| Slate Creek and some Classic Gore Sentinels
Slate Creek Group
Peaks of the Slate Creek Drainage :
“Gore Thumb” (13,080) (did not summit)
Pk.T (12,660) (did not summit)
Pk. “T-Prime” (12,385) (did not summit)
Mike (Chicago Transplant)
Back in October of 2010, Mike and myself took a recon mission in to the heart of the Gores in search of an easier and quicker route up Peak Q. We began our journey from the Booth Lake TH in Central Vail and made our way for the “Fly”/West Partner saddle, just due east of Booth Lake. After some tedious scrambling, some new Fall snow, overcast skies and an unexpected borderline herculean effort, we made it to Peak P and had a solid view of a ridge apparently lending safe passage to the Q fortress. We felt we had solved the riddle that is Peak Q, almost as if we had cheated the very essence of the Gores. As we crested one final false summit, and nearly complacent in our efforts, we were soon stopped dead in our tracks, standing face to face with a knife edge I’d soon like to forget. We tried to skirt around to the North, but with the 4-6” of new snow, the day wearing on and the long road back to the car, we gave up not 50 vertical feet from the summit and .02 miles from the true summit (according to Mike’s GPS). We looked at it as a success, since we nabbed another ranked 12er, traversed through 4 basins and apparently found a secret passage way to Q’s ramparts.
On the hike out of Pitkin Lake, we came to the conclusion that we would be emailing our buddy Scot Osbourne (Floyd) and informing him of one, our new discovery and two, that he would be setting aside plans to climb it with us over a long weekend the following summer. Realizing he had little choice in the matter, Scot quickly agreed, CC’d his friends Craig (cheeseburglar) and Colin (Astrobassman) and so the email chain began. Upon some research, I found that we exchanged 47 emails between the 5 of us, a full year before this gig would even go down.
Scot, a father of two, doesn’t have the quantity that some may have, but he certainly has the quality taken care of. Every time we get together, we climb no less than 10-15 hours a day, perform long ridge runs, the weather forecast tends to hold and we strangely enough consistently find females in the hills who rank favorably on the 1 to 10 scale. Also, around hour 12, the 4 letter words flow freely, especially on 45 degree grass slope descents and we’ve endured crap your pants traverses in the IPW, 5th class mud gulleys, trading leads based on who has eaten less tobasco and happen to have similar tastes in aesthetic campsites and post climb meals that would make Ghengis Khan proud. Throw in the walking mountain encyclopedia Mike Rodenack, as well as his counter part Steve Knapp (who climbed 26 ranked peaks in a 24 hour period), and 2 more Gore Enthusiasts in Ryand and David, and we had a solid crew.
We all agreed to meet at the Brush Creek Trailhead, 15 miles North of Silverthorne on the morning of September 9, on a sunny Friday morning. Steve Knapp and Ryan Brennan (rpb13) as well as my buddy David (works at Wilderness Sports in Dillon), joined in at the last minute, so we had a solid group of 6. We chose Brush Creek over Rock and Boulder Creek mainly because the hike out was less strenuous than Rock and the access wasn’t disrupted by private property issues, such as with Boulder. The roundtrip mileages on approaches to Slate Creek Basin are downright comical, specially without a 4wd vehicle. Rarely do you have to worry about vertical gain on a pack out, but Slate Creek is unique like that. At the very least, we were fortunate enough to nab rides from Ryan and Steve to the 4wd TH, which saved us 2.5 miles and a couple thousand vertical. Thanks fellas!
Our journey began at noon on a surprisingly humid early September day. We reached the turnoff for Slate in under 2 hours and were soon enough staring in to the mouth of the Slate Creek drainage.
entering the deeply inset canyon
We took a quick break in a shallow creek near the trail, where we cooled off our heads and feet and filtered water. We passed a guy and his 12 year old Aussie, who would be spending the next couple days exploring the upper basin and would be our only company for the next 4 days.
The packs began to feel pretty damn heavy around mile 8, with the last couple miles to Upper Slate being the steepest and roughest. Elephant s**t smelling bog fields, steep never ending switchbacks and the sun accompanied us for the last 2 hours and we couldn’t have arrived to our destination soon enough. Upon reaching the final hill crest to the upper lake, our worst fears came true when Scot and I got a whif of a camp fire down below. A group had staked out one of the top 3 campsites in all of Colorado and there was no room to squeeze in anywhere. The lamas (offspring of an ostridge bumping uglies with a donkey) they had used to pack in were just off the trail. After some weird looks and cordial exchanges with the Star Wars looking creatures, we begrudgingly moved along, finding a decent site just 100 yards further down the faint trail.
The biggest positive about this site was the camp fire, which was built up against a wall of rock and was enjoyed by all as the backcountry kitchen for the next 3 nights. After setting up camp, we whipped out the 15 bratwursts we packed in and put them to good use, along with lots of Pringles, packets of mustard and smoked tobasco. We feasted like kings of the Serenghetti before konking out early for the night in hopes of a long ridge run from Peak J all the way to Peak T.
Morning came soon enough, nobody really seemed to have gotten much sleep at all, but it didn’t really phase anyone either and we were on the trail by 5am. Mike, Scot and Steve took off about 15 minutes before Ryan, David and I and decided to take the “high road” approach to South America Lake. I vaguely remembered the faint trail leading to the turnoff to Peak L, so we were able to keep it low and eventually met up with the other 3 at a boulder field below the South America shelf. There is some bushwacking between Upper Slate and South America, but if you go up and down it enough, you’ll be able to follow the now obvious trail system in the region. Although far from popular, Slate Drainage is seeing more foot traffic, making the climber trails more defined.
We reached South America Lake and took a quick break while admiring the reflection of the alpenglow of the nearby peaks.
Rockinghorse Alpenglow and reflection
Including the crown jewel of the Gores, Peak L.
Making our way around the large, high alpine lake, we made a beeline for Peak J, our first objective of the day. I took some time to look back and admire the view of the humid coated valleys to the East.
looking to the east
David and I being ski fanatics, we naturally seeked out every possible line the region had to offer and quickly fell behind the rest of the group. We also happened to carry the exact same pack (Green Osprey Aether 70), which we used as a backpack and daypack, instead of hauling up a separate smaller pack. Let me pause by saying that if you are in search of the ideal heavy duty, week-long loader, I highly recommend nabbing the Aether 70 and exchanging the Isoform harness and shoulder strap system for the Bioform. Your shoulders and back will thank you. I’ve used Gregory in the past, and while a pack like the Palisade 80 is more than sufficient, I firmly believe the Aether is in a class of its own, as well as much more affordable than the “ReachAround’teryx”.
Anyways, the groups began to split halfway up the face of J, with Mike, Scot and Ryan heading to the left and Steve crossing a short snowfield and heading for the SE shoulder of J. We liked what we saw on Steve’s line and quickly were able to catch up to him as he waited for us on a looser section.
Steve climbing the slabs below J
After a couple enjoyable high 4, very brief and low 5.0-5.2 moves, we reached the shoulder and were on the summit minutes later. Mike and Scot showed up a little bit later, having run in to a few hiccups along the way. One of the moves involved a bit of a reach, which proved too long for Ryan, so he decided to find an alternate route. We hung out on the calm summit for 15-20 minutes, munching and scoping out our next objective, “The Rockinghorse Ridge”. The Rockinghorse is basically an extension of the Ripsaw Ridge from Peak H and eventually transitions in to “The Saw” from Peak P to West Partner. If your imagination runs deep enough and your legs can withstand a 10-12 hour ridge run, with the right weather, you could probably run the same ridge from Eagle’s Nest all the way to East Partner in a single day, with a car shuttle and copious amounts of crack. The biggest obstacle, arguably by far, would be the section from Powell to C, without having to drop all the way down and around to the SW Couloir. If you hit that section straight on, it could be anything from tough, exposed 4th class to 5.6. Anyone who has viewed Peak C from Kneeknocker has been truly blessed with arguably the most captivating view in all of the lower 48, from a peak perspective, in my opinion.
I personally thought the views from P, at that point in time of the day, were otherworldly. When you plan and wait for nearly 2 years, I guess that can tend to happen naturally. Here are some of the finer gems.
"Spider" and "Fly" w/ HCW in background
Valhalla way down valley
With no signs of Ryan, we decided to push on in hopes we’d be able to see him from further down the ridge. Around the halfway point, we finally were able to find Ryan, descending down the slopes of J, looking pretty demoralized. We were too far away to hold any sort of civil conversation, but were able to atleast plan to reconvene on the summit of Q, taking 2 different routes. Ryan went out of view and we pushed on. The Rockinghorse went smoother than expected and we were on the summit by 930am. Mike and I refamiliarized ourself with the route from P to Q that we had attempted 11 months earlier, and wasting little time, we pushed on once again.
ridge to Q
With Steve and Mike leading the way, we descended the cliffy sections of Peak P to the P/Q wide saddle.
The “Pogo Pinnacle” arose to our SE and after some class 2+ scrambling, we reached the northern flanks of Peak Q. Mike and I were thrilled to see that the route was snow free, but that quickly wore away when we began to traverse across the short, but terrifying slope. Steve gingerly went across first, with Mike and myself not too far behind. For me, the only place in Colorado I can think of with a sketchier traverse was the northern slopes of Coxcomb to Redcliff in the Middle Cimarron. All I can say is thank god for frozen mud and the rocks stuck in there. The exposure and uncertainty was too much for Scot to bare, so he decided to try and find another way around the mountain. David took his time making it across, which is saying something, cause the guy is pretty damn confident in the mountains, so the fact that I could hear his heart beating from my perch, many yards away says something about the seriousness of this route.
We all made it across in one piece and scrambled to the fabled knife ridge summit section. We thought we were in the clear after that cheating death frozen mud traverse, little did we know we had an incredibly exposed knife edge (2 actually) and some legitimate class 4, vertical scrambles in between.
walking the plank
David negotiating the class 4 upclimb to more knife edges
only snow covered peaks in the area
summit ridge to Q
Steve and Mike left their packs before the scrambling, so they spent little time on the summit of Q. David and I hung out for a little longer, admiring the view and the sense of accomplishment. Q is truly something else. We also noticed that Grays and Torreys were literally the only 2 peaks in the region who got snow. Very strange occurrence indeed.
nice slot to rest
Peak L and Slate
We waited for Scot to show, while Steve and Mike pushed on ahead for Peak’s R and S. Our interest in more peaks that day was waning and our concern for Scot kept us from going any further. A radio would’ve really helped in this situation, but we also figured Scot has his s**t together, so nothing was dire by any means. Eventually, we decided to descend Q to the snowfield between it and R and after a 500 foot glissade down runneled snow that could’ve castrated you if you lost control of your speed, we made it to the valley floor and fortunately ran in to Scot chillin by South America Lake, eating some food. We descended together back down to camp, but not without some unexpected entertainment provided by David.
We got mildly cliffed out descending to camp when David lost control of his sunflower seeds. They managed to get caught on a root sticking out on a 25 foot cliff face, but David, distraught, was hell bent on retrieving them. Somewhere between our fatigue and David setting up a quick belay to retrieve his seeds, Scot and I decided it’d be best if we take baseball sized rocks and try to pry it out from the rock face. Later at camp, while cooking dinner, we all thought about what some poor guy would think if he had rounded the corner and seen some guy trying to descend a 25 foot rock face with a piece of webbing, a 6’5 250 ex-NFL player and his crazed idiot comrade heaving rocks at a wall of granite, with expression-less faces. The result of this escapade was the seeds finally dislodging and landing in the giardia filled stagnant pond. While retrieving the now trash, David’s boot nearly got logged with water as well. What a mission.
David retrieving what is rightfully his
and almost losing his shoe
With Mike and Steve still high up in the basin, our appetites proved stronger than our patience, so we feasted immediately upon reaching camp. But all was quiet before the storm on the shores of Slate Lake as we filtered some water.
Back at camp, we noticed that Ryan had decided to call it a weekend, with his tarp and bag missing, we figured he had pressing issues back in Casper and skedaddled on back home.
a peaceful setting
After loading up on some carbs and more tobasco, Mike and eventually Steve arrived, looking pretty spent. The rope was never utilized, since none of us made it over to Peak T, one of 2 potential technical climbs for the weekend, but the full bellies helped make up for this fact. We stayed up with a fire and my portable iHome iPod speaker, listening to some Waylon Jennings and James Brown, before calling it another early night.
Alarm went off at 4am again and after a quick oatmeal breakfast, we hit the now familiar trail to Peak L. The sunrise on this morning was particularly notable, as we had a nice distant view of a golden silhouette of the Indian Peaks…
another morning in the wilderness
As we reached the K/L saddle, we figured we’d hit L first, since it was literally right there.
Scot and the Gores
For anyone who is interested in the finest class 4/low 5 scramble in the arguably the finest basin in all of Colorado, check out Peak L. I’m not advocating that everyone and their mother head 25 roundtrip miles in to Slate Creek, all I’m saying is check the peak out before you die. Peak Q is the tougher to climb of the two, more complicated, more dangerous. Peak L is an anxiety-free, relatively safe, extremely solid rock, incredibly enjoyable slab climb with an exposed, airy knife ridge to boot. Nothing about L sucks, I promise you that.
Steve climbing the slabs of L
Steve topping out on L
The knife edge of L is kind of like Capitol, except more exposed and thinner cracks to place your feet while traversing across. The last 200 feet to the summit is classic slab face scrambling and holds some solid 5.2-5.4 moves if you so desire. Cooper mentions the possible need for a rope on the descent, but I feel that is unnecessary and time consuming. L was missing a register like the others, so we hung out for a bit, downed some snacks and made way for Peak K. The downclimb to the saddle took 45 minutes and we ran in to our friend and his 12 year old Aussie for the 4th time this weekend. The Aussie was a bit short of hearing, so we were constantly surprising him, causing him to bark at us until he realized we were Gore Enthusiasts, which seemed to earn us his respect.
To make a long story short, the traverse from L to K is anything but trivial, lots of ups and downs and one grand finale, 150 foot descent before regaining all that to the summit. Amen.
Of course the views along the way weren’t too shabby….
Peak C - nearly as impressive from the East
Scot and L again
And of course, the descent was filled with joy, wonder and 45 degree grass slopes with 100 foot sheer cliffs looming below, not to mention being surrounded by loose talus fields. Good times. We reached South America Lake and I felt it was time for a gonad shrinking dip.
losing my ability to reproduce
I lasted no more than 2.3 seconds in that water and of course I hop in just as the sun disappears for a good 15-20 minutes while I sit there and freeze.
The dip helped, and we arrived back to camp with finally a chance to straight up lounge. Scot took a dip in Slate, I finished off the rest of the Easy Mac’s, Mike scarfed some PBJ, David ate his usual assortment of hippy food and Steve departed.
We all decided to forego peaks on the 4th day and for once, our decision was spot on, as the basin was more or less socked in with clouds and looming crap coming in from all directions. This was perfect pack out weather. We parted ways with David, who is still up there as I write this, enjoying the heart of the Gores in solitude, as well as my sweet and spicey trail mix. Without a car at the 4wd TH anymore, we had 13 miles to look forward to.
Scot was on a mission, the destination was a placed known as Chimayo Mexican Grille. I’ve never seen a hiker with such determination, at times Mike and I were in a light jog to keep up. He’d look back to see if we were around, but I could make out the look on his face. “Give me a 5 pound Gargantuan Burrito or give me Death!” We reached the cars 5 hours later and soon enough were feasting, burritos were enjoyed by all, as well as chili cheese fries and then ice cream at DQ before parting ways.
As I sat in the Cherry Creek Mall later that night, filling my seemingly bottomless pit stomach with soft pretzels by myself in some corner like a bonafide vagabond, I couldn’t help but get this last picture of Slate out of my mind….
What a place.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):