| Destined to Fail
Not Meant to Be
Some climbs are just not meant to be. Mount Antero should be a relatively easy mountain to climb, even in May. A series of almost comical events (because no one got injured) formed a conspiracy against us from the get go.
Below is the story about how Mount Antero licked us good.
My brother Richard, whom has just moved to Leadville for the summer was eager to climb a Colorado 14er. I offered to join in for an attempt.
Of all the mountains I’ve attempted this year so far, this trip was almost doomed to failure from the start. The odds began stacking against us right away.
1. There was a high wind warning out with winds forecast to be 70-100 mph in the mountains.
2. I had a very long work week and was already exhausted before even leaving home. I had called Richard the evening before and said that I was already very tired and that it would be windy, but he was still interested in going and giving it a good try.
3. I didn’t even get home (in Craig) until almost 7:30 pm Friday night and wasn’t even packed yet. Yet, I had a three hour drive ahead of me.
4. In haste to leave town and start the drive, I left my ice axe next to the door at home.
5. We didn’t get to sleep until well after mid-night and as mentioned, I was very tired before even leaving home.
6. The night before was 42F degrees in Leadville and 55F degrees in Buena Vista which would mean very poor snow conditions.
7. Because we changed plans last minute, we didn’t have a map of the peak that we would be attempting.
In the morning we woke up early, but we had to scramble to try and find an ice axe in Leadville. Obviously it didn’t work. The only places that sold ice axes didn’t open until 10 am and we couldn’t find one to borrow. We were originally hoping to climb the west face of Mount Democrat, but with the warm night, it was thought that conditions would not be good. We switched our focus to Mount Antero.
After deciding to attempt Antero, we drove to Buena Vista to see if we could scrounge an ice axe there. We found someone to open a store early, but that wasn’t until after 8:30 am. We had at first thought of climbing the north couloir on Antero, but with the late start and warm temperatures, we weren’t sure if conditions would be good. We switched our focus to a variation of the standard route.
We drove 0.5 miles up the Baldwin Gulch Road before being stopped by a snowdrift. It was already after 9:30 am which is an embarrassing late start for a climb that would depend on finding hard snow. We hiked up Baldwin Gulch, which was a mix of postholing, mud and dry ground. Without snowshoes, we would sink into the snow to our knees or more in some places, but with snowshoes, there were many sections of bare rocks and dirt to cross. In the end, we didn’t use the snowshoes much.
We met another climber near the stream crossing. He had got an early start and had said that there wasn’t too much wind until the very top and that another climber was not far above him. We then made the tedious slog through the snow to timberline (the snow was slop by this time of day) and to a couloir of which we observed a climber near the top of. We climbed the couloir on fairly hard snow (thank goodness) and had a chat with the climber half way up. He was a 14ers.com member and he also said that for his climb there wasn’t that much wind until the top.
We climbed to the top of the couloir where we found that the wind really started to pick up. The front must have been crossing because the temperature dropped significantly as well. We made the tedious traverse around the mountain (which took us several hours with soft snow) and finally reached the ridgeline. Without a map and with somewhat poor visibility (most of which was actually due to dust rather than clouds) we weren’t exactly sure which mountain was the right one, but Richard (my brother) guessed correctly and we found our way up the summit ridge (we must have missed the standard route though, because there wasn’t a defined route through the talus).
The wind was really howling and it was hard to stand up, in fact it knocked us both down several times. When I stopped to wait for Richard at one place, I put my big pack down and it started to blow away! The wind really slowed things down and it was a battle just to get to the false summit of Antero at 13,820 feet. The wind was blowing harder than ever and it was getting cold. Worse, there was now a short knife edge ridge to cross and we were already having trouble keeping our balance and standing up. After a rest, it was already 5:40 PM. We were concerned about the late hour (I had to leave for Craig at 5:30 am the next morning) and we were concerned about being blown off the ridge or being able to keep our balance on the ridge during the gusting winds.
After a short conversation, we turned our backs on the mountain and headed down. It was a bitter blow (on what should have been an easy mountain) for many reasons:
1. May and August were the only months that I hadn’t climbed a 14er (most of them I've done were in the winter season). I wanted to get May over with and it would also be a new record elevation for me for the month of May (since this climb, I have climbed a 14er in August).
2. It was a lot of hard work getting to the false summit. It was a shame to turn around. Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much, but my impression of Antero is that it is a tedious and mostly unaesthetic (compared to many other mountains at least) scree pile and not on my list of places to return (the couloirs on the north side might be much more interesting).
3. It would have been Richard’s first 14er and he was looking to climbing a 14,000 foot mountain for the first time.
On the way up, I had noticed a snow slope that might prove a good glissade down. We made our way over the scree to where I thought the top of the snowfield might be. It looked steep, but not unreasonable. I went first and zoomed down the snowfield in fast time. It sure beat the postholing and scree on the way up. Richard quickly followed.
We found that we could glissade all the way down the snow slope to a couloir which led down to timberline. Some of the snow was icy and fast, but both of us are good with an ice axe.
Once we got to near timberline, the snow softened again and it was once again posthole city. We forced our way through the soft snow and back to the standard route. After that it was a long and tedious walk out and we arrived around dark. We went to bed late in Leadville and then it was a long and early drive home in the morning.