itself, and came back down to the top of Bailey’s Direct hoping to scope out Jesse & Andy coming up the last pitch. They soon appeared and I got some video footage of Jesse leading the final section up to the belay ledge:
It was great seeing these fellas top out on Durrance.
Jesse belyaing Andy up Bailey’s Direct while Derek is relaxing taking photos
Andy finishing off Pitch 6. The other team of two was close on Andy’s heels behind him
We were all soonon the summit of Devil’s Tower around 10am this awesome Saturday morning. Sadly, we did not see any evidence of alien activity as in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What was funny is that our KOA campground played this movie every night at 8:30pm. Pretty funny.
Derek & I on the summit of Devil’s Tower (5,112′)
Jesse strutting his stuff on the Tower’s summit
Me on the summit of the Tower
Our crew on the summit of Devil’s Tower, WY (5,112′)
Such a picturesque summit. Just a relaxing grass meadow which happens to be close to 1,000′ off the deck
The KOA campground from the summit. Photo by Derek
J and the hefty summit register
Since Derek & I had topped out, we spent close to 2 hours on the summit, which was just awesome. And, our crew had the summit all to ourselves – pretty special. The team of two who were moving extremely fast up Durrance behind us soon topped out. The leader had no helmet and he seemed to have maybe 3 pieces of gear on him. His wife was extremely nice and offered to take our pics. They didn’t have a second rope for the descent rappels so we gladly offered them an extra one of ours since we had three. His wife then told us her husband was John Bouchard and to “google” him. We looked him up later and found out he is a pretty legendary rock climber and alpinist in his own right and is the founder of Wild Things mountain gear and equipment. They currently live in Portland, OR and are on a roadtrip across the country with their children, who apparently don’t climb. John and his wife had not climbed Devil’s Tower in 20 years or so and they seemed happy to be back on it. It was great to meet them up high on the Tower. No wonder John had no helmet and probably placed three cams the entire 600′ of the Durrance Route.
We made a double-rope rappel off the summit plateau to the Meadows and then traversed right to the beginning of the Bowling Alley rappels down to the base of Durrance.
Jesse rapping off the top
The first of three double rope raps led us to a small ledge at the top of one of the thousands of hexagonal towers that comprise the Tower. I landed first, but then soon realized 6 climbers is going to be extremely tight on this ledge. It will no doubt get comfy. Nico came next, then Andy, Derek, and followed by a simul-rap of Jesse and J.
Andy on the first double-rope rap
It was tight yet fairly entertaining. The tourists down below who by now had gathered along the Tower Trail to watch the climbers must have thought it a strange situation.
Party of six (my helmet is lower left) on the rap ledge. Photo by Derek
Nico & I on the rap ledge. Photo by Derek
We then pulled the ropes and Jesse and I flaked out the two ropes, fed one through the bolts and re-tied our figure eight follow-through. Nico & I simul-rapped down and then the other four rapped down behind us to the last rap ledge and two bolt anchor.
Looking up the Tower from the base of Durrance once we finished the rappels
Soon enough we were all safe and sound on level ground at the base of the “direct start” to Durrance where we had started approximately eight hours earlier (4 hours of climbing, 2 hours on the summit, and 2 hours to rappel). It was a great day and I think we all felt fortunate Durrance had worked out for us. We met up with Celeste and the kids back at camp and actually hit the swimming pool to cool off and refresh ourselves. Andy cooked up awesome fajitas for dinner and we actually turned in fairly early due to the short night of sleep the night before.
Back at the KOA
J had brought his mega-tent and we all slept in there except for Jesse who thought he was too good for us and slept in his car. Nico’s clan was in their cabin. Sleeping in Sunday morning felt great and we got up and decided to check out a few other climbs on the east side, which has the same approach as Durrance, so it was not entirely foreign to us and we new essentially where to go. The route El Cracko Diablo (5.8) was highly recommended to us the day before from two very nice local climbers and so we headed in that direction. The other recommended route was Soler (5.9), but there were groups on that route and others lined up for it. The weather forecast was really the deterring factor for the day, but we felt lucky El Crack Diablo was open. J and I were off running on it and J led the first 100′ 5.7 pitch up to a two bolt anchor.
J leading Pitch 1 of El Cracko Diablo
J in the crack on El Cracko
The easiest route on the Tower is called Tad and is located just left of El Craacko Diablo, but climbers have to build their own belay after Pitch 1. So, Jesse, Andy, & Derek decided to follow J and I up El Cracko as a 3-man team. I then followed J with a second rope on my back up to him at the belay, we swapped leads and exchanged the rack quickly, and I was off leading the lengthy 150′ second pitch. This 5.8 pitch was more like my version of 5.9. Great moves and hand/fist jams with plenty of great protection, but the length of the pitch made it fairly strenuous and more of an endurance climb. I remember really only one good rest in 150′ of climbing, but after some grunting and heavy breathing I topped out at the two bolt belay. I then belayed J up and after Jesse saw me putting forth some serious effort on this 5.8 pitch, he decided to just belay Derek and Andy up to him for a climb of the first pitch and rappel down from there. J topped out just in time as it started to rain/hail and get fairly cold.
J finishing up Pitch 2 of El Cracko Diablo
J working the final moves of El Cracko
J & I at the top of El Cracko Diablo
Two other Colorado climbers who had just topped out on Soler had two 70m ropes and we thought we could get to the base of the route with one double-rope rap with their 70m ropes. So, they traversed over to us and we set their ropes up and began the rap. It turned out we were a bit short and so we got off their ropes and used the final 30′ of Jesse’s rope to get to the base of the climb.
J on rappel
Looking down between my legs on the rappel
Jesse & Derek at the top of Pitch 1 with Any and others at the base ledge below them
Derek & Jesse at the top of Pitch 1 as seen on my rappel
Derek rappelling down from Pitch 1
It was a fun rappel though sort of a bummer that the weather moved in and soaked the rock. Several other climbers up high on the Tower used the same ropes to get down in the rain storm and soon we were all down at the base of the Tower again after some very sketchy and slick down-scrambling to the base of Durrance. As fate would have it, the skies cleared up and the sun came out as we reached the cars at the Visitor’s Center. C’est la vie. We didn’t feel like going through the motions of getting back to the base of the climbs, so we all decided to go for a trail run around the 3 mile loop, which circumvents the Tower. Mainly, we all wanted to get different perspectives of the Tower from every direction. The views surely didn’t disappoint.
Southeast side (Durrance area)
Close-up of southeast corner. The Durrance Route goes up just left of the corner. The “leaning column” is barely visible
Back at camp around 3pm, we ate a late lunch, and then the thunderheads really moved in. Fortunately, we had J’s mega-tent and we moved all the chairs and table inside the tent and played cards.
In the mega-tent
The rains ended as fast as they began and we were soon making a campfire and enjoying J’s pasta for dinner and Celeste’s s’mores for dessert. Not to mention a few beers and some whiskey. It was a fun evening. While we were relaxing in our chairs before dinner a super nice fellow from New Hampshire named Geoff came over to our little camp as he and his older friend were staying in a cabin next to Celeste & Nico’s cabin. Geoff was inquiring as to the ratings of El Cracko Diablo and if, by chance, we had climbed it. J and I told him that we had actually just climbed it and told them it was a bit “stiff” for the 5.8 grade By this time, Geoff’s older friend was present and introduced himself as George from New Hampshire as well. Super nice fellas and we told them what we could about El Cracko regarding what gear was used, etc. J and I told Geoff & George we will hopefully see them up on the east side the next day as we hoped to attempt Soler right next door to El Cracko.
The sun came out after the rain and we had a great evening
Devil’s Tower crew 2014
Alpenglow on the Tower from our campsite
Close-up of the Tower on fire
Up at 6am, J and I wanted to go try one more climb, Soler, before we headed out hopefully no later than noon for the long drive back to Vail. The weather didn’t look like it would hold out long, but we motored to the base of Soler to find Geoff & George racking up for El Cracko 10′ away. J racked up for the lengthy first pitch of Soler at 5.8 while I chatted with Geoff as George was starting his lead up the first 5.7 pitch of El Cracko. George was amazing just sending the same crack J led the day before so delicately and meticulously. Geoff saw my wonderment on my face and proceeded to tell me about George. My jaw dropped as Geoff spoke. George Hurley was 79 years old and is one of the legends of our sport. Still going so extremely strong after 50 years of climbing. He put up 4 new routes on the Diamond on Longs Peak, has the first ascent of the Titan via Fingers of Fate in the Fisher Towers of Utah, among numerous other first ascents in El Dorado Canyon near Boulder. The list goes on and on. He has guided for most of his adult life from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides to doing his own private guiding in New Hampshire. He was really good friends with the legendary Layton Kor as well and was an integral member of that whole early pioneering effort up these towers and big walls in the 1960s. Geoff said he hired George years ago as a guide and they have been good buds since and do a lot of climbing together in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was so very neat to see George climb. And, so very inspirational. J had started up Pitch 1 of Soler and was doing a phenomenal job placing gear and cruising this long 120′ pitch.
J leading the 5.8 Pitch 1 of Soler
J leading Soler on the left and George on the right at the belay ledge for Pitch 1 of El Cracko
J working Pitch 1 of Soler. Such a great route
J reached the hanging belay and I started up with the second rope on my back. At about the same time, George was belaying Geoff up El Cracko’s first pitch. We seemed to be the only four on the entire Tower. Maybe folks knew something we didn’t. And, then it came – the rain. It actually started to sprinkle the last 15′ of my follow up to J and I could tell it was super slick and made the climbing much tougher and dangerous. I was pretty bummed as I was looking forward to hopefully leading Soler’s 5.9 Pitch 2, but there was no possible way with it being soaked.
A soaked Pitch 2 of Soler from the hanging belay
J & I at the hanging belay of Soler when it started to rain harder
Unfortunately, our only option was to double-rope rap down to the ledge. George & Geoff were doing the same. It was disappointing, but it is what it is.
George rapping El Cracko
Nevertheless, the camaraderie and stories with George & Geoff once we all reached the east bench below made us forget the disappointment fairly quickly. It was great. Story after story of first ascents, how they did what they did 40-50 yrs ago, what types of protection they used – we could have asked questions and chatted all day, i.e. if George would be up for it He was the nicest most humble fellow I have ever met. We had a great time and scrambled across the drenched and exposed slabs down to the Durrance area and then hiked out together. It was a real treat to meet and spend some time with both Geoff & George. Furthermore, George’s ability to be humble, do good, stay positive and healthy, and still be doing what he loves at his age (and doing it very well) is so very inspirational. J and I were definitely “punch-drunk” with admiration and inspiration.
J, George, & myself
J & George on the walk out: New school meets old school
We said our goodbyes, exchanged contact info, and told them if we ever get to the White Mountains again, we should definitely get together. Same goes for if they come to the mountains of Colorado. J and I got on the road shortly afterwards and were off. Geoff & George were heading to the Needles area near Mt. Rushmore to climb for an additional few days.
The Devil’s Tower area is such a fantastic playground for climbers and sightseers. I’m so glad we finally made it up to northeast Wyoming to get on this awesome magma formation. I would really like to try and make it back to the Tower every few years (or more often) to get to know it better and climb many more routes. We only scratched the surface – not even the surface. But, we do know our way around much better than if we hadn’t gone at all. Should make a next trip easier to find what we are looking to climb. Its also a great family camping area at the KOA campground and so very convenient to the Tower. Looking forward to many more trips back with Kristine next time, good friends, and our little gal.
Adios, Devil’s Tower. Until next time. Photo by Derek
Thanks to everyone for helping to make our 24 hours up at our favorite Jackal Hut so special! It really meant the world to Kristine & myself that our friends and family came from all over to help us celebrate completing the 7 Summits together. But, more than that, it was just so much fun and special to spend quality time with our families, new & old friends, and canine companions in such an amazing setting. It was pretty cool to share the high country of Colorado with our parents as well as old climbing buddies who came from afar.
I believe I counted 51 total folks and maybe 8 canine friends. Definitely a hut record for us! Photo by Ginny Hughes. Click to enlarge
The weather on Saturday wasn’t ideal, but as Joel promised the clouds and rain/snow mix started to clear out around 6pm and a wonderfully crisp, cool, and starry night ensued full of good laughs around an outdoor campfire. Sunday dawned a sunny and clear day. We all had a great breakfast of bagels/cream cheese and pancakes. Most folks coordinated the 4WD descent before noon, but Ken Oelberger, Rob Casserley, Chase Lochmiller, Kevin Vann, & myself stayed around for a few hours and hiked up the east ridge towards Pearl Peak.
Another amazing aspect of the weekend were how many of our wonderful friends and climbing buddies who actually shared a 7 Summit or two with Kristine & myself came from all over to help us celebrate. A few Kilimanjaro folks (Dave & Sarah Levinson and Alex Parillo), a few Everest folks, Henry Herring, and Sean Swarner were missing, but other than that everyone with whom we shared one or more of the 7 Summits was present!
7 summits crew. Photo by Ginny Hughes
I posted the following paragraph on our Vinson Trip Report, but figure it really applies to this 7 Summits crew picture:
Kristine & I could not have accomplished the goal of climbing the 7 Summits of the world together without each other. I don’t think we would have even wanted to try. We need each other more than we know on these big climbs and in life in general. I can’t tell you how many times she has been there for me in times of stress or duress. I think the same is true vice versa. Another highlight has been sharing these experiences with good friends of ours. Thanks to Lee Hoffman & Rob Schnare for the experiences and memories on our first big international mountain (besides Orizaba in 2005) – Aconcagua in 2006. Thanks to J Weingast & Sean Swarner for being wonderful climbing partners and friends to Kristine and myself on our first of the 7 Summits together – Denali in 2007. Thanks to Derek Drechsel & Rob Schnare for the sketchy Russian adventures on Elbrus in 2008, in the Russian countryside, and in Moscow. Thanks to Caleb & Jennie Wray for being such fun travel companions around France and climbing partners on Mont Blanc in 2009. Thanks to Henry Todd, Fi Ramsden, James Stearns, & Rich Birrer Jr & Sr for their companionship & support on Everest in 2010. A very special thanks to Rob Casserley for always being a great friend and mentor on Everest in 2010 and ever since. Thanks to Dave & Sarah Levinson, Scott & Darci Hook, Jamie Buckley, Chris Carlsen, & Alex Parillo for the camaraderie and friendships on Kilimanjaro in 2011. Thanks to Henry Herring for his spirit of adventure and willingness to try new things (like snowshoeing) on Kosciuszko in 2012. Thanks to Brett & Maura Wamsley for their support on Aconcagua in 2013. Lastly, thanks to Kevin Vann for his friendship and fun spirit (as well as the rest of the crew and ANI folks in this report) on Vinson in 2013.
Lastly, we may have had another record number of pregnant ladies at a 10th Mtn Hut. Including Kristine, there was Anna, Sarah, Eileen, and Darci. Anna was also 2 weeks away from welcoming their baby into this world! Very impressive being at an 11,660′ hut at 38 weeks pregnant!
The pregnant ladies. Photo by Ginny Hughes
Thanks again to everyone for a memorable get together to conclude this amazing chapter in our lives!
Kristine & I will be giving a 7 Summits slideshow presentation this coming Tuesday night, September 2 @ 6pm, at the Edwards campus of CMC (Colorado Mountain College). So, if you don’t have much going on that evening or need a break from whatever it is you are doing, come on out and join us. We’ll probably talk about the 7 Summits quest for an hour or so leaving plenty of time for questions. Apparently, the presentation will take place in the Lecture Hall, Room 118. This is a free event and open to the public. Should be a fun evening!
The day after J & I climbed up Asgard Ridge to the summit of Mt. Valhalla and descended to East Vail, Kristine, Rainie, Kona, & I headed over to the Fremont Pass area between Copper Mtn and Leadville in Summit County to check out a hike up the 12,017′ Chalk Mountain.
Chalk Mountain below as seen from the summit ridge of Mt. Arkansas (13,795′) on May 10, 2013
We had been wanting to scope this little mountain out solely because of its name, but it actually turned out to be a nice 4-5 mile hike roundtrip and really good for a 32 week pregnant Kristine. Rainie & Kona had a great time as well. Despite being surrounded by the lands of the notorious Climax Mine on all north, east, & west sides, the south side has a nice forest service road open to the public directly up to the summit plateau of Chalk Mountain. We parked just a few hundred yards off Highway 91 and began the nice stroll up Forest Service Road 134. We actually didn’t get going until maybe after 10am, but the weather was partly cloudy, nice, and cool. Kristine did wonderful and soon we were above treeline staring at the Jackal Hut in the distance.
Can you spot the Jackal Hut?
Chalk Mountain’s summit plateau was quite large extending for probably a half mile east to west. The views south to the Sawatch, west to Mt. of the Holy Cross, north to the Gores, and east to Mt. Arkansas were pretty spectacular.
Rainie taking a stroll across the Chalk Mountain summit plateau with Mt. Arkansas towering above
Rainie & Kona heading to the nondistinct summit of Chalk Mountain. I had to use the GPS to find its exact summit of 12,017′
It was very enjoyable being up on the summit of Chalk Mountain with just the Chalks.
Chalk Mountain summit (12,017′)
Kristine, the dogs, & our upcoming new addition
I like this one
Rainie & I on the summit of Chalk Mountain with Jacque Peak behind
We ate a sandwich, spent 30 minutes on top,and then strolled down the road back to the car getting a little rain/hail on the way down. We then headed to Silverthorne, did a few errands, and picked up J’s truck at the North Rock Creek TH, which we had left in order to climb Asgard Ridge and do our traverse over the Gores. A great day with all my ladies!
A rainbow cloud as seen walking down the forest service road on Chalk Mountain
I’m a big fan of Norse mythology and an even bigger fan of the Gores, so when I found out a few years ago there was a ridge dubbed Asgard Ridge that led to the summit of one of the Gore’s prominent 13ers, Mt. Valhalla, I was hooked. What got me actually addicted to this ridge was the view from the summit of its western terminus, Palomino Point (13,060′), in late October 2013 when Kristine, myself, and a wonderful 14ers.com crew climbed Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla from East Vail and Deluge Lake.
Asgard Ridge stretching out to the east down from the summit of Palomino Point (13,060′) as seen on October 26, 2013
Point Odin (far left), the last tower and major difficulty before the final ascent up Palomino Point’s east face. This picture was taken from Valhalla’s north ridge en route to its summit on October 26, 2013
J had not actually climbed Valhalla and I thought this would be a great route to climb to the summit from the east and descend the class 2 normal route to Deluge Lake and out to East Vail. I also read that Stan Wagon & Joe Kramarsic had climbed Asgard Ridge to Valhalla’s summit and descended back to East Vail in July of 1997 per Stan Wagon’s website. The only beta those legendary Gore enthusiasts had written about (that I could find on Stan’s site) was that they used a rope. I am honestly not sure if there was an ascent prior to theirs or after, but perhaps at some point Joe’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything Gore can enlighten us all. Looking down on Asgard from Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla the year before, it became evident that there were probably a few mandatory rappels. Maybe even a roped pitch or two, which would be wonderfully fun. So, J & I packed my two 30m/8mm alpine ropes, our harnesses & helmets, a light rack including 6-7 cams, a full set of nuts, and of course plenty of slings, biners, & webbing. We didn’t bother with our actual climbing shoes as we both feel pretty good up to 5.7/8 with our La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes. I think the biggest attribute of gear we had when we traversed the Zodiac Spires in the Gores the year before was plenty of slings and webbing to set up the multiple rappels.
Friday night we dropped off my truck at the Deluge Lake/Gore Creek TH in East Vail and rallied over to the North Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne arriving around 11pm. J had brought his cots and it was nice sleeping under a large moon albeit for only 4 hours. Up at 4am and after some oatmeal and coffee, we departed for the Boss Mine under clear and dark skies with semi-loaded packs. This is the standard trail, which leads to Keller Mountains’s very fun east ridge, which Kristine, friend Reid Jennings, and myself had climbed the year before as well. An hour later around 6am, we arrived at the old Boss Mine area, took a break and consulted our map. It was getting light out and we could turn off the headlamps. It looked like the cleanest route to attain the lower portion of Asgard Ridge was to cut across the marshy clearing, ford North Rock Creek, and make our way to a prominent boulder field from which it appeared we could climb steep slopes and hit the treed ridge crest. So, we dropped maybe 200′ down to the basin from the trail and literally about 100 yards away from North Rock Creek, J yelled at me “Stop! Back-up!”. A big bull moose was grazing and had J not said something I would have likely walked right into him. I was just minding my own business and watching my steps and not looking up. It definitely woke me up.
My morning coffee
We were able to make our way around him and ford the creek a bit to the west by taking our shoes and socks off and braving the cold water. The routefinding really went about as smooth as we could have imagined and soon we were on the boulder field and scrambling up the lower flanks of Asgard Ridge to the ridge crest. This was where we gained a lot of our elevation – about 2,000′ from North Rock Creek to the first point along Asgard Ridge, Point 12,207′. However, the terrain was easy bushwhacking and nice hiking through forests after some initial class 3 scrambling to get up on the ridge crest.
J above the boulder field we spotted across the valley from the Boss Mine (mine tailings can be seen across the basin behind J)
J above treeline on gaining Asgard Ridge
We could both definitely feel the heavier than normal weight of our daypacks – a necessary evil most definitely, especially on a ridge we knew very little about. We soon made it up easy terrain to Point 12,207′ with Asgard Ridge laid out before us. It was a wonderful sight. Asgard Meadows was down to our left and Valhalla’s other, southern east ridge reared up in earnest displaying its awesome Freya, Thor, & Loki Towers. Another day, I’d love to camp in Asgard Meadows and climb these awesome looking towers.
Asgard Ridge up to Palomino Point with Mt. Valhalla on the left (as seen from Point 12,207′)
Mt. Valhalla and its two east ridges with Asgard Meadows in between
The view of Asgard was a bit intimidating, but looked manageable from this vantage point. But, as we would later find out, that’s only because the difficulties hid themselves well. We then made the easy ridge run across beautiful meadows to Point 12,226′ and got a better vantage point of Asgard. It sure looked fun and interesting and we were very excited. The views of Freya & Thor Towers across the basin were just plain awesome.
Freya Tower (left) and Thor Tower (right), as seen from Asgard Ridge, form the lower ramparts of Valhalla’s southern east ridge. Hail Peak (12,904′) is behind in the center of the picture
Some minor class 3 scrambling soon ensued and the fun we came for began.
The first class 3 tower
On the ridge proper with a view of Valhalla and Asgard Ridge
J on a nice catwalk
Fun early-on scrambling
It was fairly mellow, smooth sailing class 3 (some class 4) scrambling for awhile on the ridge proper until we came to a deep notch and drop-off in which it got a bit spicy though very exciting downclimbing to the notch.
J down-walking across one of the many knife-edge ridges this day to access the deep notch
J descending the final headwall into the notch
J climbing out of the notch
The reclimb was really good scrambling
We made it down to the notch which had a cool reclimb of the same vertical lost up to a mellow, walkable ridge. This walkable ridge constricted down into a narrow knife-edge for hundreds of yards. This was the snake-like, S-shaped ridge I had seen that October day from the summit of Palomino Point. It looked amazing at the time and surely didn’t disappoint this day. J took the camera and got a few of me walking this line.
Me beginning the knife-edge
Making my way over a crux in the ridge. One thing you really had to be mindful of on this ridge was the rock. Since it really has seen very little traffic, you couldn’t just prance across a knife-edge as confidently as you would as, say, on Capitol’s knife-edge
Me on Asgard’s knife-edge
Me at the end of the knife-edge contemplating the descent. The Grand Traverse looms in the distance with Palomino Point, our end goal, at far left
I came to the end of the knife-edge ridge to a serious drop-off: one that I remember seeing from my pictures and thinking we would need to rappel. I waited for J to join me and we agreed that this was downclimable. We took separate lines down to avoid kicking rocks on one another and joined up on a singular downclimable dihedral.
J downclimbing the dihedral with the knife-edge ridge’s terminus looming way above
100′ later we were down in another notch. There was a striking tower that wasn’t exactly on the ridge proper. It was offset to the south a bit, but it looked like it had a cool climb up to its summit on its north side. So, we dropped the packs and climbed for maybe 200′ up to its summit.
J taking a 5th class line to the tower’s summit
Actually, it ended up being a nice preview of things to come. We discussed the route over the next bit and up to Point Odin, but because we looked at the ridge almost head-on, it was hard to see the difficulties.
J on the summit of the unnamed tower with the remaining portion of Asgard Ridge behind
Looking back at the snake-like, S-shaped knife-edge ridge. The drop-off is clearly visible at far left
J made a cairn on the tower’s summit and we were off scrambling down the tower to our bags. It was a relief to have the backpacks off, however brief it was. We gathered our packs and traversed a notch and over a small saddle.
The unnamed tower we climbed almost looks like a blade. We climbed the left skyline up to the tower’s summit. J’s cairn can barely be seen on its summit. Freya & Thor Towers can be seen on Valhalla’s southern east ridge behind above the small lake (Asgard Lake?)
We then began the fun class 3/4 upclimb of what we thought was Point Odin.
J scrambling upwards with Asgard Ridge beginning to spread out behind us
Me negotiating the low 5th class block
J topping out on the false summit
After some fun low 5th class moves up a block, we came not to the summit of Point Odin, but a measily false summit.
Left to right from the false summit: Valhalla, Palomino Point, & Point Odin
We had to descend to a notch over very exposed terrain only to climb back up on steep, angling slabs with big air on both sides.
J taking a breather on the sloping slabs up to Point Odin with the false summit behind
J on the fun sloping slabs
We then came to an unexpected deep gap in the ridge about 3′ wide. The only reasonable means of getting across was to jump across the gap, which turned out to be fairly adrenaline pumping move.
J jumping the gap
J took a quick video of me jumping the gap:
From the deep notch after the jump, it was a really fun class 4 arete with super exposure and a lot of air.
J on the exposed arete
We then seemed to come at an impasse, but soon realized there was a 10′ hand crack weakness on the right (north) side of the arete proper. I climbed this using a few hand-jams and was soon on top of this crux. It was then a mantle-type move to top out on the summit of Point Odin.
Me at the top of the low 5th class hand-jam crux
J climbing the low 5th class hand-jam crux up to the summit of Point Odin
J topping out on Point Odin’s summit after the mantle move
I took a video of J on the hand-jam crux section as well:
Ahhh, was good to be on this summit. We were now pretty close to Palomino Point, a whole lot closer than we were 2 hours ago.
Valhalla (left) and Palomino Point (right) from the summit of Point Odin
Summit of Point Odin
We could see the remaining climb up Palomino Point’s east face, but first we had to deal with getting down off Point Odin and some more knife-edge ridge. Again, this is where I envisioned us rappelling off Odin’s west ridge, but again we found a downclimable route. It was indeed exposed and very airy, but was downclimable for us. J went first and led us home.
J beginning the downclimb off of Odin’s summit. The crux chimney was immediately below him in attaining the angling slabs
J descending the angled slabs below Point Odin
And down another small drop to another angled slab
Me and our descent off Point Odin
The slabs leading off Odin’s west ridge weren’t nearly as steep as they looked from above over a year ago, but definite care & caution had to be taken on this descent, as with any descent. Again, a knife-edge ridge ensued to an interesting crab walk below the ridge proper over big air to the north.
J on another knife-edge ridge
Yet, the positions were pretty amazing
Yep, another small catwalk
And, finally, the crab walk traverse on the ridge’s north side
Me on that crab walk traverse
Finally, we were on easier yet looser terrain. We had noticed a grassy ledge system to access this deep slot angling up Palomino Point’s east face and so we went with that.
Off the difficult terrain and climbing up Palomino Point’s east face. Point Odin is behind
J on the grass ledge system crux
The grass ledge system was indeed exposed, but the holds were good and we were home free once we entered the deep slot leading towards Palomino’s summit. Once in the deeply inset slot, J found something very interesting – a 35mm camera film canister. He opened it up and what do ya know! It was a Palomino Point summit register by Joe Kramarsic himself. It must have blown/fallen off Palomino Point’s summit.
J dissecting the film canister in the slot
So, we carried it with us to the summit and left it where it belongs. The views from Palomino Point’s summit were indeed incredible especially looking at from where we had come.
Asgard Ridge from the summit of Palomino Point
Joe’s summit register
Summit of Palomino Point (13,060′): the western terminus of Asgard Ridge
It was an enjoyable summit
Our good friends Joel Gratz, Lauren Alweis, Andrew Annunzio, Devon Scott, & K9 friend Maude had hiked to Deluge Lake this same day and spotted us from the lake on Palomino Point’s summit. We quickly descended to the notch between Palomino Point & Mt. Valhalla and booked it up Valhalla’s north ridge to enjoy our breakfast burritos (courtesy of Kristine) on Valhalla’s summit around 11:15am.
Summit of Mt. Valhalla (13,180′)
A beauty of a day with Grand Traverse Peak and The Grand Traverse behind us
Looking north to where we were just last weekend – the Upper Slate Lake Basin peaks
Asgard Ridge from the summit of Mt. Valhalla (13,180′)
Many familiar faces including myself
We lounged up top for a good 25 minutes and soon descended down Valhalla”s standard slopes back to Deluge Lake to meet up with Joel and crew. We arrived at Deluge Lake around 12:30pm and ate, drank, and relaxed with good friends for an hour at least. I just love Deluge Lake. The best lake on the west side of the Gores, in my opinion. It seems high enough in the alpine tundra where you don’t have the overgrown marshy plants & bugs that seem to go hand-in-hand with Pitkin Lake, Booth Lake, etc. Deluge Lake just seems cleaner and more pristine to me.
Our crew at Deluge Lake (11,700′). Grand Traverse Peak at top left in picture
Great friends & great surroundings. Snow Peak behind us
We then took off down the well-groomed Deluge Lake trail trading stories and having a good ole time with those guys finally arriving back at the Deluge Lake/Gore Creek TH around 4pm. Our route is outlined below:
Blue is our ascent from the North Rock Creek TH up Asgard Ridge and red is our descent to East Vail
This was a very fun and enjoyable traverse of the Gore range in the latitudinal direction. We got to climb the amazing Asgard Ridge and descend the mellow west side of Mt. Valhalla. Asgard was everything I hoped it would be – long, exciting, fun, quality-scrambling, knife-edge ridges, towers, exposure, and big air. I love it all. Asgard seemed to be a mix of the Little Bear-Blanca Ridge with some of the gnarlier Gore traverses such as Zodiac Ridge, Ripsaw, and the crux sections of the Partners Traverse. Even though we never broke out our gear for any climbing or rappelling on Asgard, that’s not to say some may prefer the comfort of a rope on certain sections. Its always good insurance to have the gear and not need it rather than need it and not have it. Stan & Joe certainly knew how to pick the good lines and adventures back in 1997 (and continue to do so) and it is truly an honor to follow in their footsteps.
It was so nice to spend a weekend deep in my favorite range in Colorado – the Gore Range. And, not only is it my favorite, its the favorite of several others in our little Gore group this past weekend. You are just bound to have a good time with a bunch of “Gore heads” coming together for some remote peaks deep in the Gores. I do say “Gore” a lot – I just like that word. Maybe a good baby name? Maybe for a dude. We’re having a gal, so we’re out of luck much to Kristine’s disappointment, I am sure
J and I teamed up with Brian Miller, David Yarian, Jason Blyth, Rick Thompson, Kevin Pustulka, & Sarah Behnke to lay seige to the awesome peaks surrounding the very remote and deep Upper Slate Lake in the Slate Creek Basin. This was Brian’s 3rd trip into Upper Slate Lake, but then again he is probably the biggest “Gore head” of them all. However, I learned he had not climbed Peaks R & S, so that made me feel better about him going back. I had longed to climb the peaks surrounding Upper Slate Lake but had never done so as they don’t exactly lend themselves to an easy outing from the Vail side. The approach to Upper Slate Lake is extremely lengthy and there is really no easy way to access these peaks as they lay deep the heart of the Gore Range with the dominating Peak Q being quite close to the geographic center of the Gores.
Peak L (far left) and Guyselman Mountain (far right) on the backpack into Slate Creek Basin
We decided to take the bit longer North Rock Creek TH approach rather than the shorter Brush Creek TH approach as it was just easier to coordinate and not everyone had 4WD vehicles for the Brush Creek 4WD road. Our approach ended up being almost 10 miles and 2,700′ in vertical gain. Not trivial. We did get to view Slate Lake on the approach, for which the basin and creek are named, and this lake alone is a worthy destination.
Slate Lake (9,900′)
Gorgeous waterfalls coming from Slate Lake reminded me of Last of the Mohicans
J and I packed in later Friday afternoon than the rest of the crew and arrived at camp around 7:15pm taking about 5 hours for the approach with our trimmed down backpacks. I started chatting with David and Jason in their tent and was sort of wondering why they were in their tent on a gorgeous evening and then it hit me. Well, they hit me – physically hit me. Mosquitos! They were some of the worst I’ve experienced with close seconds being other Gore lakes, King’s Peak in Utah, and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. However, how can you complain too much with views of these awesome remote peaks from Upper Slate Lake. There was a reason Brian kept coming back here.
J at Upper Slate Lake (10,900′) with Peak Q at center in the distance. Peak R is to the left of Peak Q in the foreground and then Peak S before R
Peak Q in the alpenglow
Peak L standing high above Upper Slate Lake at far right
I made it my mission to keep the already lit campfire going until bedtime and it helped somewhat to make it tolerable to be outside the tent. Nevertheless, it was a great night outside catching up with old friends and meeting Kevin & Sarah for the first time. J and I roasted and toasted our Qdoba burritos over the fire to perfection. Up at 5:30am on Saturday morning, we left camp around 7am to make the semi-bushwhack around the southern edge of Upper Slate Lake and then beyond into the upper portion of the Slate Creek Basin. We eventually crested the 11,500′ small lake dubbed “South American Lake” because it closely resembles the shape of South America.
A stiff start to the morning (this is 20 yards away from camp)
Morning light starts to shine through to the Upper Slate Creek Basin
Jason, J, myself and South American Lake with Peak K standing tall above
Navigating this basin definitely eats up time whether you are off the climber’s trail, stuck in a boggy marsh, cursing your way through willows, or climbing up slabs of rock. We made our way into the north basin between Peaks Q & R and picked our respective lines up Q’s east/northeast faces.
Upper Slate Creek Basin from about 12,500′ on Peak Q. Peak L is the magnificent peak on the left and South American Lake is the closest lake below. Peak T is the spire-like summit on the far right. Upper Slate Lake is in the distance down the basin
J, Brian, and I took a more direct line on some steep ledges while the rest of the crew took more or less the east face route outlined in David Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles. We all met up at around 12,500′, took a cool looking line up a mellow dihedral, and then found a cairn which led us to a small ledge and then a gully spitting us out at the base of the airy summit ridge.
Brian in the “walkable” dihedral
Jason high on Peak Q with East Partner Peak in the distance
Me looking down on the boys high on Peak Q
It was all really fun scrambling and Peak Q surely didn’t disappoint. Peak Q’s summit ridge looked exciting enough and after some airy scrambling on a narrow ridge and a short, exposed 8′ chimney climb, we were all on the summit of Peak Q deep in the heart of the Gore Range.
Jason on Q’s summit ridge
Jason & J on the short 8′ chimney climb on Q’s summit ridge
Brian on the summit ridge
Brian topping out on the short 8′ chimney climb
Kevin & Sarah on Q’s summit ridge with our next goal, Peak R, behind
We actually met a nice fellow named Laars who was leading a month long Outward Bound group in the Gores. He had the morning to get away from camp as the students were out on their solo mission and decided to head up Q. It was fun meeting another person outside of our own party on this remote peak.
J on the summit of Peak Q with East & West Partner Peaks behind and the Partner Traverse
Peak Q summit (13,230′). Is this a record for number of folks on Q’s summit at one time?
Beautiful Gores. Left to Right in distance: East Thorn, Mt. Silverthorne, Red Peak, Hail Peak, Mt. Valhalla
At around 10:30am, we boogied down the “standard” east face of Peak Q and made our way to the Peak Q/R saddle.
Brian and Sarah descending Q’s summit ridge
Peak Q’s summit block and ridge
Peak R from Peak’s Q’s east face on the descent. Our route up R would access the upward trending grass ledges to the ridge’s left side
We said our goodbyes to Laars and he headed south from the saddle into the next drainage over back down to his Outward Bound camp. Jason & I scoped out the ledge system and found a pretty nifty ledge route with steep, blocky scrambling to gain the grassy, upward trending gullies to Peak R’s summit.
Jason beginning the scramble up Peak R with Peak Q dominating the landscape behind
Jason on the exposed ledge system to reach the grassy gullies ahead
Zambo & Rick scrambling up Peak R’s northeast face ledge system
Peak R summit (12,995′). Another record?
Peal L basking in the sun across the basin
Looking at our next objective, Peak S, from Peak R’s summit. Peak T is beyond Peak S further down the ridge
We topped out on Peak R right at about noon and the weather was indeed building. We scampered down the boulder fields of Peak R’s east face and had two choices. Continue on the ridge proper, which would have been pretty spicy and fun if the weather had not been building and we didn’t have such a large group, or drop down to bout 12,400′ on the ridge’s south side via class 3/4 scrambling to a grass ledge system that led over to the low point between Peaks R & S. At this point in seeing the downclimb to the 12,400′ grass ledge system, I think Kevin & Sarah had had enough and decided to return back to the summit of Peak R and head down the way we had all come up from the Peak Q/R saddle.The skies were getting dark but no audible thunder yet, so we kept pushing. We all finally reached the low point between Peaks R & S and realized we still had some climbing to do. We reached another saddle after a few hundred feet of scrambling further east and made a the “go/no-go call”. The skies were getting angry. We only had a few hundred feet of easy terrain to the summit of Peak S and so we all went for it. We left the packs just below the saddle in the easternmost north-facing couloir on the Peak R/S ridge and scrambled fast up to Peak S’s summit. It was borderline trail running. As soon as I stepped on the summit of Peak S, a crack of thunder let loose above me. I motioned for Rick, who was only 10 seconds behind me, to get next to me while I snapped a picture.
Zambo & J scrambling up Peak S’s summit ridge with Peak R to the right and Peak Q further to the right behind R
Rick & I on the summit of Peak S (12,857′)
We got a picture and were off passing Zambo & J, then Jason, and Brian on the descent as they were on their way up. I was literally on the summit for 12 seconds – my shortest amount of time on a summit ever.
J and Zambo on the summit of Peak S below angry skies
It was fairly terrifying, though we descended fast back to our packs within the confines of the couloir. We spread out a bit and descended fast down this couloir.
Our descent couloir
At one point, Brian knocked a refrigerator-size boulder loose, which Rick and I saw heading straight towards us. We sprung to the sides of the couloir walls with our “cat-like” reflexes and hid in small dihedrals. Fortunately, the boulder came to a stop, but would have had to take a hard left turn to get us in our positions. Without any more incidents, we all made it to the valley floor 2,000′ below with the crackling of thunder continuously overhead, but fortunately no lightning. We made it to treeline just before the heavens unleashed a monster hail storm on us. We were able to remain dry, though our thoughts lay with Kevin & Sarah descending Peak R. We sure hoped they were both OK and were able to take shelter somewhere. We made it back to camp around 3:45pm for almost a 9 hour day. We tried to go relax out on the peninsula in the breeze to get away from the mosquitos, but the rain soon started again and we retired to our tents and snoozed for a few hours. However, our concern was always on the whereabouts of Kevin & Sarah up on Peak R. Once 6pm rolled around and they had yet to return to camp, we started discussing our options and sending a few of us back up Peak R was definitely in the cards. Thankfully, Zambo & Jason spotted them descending the valley and they arrived back at camp around 6:45pm. I think we all could rest a lot easier knowing they were safe. Kevin & Sarah relayed their story of descending Peak R’s ledges covered in graupel, much of which sounded very spicy to say the least. Nevertheless, they are experienced folks and returned to camp just fine.
Sunday dawned a new day and Peak L was to be a peak remembered for a long time.
Peak L rising 2,500′ above Upper Slate Lake on Sunday morning
I can now see why Peak L is the favorite among Gore peaks for many Gore enthusiasts. The route starts out the same as for accessing South American Lake and Peak Q by hugging the southern shoreline of Upper Slate Lake. Once you hit the waterfall area where the terrain steepens, make a hard right and cross Slate Creek where feasible. Its then a routefinding maze on the path of least resistance through meadows, over rock slabs, and up steep grass gullies to treeline. The grass gullies give way to boulder fields, which lead up to the ridge, 500′ below the summit of Peak L.
Jason & J with Peak Q on the ascent of Peak L’s southern slopes
Brian and Peak Q, aka “Prisoner Peak”
The scramble up to the ridge
David & Jason at the small saddle with Peak L’s knife-edge ridge in the distance. The summit block is behind the knife-edge ridge and cannot be seen here
A break with a view to the south. Photo by Brian
The views of the Peak Q/R/S massif to the south were unreal. Once we all regrouped at the small saddle, we had a nice food and water break taking in the views to the north of the Black Lake drainage, Ripsaw Ridge, and east-facing ski lines off Mt. Powell and Eagle’s Nest. We made our way around a small tower and scrambled up the ridge to Peak L’s knife-edge ridge.
Sarah with the southern portion of Ripsaw Ridge (right to left: Peaks E, F, G & H) behind
Ripsaw Ridge: Peak C (far right) to Peak H (far left)
The boys scrambling up to the knife-edge ridge
Jason in an amazing setting
This knife-edge ridge was a highlight of the scramble – airy and fun, though almost to short for my liking. Beggers can’t be choosers, though.
Me heading across the knife-edge. Photo by Brian
Brian walking the line
Kevin & Sarah hanging it out there
I actually took a video of everyone crossing this knife-edge ridge, which can be viewed below (be sure to turn on the 1080 HD in the settings):
Everyone did fantastic and we soon descended into the notch between the knife-edge ridge and the 250′ summit headwall.
Me videotaping the team on the knife-edge. Photo by Jason
Descending to the notch
Another look at the small downclimb. Photo by Brian
J and I enjoyed our little perch at the end of the knife-edge ridge and watched the 6 others ascend the class 3/4/5 headwall depending upon your route. It was a treat to watch everybody do their thing. J then started up and I got some pics of all 7 of them with Brian on the summit block. Cool stuff.
Climbing the summit headwall as seen from the end of the knife-edge ridge
Can you spot all 7 climbers?
Brian on the summit of Peak L
I then followed Rick and J and we all took perhaps more of a low 5th class route towards the western edge of the headwall.
Rick & J on the low 5th class route
Rick gets vertical
Me taking a more direct approach to the summit block. Photo by Brian
J and Rick leading me home. Photo by Jason
We soon were all on the summit area of Peak L. The actual summit is a 6′ tall boulder that can really only accommodate two folks standing.
J and I on the summit of Peak L (13,213′)
Rick on the summit of Peak L (13,213′)
Looking south to Peaks Q, R, & S from the summit of Peak L
Group shot on top of Peak L. Another summit record? I really had to boogie to get in this shot from my camera. Needed my remote control
We all lounged for a bit as it was still only maybe 9:30am and ate, drank, and told stories. We then descended safely all the way back to our camp at Upper Slate Lake reflecting on a wonderful weekend deep in the heart of the Gores. Upon arriving back at camp just before noon, we hurried to pack up camp as the mosquitos were, yet again, out in full force. Zambo & Jason left just before J and I did around 12:30pm. Brian, Rick, Kevin, & Sarah left a bit after us. We were all just ready to get out of the mosquitos. I had enough bites on me for sure. J and I took a long break and ate our sandwiches once we were a few miles down the trail below Slate Lake and out of mosquito territory. The backpack out was beautiful, but there definitely seemed like more up then down especially once you turned south on the Gore Range Trail from the Slate Creek Trail. The body was a bit sore once we arrived at the North Rock Creek TH around 5:45pm. As Brian, Rick, Kevin, & Sarah had not arrived yet, J and I said our goodbyes to Zambo and Jason and headed out as we had a bachelor party that evening at Jay’s Hut on Vail Pass. The fun never ends it seems. That’s a good thing, right?
After some reflection, I feel privileged to have spent 2-1/2 days with this crew on the deepest of Gore peaks. It was a wonderful outing and very special to share similar interests with fellow Gore enthusiasts. Now, to go back in there in a few years for Peak T and Guyselman Mountain The view of Peak Q will always be embedded in my memory forever
Kristine & I recently returned from a wonderful 6 days on the coast of Maine and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the Oelbergers and good friends. We try and do an annual trip to New England every summer and each time it seems this trip gets better and better. This time around we took a 1 hour, 10 seat puddle jumper on Cape Air from Boston to Rockland, Maine, which is only 10 minutes from the Oelbergers house on the coast. This flight sure beat a 4+ hour drive from Boston, a bus to Portland with an additional 1-1/2 hour drive, or some combination of the two as we have done in the past. Its always so much fun and so relaxing to be at Ken & Dianne’s home on the water of the St. George River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Oelbergers home is on the peninsula just above picture center. The town of Tenant’s Harbor is bottom center. Picture taken from the Cape Air flight back to Boston
On our first full day in Maine, we took a 4 mile hike on some new trails that Ken & Dianne worked on and were recently completed. Despite the mosquitos, it was great to stretch the legs with the family.
Kristine & I on the wooded trail
The next day, we road-tripped to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Ken & Dianne via back roads and towns as there is no direct east-west interstates in that part of the country. We rolled into the White Mountain School near Littleton 5+ hours later to visit our great friends Ryan “Baba” & Lizzie Aldrich, their two youngins, Avery & Colden, and golden retriever, Khumbu. They live in a old farmhouse right off campus and Ryan built a fire pit out back. I had never been to the White Mountains, but I was truly blown away by what this area has to offer. Its like a smaller version of what we have available here in Colorado: the small town country feel, trail running, mountain biking, skiing (inbounds and backcountry) and rock climbing all within a stone’s throw of their house. We spent two wonderful nights with the Aldriches and had a jam-packed full day of fun and adventure with everyone. While Baba & Kristine had been up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire’s highest peak at 6,288′, a few times, the rest of us had not, and so hiking up this state highpoint was on the agenda for all of us. After summitting Mt. Katahdin in Maine last year, the Oelbergers and Chalks are on a conquest of New England’s state highpoints together. Up at 6am at the Aldrich homestead and out the door around 7:30am, we all met at the base station for the Cog railway at 2,700′ on the mountain’s west side. Kristine & the Oelbergers started up the Jewell Trail as I waiting just a bit for Baba & Lizzie as they had to take Avery & Colden to daycare. There are numerous trails up and down Mt. Washington, but we all agreed upon the Jewell Trail, as it was reported the least rockiest. Yes, the mountains in Colorado are much steeper and higher, but I have to say that the trails in New England are much more hardcore. Tree roots combined with the boulders and rocks that seem to have a density of at last two large rocks for every square foot of trail make these trails tough and slower going. Trail running on these trails doesn’t come as easy as it does on the nice smooth dirt trails of Colorado. I can’t imagine being a trail runner in New Hampshire and never spraining/breaking your ankle. Nevertheless, Baba, Lizzie, Khumbu, and I caught up with Kristine, Ken, and Dianne, and enjoyed hiking all together up the nice Jewell Trail.
Kristine, Baba, & Lizzie
The Cog railway huffin’ & puffin’s its way up Mt. Washington one ridge over
Dianne & Ken
Beautiful Mt. Washington forests
I think Rainier helped Khumbu learn the ways of the “trail dog”. She sure can hike and scramble, that’s for certain
Kristine, despite being now 30 weeks pregnant with our little lady, did so extremely well. We eventually broke through treeline and the valleys opened up around us.
Above treeline looking west. Our starting point, the Cog railroad station, can be seen left of center
The summit of Mt. Washington 1,500′ above
Kristine & Lizzie
Baba & Lizzie
Kristine & I on a nice perch above treeline
Ken & Dianne
And on we go…
The Cog railway on a bridge with Mt. Monroe and the Lakes of the Clouds Hut behind. Baba, Khumbu, & I would descend by this hut on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Baba & Khumbu
The Jewell Trail climbs maybe 2,700′ in 3.7 miles before it intersects the Gulfside Trail above treeline below Mt. Clay and then heads south to the summit of Mt. Washington. Having Khumbu with us made Kristine and I feel much better about not having Rainie & Kona with us. Khumbu is the best golden retriever I have ever spent time with (except for Rainie of course), a well-trained and wonderfully tempered dog, and not to mention such a lover.
Khumbu & I
Khumbu standing guard
We picked our way up the Gulfside Trail and the views just got better and better of the surrounding Presidential Range and valleys.
Dianne with the northern Presidential Range peaks behind
Lizzie & Kristine
On the upper slopes on Mt. Washington
Kristine looking and doing great
The Cog railway track
Kristine topping out on Mt. Washington at 30 weeks pregnant
Lizzie scooted ahead to try and buy a ticket and make the 1:30pm Cog railway down the mountain in order to pick the kids up by 3pm or so. We were able to see her off on the Cog and shortly afterwards Ken & Dianne arrived on the top of New Hampshire. We were all so proud of Ken & Dianne for their second New England state highpoint in as many years. The crowds on top of Washington were quite extensive due to the fact most folks take the Cog up or just drive up to the summit. We even had to wait in line to take a picture at the true summit with the Mt. Washington sign. Baba had brought up some “Baba Beer”, which we all enjoyed. Its the best black lager I’ve ever had. Dianne took a liking to it as well.
Kristine & Lizzie before Lizzie took the 1:30 Cog down the mountain
Baba & Lizzie
Me, Baba, & Khumbu with our “Baba Beer” on the summit of Mt. Washington
Despite being a lighter beer guy, Ken even enjoyed some “Baba Beer”
Summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′)
The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′) minus Lizzie, who was with us in spirit. At least she made the 1:30pm Cog down the mountain
All three Chalks on top of New Hampshire
Mt. Washington USGS summit marker
We spent a good hour on the summit before Baba, Khumbu and I started our trail run descent down a different route – the Gulfside Trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, which leads back to the base of the Cog railway. Ken, Dianne, and Kristine would hang around the summit for a bit and catch the 3:30pm Cog down the mountain hopefully giving Baba, Khumbu & I enough time to get down. Baba & Khumbu relaxed at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut while I did a short run up to the summit of Mt. Monroe (5,372′), which afforded more spectacular views.
Looking north to Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe’s summit
Looking at the southern Presidential Range from Mt. Monroe’s summit
After some steeper scrambling down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for 3 miles, we arrived back at the base of the Cog around 4pm. It was some solid trail time with Baba after a good year hiatus from hiking together.
Beautiful waterfalls coming down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
We arrived at the base only to learn that the 3:30pm trail was delayed due to mechanical issues. It was soon fixed and Kristine, Ken, & Dianne arrived at the base around 4:45pm. Apparently, Kristine overheard a group on Washington’s summit talking about some pregnant lady hiking up Washington. We all thought that was funny. Baba then took us to an awesome river spot for some cliff jumping. The cliff itself was likely only 25′ high, but boy was the water cold. I don’t think Baba had done this jump before so I was glad to do it with him.
Me dropping the cliff. Such a cool swimming/cliff jumping spot
Baba walking on water
The next day (Saturday) Lizzie competed in and placed 2nd in her age division in the local Top Notch Triathalon! She really did extremely well and was very impressive. As I cannot bike or swim well at all, I asked her if she wanted me to run along with her up Cannon Ski Mountain as the third and final leg of the triathalon. Lizzie thought that would be a great idea and that she would love for me to be alongside her for support and motivation. So, that’s what I did. I held her water bottle and some energy gels and ran with her up the 2,000′ of vertical gain to the finish line at the ski mountain’s summit. It was an honor to be with her and was very fun. I hope me being there beside her helped her to go a bit faster. She didn’t need me at all. It was just fun to be with her. As we didn’t really know if a “pacer” was legit with the triathalon’s rules, I ditched out before the finish line and met her up top. Baba, Kristine, and the kids took the tram up to the summit and we all congratulated Lizzie. We even ran into the really good friends of the Oelbergers, the Muchards, at the race as their daughter and son-in-law were competing as well.
After saying our goodbyes to our really good friends, we left for Maine and the Oelberger Residence arriving at around 8pm that Saturday evening. Sunday was a relaxation day and we had a great cornhole tournament with Ken, Dianne, and three of their good friends in the afternoon. On our last day in Maine, Kristine & I got up early and drove an hour to Booth Bay Harbor to catch a ferry to Squirrel Island and visit our great friends Chris & Kate Danforth. Chris & Kate spend their summers at the Danforth house with their kids Harper & Afton. Harper is now 8 years old and is a climbing monkey. I had never been to Squirrel and visiting this fairly private and secluded island was a special treat. Kristine had visited Kate here before. There are only about 100 homes on the island, a small post office, ice cream store, a library, a few tennis courts, and a church. That’s about it. The island is pretty small with a perimeter of about 2.5 miles around the shoreline that resembles the body shape of a squirrel facing west. Pretty much everyone walks everywhere and everyone seems to know everyone. It was the kind of small community I just love. Houses rarely come on the market and they are passed down generation to generation. I believe there is only one lot for sale too. Chris’s parents actually met on Squirrel Island as both of their families had homes on the island. It is really a special place.
The beautiful Danforth homestead on Squirrel
Chris took me on his daily ritual – his island “rock hop” run around the rocky/slabby coastline of Squirrel. It was so much fun following Chris on this awesome run. Its basically a combo of trail running and scrambling over rocks for 2.5 miles. I think we did it just shy of 30 minutes, which was a decent time considering we were moving pretty fast yet still chatting and he showed me a few cool spots including a cliff jump along the way. After building a good sweat, we met Kate, Kristine, Harper, and Afton on the beach area and went for a much needed swim. Its too bad Chris and I live across the country from each other. I think we all feel like the two of us are like peas and carrots. Its great. Chris & Kate cooked us an awesome lunch of BBQ chicken and caprese salad. Yum. We then went on a boat ride with Captain Kate at the helm and then walked over to the cliff jump.
Kate, Kristine, & Afton
Apparently there was a dead seal near the cliff jump, but we didn’t see it. Anyway, Chris and I jumped while the ladies and Afton watched. It was a great jump into the ocean. Two videos of Chris and I jumping below:
Chris and I after the cliff jump
Later on that day, Chris and Afton took the boat around the island to the cliff and saw the seal carcass. It was literally 10 ft from where we jumped in. Glad we didn’t see it at the time! After some more beach time, we showered up and caught the 5:40pm ferry back to Booth Bay harbor. Again, it was sad to leave our good friends and such an amazing place, but feel fortunate we were all able to spend a great day together. We look forward to future adventures and time together with Chris & Kate and their awesome kids.
All in all, one of the best trips back to New England we have done. Seeing family, reuniting with great friends, and experiencing great places all helped to make this a special trip.
The much anticipated video of our December 2013 Vinson climb, filmed and edited by Ed Horne, was finally released a few days ago. Ed was hired by our logistical guide service, Antarctic Network International or ANI, to be a part of our “V3″ expedition to climb Mt. Vinson. Ed is an extraordinary photographer, videographer, and all-around super guy. We all felt honored to have him along on our climb and as a result all became good friends. In a nutshell, our 11 day climb up and down Mt. Vinson was documented by Ed and this awesome video is the result. Its a lengthy video at over 17 minutes, but brings back so many happy memories for all of us that I hope you enjoy as well. Hopefully, this will give folks a great snapshot of what it is like to climb to the top of the bottom of the world with the phenomenal services provided by ANI. The logistics, guides, food, and support of ANI are really first class and unmatched in the mountain guiding industry. Several of us “client” climbers are featured in this video including myself, Kristine, Chase Lochmiller, Kevin Vann, Dan Healy, Luis Alvarez, and Vilborg Arna Gissurardottir. Guides featured are Scott Woolums, David Hamilton, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, Namyga Sherpa, and Josh Hoeschen. Unfortunately for Kristine, Kevin, David, and myself, there is no footage of us on summit day (except for leaving high camp) because we ascended the north bowl/west ridge and descended the standard east ridge. We passed Ed and the rest of the ANI crew on the east ridge on our descent as they were all heading for the summit. I so wish we had been up there with them all, but its great seeing all of the happiness, elation, and excitement of Chase, Villa, Harry, Halla, Dan, Luis, Lhakpa, Andy, and Namyga on Vinson’s summit. We all feel very fortunate to have had Ed with us on our Vinson climb and for this video to relive those days in Antarctica for the rest of our lives. Enjoy!
Lastly, Ed shot and edited this little 1 minute promotional video for ANI based on footage from our Vinson climb if you would like to check it out:
I was finally able to make a climb happen last weekend that I had been longing to do for so many years since I first visited the Crestone Group of 14ers down in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Range: the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle. And, not only was it on my wish list, but also on the lists of my good climbing friends J Weingast & Steve Cizik. The three of us were determined to make it happen this summer and with Steve’s 33rd birthday last week, it was perfect timing to do just that. Good friend Mikey Santoro joined us to round out two teams of two for this classic alpine rock climb. In fact, the Ellingwood Arete (sometimes called the Ellingwood Ledges) is noted as one of the fifty classic climbs of North America as described in Steck & Roper’s book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. The Ellingwood Arete was first climbed by Albert Ellingwood, a true pioneer of Colorado alpine climbing, and Eleanor Davis in August of 1925.
Rainier on Humboldt Peak’s west ridge in July 2009 with the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle in profile in center of picture. Photo by Joel Gratz and was featured as the cover photo in the 2011 Vail Daily Pet Calender
Below is a rough outline of our route up Crestone Needle’s Ellingwood Arete with the “direct start” variation (from a picture I took in July 2009 from Humboldt Peak):
Ellingwood Arete with the “direct start” variation. Click to enlarge
There is so much information to be found on this route, I really won’t get into the details of the climb, but just share our experience up this wonderful route. This was my 6th time up into the South Colony Lakes basin and 4th time up the Needle, but I have to say this is one of the most striking and fantastic 14ers in our state. I am always in awe of this peak that just seems to jut out of the earth like a knife blade.
Crestone Needle’s Ellingwood Arete at sunset from our campsite
J, Mikey, and I drove the 4+ hours from Vail down to the South Colony Lakes trailhead this past Saturday and picked up Steve hiking the lower portion of the South Colony Lakes Road since his 2WD car wouldn’t make it too far up. We packed the 3.5 miles or so into South Colony Lakes basin early that evening and found a nice campsite between Lower & Upper South Colony Lakes. There was a stiff breeze with the clouds and front moving out that evening, but we were still able to get a fire going despite the fact that I singed my hair doing so.
I singed my hair trying to start the campfire. Photo by J
A nice setting with Broken Hand Peak as a backdrop to the south
It was a great evening of Qdoba burritos, scotch, stories, and a pretty decent campfire despite the breeze. Steve slept in his bivy while J, Mikey, and I crashed in my 3-man tent. Up at 3:45am to coffee and oatmeal, we set off around 5am under some moonlight but mostly headlamp. We boogied up to Upper South Colony Lake, filled up our water bottles and bladders, and made our way east skirting the lake’s edge. After making our way up the lower steep scree field, we found ourselves at the base of the “direct start” to the route right at dawn. It was perfect timing to start the technical climbing as we could put away our headlamps and climb in the twilight before sunrise. We did two teams of two on two ropes with my full alpine rack and set of nuts: J and Mikey and then Steve and myself. The first team would leave in the gear for the second team’s leader to just clip during his lead. This method worked fairly well and we were able to be pretty efficient.
Beginning of the “direct start” to the Ellingwood Arete
The 1st pitch’s traverse was pretty fun and likely goes at 5.6 leading into more of a 4th class/low 5th class dihedral to a decent belay ledge almost a full 60m rope length up. J led away up pitch 1 for the J/Mike team and I led this 1st pitch for the Steve/Brandon team.
J leading away on the 1st 5.6 traverse pitch
J in the dihedral on the 1st pitch after the exposed initial 5.6 traverse
The 2nd pitch proved to be more difficult than the mid-5th class rating we have seen. The issue with the 2nd pitch is that the crack in the center of the dihedral was fully wet with water running all down it. J led around this problem area to looker’s left just beautifully and then coordinated a delicate, exposed traverse back right into the dihedral above the wet rock. Steve did a solid lead for our team after Mike followed J up again to a great belay ledge with webbing almost a full 60m rope length up.
Mike following the 2nd 5.7 pitch
Steve leading the 2nd 5.7 pitch
Steve figuring out the traverse to get around the wet center crack of the 2nd pitch
The sun had now risen and its warmth on the rock was rejuvenating. The 3rd pitch up the “direct start” was likely low 5th class and for some may not warrant a rope at all, but we were roped up nonetheless and climbed the final ledges up to much easier terrain. Now, a note on the “direct start”. While I always welcome the possibility of getting in more technical pitches, if I were to climb this route again, I may just consider climbing the class 3 “ledges” variation in lieu of the “direct start”. The rockfall is quite abundant in this several hundred foot dihedral with all of the small pebbles and rocks and it is almost impossible for the rope or one’s self not to knock down loose rocks. However, it was fun to get some more technical climbing with the “direct start”. Though, if I were behind a group already on the “direct start”, I would definitely wait until they finished climbing the lengthy dihedral to the ledges above.
Mike on the nice grass ledges above the “direct start”
J and the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route above
Once on the grassy ledges above the “direct start”, we stowed the ropes, switched our rock shoes for trail runners, and made our way up the class 3/4 ledges bypassing a party of two to looker’s left who had ascended the “ledges” variation.
Steve having fun on the “ledges” of the Ellingwood Arete (Ledges) route
Steve on a class 3/4 section
J and I on the “ledges”. Photo by Steve
The boys scrambling up the Ellingwood Arete proper
Me climbing the Ellingwood Arete proper. Photo by Steve
One of the highlights of this route for us was the absolutely amazing scrambling up these ledges. Even 4th class and low 5th class terrain could be found and we all had so much fun ascending this wonderful Crestone Conglomerate rock.
Mikey & Steve on some low 5th class nearing the base of the 5.9 crack system
Mantling a big step
J on a nice perch this beautiful morning
The 5.9 & 5.7 pitches up ahead getting closer
Looking south to Broken Hand Peak and beyond
Really fun scrambling
J and the 5.9 crack with the moon above
Scrambling doesn’t get much better than this
Mikey & Steve
Steve styling high above Upper South Colony Lake
After some low 5th class scrambling up a mini-headwall, we reached the base of the 5.9 crack system. The 5.9 crack looked like so much fun and I was excited to lead this pitch. There is a mellower variation, which may be the more “standard” route, to looker’s right of the direct 5.9 crack. This arcing “standard” crack goes at about 5.6, I believe.
The 5.9 crack variation dead center of picture with the arcing standard 5.6 crack system to looker’s right
We donned our rock shoes once again, racked up, and Steve put me on belay. The climbing was absolutely awesome with great gear placements and really fun movements. I guess one piece of advice for this pitch is to bring plenty of slings. I had five slings on me and used them completely up. I could have used another few slings. Also, a #3 and #4 cam was helpful in the upper portion of the pitch.
Me leading the really fun 5.9 crack. Photo by Steve
Me leading the fun 5.9 pitch. Photo by J
It was a lengthy pitch as I only had about 5m left of my 60m rope when I topped out on the belay ledge. I knew the boys would have so much fun climbing this pitch. I would say the pitch is easy 5.9 (5.9-) at most, though at 14,000′ any technical climbing is not exactly “easy”. Steve had our pack and cruised the pitch as I belayed him up to me. J was right on Steve’s heels clipping my gear as he climbed and led the pitch beautifully.
J is below me here at the belay ledge for the 5.9 crack system
J then belayed Mikey up the pitch who was hauling the backpack for J and Mikey.
J belaying Mikey up the long lengthy 5.9 pitch
Me looking down on J belaying Mikey up the 5.9 crack
Mikey finishing up the 5.9 pitch
The belay ledge was more than spacious and we climbed up another 10′ to the base of the final 5.7 pitch. The 5.7 pitch above looked amazing. Steve grabbed the rack, I put him on belay, and he was off on what we dubbed his “birthday pitch”.
Steve set to lead the final pitch up the awesome 5.7 crack
Steve sewing it up
Steve spread-eagle on the final pitch
Steve on his “birthday pitch”
Me belaying Steve up the final 5.7 pitch with a beautiful backdrop to the north. Photo by J
It was a great lead for Steve and soon I was following the pitch with the always burdensome backpack on my back. I was able to snap some pics of J leading the final pitch as I climbed ahead of him.
J on the final 5.7 pitch with Mikey belaying him below. The other party of two can be seen below Mike belaying up the standard 5.6 arcing crack pitch
J loving life
J finishing the final pitch off
Another spacious belay ledge was at the top of the final 5.7 pitch and we all re-grouped there, stowed the ropes, and prepared for the final class 3 scramble to the Needle’s summit.
Steve & J at the top of the final 5.7 pitch
Crestone Needle’s version of the “Great Roof”
Mikey topping out
The boys at the top of the final 5.7 pitch
Mike & Steve on the fun scramble to Crestone Needle’s summit
A few minutes later around 10:30am we were standing on the Needle’s summit enjoying the views and basking in the warmth of the sun. There was so little wind that the shirts came off to get a little sun on our pale torsos.
Crestone Needle summit (14,197′)
J, myself, & Steve on the Needle’s summit with Crestone Peak in the distance
My 4th summit of Crestone Needle and the best yet!
We met two fellows from Gunnison drinking beer on top who are trying to hike all of the 14ers in their Chaco sandals. Really funny guys and we enjoyed conversing with them. We then swapped out our rock shoes for trail runners, stowed our harnesses, rack, and ropes, and descended Crestone needle’s standard east gully. Ever since I first climbed Crestone Needle via its standard south face route, I have always ascended/descended the east gully all the way to the summit ridge. I have never done the crossover to the west gully for whatever reason. There is just too good of scrambling to be had in the east gully directly to the summit ridge. The down-scrambling ceased all too fast and we soon found ourselves back at the top of Broken Hand Pass around noon. I had been wanting to hike the 13er Broken Hand Peak (13,573′) and so J joined me for the 700′ from the pass up the mellow northwest slopes to its summit.
J ascending Broken Hand Peak with Cottonwood Lake and Crestolita (13,270′) behind
J hiking up Broken Hand Peak’s north slopes with Crestone Needle behind
I really wanted to get a close-up view of the Needle and the Ellingwood Arete’s profile and the views sure didn’t disappoint.
The Needle is such a stunning peak, especially from this angle on top of Broken Hand Peak
Profile of the Ellingwood Arete up the Needle
We descended back to Broken Hand Pass, picked up our gear and rope, and headed on down to Lower South Colony Lake to find Steve fishing and Mikey napping. After a quick dunk in the lake, which always feels rejuvenating, we packed up camp and backpacked back to my truck. Arriving back in Westcliffe around 5pm, we had a long drive ahead of us. But, as always we stopped at my favorite dinner restaurant in Buena Vista, Casa del Sol, for awesome authentic Mexican cuisine. Yum. We arrived back home around 10pm, but great adventures in the mountains are always so worth it the late night arrival. Thanks to J, Steve, & Mikey for a very memorable day on a classic route.