| Striking Gold in Lead King Basin
I feared that I might be hitting the Elks too late in the year, as the aspens usually are on the decline from gold to nude by the end of the month, but with this year's delay in the changing of the colors, I visited Lead King Basin as it entered into full Autumn glory. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't put in a plug for Furthermore: I'd been to this area once before and so had some familiarity, and the only research I did was to refer to his trip report of Siberia Peak. Thanks, Derek!
A few words about the road: both the lower section from the shortly north of the LKG basin//Schofield pass junction and the entire upper loop that veers left from the sign that points left for LKG and right for Crystal are narrow and, in many places, exposed. There are long stretches where it's not possible for two cars to pass, requiring some lengthy driving in reverse (ask me how I know). As with my visit in 2009 to climb Snowmass Mtn, I took the upper road in and the lower road out: I did that for adventure back in 2009 and thought this road pretty tame, but this year I did it out of necessity, because I realized that a steep muddy switchback that I ascended would pose an impossible descent. Pressing the brake to try and make that exposed turn would likely result in a slip off the road and a tumble down the hillside. Whereas the lower loop didn't seem at all bad in my Rav4 in 2009, I hit bottom three times on the way out.
The approach was spectacular and I delayed the "getting down to business" of hiking Siberia for several photo ops. Here is a look south from the road to Marble:
Here's a shot of Snowmass Mtn and Hagerman from the upper shelf road before it drops to the trailhead:
This is a shot of the waterfall that cascades down the cliffs that the trail bypasses through a series of switchbacks to the left (north):
Here's a shot looking back west from Lead King Basin:
And here's a photo I took on the way out, looking southeast toward N Maroon from the trail:
So, onto the actual hike. The trail is excellent (better than the road to get there) to Geneva Lake and beyond to Little Gem lake. After that, it becomes fainter and not obvious in many places. It was above Little Gem that the snow cover became much more prevalent. A pair of hikers had been this way in recent days, however, so their track helped - especially in the few spots where the snow was feet deep, so I could step in their post-hole steps. If you two are reading this, thanks for the track!
The route follows the stream that flows west from Siberia Lake, staying on the left (north) side. As the ground rises, it can be tempting to veer northerly to engage the lower slopes of the peak, but it looked to me like that route would involve a good amount (more than I like) of tedious talus. Staying close to the creek, I reached Siberia Lake just under two hours from when I left the trailhead.
I didn't walk long along the shore of the lake - certainly not to its midpoint along the north shore -- before I turned my focus due north and scanned for my route up to Siberia's heights. The route I chose involved class 3 scrambling up the rocks to the right of the prominent gully that is right of center in the photo below.
The scrambling was really fun - solid rocks warmed in the sun, no snow on them - and this is a look at it shortly after I began. It was steep, but not hard; I think the photo makes it look harder than it was.
After 15 minutes of scrambling, I was above this lower cliff band and the way ahead appeared thus:
Siberia Peak is a much larger mountain than I took it to be and the true summit is out of sight about three-quarters of the way to the right edge in this view. Not knowing this, I ambled ahead, zigzagging to hop on dry boulders, as the snow between them was quite deep and unconsolidated. In the few gaps I couldn't leap, my feet pushed through the thin crust, sinking me anywhere from ankle to knee deep.
It was while pushing through this less fun section that I glanced back to once again admire Snowmass Mountain. It had towered above me to the right on the whole way up to Siberia Lake, and I paused for this photo.
Steadily I angled to my left to gain Siberia's west ridge. It was forty minutes after scrambling up the cliffband that I found myself on the lower portion of the west ridge. This next photo shows the ridge crest and also another possible route to gain the ridge in the narrow offshoot basin to the left - I imagine if one left the stream prior to Siberia Lake and struck off northeast, they would get to this terrain shown to the left of the ridge crest - such a route would be more direct but I doubt it would save time.
I was disheartened by how much time it had taken me to this point. Staying with friends in Basalt, delays to get breakfast in Carbondale and underestimating the time needed to navigate the road (a solid 50 minutes) conspired to provide a leisurely 8:40 am start time and it had taken me 3 hours, 20 minutes just to reach this ridge. I estimated forty minutes to reach the top from here. My original hope was to climb Hagerman as well on this day; walking up the trail I had determined that it would be an equal effort and more fun to repeat Snowmass and traverse the ridge to Hagerman, rather than to descend all the way to Geneva lake for the southwest face ascent. However, looking at the time, I now knew that this would be a single peak day. But amid such scenery, I could not feel any disappointment. Besides, getting Hagerman will give me reason to go from the other side up to Snowmass Lake, another stunning place that I have not yet visited.
The ridge was pretty fun and plenty airy in a few spots. It begins running NNE with some steep sections and then arcs to eventually run nearly due east - this upper part has some flat sections but there is plenty of exposure (usually to the north/left). The rock was not as solid as the lower cliff band, but still mostly reliable. Snow covered the terrain around the ridge crest, obscuring the easier ledges that Derek refers to in his trip report. Not trusting the early season snow, I stuck to the ridge crest and only deviated in one spot: a nasty notch. A class 4+ downclimb to the south (right) was made sketchy with some ice, so I opted for a lengthier downclimb to the north (left) that was initially easy class 3, then a sketchy class 4 contour around a face, followed by class 2 postholing up a gully to regain the ridge. Outside of this section, the ridge crest is mostly class 3, interspersed with a few class 4 moves.
Following are shots of various parts of the ridge. Unfortunately, I didn't get any around the nasty notch - not sure how I neglected that, as it would be the most critical part (although probably no big deal at all when dry). The first part of the ridge involves the most elevation gain and runs northeast in a fairly straight line; then the rest of it is a virtually due east run with much less gain. It took me longer than I planned (you'd think I was going to Siberia or something!) - a total of an hour and two minutes from embarking on the ridge to standing on the summit.
Engaging the ridge:
A look back down the ridge after turning the corner eastward:
Looking ahead at more fun class 3 along the ridgeline:
Looking toward the summit (only 25 minutes after starting the ridge, still 37 more to go, even though it seemed by this point I was "almost there.") The nasty notch is located in this section.
Gazing to the southwest into the Raggeds (ridge in foreground):
Cool little window frame in stack of blocks on the ridge (view is NE):
More scrambling (only ten minutes from the summit at this point):
Summit view east to Capitol:
Summit view south to Snowmass:
I took some time to bask in the sun in a wind-sheltered spot just down from the summit, eat, admire the scenery, and then put on my micro spikes and get out the ice ax for the descent. My descent route down the eastern side of the mountain's south face began like this:
It was deceptively crappy. With a little more snow cover, it would have been easier and more secure. Being a mixture of snow and rock, the descent to the lake took closer to an hour and forty-five minutes than the hour I forecast. Here is a look back up the descent of the upper slopes:
After this, I had some harder choices. I was above a cliff-band, so I could head due west, doing more boulder hopping and the tedious post-holing between boulders, and then downclimb where I had come up from the lake, or I could continue south to find some way down the cliffs to the lake here. Not liking to retrace steps and liking postholing even less, I opted to find a way here. The key seemed to be a deeply inset gully on my left, but I had a heck of a time finding a good route into it. This is a look up my sketchy 30' downclimb into the gully.
After that, it was all easy: a short easy class 3 climb down some dry rocky ledges to the lower slopes, where I found some moderately angled snow to enjoy my first glissade since this past May.
I found tranquility by the beautiful waters of Lake Siberia.
An hour later I looked into the less dazzling but still eye catching waters of Geneva Lake.
The late afternoon sun felt great and glazed the entire scene. I again paused to take in the spectacle of the waterfall. My camera lens did not capture the full majesty.
I got back to the trailhead and began the journey back to Marble, not expecting that stretch of rocky road to pose more peril for me than the prior 8 1/2 hours of hiking & scrambling. An occupational hazard, I guess, for enjoying what was one of the best Autumn days I have experienced.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):