Indian Peaks Traverse: Shoshoni Peak, Apache Peak, Navajo Peak, Niwot Ridge
August 26, 2010
- Shoshoni Peak - 12,967 ft / 3,952 m
- Apache Peak - 13,441 ft / 4,097 m
- Navajo Peak - 13,409 ft / 4,087 m
- Niwot Ridge - 13,023 ft / 3,969 m
- 4,345' Elevation Gain
- 11.25 miles RT
- RT Time - About 12 hours
- Participants - A blonde chica (aka Goldielocks) and Pete Castricone (castricone7)
*This traverse included the Kasparov Traverse.
Goldielocks and I arrived at the Brainard Lake recreation area around 7 a.m. We parked in the parking area just east of the Long Lake trailhead, since the road was closed for construction. We were the only ones there. We packed up and were about to start our trek when I slammed my new sunglasses in the Xterra's back door. Fortunately, I was able to piece them back together, and we were off.
Within a few minutes, we were on the well marked and well trodden trail heading to Lake Isabelle. We made swift progress past Long Lake, which is a very long lake, and up the trail to the turnoff right before the dried up Lake Isabelle. After wasting several minutes attempting to get a GPS signal with my new Droid X, we continued up to Pawnee Pass, where we stopped to snap a few photos. The Little Pawnee to Pawnee traverse looked awesome from here. In retrospect, it would have made the day even better (and more challenging) by adding this at the beginning of the day. On the trail, I noticed that my trail runners were not gripping the rock very well, which concerned me considering the traverse we were about to attempt. Nevertheless, we strapped up and climbed the minor talus slope to the summit ridge of Shoshoni and the adjacent towers.
While we took a short break and grabbed a bit of food, Goldielocks noticed some water dripping beneath my pack. Turns out, my camelback pinch valve was being pinched by the rock and most of my water had drained out. Not a good way to prepare for a long ridge traverse.
The rock spires and exposure on Shoshoni are impressive but it opened up to a broad plateau as we approached the Kasparov Ridge, so named due to the towers and spires which someone thought looked like chess pieces. I don't know about that, but the ridge is quite a masterful work of class 4+ scrambling. The first sections of the ridge get the adrenaline going but are relatively straightforward, and I was able to keep up with Goldielocks along the crest of the class 4 ridge with my less than perfect shoes.
It seemed quite obvious that any difficult sections could be bypassed by dropping down the sunny side of the ridge and continuing; however, as anyone who has climbed with Goldielocks knows this is never the appropriate option. When attempting any ridge traverse, the objective is to stay on the ridge crest or as close to it as possible. When crossing towers along the route, you climb the face and down climb the back side, or you find an alternate way down. You never just walk around an obstacle without at least attempting to climb it.
Such was the case for me, as I had to retreat on a couple of occasions while Goldilocks forged higher. Regardless, the ridge goes along the south side, although I had to find a proper route. There was one occasion where Goldielocks guided me across a very exposed move that I would rate at 5.7. I had to make a committing sidestep with three fingers on a 1/2" bump and one bad shoe on another 1/2" bump, in order to grab an out of reach knob. We did not pull out the rope but, obviously, I made it. I would not have attempted this if I had any doubts; however, the lesson here is that I unwisely followed a more skilled rock climber across an exposed move without the proper protection. I should have found a safer route, even though it would have forced me at least 50 feet lower. Still, I made it and moved on. There were many areas where I had to downclimb class 4 faces. This was the most intimidating aspect of the climbing.
I apologize for not referring to the named features along the Kasparov. We were not keeping track of them and, quite frankly, it doesn't matter. The objective was not to climb a few randomly named rocks but to complete the entire ridge traverse. Thus, we climbed along the ridge proper and avoided the excursions to the more difficult spires (Rook and Bishop's Scepter, which are not along the direct ridge). We had a long day ahead of us still.
Approaching Apache, we split up, as I traversed along the sunny bowl and Goldielocks enjoyed some face climbing. Routefinding was enjoyable, and my strength was holding out. We could not have asked for better weather. We nailed Apache Peak and ate some lunch, basking in the hot sun and guzzling the last of Goldielocks's Powerade. The only remaining fluid we had was the contents of Goldielocks's camelback (which, by the way, is a child's size).
The traverse from Apache to Navajo is much like the Kasparov. Lots of Class 3-4+ with some exposure. Again, we chose to complete this as directly as possible. Along the way, we had to descend a ways into a very loose notch and face climb back to the ridge. Goldielocks opted for some Class 5 vertical slabs, no surprise, while I ascended what appeared to be a worn trail to the summit. Loved it. We high-fived on the summit and sipped from the camelback. It was nearly empty, and we had drank only a few mouthfuls of water for most of the afternoon.
Now, I know this report is very brief and direct but let me assure you this was not an easy traverse. The rock is very solid but due to the exposure and verticality of the ups and downs along the ridge, constant attention and focus is required. This not only wears down the body, it wears down the mind. There are few moments where one can relax along this traverse, and the only real escape options are the iced up glaciers. Although we brought our axes solely for this reason, at no point did we ever consider using that option. Thus, the ridge taxes the mind again, as you come to the realization that long Niwot Ridge awaits.
We climbed down the back side of Navajo toward the south and along the easy ridge toward Niwot Ridge. Niwot is not really a peak, because it stretches out for quite a ways. We were never really certain where the high point was, but we concluded that the ridge goes at 4th class. Most of it is Class 3, but I was sure to lead Goldielocks across a nicely exposed slab as a little payback. She was surprised that I hopped over it so easily. She did not know how fast my heart was beating.
So, of course, we ran out of water. I've never been so thirsty in my entire life. I craved water and Pepsi with every step.
Niwot Ridge may have been some of the more interesting scrambling of the day, but it seemed to go on forever. We encountered some very appealing slabs to climb and finally made it up to a point where someone had erected a rather tall cairn (taller than me). From here, it was all down hill, which took a very long time. By this point, my knee was in pain and my toes were completely smashed (one of the disadvantages of wearing trail runners). Two months later, I still have 5 black toenails.
Since we were out of water and absolutely thirsty, we descended the north slopes toward the end of Long Lake. We bushwacked through some forest and across a boggy meadow before we hit the stream. Goldielocks filled up my water bottle, and I slammed the entire liter, four hours since my last sip of water. This is also where I believe I lost my sunglasses.
We crossed the stream on a slippery log and a few minutes later hit the trail we had come in on. It took a while to get back (did I mention that Long Lake is really long?), but we took our time, now that our thirst was happily satiated, and reached the car just before the sun started dropping. We drove out to a gigantic red moon and refueled with horrible, spicy chips and delicious Pepsi soda.