The Three Apostles rest within the backbone of the Colorado Continental Divide, the Sawatch Range. This complex range stretches nearly 100 miles north and south, starting at Tennessee Pass and ending at the Marshall Pass area. The Sawatch is home to 15 fourteeners and 14 centennial thirteeners; no other Colorado mountain range contains as many peaks above 13,800 ft. The Sawatch Range can be split up into three areas; the Southern Sawatch, Central Sawatch-where Ice Mountain resides, and the Northern Sawatch. When hiking the central Sawatch Range, there are a few things you can count on, long approaches, plenty of vertical gain, and endless class 2 hiking.
North Apostle Overview
Standing guard over the historic mining town of Winfield Colorado, deep in the heart of the Sawatch Range, Ice Mountain (13,951-ft) and its neighboring North Apostle (13,860-ft) and West Apostle Peak (13,568-ft) form the forbidding, but spectacular Three Apostles massif. Ice Mountain is the central and highest mountain of the group. Together, these three highpoints really do form a true massif, playing off one another with true harmony. All three summits are located on Colorado’s Continental Divide. At 13,860-ft, North Apostle qualifies itself into the 13,800-ft centennial thirteener category, Colorado’s 100 highest mountains. Its location is central, evidenced by as many as 15 other centennial mountains within 20 miles.
North Apostle is only a half mile northeast of the higher and more rugged Ice Mountain. Although North Apostle lacks the ruggedness of the nearby Ice Mountain, one could argue that North Apostle is the more elegant mountain. Cone shaped and surrounded by sheer west, north and east faces, North Apostle by itself qualifies as one of the Sawatch Range's more beautiful mountains.
Although North Apostle has a class 2 route to its summit, do not underestimate this mountain. This is not a class 2 to hike that will mirror your experience you had on nearby centennials like Mount Hope, Mount Elbert, Huron Peak, the 14ers around Elk Basin or even the 14ers around Horn Fork Basin.
North Apostle is a mountain that really requires some research and planning if you want things to be in order for a successful outing. Although Gerry Roach’s excellent centennial Thirteener book is a great tool for planning excursions for the above named mountains, unfortunately his book may need a little revising. If you are using Roach’s excellent thirteener book, you may get lost on the approach. No need to worry, after reading my route description you will have the correct beta needed to find the correct turn-off including a GPS waypoint for the hidden, unsigned Three Apostles Trail. Even Roach’s shown topo map is off; it shows the Three Apostles Trail ascending the east (left) side of the rushing creek. The actual, real trail ascends the west (right) side of the creek.
4wd parking past South Winfield TH
Take Chaffee County 390 west from Hwy 24 (15 miles north of Buena Vista, 19.3 miles south of Leadville.) County 390 is an improved dirt road that passenger cars can use. Continue 11.8 miles on 390 until you reach the historic mining town of Winfield. Go left at the intersection (south) in Winfield and drive for .3 miles to the South Winfield Trailhead. There is parking here for about 10 cars. If you have a good 4WD you can drive 2 more miles up the 4WD drive road and cut about 4 RT miles off the climb. This 2-mile section of 4wd is not too technical or difficult but should only be attempted with high clearance vehicles.
Free camping is available along County 390 from highway 24 to the 4wd trailhead. There are no formal campgrounds on 390, just primitive campsites, and many of them. Many have fire rings and are near a creek. There are abundant places to car camp along 390 as well as plenty of space at the 4wd trailhead.