The west ridge of Mt. Richtofen is a prominent feature above Lake Agnes. Sitting between the rugged Mt. Mahler on its west, and Static Peak and the Nokhu crags to the its north, The northwest aspect of Mt. Richthofen presents an alpine spectacle that is surprising for a group of mountains that top out below 13,000 feet. The climb itself presents a moderate class 2-3 hike with some ridge scrambling at the top, and can be climbed in any season.
On this page, I describe several variations that could be called the west ridge, but might also be separated into the W ridge, the NW ridge and the NW trough. All of these routes converge on the true east ridge at the false summit. The ridge routes make for excellent year-round hiking and mountaineering, depending on snow conditions. When I went up the NW ridge in January, I spent some time wallowing in powder in the NW trough, but I am guessing (hence, take the trough description lightly and use your judgement) that it would be a fun moderate snow climb in the spring.
See the directions to the Lake Agnes Trailhead.
During the summer, the road to Lake Agnes trailhead is open, and it is only a short ~0.5 mile hike to the lake. One would most likely hike around the east side of the lake when it is not frozen. During the winter, the road is closed at CO14, and there is a plowed parking area one can park at near mile marker 62. The, one must ski or snowshoe ~2 miles to reach Lake Agnes. The road to the summer trailhead is easy going but the trail up to Agnes can make for challenging skiing if it has not been well traveled.
From Lake Agnes, several different paths can be taken to the ridge. It is quite possible that a clear footpath exists when the area is snow free. Just south of the lake is a large talus pile that may be a moraine or a rock glacier. Getting on top of this and following the ridgeline of the feature will take one directly to the base of the NW ridge, or to the bowl below the W ridge.
To follow the NW ridge, or the NW trough, turn left at the top of the moraine following the obvious feature. Accessing the ridge might actually be difficult in the summer- I am not sure how much snow had piled up below it when I climbed it in January, so there might be a cliff there. In that case, head for the W ridge. To continue all the way up the NW ridge, do just that. Mostly, the ridge is talus hopping with some scrambling here and there up to the true west ridge and the false summit. To follow the NW trough, turn left off the ridge above the obvious cliffs that prevent access from below. You will want crampons and an ice axe for this climb. Head up.
To follow the W ridge, continue up the bowl between Mahler and Richthofen to the saddle and turn left. Follow the obvious ridge. This should be a hike, but I only saw from a few hundred meters away. The bowl looks like a nice terrain trap for avalanches, so in the winter and spring carefully evaluate snow conditions. The NW ridge should provide a safe alternative, with one short section exposed to possible slides from the bowl above. The ridge above the false summit forms a snowy knife edge in the winter, an ice axe is a must.
All three routes meet at the false summit. A narrow ridge (snowy knife edge in winter) is traversed to reach the base of the summit block. From here, one must ascend a short 3rd class gully, that is blocky, loose and prone to rock fall. While this gully makes the improbable looking summit block fairly easy to surmount, it should still prove the crux of the climb. During January 2013, the gully was full of rime ice and lightly powered, and given the exposed position, a bit exciting. Descend the ascent route, or continue onward to Static Peak.
The colors indicate variations as described in the text.
In the summer, hiking boots, a warm hat and a rain coat should suffice. A helmet might be reasonable for the gully. In the winter, an ice axe and crampons, plus snowshoes or skis for the approach, would be very wise, if not absolutely necessary. I think the heading 'essential gear' ignores the fact that a sufficiently motivated climber could ascend this route barefoot and naked under a full moon in the summer if they chose to- use your judgement, and more power to you if your judgement makes you the aforementioned motivated climber.
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