- Introduction and post thoughts....
As far as experience goes and skill that only comes as a result of a piling up of years like dirty laundry, ones climbing and mountain prowess can usually be directly related to the years spent on all manner of rock, snow and ice and knowing the differences between subtle movements on similar terrain that makes passage either easier or just plain acceptable. On ‘our’ steady progression towards confidence on said terrain, there’s always the occasional couloir, odd mountain or seemingly unattainable line that we come across that fascinates us to the point of obsession or goals of a very singular nature. However, without the quantized slope of experience and learning, without properly riding the bell curve, obsession can turn into some nightmarish montage that only Reinhold Messiner and Rob Zombie can imagine.
As a personal measure, an internal yardstick if you will, I’ve had such destinations myself that I thought at the outside, would make for, “good high-water marks”. Two such obstacles were Thunder Pyramid and its traverse to Point 13,722 and a winter climb of Kelso Ridge. A few other goals I’m working towards are the North Couloir on Pacific Peak, Dreamweaver on Mt. Meeker and the Refrigerator Couloir on Ice Mountain, which, after last Saturday, now wears the prints of my Petzl’s.
Are there harder lines or routes of equivalent difficulty? Of course there is. There’s a hundred equal lines for every “Goliath” we perceive. Whether we’re just on our way or trail dusty from years of dirt bagging, the confidence that ensues is shared equally from the East Ridge of Mt. Quandary to the Ellingwood Arête of Crestone Needle. But taken on the inside, it’s the personal reasons that specify these couloirs, routes/lines that give them intrinsic value and importance. A climb or hike is so much more than a physical process. It’s an opportunity for internal growth and a chance for us to shine, a synarchy of privacy and philanthropy.
Scaling the Refrigerator was one such zenith.
- Friday June 27th.
|Peak Name||Elevation||Colorado Rank||Peak Name||Elevation||Colorado Rank|
|Ice Mountain||13,951||#59||North Apostle||13,860||#79|
|Mt. Hope||13,933||#64||Quail Mountain||13,461||#281|
I figured I’d arrive at the South Winfield trailhead early and just relax with a few beers and a Subway sandwich until everybody else got there. Problem was that I didn’t leave Avon until nearly 6:00pm. It’s amazing how much time running errands and getting vehicle maintenance can steal out of your day. As I was leaving Leadville, I called Brian Miller to see where he was. They were already en route to Leadville and thus not far behind me; at least the timing is working out. So I threw in some Sigur Rós and set the cruise until I arrived at Chaffee #390. As I turned onto the dirt road, Brian’s X-Terra was right behind me. There were a lot of people camping along the road, more than likely just for the weekend or to scale the easier behemoths of Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford. As we were driving down the road, we stopped and gawked at a cabin that had been torn clean off its foundation from an avalanche earlier last winter/spring.
"Wow. Now there's something you don't see everyday." I said. The hot water heater was still in the basement. We drove the last few miles down the road and arrived at the trailhead on a rough dirt road. Brian and his friend Chris Ferrero and I weren’t at the trailhead for more than 15 minutes when Pete Castricone showed up.
I met Pete a few weeks prior on a group SP snow climb of Dead Dog Couloir. We hit it off pretty well and thought it would be cool to again, meet up for something a bit ‘zestier’. So there were four of us ready to set out but two others still hadn’t yet arrived. Stephanie Lynn and Glen Maxson were en route from Fort Collins. Having a late start due to work, they would eventually meet up with us later that night. So after doing some Houdini tricks with some IPA’s and a few swigs of Reyka Vodka, we left the trailhead a little before 8:00pm, sneaking up on the Apostles in the enveloping darkness.
Brian and Chris had ventured up into Apostle Basin a couple weeks prior and got a decent look at the route and terrain but due to rain for most of that night, decided to wisely call off any type of climb or summit bid. So already knowing that the trail is difficult to follow once past the Lake Ann turnoff at 10,685ft, I marked various trees and branches with pink florescent surveyor’s tape to better guide Glen and Stephanie to our where-a-bouts in the upper basin on what turned out to be a very dark, opaque night. Per Roach’s description, we settled on the upper meadows and set camp somewhere around 11,400ft. Eventually, we saw two headlamps come bobbing through the forest like two drunken fireflies; good we’re all here! Stephanie and Glen had mentioned to me about the possibility of doing a night climb of the Fridge. I thought about it and mulled it over with the guys but we were just too intent on getting a decent night’s sleep. So we four pieces of six retired for the night, taking our leave of Glen and Stephanie to relax in solitude before their pre-dawn climb of Ice.
As most people who’ve ventured into the Sawatch Range know, these mountains are gentle giants that demand high vertical gain and typically, long approaches. The word Sawatch, a Ute word, means 'blue-green colour' or 'Waters of the blue earth'. Seems appropriate given the nature of this range (fact taken from Larry V's page on the Sawatch). The whole of the Sawatch Range extends from Avon/Vail Valley in the north and continues south for roughly 80 miles to Monarch Pass. Ice Mountain and North Apostle (and West Apostle) lie on the Continental Divide as it snakes through the heart of the Sawatch before diving south and within the friendly and beautiful confines of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This wilderness area possesses the highest average elevation of any wilderness designation in the lower 48 states and contains roughly 8 14ers and a small handful of centennials and hordes of miscellaneous 13ers.
This gentle and wildflower filled terrain comes complements of glaciers. The Three Apostles are like an odd, jagged amalgamate of San Juans and Elks precipitated out of a Sawatch solution. They make a nice alternative to what’s available in this part of the state and due to the odd boundaries, one is never more than a few miles from an access road or the outside world.
With an expanse as large as the Collegiates are, the question that runs through my mind is, why this little island of craggy, loose mountains exists in an otherwise stable and mellow terrain? From what I am able to discern and uncover, most of this answer lies in the geology of the Sawatch. In the northern half or portion of this range, the rock exists mostly as gneiss, schist and with veins of granite coursing through it at random intervals allowing for more of a stable structure. As one moves more deceidly south into the Central Sawatch, what happens is this presence of granite starts to become scarce. The geology surrounding The Three Apostles (including the mountains themselves) exists almost entirely of Precambrian Basement Mica-shist and gneiss with some granite of several different ages. The decrease of granite and the fact that what is present is not continous in age, probably aids directly in the rugged nature of a softer yet more easily erodable matrix giving way to veins and dikes of solid, stable rock in a larger concentration of unstable rock. Further south in the Sawatch Range, this basement matrix takes on a larger concentration of granite. So bordered to the south by considerably more stable rock, the remants of the Grizzley Caldera and Taylor Park then throw into this mixture the elements of rain, wind and gravity and the power of glacial activity and there you go! An exception to the rule!
“Kiefer. Are you up?” Brian asked from outside
- Saturday June 28th
“I’m up!” I said in a slightly stunned, half-asleep voice. As soon as I awakened, the first, random thing I thought of was George Clooney being wakened up in the movie, “O’ Brother where art thou?” when he say’s more than once, “My hair!” I have no idea why that was running through my head. For those who know me well, if I ever come down with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s going to be one hell of an entertaining ride! I hadn’t slept since Wednesday afternoon (working two jobs), so come Friday night when we finally bunked down I slept like the dead. Twenty minutes and one hamburger later, we were off down the trail in the translucent light of early dawn. Since the ground was saturated almost everywhere, we kept to the snow whenever possible. We all followed Chris into the upper basin underneath a good-sized cliff band. We contoured right and walked up an easier snow slope to gain the western side of this cliff section. On the other side and down below, sat a small cirque. It contained a small pool of melt water; a nice contrast to the wilderness of white that held it captive. I couldn’t get it out of my mind that from this angle; it looked like a massive blue contact lens. We stopped and put our points on; from here, it was all moderate snow traversing.
We again, followed Chris (who pretty much lead all day) on an ascending traverse. I would imagine that without snow, this area would be a scree nightmare. As we entered the apron of the couloir, we received our first and thankfully only incident of the day. Glen and Stephanie were on the traverse leading down to the saddle to N. Apostle. A larger rock got dislodged which in turn, knocked a lot of small rocks loose cascading down the “Disposal” (my name) which empties out into the lower portion of the Refrigerator. Chris yelled rock and we all did our best to scurry to the right out of harm’s way where there was at least some protection from the wall. This barrage lasted a few minutes but when you can actually hear the ‘whiz’ of the rocks flying by, those few minutes seem a hell of a lot longer. Brian ended up taking a fall and slid maybe twenty feet ending up scraping his hands pretty bad on his axe. After we re-grouped, gave Brian some band-aids, we surmised what would have caused that and vehemently agreed that this route during any other time other than spring would be downright dangerous.
The Refrigerator rears up almost immediately at nearly 50°. It maintains a pitch of no less than 47° and the whole couloir averages about 54° (based on five separate readings). Just below the crux near the top, the pitch went at 56° with the actual crux at 59° and change.
We stayed to the far right until we were well past the ‘disposal’. This left branch, crap scree gully was entirely melted out. The snow stayed very firm for most of the main couloir with the odd moment where we would punch through a few inches. All of us thoroughly enjoyed the Refrigerator though at only 800ft, it seemed too short.
I had brought a technical axe (second tool) and used it as often as I could. It wasn’t needed but since I had the chance to use it, the experience would be both great and beneficial. I found the upward movement while using it to be very smooth and fluid.
Above the crux, the slope lessened and nearly 40ft. later, we were at the col. A short scramble eastwards and soon the summit was ours! Ice Mountain and North Apostle definitely have some of the better views to be had anywhere in the Sawatch. From the summit, we could see Glen and Stephanie on the summit of North Apostle.
The traverse down to the saddle proved to be zesty. I believe its rated loose class-3 but you could easily make it class-4 with proper inattention. This traverse is very short but only drops 491ft. to the 13,460ft saddle. Don’t be fooled though. It takes most people about 45 minutes to an hour. There was a steep snow-filled gully that we had to cross; with one axe it wasn’t bad with two, it was a lark.
From the saddle, we knew it was a miserable class-2 talus slog to North Apostle’s summit from talking to Dominic and Sarah Thompson the previous week. Stephanie and Glen had waited on the summit for us for nearly two hours! So I have to tip my hat towards them for being so patient.
We stayed on the rather decently sized summit for a while longer watching three others ascend the Refrigerator. One of them skied it! That was pretty freaking cool!
We left North Apostle and glissaded back to treeline as much as we could. The slopes were gentle so we all generously threw ourselves down, most of the time feet first and Chris and I a couple of times, head first.
I was planning on staying an extra night and climb the Apostle Couloir and summit West Apostle the next day but instead, I took one of Glen’s ideas and ran with it. So after lunch back in Leadville and a few beers at Rosie’s with Matt (Del_sur from 14ers.com) who just happened to be in Leadville after scaling Mt. Massive the same day, I drove back down to Chaffee #390, slept at the Sheep Gulch trailhead and climbed Mt. Hope and Quail Mountain on Sunday.
Saturday was truly a spectacular kick-ass day!
- Sunday June 29th
My alarm went off at 5:00am. Man, I just did NOT want to get up, probably a combination of yesterday’s exploits, beer and it being 5:00am. So I reset the alarm for 7:00am. Since Mt. Hope is no more then 10 miles RT, I wasn’t too worried about weather or getting down if something moved in. Two hours later, I was gone up Sheep Gulch Trail. Gerry Roach definitely nailed this one. Sheep Gulch climbs at a very brisk pace rising 2,680ft in 2.5 miles until it tops out at Hope Pass (12,540ft). There was evidence of an old avy slide. More than likely due to the massive amounts of snowmelt and rain, Hope Pass Trail was a literal carpet of green, lush, verdant and humid vegetation. The wildflowers were out of control! I have to say; this mountain and trail come highly recommended.
At the pass, I veered west up Mt. Hope’s East Ridge, a very straightforward easy class-2 scramble. This ridge passes by the top of the Hopeful Couloir. From the lower portions of this ridge, the couloir looks to be rather boring but when viewed from the top, well; it has quite an exciting finish!
Mt. Hope is not located in the Collegiate Wilderness area although it’s surrounded by it on 2-3 sides and Hwy. 82 to the north.
Mt. Hope has some very distinguished friends: La Plata Peak, Mt. Elbert, Mt. Rinker and sharing many of these same distinguishing attributes, its summit is typical Sawatch- bulky, round and easy.
I stayed on the summit for 20 minutes in absolutely stellar Colorado weather getting a good look at Ellingwood Ridge. The descent wasn’t too thrilling, basically just a lot of talus side hilling (something I’ve definitely had my share of this season). I took another short break at Hope Pass before continuing on up the other side to Quail Mountain (13,468ft). Quail Mountain wasn't too bad and the loss of elevation from Hope Pass back up to the summit was basically nothing at all. This proved to be a short excursion with a surprise at the summit, two mining cabins and a collapsed mine! I swear the old timers were made of a whisky blend of perseverance, rusty nails, grit and determination that few today possess. Sometimes it's rather tacky and depressing to see all the old mining equipment still left on mountain sides but again, at the same time, it's something that enthralls me. To think people people hammered, nailed and whethered the elements in what must have been some of the severest winters in less-then-adequete clothing and yet kept going, driven by the promise of wealth is beyond amazing. Old mining ruins are proof of what the human spirit can and will endure. The Alpine Tunnel, Blue Lakes Basin, Yankee Boy Basin, California Gulch and all of West Leadville I think offer good testimony to this. The last statistic I heard was that Colorado has about 1/3 as many Ghost Towns as current occupied towns, seems Colorado has been ever a popular state.
I left the summit, arrived back at my truck rather quickly (even got in some trail-running) and drove home. I relaxed for a bit before going into work thus starting a new week.
A perfect weekend.