West Apostle 13568'
Ice Mountain 13951'
North Apostle 13860'
South Winfield 2WD TH, 10260'
13.5 miles, 4600' gain, 9.5 hrs
Significant route errors: 3
Plans to start this hike around 6am changed when I woke at 12:45am and couldn't get back to sleep. After the drive and parking at the 2WD area, I started hiking up the road at 3:55am. I had driven through rain, and while I hiked, lightning and thunder went off at intervals in the distance. I had studied beta from both Kane and Roach, and I was confident I could avoid the route-finding problems that Ice Mtn is known for.
After an hour I reached the signed junction for the Apostle Basin and Lake Ann Trails. I took the former, then started counting steps to find the spur trail to the right. I don't think I ever found it, perhaps because it was still pitch black. In any event, I was soon bushwhacking through dense wet brush. I thought that if I could cross the creek I would find the spur trail. After 10-15 minutes I had crossed several branches of the creek and then ascended 50' or so up a loose bank. I did come across a trail, but it seemed too nice. As I was guessing, this was the Lake Ann Trail.
The plan now had changed to do the loop counter-clockwise. This seemed harmless enough but would pave the way for two future errors. I reached Lake Ann at 6am and headed east to the basin below West Apostle. This basin contains a small lake. I headed south up the ridge west of the lake to reach the west ridge of West Apostle. I then turned east and reached a false summit of WA. From here it was an easy ridge walk to the WA summit, reached at 7:25am.
While the storms had dissipated, clouds were in the area. I decided that I should be OK if I could summit Ice by 9am. I descended 500' to the WA/Ice saddle. Here I met the first class 3, with a short headwall to climb. Above the headwall, the route traverses east and up on the SW face of Ice.
For a while I followed the cairns. But, being anxious to ascend, I eventually started up a narrow gully because it looked like it would go near the summit. The gully had loose rock on the floor but solid holds, and I made good time. However, when I reached the top, I realized I was on Ice's western summit. Rather, I was near it. This west summit is a huge block that would require a friction climb to ascend. I decided that I might find enough adventure later on and passed on this challenge.
Ice looked far away from the false summit. I had to traverse and descend a couple times before finally reaching the top at 9am. The gully I was supposed to ascend was very large and obvious - I realized that my 2nd error was a result of the first. I would have easily recognized it coming the other way.
Weather was still iffy, so I was glad to get on with the descent of Ice's NE ridge. Soon enough I came to the steep crux. As I'd read, I could descend on the left or find an easier way on the right. I chose the right, which required dropping myself through a short class 4 chimney. My height was of benefit here.
Error 3(the big one)
Safely through the crux, I relaxed a little and began following some use paths down. Some minutes later, I recalled that I was supposed to traverse back over to the NE ridge. Unfortunately, this didn't look possible. I wasn't sure if I had already missed the traverse. I continued down, looking for a way to get to the ridge on my right. At this time, the clouds thickened and the rock became moist.
I was now picking my way down the north face of Ice Mountain, somewhere between the NE ridge and the Refrigerator Couloir. At times I had to turn around when the route cliffed out. I made some exposed moves on the wet rock, just getting down one ledge at a time. I could never see the route very far below, so I was very concerned that it would cliff out completely, forcing me to reascend the face. Finally, with great relief I saw an exit gully to the right leading to safe terrain. I had survived another danger of starting at Lake Ann - descending Ice's NE ridge route without having ascended it.
Now that I was through the difficulties, the sun came out. I was about 200' below the Ice/NA saddle. I climbed to the saddle and ascended the easy class 2 to North Apostle's summit at 10:15am.
After a 15 minute break, I returned to the saddle and descended through a small version of Mt Meeker's Iron Gates. Eventually I contoured to the right under N Apostle and then descended into the drainage below. I found the spur trail which had eluded me, crossing the stream twice with it, and returned to the Apostle Basin Trail. I reached the car at 1:20pm.
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