| Flaming Worms and Other Such Nonsense
Background: We had some ridiculous plans for our Slate Creek trip last fall which, while a heck of a lot of fun, had to be scaled back a bit since we were a little out of control with what we wanted to do in 4 days. This left some outliers in the area for us. So, I guess another trip was in order, and soon. During an evening of about 10 rounds of Dales watching the Alabama-LSU game last November we all circled May 2012 for another try at Peak N.
Saturday, May 19:
Kelso Mountain - Brian and I walked up, we walked down. Let’s move on…
"Why did we do this again?"
Lost Lake Approach -
Since the little warm-up hill went a lot quicker than we thought, we arrived in Silverthorne an hour early (10:00) so instead of our intended meeting place of Jimmy Johns, we hit up a little café/diner for some eggs, bagels, and a brick of blueberry/cream cheese coffee cake. Also, a pit stop to the local liquor store was in order to stock up for the evening campfire festivities where we found a newly stocked shelf of Pliney the Elder for $5 - all signs were pointing to this being a stellar weekend. We met up with Mike/Kevin/Sarah at JJs and let Kevin in on our little secret across the parking lot. He wasted no time in buying the few we left in the store while Brian and I sorted our packs to get out of day-trip mode and ready for the pack into Lost Lake.
We started hiking the road around 1:00 and anyone reading this shouldn’t expect it to be drivable any time soon. The deadfall was atrocious. We got up to the lake around 5:00 and after a flurry of unpacking and setting up, Deviants were cracked open kicking off an evening of friendly company, swapping stories, and all around good times. Starting a campfire proved troublesome as wet as everything was, but eventually the pyros prevailed. At one point, there were several pops and cracks throwing an “ember” between Brian’s feet. To his surprise, the ember was moving. After a Deviant and a half, a flying flaming earthworm makes for a hilarious encounter. Brian, being the animal lover, was nice enough to extinguish him with a tablespoon of beer. A light drizzle started around 9:00 which prompted us all to call it a night.
Good times.... (Photo by Sarah)
Sunday, May 20:
Alarms went off at 5:30 and we were on the trail by 6:30. In between, we were treated to an amazingly beautiful morning alpenglow on Dora Mountain and “Peak O” and reflection in Lost Lake.
Peaks N/O (Mike)
Lost Lake (Brian)
We chose a later start because we knew the ensuing bushwhack was going to be anything but trivial and wanted daylight to navigate the woods. As far as beta: You need to get in the basin to the E/NE of “N” and in order to avoid the long shoulder coming off of O, go left, then when you think you’ve gone far enough left, go left some more. A GPS helps… immensely.
The bushwhack was as expected and just as the saying goes, “There is bushwhacking and then there is Gore bushwhacking.” This would definitely be the latter variety. Along the way, we had to ask, was it Olestra or retro Rolling Rock that caused the green poo in the woods and who’s was it? Mercifully, we eventually broke tree line but it wasn’t until around 8:30 and then went onward to the apron and were spiking up around 9:30.
Mike/Kevin scouting out the route
I think we all had our doubts about the snow quality since the standard couloir was now baking in the hot sun for over 3 hours but there were dry ascent options if needed. The snow still felt summer-like though, but still a little soft and we didn’t want to lug our crampons up there in our mountaineering boots for nothing. As we started up, all of our eyes seemed to be drifting to our left where there was a fine-looking deeply-inset snow line that was still in the shade thanks to its northern aspect and high walls. It was also a lot longer and steeper than the standard. Brian and Mike asked us what we thought and I, for one, didn’t hesitate to jump at the route variation – not only for the potential of better snow, but the heat from the sun was also forcing Deviant out of every one of my pores.
Mike/Brian heading up
This line was a sustained 40+ degrees with a steeper finish for the last 30 or so feet (maybe mid-50s?). Brian/Mike were in the lead and Kevin/Sarah were right behind me. The snow was excellent going up but pure soup at the very top so I opted for a short 4th class mixed climb finish through a rock notch to bypass the wallowing in steep snow.
Kevin and Sarah in the Couloir
Yours Truly (Brian)
Ants Marching (Mike)
Starting to get steep. Notice me bailing? (Mike)
Team Papperson (Photoshop credit to Mike)
"Can I get a hand?" "Nope, busy." (Mike)
Sarah and I climbing (Mike)
The view after cresting the top would take your breath away. All that was left to summit “N” was a classic 3rd class Gore Range ridge scramble for 200-300 vertical feet. Man, I love this range…
Mike is all smiles.
Brian hitting the ridge
Mike/Kevin/Sarah on the ridge
Peak N is nearly in a class of its own for views, especially this time of year as the snow highlights each aspect of the surrounding mountains. I’ve been on other Gore summits where they are comparable, but good luck getting to Peak “K” or “R” this early in the year. The topic of conversation turned across valley as we tried to figure out how many deer/rabbits are hanging from the roof of the cabin next to “John Wayne Gacy” Lake.
Junior Lord Gore in his element
Gangs all here (Sarah)
Peak “O”: unranked, 160 feet of prominence, 0.29 miles from “N” so it should go quickly enough, right? We set off down the scree on “N”s NW side to the top of the standard route - so far, so good. Here we had a choice to either 1) hit the impending tower head on which would require 4th or low 5th class under a talus/scree field or 2) drop to the west and pick our way around it. Mike started up the tower and it seemed to be going well, but I (others?) talked him out of it as 5 of us going up that thing with a loose mess above may have proven troublesome. I was having flashbacks of the Hourglass on a summer weekend and I definitely didn’t want to down climb it should the other side get ugly.
During the drive home, Brian and I discussed how best to describe a route for the traverse, and neither one of us could come up with anything. Basically, good luck and expect to get cliffed out no fewer than 5 times. It’s trial and error at its finest. There were numerous 4th class chimneys (that had to be repeated in both directions as we turned around due to impassable terrain), at least 1 low 5th class icy downclimb, a 60+ degree snowfield traverse, and the ice axes really came in handy in chipping away ice or as a climbing tool when soft ground or a suitable crack in the rock allowed. When dry, it may be as “straightforward” as other Gore traverses, but the thin covering of fresh snow made every step unsecure and we couldn’t utilize benches as they were generally covered with solid ice that would have no problem sending you tumbling into the Black Creek drainage. Exposure was always present, but never overwhelming.
Sarah with a nice backdrop (Brian)
Mike's got a little Cap'n in him. (Sarah)
Kevin/Sarah/Brian along the traverse.
Mike/Brian spot Sarah on a nasty downclimb.
Making diamonds from coal.
Kevin, "Screw it, call SAR! I can't climb up or down."
Kevin/Sarah walk the line (Brian)
Finally, over 2 hours after leaving “N” (did I mention only 0.29 miles of isolation?) we were at the base of the final climb to the summit of “O.” Mike and Brian chose the snow line on the SE face which was partially melted out and what was left was pure slush. Mike was far enough in front though to confirm the ridge direct did in fact go. Kevin, Sarah, and I chose that route and the start required a chimney move that would have made Bear Grylls proud then ended with a short “skinny catwalk” or wide “knife edge” depending on your perspective. Two and a half hours after leaving “N”, we finally sat atop “O”. (Did I mention only 160 feet of prominence?) As seen from the other side, if we had chosen to take on the initial tower directly, the east side is relatively mellow so it’s feasible if you have a) a small group b) very patient c) trust your partners (and yourself) immensely to not kick any rocks or d) all of the above.
A look back at N. That's our line on the left
Satisfying Summit (Sarah)
My definition of mountain hell is descending loose talus. We descended directly back to Lost Lake off of the north ridge/slope of “O” and found nothing but my personal mountain hell, 2,000 vertical feet of it and all of it in about a quarter of a horizontal mile. And, just for the icing on the cake, my hiking pole snagged a rock about 2 minutes off the summit and the bottom section snapped in two. The only bright spot was when Brian stopped to thank the land owners around Black Lake for helping make accessing some of these mountains so straightforward.
From Brian, With Love (self-portrait)
Once in the trees, none of us minded the slick soft snow or maze of deadfall as our feet were eternally grateful to not be on teetering rock. Again, a GPS comes in handy for this stretch.
We arrived back at camp at 4:30, so it took us 10 hours to go about 5 miles. We had figured on a conservative 7-8 hours WITH “M” included. We underestimated this one, but it was not underappreciated. We packed up, refilled water, and were back on the trail by 5:40. Brian lost count of deadfall at 75 just after the junction with the Gore Trail (which IMHO is the most annoying trail in Colorado) so we guess there are no less than 200 trees across the trail between the Brush Creek TH and Lost Lake.
The Lost Lake Trail. See it?
It looked like someone drove the road on Sunday to clear some of it but simply gave up after cutting 3 or 4 trees and realizing a few more chainsaws were needed to make any real progress. We hit it pretty hard on the way out and made the car at 8:00 even. Kevin/Sarah high-tailed it back to Denver to attempt to make a pizza joint before it closed and Brian, Mike, and I swung by Chipotle in Silverthorne where a couple of burritos took the edge off.
Good Night, Thanks for Reading (Brian)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):