OverviewWho: Josh and I
What: The Three Apostles
Where: Sawatch Range near Mount Huron (but way better)
Why: Sawatch Range capstone peaks
How: Apostle couloir and SW face on Ice with a seperate solo ascent of North Apostle
18 total miles hiked and 7,500 total elevation gain - Overall my favorite Colorado climbs to date
Climbing the Three Apostles has always been something I looked forwards to as kind of a "Sawatch finisher". Last year at this time I never thought I'd have the skills to climb Ice Mountain but after a year of hiking and climbing I have grown more comfortable with harder and looser terrain. My friend Josh (as well as many others Colorado natives) had always told me that Ice Mountain was a class 4 ascent however, me being the true believer in the accuracy of Roach's books, I argued my point to death that it can be done with only class 3 climbing. People gave me so much grief on 14ers.com for thinking this as many great mountaineers have been turned around on this mountain usually on the so called NE ridge (traverse from North Apostle). All I have to say is, do not do this route. Why this is the standard route on Ice is beyond me but it shouldn't be. It is hardly ever free of snow and when covered it is a very dangerous and difficult climb.
Anyways, I was ready to tackle the Three Apostles and my adventure began solo on May 28th where I climbed North Apostle. For this I was mainly looking to get a lay of the land and see what the best way up Ice would be, as well as climbing one of the centennial 13ers. On May 29th, I hiked the trail to Lake Ann to see the conditions on that side of West Apostle and lots of lingering snow below treeline and around the lake made me decide not to go over West Apostle to climb Ice. I got good look at the Apostle couloir and the NE ridge on Ice mountain from North Apostle and my climb was decided. I would climb Ice Mountain using the SW face route with the Apostle Couloir. This would prove to be the best climb I've done in the Sawatch.
May 28th 2012 - North ApostleI started by driving to the Huron trailhead to which I was surprised to see that my trusty 1987 Camry made it all the way to the end of the 4WD road at the gate. Since the weather was so nice, my casual 12 noon start wouldn't matter. I began hiking up the nice trail and entered the Collegiate Peaks wilderness after 0.6 miles and hit the signed junction for the Apostle Basin trail after 1.2 miles. I was greeted with fantastic views of the Three Apostles as I walked up the wide and lush valley.
I hiked up the Apostle Basin trail and was glad to see the trail was snow free all the way to the base of the large rock glacier extending down from Ice Mountain. Since my goal for the day was North Apostle, I hacked my way through the willows and followed the base of the rock glacier to an open 300 slope to the left. Climbing this talus and willow slope got me to the base of the large spire at the base of the west ridge.
There was some easy snow to climb to get to the base of this large spire that seemed to dominate my view to the southeast. Once at its base, I traversed around it on talus and made my way along the south side of this ridge crossing snow slopes and talus. Below me to the south was a small still frozen tarn and a high and wild basin still full of snow. Views to the north of Mount Huron were stunning.
Eventually I was able to locate the Refrigerator Couloir and was awed in amazement. It was still holding snow but thinning out fast. How anyone would climb this amazes me as one would have to be very accustomed to rockfall. I noticed a handful of Volkswagon sized boulders just chilling at the base of this couloir. Wonder how they got there???
As I climbed higher the talus got looser but not too unbearable. I located the choke I had to climb to gain the saddle between Ice and North Apostle. I saw moderate snow slopes for about 400 feet below it and put my spikes on to negotiate these slopes. Since it was around 2pm the snow was pretty soft but still firm enough to avoid postholing.
Climbing through this choke would have been a cakewalk if there was no snow but it was more fun with snow. After a couple class 3 moves to avoid the ice that had covered much of the rocks I was on my way up the final few hundred feet to the saddle. From this saddle, views down to the east revealed a part of the Sawatch very close to me, the Emerald Group. My first climb in the Sawatch was Iowa from Clohesy Lake via the loose west ridge in fall 2009. At that time I was in no way a climber or peak bagger and I ended up traversing around Emerald while my friend climbed it. I didn't think it was worth summitting and we descended to the small mining shed below Emerald before hiking back to the lake. Looking at these peaks brought back great memories of my first Sawatch sufferfest a few years ago. As I write this, I still have to climb Emerald, which is my last Sawatch centennial I need.
Climbing the final few hundred feet to the summit of North Apostle provided even more views of Huron, the Emerald group, and Ice Mountain. Man Ice was beautiful from this little perch and the standard route looked sketchy as hell. It was such a nice warm and calm day I sat here in complete solitude for over half hour before descending.
The descent was rather uneventful although I did manage some nice glissades below the choke. Hiking back down the trail back to the trailhead gave me some fantastic views of the Three Apostles and getting one last look at the Apostle couloir cemented my plans to climb Ice and West Apostle from this couloir in a couple days time. I got back to the car at 6:30 pm to see all the Huron hikers gone. Since this was Memorial day there was at least 20 cars at the trailhead. They were all on Huron though and I didn't see a soul of any of the Apostles. I cooked myself some dinner and camped by the car to a peaceful and warm night.
May 29th 2012I woke up and decided to make a quick hike up to Lake Ann to see the conditions up that way. It was an easy hike to about 400 feet below treeline where lingering snow in the trees made it a pain to get to the lake. It wasn't very hard as it was warm at night and the trail was completely hidden. I never actually reached the lake shore but I knew from the day before it was still frozen over. The snow in the trees pissed me off even more so I just turned around. This even further cemented my plans to go back to Apostle Basin and climb the Apostle Couloir. I drove back to Golden and invited Josh to join me on Ice Mountain. Since he had always been interested in this peak, he happily joined and so we had a good meal and decided to leave at 3am from Golden the next day. We had a fantastic weather forecast and were full of excitement.
May 30th 2012 - Ice Mountain and West ApostleThe alarms went off and by 3:45 we were on our way. I got to drive the 4WD road again and got more funny looks from campers along the road. Even had one guy tell me great work! By 8:00 am we began up the trail again and I could feel the anticipation in the both of us. Not only would this be a great Sawatch capstone peak for both of us, this was Joshs' first snow climb. I told him he would like it as you can gain elevation so quickly, which is one of his goals...to see how fast he can gain elevation. The approach was the same as it was for North Apostle but when we reached the base of the rock glacier, we climbed up on it and walked along it all the way up.
Around 12,400 feet in elevation we took a break, changed our footwear from approach shoes to mountaineering boots and put our crampons on. We hiked on the snow for a short distance to an old snow slide where the couloir got steeper and I ate a final snack knowing this was going to be a fast climb. Josh started his watch and we were both off. 800 feet of 40 degree snow lie ahead of us and a mere 19 minutes later, Josh made it to the saddle without stopping once. It took me 24 minutes as I had to take the occasional 10-15 second breather.
The couloir started around 35 degrees and ended at about 41 degrees. Upon reaching the saddle we were greeted with breathtaking views to the south and was glad to see the initial climb out of the saddle dry. We rested, boasted our climb times and took our crampons off and switched footwear again. The climb out of the saddle was a straightforward class 3 pitch and our long traverse across the SW face of Ice began. Rib after gully after rib after gully we continued the tedious traverse gaining little elevation. We had to keep on our game the entire time as there was the cliffs below us all the time. This traverse kind of reminded me of the ledges on Longs Peak. I guessed we crossed 7 or 8 ribs and gullies all of which were small. Some of the gullies held a little snow but overall the whole traverse was dry. We were looking for a significantly larger double gully system that would lead us right to the summit. I soon spotted a large gully ahead after an hour of traversing and we got into it. It had a distinct left and right fork though and we didn't know which one was correct so I took a glance at the first one (the one to the west) and said "this will work".
We began scrambling up this steep gully and to my great surprise this was pretty solid rock. I had been warned by the absolutely terrible rock on the south gully but as we climbed the rock seemed to just get better. The last couple hundred feet was blocky and solid making for enjoyable scrambling. This whole gully was sustained class 3 climbing. Just as we were approaching our last hundred feet though, Josh let loose a 40 pound boulder that instantly went roaring down the gully taking about a hundred other rocks of all sizes down and over the cliff at the bottom. What a sight this was. Good thing no one was below us...it would have been certain death as the entire gully was flying with large rocks below us. I can't stress this enough...DO NOT climb below anyone anywhere on Ice Mountain. Although the gully seemed solid (we ascended the wrong gully...more later) there were the hidden disasters waiting.
We soon reached the ridge somewhere between the false summit sppire and the true summit. It was at this point I realized we ascended the wrong gully as the one further east went straight to the summit. The false summit looked badass as it was a spire with one large boulder sitting on top!
The remaining route involved the only class 4 we would have. We scrambled along the ridge towards the summit and peered down the "fridge" couloir and were again awed. What a fantastic but dangerous route! We came to a cliff in the ridge that was overhanging forcing us to downclimb about 60 feet (4th class) to go around it. This dropped us into the correct gully for the route and the final hundred feet was a loose talus climb to a small summit. I was now sitting on my favorite mountain to date without a cloud in the sky at about noon. It was calm and warm and we spent 45 minutes sitting in this grand place admiring the views and what we accomplished. Taylor Reservoir to the south, Huron and company to the north and all the remaining Sawatch 14ers to the southeast. Looking down on North Apostle was pretty cool.
It was painful to leave this place but the time came and we began the long descent. We decided to descent the correct gully only to find that this was one loose place. This gully was by far the loosest place I've ever been. So loose I told Josh we would descend one at a time in 100 foot intervals. Even with my best efforts to keep rocks in place (which I consider myself very good at), I send hundreds of small rocks down the gully. Good thing no one was coming up...although it is likely rare to have more than one party on this mountain per day if any. We kept alternating on the descent down this gully until we got back to the place we entered the first gully just to the west where we re-traced our steps along the traverse. Maroon Peak seemed like solid granite compared to this stuff! Some long thin snow patches on the north flanks of each gully proved to be more problematic on the way back for whatever reason. We saw another huge rockslide across the valley in the upper Texas Creek basin before finally making it back to the saddle above the Apostle Couloir. We took another break, stashed our packs and began the east class 2 ascent up West Apostle. What a breather this was compared to Ice. Views of the SW face on Ice Mountain got better and better and looking at it from a distance made us think "How the hell did we cross that!" We reached the summit of West Apostle fairly quickly around 3pm and took another 45 minutes here admiring the views of Ice Mountain. I thought the views from this perch were better since we got a broadside view of Ice and the view directly down the valley was stunning. To the west lie Lake Ann.
As the day was winding down, we made the quick descent back to the saddle but we soon realized we have much more excitement to come. The snow in the Apostle couloir softened up enough to glissade so we donned our nylon pants, gloves and axes while putting everything else away and I was the first one to head down. It was one very fast glissade. Even though the run-out was completely clear of rocks, there were small rocks that had fallen into the couloir and just sitting there so I kept a firm grip on the brakes to avoid these rocks. Sometimes I would spot them ahead of time and turn myself! This made the descent back to the rock glacier very quick and fun. The remaining hike out was filled with talk about how great the climb was. By 4 pm we were on the trail heading back down through the trees. Clouds finally started to block the sun on the hike down but it didn't matter now. Once back at the car, there was no one else at the trailhead and the long drive home was capped with a stop at Subway in Leadville...my typical post-climb food.
AftermathI would highly recommend these peaks to others but I must warn everyone that experience on loose class 3 and 4 terrain is required as well as snow climbing experience. Make sure you go on a perfect weather day as escape from these peaks is difficult at best during a storm. The gully to the west of the main gully on the SW face is a better ascent option as it is much more solid. Descending either gully will work fine. Though people will disagree with me, I recommend this route over the standard NE ridge route. It isn't necessary to traverse from North Apostle to Ice in order to have loads of fun.
I hope everyone found this trip report useful...now I'm off to climb Emerald: one of my last Sawatch centennials and to reflect at how far I've come since 2009...and how far I still have to go to climb the mountains of my dreams.