Ice Cubed: The Three Apostles Traverse

Ice Cubed: The Three Apostles Traverse

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 38.91490°N / 106.437°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 15, 2007
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer


North Apostle (13860’)- CO Rank 69
Ice Mtn (13951’)- CO Rank 51
West Apostle (13568’)-CO Rank 210
“Ice Cubed”
Sept 15, 2007

10 miles RT, 4300’ gain
From Winfield 4WD TH (10600’)

Participants: Patrick Lilly & Kevin Baker


The 3 Apostles have been on my list for quite some time and I was hoping the early snows would hold off long enough to do this challenging scramble in Sept when the threat of t-storms are less. I mentioned to Patrick Lilly (cftbq) awhile back of my plans, and he was interested in joining me. We had only hiked together once on mighty 5th class 8er Mt Buckhorn near C. Springs. I think Ice may have been Patrick’s first class 4 high peak, and he picked a doozie! The forecast looked good as the week progressed, so the climb was on!

As we headed down familiar Hwy 24, I thought I saw lightning flashes in the distance. Sure enough, it began to rain as we got to Buena Vista. Not a good sign. We bashed up the 4WD road in the dark and were ready to roll in the rain at 4:45am. I figure we could at least get to treeline and see what the weather held from there. Ice Mtn is not a good place to be in a storm! The rain continued as we headed up the gentle trail, but at least it wasn’t coming down too hard.

Boulder Hoppin 101 up North Apostle

I was armed for battle with multiple route descriptions and trip reports for this hike as almost every trip report I have read described some sort of route finding issues, not only on Ice but also on the approach. I was bound and determined not to miss the sharp right turn after the signed Apostle Basin/Lake Ann trail junction as I had a waypoint loaded in my GPS from Kane’s fine summitpost description. We counted the 100 paces past the sign and followed the trail at a sharp right, but found no log across the stream. We backtracted to the sign and tried again. We went back and forth 3 more times wasting 30 min before finally coming to the log crossing the stream. The trail got pretty faint before this stream crossing, so this is where we kept turning around prematurely.

Finally back on track, the rain quit, although clouds were still lingering. We followed the nice trail to the spot where it peters out at a stream crossing in Apostle Basin at 11320’. From here, we avoided willows and cliff bands, following the edge of the woods heading due east. We should have taken more of a s.e. bearing, but it worked out anyway as we found some cairns traversing above the cliff bands guarding the upper basin. The climb up to the W Apostle/Ice saddle was a tiring boulder hop that seemed to never end. The rocks were still pretty wet from the rain, so I was wondering what the crux would be like on Ice later on. Upon cresting the saddle, I was greeted with a stiff wind and had to don my gloves as it was 39 degrees as I waited for Patrick. From the saddle, we made our way up N. Apostle’s easy class 2 south ridge to the summit, arriving at 9:14.

Ice Mtn from N ApostlePatrick Lilly approaching the summit of N Apostle as Ice looms.

The view over to Ice from here is daunting to say the least, but it’s usually always easier than it appears.

B&W of a Sawatch sentinel, Ice MtnCentennial Ice Mtn, considered the toughest high peak in the gentle Sawatch.

Ice is Nice

We took off for Ice at 9:40, following a faint trail to the saddle. The northeast ridge of Ice was probably my favorite part of the day as the rock was pretty solid compared to the Elks and San Juans. We followed a steep path up the ridge to around 13750’, where the route traversed out onto the north face.

NE ridge on Ice MtnLooking up to the crux couloir on the north face of Ice. It's below the prominent notch just left of the summit.

I could now see the prominent notch below the summit. There was some fresh snow below the crux that concerned me, probably from the storm this morning. As we approached the couloir, I eyed the crux on the right side and thought it looked reasonable. I didn’t look too hard for the class 3 variation to the left. The snow in the couloir made things a little spicier than it should have been, but the class 4 section was mostly free of snow. We slowly made our way up, avoiding wet spots when possible. Once cresting the notch, it was an easy stroll to the summit.

Looking down 4th class crux of Ice MtnPatrick climbing the class 4 crux on Ice.

As we crested the summit at 10:45, I didn’t like the views to the west. A good size storm cell was coming our way. I knew that our descent and traverse to the West Apostle saddle was going to be time consuming and exposed. We only hung around for 10 min, fearing that the weather would catch us high on Ice. Apostle Couloir would be our bailout option if the storm passed over. We easily spotted the wide gully heading down the s.w. face, and picked our way down this loose mess. We either stayed real close together or moved one at a time.

Ice Mtn sw face gully descentOur descent down a loose gully on Ice's s.w. face.

Traverse to W Apostle & Descent

I had read some reports where some thought they may have left this gully too early, so we descended all the way down to 13400’ where the terrain looked reasonable, or at least for a few hundred feet! We were closely monitoring the storm to the west, but lucky for us it skirted south of us. I heard one rumble of thunder in the distance, but that was it.

The terrain on Ice’s s.w. face is so convoluted that you can’t see very far across it. We began a traverse-o-rama across numerous ribs and gullies to the saddle. I would cross a rib, see if the route would go, and tell Patrick. There was only one rib that caused me to back off as it would have been exposed, slabby class 4 climbing to get it. I didn’t want to have to downclimb that slab if the route beyond the rib didn’t go, so we dropped down below it and found an easier spot to cross. The terrain finally relented and we hit the ridge crest just 200’ above the saddle. It took us 1hr 45min to get to the saddle!

SW face of Ice MountainLooking back at the forboding s.w. face of Ice from W Apostle, a routefinding mess!

After all of that mess, the remaining 500’ grunt up W. Apostle felt real easy. We topped out at 1:15 and this time we could actually enjoy our break and take our time on the way down.

West Apostle from N ApostleW Apostle from N Apostle.

We went over W. Apostle’s false summit on its south ridge and found the cairned standard route to W Apostle down a loose ridge and then took a wide gully to the right that dropped us on the mini-saddle next to a small tarn. From here, all we had to do was find the Lake Ann trail and we were home free.

Lake Ann near W ApostleThe beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Ann.

It took us longer than I thought to find the trail, but we managed to avoid the willows and found it in the trees with the use of the 24K topo on my GPS. The view back to the 3 Apostles on the way out was inspiring, as we felt fortunate to get all 3 on an iffy weather day. We arrived back at the TH at 4:47, thoroughly enjoying a challenging day on the last hike in calendar summer.

The 3 Apostles from n.w.The majestic 3 Apostles on the way out.


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cftbq - Sep 17, 2007 10:58 am - Hasn't voted

Yep: fun!

Hmmm...I might have called it "Cracking Ice," but nice report, Kevin. Too bad there are no pictures to convey adequately how much of a "routefinding mess" that traverse really was!


ktiffany22 - Sep 17, 2007 9:37 pm - Voted 10/10

You stud!

Yet another example of why you are our hero... NICE WORK!!!


HokieJim - Sep 17, 2007 10:01 pm - Voted 10/10


"The view over to Ice from here is daunting to say the least, but it’s usually always worse than it appears." I think you meant the opposite...if so, better change it before your mom sees :-)

Nice job Kevin, you're the man!

Viewing: 1-3 of 3