Ice Cubed: my first experience climbing in Colorado!
When Scott and Amy invited me to go climb with them, I couldn’t refuse. So I said “yes” and the next thing I knew we were going over the trip. It was a climb that they have wanted to do for quite some time, but I had never heard of. I just moved from California out to New Mexico and had only been to Colorado 3 times in my life, two of those trips were this Summer, both were to the San Juan’s which I instantly fell in love with and have been dreaming about ever since. I’ve been itchin’ to get some peaks, any peak, under my belt, and this was the opportunity. So here is my first experience climbing in Colorado and first trip report, of the infamous “Ice Cubed” climb in the Sawatch Range.
We arrived at the camp site at dusk, 4 wheelin’ it to the end of the road to get as close to the trailhead as possible. The weather was good; warm, with a low chance of thunderstorms for the next couple of days. At 5:00 am we headed up the Apostle Basin Trail, carefully following the directions from the Summitpost site which clears up the inaccurate beta from Roach’s book, apparently. We easily found where the trail forks off and the large log crossing the stream. From there it was a fast hike to the marshy Apostle Basin which we reached right as the sun was coming up.
Personal note: At this point I was feeling pretty good physically. I had been running all Summer and had a couple of ultra races under my belt, so I figured now was as good a time as any to climb. I had also started rock climbing again, although I hadn’t climbed in a couple of months. I knew Scott and Amy were in great shape, but I didn’t realize just how great until we hiked the first couple of miles. I was definitely impressed, especially since Amy was 5 months pregnant! She kicked my butt all day long and felt great the whole time. It was such a good feeling knowing I was doing this climb, which is notoriously dangerous, with such experienced and capable people.
At the basin it was fairly easy to figure out where to go; just keep left, up and to the left. As we made our way through we came upon a steep, grassy slope. We couldn’t find any cairns, and decided to ascend. We got to the top, and started to traverse left again and came upon a ridge. At the top of the ridge, we could see a small lake below with what looked like a trail. We made the decision to descend down into the basin to get on the trail rather than traverse what looked like a nasty, steep, talus and scree filled slope. It’s funny now thinking about it because we pretty much spent the rest of the day climbing and traversing the same kind of terrain! It was a good call though, and I’m glad we did it.
Looking up from the lake, it was apparent that we would be spending the next hour or so heading up some challenging stuff, so I kept my head low and cleared my mind. This was when I started to feel the elevation. Damn! Since moving to 7,000 ft., I have yet to acclimatize and still get winded pretty easily. I knew climbing above 12,000 would be tough for me, but I just kept moving as fast as possible, having to stop about every 7 steps or so to let my breathing and heart rate mellow out a bit. This would be my pace for climbing the steep stuff for the rest of the day. It was mentally challenging and meditative at the same time. The battle for me was to monitor my bodily sensations while at the same time trying to keep a clear mind so I could concentrate and stay focused. This climb demands that you stay focused due to the loose rock.
As we made our way up to the saddle there were varying degrees of difficulty, terrain, and rock. It had everything; meadow grass and flowers, large boulders, loose dirt and small rocks, loose talus. If you didn’t like one thing, you just had to wait a little bit and it would change. There is a great section on the route where you can hear the rushing water underneath a field of big boulders. And there were great little footholds in the grassy areas that were the front porches of little animals. I was glad none came out to greet my foot as I momentarily trespassed on their property. The saddle was a bit breezy and cool and we had a snack and rested a bit before ascending N. Apostle.
Ascending N. Apostle was, in my opinion, the easiest of the three peaks. Of course it was steep, but not that bad. There was some loose rock, but the rock was generally larger-sized talus. Most of the rock was pretty solid and it was easy to scramble up. The route was easy to follow; just head straight up the ridge, staying on the West face. The summit had some great views and was very enjoyable. The downclimb was also the easiest we would experience for the day and soon we were back at the saddle again and ready to head up Ice.
I followed Scott and Amy as we made our way up the “Northeast Ridge” route. Here I have to give them credit for knowing where to go. As we made our way up I overheard their conversation of where we should go and what I remember most was looking for “the traverse” and finding “the couloirs”. We made the traverse, which had some steep and very loose sections, and started working our way up the couloirs. I had heard the couloirs was the crux of the climb, but I found it to be really fun and much easier than I thought it would be. Granted, I would not want to do that climb if the rock was wet, in bad weather, or in icy/snow conditions! If any of those conditions presented themselves, I would want to rope up. This was the most fun I had on the trip and I was kinda bummed that the section was so short! I’ll take that couloirs over the crazy loose crap any day! Up a little bit more from the couloirs, and voila, we were at the summit.
I was so stoked to be on that summit. And in a way I felt done. I could have stopped there, but we had one more to go. Ah yes, the question that plagues us: should I just grab that other peak since I’m right here? The answer: hell yes! That is if the weather is good, right? Well, we had no excuse and we were there to do a specific route. Plus, if you do “Ice Cubed” you end up doing a loop and are committed to the route, so there’s no bailing out and no other way to do it. So on to W. Apostle….
I could tell by the look on Scott’s face that he knew something that I didn’t know and he was holding back a little bit. Scott and Amy both were totally positive and supportive during the whole trip, but Scott would admit AFTER the climb that the next section we were to attempt was “hell”. I agree, it was very challenging, for me especially.
The downclimb from Ice wasn’t too bad to start, but we soon found our way to the steep, loose, scree fields. Yes, it sucked, but we did it. Scott and Amy worked with me, teaching me how to “scree ski”. I did my best, but I was slow. We descended quite a bit and started our traverse. Rather than traverse down low in the looser stuff, we stayed a little bit high. This gave us the variation of traversing loose scree, loose talus, and some scrambling. From Ice on, everything is sketchy and loose all the way to Lake Ann. I just tried to pace myself, but felt a little spent by this point. We made the traverse and found ourselves climbing to the summit. It was pretty straightforward. There was a mix of terrain, but the summit climb was not as nearly bad as the traverse getting there. I was happy to be at the summit, especially to register as this was the only summit register we found and there’s something about writing your name with the purpose of stating “I was here”.
Personal note: One thing I didn’t want to admit at this point was that I was tired, I had just run out of water (and I carried 84 ounces!), and even though I was hungry, I just couldn’t eat. I forced myself to eat and Scott had a little extra water which got me through the rest of the climb. I knew I’d feel better as soon as soon as I got below 12,000 ft. so I just pushed through it. There were some others things too, but I accept these things as part of the learning experience, and am making many mental notes; must buy a better pair of shoes, must eat more, etc…
We did not linger. We started looking down at where we needed to go and Scott had that look on his face again. We made our way down the ridge to the lowest, unnamed, summit. We saw Lake Ann from the top and knew that’s where we needed to go, but looking at the endless scree/talus fields that we would have to navigate to get there was disappointing (Ah shit, more of this stuff? As soon as the thought entered in, I let it go. My old master would be proud of me). One deep breath and it was time to head down and get this part over with! From the lower summit it was very taxing and I was so happy to get through it and get on some soft, grassy meadow tuft.
Lake Ann was beautiful. We hung out for a short while and then hit the trail running! We easily found the trail heading down and set off at a fast pace. Cold beer and cookies were calling and we were ready for a bit of a rest. The trail was awesome leading back to the campsite. We made it back to camp around 4:00 pm; not too bad considering one of us was 5 months pregnant and the other was a total newbie. 11 hours total. We gathered ourselves together and got ready to head out. Scott brought a beer for me (what a guy!) and we toasted my first “climb in Colorado”. I couldn’t have asked for a better day or better friends to share this experience with. Thanks Scott and Amy! It was an awesome day and I’ll never forget it.