| Kate Plus Eight: A Cimarron Gathering
Isn't this what it's all about? (Photo by Aaron)
“Fortress Peak” (Class 2+): 13,241, Rank #446 (Sat 9/29 by all)
Precipice Peak (Class 3): 13,144, Rank #530 (Sat 9/29 by all but Matt/Finns, Sun 9/30 by Matt/Finns)
Courthouse Mountain (Class 3): 12,152, Rank #1,221 (Sun 9/30 by Me, Chicago Transplant, Monster5)
Attempt on Dunsinane Mountain (Class 4): 12,742, Rank #824 (Sun 9/30 by Me, Chicago Transplant, Monster5)
Stats: Roughly 16 miles and 10,000 vertical
At the beginning of the summer, Mike and I were thinking of taking a weekend in the San Juans for some technical peaks with Coxcomb one day and hadn’t decided on the other day. Well, we never got that far because I mentioned our plans to Helmut, Matt, and the Finns over BBQ after our June climb on Snow-Valhalla. Things immediately turned to a car camping party to close out the summer. As August came to a close, we tried to align schedules and the first opportunity we had to get together was the weekend of the 29th. As bluebird after bluebird weekend passed, I was getting increasingly nervous about our plans. Then, when the week of the 24th finally came around, we were looking at a week full of snow and rain in the area. Coxcomb began to become more and more of a fleeting hope but we’d still head down, armed with plenty of food and booze and make the most of it.
Friday September 28th:
I met Brian and Ryan at the T-Rex lot off of 70 around 5:00 and we decided to take the I70 route into Grand Junction, south to Ridgeway, and then over Owl Pass to the Courthouse TH. 285 to the Cimarron Road turned out to be much faster as we were the last ones to show up at about 11:30. We did stop at a grocery store in Montrose and dinner at Chemayo in Silverthorne along the way. Since we had the tent, I’m sure the group was glad to see us but they were already huddled around the campfire and 8-gallon keg of O’Dells IPA that the Finns picked up. After setting up my “mega-tent” by headlight/headlamp and another round or 2 we all made our way to bed around 12:30 or 1:00.
“Fortress Peak” 4.9 miles/2,400 feet (Mileage is roundtrip for the summit. Some of us took a little detour from the top.)
We slept in until about 7:00 on Saturday morning and made our way to the upper TH. The road isn’t that bad, but did have 2 or 3 spots that required some care. None of the stock 4WDs in our group had any trouble with it. (Explorer, 4Runner, and FJ Cruiser) We were on the trail about 8:00 and hiked past the wilderness sign into the woods. After hiking another 15-20 minutes, I pulled out my route description. I have no idea who wrote it, but I saved it some time ago and it read:
” From West Fork of the Cimarron TH, up trail a mile to Wilderness sign, short bushwhack in trees until came to open, long, narrow flood path that led to grassy slopes up to base of large buttress on W. ridge. Around at base of buttress to S. side. Following base of cliffs led into a drainage. Went up and right in drainage on loose rock until came out on grass and a passage farther along base of cliffs. Shortly found a small cairn below an easy passage up through cliffs to W. ridge. Guidebooks say Class 3 but is just a scree-filled gap in the rocks. Walked up using trekking poles. Some steep scree immediately above to get to ridge crest, then easy walk up ridge to summit. “
OK, well, we past our route 15-20 minutes ago. I guess we have a little bushwhack in front of us?
Standard Operating Procedure for the weekend (Photo by Bob)
We did find the flood path referenced and then made our way up the scree/grass to the buttress. We ascended all the way to the buttress to the left (north) of the gully. We learned on the descent that the terrain is much easier on the right side (where all the grass is). We had to cross the top of the gully on some nasty scree which required a great deal of care. The cliff band has an obvious weakness that went either solid class 3 to the left or loose class 2 to the right. Once above the band, it’s an easy stroll up the west ridge to the summit. We walked the ridge crest and the drop off to the north held some exhilarating exposure. After a 1,000 foot grunt, we made the summit and basked in the views for a while.
In the Gully
Spicy Cross Over Atop Gully
Walking the West Ridge (Photo by Aaron)
Kate with Redcliff in background
None of us had any idea if the direct traverse to Precipice would “go” but it wasn’t documented (that we knew of) so we were a little curious. We were even more curious when we looked out on the ridge and 75% of it was a tundra walk. The first 25% though, looked like it could get interesting. Brian, Ryan, Aaron, Mike, Craig, and I set off to see what we could see.
Ridge to Precipice
Some Taller Mountains
Well we confirmed it doesn’t “go” on a couple inches of fresh snow, at least not without a rope. There is one knob that probably requires a short rappel even when dry and then the saddle itself holds some hoodoos but they look to be able to be negotiated relatively easily. Regardless, we couldn’t get by the knob so we tucked our tails between our legs and re-ascended the 400-500 feet back to Fortress’s summit. Our efforts cost Brian his Nalgene which is somewhere in the 11,000 foot vicinity in Middle Cimmaron valley. He thinks it struck a cow but the coyotes were going crazy when we got over to Precipice so it may have taken out one of them. We decided that the best way to get to Precipice would be for a full descent back to the trailhead and climb the standard route.
A few wandering minds...
"I think it goes!" (Photo by Aaron)
A look back at Matt/Finns on Fortress' summit
Kate descending the cliff band - really the only obstacle on Fortress (Photo by Bob)
Precipice Peak: 3.3 miles/2,400 feet
So, down we went and followed the flood path all the way to the trail. We regrouped at the trailhead and the Finns/Matt went back to camp to catch a nap and get a head start on the keg while the rest of us felt the need for another 2,000 of steep bushwhacking up the slope to Precipice. For this route, basically follow the chute immediately east of the parking area veer north before the split and follow the ridge above treeline. Once above treeline the route is obvious. All you need to do is gain the south ridge, pass through a notch in a wall (6 feet of easy class 3) and then walk up to the summit. Precipice isn’t a complicated mountain, but it was high on all of our wish lists for the weekend for good reason. Go check it out sometime, the hoodoos and views are something else.
Aaron approaching the notch on Precipice
Craig looking towards Dunsinane
Wetterhorn/Fortress/Redcliff and Coxcomb
Sneffels from Precipice (Photo by Matt on Sunday)
Descending towards gate on Precipice
After a few minutes on Precipice’s summit, our attention turned to beer and brats. So, once again, down we went. There are some trails to be found, but we pretty much just picked through the path of least resistance. We made it back to camp around 5:00 that evening.
The Joys of Car Camping
The reality show “Kate Plus Eight” was supposed to be about the challenges of a single mother raising 8 children. Anyone who saw it knows that wasn’t the focus, but no need to go into that circus here. This report reflects the challenges of Kate Finn’s efforts to keep 8 children (ranging in ages from 23-40) from doing anything too idiotic while ingesting about 50 bratwursts, a 3-foot party sub, 8 gallons of IPA, and countless bags of chips and chocolate chip cookies…
Our Tribal Elder showing why an ice axe is a year-round essential (photo by Brian)
Brian's turn with Old Blue (Photo by Bob)
Most of the conversation Saturday night was utter nonsense but we did discuss the finer points of tree jumping and then a little bit on mountains. Matt and the Finns were in agreement that Precipice would be their prize for Sunday. However, the rest of us had options and trying to decide increased in difficulty in direct correlation to the intake of beer. Take 2 folks in our group for example (We’ll label them “A” and “B”), they started out “fine with whatever” but by 9:00 they were set on Coxcomb and “A” was offering to help with a rope. By 11:00 “B” was taking my measurements to see how he could strap the keg to my back for the journey to the summit while “A” was going to haul up 14 ropes and wanted to leave right then and there. (We only had 3 ropes that I know of and I’m still not sure of the intended purpose of ropes 3-14) “C”, on the other hand, was still dead set on Coxcomb at 9:00. Around 10, he was growing increasingly frustrated by the keg up Coxcomb idea as it was very obvious that we did not have a pull-cart. By 11:00, he was “fine with whatever” but at midnight he thought he may wander about half-way up the Courthouse trail whenever he managed to wake up.
Mike (of sound mind and body) and I (of less than sound mind and body) talked it over and the thought of Coxcomb or the surrounding gentler 13ers was definitely enticing but realistically we’d be looking at too long of a day. I didn’t want to get home at 1:00 am (or later) and had a hunch an early alarm wouldn’t go over well. I advised the rest of the guys of Mike and my plan for Dunsinane and Courthouse. We received some blank stares, others just dove back into their mugs, “C” figured that meant he should walk back and forth through the fire, and “B” was still curious how the keg was getting to the top of Coxcomb…
Dunsinane Mountain (attempt): 3 miles/2,200 feet
I woke once again around 7:00 to the sound of a car starting and looked around the tent at the others. The inside of the tent looked like a M*A*S*H unit. None of my tent-mates seemed to be moving any time soon so I went out to talk with Ryan and Mike who slept in their cars. The keg still had some weight to it when I went to bed around 1:00 am but it had a definite lean to it this morning. It must have been a long night. Mike, Ryan, and I decided we’d head up and let the others regroup if they could. After I got ready, Aaron woke up and asked what I was doing. I mentioned Dunisane and he confirmed with little hesitation that we should go on without them.
The route description for this one is similar to the others. Walk up and just be ready for 30 degree slopes of deadfall and slick moss. Once above treeline, pass through an obvious gap in the towers that I think are nicknamed “The Gate of Mordor.” If it isn’t it should be. We had both of SarahT’s TRs – one she was turned back on similar conditions that we now saw and the other, on dry ground, was successful. About half-way up the slope I thought that we should have brought a rope just in case but it was too late by that point. Anyways, we kicked up the snow through the gate and at the top we found ourselves at the base of the cliff band that turned Sarah’s group back. Guess what? It turned us back too. Our choices were a 15 foot very stiff Class 4 climb that was “dry-ish” or a tough Class 3 that was a little shorter but covered in moss, snow, and ice. Both options held severe consequences in a fall and the bases were both a downward sloping ledges also covered in ice. We were all confident in the climb, but this would need to be a 2-way street. Downclimbing would have been sketchy to say the least. We decided to leave it for another day.
Turret Ridge and Unnamed Spire en route to Dunsinane
Approaching the "Gate of Mordor"
Always interesting to look down on flights
Ryan scoping out the crux that would turn us back.
Mike and Ryan head down the north slope
We descended the north slope (which was very gentle and went quicker than the trek back through the gate but I think would be a real challenge to find on an ascent) and started our requisite bushwhack back to camp admiring the towers as we went by. At one point Ryan decided that he’d cross a log “bridge” that held about 20 feet of air under it. I’ve got a great picture, but DYBM, I can only get 30 in the report. Anyways, Mike and I wanted nothing to do with it and found a feasible crossing with both feet firmly on the ground. We arrived back at camp around noon, refueled and tried to recruit some folks for Courthouse. Craig was doing his best “Weekend at Bernies” impression, Brian had pulled his back prior to leaving town and could now barely walk, and Aaron had a brief surge of motivation before deciding against it.
Courthouse Mountain: 3.6 miles/1,800 feet and Drive Home
So, the three of us quickly ran up the trail to see what there was to see. The trail was a welcome change of pace from the weekend’s previous 3 ascents and we made the summit in 52 minutes from the TH even with a couple of rest stops along the way. It’s a fun little peak with a very brief Class 3 section and the views were well worth it as the west seemed to be where all the color was popping out.
Chimney Rock from Courthouse
The Sneffels Range
While we were gone, Aaron and Brian began a cutthroat game of horseshoes while Craig officiated. There was a palpable excitement as Aaron came to an earth shattering revelation at the Courthouse TH...
Hi, I'm Aaron
We returned to camp just as Matt and the Finns were getting back from their successful jaunt up Precipice. I think the only person more disappointed than Craig when he found out while we were gone that his coffee was locked in Mike’s car was Matt realizing the keg was kicked while we were on our respective mountains. We all packed up and were on the road around 3:30. We circled up at Amicas where we revisited the weekend’s finer points and put down a quarter bottle of “hot oil” since it came so highly recommended. Just a note, asking the wait staff for Tobasco just seems to irritate them, I don’t suggest attempting it.
(Photo by Kate)
Now, there is a lot going on here… Brian obviously kicking Aaron’s a$$ in a game of shoes, but in the background you can see Matt pissed there isn’t any beer left and Craig is in full “Bernie-mode”. Not pictured is Ryan’s car that was almost impacted by Brian’s first throw.
This was a great way to wrap up the “traditional” 2012 climbing year. I don’t ski and view winter climbing as more of a necessary evil to stay in shape. Personally, I’d much rather run dry ridges and scramble on solid rock in remote areas than trench in some random walk-up. But at the same time, I wouldn’t do much in the Mosquito or Southern Sawatch if it wasn’t for the snow season so I guess it isn’t all bad. Anyways, we’ll part ways to varying degrees until such time people decide to hang the planks up next spring. So, it was nice to round up a few fine folks and Craig to share in some good times before the white stuff really starts flying. The prior week’s snow did keep us off some of the basin’s more complex mountains but really did add to the scenery. The thin white blanket really adds character to the peaks and I guess we’ll just all have to go back again some time. Although next time we may need to downsize to the 5-galloner, but I’ll definitely have the “mega-tent” ready to go. It was such a fun weekend that I may need to work in a car-camping trip to the annual schedule – who’s in for the 2013 wrap-up?
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):