| The Summer of Scrambling
Peaks Climbed Summer 2013:
Geissler Mtn. West
I was blessed to spend another summer working at Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp near Divide, Colorado. On days off, the staff would do many fun things, my
favorite of which was climbing mountains. During June, most of us staff would have Sunday mornings off until 12pm. This allowed us enough time to wake up, drive
out to the Mosquito/Ten Mile Range, and climb a peak or two. In July, when resident camps were over, we switched into behind the scenes jobs like maintenance or
kitchen. During July we had 1-2 full days off which allowed for adventures further into Colorado’s interior. This report will focus on the highlights from the summer as
well as any interesting tidbits of information picked up along the way.
Perhaps the most interesting peak we climbed in the Mosquito range was Mt. Tweto. We started out on the standard route described on 13ers.com
(http://www.13ers.com/routemain.php?route=201211071904063). Even though it was late June, it was still quite cold and some of us had pants and jackets on. The
trailhead is easily reachable with a passenger car, you just have to take it slow at certain points. Thanks to my brilliant navigational skills, we blasted through willows
for a while, instead of following an old two track road until we reached the basin below Tweto. Our group that morning was pretty adventurous, Indy and Grace are
excellent rock climbers and us guys like scrambling, so we decided to go up Tweto’s south face to the east ridge that connects with Mt. Buckskin.
The south face of Tweto, we went up the largest patch of snow.
Looking down at Ben and Kendal, both used rocks as make-shift ice axes. I opted not too use rocks and wished I had.
Indy starting out on the juicy ridge over to Tweto. Class 2 with some Class 3 sections on mostly solid rock.
While the climb up was fun, it definitely could have been dangerous if the snow was any harder. We could barely kick steps into the snow, and the angle was very
steep. Neveretheless we all made it safely to the top of the ridge without incident and agreed that going up that way was way more enjoyable than a simple ridge
walk. We took our time making our way across the ridge to the summit and enjoyed the fantastic views north of the Decalibron group and the views west of Mt.
Massive and Mt. Elbert. On the way up this ridge, I had a rather large rock fall on my leg, gashing it somewhat deeply, thankfully Ben had his first aid kit along! On
the descent, Grace twisted her ankle severely, but she made it all the way down with little assistance. Took it like a champ! We drove back to camp thanking God
that our injuries weren’t any worse than they were.
Class 3 section on Tweto’s SE ridge
Kendal on the ridge
The next adventure occurred on the annual staff retreat, a weekend for staff to get away after resident camps are over. We camped near Shelf Lake in the Front
Range for the evening, and then 18 of the 30ish staff woke up around 5am to go hike Grays and Torreys. Since I knew that Grays and Torreys are considered some of
the “easier” 14ers out there, I decided to research a tougher route, and the Kelso ridge fit the bill. All of us hiked together for the first little bit and we were, as Ben
put it, “just owning people”. Living and hiking at 9620’ gets you in shape! We stopped at the Kelso ridge turnoff and those that wanted to do the ridge left the main
group. This is easily one of my favorite routes on a 14er that I’ve done so far. It’s rugged, has great views, and excellent scrambling. We found it to be pretty
straightforward navigationally; usually one can either go up the face of a rock or go around it, usually on the northern side.
Beautiful valley trail
View up the Kelso ridge, it looks much tougher than it actually is.
One of the tougher sections, class 3+/4. Probably could have gone around it, but that’s no fun!
Typical terrain on the ridge, lots of solid scrambling.
The knife edge was a little scary, its pretty exposed and slick. But very doable, just gotta believe you can do it!
We reached the summit at 9:50am, and we started around 7am. For some it was their first ascent of a 14er! Many 14ers will seem pretty lame after that. We
enjoyed the summit of Torreys, ate food, and then descended quickly to go up to Grays. We met the other half of our group in the saddle, they were getting ready to
ascend Torreys. At the top of Grays we lounged around, napped, and ate for about an hour before heading down. Gotta love those days when you don’t have to
worry about weather and you don’t even need a jacket at the top. Everybody wanted to glissade, so we all met at the top of a snowfield in between the two peaks
and had a blast heading down, probably one of the best glissades I’d ever done. Seth, one of the wilderness leaders, and his dad had glissaded the Dead Dog Coulair
a few years back, that looks insane but fun! Fantastic day with many of the RMMC staff!
Summit photo on Torreys
The whole group in the saddle
And now for the Sawatch portion of the report. I was looking for lots of peaks near a paved road, and the Geissler/Twining peak group near Independence Pass fit the
bill. After we had packed our sandwiches in the kitchen and drove out 24 through Wilkerson Pass, we rolled out of the car to hike. The plan was to do 5 13ers, we
ended up doing 2. We were feeling like taking out time that day, which was fine with me. There is a trail leading from a small pull off on the western side of
Independence Pass, and that’s where we started. I had research this area very little, and as a result our first summit wasn’t of an actual “peak” but of a small bump
in the ridge leading to Geissler Mtn. West. Regardless, we hiked past a pristine lake where we saw a coyote galloping through the willows. From that small detour we
made our way over the class 2/2+ ridge over to Geissler Mtn. West. I would highly recommend this ridge, it is stunning and we didn’t see anybody while on it. Terrific
views all the way over into the Elks and of course the Sawatch.
Looking back at the lake near the trailhead
The ridge over to the true summit
Grace adding the first entry into a summit register we placed, complete with RMMC pen!
Summit of Geissler Mtn. West
We descended Geissler Mtn. West, deciding not to do Geissler Mtn. East but instead aim for 13545 which looked like it had a rather juicy looking ridge. And we were
glad we did it! At this point it was midday, but the weather was holding so we scrambled to the top via the class 3 ridge and enjoyed yet another spectacular
Sawatch vista. We decided not to go over to Twining, but instead descend to the lake and spend some time there. While at the lake, we spotted a weasel with a
pika in its mouth, a rare sight for sure! After a quick hike on trail down to the car, we drove into Buena Vista and pounded some Chinese food and then of course a K’s
milkshake. If you climb any peaks in the Sawatch, you must eat something at K’s when you're finished for the day. You’re welcome.
Mine and other's collective desire to climb mountains via class 3 ridges spurred us to do the classic Bierstadt to Evans climb via the Sawtooth. Myself and four other
staffers drove up to Guanella pass the night before and camped out near the parking lot. During the night, around 2 am, people hiked past loudly exclaiming that they
could “scare the crap out of us”. Who does that? We awoke to dew/ice on our tents, quickly packed them up, and joined the 100 or so other people on the standard
route up Bierstadt. There’s a wide trail all the way to the top, not hard at all to follow. We made it up Bierstadt in just under 2 hours. From there we contemplated
the route over to the Sawtooth. It is pretty straightforward as well. However, if the climbing gets too tough for your liking on the traverse, stay with the usually
cairned route to the right. This will take you around the towers of rock. The ledge leading around the Sawtooth wasn’t bad at all in my opinion. I finished going
around and thought “Wait, that was it?” It was a little disappointing. We then scampered on over to the summit of Mt. Evans only to find another horde of people on
the summit there as well. Took advantage of the pit toilets then cruised on down to the west gully leading down to Guanella Pass.
Contemplating the route to take
Looking back at Bierstadt
Wildflowers aplenty below Evans
From here on, we encountered either very wet ground or mud, sometimes knee-deep. The trail is ok, but eventually we just headed through the willows straight for
the car. We were grateful to be done that day.
My last week at camp I had the privilege of joining my co-worker from two years ago, Aaron (mennoguy), as well as Ben and Indy. Aaron and Ben had been climbing
mountains for a couple weeks prior to this, and Indy had joined them on a few of their climbs. I was still at camp working, but I managed to get my day off when
Aaron and Ben planned to climb Crestone Needle. Indy picked me up from camp and off we went down to Westcliffe and up to the Horn Creek campground for the
night. After briefly catching up and planning the following day, we went to sleep. We awoke around 5am, leisurely packed up, ate, and then drove over to the lower
South Colony Trailhead at 8800’. This was the lowest trailhead I had ever started a peak on. Around 6am we blasted off up the road and kept a solid pace until we
reached the old 4wd trailhead at 8am. After a short break we made our way towards the eastern face of broken hand peak and then over to the gully that leads up
to Broken Hand Pass. The route up to the pass from the trailhead is very straightforward. There are signs at key intersections with the words “Crestone Needle
standard route” or something similar.
Sunrise over Wet Mountain Valley
Dramatic first glimpses of the needle. I think it could also be aptly named Crestone Sharktooth.
Aaron leading the way
The gully up to the pass is straightforward, but it is tedious. Lots of ball bearing scree and some loose talus make for a slightly frustrating ascent. Once you reach
the pass, however, you are rewarded with views into the San Luis Valley as well as a great view of the Needle itself. From here you follow a trail that descends
slightly, then leads up to the first gully up the needle. We found route-finding to be very easy on the needle. In the notch where you’re supposed to switch gullies,
someone has placed a rock covered with yellow tape. It was very easy to spot. Crossing the gullies was perhaps the sketchiest part of the climb, in my opinion.
After that, we scrambled up the very solid conglomerate to the summit ridge and then over to the summit of the Needle. We summited around 11am. We had perfect
weather, so we stayed for about an hour taking in the views and enjoying the company of a hoary marmot.
Looking south towards the Blanca group
As good as it gets when it comes to scrambling!
Saw some Sheep on the way down
Crestone Needle is easily my favorite 14er I’ve done so far. It is a long haul, but that made it even more special and satisfying. The scrambling is unbelievable thanks
to the ultra-solid rock and ever-present handholds and footholds. We saw nobody else above treeline. I’m almost glad we didn’t do the traverse to the peak, because
now I have an excuse to come back to this wild area. I’m also grateful for friends that are crazy enough to want to do stuff like this, sharing the experience with
other people is always more gratifying. Also, when in Westcliffe, check out the Sugar and Spice Bakery (https://www.google.com/maps
5405592537724&t=m&dg=opt&hq=sugar+and+spice+bakery&hnear=Westcliffe,+Custer,+Colorado&z=18). It is run by conservative Mennonites, and they make
fabulous baked goods. Since I’m from the Shenandoah Valley in VA which is old order/conservative Mennonite country (I’m Mennonite myself), I love finding other
places around the country where Mennonites have businesses, particularly ones that peddle food. Enjoy!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):