| chasing register robbers across Herman Gulch
This was a last minute decision, as I'd originally planned a three day weekend trip to the Elks before snow rolled in (again). I'd had my eye on attempting the traverse from Pettingell to Citadel to free climb the crux that is repelled from the other direction, as I don't own a rope (nor solid rope skills) and decided I'd venture up to see if it was passable or too snowy/icy.
Any day you can get four peaks is a good one, but I was mightily disappointed that none of the peaks had registers - but Herman Gulch is a popular place, so I imagine maintaining/replacing them would be a vain effort. I got none too alpine of a start, launching off from the parking lot at 8:15 am. I passed only one hiker on the trail; he was only a quarter-mile or so up. After following the well-established trail through the trees, I found myself nearing the upper basin and admired the peaks to the south, across I-70.
It's a pretty fun trail that alternates between open meadows and groves of pine. I knew I was done with all of that and ready to begin the "real hike" when I could glimpse the snow-dappled rocky ridge of Citadel and Pettingell directly ahead, and Pettingell's east ridge extending to my right. Technical difficulties prevent my uploading this photo, but it's f--ing gorgeous.
There is a signed trail junction (straight ahead or right) and I turned right, took the trail maybe 100 feet or so before venturing northwest toward Pettingell's lower slopes. The picture below is looking toward the summit, but the route I took was not directly ahead but up mellower slopes to the right to gain the ridge.
After walking rounded grassy slopes, it's a surprise to see this ridgeline ahead.
Embarking on the ridge, the most exciting part - the ridge to the Citadel - is in view for much of the way.
But Pettingell's east ridge is not to be overshadowed. I find myself on stretches of fun class 2 catwalks and engaging and sustained class 3 blocks.
Views are expansive all around, and here's a glimpse southeastward into the basin.
Then there is one last bit of excitement before a stroll to Pettingell's summit.
From the summit, I enjoy the view west.
But I don't tarry long, because I'm on a mission to breach The Citadel. Despite the seeming ferocity of the ridge as glimpsed from afar on the approach, it's really all just class 2 until you get to the crux. Here's the view shortly into the traverse from Pettingell's summit.
The west wind had been harrying me throughout my climb of Pettingell, and it did not desist but continued to nip at my side in gusts exceeding 20 mph (but probably not much faster, if any, than 30 mph). Still, as The Citadel loomed closer, i told myself it had been a rewarding scramble to Pettingell, that if the climb looked iffy or conditions were unsafe, I could retreat, storm the castle another day. It took only 20-30 minutes to reach the crux. It was now right at 4 hours since I'd left the parking lot.
The crux is an imposing tower; the ridge narrows and there is no way around it. Though still sunny and fairly warm, the wind howled across this shallow part of the ridge and I shivered in the shadow of The Citadel. I spent several minutes here, scanning the rock up the middle and to either side to ascertain the safest route. The chimney on the right looked somewhat promising, but it was all in the shade and facing the bitter wind, and it was sustained.
The route up the middle looked just like this. I thought perhaps an easier way led up from the left (east) but venturing that way revealed that the ground quickly gave way and the path of leas resistance would lead me right back to the middle. The route up the middle was complicated by an overhang; after that, the angle relented to an agreeable scramble up a blocky face. Here's looking up the crux:
I got up there, right below the overhang, and spent a couple more minutes trying to figure out my way up. I knew that once past the overhang, I would have no problems. But getting around it was proving more difficult than I thought. I had originally thought to find holds to the right and to traverse that way before climbing back left above it. However, the snow-covered ledges there quickly froze my ungloved hand and I could find little in the way of holds even after sweeping it as best I could. Luckily it's a nice broad ledge suitable for two feet below this point, so I relaxed and put a glove on my right hand, resolving to climb this thing reverse-Michael Jackson. Another aspect that complicated matters is that there was a really nice hold below the overhang , but the span between it and the overhang was too short to allow me to get a foot up there and crouch beneath it. I looked to the left -- and saw a shiny red sling. While considering a way to reach for the sling (ugh, and reduce myself to aid climbing a 5.4 route!) I then found a small hold for my left foot that I could access by stemming my right foot on a hold to the right of side of the overhang. Nailing those allowed me to get good hands and then I was up, around and past the crux by way of a path to the left.
I made some cry of triumph after getting to the top and finding myself looking at a spectacular but easy finish to The Citadel's upper tower. Then, immediately overcome with a sense of relief, of gratitude for the blessings and opportunities I enjoy to live such beauty, I knelt in a silent moment before the mystery that most call God. That little climb - largely because of the scoping before engaging -- had taken me as long as it had taken me to traverse from Pettingell. Anyhow, this is what I saw before me and I walked quickly over to the westernmost summit straight ahead before then visiting the eastern summit at left.
Here is what the western summit looked like from atop the eastern:
And here is what the way to Hagar looked like from the western summit. After touching on the eastern, I backtracked beneath the western summit and traversed due west to Hagar.
The traverse began as a walk and then quickly got into some mixed class 2+ and class 3 scrambling. It went very quickly. I left the eastern summit of Citadel at 1:05 and it was 1:40 that I found myself looking at this:
"What a cool flake!" is what I thought and I launched. I got up it by way of a pronounced crack out of view behind it on the right that I jammed my feet into. I imagine easier options probably existed elsewhere along the ridge, and the ridge can be bypassed completely to the left (south). Topped out soon after, I paused to eat a little bit and then decided that, while I loved all of the scrambling I'd found this day, I didn't feel like repeating the ridge back to Citadel. So I found an easier descent off the west side of Hagar and then walked down the south slopes into the basin southwest of Herman Gulch, bypassing The Citadel and aiming for Mt Bethel.
Here's the descent off Hagar:
And a look back up the descent route from lower down:
Here's the view of The Citadel:
And here's a look ahead as I bypassed it with some gentle side-hilling to the south; Mt Bethel is directly ahead:
That nagging west wind is now at my back, and I find easy passage following elk trails. "Those elk! Speeding me along an expressway, so I can get along back to the car to drive to my destination in the mountains that are their namesake!" Such is the silly thought that runs through my brain, as I remark at the ease of this bushwhack and look ahead to being in Lead King Basin tomorrow.
Soon I near the climb to Bethel's west ridge. It's taken only an hour from Hagar's summit to get here, but it will take me nearly another hour to reach the summit. (Class 2 steep grass!)
The view back to the west from Bethel's summit cairn gave me a great sense of fulfillment.
Looking ahead, easy grassy slopes to the east and I70's motor noise replacing the roar of the wind as I descend:
But wait! One can't get off so easy; a nasty loose scree slope confronts me on my descent of the ridge and here's a look back up at what I tediously clambered down:
From here on, it was a simple bushwhack - no trail, surprisingly - but just a matter of angling ENE down the slopes and through the woods to the parking lot one goes. I got back to the car at 4:40, 8 hours and 25 minutes from when I started out.
All in all, a fun and remarkably alpine day in a spot so close to the I70 corridor. I hope you enjoyed the report.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):