Ogalalla Pk (13138’)
Elk Tooth (12848’)
21 miles RT, 4900’ gain
Via Middle St. Vrain approach
June 22-23, 2013
Ogalalla has been on my short list as an orphaned 13er for quite some time. It’s usually climbed by itself or with 12er Elk Tooth as it is a long slog from any approach. I was hoping to do it as a snow climb with a pack in via the Middle St. Vrain drainage. The traverse to Elk Tooth complicates things a bit though as you have to wait until the snow has melted enough to dry out the ridge. I checked out a seldom climbed snow line on Summitpost called Dalkes couloir on the southeast face that I hoped would still be in. Keegan, Sarah, and Greg were up for the adventure, which turned out to be a pretty sweet trip in a pristine area that doesn’t see a whole lot of visitors higher up.
Sarah, Keegan, and I set out from Beaver Reservoir (9200’) at about 1:45 Saturday. Greg’s goal was to ride his bike to the wilderness boundary early Sun morning and meet us near treeline for the snow climb. The advantage to starting at Beaver Reservoir is you do start about 550’ higher than the Middle St. Vrain road, but you do give up about 200’ of that later on. We were bummed to see the Coney Flats 4WD road still gated at the bottom, although there was a tree over the road just ¼ mile in. We made good time to Coney Flats and soaked up the view of Sawtooth. Ogalalla and Elk Tooth looked a long ways away!
Sawtooth & Red Deer from Coney Flats.
Ogalalla and Elk Tooth a long ways away.
We took our time on the approach as we had plenty of time to setup camp before dark. The trail is cruiser other than a bit rocky in spots until you get to an annoying boulder field around 10400’ that really slows you down. I ended up just crossing the creek and weaving through the bogs while Keegan and Sarah stayed high. We came across an enchanting pond that wasn’t marked on the map and the views from there to the upper basin were awesome. We finally would a good place to camp right off the trail on a bench at around 10760’ after a little under 5 hours of hiking and 8.5 miles.
The upper basin draws nigh.
Oh, the joys of camping in summer! It is so much easier compared to winter. As I was unpacking, I discovered that in my sleeping bag stuff sack was my down coat instead of my sleeping bag! This was gonna be a long night. Seems like I always screw up with some minor detail when doing a trip with Greg. Last time, I forgot the stove and pot on Crestone Needle in winter. He must think I am a royal clusterfrick. (That’s a Nazarene f bomb)
We set off the next morning around 6:45 and Greg caught up with us at a tarn just above treeline. He made great time using the bike for about half the approach, and now we were a complete team heading to Dalkes. The upper basin in a sight to behold for sure, and we soaked it all in. We were able to stay on firm snow most of the way to the apron of Dalkes at 12000’ and geared up.
Middle St Vrain at treeline
Elk Tooth and Ogalalla
A huge snowbridge
An unnamed tarn
Dalkes is a southeast facing line that actually held more snow than we thought. I was worried it would be too melted out to be a worthy climb, but it was pretty much still in all the way to the summit. The unknown variable was a deep runnel down the middle of it that varied in size to the summit. I have noticed that slope angles can vary widely from one year to the next and it also depends on what time of the season. Late season climbs can sometimes be steeper, because there is less snow to fill in the steep areas.
Heading up the apron of Dalkes
The snow in Dalkes was very firm early on and the slope angle in the lower section was probably in the upper 40’s. I wished I would have brought my 2nd tool! Greg led the way all the way up. Other than the very top, I felt like the first 300 feet was the steepest. It then mellowed out to the mid 40’s. Sarah made her own tracks outside the runnel, while the rest of us were mostly in the runnel on the right side of the couloir. The finish featured an optional, very steep exit out of the runnel that everybody did except for me. I decided to exit left via a mellower line.
Some shots in the couloir
Greg on the steep exit
Sarah exiting the runnel
We topped out a bit before 10am and took off the crampons for the final 40 feet to the summit. We took a long break at the summit enjoying the fine views and it was a little mini milestone for me as it was my last Front Range ranked 13er.
Group shot on the summit of Ogalalah
North to Longs and company
Westward for Kimo's beta
Keegan and Elk Tooth
The traverse to Elk Took is only 8/10ths of a mile, but it is pretty time consuming. Most of the difficulties are faced before you reach the saddle. There is some slabby terrain below the summit with notable but manageable exposure on both sides. The traverse can be kept at 4th class with routefinding. The toughest sections were generally skirted on the south side via grassy ramps. The views over to Elk Tooth are pretty sweet.
The 2nd half of the traverse is not as fun and is a lot looser. We skirted towers above the saddle on the south side, then regained the ridge at around 12500’. We finished the traverse on the north side of Elk Tooth, which had some nice scrambling sections.
Beginning the traverse
Some exposed slabs
Upper difficulties on Ogalalla
Keegan traversing ledges with Copeland beyond.
Keegan on a downclimb
Greg on an optional downclimb
Traversing below towers
Looking back at Ogalalla, Dalkes is partially visible
Back up to the ridge
Out on the north face for the finish
The traverse took about 1:45, a lot longer than we expected. Elk Tooth is a spectacular perch and we enjoyed another long break here as we had a long pack out awaiting.
Sarah enjoying the views on Elk Tooth
We descended the standard east ridge route of Elk Tooth, which you drop off of via a gully at around 12100’. The gully still held snow lower down, and it was not as soft as expected. I stayed on rock as long as I could, while everyone else descended the snow. It was still too firm to glissade. Our tent was in a direct line below the gully, and we were soon back at camp packing up for the long haul out. Greg reaped the rewards of having a bike, athough the 200 foot reclimb up the rocky road to Coney Flats must have been rough! The rest of us were treated with a moose encounter on the way down! We were back at the cars at 8pm. Thanks for coming Greg, Keegan, and Sarah!