THE HUNT FOR IKEY MOUNTAIN: LOST MOUNTAIN OF THE GORE RANGE
7/17/10 to Present - Ikey Mountain - Location Unknown, Elevation Unknown, Gore Range
7/17/10 - Hail Peak, 12,904' - North Face Route, Seldom Climbed or New Route
By gore galore
I have thought long, almost two years to the day about posting this mountain trip, questioning not only its categorization but also hesitating as to its relevance or interest about a mountain whose existence is still yet to be located. I do believe though that the reader who chooses to finish these words will come to the same conclusion as I have and that is, one of our Colorado mountains is missing.
I should mention at the outset that I am a prolific page turner of printed material when it comes to most mountain related topics for I believe within the folds of those pages is found the niche however small these days for one’s pursuit of Colorado mountain exploration.
For example, in this manner in the nearby and well-known Tenmile Range, I have read about, located and climbed the Tornado Peaks, Keifer Mountain, Mt. Tilly-Ann(a), Bald Mtn., Summit County Bald, Mt. McCullough, Hoosier Mtn., Point C and Humbug Hill. And from the summits of these mountains I have been able to look out over the Cross Range (no connection with the Mt. of the Holy Cross), Godey Range, Chicago Mountains, Wichita Range and the Buffalo Range.
I also know that when Mr. Fletcher came from Jackson, Michigan to prospect on his namesake mountain in 1865, his original Fletcher Mountain is not the one we know as Fletcher Mountain today. And upon Mr. Fletcher’s original mountain I have come across the most thrilling “trip report” I have ever read. Originally published in a 1880 edition of the New York Mirror newspaper and reprinted in a 1888 issue of the Leadville Daily and Evening Chronicle, the article then became buried until exhumed in the last year. The report tells the story of two peace officers setting out from Leadville in April of 1880 with a warrant for the arrest of a miner working a mine near the summit of the original Fletcher Mountain. Their adventure story of climbing this mountain is a tale straight out of the old west with a twist at the end that would make an iconic western lawman like a John Wayne or a Matt Dillon turn a few shades of blush.
Those are just a few of the discoveries of the familiar Tenmile Range from the results of page turning of mine that have gotten me off course. But in order to get back on track to the Gore Range I can say I was pleasantly rewarded and with heightened interest when I read an entry in "The Colorado Mining Directory", edition of 1883 for The Federal Silver Mining Company with claims situated on Ikey Mountain at the head of South Rock Creek, Wilkinson Mining District (Gore Range), located in October of 1881, of fissure veins five to ten feet wide, pay streaks from ten to thirty inches and development of one ten-foot shaft.
Two things of interest struck me upon reading this information. Who was the person Ikey W. (without a last name) as the entry further mentioned and could I find the shaft indicating the location of Ikey Mountain?
I have a fairly good working knowledge of the old names used in the Gore Range but Ikey Mountain is one that has escaped me. I am not even sure how the name is pronounced. Is it the phonetically sounding “Icky” or with a hard “I” as in Ikey? Nor did I determine the last name of Mister Ikey W.
The local history museum gives me hope that they may have a copy of the Wilkinson Mining District map if one does exist. Contacting the volunteer curator became as much a challenge as hunting for Ikey Mountain which I set out to do sans the unknown map on a three-day weekend.
I convince myself that this is a worthwhile effort but I know it is only a pretense because bushwhacking into the immensity of the area of South Rock Creek can quicky dissipate the best of plans. When I get to the head of the valley and reacquaint myself with these masterpieces of mountains I quickly realize from the scale that I am not going to locate anything that measures a few inches or feet.
But I’m no fool to rush into the wilderness looking for some unknown scratches in the ground as I have some nuggets of my own to mine. On the south side of the valley is a tower of interest that may be practicable. There is a screaming ridge that comes off “Sleet Peak” and ends so abruptly that I decide not to attempt it. A few spires and ridges hide Mount Valhalla from view. Then there is the north facing aspect of Hail Peak which strikes my attention.
Geologic time has done a marvelous job of creating the north and northeast sides of this peak. I approach up a side drainage to the base of the moraines and then up glacial benches to a break in the cleaver ridge that points north. This leads me to the upper basin of moraines at the base of the north face.
My route will angle to the right where the elements have been quarrying into the mountain and forming the line of weakness that I can follow. The route leads to a constricted gully of snow where in its lower reaches I can stay on the rubble next to the wall but this course ends quickly. I rue the fact that I haven’t brought my ice axe thinking I can get around any snow I might encounter. But this is not the case here. This is either permanent snow with its core of ice or hardened snow that lingers well into late summer. I realize I have no choice but to try the snow. I find if I stay on the sunlit part of snow as opposed to the shaded part next to the wall I can gain enough purchase from my boot print steps along with my gloved hands on the snow and climb the some 80-100 feet I need to gain the rock ribs above. Scrambling up these loose ribs brings me onto the west ridge some 200 feet below the summit.
At the summit I am greeted by a plastic bottle containing the summit register. When I did my climbing explorations of the Gore Range in the decade of the 1980's, it was rare to find a summit register other than a few historic registers from the CMC outings of 1935 and 1948 and a couple of earlier ones. I believe Hail Peak is now on the ranked circuit of peaks so I’m anxious to see how many people might have climbed it. In the ten years recorded in the register only seventeen parties have ascended the mountain with some of the names being ones I have come to recognize from the internet sites.
I have the good weather to spend on the summit and time to recall some of the memories of countless trips and climbs that I can see ranging from the Zodiac Spires, the “Recen Pinnacle” in the Gore Creek Valley and onward to Snow, Valhalla, the Grand Traverse and then further north to the great interior of the Gore Range.
Eventually it is time that I leave and begin the descent of the southeast ridge to its low point where a sharply pitched snow couloir leads downward. I regret again leaving the axe at home. The alternative is to follow the ridge further upward and then descend a nasty looking loose rock gully that I had noticed on my ascent.
I would rather take the couloir than expend the time and energy of the alternative. But before I make my decision I have to do something first. Since I can see the run out at the bottom of the couloir I take a large hand size rock and toss it onto the snow below. The rock lands on the surface cascading snow as it takes a few more bounces before coming to a stop harmlessly at the side of the couloir. I now know I can possibly get down this snow couloir without an axe if I again stay in the sunlit side. I down climb some rubble to the snow surface. I find it’s just a little too hard for my comfort to simply plunge step down so I face inward and tediously kick steps with the upper steps being my hand holds as I construct a ladder of some 200 feet for my descent. I step off the last rung of the snow ladder and then descend the moraines to my approach route in the drainage and back to camp.
I don’t know whether the claims on Ikey Mountain ever paid off being most likely not as was the case for much of those early prospect efforts. I can say for myself though that I have struck pay dirt in the form of a seldom climbed or possibly a new route on Hail Peak.
The long bushwhack out of South Rock Creek gives me time to realize that I am no closer to locating Ikey Mountain than when I first read about the mountain in the mining directory. But I can say to “Mister Ikey W. of 1881” whoever you were, I haven’t forgotten your mountain. I will put the matter of Ikey Mountain in my Cold Case Peak File until the hunt resumes. I have the feeling that just like the Tornado Peaks and those other nineteenth century mountain names of so long ago, I will eventually locate and climb Ikey Mountain. And if the mountain is positioned favorably and high enough I will perhaps be able to gaze out from its summit at those marvelous peaks of the Godey Range.
I will close this with the thought from my own experiences that there may be others out there who have pursued the hunt for those elusive missing and lost mountains of Colorado?
I eventually make contact with the curator of the local history museum. An undated 18"X24" copy of the Wilkinson Mining District map is in their collection but is not cataloged. I am not permitted to search through their maps without a call number. The mystery of the location of Ikey Mountain perhaps is on this map but for now it remains behind locked doors. I have searched also but haven’t been able to discover the last name of “Mister Ikey W. of 1881” either. He remains as much a mystery as his missing and lost mountain. Perhaps in due time and with good fortune I will be able to locate them both.