The South to North Arapaho traverse has been on my list of things to do this summer and since I needed to stay close to home due to work, homework, and other miscellaneous activities like vacuuming and cutting my bangs it seemed like my most viable option for this weekend. John (13ers alias on here) offered to accompany me even after I made a double rainbow moment ass out of myself in front of Columbine Waterfall in Mills Moraine the prior week.
He told me to pack light because his jeep had no doors and nothing would be secure, I wondered if this meant myself included. Turns out riding in a jeep with no doors is really really fun. We agreed on a 5 a.m. pick up time and a 6 a.m. start time but it was more like 7 a.m. by the time we started our way up Arapaho Pass Trail. The road to Fourth of July TH is rough and there are large areas of standing water. I think I am forever spoiled by the splendors of high clearance 4WD vehicles but per usual there were cars of all shapes and sizes that managed to make it to the TH. I had read and been warned that this parking lot fills up by 6 a.m. on weekend days in the summer; it was not filled up and there were plenty of spots available at 7 a.m.
Choose your fate.
We quickly left Arapaho Pass Trail behind and made the right turn off on to Arapaho Glacier Trail towards South Arapaho.
Signs signs everywhere there's signs. Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.
We wound our way up Arapaho Glacier Trail fittingly chatting about glaciers and how they so long ago carved out the mountains we get to stand a top. Over the course of the approach, through my ADD and our many side conversation John managed to tell me the gripping story of his SOLO climb of Mount Blanc. Completely enveloped in his story we missed turning off the established trail and heading for the saddle between Old Baldy and South Arapaho. It was not a time consuming error but just be aware that you must make this saddle by leaving the main trail as it will continue to go east towards the Arapaho Glacier TH.
Deceivingly close. (S Arapaho)
Deceivingly closer. (S Arapaho)
Climbing up to the summit of South Arapaho is steep class 2, well cairned, and not very difficult.
Onwards to North Arapaho!
But only after I take this creepy erect sitting photo on South Arapaho...
A quick summary of this traverse in comparison to the other class 3/4 stuff I have done:
I have struggled to understand the classification system but this route is classified as a 4 and now I get it. There is far more exposure than anything I have previously done. And constant exposure, like almost the whole time, exposed. However, the rock is solid. The "crux" move which is a short up-climb (down climb on the way back) on a smooth rock was somewhat laughable to me and I am short. I actually did laugh. I found many other up-climbs, down-climbs, and a few moves to be far more difficult. We did notice orange arrows and sometimes we followed them but most of the time not. Once again we tried to stay true to ridge proper and only skirt difficulties when necessary. John pulled some ninja moves, sometimes I followed him, sometimes I didn't but he let me lead which was really cool of him. This is the only scramble route I have traversed, made the summit, and had to go back the same way I came. It was quite entertaining to navigate difficulties both ways.
This traverse tests your skills right away. A set of orange arrows led us around (to the left) of a difficulty and up a 50 foot section of shale like over hung rock. Then a little more ascending on some easier to climb rock. On the way back we missed these arrows and stayed on the true ridge line which I found to be far more enjoyable.
A lot of the time we were on the actual ridge with some very exciting exposure on either side. These are some impressive mountains. But then you arrive at the not so scary at all crux move.
John on the "deadly and dangerous but not really at all......CRUX move"
Boulder's super fabulous water supply.
We were chugging along nicely when we came to a sudden drop off. I contemplated jumping but it would have easily resulted in a broken leg so we had to down climb around it to the left. I found this down climb and the resulting up climb on the way back to be one of the more challenging parts of this traverse. On the way back John up climbed this drop off (turned out to also be slightly overhung) which was easily a mid class 5 move.
Simon says, "go around to the left."
There was more ridge, an exposed dirt gully (a little scary,) and then a little more climbing up until the vast flat topped summit block is reached.
A hard to see exposed dirt gully.
One of the final pushes up.
This was a nice summit (made it around 10 a.m.), perhaps one of my favorites with 360 degrees of stupendous views. There was another group already on the summit so we walked to the far North end and looked at the other Indian Peaks until they vacated the premise of the massive cairn.
Another day, another ridge.
Arikaree Peak, Navajo Peak, Apache Peak, Shoshoni Peak....all said they want me to climb them.
And then we had the summit to ourselves. I am happy to report I was able to open the summit register and signed my very first hell ya I was here piece of wet moldy paper on top of a mountain.
I have read that most accidents happen on the way down because climbers feel a sense of relief that the summit was made and over confidence brews a sense that the difficulties are behind. The difficulties are not behind on this traverse. I found the return to be equally if not more challenging than the way to the summit of North Arapaho and my full attention was needed. The cliffed out part that John climbed directly up I had to go around and picking my route up the bypass was tough and definitely on the higher side of class 4.
Only picture from the return, John and his ninja moves.
John and I had discussed potentially going onward North to Navajo Peak but that would entail us having to come back on a very long and partially unknown ridge line potentially during afternoon storms (which did occur). Through email we had discussed also doing Mount Neva's North Ridge another fun scramble. The route I mapped out on my super radical Sky Terrain map took us back over South Arapaho, back down Arapaho Glacier Trail, back down to Arapaho Pass Trail, over Arapaho Pass and then up to Caribou trail where we would gain the North Ridge. Now I should stop and make mention that John has some pretty serious climbing accomplishments under his belt that reach far beyond the Colorado 13ers and 14ers. He has experience yet is very humble and portrays all of the qualities I believe make a good alpine mountaineer. All day we had been eyeing up a gully off of the N-->S traverse thinking we could attain the ridge line over to Neva bypassing all of the back tracking we would otherwise have to do. We choose, well I choose to drop down about a quarter of a mile away from the S Arapaho summit to the east (right) on the return. I really believed that traversing this ridge would be no problem but John knew what difficulties lay ahead. This is the difference between a beginner and an experienced climber. My optimism about the lack of cliffs we would have to avoid was totally wrong and he was able to read the terrain from views he took in earlier and by using his knowledge of glacier formation in the Colorado Rockies. Well without further a do I present.... Death Gully
Oh how looks can be deceiving. This was our initial view and to me it looked like a short hop skip and jump down the black arrows to connect with the pink arrow to get over to Mount Neva. John appreciated my optimism but he knew what was in store even though he had never been here before.
As we descended down the steepest most unstable slope I have ever been on we shot for the weakness the arrow points to. Mount Neva is the triangle in the back ground and although we could see it the Caribou Pass Trail was much farther away than it looked.
A look at the initial climb/slide down this gully. Nothing and I mean nothing was stable. John coaxed me through the beginning telling me to remain calm, mind rock fall and to take my time. I was able to get into a zone and became quite used to falling, sliding, pulling out all of my hand holds, and losing all of my foot holds.
We used the solid rock to the sides of the gully as much as possible to get down safely. To the left of us was an impossible cliff band; a rope was necessary for rappel. We needed to continue tracking to our right. This was a long and very tedious way down. I must have fallen a dozen times but only ended up with one small ding on my hand. For hours both of our concentrations held. There was no option for our minds to wander.
A glimpse at a sliver of the route we took down.
No matter how time consuming and treacherous this was we were still having fun and even though our decision not to back track over S Arapaho cost us the summit of Mount Neva I learned so much and stayed in good calm spirits the whole time. I think this is what builds nerves of steel. John knew exactly what to expect. He was momentarily concerned we would become completely cliffed out but we found the weakness and were able to reach the bottom of Death Gully where.....I got caught in a rock slide. We reached a decent sized patch of snow and John crossed a loose section of funneled rock to attain its upper portion. I was not far behind him and began to cross the same river of rocks when the river suddenly began to flow. Now I had been sliding and surfing down loose rock for the past couple of hours but this was different. The ENTIRE slope was moving. Time seemed to freeze as I registered what was occurring. It felt like I was on an amusement park ride but not the fancy Six Flags kind, the type that comes to town in the form of a fair and gets put together by some questionably dirty man with food stuck in his beard. And it didn't stop sliding. Somehow I knew exactly what to do and escaped to the only large and somewhat stable boulder nearby. This all happened in the snap of the fingers. Unfortunately I was still on the wrong side of town and played footsie with the moving mountain until finally two swift moves meant I was safely to the snowfield. The blue arrow is the location of the slide and the black arrow is the boulder I clung onto as I stared in disbelief.
Very soon after the snowfield with some very welcomed upward scrambling we reached the notch in the ridge leading over to Mount Neva. It was thundering and I saw a bolt of lightning in the distance. As well, I was mentally and physically spent and could not handle another few hours navigating a class 4 ridge. You have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. I folded.
Everyone loves a good cliff.
Looking out towards Arapaho Glacier Trail from the notch on the ridge.
The descent back to the trail consisted of boulder hopping, looking at a plane wreckage, watching a marmot the size of a deer frolic about, and climbing into a shelter built by a cross between a human and a beaver. The next photo is a look back at where we popped up in the saddle between South Arapaho and Mount Neva (the low point from the other side). Looking at this photo to the left shows a small portion of the ridge that leads to Mount Neva but it is still far away and an involved climb. Descending Death Gully is certainly an option however I would not recommend it.
We began to get rained on as we ate fruit snacks by a creek and decided to wander up to 4th of July Mine.
4th of July Mine
On the hike out I power walked right off the trail missing a switch back and driving us into the woods on a "trail" that we didn't recognize. Three other people followed
Not as impressive as Columbine waterfall but still worthy of a mention.
We then went jeeping towards Hessie TH which was very cool. Jeeps are kind of amazing. We got to the end of the jeep road and there was an ambulance (hope everyone is all right). I made some asinine comment about how "I didn't think it was real because it looked SO old and it was just someone's personal use vehicle." John looked at me strangely and said, "I don't think it is legal to just drive around in an ambulance." Leaving the area there were some cops so it was for sure real and I was able to put two and two together on why it looked fake as we passed by the Eldora fire station. That town has character and was oddly abandon on a Saturday evening.
Fun day in a beautiful area. Per usual there are so many more mountains to climb and hikes to complete. Holy Cross Ridge next?