Chris arrived at my apartment Friday evening and we chatted - talking about his climbing and some of the stuff I’d done, moving to CO, etc. while we waited for Matt to arrive. Matt got a late start and had to sit thru an accident on the highway so we didn’t leave Arvada until almost 7:15 Friday night. Oh well, we knew we’d be night hiking anyway, no rush.
The drive up to the trailhead was uneventful, just wet as it drizzled and rained the whole time. We were all hoping that when we emerged from the Eisenhower tunnel on the West side of the Great Divide that we’d pop out into bright sunshine and reach for our sunglasses, but it didn’t really work that way.
“That’s ok” we said – thinking that it doesn’t rain in the mornings, all the storms come in the afternoons. (remember that we thought this)
We got to the trailhead it was almost 10:00 – it takes FOREVER to get up Tigiwon Road. As we got our gear together we noted that yep, its still raining, but at least its just a drizzle.
Headlamps on, we head up the trail to Half Moon pass wondering if all the cars belong to people at the campground, or if all these folks are camped in the valley. The hike up to Halfmoon Pass is a moderately strenuous climb – 1.5 miles and 1,325 feet of gain. The pass tops out at 11,600. There was enough moonlight leaking thru the clouds that we could make out Grouse Mountain across the valley. East Cross creek lay in the valley below us and Holy Cross is to the south, currently hidden by the spur ridge of Notch Mountain.
As Matt arrived at the top of the pass, he tripped over a rock in the trail and fell. He stumbled a few times, almost catching his balance but finally went down landing (thankfully) on his pack. It was one of those slow motion falls where you see it happening but can’t get your brain to fire off the signals that will make you move to help. I remember thinking, Oh GOD, he’s gonna bash his skull on one of those big rocks! Well, he didn’t bash in his skull, but when he went down, his legs whipped up and came down really hard on a large rock thereby causing a deep muscle bruise on his calf. If he’d have hit the shin rather than the calf he probably would have broken the tibia.
So after sitting and cursing a minute, we helped him up to determine if we were going any further tonight or not. He seemed ok, limping and sore, but no serious damage; so we proceed to camp tonight and will make another determination tomorrow morning.
As we proceed down from the pass we turn a corner around the spur ridge on Notch Mountain and can now see the beast – Mt. of the Holy Cross – we can also see Angelica Couloir – our objective for tomorrow – she looks steep in the muted moonlight.
Finally arriving at the valley floor, after going down for 1.2 miles and 960 feet we get to the creek crossing (unbridged) and locate a good campsite. This area is very popular on weekends and nice campsites abound. We set up our camp and hung the food bags and promptly retire for the evening around 1:00 am. Chris set his alarm for 5:00 (ugh) so that we could be assured of getting up on the snow slopes of Angelica as early as possible.
When we woke up the next morning we were pleased to see that it wasn’t raining. Matt woke up and found that his leg had stiffend up immensely and it was pretty obvious that he would not be trying to climb the couloir. We decided that Chris and I would climb the couloir and Matt would wait until around 10:30 or so and start back for the trailhead and we’d meet him there.
After making our breakfast and readying our daypacks Chris and I took off. We had to try and find the “climbers trail” that leads thru the big cliff bands and rock faces that ring the head of this little valley. This little obscure trail leads thru the one place where no barrier to entry exists allow you to get up on the bench where Lake Patricia. I’d been up here the weekend prior and knew where to look, but I hadn’t followed it all the way up.
Finding the trail we begin the climb up to Lake Patricia. We lost the trail a couple of times, but seemed to find it again fairly easily. We did note that the terrain around us was pretty imposing and to not find this trail would have made this portion of the climb really tough.
The trail brought us out in the area above Lake Patricia where the ponds are shown on the maps and we could see the snow slope sitting across a large talus field. We quickly discussed the approach and decided to head a bit higher on the bench to avoid the deeper part of the gully.
Making our way across the talus (volkswagon sized) and then up a scree slope we gained the snow field. Here we attached crampons and readied our ice axes and began the fun part of the climb. Compared to the scree slopes, the snow climb was easy. The angle starts out fairly gently as Angelica empties out into a large bowl area, but soon steepens to about 45 degrees. After about 500 feet of elevation gain, the couloir forks and we took the left fork. The right fork is still holding a bit of a cornice and appeared to be melted out about 50 feet from the lip. The left fork goes higher up the ridgeline towards the summit and proceeds about 800 feet higher from our current point.
The view back down into the valley was superb from this vantage point. We could see Lake Patricia, the ponds, and the area where we camped. We could make out Notch Mountain and see the pass as well.
Proceeding up the couloir, we could see the summit ridge above, as well as some hikers on the standard route on the North Ridge.
Finally, about 50 feet from the top the snow disappeared and scree and loose soil were our footbed the remainder of the way up. We topped out and met some hikers just descending from the summit. We lacked about 200 feet of elevation to reach the summit. Hopping across the talus, the fatigue in my quads and calves became apparent, but I made it up just fine. It was exhilarating, even though we were enveloped in a cloud and sustaining a steady drizzle to know that I’d just climbed over 1,200 vertical feet on snow – in July! A check of the watch showed that we’d made the climb in just over 3 hours from the time we left camp – not bad!
We debated our descent options, we could glissade down the couloir – clearly the fastest option, or we could hike down the standard route. We both remembered the steep scree slope and huge talus field and opted for the standard route – our biggest mistake of the day! The standard route is long and arduous. The north ridge for over a mile is a talus field of difficult foot placement – especially when the rock is wet. We should have glissaded, but oh well, now we know.
We got back into camp passing several people on the way up, but not nearly as many as we would have had the weather been nicer. After a quick break for a snack, we broke camp and Chris finished up before me heading up the trail back to the pass.
This trip is a story of ups and downs! Up the pass, down the pass, up the mountain, down the mountain, up the pass down the pass. Sheesh, plus with Matt hurting himself you’ve got the emotional up and down as well.
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