| The Spell of The Spider
The Spell of The Spider
The Spider, 12,692
by gore galore
There are those seminal moments from formative years of mountaineering that are imprinted in the back of my mind which occasionally rise to the surface as subtle reminders of those nascent beginnings. It is a moment of coming around the big bend of the Piney River of the Gore Range where the valley begins to straighten and your attention is on following or finding the trail as the case may be when unexpectedly something lodges in the corner of your eye where you have to stop, and look, and then steady yourself, and finally ask yourself “What exactly is that?”
It is the overwhelming presence of a pulverizing fist of a peak that is the definition of finality in the upper reaches of the Piney River valley. It is a peak telling you that you may consider coming closer but that you will surely turn at the sight that you just saw and flee terror stricken back to the security of the big bend of the Piney River from where you came from. And in 1979 in those formative years of mountaineering I wasn’t ready for anything like that.
I began as I did back in those days with the Minturn 15M Quadrangle map of 1950. The map presence of closely cropped and darkened contour interval lines of 50 feet coalesced into a monolithic summit with a marked elevation of 12,655 that stuck out into the upper Piney River valley with such ominous force that matched its forbidding physical presence such that I held the map at arms length on the table top for my own home protection from the image portrayed on the map.
I compared the topographic map to Bob Ormes’ “Gore-TenMile Atlas” of 1978 which was the basis for many of my early explorations in the Gore Range. The peak had acquired an atlas name of The Spider from which I knew not from whom with a nearby peak on its south ridge called The Fly. I saw that I could outflank the peak on approaches from passes on both its east and west sides as I traced the routes with an elongated pencil point never letting my finger tip come close to the peak that I now had such admiration for. The most promising aspect from the atlas was the dotted line that showed a suggested climbing route from the south ridge crossing The Fly to the summit of The Spider.
Armed with the newer 7 1/2M Vail East 1970 topographic map, I set out on the Booth Creek Trail in 1979 to climb what surely would be the harrowing south ridge route of The Spider. I remember distinctly the thrill of adventure back in those days of climbing Gore Range peaks. Beta was a close cousin of nonexistence, vertical feet were measured by eyeballing surrounding peaks for upward mobility and distances were measured from the point of my elbow on the map to my wrist bone as to what I could conceivably climb in a day. The Spider and The Fly fell into those parameters.
I wrote an article about climbing The Spider and the lettered Peak C titled “A Peek at Two Lettered Peaks in The Gore Range” for the Colorado Mountain Club’s magazine "Trail and Timberline," 1980. I mistakenly identified The Spider as also being known as Peak I because a 1966 CMC Gore Range Outing article had suggested “the highest peak of the Gore’s western slope, Peak 12,655', which could well be Peak I.”
The only map known to exist at that time that showed the locations of lettered peaks A through T was Kenneth Segertrom's hand drawn "Map of A Portion of the Gore Range," 1935 but for some reason omitted the location of Peak I. It would be some three years later after my climb of The Spider that I would find the correct location of Peak I on the opposite east side of the range from a 1935 CMC Gore Range Outing report. Peak I was an early Gore Range conundrum for me but apparently no one noticed my mistake simply because in those days hardly anyone was climbing peaks such as The Spider.
I don’t recall finding a register when I made my climb of The Spider in 1979. In 1998 Theron Welch climbed The Spider and characterized it as “a seldom visited peak.” He writes in a trip report “when I arrived at the top, I noticed that the register had been placed in 1988 and wasn’t even close to being halfway full. In fact, only 25 people at most have signed it.” Twenty years earlier at the time of my climb I could speculate that The Spider was “a hardly visited peak” although the Ormes’ "Guide to The Colorado Mountains," seventh edition revised 1970 noted it “has been climbed a number of times, usually from the SW side.”
I would trace those early climbs back to the Junior Outings of the Colorado Mountain Club in the Gore Range for 1962 and 1958 to find the origin of the name of The Spider and who might have climbed the peak first.
In 1962 the Junior Summer Outing of the CMC camped in a meadow above Big Piney Lake at 9,400 feet. On the seventh day of that outing Kurt Beam, Dave Abbott and Hugh Kingery went up the valley on a scouting trip and ended by climbing a peak which they had not expected to climb. I would locate and correspond with those three persons about this climb.
Kurt Beam wrote the outing report “A Day in the Mountains” and it set the stage for the ascent and naming of the peak. “As the forest ended, the valley turned, bringing into view an imposing solitary peak labeled on the map only by its altitude, ‘12,655.’ Here the trail petered out.” They went left around the east side of the peak to a large nameless lake where “we clambered up steepening tundra, the lake on our left, ‘12,655' on our right.” Although they had originally planned only to explore the valley, “the summit was so close we decided to try to reach it. At 12,000 feet, tundra yielded to bare rock. Wide ledges alternated with short, steep pitches interesting to climb. Shortly after noon we scrambled breathlessly onto the top. A spider had spun a web big as an umbrella on the summit of the peak, which we forthwith christened ‘The Spider.’”
They wrote their names and account on a candy wrapper and placed it within a tobacco tin and built a cairn. When I wrote Dave Abbott in 1986 about the naming and ascent of The Spider he replied, “at the time we presumed our ascent of the peak we named the Spider was a first ascent because there was no indication anyone else had climbed it.”
I posed the question of the first ascent to Hugh Kingery, the sponsor of the outing. He wrote me in 1983 that there was “no evidence of previous climbs, but Junior Outing 5 years ago probably climbed it.” Hugh referred to Peak 12,655 as “this is the spectacular peak at head of Piney R. Climbed this somewhat by accident on a valley trip.”
With the above information I now had to search for the roster for the previous Junior Summer Outing of 1958. The outing report was brief without naming peaks climbed so I had to locate climbers from the roster that I eventually found in the CMC clubrooms.
Stan Shepard would write me in 1985 that “the 1958 JCMC outing scrambled up practically every thing in sight. I think that . . . and 12659(5) were climbed, but cannot be certain.” Dan Wolfe’s letter of 1984 replied that “I feel with some certainty that we climbed Spider.” John Filsinger was more specific writing me in 1985, “as I recall I led several climbs of . . . and the ‘Spider.’” (The Spider name being referenced in 1984 and 1985 as it was not yet named in 1958). Roger Fuehrer’s letter of 1984 was definite. “We climbed the following: The wild looking peak in the middle of the valley numbered 12,655. I think this is what you call the Spider.”
In that outing report and those letters I would detect from the climber’s words of “imposing,” “spectacular,” and “wild looking,” the same sense of admiration for the peak known as The Spider as I would have almost two decades later.
As an aside summitpost.org has a photo, “The Spider’s north face” with the notation “I think this vantage possibly demonstrates how The Spider got its name, because the ridges that reach left and right of the peak look somewhat like a couple of bent spider legs.” The thinking is plausible from a photo but research shows this isn’t how The Spider got its name.
The photo does show the ridge point 12,200 left (northeast) on The Spider massif looking up the valley which I call “The Mite.” In 1985 I camped at the large nameless lake mentioned by the 1962 climbers and now often referred to as Upper Piney Lake. The east face of Point 12,200 rose in steepness such that I only thought I might be able to climb it. I could see tufts of grass growing in the cracks and ledges that now past those formative years of mountaineering into the controlled bravado era of my thinking that wherever those blades of grass grew I could get a foothold or handhold was worth trying. What I thought I might climb from the bottom I found that I could climb and from its top I called it “The Mite” for if we are to sustain The Spider in the middle of a wilderness it must have the sustenance of The Fly and “The Mite.”
As to whether “The Mite” had been climbed before Roger Fuehrer wrote in his letter of 1984 saying that “the smaller pinnacle immediately to the NE of 12,655 - I don’t know if we climbed it or not.” The Fly and The Spider are usually climbed together but few have probably climbed all three denizens of The Spider massif.
I am making my present climb of The Spider by way of the Eiseman Hut on the Red Sandstone Divide. I find this is an easier approach into the upper Piney River valley than hiking the valley itself. There is one drawback though on this approach for me as I have to hike the length of the Forest Service Road turnoff from the Lost Lake Road because of the roughness of the road down low. Sometimes the chance passing of a vehicle will offer me a ride but I decline as the road is part of the hike to the peak I am climbing.
Back of the hut I follow the path on the ridge to Point 11,474. I haven’t decided whether it’s better to climb over Peak 12,360 or side hill the talus on its north side but since I have done it both ways it eventually gets me into the descent to that idyllic Crater Lake basin with its pools of water drained by the plumbing of its small streams.
Below Booth Mountain I have to cross a talus slide where I meet the first spider of the day. I break two of the web strands between the rocks to pass through fully expecting the web to collapse with the spider curling into a ball like they usually do and dropping on its silk strand to its disappearance in the rocks below. But this time the web does not break and the spider stays put. I have to admire the spider that stands its ground just as I do for The Spider across the way for which I am getting closer and closer to.
I cross the final stream and head for the grass and talus of the base of the west face. As I climb higher, the grass expanse is squeezed into fingers by the tentacles of rock higher on the south ridge. Somewhere in crossing one finger into another I hear voices on the ridge and finally the outlines of two persons above. More fingers and tentacles lead to the ridge where I spy one of the voices standing there. The unnamed Voice person asks me if I have ever been here before and whether it gets any harder. I tell him it’s been many years ago but I know this route goes. He tells me he has become separated from his partner and is not sure of continuing.
I tell him I have to carry on with a prompt to follow or wait here for his partner. I turn to climb up the cracks of a ridge point that apparently is the crux for him. As I continue higher, I hear the sound of someone behind me and it is the Voice person following. We both make it to the summit for my second encounter with The Spider of the day. He asks me if this is The Fly. I tell him no, this is The Spider while pointing southward toward The Fly from where he came from. He tells me three more people are coming as he quickly leaves to reunite with his partner somewhere below.
I have some time to myself on this peak as I look down into the Piney River valley which in those formative years looked highly remote but perhaps not so much these days. Peak H signals the end of that great march of lettered peaks above the valley. Looking eastward I stretch my right hand out with the palm down and eyeball it over the ridge known as The Saw between H and J. I move my palm across the top of the ridge imagining the feel as I say to myself “That Saw has some really sharp teeth.”
I find the bottle with its register notepad placed in 1989; Theron’s 1998 trip report date of 1988 probably being a misprint. It is completely full of names on this “seldom climbed peak” and “hardly climbed peak” of some 15 and 35 years ago.
My thoughts trail off as the party of three gains the summit. The four people I have encountered on The Spider this day are one more than I met on entire Gore Range summits in the decade of the 1980's. One of them has fresh bandage wraps on their arm and leg. I ask if those scrapes happened on the ridge and the reply is that it did. Perhaps the south ridge of The Spider still retains its harrowing aspects these days. The leader expresses admiration for Gore Range ridges as he looks eastward. I tell him he is looking at The Saw thinking “That Saw has some really sharp teeth.”
I have a few more moments after they leave. I would someday like to climb The Spider by its north face. Glancing through the summit register again I come upon an entry from 1992 of a 5.4 route on the face. Perhaps there is a variation or the crux is short or maybe being snow covered would enable me to climb this route.
It is difficult to say though if I should pass this way again but if I should not return these words I have written will be my final respects to The Spider, a peak that left an indelible impression on those formative years of mountaineering and one that I carry to this very day with me.
As I turn my back on the summit and prepare for my descent I remind myself that although I have climbed majestic mountains from afar and have seen great mountain sights I do not believe I have it within me, or rather, I know I don’t have it within me to become so jaded that whenever I should come around the big bend of the Piney River where the valley begins to straighten and your attention is on following or finding the trail as the case may be when unexpectedly something lodges in the corner of your eye where you have to stop, and look, and then steady yourself, and finally ask yourself “What exactly is that?”
It is of course, Phylum Arthropoda, Class Arachnida, Order Araneae, more commonly known as The Spider spinning its web in the upper reaches of the Piney River valley all the while daring you and tempting you to come closer and closer until you too are captured forever by the spell of The Spider.