I developed a “menu” of mountains, over the winter, that I wanted to climb this summer amassing all their statistics, the route and TH. I also planned a timeframe and put them in an order of preference based on some logic ie simpler and “easier” ones first and work my way up to harder more challenging peaks. Sounds good?
Well, our Colorado climate delayed snow enough this year resulting in a late Spring thereby causing a late Summer. The first mountain was Handies and scheduled for June 3rd. While watching weather, snow packs, avy info and TRs, I kept the timeframe due to my work schedule, but changed routes. I originally wanted to tackle Handies from Grizzly Gulch, because I wanted to ascend more than 3000 feet and American Basin was too “easy” and lacked a low enough TH. Driven by circumstances beyond my control, I switched to American Basin due to the TRs giving great info on conditions and the road was open. I decided to start at about 11000 feet to acquire the required 3000 feet. Initially, I felt like I was sort of cheating, but was I ever mistaken and the mountain got my attention and my respect.
I soloed most of my climbs the last two years, but this year I decided to find someone with similar climbing interests and share the experience; plus, two is better than one in an emergency. A major shift in philosophy and a smarter one. My climbing partner, Jason, and I left Colorado Springs about 10:30am on the 2nd and arrived at the revised A-Basin TH around 5:30pm via the scenic route in the back country. We drove up to the real TH and saw a lot of snow, nothing looked dangerous, but it looked a little tougher than I thought. We set up camp, ate dinner, figured out what gear and layers to take and hit the sack at dusk. My head hit the pillow, yes I take one, and I was out. Jason, on the other hand, was thinking about bears, wind and the climb.
Jason and I organizing the camp.
Jason suited up.
Chris also all smiles and ready.
It took us a little longer than planned to get on the trail, but we managed to get going at 5:27am just before sunrise. We made a conscientious decision to leave our avy gear in the car, but took microspikes, snow shoes, crampons, ice axes and helmets.
This ptarmigan was up early along side the road and blending nicely in summer dress, I guess.
The end of the road, over the snow bridge and off we go!
Looking back at the stream crossing. The dark spot bottom left is where the stream crosses the road and it is covered on both sides of the road.
We were able to walk across the snow over the stream without any trouble, the low had been 26 and the snow was firm and we were headed toward the basin. We immediately realized that the route was not visible, although we did have a map with the route and a GPS with 13 waypoints. We decided to take the path of least resistance with safety foremost. We found the snow surface to be solid and we ditched our snowshoes on a dirt patch that looked like an island in the ocean of snow. All the islands, we found, had deep moats! Good thing I marked it with a waypoint. We came across the sign in log for the route which was barely sticking out of the snow surface and looked to have been submerged for quite awhile based on no signature dates in 2011 that we could see.
A lot of snow melt, and minimal avy danger.
When you have a route to follow, usually one follows it and everyone is fairly safe, but when you are left up to your own route finding skills and can’t see the ground, it changes the climbing atmosphere a little.
Heading up to the basin, direct sunlight is catching up with us.
We’re nearing the basin which continues to the left.
Finally at the American Basin.
We found tracks off to the left and rising.
This is the first slope on the Eastern side of the bowl. We decided not to go up this way.
Jason hasn’t moved, but I moved the shot a little more right to record the area we were going up.
Hard to tell, but in the above picture, there is a trail sign in a line under the sun on a shadow line. The lower gray line is a track to the sign and the angled line to the left is the trail heading up, left and away from the sign.
We are headed for the sign. Notice the raised footprints.
We skipped the trail headed for Sloan Lake and picked it back up at the sign in the last photo. We didn’t know this in advance, just followed what we thought was a logical and safe approach. The trail is shown as making a 90 degree right turn heading South and then around the wall of the basin, but it appeared the path was obscured by packed snow. Those footprints resulted from the surrounding level of snow being lowered or melted enough to make the compressed footprint higher. Very stable and useful in saving energy and navigation.
The angle of the climb. The snow was not very deep. Our axes hit ground 6-12 inches from the surface.
Continuing up the Southwest slope, we finally made it to the South Ridge where the summit finally looked achievable.
To the right of Jason is a huge cornice, and the summit is in sight.
Our summit shot.
The hard part over, we were going to make it, but wait…was there a false summit lurking up there or maybe we were just imagining the peak was there. Jason was ahead and suddenly raised his trekking poles up and screamed something about summiting and I thought perhaps the thin air only made him think he made it. I couldn’t believe we were already there, but we were. A 5 hr journey for Jason and add 10 more minutes for me. It was the first time in 25 peaks that the summit didn’t tease me. It looked like it was there, and it was. I think summits may move around a little and switch places with nearby points to make it more challenging for climbers…just a theory.
Hard to see the cornice, but it was quite large.
It had been breezy in the valley and windier at higher elevations. At the summit, I held everything down as if we were weightless and if I let anything go, it would surely rocket out there somewhere. On our way down, shortly after leaving the summit, we were hit by a blast of air that would knock many people over, mainly by the suddenness. The wind subsided and then it became unbearably hot by mountain standards. Snow was turning to goop, as one climber put it in his TR. Snow conditions were changing right in front of us.
Glissading was attempted and every enjoyable, but the change in snow consistency slowed us down and in some places impossible to get moving. We did have two runs down with the last one coming down a little chute.
Notice the top left ridge of this little gully!
Not sure if this happened while we were there or not. The purity of the exposed snow indicates a fresh separation. As I was glissading down, I was glad to see that had already occurred. It looked like it collapsed in place.
The snow was now very unsupportive in places and the lower we got, the worse it got. We couldn’t wait to find our snow shoes and get them on. Postholing is a quick energy drain, not to mention costing time. The GPS led us straight to them and they made a huge difference. Once in awhile we even PHed with snow shoes, now that’s bad!
As we neared the stream crossing, we noticed how much snow had melted off the mountains while we were climbing!
The stream was exposed in one area and it looked rather new.
We were concerned about crossing over the stream with snowshoes on, great for distributing weight, but what happens if you go in the water with them on! Jason went first, but I held his pack back with me. Then I carried it over to what I thought was the edge, and was supposed to throw it. Then I thought, what if I didn’t get it over? I decided that Jason’s pack and I (and my gear) didn’t weigh more that Jason, so I carried it across without incident.
This was supposed to be an undemanding season opener that turned into a typical challenging climb that demands you to think while being physically tasked. Everything fell into place. We were even prepared to change mountains if we thought another one would have been more inviting. Maps and GPS waypoints already set for three others in the area. The mountain didn’t change, or hide behind a false summit, but just about everything else changed and the mountain changed us. We got back to the campsite at 2:30pm, packed up and headed home. That was a long drive for one mountain so we think we will combine a few and stay longer next time.
Have fun and be safe!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.