Ever since seeing Aaron's page on The Citadel I have intended to get out and climb it. With snow finally letting up and the arrival of some warmer temps, I was looking for something to climb with my friends Mike and Tim. Mike is my longtime climbing partner and Tim is his brother in-law to be, atleast up until this trip, from Canada. Considering our level of experience and the recent photos from Kane of the surrouding area, we decided it was time to pay a visit to The Citadel.
Our plan was to approach from Dry Gulch, gain the East Ridge and make a judgement call on the final portion once we got there and accessed the snow conditions. Just as we pulled up into the parking area we noticed three skiers heading up the trail. Little did we know that they had the same plan in mind.
After getting our gear together, we set off at a quick pace under clear,blue skies. The going was very easy and fast into Dry Gulch. Once we finally got into the snow and could see up the Gulch, we decided to head up some dry slopes about half way between Bethal and The Citadel. This proved to be a great choice and put us on a large bench just east of the saddle below The Citadel's East ridge proper.
We noticed the skiers taking a more direct ascent line but chose to continue along our planned route. We encountered a few sections of steep, well consolidated snow along the ridge. Once we passed a few rock bands, we finally got our first up close view of our objective. At this point we decided to get up to the prominent snow face and check the snow condtions. The long, corniced ridge provided some reminders that it's still early season in CO.
At the base of the face we finally got some perspective of how steep the face was. The conditions looked to be great for kicking steps, but to our suprise, our skier friends had already done the hard work. The climbing was steep with a nasty looking runout below. We took our time and enjoyed the exposure. Near a small notch to the left, we finally caught up with the skiers who were gearing up to ski the steep face. We exchanged greetings and continued on above them on the East Summit's narrow ridge. It was definately not the place to take a slip. Once on the East Summit we were rewarded with views of other spectacular peaks in the area such as Hagar and Pettingell.
From this summit, it appeared that the Western Summit was not only higher, but even more pinpoint. We contemplated the effort needed to get to that summit and decided that the snow conditions on the steep traverse would most likely never be this great and started across. The first section dropping down to the saddle was a bit dicey and ended with about and 8 foot drop into the saddle. From here is was pleasent scrambling to the top, with only enough room for one person at a time on the very top. We sat for a while, amazed at how steep the drops were in all directions. The going back over to the East Summit was uneventful and the weather was still holding up.
The East Summit offers an impressive view of Mount Bethal which sits at the terminus of The Citadel's East Ridge. Having all looked at Bethal countless times as we traveled I-70, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to add to an already perfect day. We discussed our options and decided to retrace our steps to the saddle and continue along the ridge to Bethal's summit. The going was great and we couldn't help but look repeatedly over our shoulders at The Citadel. We were very pleased with the conditions we had encountered and considered ourselves lucky to catch them just right.
The going to Bethal was easy and view filled. Once on top, we decided to descend Bethal's south slopes in the vicinity of the large snow fences. Some of you (Aaron) may be wondering why we chose to descend this steep route instead of retracing out steps. One reason is that it is a suggested alternative in Dave Muller's, "Colorado Summit Hikes for Everyone". Also, the steep snow slopes looked alot more pleasing than the rather loose slopes we had ascended to the summit. And lastly, it's just shorter.
Everything was moving along as planned with everyone taking their own time getting down. As I usually do, I kept looking back over my shoulder to make sure everyone was staying together. One of the times I looked over my shoulder, I noticed Tim sitting on the ground. When Mike asked him if he was OK, he calmly stated that he had fallen, was cut and needed to go to the Hospital. Wait a minute, did he say THE HOSPITAL. Yep, that's right.
We scrambled back to him and found him with a bloody forehead and a few scrapes. We looked him over and asked a few questions. He didn't really remember what had happened other than he slipped. I took a close look at his forehead and found a 3/4 inch laceration above his left eye which looked pretty bad but had already stopped bleeding. He and I both assumed that he had hit his head on the nearby rocks. Boy were we wrong. When Mike went back up to get Tim's ice axe, he noticed that the blood began there, long before the rocks. With this in mind we decided to encourage Tim to get up and slowly start down. I loaned him my trekking poles and took his pack.
The going was slow but steady and we finally found ourselves back at the car. It was then that it occured to me that Tim had not once complained, whined or been anything but positive. That kid was tough. We loaded up and made the 20 minute drive to the ER in Frisco where our worst fears were realized. Tim had fallen on the pic of his axe and punctured the sinus cavity above his left eye. Although not a life threatening injury, it was still bad enough for the ER to send him to Denver. In Denver he was seen by a specialist that stiched him up and said that he might even need a small plate to repair the hole in his sinus. At the time of this report, Tim was planning on returning to Canada and getting the work done there.
Despite all that had happened, Tim still insisted it was a great outing and plans to do it again soon. I'd have to agree that sans the accident, it was one of my favorite summits to date in Colorado.