Mount Edwards: 13,850 feet; Argentine Peak: 13,738 feet
Class 2+ snow climb (Edwardian Couloir)
Distance (round-trip): 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,210 feet
I love this time of year in the mountains. A long winter slog with abundant slopes of deep powder has given way to rock, alpine tundra, wildflowers and rushing streams. With more accessible trails and couloirs full of hard-packed snow, any number of climbs or hikes is available for the taking. Living in Colorado, one can go almost anywhere and be assured a scenic experience.
Looking down the Edwardian
These things I pondered as I lay in bed earlier in the week. I had taken leave to go climbing on Thursday and Friday, but instead I found myself inside, trying to fight off a nasty stomach flu. I was still hesitant to go anywhere on Saturday, but by Saturday night I had given up on staying inside–I needed to at least climb something on my four day weekend.
So, by midnight Saturday I found myself at the Horseshoe Basin Trailhead, being serenaded to sleep by a rushing creek and howling coyotes.
My goal? The Edwardian, a south-facing couloir on Mount Edwards, short enough to compensate for my weakness, while interesting enough to make it worthwhile. In fact, I was looking forward to this snow climb; I just hoped my body could handle it.
I left my jeep just after 5 AM, alone in the magnificent Horseshoe Basin. My objective was already clearly visible ahead. I trudged up the dirt road, not feeling great. After a mile or so, I left the road at a prominent switchback and began hiking the steepening slopes to the base of the Edwardian. I began feeling worse at this point, and I slowed considerably. After a few stops and abundant hydration, I began feeling better, and by the time I was in the couloir, I forgot all about sickness. At the first snow slope, I strapped on my crampons and helmet, and from there everything got better.
Route to Mount Edwards
I have climbed several couloirs and steep snow slopes, but usually during the winter, when the snow has not been in prime condition. By late June, most snow is solidified, especially early in the morning, making for great snow climbing conditions. I finally got to experience this harmony of nature with the Edwardian. Over a thousand vertical feet of solid snow, though broken intermittently, allowed for great cramponing all the way to the 13,500 foot saddle west of Mount Edwards.
The views of Grays, Torreys, and Kelso Mountain were a nice prize after gaining this lofty perch. However, the sudden winds kept me moving. It was an easy hike along the ridge from there to the true summit of Mount Edwards. As I made my way to the top, I noticed a couple large mountain goats standing at my destination. In fact, as I got closer, I saw one of them was actually standing right next to the summit cairn and register. I slowly continued moving closer, and the goat moved enough to allow me to stand atop the summit of Mount Edwards and sign the register.
The time was seven o’clock. I had never been so close to such big goats before, and their size was intimidating. There were a couple little ones as well. Altogether, there were ten in the herd. Two of the goats stayed on the steep northern slopes, clumsily knocking rocks down all over the place below me. I took several photos, but I was never able to get all ten goats in one shot. They seemed intent on lounging around at the summit, and I had no intention of disturbing them further, so after signing the log, I started downhill on easy slopes toward my next destination: Argentine Pass.
I don’t know what it was about this short tour atop the Continental Divide, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Maybe it was the warm sun, or the green tundra, the pleasant walk, the beautiful scenery... It was a perfect place and time to reflect on all the blessings of life and enjoy God’s creation to the fullest.
My silent reverie was interrupted by three more large goats that appeared as I came to the pass. These three were not so excited about meeting me; instead, they high-tailed it out of there, and up the ridge leading to the summit of Argentine Peak. I have no idea what their agenda was for the day, but I was about to interrupt it some more, for I was headed up that ridge as well.
On the Argentine Pass Trail
As I continued up the gentle slopes leading to Argentine Peak, the goats always stayed just far enough away from me to feel safe. They would go higher, and then I would go higher. Eventually, I gave them a break and contoured around a large hill to gain the final slopes to the summit. As I came to the secondary saddle before the final rise, I looked behind and above me to see the three goats standing atop the hill. They were looking at me, perplexed, as if to say “We came all this way to get away from you, and now you are in front of us. So now where are we supposed to go?”
The goats did not take too long to reach a decision; they proceeded to plop down on the ground and relax. It seemed as if they enjoyed watching me finish the remaining work of hiking the slopes to Argentine’s summit. At 9:15 I arrived at the quiet, serene summit of Argentine Peak. I stayed fifteen minutes to take in the scenery (the summit log was nonexistent), then began my descent.
The trip down the trail from Argentine Pass was as enjoyable as it had been hiking along the Continental Divide. The easy-walking trail cut gently down the steep slopes of Argentine Peak, all the way back into Horseshoe Basin. This basin was spectacular from this hanging vantage point, as were the views of Grays Peak and Mount Edwards. I passed several other hikers who were enjoying the day as much as I was, and by eleven I was back at my jeep. This small trip was not originally what I had in mind for the four day weekend, but it sure beat being stuck in bed with the flu!