The alarm went off at 4:40 but I snoozed a couple of times before rolling out of bed at 5:00. I got my gear together and headed up Poudre Canyon. The plan was to hit Tepee Mountain and Mount Richthofen from Agnes Lake, then traverse over to Static Peak and descend via Static Peak's east ridge. This would put me far away from the car so I would have to descend down along Michigan River to Michigan Ditch and then hike another 3.5 miles around Nokhu Crags back to the car.
This time of morning there was no traffic and I rolled into the parking lot below Agnes Lake at 7:00. There was only one other car in the parking lot. The temps were comfortable and I didn't need a jacket or anything as I hiked up the 0.8-mile trail to Agnes Lake.
After reaching the lake I skirted around the west side of the lake looking for signs of fish. I didn't see any fish rising or anything cruising but I could tell somebody had good luck because there were several piles of fish guts along the shore. After passing the lake I headed up toward the Richthofen-Mahler saddle. I stayed on the west side as much as possible as the rocks where much bigger there and the going was more boulder-hopping rather than floundering around on talus and scree.
Eventually I was forced off the larger rocks onto talus. I struggled up this for a while until I hit a not-so-steep snowfield. I made my way up this for a ways until it got steeper and then I finally relented and slogged up a scree slope. This sucked but I was very thankful for my trekking poles. It was one step forward, and then slide half a step back, with every stride. If I didn't have the trekking poles progress would have been even more painful. After I made it up the 100-foot section of scree the going was easier up to the saddle.
Once on the saddle I enjoyed the view. I took a closer look at Mount Mahler and looked for Tepee Mountain. From the saddle the closest peak to the south I could see was Lead Mountain and the terminus to its north ridge (which looks like a summit in its own right). At the time I wasn't sure if this was Tepee Mountain or not. If it was, it was way too far away for me to attempt from Agnes Lake. I had thrown Gerry Roach's RMNP guide in my pack so I got that out and studied it along with my map. Sure enough Tepee Mountain was much closer (though out of site behind Richthofen's south ridge). I decided to contour along Richthofen's western slopes instead of attaining the ridge proper directly. This worked out well and I was able to keep things in the class-2 range until I attained the ridge proper. Upon attaining the ridge I got my first good view of Tepee Mountain. Two things came to mind: that's a really cool looking mountain, and what was Roach smokin' when he called that a class-2
It looked anything but class-2 and I wasn't entirely sure I could make the summit. However I was determined to give it my best shot and I left my trekking poles behind and set off. About fifty feet down the ridge I was confronted with the first major obstacle: a fifteen-foot gendarme. It would take several exposed class-4 moves to make my way on top of this. Being that I'm not a huge fan of exposure I decided to descend down the east side of the ridge a little ways and traverse below the gendarme before regaining the ridge. I did this but it involved crossing a steep, wide, rock slab with
only very shallow cracks for foot and handholds. This was probably just as difficult and risky as climbing over the gendarme but it wasn't exposed. After crossing the rock slab I scrambled back up to regain the ridge. For the remainder of the ridge I tried to stay as near the top as possible. This meant mostly class two and three scrambling mixed with a smattering of class-4 moves (but only one or two at a time, nothing sustained). After continuing for a ways I was confronted with the vertical headwall of the summit block. At this point I was a little ways down on the west side of the ridge so I scrambled up along the base of the vertical wall of rock to the ridge proper. Looking around the eastern side I found that this was just as impassible as the headwall. My only alternative was to descend back down the gully to the west, hoping there was a way up around the west side of the summit block.
I descended down the gully, hugging the vertical wall of rock to my south. I curved around the western side of the summit block and toward the bottom of the gully I found a cairn, so I figured I was on the right track. I little ways past the cairn I found another gully leading back up around the south side of the summit block. I ascended this to reach Tepee's south ridge. From the south ridge I gazed upon Tepee's eastern summit. It was a sheer rock wall rising from the saddle between the two at least 50 feet to the summit. There was no way I would have been able to reach its summit from the western summit. I then turned my attention to the western summit. I was almost there. Only a tricky 30-foot scramble remained between me and the summit. I decided to continue up the south ridge as far as I could and then ascend directly west up to the summit. This entailed some steep class three climbing mixed with a couple of awkward class-4 moves. I made it unscathed.
I rested for a few minutes on the summit and admired the view. I had an excellent view of Mount Richthofen to the north and Lead Mountain to the south. I took particular interest in Mount Mahler as well. Mount Mahler is an impressive looking mountain and after seeing some photos of it I had added to my wish list. In his RMNP guide Gerry Roach recommends traversing the southern face after achieving the Mahler-Richthofen saddle and then ascending the southwest ridge to reach the summit. He also specifically cautions against the east ridge. From my vantage point on Tepee, I could see why he doesn't recommend the east ridge, and traversing the gullies on the southern face didn't look very attractive either. It looked to me like the most attractive routes would be the southwest ridge from the west, or the north face from Lake Agnes.
After scoping out Mount Mahler and finishing my snack I collected my gear and began the return leg to Richthofen's south ridge. While I circled around the summit block of Tepee I began to notice the weather. Puffy clouds were building to the west and flying overhead. Occasionally they'd blot out the sun and the temperature would drop noticeably. I was a little worried about this, as I didn't want to get caught on a ridgeline in a thunderstorm. I figured that the summit of Mount Richthofen was my point of no return. From the summit of Mount Richthofen it was a relatively quick and easy descent back down the west ridge to the Richthofen-Mahler saddle and then down to Lake Agnes. However, once I passed Richthofen there was no easy escape. All the faces beyond Richthofen were either very steep the whole way, or cliffed out. If I continued beyond Richthofen I was pretty committed to Static Peak and its east ridge. The only other option would be to retrace my steps back over Richthofen. So I made up my mind that I would evaluate my situation on top of Mount Richthofen. There I would decide if I should return to the car or go after Static Peak.
I made my way back across Tepee's north ridge pretty much the way I had come until I cam to the backside of the gendarme. This time I decided to descend down the west side of the ridge and traverse below the gendarme. This turned out to be about as difficult as my descent and traverse down the east side of the ridge. Eventually I popped back out on the ridge and collected my trekking poles. From the summit of Tepee back to Richthofen's north ridge the weather situation had not changed. I ascended directly up Richthofen's south ridge. This was easy class-2 scrambling up nice big boulders. It only took me a few minutes to reach Richthofen's west ridge. Once on the west ridge it was an easy stroll across the relatively flat ridge top to the base of gully I needed to scramble up to reach the summit.
Once at the base of the gully I stowed my trekking poles and scrambled up it to the summit. I found the scramble easy and the rock much more solid than I had expected. On the summit I had another snack, rested a bit, signed the summit registry, and studied the clouds to the west. They had not changed since I'd first become concerned. There were lots of puffy clouds way off to the west and they were scudding overhead. However, I had not had any indication of thunder or lightning so I decided to continue on.
The descent down Richthofen's north ridge took its toll on my legs. The north ridge consisted of a wide expanse of brick-sized talus. This really tired out my knees and ankles as I descended it. I was glad when I had lost all the elevation and started crossing the relatively flat saddle between Mount Richthofen and Static Peak. Soon I was across the saddle and began the ascent of Static Peak's south ridge. This was an easy class-1 scramble up nice basketball-sized boulders. Upon reaching the summit at noon I gazed down into the American Lakes basin. This is one of my very favorite places and it was real pleasure to behold it again. I sat down to rest, had a snack, and studied Static Peak's east ridge. I was a bit apprehensive about this route, what with Roach calling it an "exposed knidge-edge" and his way under-rating of Tepee Mountain's north ridge (in my humble opinion). So after my short break I girded up my courage and set off.
The first hundred yards were fairly easy. The drop down the north side of the ridge was sheer and inspiring, but the south side was pretty gently. After descending down this first section the situation changed dramatically the ridge narrowed to about two to three feet wide and the southern slopes of the ridge steepened dramatically while the northern slopes remained near vertical. The exposure was intense and the scrambling challenging. For the next hour I remained 100% focused on the task at hand. I double checked every hand and foothold and was diligent in maintaining my balance so that I didn't have to rely to heavily on my holds. For the most part I felt the rock was a lot more solid that Roach let on, but a single mistake resulting in a fall down either the north side or the south side of the ridge would certainly mean death. The exposure and challenging scramble were consistent as I made my way down the ridge. The long eastern leg of the ridge was relatively flat and lost little elevation. After about an hour of scrambling the ridge curved to the north, the exposure decreased, and the rate of elevation loss increased.
As with the descent off Mount Richthofen, the descent down this steeper part of the ridge really sapped my legs and consequently I made really poor time down to Snow Lake. I finally made it at about two o'clock, found a nice rock to rest on, took of my boots and socks, and laid down. I rested for about fifteen minutes before mustering the strength to pull my socks and boots back on. I'd been hiking and scrambling for seven hours, but I still had a long way to go as far as horizontal distance to cover. I had two choices. I could hike down to American Lakes and skirt around Nokhu Crags' long east ridge and bushwhack my way below Nokhu Crags to the service road that runs along the Michigan Ditch and hike along that back up to the car, or I could just follow the trail back down along Michigan River to where it intersects the service road. The first option might cut a mile off my hike and give me a tremendous view of Nokhu Crags, but as tired as my legs were I figured I was better off taking the well maintained trail back down to the service road. This I did and after nearly another hour and a half of hiking I made it back to the car at 4:45.
I was thoroughly spent, but well satisfied with the day's hiking. I was especially pleased with myself for my successful summit of both Tepee and Static. With the minimal beta I had, difficult scrambling, intense exposure, and being solo (without the encouragement/shame factor) I felt they were a real accomplishment. The descent back down Poudre Canyon to Fort Collins was uneventful and long as I was stuck behind the weekend traffic. Unlike I70 though, the traffic moved along at near the speed limit the whole time and I had public radio reception on the radio. I caught most of "This American Life" and "Living on Earth." Sometimes I'm not a huge fan of "This American Life" because it tends to have stories on pathetic losers who whine about how much their life sucks. However, this show they had a couple of really interesting stories, one about a guy who had won and lost several fortunes gambling in Vegas and who supported his losing streaks by driving a limo, and another really great short story by Ira's buddy (I forget his name but he's always reading something or other on the show) about the biblical fall of man (Eve eating of the forbidden fruit). It was beautifully written and really gave personality and motivation to the characters in the story--namely Eve, the snake, Adam, and to a lesser extent God. Anywho, I enjoyed the radio shows as I made my way home.
Another fantastic day in the Mountains. May there be many more.
Great report. I love that area. Over thanksgiving I climbed North Crags, and I got my first good look at Static Peak. I will be using your beta when I head that direction again. Great job covering Northern Colorado!
Thanks. You'll love Static Peak's east ridge. It's probably the most fun 3rd class scrambling I've ever done. The rock is much better than the rest of the neighboring peaks. The American Lakes basin alone is worth the trip - it's really beautiful.