Pyramidal Traverse

I have always had a few of the red, rugged, and rotten traverses in the Elks in the back of my mind to hopefully climb one day (other than the Maroon Bells Traverse, which I have done a few times) and when my friend Natalie suggested she wanted to do the Pyramidal Traverse, I was interested. A huge plus would also be to get into the Elk Range on a gorgeous fall day. But, mainly I just wanted a new ridge traverse. The Pyramidal Traverse traverses the 14er Pyramid Peak (14,018′), the centennial Thunder Pyramid (13,932′), and the bicentennial Lightning Pyramid (13,722′). Natalie wanted to scope out the non-standard northwest ridge route up Pyramid in preparation for a winter ascent. This sounded fun as well as I had never been up the NW ridge route. I had been up and down the standard NE ridge route 4 times in the past, the last one being with Rainier and Caleb & Jennie Wray in August 2009. While the loose rock of the Bells, Pyramid, and surrounding peaks is not my favorite rock to scramble on and doesn’t instill much comfort or confidence, it is still very unique rock and offers challenging scrambling even if only low 5th class, especially on the downclimbing aspects. Several climbing buddies had suggested we traverse south to north as we could climb up most of the low 5th class crux sections, but we wanted to climb Pyramid’s NW ridge route for a recon of the winter route, so it looked like we would be downclimbing all of the cruxes. And, it was a lot of downclimbing. I brought my 30m/8mm rope, webbing, harness, slings, biners, nuts, and a few cams in hopes to set up a rappel if needed, but it turned out everything just stayed in my pack. I always believe its better to have it and not use it than to not have it and need it. So, after Sawyer was in bed and Kristine & I had dinner, I zipped over in the Subaru to the Maroon Lake TH parking lot and got a few hours sleep in the back of the car with the tailgate open. Natalie showed up around 5am and we departed the TH around 5:30am. It was to be just about a perfect fall weather day except for the fairly stiff west wind that was supposed to subside by around 9am, which it fortunately did. We made quick work of the approach up into the amphitheater below Pyramid’s north face and then veered off south west on steep grassy slopes and loose scree to the northwest ridge at around 12,700′.

Pyramid's north face

Pyramid’s north face

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid's NW ridge

The steep slopes leading up to Pyramid’s NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small saddle at 12,700' on Pyramid's NW ridge

First view of the Maroon Bells from the small col at 12,700′ on Pyramid’s NW ridge

Looking up Pyramid's NW ridge from the small col at 12,700'

Looking up Pyramid’s NW ridge from the small col at 12,700′

We followed the northwest ridge route pretty much “to a T” up through the Keyhole Couloir and then further up the fun class 4 slab/chimney above. It was a gorgeous morning except that we were climbing in the shade and the wind was pretty stiff. I was chilled as I normally get considering my hefty plethora of body fat :)

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

Natalie on the easy portion of the NW ridge

The Keyhole Couloir

The Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie climbing up the Keyhole Couloir

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Natalie at the top of the Keyhole Couloir/base of the fun class 4 pitch

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

Me starting up the class 4 pitch. Photo by Natalie

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

I think I may have taken a stiffer variation up the class 4 pitch, but it was all good low 5th offwidth :)

We then just sort of traversed ledges and slight aretes until we both found ourselves into the upper bowl/amphitheater below the summit block.

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

Into the upper bowl below the summit block

We climbed this fun little chimney which Ntalaie said is dubbed the "JP Sneak"

We climbed this fun little chimney which Natalie said was dubbed the “JP Sneak”

Natalie climbing the "JP Sneak"

Natalie climbing the “JP Sneak”

Once on the summit ridge, it was a short scramble to Pyramid’s summit arriving around 9:15am.

Natalie almost to Pyramid's summiut

Natalie almost to Pyramid’s summit

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018')

Pyramid Peak summit (14,018′)

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

A nice little morning and wonderful to finally be in the sun!

I was a little worried about my timing as I needed to be home by 7pm (back to car by 5pm), nut Natalie convinced me we would be ok with timing. So, we began the traverse south to the centennial Thunder Pyramid in what would be the “meat & potatoes” of the day.  The downclimb of the class 4 pitch on Pyramid’s south ridge was lots of fun and then it was pretty cruiser class 2 walking for several hundred yards until we started doing some pretty mellow class3/4 downclimbing with not much exposure on the ridge crest.

Descending Pyramid's south ridge

Descending Pyramid’s south ridge

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid's south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Me descending the class 4 dihedral on Pyramid’s south ridge. Photo by Natalie

Natalie on the same dihedral

Natalie on the same dihedral

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Making our way down to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid. Photo by Natalie

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

Looking back at Pyramid on the traverse thus far

We tried the west side of the ridge to actually get down to the lowpoint several hundred feet below, but it didn’t go anywhere. We backtracked slightly and headed on the ridge top or just slightly east and found the top of the crux low 5th class downclimb with some big exposure that we had heard about. Well, there was only one way down. I was considering setting up a rappel, but there was just no good place to set up an anchor.

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

The crux downclimb to the lowpoint between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Me beginning the downclimb

Me beginning the downclimb. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

Yep, a bit of exposure on loose rock. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

On the climb down. Definitely, complete focus is a must on this crux section. Photo by Natalie

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

Natalie after the hairiest crux sections of the downclimb

The last bit down to the lowpoint

The last bit down to the lowpoint

I had gotten down to the lowpoint and was scouting the next portion of the traverse when Natalie thought she could just drop her pack the remaining 10 ft down into the top of a steep, loose couloir down the west side. While it looked like the pack would just plop down and not roll from Natalie’s perspective, it indeed took off down the couloir. We both looked and thought it would stop, but just went over a steep crux and into oblivion. Natalie went down after it, but triggered a small rockslide, which didn’t make either of us very comfortable. She searched for a good 20-30min, but to no avail. She came back up to the lowpoint and we would both have to get by with my half nalgene of water and half liter of Gatorade for the rest of the traverse and the descent down to West Maroon Creek. I felt awful for Natalie as she had some valuable gear in there including her Delorme. I mean that pack could have been close to her lowpoint or rolled to the couloir’s bottom. Who knows. She would later get in touch with Delorme and they would track it to be resting at 13,300′ or just below her lowpoint. And, Natalie would go back 2 days later, ascend Thunder Pyamid via the standard White Gully, and traverse over to retrieve her pack. Very admirable and impressive determination, Natalie!

Anyway, we continued along the traverse south from the lowpoint, which was now significantly easier with some class 3/4 and nothing all that exposed.

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

The remaining traverse to Thunder Pyramid

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below

Me on a nice perch with Len Shoemaker Ridge & Basin below. Photo by Natalie

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Looking down the standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

Even with the delay for the dropped pack, we still made the traverse in just under 2 hours. It was my first summit of Thunder Pyramid and another centennial for myself. It was a nice summit.

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid's summit

Looking back at the traverse to Pyramid from Thunder Pyramid’s summit

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932')

Thunder Pyramid summit (13,932′)

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

Soaking it in. Photo by Natalie

I believe it was around 12:15pm when we left Thunder Pyramid’s summit for Lightning Pyramid. Easy class 2+/3 downclimbing at first quickly yielded class 4 downclimbing to get down to the lowpoint between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid.

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

On the traverse south to Lightning Pyramid

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

Lightning Pyramid in the distance

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

We descended the ridge proper until a very airy downclimb when we elected to head east of the ridge proper and downclimb class 4 ledges to where we could get over to the lowpoint saddle

I dropped my pack with all the gear at the lowpoint saddle between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid and in 15 minutes over easy terrain we were on Lightning Pyramid’s summit at approximately 1pm.

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid's north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Natalie hiking up Lightning Pyramid’s north ridge with Thunder Pyramid behind

Almost there

Almost there

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722')

Lightning Pyramid summit (13,722′)

Our descent off this ridge was via the awfully steep and loose west side couloir between Thunder & Lightning Pyramid accessed from the lowpoint saddle. Not looking forward to it, we navigated it pretty well going one at a time for several pitches ensuring we don’t knock rocks down on one another. It could have been the worst couloir I’ve descended. I don’t know. However, I do know I will never touch it again.

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

Ready to descend. Photo by Natalie

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

The disgustingly narrower middle portion of the gully

More steep nastiness

More steep nastiness

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Navigating some frozen snow which acted as nice hand holds

Light at the end of the tunnel - the apron

Light at the end of the tunnel – the apron

Natalie coming out of the gully

Natalie coming out of the gully

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

The steep gully and the large rock apron below

It was wonderful to get down into the grassy Len Shoemaker Basin and take a break and guzzle our remaining fluids. We then made our way on grassy ledges and rock gullies to get down another 1,200′ to the West Maroon Creek trail.

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The gorgeous Maroon Bells from Len Shoemaker Basin

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

The standard White Gully route up Thunder Pyramid

We finally hit the West Maroon Creek trail, filled up with water and iodined our nalgenes, and cruised out the remaining few miles back to the Maroon Lake TH arriving just at 5pm. Natalie’s car keys were in her lost pack, so we hurried quickly down to 82 in the Subaru to get cell service so Natalie could call Geico and get some roadside assistance. After everything was settled, I was drove back to Edwards just in time to see Sawyer before bed, which was my goal all along. I later learned that Natalie’s spare keys were not in her locked car, so someone drove them up from Denver apparently and she finally got into her car later that night. But, my hat is certainly off to her for going back up Thunder and over to the couloir to retrieve her pack 24 hrs later. So happy it all worked out.

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie's pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right

A zoomed-in pic from the West Maroon Creek trail of the steep couloir Natalie’s pack fell down in the center of the picture trending up and right to the lowpoint saddle between Pyramid & Thunder Pyramid

Lastly, thanks to Natalie for a great day and a solid idea for an Elks traverse in the fall. Its exactly what I needed having not been in the area in years. I don’t get on 14ers too often anymore, but Pyramid will always be one of my favorites. I guess total stats are something like 5,500′ vertical gain in 12.5 miles and 11.5 hrs RT. Our little Pyramid loop is shown below:

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid's NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Pyramidal Traverse via Pyramid’s NW Ridge up and the Thunder/Lightning Pyramid west side couloir down

Hardman Hut Trip 2016

My good friend, Jesse Hill, can sure plan a hut trip. He can plan most things in life to a “T”, but hut trips in particular are a specialty of his. So, when Jesse called upon our crew to take part in the Hardman Hut Trip in April of 2016 almost a year ago, 12 courageous dudes immediately jumped at the opportunity. Not only was this a hut trip, but it was a hut trip traverse between three huts in the northern Sawatch Range from the Basalt/Ruedi Reservoir area to the Sylvan Lake area south of Eagle. It was a fantastic trip and afforded all of us a great opportunity to just unplug from society and enjoy the outdoors, the wonderful 10th Mtn hut system, and the camaraderie. I mean we’re all close friends who have shared a lifetime of adventures, climbs, raft trips, ski trips, etc, but it was so cool for all of us to get back together as a group. This trip already has us scheming Hardman 2017.

The huts with the various routes marked

The huts with the various routes marked. Photo by Joel

We began by leaving a few cars, including my Tahoe, at the Yeoman Park trailhead south of Eagle. Jesse organized a CME Sprinter van to take us all around to Basalt and then up the Fryingpan River past the Ruedi Resevoir to the Montgomery Flats trailhead.

Our shuttle van - not bad :)

Our shuttle van – not bad :) Photo by Derek

We picked up Brett at his home in Glenwood Springs as well. The van left us at the nondescript Montgomery Flats trailhead with no one else around. The only issue was that the trail was fairly dry so most of us packed our skis and boots on our backs for the first 2 miles or so.

Left to right: J, Jesse, & Chuck en route to the Harry Gates Hut

Left to right: J, Jesse, & Chuck en route to the Harry Gates Hut

Left to right: Joel, Nico, Matt, & Brett upon reaching the Burnt Mtn Road

Left to right: Joel, Nico, Matt, & Brett upon reaching the Burnt Mtn Road

Following the power lines for a bit

Following the power lines for a bit

The crew back on the Burnt Mtn Road

The crew back on the Burnt Mtn Road

We then de-skinned at the summit of the Burnt Mtn Road and were able to ski about 1.75 miles slightly downhill on the same road to the Harry Gates Hut turnoff. After a a few hundred vertical feet of gain and 1/4 mile, we arrived at the hut around 5pm. It was so so nice out and we all relaxed on the deck with cocktails.

At the Harry Gates Hut turnoff

At the Harry Gates Hut turnoff

The Harry Gates Hut with the south face of Fools Peak (12,947') behind

The Harry Gates Hut with the south face of Fools Peak (12,947′) behind

The views of Fools Peak were amazing and the south face isn’t even the “fun” side of the peak. The north ridge of Fools provides awesome class 3/4 scrambling. Kristine & I climbed this route back in September of 2010.

Fools Peak's north ridge from Lake Charles

Fools Peak’s north ridge from Lake Charles

Kristine on the lower portion of the ridge

Kristine on the lower portion of the ridge

K climbing the class 4 headwall from the notch

K climbing the class 4 headwall from the notch

Fools Peak summit (12,947')

Fools Peak summit (12,947′)

Anyway, back to our Hardman 2016, it was a fantastic evening at the Harry Gates Hut. Scotch, beer, and whiskey were consumed by many as were several rounds of hors d’oeuvres. Jesse made a phenomenal dinner that we all helped to carry into the hut, poker games were played, and late night antics and stories ensued.

Mikey chilling in the late afternoon sun on the Harry Gates deck

Mikey chilling in the late afternoon sun on the Harry Gates deck

A great south-facing deck. Photo by Derek

A great south-facing deck. Photo by Derek

Jesse in "suns out guns out" mode with cocktail in hand

Jesse in “suns out guns out” mode with cocktail in hand. Photo by Joel

Me enjoying the warm sun

Me enjoying the warm sun. Photo by Derek

Inside the Harry Gates Hut

Inside the Harry Gates Hut

The first night's pasta dinner

The first night’s pasta dinner. Photo by Derek

I think we were all surprised at how efficiently 12 guys gathered themselves, made breakfast, organized gear, and cleaned up the hut each morning. After a delicious monster burrito made by Mikey, I finished packing and we were all out the door by 9:30am. It was another beautiful and very warm day even at elevations between 9,000′ and 11,000′. Harry Gates is one of the lowest huts in terms of elevation at 9,700′. We skied for maybe a mile and a half down the Burnt Mtn Road to Lime Creek at the head of the distinct Lime Creek Canyon. Lime Creek Canyon is a wonderful limestone sport climbing area. J and I climbed here last fall for a day and just loved it. It was really cool to see it all snow-covered and inaccessible by truck. I’m looking forward to going back to this secluded climbing area this summer and fall.

Leaving the Harry Gates hut

Leaving the Harry Gates Hut

Skiing back down to the Burnt Mtn Road

Skiing back down to the Burnt Mtn Road. The Elk Range 14er Capitol Peak can be seen in the middle of the picture with Mt. Sopris at far right

Almost down to Lime Creek

Almost down to Lime Creek

Lime Creek Canyon and the sport climbing cliffs

Lime Creek Canyon and the sport climbing cliffs

Some of our crew switching to uphill skinning mode with Lime Creek Canyon behind

Some of our crew switching to uphill skinning mode with Lime Creek Canyon behind

Beginning the lengthy 5 mile uphill skin to the Peter Estin Hut

Beginning the lengthy 5 mile uphill skin to the Peter Estin Hut

The skin up to the Peter Estin Hut was really beautiful along ridges and through groves of Aspens. We took periodic breaks to snack up and enjoy the views.

Skinning along with the Elk Range in the far distance

Skinning along with the Elk Range in the far distance

Avalanche Peak

Avalanche Peak

Lime Creek Canyon down at far left in the picture

Lime Creek Canyon down at far left in the picture

Left to right: Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn (behind the right Aspen tree), and Capitol Peak. All Elk Range 14ers

Left to right: Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn (behind the right Aspen tree), and Capitol Peak. All Elk Range 14ers

Mr. Wamsley

Mr. Wamsley

Scott enjoying the "shorts" weather

Scott enjoying the “shorts” weather

Expedition leader, Doctor Jesse Hill

Expedition leader, Doctor Jesse Hill

Group shot in the Aspens

Group shot in the Aspens. Photo by Derek

Andy showing us the way with Fools Peak behind

Andy showing us the way with Fools Peak behind

Chuck on a steeper section of the broad ridge

Chuck on a steeper section of the broad ridge

Finally, after about 4.5 hours on the go, we hit the turnoff for the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200'

Finally, after about 4.5 hours on the go, we hit the turnoff for the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200′

We arrived to find three other fellas relaxing on the deck whom we would be sharing the hut with that evening. The views south to the Elks and Northern Sawatch were phenomenal. We all unpacked and each broke out a cocktail or two and more hors d’oeuvres of salami, cheese, and Jesse’s canned octopus. It was yet again an awesome evening and J and Andy made the awesome tacos from the elk meat Jesse had organized for all of us. Yum.

Peter Estin Hut views. Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are visible on the right

Peter Estin Hut views. Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are visible on the right

Appetizers and cocktail hour

Appetizers and cocktail hour. Photo by Joel

Relaxing on the Peter Estin deck

Relaxing on the Peter Estin deck. Photo by Joel

Nico's breakfast

Nico’s breakfast. Photo by Joel

Saying goodbye to the peter Estin Hut the next morning

Saying goodbye to the Peter Estin Hut the next morning

The weather on day 3 was very overcast and a bit breezy as expected and forecasted by the OpenSnow gurus. We had a 2,000′ ski down the Iron Edge Trail to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead, which was fun for some and not so much for others. We passed a decent size crew who were all heading up to the Peter Estin Hut on the ski down. We then skied down the East Brush Creek Road about a 1/2 mile to the Newcomer Spring trail turnoff and skinned up for the long uphill. The weather definitely moved in and out all day graupelling on us, then getting some sunshine, and then heavy snow for the last few miles to the Polar Star Inn.

Mikey beginning the descent down to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead on the morning of day 3

Mikey beginning the descent down to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead on the morning of day 3

The crew heading up the Newcomer Spring trail

The crew heading up the Newcomer Spring trail

J and Chuck in some sunshine

J and Chuck in some sunshine

Then, the snow came

Then, the snow came

Scott enjoying the skinning and snow

Scott enjoying the skinning and snow

Chuck and Brett on the final mile push to the Polar Star Inn

Chuck and Brett on the final mile push to the Polar Star Inn

The Polar Star Inn. Photo by Derek

The Polar Star Inn. Photo by Derek

We all arrived by 3pm making for about a 5 hour day of skiing and skinning. I quickly got a fire going in the wood stove to dry things out as we were all pretty drenched from the wet snow. Two more friends, Alec Hall and Sam Collentine, arrived at around 4:30pm from the Yeoman park trailhead as they just came for the final night. It was awesome having these two fine dudes come in and hang for the night with us. Two grad school physicists from CU Boulder were sharing the hut with us. They were very cool to put up with our rowdy crew of 14. Again, Jesse delivered with a phenomenal dinner of bread, salad, and jambalaya.

Dinner on night 3

Day 3’s dinner. Photo by Joel

Joel's day 3 cocktail. Photo by Joel

Joel’s day 3 cocktail. Photo by Joel

The OpenSnow dudes. Photo by Alec

The OpenSnow dudes. Photo by Alec

Late night at the Polar Star Inn. Photo by Joel

Late night at the Polar Star Inn. Photo by Joel

The weather wasn’t supposed to be too stellar on Sunday, but Joel and a few others wanted to give New York Mountain’s summit a shot, so we set the alarm for 5:30am. Mikey and I had slept downstairs by the wood stove and we got a fire going immediately in the morning as we had left the windows open all night and it was pretty cold. Back in March of 2008, Kristine & I had skinned up to New York Mountain’s summit (12,550′) via the Polar Star Inn and it was a nice few hour jaunt in good weather.

New York Mtn summit (12,550') in March 2008

New York Mtn summit (12,550′) in March 2008

The massive cornice along the northeast ridge as seen from the summit

The massive cornice along the northeast ridge as seen from the summit

However, this day was some rough weather. It was decent below treeline, but once we climbed to the northeast ridge the wind was pretty stern and the visibility was not ideal to say the least. Sam, Joel Mikey, J, Chuck, Scott, & myself ventured out for the morning but ended up turning around below the false summit likely at around 12,400′ just a hundred or two hundred feet shy of the summit though we still had some distance along the long ridge to cover. We really couldn’t see much of anything and with a monster cornice to our left, we just decided to save the summit for another day. It wasn’t very enjoyable anymore. However, the turns down from the ridge to the trees were very enjoyable with a few inches of powder over a firm base.

Chuck & J on Sunday morning skinning up through the woods behind the Polar Star Inn

Chuck & J on Sunday morning skinning up through the woods behind the Polar Star Inn

Breaking out of treeline with some cool clouds down low

Breaking out of treeline with some cool clouds down low

Joel high up on the northeast ridge. Nice day, eh buddy?

Joel high up on the northeast ridge. Nice day, eh buddy?

Departing our highpoint

Departing our highpoint

Sam getting some soft turns

Sam getting some soft turns

We regrouped back at the hut around 9:30am and packed up and cleaned the hut. The ski and skate out went pretty quick back to our cars at the Yeoman Park trailhead arriving at around 11:15am. A few dudes had some pretty nasty blisters, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for a good time.

Carnage - Andy's heels

Carnage – Andy’s heels

What a wonderful few days deep in the backcountry with a great crew. I literally cannot wait for Hardman 2017.

Parting shot

Parting shot

For those interested, here are Joel’s stats day by day for the adventure (you know, because he likes maps and technology and all that sort of thing):

Route Day 1 Thursday - To Harry Gates Hut

Route Day 1 Thursday – To Harry Gates Hut

Route Day 2 Friday - Harry Gates Hut to Peter Estin Hut

Route Day 2 Friday – Harry Gates Hut to Peter Estin Hut

Route Day 3 Saturday - Peter Estin Hut to Polar Star Inn

Route Day 3 Saturday – Peter Estin Hut to Polar Star Inn

Route Day 4 Sunday - Morning jaunt toward New York Mountain

Route Day 4 Sunday – Morning jaunt toward New York Mountain

Route Day 4 Sunday - Polar Star Inn to the car

Route Day 4 Sunday – Polar Star Inn to the car

A Pair of Cs

Over the years, the initially intimidating Peak C in the Gore Range has become like an old friend. I seem to know it pretty well by now and thus feel comfortable on and around its flanks. Its one of those peaks many folks see from the first time from Piney Lake and let out a “whoa, is this what the Gore Range is about?” Well, in a word “yes”.

Peak C from Piney Lake. Photo by Caleb Wray in September 2011

Peak C from Piney Lake. Photo by Caleb Wray in September 2011

Peak C is special. It has steep snow climbing routes, a solid couloir for a ski descent, scrambling routes, and technical alpine routes. It has it all. Peak C really can be viewed from anywhere in Eagle County, but is especially visible from Vail Mountain with its prominent southwest couloir. The view of its technical north face and northwest ridge from Mt. Powell are always awe-inspiring. Its not easily discernible from other Gore summits to the south.

Rainier and Peak C (center of picture) from the summit of Red & White Mountain one February many years ago

Rainier and Peak C (center of picture) from the summit of Red & White Mountain one February many years ago

Peak C's north face and northwest ridge (right skyline) as seen from Mt. Powell's south slopes after completing the Eagle's Nest to Powell traverse in September 2014

Peak C’s north face and northwest ridge (right skyline) as seen from Mt. Powell’s south slopes after completing the Eagle’s Nest to Powell traverse in September 2014

My first climb up Peak C was via its southwest couloir in November of 2007 with Rainier, Ryan Aldrich, & Mikey Johnson. It was a great snow climb and had some great ridge scrambling including a class 4 headwall right out of the notch between Peak C and Peak C-Prime to start its south ridge.

Me & Rainier on the summit of Peak C on November 3, 2007 with Mt. Powell behind

Me & Rainier on the summit of Peak C on November 3, 2007 with Mt. Powell behind

Me downclimbing the class 4 headwall to the notch below where Mikey & Rainier wait

Me downclimbing the class 4 headwall to the notch below where Mikey & Rainier wait

Fast forward 2 years and Kristine, myself, J, Chris Carlsen, Rainier, & Kona climbed and skied the southwest couloir in May of 2009. Despite being sloppy heavy mashed potatoes in which Rainier set off a wet slide herself and ended up riding it down the couloir into the apron below chasing snow balls (think very slow moving) and an ominous thunderstorm forcing us to speed up our climb and ski descent, it was a great day.

J, Rainier, & Kona approaching the southwest couloir of Peak C in May 2009

J, Rainier, & Kona approaching the southwest couloir of Peak C in May 2009

J beginning the descent down the southwest couloir as a storm engulfed us

J beginning the descent down the southwest couloir as a storm engulfed us

Chris in great form dropping the knee

Chris in great form dropping the knee

Our crew back at Piney Lake

Our crew back at Piney Lake

Again, fast forward 2 more years to September 2011 and you have me, J, and Caleb Wray scrambling the Ripsaw Ridge traverse from Peak C to Peak G. This was the first time I had climbed the southwest couloir without snow and it is a bit tedious and dangerous with rockfall. However, once on the ridge proper, it was a solid day out with those boys.

J and myself climbing the class 4 headwall up Peak C's south ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

J and myself climbing the class 4 headwall up Peak C’s south ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

Me on the summit of Peak C before traversing Ripsaw Ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

Me on the summit of Peak C before traversing Ripsaw Ridge. Photo by Caleb Wray

I had looked at the northwest ridge of Peak C for years wondering if there was a way up it. Then, that wonderment sort of faded away with all of the other adventures we had going on between 2007 and 2014 until my buddy Ryan Marsters and his partner Derek climbed the northwest ridge as an exciting start to their day of traversing Ripsaw Ridge. I remember reading their report and seeing the topo of the route and my interest was piqued once again.

Peak C Northwest Ridge Route courtesy of Ryan & Derek

Peak C northwest ridge route courtesy of Ryan & Derek. Click to enlarge

I thought it would be a great moderate alpine climb for Kristine & myself as it had been awhile since the two of us got out all day together. Fortunately, our friend Sabrina was willing to come over at 5am to start watching Sawyer. That’s the problem with what we like to do and having a baby. Rarely do babysitters like to come over during the wee hours of the morning. It was just so nice of her. Anyway, I had planned this for a week or two thinking the Sunday was going to be this bluebird sunny day of weather per the forecast. Well, it couldn’t have been more wrong. Let’s just say I was a bit frustrated with the weather gods. My good buddy Brian Miller calls NOAA “No Obligation to Anything Accurate”. He couldn’t be more right in that statement. I think its more frustrating for obvious reasons when you really can’t do this stuff together like in the good ole days anytime we please. And, when things don’t go according to plan, the frustration is amplified because you know we can’t just come out again the next day together because of our responsibilities at home.

A friend, John Danese, said this would make a good intro for the movie "Rocky Horror Picture Show at Piney Ranch"

A friend, John Danese, said this would make a good intro for the movie “Rocky Horror Picture Show at Piney Ranch”

Peak C from Piney lake engulfed in clouds at sunrise

Peak C from Piney Lake engulfed in clouds at sunrise

Kristine in Kneeknocker Basin below Peak C (in clouds) and Kneeknocker Pass (above her head in the picture)

Kristine in Kneeknocker Basin below Peak C (in clouds) and Kneeknocker Pass (above her head in the picture)

We got on the Upper Piney Lake trail by 6:30am and were at Kneeknocker Pass (almost 5 miles later and 3,000′ of vertical gain) at 9am. I was hoofing it just to keep up with Kristine. It was a fine pace we had going. Peak C had been engulfed in clouds all morning and the wind was whipping at the pass and it was fairly frigid. Based on the forecast, we really only had a lightweight layer each under our mini-down jackets. This was not nearly enough. We had one pair of gloves between us. We found some boulders at the pass to take shelter from the west wind, which helped a lot. However, we were both still shivering. Kristine was shivering quite a bit and so cold. I felt like when the forecast calls for sun and blue sky this stuff usually burns off. So, we waited for 30 minutes and then traversed south over the small hump to the upper saddle and found the base of the route and the 5.2 chimney pitch, which was fortunately on the eastern (leeward) side of the ridge proper. We still couldn’t see the upper portion of Peak C as it was still engulfed in clouds and the wind was whipping, but we had to give it a go. We broke out our alpine rack, harnesses, helmets, and my 30m/8mm rope and I began my lead up the pitch. After placing two cams at the small 5.2 crux sections, I set up a belay when Kristine called out that I had 5 ft of rope remaining. I then belayed Kristine up.

Kristine climbing the 1st 5.2 pitch on Peak C's Northwest Ridge

Kristine climbing the 1st 5.2 pitch on Peak C’s northwest ridge

She was still shivering uncontrollably and we both think the cold was sapping some of her mental strength and drive not to mention her physical strength. She belayed me up to the ledge another 40′ up placing one cam along the way and I looked around, but decided not to belay her up as we agreed it was time to turn around. Conditions were not good and neither of us wanted Kristine scrambling on 4th class terrain shivering and not being totally focused.  As hard as it was to turn back, it was the right thing to do. I downclimbed back to Kristine, lowered her down from the belay, and then I downclimbed/rappelled back to the base of the route. As defeated as we were for a bit, we soon realized we were lucky to get out together for 9 hours alone and enjoy each other and the Gore Range whether we tagged a summit or not.

Happy us back at Kneeknocker Pass with Peak C's northwest ridge rising behind us

Happy us back at Kneeknocker Pass with Peak C’s northwest ridge rising behind us

Kristine, being the wonderful and loving wife that she is, wanted me to go back for this route. J and I were contemplating going back for Capitol’s northwest buttress the following weekend, but Peak C was fresh in my mind so I convinced J to come with me. Plus, I wanted to check out a route up the north face of Peak C-Prime (the next summit south of Peak C along Ripsaw Ridge). The weather forecast again looked stellar. Fortunately, NOAA got it right this day. Just bluebird skies and sun all day long. Fall weather had certainly arrived. I picked J up at 6am and we were hiking along the Upper Piney Trail by 6:45am. I wish fall weather like last Saturday would last a few months – its the best. We cruised up to Kneeknocker Pass in about 2-1/2 hours as Kristine and I had done 5 days prior. The weather was a complete 180 from what it had been with Kristine the past Sunday. We ran into John & Jennifer Danese of Silverthorne right on top of the pass. We had never met, but had corresponded quite a bit and we both knew each other would be on the trail that day as they were gunning for Mt. Powell. They had inquired with me a year or two ago about “the next big thing to do” with regards to their hiking and mountaineering outside of Colorado. So, I connected them with my great friend Rob Casserley who runs Trek8848 for Everest basecamp treks and trekking peaks and they went with Rob last fall and had the time of their lives summitting both Lobuche East and Island Peak (20,000’+ peaks in the Khumbu Valley). It was great to finally meet them. So, after 30 minutes of chit-chat, J and I traversed south over to the start of the northwest ridge of Peak C and the Daneses went for Mt. Powell.

Profile of the Northwest Ridge up Peak C

Profile of the northwest ridge up Peak C

Most of our climb was in the shade and was quite chilly. Fortunately, there wasn’t a cold stiff wind like there was with Kristine. On the traverse to the start of the route we noticed a good looking Rocky Mountain Goat eyeing us intently as if saying “hey, why are you guys coming onto my mountain?” Little did we know he would follow us the entire climb and over to Peak C-Prime.

Mr. Goat

Mr. Goat

I won’t go into the route description here as Ryan & Derek do an excellent job with that on their climb here. J took the 1st 5.2 pitch, placed a cam, set up an anchor, and belayed me up. Normally, on solid rock, J and I would have no problem free-soloing this pitch, but the loose rock really makes this a scary proposition. The rope and a few pieces of protection are good insurance. Plus, we’re both dads now :)

Mr. Goat (take 2) near the base of the route

Mr. Goat (take 2) near the base of the route

We then swapped leads, I placed another cam on a sling and then set up an anchor on a ledge to belay J up to me. We only had a 30m rope, but with a 60m rope, you could do this entire pitch in one fell swoop.

J climbing the 2nd half of the 1st 5.2 pitch

J climbing the 2nd half of the 1st 5.2 pitch

J in action

J in action

We needed to get left into the class 3 gully somehow. We decided to stay roped up and swapped leads again and J took the headwall straight on placing a cam on a sling at the crux. There may be an easier way to get in the gully, but this was a fun little move. J belayed me up and we coiled the rope and climbed the easy gully for a few hundred feet before finding the grass ledge to the left which took us out into this really cool low-angled dihedral below a vertical headwall.

J leading into the gully

J leading into the gully

Maybe a low 5th move here

Maybe a low 5th move here

The low-angled dihedral

The low-angled dihedral

Instead of getting into the corner of the dihedral, we found the solid 4th class slabs just to the corner’s right side super fun. So, we didn’t break out the rope and just cruised these slabs for a hundred or two-hundred feet up to another ledge.

J climbing the 4th class slabs

J climbing the 4th class slabs

Fun scrambling here

Fun scrambling here

J on the slabs. The corner dihedral Ryan & Derek desribe can be seen on the left

J on the slabs. The corner dihedral Ryan & Derek describe can be seen on the left

Me on the slabs. Photo by J

Me on the slabs. Photo by J

At the top of the corner dihedral and slabs was a small little grass basin followed by awesome class 4 block climbing up to the 5.4 crux move at the top of the headwall. This was really fun scrambling on super solid rock. I just loved it. We didn’t feel the need to break out the rope on the 5.4 crux as the rock was super solid. We both topped out and took in the views.

J and the headwall with the 5.4 crux at top

J and the headwall with the 5.4 crux at top

Class 4 block scrambling

Class 4 block scrambling

J making the 5.4 crux move

J making the 5.4 crux move

Me climbing up to the 5.4 crux. Photo by J

Me climbing up to the 5.4 crux. Photo by J

Me in the sun after the 5.4 crux move. Photo by J

Me in the sun after the 5.4 crux move. Photo by J

Looking down the headwall

Looking down the headwall

Me on the Northwest Ridge with Piney Lake in the distance

Me on the Northwest Ridge with Piney Lake in the distance. Photo by J

Mr. Goat (take 3)

Mr. Goat (take 3)

It was then a few hundred feet of class 3 scrambling to the summit of Peak C. I believe we topped out about 11am.

3rd class upper portion of Peak C's northwest ridge

3rd class upper portion of Peak C’s northwest ridge

Peak C summit (13,220')

Peak C summit (13,220′)

Good to be on top of Peak C again

Good to be on top of Peak C again

Zoomed-in shot of John & Jennifer Danese atop Mt. Powell from the summit of Peak C

Zoomed-in shot of John & Jennifer Danese atop Mt. Powell from the summit of Peak C

We relaxed on top for a bit and then started descending Peak C’s south ridge to the notch between Peak C and Peak C-Prime. Peak C-Prime’s awesome north ridge/face was in view the entire descent.

On the Peak C descent. Photo by J

On the Peak C descent. Photo by J

J on Peak C's south ridge with Peak C-Prime behind

J on Peak C’s south ridge with Peak C-Prime behind

We hit the notch after the class 4 downclimb and I spotted a traverse on the ridge’s left (east) side that led to some fun looking north face cracks. After 30′ of class 4 climbing, we entered the center crack and the terrain got steeper.

Class 4 below the north face cracks above on Peak C-Prime

Class 4 below the north face cracks above on Peak C-Prime

J was eyeing the corner dihedral to the right (west) and not the center crack as he thought it looked more fun. He tried an airy move to get to the ledge below the dihedral only to realize he wanted the comfort of a rope. We roped up, he set two cams to protect the funky move, and soon enough he was on the ledge.

J just before the move right to the ledge

J just before the move right to the ledge

Trying without a rope

Trying without a rope

On second thought, I'll take that belay

On second thought, I’ll take that belay

I followed and am certainly glad J asked for a belay. Its a committing move without great feet and sloping handholds, especially in approach shoes. Maybe a 5.8 move. The dihedral above looked fun. But, so did the center crack. Choices choices. I led on up the far western crack/dihedral combo placing a #2 cam in the crack and then a smaller piece on a sling in the dihedral itself on the right. Maybe 5.7 climbing with a few fun hand jams and face features.

Peak C-Prime north face cracks. We climbed the crack right of center

Peak C-Prime north face cracks. We climbed the crack right of center

Our crack

Our crack

Me on lead up this fun little route. Photo by J

Me on lead up this fun little route. Photo by J

I slung a solid boulder and looked down to J only noticing behind him that Mr. Goat was downclimbing the class 4 headwall on Peak C’s south ridge! It was a sight to behold.

Looking down the 5.7 pitch to J on the ledge. Can you spot Mr. Goat?

Looking down the 5.7 pitch to J on the ledge. Can you spot Mr. Goat?

Impressive

A close-up

Impressive to say the least

Impressive to say the least

J cleaning the 5.7 pitch

J cleaning the 5.7 pitch

Once J reached me we stowed the rope and de-harnessed and scrambled easy class 2/3 to the summit of Peak C-Prime.

The remaining easy ramp to C-Prime's summit

The remaining easy ramp to C-Prime’s summit

Peak C-Prime summit (13,100')

Peak C-Prime summit (13,100′)

Our route up the north face/ridge of Peak C-Prime

Our route up the north face/ridge of Peak C-Prime

Mr. Goat had climbed down Peak C’s southwest couloir a few hundred feet and climbed up Peak C-Prime’s normal class 3/4 route to meet up with us. I guess he wanted to hang out with us because he climbed the class 3 slabs up C-Prime’s southeast face to within 20 yards of us.

There he is on the ridge

There he is on the ridge

Mr. Goat on Peak C-Prime with Peak G to the right

Mr. Goat on Peak C-Prime with Peak G to the right and Peak Q at far left above the goat

IMG_8079

J descending Peak C-Prime with the goat back on the ridge. Maybe he went onto Peak D

J descending Peak C-Prime with the goat back on the ridge. Maybe he went onto Peak D

We took the standard descent couloir down from Peak C-Prime, which feeds into Peak C’s southwest couloir.  The descent down the southwest couloir is obviously much better on skis.

J descending Peak C's southwest couloir

J descending Peak C’s southwest couloir

We then traversed northwest on the couloir’s apron to reach a small notch at the top of one of two northern couloirs leading back down into Kneeknocker Basin. It was a quick descent and before we knew it we were back on the Kneeknocker Pass trail. We saw the Daneses descending Kneeknocker Pass and decided to hang and wait for them to walk out together. They had spent an hour on Powell’s summit lounging and just talking in this gorgeous fall weather. It was fun hiking out together trading mountain stories back and forth with each other.

Kneeknocker Basin and Peak C's northwest ridge standing tall

Kneeknocker Basin and Peak C’s northwest ridge standing tall

Taking a break along Piney River with John & Jennifer and soaking the feet

Taking a break along Piney River with John & Jennifer and soaking the feet

We arrived back at the trailhead around 4pm and promptly headed on out back to Vail. A great day out in the northern Gore on some familiar peaks yet up some new routes. Just perfect. I told Kristine now that I know the details of the northwest ridge route up Peak C, she and I will go back for sure. She will totally enjoy it as we found it to be a very moderate and fun technical alpine route in our favorite range.

Red Diamond Ridge

After a little hiatus from Gore ridge traversing (primarily due to two little lovely ladies entering our respective worlds in the past 9 months), J and I finally got back out together and completed another solid ridge run in our favorite range. Honestly, I think my last Gore ridge run was before Sawyer was born on Rockinghorse Ridge with Brian Miller and Dillon Sarnelli, so I was excited to get back out, especially with J. We make a good tandem on these gnarlier ridge runs. We both love the route-finding, the exposed scrambling and alpine climbing feel, and the unknown – well, as unknown as you can realistically get this day and age. I had been corresponding with Stan Wagon on other Gore outings and adventures when I remembered he said he had traversed Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif and recalled it as one of his favorites and has done it three times since he and Bill Briggs’ likely first traverse of the ridge in 1994. I inquired as to the best approach for Red Diamond from Stan and the other beta I received was that he did use a rope. It was good enough for J and myself. The full Red Diamond Ridge stretches from the East East Red summit (12,885′) west over fairly mellow terrain to East Red (12,945′) and then west again through the “meat and potatoes” of the traverse to the main Red Peak summit (13,189′). I’ve seen Red Diamond up close a few times from Buffalo Mountain’s summit as well as from the north on Rain Peak’s east ridge and indeed it looked to be challenging. Even though the gnarliest section of Red Diamond between East Red and Red Peak is not even three-quarters of a mile, it is chock-full of spiciness.

Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif as seen from Rain Peak's east ridge in early May 2014

Red Diamond Ridge on the Red Peak massif as seen from Rain Peak’s east ridge in early May 2014. The far left peak is East East Red with What Big Eyes You Have Couloir dropping below its north face and the far right peak is the main Red Peak summit. East Red is the highest bump in the ridge’s center. Click to enlarge

After a not so great few hours of sleep the night before (like very little to none at all), I had trouble getting out of bed at 4:15am. However, I was determined to make this happen as J and I had not gotten out much together in the last while. And, with babies in our lives now, you have to make the most of what you got when you can. I felt sort of haggered most of the day from a lack of sleep, but still thoroughly enjoyed our outing. I mean what’s not to be excited about when adventuring in the Gores, right? I was completely gutted when I realized driving over Vail Pass that I left one of my most precious items in my car when we transferred to J’s car at 5:30am – my big Canon SLR camera. I was kicking myself as its always with me on my adventures. However heavy it is, its always worth carrying for the high resolution pics. Unfortunately on this day, we would be without it and rely on iphone pictures as our documentation. C’est la vie. I still have yet to be a phone picture convert – maybe I never will. I hope not.

We left the standard Buffalo Mountain Trailhead (Ryan Gulch Trailhead) around 6:30am and made good time up to the four-way intersection, stayed straight on the trail, and started descending down another mile to South Willow Creek and the intersection with the Gore Range Trail.  Per Stan’s recommendations, we left any signs of trail at this intersection (until Red Buffalo Pass 6.5 hours later) and continued due north through dense woods and began the off-trail bushwhacking. It actually wasn’t bad bushwhacking at all. Just a nice walk up through the woods albeit steep at that. We pretty much ascended Eat Red’s east ridge proper the entire time at times walking atop the steep southern cliffs above the South Willow Creek drainage all the while staring down Buffalo Mountain’s Silver Couloir.

J on East Red's east ridge looking down into the South Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain's north shoulder to the left and Deming Mountain in the distance

J on East Red’s east ridge looking down into the South Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain’s north shoulder to the left and Deming Mountain in the distance

We eventually broke through treeline and were able to view our options. We could have just remained on East Red’s east ridge over a few more bumps and another 1,500′, but we decided to descend a hundred vertical feet or so and cross the Middle Willow Creek basin to gain East East Red’s summit as a first objective. This was a beautiful basin with wildflowers galore. It cannot see much traffic.

Me crossing Middle Willow Creek drainage with East East Red's summit far above at top center. Photo by J

Me crossing Middle Willow Creek drainage with East East Red’s summit far above at top center. Photo by J

Looking down into the Middle Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain to the left from East East Red's south slopes

Looking down into the Middle Willow Creek drainage with Buffalo Mountain to the left from East East Red’s south slopes

We then made a 1,500′ climb up steep grass to east East Red’s summit topping out about 2 hours and 30 minutes after we began around 9am. I felt like we were making pretty good time. I wanted to be home my mid-afternoon so Kristine could go on a bike ride earlier than later in the day, but it turned out it needed to be an evening ride due to my lateness and ability to never seem to realize that things, especially traverses, take longer than they look like they will on a map :) Very sorry about that, babe.

View of the Silverthorne massif as seen from the East East Red summit (12,885')

View of the Silverthorne massif (center), Snow Peak (left), and Rain Peak (right) as seen from the East East Red summit (12,885′)

J down to the left and Red Diamond Ridge stretched out in front of us from East East Red's summit

J down to the left and Red Diamond Ridge stretched out in front of us from East East Red’s summit

Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous morning and we made our way over the mellow bumps for approximately 3/4 of a mile to East Red’s summit arriving around 9:30am.

Easy cruising between East East Red and East Red. Photo by J

Easy cruising between East East Red and East Red. Photo by J

There were log poles sticking up from every little point along this section of ridge

There were log poles sticking up from every little point along this section of ridge. Photo by J

East Red summit (12,945')

East Red summit (12,945′)

Looking at the "meat and potatoes" of Red Diamond Ridge from East Red's summit over to Red Peak

Looking at the “meat and potatoes” of Red Diamond Ridge from East Red’s summit over to Red Peak

We didn’t stay long on East Red’s summit as we knew we had the bulk of the day ahead of us. Some minor class 3 scrambling led us down and up to the top of a large tower and a cliff edge. This was not downclimable at all. We could have rappelled and saw a few large solid blocks in which to anchor too, but we didn’t feel the need. We backtracked a hundred feet and found a class 4 downclimb to the south to reach the tower’s western base.

Initial scrambling. Photo by J

Initial scrambling. Photo by J

J at the top of the tower with Red Diamond Ridge laid out in front of us

J at the top of the tower with Red Diamond Ridge laid out in front of us

J on the class 4 downclimb on the tower's south side

J on the class 4 downclimb on the tower’s south side

J making a few airy moves to get back on the ridge proper from the ledge on the tower's south side

J making a few airy moves to get back on the ridge proper from the ledge on the tower’s south side

Looking east at the tower from below and our downclimb

Looking east at the tower from below and our downclimb shown in red. Click to enlarge

A relatively walkable section ensued until we came to some knife blade looking spires which were mighty enticing to try and climb, but for time’s sake and the fact that they looked extremely unstable as well as not gaining us anything (vertical-wise) because we needed to drop down anyway, we skirted just below them to the ridge’s north side on some class 3/4 rock.

J staring down these spires

J staring down these spires

Our approximate route just to the north of the spires

Our approximate route just to the north of the spires as seen from across the low point saddle of the traverse. Click to enlarge

It was then maybe two hundred feet of class 3/4 downclimbing to the low point saddle between East Red and Red Peak.

Me starting the descent down to the low point saddle of the traverse

Me starting the descent down to the low point saddle of the traverse. Photo by J

J almost to the low point of the traverse with the class 3/4 headwall that we downclimbed behind

J almost to the low point of the traverse with the class 3/4 headwall that we downclimbed behind

Me at the shady saddle. Photo by J

Me at the shady saddle. Photo by J

We then discussed our options as the direct route west of the low point looked to be extremely hard trad climbing and we only had a light alpine rack. Nevertheless, we spotted a steep gully feature about 10′ down to the saddle’s north that provided a weakness – the only weakness it seemed. To avoid a large boulder in the gully, which completely blocked upward progress, we strayed to the right and climbing a hundred feet of exposed 4th class/low 5th up a dihedral back to the ridge proper.

Me climbing the dihedral. Photo by J

Me climbing the dihedral. Photo by J

Looking down the dihedral and J on a ledge

Looking down the dihedral and J on a ledge

After a restful grass ledge, we glanced up at our next objective. A large 5th class looking tower with serious exposure on all sides. We searched for a viable route and I found a good looking 50′ dihedral on the tower’s northeast side in the shade. We scrambled to a very small ledge and roped up. The dihedral was probably no more than 5.4-5.5, but the exposure was very serious – thus the rope and rack. J and I were asking ourselves if we were getting a bit “conservative” in our old age, but then realized that we weren’t at all. I don’t believe we would have ever thought of free soling that especially not knowing if the holds were secure. I mean we’re family men now! A few good placements and we were up on the tower’s summit.

Me leading the 5.4-5.5 dihedral halfway through the traverse

Me leading the 5.4-5.5 dihedral halfway through the traverse. Photo by J

What came next looked to be simple enough until we realized the downward sloping nature of the ramp with very little holds on rock laden with lichen and big time exposure and drop offs on either side. Yes, we wanted the rope again. J belayed me from the tower’s summit and I placed a cam halfway down, set up an anchor where suitable at the end of the ramp, and brought J down to me.

J coming down the sloping ramp. There were some very awkward moves in here including a butt scoot with horrible holds

J coming down the sloping ramp. There were some very awkward moves in here including a butt scoot with horrible holds

We then downclimbed some class 4 rock to a small notch and made our way up to some nice grass ledges once again. What followed was a westward traverse over class 3/4 rock on the ridge’s north side as going to the ridge proper would not have gained us anything (vertical-wise). Plus, again, the ridge proper looked completely unstable with teetering blocks. This westward traverse on the ridge’s north side eventually led us down to another small saddle.

J coming out of the notch with the end of the downward sloping ramp behind

J coming out of the notch with the end of the downward sloping ramp behind him

The class 3/4 westward traverse

The class 3/4 westward traverse

J making headway

J making headway

The large headwall in front of us had a leftward-trending steep grass ramp that we took hoping it would lead somewhere. The ramp was downclimbale if we got completely stuck, but easier ground above it gave way to some exposed but doable low 5th class climbing on the ridge’s north side to the summit of this headwall tower.

The large headwall with the leftward-trending grass ramp we climbed

The large headwall with the leftward-trending grass ramp we climbed

Me on the ramp. Photo by J

Me on the ramp. Photo by J

J and the exposed north side of this large headwall tower

J and the exposed north side of this large headwall tower

From this point on the ridge proper, delightful class 3/4 scrambling continued pretty much the rest of the way up to the summit ridge plateau of Red Peak. There were many lines to choose from, but in general we stayed on the ridge crest or slightly on the north side.

J on the class 3/4 scrambling that ensued

J on the class 3/4 scrambling that ensued

Sort of a "Where's Waldo?" picture. Can you spot me? Photo by J

Sort of a “Where’s Waldo?” picture. Can you spot me? Photo by J

We were both saying to each other at this point that we felt pretty beat and just plain exhausted. We both believed we were a bit more tense (mentally) on this traverse than others. Obviously, being tense leads to expending extra energy. I chock it up to being just out of scrambling practice. It had been awhile. Nevertheless, we topped out on Red Peak’s summit ridge and traversed a few more ups and down before cresting the main Red Peak summit.

J and Red Diamond Ridge behind

J and Red Diamond Ridge behind

Red Peak summit (13,189') comes into view

Red Peak summit (13,189′) comes into view

A bit more scrambling

A bit more scrambling

Red Peak summit (13,189'). Our second summit of this peak. The first time was when we traversed the Zodiac Spires 2 years prior

Red Peak summit (13,189′) with the complete Red Diamond Ridge behind us. Our second summit of this peak. The first time was when we traversed the Zodiac Spires 2 years prior

It was a fine summit. However, it was a bit breezy and thus chilly. We had our sandwiches and some Gatorade and water and then continued west to descend the south ridge down to the beautiful Red Buffalo Pass where we took a much needed rest.

Descending Red Peak's south ridge to Red Buffalo Pass (left) with Deming Mountain and West Deming in the distance

Descending Red Peak’s south ridge to Red Buffalo Pass (left) with Deming Mountain (center) and West Deming (right) in the distance

It was such a gorgeous day and there wasn’t hardly a chance of any storms on the horizon. At this point, I got a text from good buddy Dillon Sarnelli who was on the Tenmile Traverse just on the other side of Buffalo Mountain and I70. What a day to do that traverse as well. Congrats to Dillon and Zambo. I had much more energy now and we cruised out the Gore Range Trail into the South Willow Creek drainage.

Red Diamond Ridge as seen from the meadows  east of Red Buffalo Pass

Red Diamond Ridge as seen from the meadows east of Red Buffalo Pass

It was a beautiful deproach until we made the right turn onto the South Willow Creek trail split (where we had left the confines of any trail 6.5 hours earlier) and started the few hundred feet of vertical gain back up to the four-way intersection. We just decided to book it and broke a good sweat and cruised back to J’s Volvo arriving at around 3:30pm for a 9 hour day.

I have no idea on the roudtrip mileage and vertical. Its probably somewhere in the 12-13 mile day with maybe 4,500′-5,000′ of vertical gain with all of the ups and downs, but who knows. I really don’t keep track all that much anymore. Its not what’s important. What’s important is that J and I got out again together in our favorite range and tackled a ridge we had long wanted to do and did it safely. We still felt like we were the only ones out there all day despite the few parties we encountered closer down in the valley on the Gore Range Trail and Buffalo Mountain Trail. Its special to us that we can still feel that sense of solitude. It may not always be the case. The mountains are indeed getting crowded. But, hopefully the Gore will continue to inspire and challenge those that seek adventure, relative solitude, lofty summits, and gnarly ridges. Many thanks to Stan for pioneering this ridge 2 decades ago. We both agreed it is one of the finest of Gore ridge traverses.

Our Red Peak massif loop shown in red

Our Red Peak massif loop via Red Diamond Ridge shown in red

Rockinghorse Ridge

Rockinghorse Ridge is a smaller section of the main spine of the Gore Range connecting the 12,965′ Peak P and its taller 13,041′ neighbor, West Partner Peak. The difficulties of the ridge are probably no more than a half mile in length, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in quality scrambling in the heart of the Gore Range. It is one of the classic ridges of the Gores and gets its name from a large tower along its ridge crest dubbed The Rocking Horse. A few years ago in July of 2012, our little crew consisting of myself, J, Baba, & Chuck descended towards Upper Piney Lake from the ridge en route to West Partner Peak from Peak P’s summit before the real complexities of Rockinghorse Ridge. This descent was due to several reasons: 1) because it was later in the day and boomers were starting to build, 2) we had no tent, there was a fire ban, and we had bivied in the Upper Piney Basin the night before in the worst mosquitos documented since the Great Gore Mosquito Influx of 1808 (this event is not real – the mosquitos were just pretty horrendous), 3) because we did not have mosquito repellent, and 4) because we did not want to stay out another night with no tent nor mosquito repellent and a fire ban in absolutely terrifying mosquito country. We had climbed Peak H that day, traversed The Saw to Peak J, onto Peak P, and we were en route to West Partner Peak when the decision was made to descend. Needless to say, The Rocking Horse has been always in the back of my mind ever since.

Rockinghorse Ridge connecting Peak P (left) to West Partner Peak (right) as seen from the summit of the Spider (12,692') in mid-October of 2011

Rockinghorse Ridge connecting Peak P (left) to West Partner Peak (right) as seen from the summit of the Spider (12,692′) in mid-October of 2011 on a climb of the Fly & the Spider from Booth Lake

View northwest of Rockinghorse Ridge and all of our favorite peaks from the summit of east Partner Peak (13,057') in July of 2012 before one of my Partner Traverse trips

View northwest of Rockinghorse Ridge and all of our favorite peaks from the summit of East Partner Peak (13,057′) in July of 2012 before one of my Partner Traverse trips

Fast forward to last weekend and I thought Rockinghorse Ridge may make for a nice fall day trip from the Booth trailhead in East Vail. A few usual partners in crime joined me for the ridge including seasoned Gore enthusiast Brian Miller & recent Gore convert Dillon Sarnelli. Friends Jason & Becky Blyth with their golden retriever Taj joined us for the hike in and branched off to climb West Partner Peak via its manageable west ridge from just south of East Booth Pass. It was just perfect fall weather. The Aspen colors were really about in their prime and the Booth trail is always a nice hike. We got hiking around 6:30am or so and leisurely took our time chatting and catching up with one another. The plan was fairly simple: head up to East Booth Pass, descend/traverse over to a point below the Rockinghorse Ridge saddle, climb up to the ridge, summit Peak P, traverse Rockinghorse Ridge to West Partner Peak’s summit, and then continue south along the ridge over to Outpost Peak’s summit. Outpost was a requirement for Mr. Miller (and me too) as this low 12er is one of the few Gore peaks we have yet to top out on. Unfortunately, with the late day storms rolling in and thunder very close by, we chose to descend before tagging its summit. Nevertheless, Outpost’s northeast bowl will be a great spring ski for which we have already started game planning.

Our Rockinghorse Ridge loop from the Booth drainage

Our Rockinghorse Ridge loop from the Booth drainage. Red is the approach up and over East Booth Pass and traverse to Rockinghorse Ridge. Green is the quick trip up to Peak P. Yellow is Rockinghorse Ridge and West Partner Peak’s south ridge.

Mt. of the Holy Cross from the Booth trail

Mt. of the Holy Cross from the Booth trail

All the Blyths & myself en route to East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon

All the Blyths & myself en route to East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon

Brian and the beautiful secluded lake just south of East Booth Pass

Brian and the beautiful secluded lake just south of East Booth Pass

Becky, Jason, & Taj broke off for West Partner’s west ridge a few hundred feet below East Booth Pass and we said our goodbyes. I always love looking down onto the rarely visited Upper Piney Lake basin. The view down from East Booth Pass surely didn’t disappoint.

Upper Piney Lake from East Booth Pass

Upper Piney Lake from East Booth Pass. The Saw is the skyline on the right connecting Peak H (center) to Peak J (out of picture on the right)

Brian mentioned he and Mike Rodenack had traversed from East Booth Pass across the west facing slopes below Rockinghorse Ridge years ago without dropping all the way to Upper Piney Lake and it had worked out well albeit they were on snow.

Brian explaining the traverse over to a point below the saddle low point of Rockinghorse Ridge from East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon

Brian explaining the traverse over to a point below the saddle low point of Rockinghorse Ridge from East Booth Pass. Photo by Dillon

The route looked very doable and we made our way northeast across slabs with some class 3/4 scrambling thrown in for good measure.

Brian on the traverse from East Booth Pass

Brian on the traverse from East Booth Pass

Brian on a fun slab portion of the traverse. East Booth Pass can be seen on the far right

Brian on a fun slab portion of the traverse. East Booth Pass can be seen on the far right

Brian on a nifty little dihedral

Brian on a nifty little dihedral

Dillon took a higher road than Brian & myself for some reason and ended up topping out on Rockinghorse Ridge to the south of the deep notch marking the low point of the ridge. Brian & I made it over to the steep grass gully we were aiming for and climbed straight up to the ridge. We heard Dillon calling to us and waiving a map. He was stuck. Nowhere to downclimb to join us on the north side of the deep notch. I felt bad as he wanted to climb Peak P, but honestly downclimbing into the notch was low 5th class terrain and he was better off just staying put and relaxing a bit until Brian & I came over to him. At this point, we saw Jason Blyth on the summit of West Partner Peak and I think he saw us. Brian decided to cook up some pasta with pesto on the ridge proper (talk about brunch with a view) and I decided to just boogie up to Peak P. I love the views from Peak P. I feel like I’m really in the center of the Gore Range.

Upper Slate Lake basin as seen from the summit of Peak P including the four tiers of lakes, Peak Q on the right, and Peal L in the distance on the left

Upper Slate Lake basin as seen from the summit of Peak P including the four tiers of lakes, Peak Q on the right, and Peal L in the distance on the left

Peak L

Peak L

Looking north to Peak J and the northern Gores

Looking north to Peak J and the northern Gores

Rockinghorse Ridge to West Partner Peak as seen from the summit of Peak P

Rockinghorse Ridge to West Partner Peak as seen from the summit of Peak P

A few minutes on top and a few pics later, I scampered back down to Brian and he offered me some of his feast. Yum.

Dillon shot this zoomed-in pic of me coming down from Peak P

Dillon shot this zoomed-in pic of me coming down from Peak P

Brian's kitchen on Rockinghorse Ridge with Peak Q looming in the distance

Brian’s kitchen on Rockinghorse Ridge with Peak Q looming in the distance. Photo by Brian

Brian feasting

Brian feasting

We then packed up and made our way south to the first deep notch inn the ridge. Fun scrambling down and out of the notch ensued and soon we were heading onto the second deeper notch which had stopped Dillon in his tracks.

The first notch. We reclimbed right up the center (maybe class 4)

The first notch. We reclimbed right up the center (maybe class 4)

Brian downclimbing to the first notch

Brian downclimbing to the first notch

Brian climbing out of the first notch

Brian climbing out of the first notch

Good scrambling

Good scrambling

Brian & I were both looking to take the reclimb out of the second notch head-on to meet up with Dillon. I attempted the lower portion directly, but really came to an impass which required me to surmount a small roof with some big exposure in trail running shoes. No thanks. I circled around to the east side of the ridge to find a nice class 4 dihedral which accessed the low 5th class upper portion of the ridge proper. Brian found another low 5th class route about 20′ to the west of the ridge proper.

Me attempting the lower portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch before backing off and going around to the left

Me attempting the lower portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch before backing off and going around to the left. Photo by Brian

Me climbing the upper portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch. Photo by Dillon

Me climbing the upper portion of the ridge proper out of the second notch. Photo by Dillon

Brian topping out on his line out of the second notch

Brian topping out on his line out of the second notch

Looking down Brian's route

Looking down Brian’s route

We both topped out and met up with ole Dillon. Was good to meet back up with him. We continued south on Rockinghorse Ridge to The Rocking Horse tower. Some fun scrambling led up to the fairly mellow class 3 north ridge of The Rocking Horse.

Brian & Rockinghorse Ridge up to Peak P behind hm

Brian & Rockinghorse Ridge leading up to Peak P behind him

Brian & Dillon scrambling to the north ridge of The Rocking Horse

Brian & Dillon scrambling to the north ridge of The Rocking Horse

Me on a cool little catwalk leading up to The Rocking Horse. Photo by Brian

Me on a cool little catwalk leading up to The Rocking Horse. Photo by Brian

Brian climbing The Rocking Horse with Upper Piney Lake down below

Brian climbing The Rocking Horse with Upper Piney Lake down below

Dillon shot this pic of me scrambling up the north ridge of The Rocking Horse

Dillon shot this pic of me scrambling up the north ridge of The Rocking Horse

Where the ridge really got exciting was after (south) of The Rocking Horse starting with the downclimb off The Rocking Horse’s south ridge.

Coming down off The Rocking Horse

Coming down off The Rocking Horse

Dillon starting the mini-catwalk

Dillon starting the catwalk

Me on the catwalk. Photo by Dillon

Me on the catwalk. Photo by Dillon

Little did we know that Mad (Dad) Mike was coming down off Peak H at this same time (noonish maybe) and saw us on the catwalk after The Rocking Horse and shot a very zoomed-in picture of Dillon & myself. Thanks, Mike! Mike had traversed Ripsaw Ridge from Peak C to Peak H this same morning.

Mike's zoomed in shot of Dillon & myself from the slopes of Peak H. The Rocking Horse is to our left

Mike’s zoomed in shot of Dillon & myself from the slopes of Peak H. The Rocking Horse is to our left

We downclimbed off the catwalk and then a few more towers presented themselves. While one could likely skirt most of these complexities with 3rd class scrambling a hundred or more vertical feet lower on the ridge’s west side, we stayed fairly ridge proper and encountered plenty of class 4/low class 5 scrambling.

The downclimb after the catwalk and a few more towers to go up and over

The downclimb after the catwalk and a few more towers to go up and over

The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the catwalk

The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the catwalk

We even found one nice looking crack up one of the towers that I was determined to climb. It looked oh so good. This crux could definitely be skirted to the ridge’s west side via class 3 ledges and join up with this more direct route on top of the tower.

Me heading up the good looking crack. Photo by Brian

Me heading up the good looking crack. Photo by Brian

Me at the top of the crack. Photo by Brian

Me at the top of the crack. Photo by Brian

It was a tough move with some air below, but as long as you could get a toe in the crack as a foothold and a right hand/arm jam in the crack it was manageable (if 5.4-5.5 is manageable in trail shoes).

Dillon crack sequence pic #1

Dillon crack sequence pic #1

Dillon crack sequence pic #2

Dillon crack sequence pic #2

Dillon crack sequence pic #3

Dillon crack sequence pic #3

The scrambling to the top of this tower didn’t end there as there was an exposed traverse, a small knife-edge, and still some 4th class moves to be had.

Dillon on an exposed traverse above the crux crack

Dillon on an exposed traverse above the crux crack

Dillon almost topping out on the tower

Dillon almost topping out on the tower

The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the top of this tower

The remaining portion of Rockinghorse Ridge up to West Partner Peak as seen from the top of this tower

It was then a mellower downclimb off to our next set of towers, which mostly could be skirted ever so slightly to the ridge’s east side. Though, one could climb these towers as we did on a few occasions (ya know, for the views).

More awesome towers everywhere you look on Rockinghorse Ridge. Photo by Dillon

More awesome towers everywhere you look on Rockinghorse Ridge. Photo by Dillon

The terrain then eased off into more “hikeable” slopes and we made good time up the remaining north ridge of West Partner Peak to its lofty Gore summit.

Dillon & Brian making their way up West Partner's north ridge with the difficulties of Rockinghorse Ridge behind them

Dillon & Brian making their way up West Partner’s north ridge with the difficulties of Rockinghorse Ridge behind them

West Partner Peak was a new summit for Mr. Sarnelli. It was familiar ground for Brian & myself, but always good to be back here especially having climbed a different route up this peak other than the class 3 south ridge or 2+ west ridge.

Me on West Partner Peak's summit. Photo by Brian

Me on West Partner Peak’s summit. Photo by Brian

West Partner Peak summit (13,041') with Peak Q behind to our right. Photo by Dillon

West Partner Peak summit (13,041′) with Peak Q behind to our right. Photo by Dillon

Rockinghorse Ridge to Peak P from the summit of West Partner Peak

Rockinghorse Ridge to Peak P from the summit of West Partner Peak

Outpost Peak from the summit of West Partner Peak, our next destination

Outpost Peak from the summit of West Partner Peak, our next destination

I think it was maybe 1:30pm or so and thunderheads were definitely already starting to build to the west and north. We then descended the class 3 south ridge of West Partner Peak en route to Outpost Peak. This south ridge is a nice scramble in itself and is featured in David Cooper’s book Colorado Scrambles.

West Partner Peak's south ridge

West Partner Peak’s south ridge

I kept looking west at the building storms and then when we had reached maybe the halfway point along the ridge to Outpost, the thunder let loose and it was close. We decided to retreat back down to the Booth drainage via a steep grass gully and save Outpost for another day (hopefully, this spring as a ski-mountaineering outing). I believe the grass gully we used as a descent route is the ascent gully Cooper describes to access West Partner Peak’s south ridge in Colorado Scrambles.

Descent gully into the Booth drainage from the West Partner Peak-Outpost Peak ridge

Descent gully into the Booth drainage from the West Partner Peak-Outpost Peak ridge

The views down valley into Vail and of Vail ski mountain with Holy Cross behind were phenomenal.

Fall colors down the Booth drainage and into the Vail Valley

Fall colors down the Booth drainage and into the Vail Valley

Beautiful

Beautiful

Booth Lake as seen from our descent gully

Booth Lake as seen from our descent gully

We soon joined up with the Booth trail and hiked the 4+ miles back out. As we descended into treeline, it sure was hard not to stop and take pictures of the gorgeous fall foilage. Brian & Dillon did a wonderful job at capturing the views.

Aspens. Photo by Dillon

Aspens. Photo by Dillon

Me on the hike out. Photo by Brian

Me on the hike out. Photo by Brian

Booth drainage hillside. Photo by Brian

Booth drainage hillside. Photo by Brian

We met up with Kristine for high-end mexican food at Maya in the Westin and topped off a great day in the Gores with margaritas, IPAs, numerous tacos, and brisket nachos. Solid day, fellas! I’d rather be in the Gores than just about anywhere. I think the same could be said for Brian. Dillon? Well, he’s getting there.

Gore Range Traverse: Eagle’s Nest to Mt. Powell

With our little gal due in just about a month (October 12), I’m staying fairly local not to be gone all weekend (meaning day trips). And, what all that equates to are more adventures in our own Gore Range. Kristine has been absolutely wonderful in wanting me to get out and climb. Just because she cannot climb and scramble right now, she doesn’t want me not too as well. She’s quite amazing. We keep telling each other its good recon for me so we can do these trips together at a later date. Definitely. Its been a stellar spring, summer, and early fall of ski-mountaineering, hiking, and rock climbing trips, and this past weekend’s venture on the classic Eagle’s Nest – Mt. Powell traverse in the Gores was a phenomenal day out on terrific terrain with great buds. This was one of the few traverses J and I had not yet attempted in our Gore escapades and has been on the list for years now. Despite us both having summitted the Gore Range’s highest peak, Mt. Powell, a few times via its standard route from Piney Lake, we had never climbed the Gore Range’s second highest peak, Eagle’s Nest, and certainly never linked the two monarchs. This traverse, dubbed the Gore Range Traverse, is listed in David Cooper’s book Colorado Scrambles and is probably the longest traverse with most vertical gain described in his book.The cruxy ridge between the two peaks looked challenging yet at the same time very fun and we were excited. In Colorado Scrambles, Cooper describes the route as starting at the 8,600′ Surprise Lake Trailhead in Summit County near the Green Mountain Resevoir and ending at Piney Lake on the west side of the Gores north of Vail. A few good friends and fellow climbers have urged us to make a loop out of the two peaks all from Piney Lake in order to avoid a lengthy car shuttle, but this option doesn’t allow for a good adventure along the very lengthy east ridge of Eagle’s Nest. Personally, one of the reasons for doing the full traverse is to explore the east side of Eagle’s Nest as I had never done before. In the end, it was worth the car shuttle. It was to be a big day at about 16 miles and 7,100′ of vertical gain, but the weather looked pretty decent and we had a strong crew of four including our friends Rick Thompson and Marc Barella. It was super fun to have Rick and Marc join J and myself in doing what we absolutely love to do – scramble in the Gores.

The Gore Range Traverse from Eagle's Nest to Mt. Powell shown in red

The Gore Range Traverse from Eagle’s Nest to Mt. Powell shown in red

J and I drove over to the Surprise Lake Trailhead later Saturday evening arriving at 10:30pm while Rick & Marc came from Denver and arrived at about midnight. We cowboy camped at the trailhead and we woke up to frost covered sleeping bags in the fairly chilly pre-dawn air at 4:30am. After some coffee and oatmeal, we set off across the footbridge at 5:20am illuminating the trail with out headlamps and we were shedding layers shortly afterwards. At 2.6 miles or so, the route takes a right onto the Gore Range Trail, and after 3 or so miles, the route takes a left on another trail leading to Upper Cataract Lake. At about 4 miles and 7:00am, the sun had risen above the horizon and we no longer needed our artificial light. We took a short break and then headed left into the woods bushwhacking our way to treeline and up the steeper north facing slopes consisting of beautiful tundra hiking and some boulder hopping. The breeze picked up as we crested treeline and felt fairly sustained once we reached the enormous 12,400′ plateau at the beginning of Eagle Nest’s east ridge.

The boys heading up above treeline with Lower Cataract Lake behind (essentially where we began a few hours prior)

The boys heading up above treeline with Lower Cataract Lake behind (essentially where we began a few hours prior)

The north face of Eagle's Nest as seen from the northern slopes leading to its east ridge

The north face of Eagle’s Nest as seen from the northern slopes leading to its east ridge

J & Marc cresting the enormous 12,400' plateau

J & Marc cresting the enormous 12,400′ plateau

The east ridge of Eagle's Nest from the 12,400' plateau leading to its summit (far right) with Mt. Powell's summit just peaking over left of center

The east ridge of Eagle’s Nest from the 12,400′ plateau leading to its summit (far right) with Mt. Powell’s summit just peaking over left of center

Once we reached the beginning of Eagle’s Nest’s ever-narrowing east ridge, Mt. Powell’s north face came into view with the wind dying down a bit blocked by the east ridge itself. We made our way up the now much more defined east ridge gaining altitude fast up to Point 13,091′.

Mt. Powell's north face. Some fresh snow!

Mt. Powell’s north face. Some fresh snow on its summit plateau!

Upper Cataract Lake from the east ridge of Eagle's Nest

Upper Cataract Lake from the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest

The traverse from Eagle's Nest (far right) to Mt. Powell (far left) as seen from the east ridge of Eagle's Nest.

The traverse from Eagle’s Nest (far right) to Mt. Powell (far left) as seen from the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest.

Point 13,091'

Point 13,091′

However, what vertical we had gained in the last half hour, we then lost after Point 13,091′ and then proceeded to go up and over several minor bumps along the east ridge. Thus, the nature of Eagle’s Nest east ridge. But, the views were incredible and it was fun to be up high with a great crew.

Descending off of Point 13,091' in the morning sun

Descending off of Point 13,091′ in the morning sun

Got to enjoy the awesome tundra while it lasts!

Got to enjoy the awesome tundra while it lasts!

Mt. Powell's north face and the extremely secluded and rarely-visited Cliff Lake below

Mt. Powell’s north face and the extremely secluded and rarely-visited Cliff Lake below

Rick & J on the east ridge of Eagle's Nest. Point 13,091' is the far summit along the ridge

Rick & J on the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest. Point 13,091′ is the far summit along the ridge

We then came to the crux downclimb off of another 13,000′ point, which can be descended on class 3/4 terrain on the ridge’s left (south) side though we stayed a little closer to the ridge crest and spiced it up with just a few low class 5 moves.

Downclimbing the crux of the east ridge of Eagle's Nest

Downclimbing the crux of the east ridge of Eagle’s Nest

Descending

Descending

Rick can be seen right of center while J is dead center above him checking out the view

Rick can be seen right of center while J is dead center above him checking out the view. Marc is hidden from view between the two of them

Moon over Eagle's Nest

Moon over Eagle’s Nest

After descending maybe 200′ down the crux, we ascended the same vertical on the other side of the small col and continued upwards. We hopped on a small knife-edge, which is definitely not necessary, though it afforded nice views down the north face and good photos.

The boys on the knife-edge with our route down the crux point along the east ridge shown in red. Notice the cool looking peep hole as well

The boys on the knife-edge with our route down the crux point along the east ridge shown in red. Notice the cool looking peep hole as well

Knife-edge fun

Knife-edge fun

Gaining lost vertical again

Gaining lost vertical again

Rick & Marc and the east ridge extending out to the east behind them

Rick & Marc and the east ridge extending out to the east behind them

An interesting little traverse we found to overcome another point along the east ridge

An interesting little traverse we found to overcome another point along the east ridge

Rick making the moves

Rick making the moves

We continued to scramble up and over a few more sub-summits before arriving on the summit of Eagle’s Nest around 10:30am.

The boys approaching the summit of Eagle's Nest

The boys approaching the summit of Eagle’s Nest

Marc taking in the views

Marc taking in the views

Rick & Marc with Mt. Powell behind

Rick & Marc with Mt. Powell behind

Eagle's Nest summit (13,420')

Eagle’s Nest summit (13,420′)

After some snacks, gatorade, and photos, we were off again down the much mellower south ridge of Eagle’s Nest to the low point of the ridge with neighboring Mt. Powell. It was a beautiful Fall day yet the west wind was fairly stiff the entire time on the ridge, which made things just a bit more difficult and taxing.

Descending the mellow south ridge of Eagle's Nest

Descending the mellow south ridge of Eagle’s Nest

Looking ahead at the connecting ridge to Mt. Powell

Looking ahead at the connecting ridge to Mt. Powell

Starting at the low point of the connecting ridge, the challenges of the ridge presented themselves right away. The first in a series of impressive gendarmes reared itself up in earnest and a fun 4th class crack provided passage just right (west) of the ridge proper. Once could stay maybe 100-200′ down below the gendarmes on the ridge’s west side the entire way and keep the difficulty at maybe class 3. But, where is the fun in that? We came for some scrambling and hopefully we would get it.

A little exposed move on the ridge's left (east) side to kick things off

A little exposed move on the ridge’s left (east) side to kick things off

The 4th class dihedral on the right(west) side of the ridge proper to surmount the first gendarme

The 4th class dihedral on the right(west) side of the ridge proper to surmount the first gendarme

After the top of the first proper gendarme, the downclimb was a 25′ overhanging drop, so we backtracked just a bit and downclimbed around and back up to the ridge proper via a nice low 5th class crack.

J on the low 5th class crack

J on the low 5th class crack

Rick coming around a small tower with Eagle's Nest behind

Rick coming around a small tower with Eagle’s Nest behind

One of the numerous downclimbs, none of which were really all that exposed

One of the numerous downclimbs, none of which were really all that exposed

We tried to traverse the gendarmes as close to the ridge proper as was feasible (without getting into mid-upper 5th class climbing) and were able to find some pretty cool lines that went at maybe 5.3 or low 5th class. The downclimbs seemed to always be 4th class, which definitely made things a little faster. On one gendarme, J and I climbed a line that maybe went at mid-5th class, but it was such an elegant stemming chimney that it was hard to resist.

J stemming his way up a chimney

J stemming his way up the chimney

Looking down the mid-5th class chimney

Looking down the mid-5th class chimney

Another non-exposed downclimb

Another non-exposed downclimb

Making progress over to Mt. Powell

Making progress over to Mt. Powell

It was really a “choose your own adventure” ridge traverse. The ups and downs continued as did the stiff west wind. We then came to the 5.3 crux upclimb section that our bud Ryan Marsters describes on MountainProject. This was a nice pitch on solid rock. From a layback to a mantle, it was great fun.

Rick on the layback of the 5.3 crux upclimb

Rick on the layback of the 5.3 crux upclimb

Rick pulls himself over the top of the 5.3 crux pitch

Rick pulls himself over the top of the 5.3 crux pitch

Then, another easy downclimb to the next gendarme

Then, another easy downclimb to the next gendarme

It was after noon by now and the clouds were building to the west accompanying the stiff west wind. However, storms were not threatening. It was just chilly. Layers went back on. A nice little 4th class crack system on the next gendarme was great fun and then easier scrambling ensued.

Marc & J approaching the next gandarme

Marc & J approaching the next gendarme

J climbing the crack

J climbing the crack

Close-up of J

Close-up of J

Rick in the same spot as J in the picture above

Rick in the same spot as J in the picture above

J approaching the end of the series of gendarmes

J approaching the end of the series of gendarmes

The boys scrambling

The boys scrambling

Marc

Marc

I took a little video of Rick & J nearing the end of the nice scrambling:

We took a much needed break at this point and refueled with some snacks and gatorade.

Me taking in the views of Eagle's Nest and the ridge traverse. Photo by Rick

Me taking in the views of Eagle’s Nest and the ridge traverse. Photo by Rick

We then reached the end of the crux ridge traverse difficulties and it was more steep talus hiking for a little while. We meandered our way on the ridge’s right (west) side through some class 4 difficulties without losing any elevation and soon enough crested the ridge proper one more time.

J and Marc

J and Marc

J and the remaining portions of Powell's north ridge

J and the remaining portions of Powell’s north ridge

J and Marc leading the charge

J and Marc leading the charge

Rick downclimbing a bit on the ridge proper

Rick downclimbing a bit on the ridge proper

Rick ready to be done

Rick almost done with the traverse

A few more hundred vertical feet of class 3 scrambling on the ridge proper landed us on the large plateau leading up to Powell’s summit block. We saw another climber on the summit ridge waiting for his partner and we all soon caught up with those guys and ascended the familiar Powell summit block consisting of about 100′ of blocky scrambling.

Marc on some fresh snow approaching Powell's summit block with the traverse laid out behind him

Marc on some fresh snow approaching Powell’s summit block with the traverse laid out behind him

I think it was maybe around 1:30pm when we topped out on Mt. Powell and we could definitely see darker clouds and snow showers to our north. We got down out of the wind and ate our sandwiches. It was great to be on the summit of Mt. Powell again and be off the traverse especially with weather moving in. The views are absolutely amazing to the south with the entire Gore Range spread out beneath us. So many familiar peaks were visible and so many more since the last time J and I had climbed Mt. Powell (June 2008).

J reaching Powell's summit

J reaching Powell’s summit

Marc & Rick on the summit of Mt. Powell

Marc & Rick on the summit of Mt. Powell

Mt. Powell summit (13,580')

Mt. Powell summit (13,580′)

Eagle's Nest from Mt. Powell

Eagle’s Nest from Mt. Powell

After 25 minutes on the summit, we boogied down Powell’s standard south slopes route for about 2,000′ and reascended 200′ or so to Kneeknocker Pass. It snowed on us on the descent and the views of Peak C’s north face in the snow were pretty cool.

The always inspiring Peak C

The always inspiring Peak C

Peak C's  snowy north face from below the east side of Kneeknocker Pass

Peak C’s snowy north face from below the east side of Kneeknocker Pass

Peak C’s north face is a route I hope to climb at some point. I believe the face already has one established line at 5.7, but has the potential for more lines which would likely go at mid-5th class and up. Kneeknocker Pass definitely lived up to its name as our knees were “knockin'” on the descent down its east side. We took a nice break in what I like to call “Kneeknocker Meadows” and ate some food, re-filled with water from the stream, and chatted away with one other. It was a fine day. We finally had 4 miles or so of nice trail out to J’s volvo at Piney Lake, which our friend and J’s employee Kristin had so nicely left for us the day before. Thanks, Kristin!

J descending Kneeknocker Pass with Piney Lake, our final destination, beyond

J descending Kneeknocker Pass with Piney Lake, our final destination, beyond

We finally arrived at the volvo around 5:10pm for a total time of just shy of 12 hours since we departed that morning from the Surprise Lake Trailhead on the east side of the Gores. Our legs were definitely feeling it a bit. My quads, especially. All in all, a good tired and we were all so happy the day worked out so well.  After another few hours of car shuttling, picking up cars back at the Surprise Lake Trailhead, eating Chipotle in Silverthorne with the boys, I finally arrived at home around 10pm.

Thanks to J, Rick, & Marc for a super memorable day in my favorite range. It was awesome to finally complete the Eagle’s Nest to Powell traverse and have a blast on it to boot thanks to the wonderful camaraderie and positive attitude. Cheers, fellas!