17, Issue 8
PEAKS OF COLORADO
Peak's "Keyhole", a key and eponymous landmark
obligatory picture of the Bells
Kelso ridge to Torreys
on a family of sheep at a critical point on the ridge traverse to Crystal.
up west slope of Snowmass
31-August 20, 2011
Report & Photos by Ed Forkos
From 7/31 to 8/20 this summer, Luba Leef and I paid a
visit to some of the highpoints of the Colorado Rockies. Of course, the
month of August is the best time to go if you want to avoid the interference
of snow on the routes. We were highly impressed with this area and would
strongly encourage you to take a look here for your next trip. The scenery
is outstanding, the rock generally of excellent quality, the access roads
good, the routes clearcut (with numerous options for any given peak.)
Jerry Roachs’ 14er and 13er guidebooks, plus the various websites,
made planning a breeze. I merely want to tell of our experiences on this
trip briefly, highlighting issues that we discovered that are not otherwise
at all clear. Unless otherwise stated, ALL the climbs deserved superlatives.
Our goal was to find meritorious routes, not to click off a bunch of summits
on a list.
1. Estes Cone, 11006’. A fun warmup scramble, easy to overlook,
with great views, Class 2
2. Longs Peak, Keyhole route, 14255’. Still one of the premier classics!
Don’t be deceived by the large number of people who do it. It’s
a serious route, and a long walk. The final several 100 feet up the Homestretch
is highly polished Class 3 making it dangerous. Many of the climbers are
inexperienced/incompetent making rockfall a problem (i.e. consider wearing
through aspen groves
3. Bierstadt/Evans, 14060’/14264’. We did a “loop”
up from Summit Lake, through Mt. Spalding, across to Bierstadt via the
Sawtooth ridge, then back to Evans, then down to Summit Lake. It proved
wonderful. Picking up the Sawtooth traverse is a bit tricky. It starts
about 200’ below the high point on the ridge (a sheer dropoff to
the west). Look
for a few large cairns to find this start. The traverse is straightforward
Class 3 (limited) and well-cairned. Go directly up to Bierstadt, i.e.
forget any trails. One can stay atop the summit ridge all the way across
the Evans massif to the summit, Class 3 (limited). From the NE corner
of the summit block, one can drop straight NNE to the road and Summit
Lake, Class 2, not an established route, but fast.
ridge from Evans to Bierstadt
4. Torreys/Grays, 14267’/14270’. We ascended the Kelso Ridge
to Torreys, then descended the standard trail from Grays. Kelso is much
harder than it looks. There were NO cairns. Usage trail exists in obvious
places. Not so obvious is how to solve the many problems that confront
you and guidebooks are not much help. We loved it but be prepared for
at least several significant 4th class pitches (i.e. if it’s 5th
class, find an easier way.) Rock is trustworthy. Good luck.
5. Quandary, 14265’. Up via West ridge, down by
Cristo couloir. Guidebooks and signage to the contrary, it is not obvious
how to start the hike in, and there certainly is no trail, as advertised.
Best is to climb up from the reservoir, northward, dodging dense growth
until you’re on clear slopes. Then traverse west to the broad, lovely
NW canyon, and drop into it on good trail seen from above. We bypassed
the Quandary-Fletcher saddle by upclimbing the first major gully to its
east, Class 3-. To get there, stay to the right on great boulders, following
spotty usage trail, as you leave the canyon. A great old miners trail
takes you way up the west ridge to end at an old mine, which is where
your troubles will start. This ridge traverse is long, complex, and intimidating,
but fun. Be prepared for lots of Class 3, at least several mandatory Class
4 pitches, and some dizzying exposure! There are however some usage trails
and cairns to help out. To descend, we simply bailed out to the south,
following the west edge of the Cristo couloir, very solid for the most
part, and only Class 2.
6. The Decalibron: Democrat/Cameron/Lincoln/Bross-all 14ers. Though only
a Class 1+ trail loop, straightforward, its deliciously scenic, a real
classic. The drive to Kite Lake is rough and needs high clearance (not
4WD.) Bross peak, though officially closed to public access, is climbed
by most (and us) to round off the route. Descent from Bross is on a ribbon
of a trail that is profoundly exposed for long distances; stay alert!
Decalibron roadway, heading to Lincoln
7. Crystal Peak, 13852’. East Ridge up and East slopes trail down.
The start is a bit complicated but worth it; study the map closely. The
ridge traverse from Mt. Helen to Father Dyer is easy at the start and
the ending, but in between is a vexing Class 3-4 labyrinthe rivaling Quandary
west ridge, but here, without cairns or usage trail. I believe we made
some lucky decisions here. I’d urge dropping down to the East slopes
trail rather than taking the shortcut down.
8. Pacific Peak, 13950’. East Ridge, out and back, Class 2+. 4WD
(not high-clearance) advised for last leg of drive to North McCullough
TH. Start climbing at a Class 2+ break in the low cliff band 25' back
down the road. Some navigational aid will be needed for most to get onto
the east ridge. To traverse the ridge most efficiently, from Point 13238
westward, you can stay on the south side of the ridge, on an almost “flat”
course of wide, grassy ledges divided by Class 2 notches, usually staying
50-100’ below the ridgecrest. You will have to ascend/traverse from
the final saddle to get to the large plateau SE of the summit. Once seen,
traverse directly across the plateau to the peak's E ridge, and on up.
9. Drift Peak, 13900’. This is a hidden gem, via the Villa ridge.
I advise driving up the road from the unmarked Mayflower TH to the cabins,
requiring 4WD/high-clearance, but not a bad road. Parking here is very
limited, and the road is strewn with hikers! Its best to start the ridge
at its NNW face where you pick up usage trail up an otherwise obnoxious,
steep hill. The rest of the ridge is a delight. Stay on the ridgeline
for a pleasant Class 2 scramblefest on great boulders. We were able to
descend via the canyon to the NE of the ridge…not pleasant, but
different, Class 2.
10. Massive (as in huge!), 14421' (2nd highest on CO.) SE ridge up, standard
E slopes trail down. A long hike, but worth it. Once you leave the trail,
most will need navigational aid to get through the very extensively wooded
slope to open tundra above on the SE ridge. The route up has only a pinch
of Class 2, and the final trail to top, a whiff of Class 2. You will never
be alone at the top of this peak! Being annoyed by the hoards, we unceremoniously
dove over the E edge of the summit block, making a beeline for the trail
far below. Enough said.
11. Mt. Hope, 13933’. Great shorter hike with TH on the highway.
E ridge up from the high saddle, a Class 2-3 romp if you stay on/near
the crest. We descended the SE ridge. Its lower section is not very obvious
and could be hazardously steep and loose. We were lucky to hit it nicely
coming out onto the trail: the ridge splits at bottom; descend the pleasant
but steep, broad, grassy gully sitting between these ridges. Drop to bottom
of this gully, and, from its left corner, drop across loose but easy slope
to the boulder field below. Cross field to the visible trail below.
12. Mt. Elbert, 14433’, el numero uno. SE ridge out and back. TH
on the highway. The route is very straightforward, Class 1+. Stay on the
ridgecrest. Don’t forget that you are exposed (to electricity) for
a long distance on this hike.
13. Maroon Peak. Sadly, I chose to back off on this one 2/3 of the way
up, as I felt that it was inordinately dangerous, and only got worse above!
I applied the same logic for Pyramid and did not even start it. This climb
has less to do with climbing skill than it does with risk-taking, in my
humble opinion. In mountaineering, each must confront this issue for themselves!
14. Castle/Conundrum, 14265’/14060’. The drive in up FS102
is considerably challenging, requiring fairly high-clearance and a solid
knowledge of how to use 4-low. Ironically, I chose to stop at the Pearl
Pass junction. It turned out that the rest of the road above this was
good up to the Montezuma Mine where there is ample parking and room to
camp. The last half-mile to upper TH could be a bit difficult without
a smaller vehicle. We ascended the NE ridge all the way up to Castle on
great Class 2-3 rock, keeping usually just left of the ridgecrest, very
pleasant. We then went out and back to Conundrum, perhaps not worth it
as its not an official 14er (Class 2). On descent, we dropped into the
Montezuma basin on a good trail from a saddle about 500’ below the
summit on the NE ridge. It was a very speedy descent to TH, with only
a bit of easy snow to cross.
15. Snowmass, 14092’. This was a veritable good news/bad news story!
The hike in and climb are great, better than all the guidebooks describe,
but the drive in is one of the worst I’ve ever done, and cannot
recommend it unless you’re a skilled driver with an able vehicle.
We drove in on the Lost Trail Creek road from Marble to Lead King TH.
In addition to all the usual nastiness, there are long sections where
your vehicle could slip off the road which is only dirt, and downsloping,
if anything interfered with the minimum friction needed (i.e. wetness.)
We drove out on road from Lead King to Crystal. This is remarkably nasty
but made easier by going downhill. Surprisingly, though people actually
live there, the road from Crystal to Marble is very bad, and dangerous.
The sign stating 4WD not needed is a sick joke. Consider backpacking in
to Lead King. The hike in requires you to pick up a trail from Geneva
Lake that is totally obscured by an old, fallen tree. From campsite #2,
walk to the left around tree, pick up trail, and pass sites #3 and #4
on your way north. This trail will take you up to and past Little Gem
Lake, then drop you down in perfect position to do the long west face
of Snowmass. Of note, though there is a SW ridge route, I could see no
reasonable way to get to it (the topo maps suggest a cake walk, but its
far from this.) First ascend directly up the steep scree/talus slope on
use trail, aiming for the only large green patch to the L of a central
gully above. The patch is at the bottom of a broken 200’ wall. Ascend
Class 3 on left side of the pourover (above the green patch), then simply
cross over to the right in the next 200’ to gain a forming ridgeline
which is not only very solid, boulders and slab, but ends right at the
summit. This ridge must be some sort of secret as nobody speaks of it!
All the usage trails, all over this slope, trudge up/down loose scree.
MONTHLY BIO FEATURE
Where were you born?
East Hampton, NY, the east end of Long Island.
No mountains, but surrounded by some of the most beautiful ocean and
bay beaches in the world. Whatever you’ve heard about “the
Hamptons,” it’s only part of the story.
How long have you lived in Las Vegas?
I'm approaching my one-year anniversary in mid-October.
What is your occupation?
I'm a freelance reporter/writer/editor.
How long have you been an LVMC member?
I joined in 2010, not long after I moved here.
What is your favorite hike/climb?
It’s hard to pick just one; each is unique
in the people I share the experience with and its challenges and natural
setting. Pressed to choose, I’d have to say a five-day trip
in the Wind River Range in Wyoming in June 2007. The Winds are beautiful,
the ascent up Gannett Peak’s south-facing couloir was challenging
(at least it seemed pretty steep at the time) and best of all I did
the climb as part of a fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers, which
takes inner city at-risk youth on wilderness experiences.
What is the most challenging hike/climb you have done?
This and the previous question make me think
of a saying I recently came across that struck a chord with me: “A
fool tells you what he will do; a boaster what he has done. The wise
man does it and says nothing.” But since you’re looking
for a direct answer, it would be Denali. I climbed the West Buttress
route this May.
How did you get into hiking/climbing?
A work contact had been organizing annual outdoor
adventures for business colleagues for a number of years. In 2006
he invited me to join his group climbing Mt. Rainier. I had never
done anything like it before – had never even done any simple
hiking really – but I was intrigued and at a point in life where
I was looking for a healthy change, so I decided to give it a shot.
It was the best decision I have ever made. Thanks Greg Paul!
What are your hobbies other than hiking/climbing?
I enjoy traveling, reading (mostly nonfiction),
flipping through magazines, and pretty much anything involving food.
I'm not sure this would qualify as a hobby, but if I were still living
in New York I’d also include spending Sunday mornings in bed
with a bagel, coffee, and The New York Times.
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