| Five Moments That You Meet In The Mountains
Five Moments That You Meet In The Mountains
by gore galore
I have met countless mountain moments from years of mountaineering. Many of them are treasured, others are fleeting, some are forgotten and oftentimes they are repeated but they all define time spent in the mountains. Five of my moments from a season or so were coupled with some obscure mountain climbs in the Gore Range.
INSPIRATION - Peak 12,005, “Kehlstein,” 7/22/12
I am thinking that somewhere in the Louvre Museum of Paris, France there is a room that one might visit where there is a chair and bench where one would choose one or the other to sit and look across the room at whatever master painting hangs on the opposite wall. In the outdoors of the Gore Range mountains of Colorado there is also a chair and bench where one can go and choose to sit and look across a valley at the works of another master.
The chair and bench are part of the makeup of Peak 12,005 also apparently known as the “Kehlstein” located in the far reaches of the upper Piney River valley. It is a peak that is little known or noticed because it is overshadowed by the dominance of The Spider at the head of the valley. I knew it simply as Peak 12,005 years ago when I climbed it by way of the south ridges from the west fork of Booth Creek. Its summit and view are one that has stayed with me over time.
It is a small rock fortress type of peak with a west face and a point of a summit at its south end connected to a flatter small summit on its north end. It is a peak that is almost medieval in character for the connecting ridge between the two points reminded that of a parapet, a place where perhaps the defenders of yore would prepare the cauldron of boiling waters to be spilled down the west face onto the mass of invaders below.
I came across the name of the “Kehlstein” on a commercial map printed in 2007. The name is apparently a take off on a similar named peak in the Bavarian Alps with a WWII history. Perhaps its background is connected to those skiers who frequent the proximity from the Eiseman Hut to the west. It is from the Hut that I made my most recent climb of the “Kehlstein.” It is a shorter approach than the ridges of the west fork of Booth Creek or perhaps coming all the way up the Piney River valley.
It is a small scrambling peak from its south end to the chair at its point and crossing the parapet to the bench at its flatter end. It is possible to choose either place to sit and look across the valley at the picture of the great architectural march of lettered peaks of the Ripsaw Ridge framed by the stillness of the silence coming down toward you where you sit at your chair or bench.
I believe from my vantage point that if geologic time gave me the power I could reach out with my right hand and grab the right side of The Spider and then with my left hand reach down valley and grab one of the Cataract Crags and adjust the picture in front of me. But I don’t really have to do this for everything is as it should be, that is, inspiring and priceless.
FRUSTRATION - “Slate Creek Bristles,” 12,035, 6/26/12
The “Slate Creek Bristles” are unknown to the mountaineering world. They have probably never been noticed or expressly photographed nor bothered to be climbed by anyone with one exception. The “Slate Creek Bristles” can be said to yearn for some kind of recognition.
I had noticed these bristles while climbing the northeast end of Bloodshaw Mountain on the way to Peak Z a number of years ago. The Bristles are a small northerly offshoot of a lower ridge from Bloodshaw Mountain. They are high above and to the left as one follows the Slate Creek Trail of the sun baked flats to the beaver ponds of Slate Creek and before the trail is swallowed by the timber as the valley becomes narrower and steeper. Most who pass this way are not aware of them as their intentions and attentions are on the bigger peaks in the valley of Upper Slate Lake.
Last summer I found myself camped on a small knoll by the trail on the opposite side from the beaver ponds. The route looked straightforward. Cross the creek at the beaver ponds using the dams and then climb the brush of the large avalanche slope to its upper path and then follow a right angling gully that leads to the base of the bristles. Then climb the bristles. Or so I thought.
Late afternoon gives me time to hike upstream looking for a log crossing of the rushing creek but to no avail. I return and descend to the creek valley where I make my way through the brush to the first beaver dam. There is a gap in the top of the dam that I try to breach with two nearby logs. The first log throw jams just right but is still too far under the pouring waters. If I try crossing this and fall I am swimming rather than wading. I throw the second log across the gap but it fails to catch and is swept downstream.
I backtrack below the dam into the mud of the brackish backwaters. My footsteps are measured but one sinks out of sight as the mud oozes into my boot as I pull it out of the suction trap. I thread my way over to the creek and walk up and down until I spot a submerged sand bar parallel to the banks in the middle of the main channel of the creek. I wade the first channel to the sand bar with my boots on and then the second to the far bank. My boots are now wet but without a trace of mud. I then cross the top of a perfectly constructed beaver dam of the backwaters to the opposite shore.
My success in crossing the creek is complete until I realize it is but a reprieve as I face an angry confrontation with a hostile nest of willows as thick as I have ever seen. There is no way around them for they hug the bank and block any route to the avalanche slope behind them. I could probably bull my way through but I would surely become a beaten shredded mass upon reaching the other side. I retreat from this possible site of annihilation and back across the dam and into the creek and past my misstep and up the bank and to the knoll where I find the solace of my tent for the night. Things are not looking good for the morning.
I fare no better that morning as I make another trip further up valley looking for a log crossing. I return to the knoll and look across the creek and the beaver dams to the willows and dismiss any thought of a second try. Time is moving on.
I have only one other consideration and that is going down the valley to look for something or anything. I leave the trail and descend the open slopes to where the creek is pinched between its narrow banks. I have in my mind that log I threw across at the beaver dam and was swept downstream as there might be others that have done likewise long before. I come into view of the creek and like a well-written script there is the logjam that will get me across Slate Creek.
It is a logjam that has been there for a while because the seemingly obligatory willow bush has taken hold on its top. The branches are pointing at me blocking my way so I grab onto them as I do balanced steps around to the far side bank. I am now in a tangled forest as I make my way around and through the downed timber. I come to a small stream that feeds into the willow nest further below. I cross the aggressive grass and bushes around the stream course to the avalanche slope. I am getting somewhere now.
But the avalanche slope that looked so inviting from camp below has an incredible growth of underbrush. Its left side borders the forest with enough beetle kills for a game of a pick up sticks. Between these cataclysms is a steeply eroded and well-defined animal trail probably used to get to the water of the stream I had just crossed. I work rather than hike my way up this “trail” using the limbs of saplings to hoist myself along convinced that the deer who use this way have done likewise by grabbing these same saplings with their teeth to pull themselves up.
In this manner I make it to the upper path of the avalanche slope. The going is easier now with open slopes and the worst of the frustration is behind me now. I angle into the right leaning gully of its rocky course. I pick out noticeable formations of rocks to measure my progress up this gully. The sun beats down as weariness sets in.
I’m rejuvenated when I gain the small ridge saddle and the sight of the bristles. Large broken blocks lead to the summit of the nearest one. The next bristle north looks equal in height. I climb on ledges to the right, left up some cracks to a small shelf above which a balanced fin of rock is the summit. The remaining bristles of the ridge are lower in height as they descend to the north and I do not climb any further.
My descent is without incident as I know what to expect. The only exception is that I use the limbs of the saplings to hold myself as I step down the eroded “trail” of the avalanche slope. I cross the stream and take an eye bearing on a dead tree to where I think the logjam is located somewhere below the tangled forest. I miss its location by a couple hundred feet upstream. I am home free when I grab the branches of that single willow bush of the logjam and step around on the logs to the trail side bank.
I have to question whether all the work and frustration into climbing the “Slate Creek Bristles” were worthwhile. But from my campsite on the knoll in full view of them I can say these bristles have now been noticed and photographed and climbed. Their yearning for recognition has been fulfilled and I think that makes my effort worthwhile.
UNCERTAINTY - Peak S, 12,857, 6/11/12; East Partner Peak, 13,057, 6/12/12
This was a trip with an unexpected situation encountered from a camp at Pitkin Lake. It was a trip with the object of crossing the divide from Pitkin Lake into the fastness of the upper south fork Slate Creek valley. It was a trip from which I didn’t return to camp because of an uncertain turn of events. It may be said that I was caught up in the predicament of the “one more peak” syndrome.
The direct approach to the upper south fork Slate Creek valley is trail less from the east side at Slate Lake. It is an approach I have done once but wouldn’t want to do again. The approach from Pitkin Lake is by way of the mighty “Might Pass” in the ridge line between East and West Partner peaks. “Might Pass” is a name found on Bob Ormes’ “Gore-Tenmile Atlas,” 1978. I don’t believe Ormes ever made it to “Might Pass” and thus the name. It is somewhat of a pass in name only for it is a narrow defile on its east side, a mere crease in the head wall between East and West Partner. In the spring of last year’s time its makeup was a combination of frozen rubble, ice and snow leading to the snow-covered moraines below West Partner.
It is a pass that I found myself slowly down climbing with ice axe and crampons as I face inward to the slope while kicking steps. When I reach the snow-covered moraines I can face outward and it is a glorious sight in that valley. Perhaps I could climb the south side of Peak Q. I have been high on that side of Q from an unsuccessful attempt at “Pogo Pinnacle” years ago. I also want to climb a north face route on East Partner Peak but it gives me a pause because the cornices of the north ridge have broken off and avalanched to the valley floor. My route would be on the south side of the face though. I’ll take a better look when I return.
I came with the intention of climbing the south side of Peak R and as I make my way on the benches above the valley floor I take a wrong turn on R. This is a time-consuming interruption. I continue down the valley to a drainage coming from a small basin between R and Peak S. The route to R looks more involved than climbing the small south face of S. The face leads to a ridge line and a point which is not the summit. The summit lies behind and it is 1400 when I make the top of S.
I make the tedious descent along the ridge and then down the face to the drainage and the valley floor. “Might Pass,” my route out of the valley and back to camp is indistinguishable from this point and a long way to go. I follow the valley floor to the last snow free copse of trees across the valley from East Partner.
I have to make some decisions here. My north face route to the signature fan shaped snowfield high on the left side of the peak is feasible. It’s a route I have noticed for a long time and I am standing near its base. I tell myself that if I climb out of this valley it is going to be by the way of the north face route rather than “Might Pass.” I make the uncertain decision to separate myself from my camp for the night.
Although it is June, the night temperatures will get into the 20's. I have five layers of clothing, two hats and a pair of gloves as I lie down on the ground next to a large erratic boulder. Within a short time I know this is not going to work as the cold seeps from the ground meeting the cooling air as it envelopes my body. I walk around as my body warms. I look in the direction of “Might Pass” in the fading light and then across the valley to the north face route on East Partner. I dismiss any thought of climbing the pass by headlamp. I’m staying put to spend the night here.
In my walk around the island I spot three large tree limbs lying on the ground. They are bare and about five or six feet long. I prop them up at intervals against the erratic boulder. I break off some of the lower branches of the spruce. They are big and leafy like and the needles act as velcro. I start at the bottom of the poles and align them around the base and then build the next layer up until it meets the top of the poles against the boulder. I use a few more branches to cover some holes in the layers.
I save one last branch for the door. I crawl into the shelter and shut the door behind me. I tell myself that if I still find myself cold I will use a few more branches to line the floor. I find that I don’t have to do anything further because within a short time I can feel my body heat trapped within the shelter and the coolness of the air is held at bay. I spend the night in restful sleep.
I am reluctant to leave the shelter with the morning light but I have to get up and go if I want to make the climb I have stayed the night for. I take some time to walk around and admire the shelter I have built. Rather than destroy it I carefully take it apart. It is almost like following the instructions of a Lego set with the only difference being that I don’t put the various parts back in the box but rather the branches go back to the base of the trees and the large tree limbs are placed on the ground where I found them. There is no trace of my passing and it is almost like I cleaned up my room as an adolescent.
My north face route on East Partner is anticlimactic now but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I cross the creek and crampon up a large snow apron. I avoid a constricted route through two buttresses by going left and then back right to gain the upper fan shaped snowfield. This snowfield lasts into summer and is the identifying feature for me on this side of East Partner Peak from points further away. The upper northeast ridge completes the climb and the southwest ridge takes me back to camp. Despite facing some uncertainty of my situation I am now quite satisfied to have stayed the night to complete this climb.
WONDERMENT - “Climber’s Wall,” @12,800, C-Line Route, 7/3/11
I sometimes drive the Ute Pass road in the spring of the year stopping at the pull outs where I can look back into the Gore Range. It is almost like the range is a big open book of chapters where one with a mountaineer’s bent can pick out the snow lines that last into the summer. I have always noticed the head of Boulder Creek where one particular line stands out as a stripe on a face known as the “Climber’s Wall.” Time has passed rapidly on this climb but I remember it not only for its climb but for its scenes of wonderment.
Because of the parking restrictions on the Boulder Creek road, it is a long way into this wall with a start at a small parking area off of Highway 9. Years ago one could drive halfway up the road to a small parking shoulder in front of a No Trespassing sign and begin hiking from there. These days I drive to the end of the road at the gate and drop off my pack and return to the parking area where I hike the two miles back up to the gate. There is an easement through some private property by staying on the road and trail and soon I am at Boulder Lake. I find the trail to be snow free until its end about a mile past the lake.
The upper Boulder Creek valley is one of the more pronounced in the Gore Range. A series of some five escarpments marks the glacial recessions until the permanent snow fields lie in a Y-shaped formation against the base of the “Climber’s Wall.” I have been this way in later summer where the routes up these escarpments are more apparent. They present some extra challenges when still snow covered from a previous record-breaking winter.
The valley is heavily timbered being well shaded on this partly cloudy day which bodes well for travel. I make my way on top of the snow on micro routes among the trees that seem like apparitions poking through the snow. It is a seemingly endless route up another escarpment and then down into the valley relying on some compass bearings for the route does not lie entirely by the creek.
I come to a part of the valley that is a mosaic of melting snow banks, running water and submerged marshes. I grab a willow bush to cross a rivulet and without notice I am in waist deep in the stream. The water is surprisingly warm but more importantly my pack and particularly my sleeping bag remains dry. I extricate myself with the willow bush and head for some rock outcrops. Some fortunate bursts of sunshine aid my drying efforts and I am eventually on my way again.
I reach another escarpment with the thought of a setting sun ahead of me that I better be getting close to my destination of Upper Boulder Lake. When I crest the escarpment there is a huge white void in the timber. I have made it to the lake. I find one patch of exposed ground to pitch my tent surrounded by the whiteness of the peaks and ridges and lake and valley in this the first week of July. Undeniable alpine beauty I say to myself.
That morning I follow the shore of the lake and valley to a bench which holds Lake Solitude named by Stan Midgley, the pioneer climber of the Gore Range, when he came this way in September of 1942 to climb Mount Solitude. He wrote me in a letter of 1984 about his hike up Boulder Creek. He began his trip in the rain camped at Boulder Lake and hiking up the valley in the morning in rain and clouds. “I knew how rough Gore Range Valleys could be, so I headed for timberline up a stream that came down from Mt. Keller. (“Don’t ever do that again!”) he exclaimed. When the weather cleared he writes, “those are the moments in climbing and hiking that make all the work and torture worth while. But this was even more so, because up until then I had not seen the mountains around me, - just hints of what was up there. I doubt if anyone has never climbed alone can quite appreciate the difference in your feelings when you’re really alone.”
I am not going as far as Mount Solitude but to the tarn above Lake Solitude and the snow fields below the “Climber’s Wall.” Standing in this place I have that same feeling of being alone so far up this valley as Stan Midgley had in 1942. The Wall stands in black starkness to the whiteness around it. It looks like it could have been covered at one time by a white curtain now torn to remnants with some remaining snags the major of which is the C-Line which reaches from bottom to top. I find that it is not a couloir but a weak indentation in the wall.
My apprehensions lessen as I start up the apron as I gauge the route above me. I find I need to use the pick of the axe as I kick steps as the route makes a slight curve thus the C-Line to the top of the “Climber’s Wall.” It is about 800 feet. I find the crux of the climb is not knowing exactly where I am at the top of the wall and how to get off. If I should guess what tool geologic time used in constructing the top of the wall it surely would be a wood rasp - its work uneven and rough.
I could probably down climb the route but instead I traverse north where the snow against the wall is at a lesser angle and at one of the uneven points I exit and down climb to the snowfield where I make my descent. Later on a different climb I would find that the C-Line topped out between the “Climber’s Wall” high point and “Climber’s Point.”
I recently drove the Ute Pass road and as the road gained elevation I made a left turn into a pull out and there as a reminder of my climb was the curving white stripe of the C-Line against the “Climber’s Wall.”
EXPLORATION - Booth Mountain, 12,163, 6/5/12; "Splendid Spire," 12,320, 10/2/11
I have a fascination with maps that transcends any peaks that I would have on a climbing list. I have a penchant of tracing contour lines as they make their way up the valleys. Their twists and turns as they reach the valley heads or cirque head walls suggests routes to climb or perhaps their too closely cropped lines suggest something of a more careful nature. Sometimes contour lines do not reveal what you think they do and you must go and explore them yourself. You might say that I check contour lines rather than peaks.
In the upper reaches of the west fork Booth Creek valley there is a set of contour lines representing the south ridge of Booth Mountain. The south ridge splits the west fork into two further branches. I have always wondered if anyone had climbed this south ridge as it is much more convenient to approach the mountain by the faint trails leading to passes in both branches of the west fork.
At first map glances the contour lines of this ridge are quite benign but to the two unexpected little towers, a.k.a. the “Booth Towers,” encountered on this ridge that involved some heady route finding made my thinking seem somewhat plausible. The ridge mellows out at its highpoint of 12,040 at which you can decide to climb that stickler of an east ridge on Booth or perhaps as I did the “front porch” route on its small south face. You cannot help but be drawn down the west ridge to “Druid Pass” for a look at the “Druid Tower” and contemplate the contour lines of its south face. It was a good day out exploring contour lines.
There is one last set of contour lines in the ridge above the east fork of Booth Creek that also captured my interest. I had long noticed the tooth or fang of rock from the upper Piney River valley on the ridge leading east from the peak known as “The Fly.” The contour lines on that east ridge also disguised the true aspect of that rock summit.
I approached it with mountaineering boots several years ago but hesitated at an attempt. In the year noted I climbed its little southeast face folded against its south arete with rock shoes. The summit showed no markings. I could have probably called it “The Tooth” or “The Fang” or some other such names along those lines but on that splendid fall day with the smell of autumn heavy in the air it became known to me as “Splendid Spire.” It is moments like these that keep me exploring the contour lines of the Gore Range.
I have known a lot of moments in the Gore Range. Exploring this range has led me to those moments of inspiration, overcoming those moments of frustration, dealing with moments of uncertainty and seeing those moments of wonderment which “make all the work and torture worthwhile” in these mountains that keeps me coming back for more.