| 38 Special
August 26, 2011
Mount Powell (13,580’)
Gore Range with a morning mist in the valley below
Trailhead: Piney Lake
Route: S slopes
Distance: 12mi RT (per Garratt & Martin’s 13er guidebook)
Elevation Gain: ~4500’ (per Garratt & Martin’s 13er guidebook)
Difficulty: mostly class 2+ with minor bushwacking on approach; short class 4 section due to snow on NE side of Kneeknocker Pass
Gear: daypack w/Essentials, ice axe
Resources Used For Trip Planning: Mike Garratt & Bob Martins’ Colorado’s High Thirteeners guidebook, Dave Cooper’s Colorado Scrambles guidebook (for directions to the TH, which he uses for his route description for Peak C), summitpost.org, TOPO!, & Mike Rodenak’s (ChicagoTransplant) brain
38 Special? Well, I think so for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because Powell was my first Gore summit, and what a fine summit it is! Secondly, this trip was a 38 Special because I turned 38. Should I work on my birthday? Mmmm….No! What better way to spend a birthday than in the mountains!
The Gore Range is an area that I have limited experience in. Until now, I’ve only been in the range twice, and neither of those times involved a summit. The summit is not “everything” for me, but it is nice to get above treeline and enjoy the views from up high!
With a super alpine start of 7am-ish, I was on my way to discover a small bit about the Gore Range. My first discovery was that I was heading into the wilderness. Oh really?
Well, let me see for myself. Aside from the usual pika and marmot sightings, I had a few other encounters as well…
Goat and Goat
“What are you looking at, stupid human? I may have a broken antenna, but I can still jump on you!”
Seems like I did find myself in a wilderness. I saw humans too. They might be the worst kind of species, just ask the bug. Although I’m glad I can walk upright and that I have opposable thumbs.
On With The Show…
The trail starts out from the Piney River Ranch and goes along the north side of the lake. It was in Piney Lake where I saw the bull moose while on my approach.
The trail gradually climbs out of the valley through an aspen forest, which would make for a nice fall hike, but eventually the trail drops back down into the valley floor. Once it drops back down to the valley floor and comes parallel to Piney River, the approach trail for Kneeknocker Pass splits from the main trail. The start of the Kneeknocker Pass trail is obvious in daylight, with two cairns marking the junction.
The trail is well defined for a while, until it reaches a bench higher up where I did lose it for a bit. Losing the trail was due to thick (and wet) vegetation with multiple “paths” through it. However, knowing the general vicinity I needed to go in I stuck with my intuition, took the path of least resistance, and I eventually came upon the strong climber’s trail once again.
Back on the strong climber’s trail
I reached the small and pretty basin below Kneeknocker sometime around 9am, and I could see the approach to the saddle above me. I also could see two other hikers making there way up the grassy/scree slope to the saddle.
Looking up at Kneeknocker Pass
Holy Cross Wilderness in the distance
The morning skies had a heavy overcast, and I was slightly concerned about rain. In fact, on the approach to the saddle I felt a few drops. Well, get to the saddle and reassess what’s next and how the weather looks.
On my way up to the saddle, I caught up to the two gentleman that were ahead of me. We talked for a bit, and then I moved along ahead of them. On the way to the saddle, I could see a goat standing up on a rock looking down on me. Then it moved towards the S ridge of Powell, where another goat joined the first. They decided to take higher ground as we continued up, keeping their eyes on us as we plodded up to the pass.
From Kneeknocker Pass, looking at the grassy gullies leading to Powell
Looking back down towards Piney Lake in the distance
From Kneeknocker, hitting the S slopes of Powell requires a descending traverse, and current conditions probably makes it technically harder than it normally is. The snow line comes up to near the top of the N side of the pass, but the moat that separates rock from snow allows an efficient route, with a short 4th class down climb, with some loose rock. Jim & Ron join me for the next leg of our Gore tour.
Jim making the moves, while Ron waits (picture taken on our return from the summit)
In the above photo, the rocky rib that is below the snow (and center of photo) is the line we took on our descending traverse. The rib could be climbed between rock and snow as well. From near the bottom of the rib, we traversed across talus to gain a snowfield. The snowfield is low angle, but was fairly firm on our first crossing.
Climbing along the class 3, maybe class 4 rocky rib and snow (picture taken on our return)
In the above photo, the snowfield we crossed can be seen along with our tracks. For our comfort, I loaned a trekking pole to each Jim & Ron, while I used my axe on our crossing. I kicked steps across the steeper sections of the slope, and Jim & Ron followed—each doing fine as we made our way safely across.
However, to Jim’s wife, if you’re reading this, I think he would still like an ice axe for his birthday, and it’s not too late for a birthday gift! (Both Jim & Ron celebrated their birthdays within the past couple of weeks, as I was on this day!)
Next up: the grassy gully that will take us to the top!
Jim and Ron hiking up the grassy section of the gully, Peak C (13,220’) and Kneeknocker Pass behind us
As we made our way up the grassy gully, I eventually pulled ahead of my new companions, but we would meet up again on part of our return to Kneeknocker Pass.
The grass gully eventually turns to scree, so I exited to climber’s right on my ascent to get on boulders, which turned out to be enjoyable boulder hopping to the summit!
The views kept improving the entire way as well, and the sun & blue skies eventually made an appearance overhead!
Holy Chit, that’s an impressive Peak!
Sorry, but I don’t know my alphabet…so just know these are some of the letter peaks of the Gore…
As I made my way up the boulders, I occasionally looked back to see where Ron & Jim were and to check their progress. They mostly stayed in the gully I think, and were coming along at a steady pace.
I reached the summit sometime around noon-ish, and took a little time to enjoy the views. The weather to the S didn’t look the greatest, but overhead was still pretty good. But I didn’t want to hang out too long to find out if it would stay that way.
The majority of the Gore Range
Eagles Nest (13,420’)
Holy Cross Wilderness under darkening clouds
The above photo shows the gentle western shoulder of Powell, and the snowfield in the foreground is where I would start my descent to regain the top of the gully that we used for our ascent. As I started my descent, I saw Jim heading up, and Ron was ahead of him. I told him I would wait for them near the snowfield we crossed earlier, and I continued my descent off of the summit.
I descended halfway down the gully before stopping to wait for Jim & Ron to appear above. Once I saw them start their descent of the gully, I continued down and waited again near the snowfield where we crossed together earlier. From there we would re-ascend together back to Kneeknocker Pass.
Jim & Ron descending the grassy gully
We made our way back across the snowfield, and up the rock rib without a problem. Meanwhile the skies overhead were turning gray, but once at the pass, it’s all downhill!
Coming up the rock rib
At the saddle, I departed from my partners for the day, and made my way down at my own pace, while reflecting back on a wonderful hike!
Jim & Ron, it was nice to meet you and share part of the mountain with you!
3pm, and Kneeknocker is under a different mood
In the above photo is the area that I “lost” the trail for a bit in the morning, but it’s plain to see where Kneeknocker is (the low-point/saddle in center of photo) and the direction that one must head towards, IMO.
Out of the wild west, and soon back to my own wagon (i.e., truck)
Thanks for reading,
ps….Gores, I’ll be back!!
Hindsight & Personal Notes
Hindsight: I’ve waited too long to visit a Gore summit. But at least I finally did! And I can see why other members on 14ers .com often praise the Range. It’s one that should not be overlooked.
Personal Notes: I want to thank Benners & Helmut for recent TR's of the Gores, because your photos only inspired me to go there myself!
I’ve been in several areas this summer hiking various 13ers. Often times, these adventures have taken me out on popular trails where I will see other hikers. Most times they’re dayhikers, not summit seekers. A popular question asked by these hikers has been, “Did you make it to the lake?”
Now, there’s nothing really wrong with that question, nor is there anything wrong with people getting out for a dayhike in the wilderness to enjoy the scenery.
On this trip, one question that was asked of me was, to me, funny. (Note: At the TH, there’s a lake, but there’s another lake further up the trail, Upper Piney Lake, but the route for Powell does not go near that lake.)
Dayhiker: “Did you make it to the lake?”
Me: “No, I went up a side trail to hike up a peak.”
Dayhiker: “Well, was there anything worth seeing up there?”
I’ll leave the answer for you to discover yourself….