Intro/StatsPeak Q (13230')
Peak R (12995')
Peak Q (13230')
Peak S (12857')
Peak T (12660')
Peak L (13213')
Peak K (12940')
Peak J (12942')
Peak P (12965')
Sept 3-6, 2011
Slate Creek Basin
Participants: Dominic, Sarah, Dwight, & Kevin
Backpack: 20.4 miles RT, 3800' gain
Climbing: 12.5 miles RT, 8100' gain
Ah, the forgotten Gores. I didn't even climb my first Gore summit until 2008, but I've made it a point to return at least once every year. A backpack trip to Slate Creek was in order as Sarah has been on a tear this summer to get the rest of her ranked 13ers done this year. It's been fun watching her progress. The Slate Creek letter peaks are rugged, with loads of scrambling. This place would be really busy if there was a 14er in the area or if the approaches weren't so long. Each summit that we visited had some unique surprises and each would not disappoint.
The problem with this basin is there are private property concerns that cause a very long approach from either the Brush Creek, Rock Creek, or Boulder Creek trailheads. Boulder Creek requires a dropoff or bike ride, so we opted for Brush Creek. The primitive, unmarked road to the trailhead is one of the steepest I have been on and gets very dicey when wet. We barely made it down without sliding off the road, so consider the forecast before committing to this approach.
We met Dwight at the trailhead and set off at 9am. The approach is actually pretty mellow, but there are many ups and downs as the Gore Range trail crosses many creek drainages. We met the Climbing Cooneys and their friend on the way to the lake, each of which has climbed over 500 13ers. Their goal was Peak L. The route hits the Slate Creek trail after about 5 miles and then you finally start gaining some elevation.
The pack in was easier than expected as it doesn't get steep until the last couple miles and we arrived at the Upper Slate Lake at about 3:15, setting up camp on the east side of the lake.
Day 2: Peaks Q, R, S & T
The priority for the first day of climbing was 13er Peak Q. We had learned the night before that at least 7 others would be attempting Q, so we hoped we didn't run into a logjam on the loose stuff. Apparently Cooper's guidebook is attracting people to the area, although maybe it was unusually busy because of the holiday weekend.
We set out a bit after 6am and followed the faint trail as best we could up the upper drainage to the lake unofficially named "South America." The trail is very difficult to follow the higher you get, although it is cairned in spots. Huge willows, bogs, and tedious boulder hopping is the norm in this rugged drainage. We round the corner on Peak J's north ridge and as expected, there is lingering snow on the north slopes. We decide to avoid the snow on annoying talus, which turns out to be more tedious than breaking out the crampons and cruising the snow. We cross the end of the snow via a sketchy traverse above a moat.
The route up Q's northeast face is rather straightforward and is well cairned, albeit it is probably the loosest peak of the trip. The scrambling is actually very brief at the top, but it does get your attention with a little knife edge section where caution is key, followed by a 4th class chimney climb.
The Q knife edge:
Final chimney climb to summit:
The summit views are exquisite to say the least:
The weather is absolutely gorgeous, but we don't hang around long as 5 people are coming up the northeast face. The descent goes fine and we decide to take a grassy ramp up Peak R's northwest face, contouring across the basin at around 12400'. This time we all get out the axes and carefully traverse the top of the rock hard snow. The grassy ramp brings us up to a gully that is much more solid than the rock on Q and we enjoy some 3rd class scrambling to the summit. R is probably the easiest peak of this ridge run.
The traverse to S and T looks time consuming, but there are always weaknesses to be found, mostly on the right side. A nasty notch forces you off the ridge at around 12700', then it's a lot of sidehilling and boulder hopping to the saddle. We were a little high getting to the saddle and did some unnecessary 4th class stuff to get to the saddle.
A world class Gore view:
Difficulties from R to the saddle:
I don' remember much about the climb to S, but it seemed to be rather straightforward scrambling. Each peak in this basin had some scrambling to offer, which was really cool.
Nearing summit of S:
Now for the mysterious 5th class unranked Peak T. It's only got 80 feet of prominence, but who can resist a 5th class summit when it's right there! It pretty much slipped under my radar, but Sarah made sure to put it on the agenda. The key for T is to stay low all the way across the south face, then work your way up to the northeast ridge. The ridge is very airy and loose, probably the most dangerous section of scrambling we did on the weekend.
Peak T summit ridge scramble:
There are a couple summit candidates, and I climb a low 5th class chimney and discover that the easier western summit is lower. The highpoint is an improbable looking potato block about 15 feet high. It looked like the easiest line was the s.w. side. A platform gets you close, but we didn't have any pro, and you couldn't use it if you had it anyway! Dominic suggests to throw a rope over the summit and belay from the other side! The idea is golden and we each take turns summitting with a belay and a spot on the downclimb as we are lowered.
Dominic on the spectacular summit of T:
The descent of T is very tedious, exposed in spots, and loose. We descend the n.e. ridge for a bit and drop into a gully that looks like it goes to the valley floor. It doesn't, so we contour left and find a narrow gully that saves the day. The stats on this day are pretty tame, but the constant rock hopping and routefinding make it seem like a much bigger day. I got back to the tents at around 4:45.
Day 3: Peaks L, K, J, & P
I'm really looking forward to this day as I've heard good things about Peak L. We head out around 6:10 at first light and follow the trail for a bit until we see the obvious grassy ramp that takes you up to the southwest ridge of L. Grass gives way to boulder hopping up high, but it's not as tedious as it was on Q. We're soon at the saddle and the view up to L is a bit intimidating. There's a 4th class route up this bad boy?
As always, the terrain lays back as you get closer and the scrambling is awesome. The rock is very solid and the knife edge keeps you on your toes, but the rock inspires a lot of confidence. It's more of a low angle slab than a knife edge, but there are a few sharp spots.
A short downclimb off the ridge and the final scramble up the southeast face presents itself. We stayed more to the left on the way up, but we found an easier route on the way down slightly right of our ascent route. There are areas where you can get into 5th class terrain, but there are plenty of wide ledges to utilize for the path of least resistance.
Nearing the summit:
L is such a spectacular summit and I must say it's my favorite 13er to date! The rock is very solid and it is very aesthetic peak to look at from different angles. A group of 3 were making there way across the ridge as we summitted, so we waited for them to summit before heading down. The trip back across the knife edge went fine and we parted ways with Dwight as he decided to pack out early for work the next day.
Sarah tightroping on the knife edge. It's actually plenty wide in most spots.
The trip to K from L is a long one, with lots of towers to skirt around. We mostly skirted them on the left. Lots of tedious boulder hopping and sidehilling.
Traverse to K:
K holds a few surprises up its sleeve and looks pretty tough from a distance, but we found wide ledges on the right that led across the face and climbed a gully to the summit. Just some 4th class moves here and there.
The traverse to J has a lot of towers to weave around, but nothing too hard. We got to cross another cool knife edge that was a lot of fun on the way to J.
A buttress forced us off the ridge above the saddle, so we traversed below until it was reasonable to climb back to the ridge. The last leg of the traverse to P is only about 1/3rd of a mile, with a few towers to skirt on the right side. As we topped out on P, I noticed a couple folks on West Partner. Turns out it was Darin Baker and his partner Kimo!
Kramarsic's guidebook said the P east ridge is only class 2, but you can't stay on the ridge. We tried and ran into 4th class terrain above the saddle. The last major hurdles were getting off the saddle and the long bushwack back to camp. There is a permanent snowfield below the P/Q saddle. Dominic and Sarah elected to downclimb with axe and crampons while I squeezed down some loose scree on the right side. A cool alpine tarn was a nice spot to relax at, it's waters still were not fully melted from the winter!
The bushwack down was brutal. We never seemed to take the same way each time. Loads of head high willow wacking and huge boulder hopping. Not sure if it's best to stay high or low. Pick your poison and try to follow the sporadic cairns! We got back to the tents around 5:30. It's not a long day, but loads of scrambling make the going slow. We made the pack out the next morning in a moderate shower, and Dominic showed off his driving skills by keeping us from sliding off the slick, steep road down. Heck of an adventure!