| People will do some crazy s**t for a Ho-Ho
East Ridge of Keller Mountain from Rock Creek TH (Gore Range)
Sloppy (my markings not the route) I know but it went something like this:
For many many years I have gazed at the complexity and beauty of that that is the Gore Range and wondered what it was like inside. Admiring the jagged and rugged ridge lines from Route 9 intimidated me to say the least but once I began falling in love with the journey of mountain climbing I knew it was a place I wanted to spend lots of my time. FireOnTheMountain (Abe) and I wanted to hike something together on Saturday and what started out as a potential trip to snag East and West Buffalo ended at the Rock Creek Trailhead on Friday night. A few beers later (really Friday nighting it up) we went to sleep and woke up around 5:15 a.m. to many other vehicles and some commotion in the parking lot. Between the proper amount of ass dragging on my part and Abe's obsession with brushing his teeth (his smile is blinding) we probably started around 6 a.m. ish?
Neither one of us could figure out why the parking lot for a Gore mountain was like Guenella Pass on a summer Saturday until we began running into elk hunters. They far outnumbered the two of us and since we forgot to pack our stylish orange vests and were to spend 95% of our time off-roading the potential to be mistaken for a wild animal only added to the excitement of the whole trip.
Rock Creek trail is around 2 miles long and crosses the Gore Range Trail. The two miles went by very quickly and soon enough we made a right (around the Boss mine area) into the forest and I was ready for the infamous Gore-Bush-Whack. The bush whack was not so wacky and consisted of pushing our way up a steep slope in some deep and then not so deep and then really deep and then sort of deep snow. But yes, there was snow and LOTS of it. This was not Abe's first rodeo and he commented that this was a very snowy early season (hopefully a forecast of things to come).
I would like to take the time to write about gear as it seems to be a source of conflict for some (especially newer people like myself) this time of year. I had on a teeshirt, some sort of dry ride hoodie, a paper thin (wind proof) jacket, soft shelled fleece lined pants, a hat, gloves, gaiters, a light pair of hiking socks and 100$ leather water proof boots and I was HOT. I did not have poles, an ice axe, mountaineering boots, or snowshoes and I never felt once like I was missing out on anything. I stumbled upon an old thread where Steve Gladbach posted about winter boots, here is what he said:
"I post this every year, but only convince one or two each year. 90% of Colorado's winter 14ers do not require a $475 boot. I've climbed several hundred winter peaks over 13,000' in soft-soled inexpensive, well insulated boots and had NO problems. I'm talking everything from Quandary, Sherman, and Elbert to Little Bear, Capitol, and Pyramid. I also wore them on Acongogua."
You convinced me Steve. Granted we had a really nice weather day but it was still a chilly outdoor temperature at altitude and our feet were in snow ALL day. As well I purchased two 1.0L malleable Platypus water containers and carried them in my pack. No need for a fancy insulated camelback and when I finished the water they collapsed and barely took up any space in my pack. I think I am going to permanently ditch the bag-tube water system and roll like this. End tangent.
We made our way through the virginal snowy forest until we came across the charging path of what we decided was a pack of wild hyenas or potentially rhinos around tree line. We then hiked up a long and tedious talus field covered in just the right amount of snow to make it treacherous and slow. There were a lot of firsts for me on this adventure. First time in the Gores, first time in a consistent amount of snow, coldest night of camping , first time on a snow covered 3rd class ridge, and the first time post-holing through a talus field. Abe led most of the way so I got to watch the mountain eat his legs one step at a time. With every step there is a rocky surprise lurking below. I quickly learned not to step directly next to the bigger rocks.
Someone's happy again!
We passed away the time gaining the ridge by talking about music and mountain stories and let me say it is not easy to get Abe to talk about himself (bribe him with sour gummy bears ) Talk about humble. This guy is the real deal and still calls himself a noob. He is also a kick ass trail runner. So Abe if you won't pat yourself on the back I will, way to be you (which is awesome).
Abe tree line.
The beautiful Gores.
The semi-snow covered talus field is not your friend.
One of the coolest things about snow is being able to look back and see how far your footsteps trail.
Abe almost to PT 12,847
Did I mention it was pretty?
After gaining PT 12,847 the fun begins! As I mentioned this was my first time on a class 3 ridge in the snow and the snow changes everything. I put on micro spikes which helped me most of the time but did occasionally trip me up. Abe does not use them and does not need them, he is a very strong climber and can read the mountain so well (I call him the mountain whisperer). I however am glad that I wore them. Overall conclusion after traversing a ridge in the snow: Loved it
At first the ridge is a spicy class 2, 2+ with a sprinkle of added excitement thanks to the snow.
Keller Mountain red arrow.
Abe let me lead the way and promised to let me know if I did anything questionable. Along the traverse I learned that taking off your gloves and placing them down on a ledge while you make a move is a terrible idea and that they should be stuffed in your jacket. Common sense right? One of the many things he taught me, thanks dude!
The ridge is so much fun with lots of opportunities to scramble and some real exposure. There were two times we climbed up a feature and were left with some pretty questionable options. One I went down and bypassed and Abe down climbed a 85 degree slab with one 4 inch wide snow filled ledge. We laughed about this one once both safely across the difficulty because I was the one encouraging him saying, "Oh ya, you totally got that" as I went a different way The second time we both climbed up a large tower and decided to go back down and around. There were several towers followed by deep gashes in the ridge, East ridge of Keller...thanks for letting us play! I was unaware until this morning how many pictures Abe took of me climbing so we can assume that most of the following pictures are his. Thank you for capturing this first for me.
One of the more difficult exposed parts.
The snow makes this 10X more difficult.
Abe pretending to be a rock.
A hairier crossing.
After completing the ridge it is a quick jot left (South) to the true summit of Keller Mountain. We spent a little bit of time enjoying the views and eating. I believe it was around noonish. I don't know how the conversation over the closed doors of the Hostess factory began but we decided that people will do some crazy shit for a Ho-Ho and then we stood up and eyed our way out.
Abe, summit of Keller Mountain.
There are two routes that various sources discuss: The east ridge and the Southeast slopes. One could go up the east ridge and down the southeast slopes to make a loop, however, all sources (including Otina's trip report) pointed toward extensive bush whacking if choosing the southeast slopes route.
Here is a link to a blurb I read on Keller Mountain before meeting up with Abe in Golden (it is fairly accurate):
Neither of us were too keen on an extensive bush whack through an unknown amount of snow but we knew how tedious and time consuming re-traversing the East ridge would be soooo the mountain whisperer created and executed a perfectly efficient plan to get us back to the Rock Creek trail. Abe spotted a small dip off an unmarked high point on the ridge. We had to re-traverse a small section of the East ridge but then began a descending traverse to aforementioned dip. The terrain was steep and we still needed to do some scrambling but we were able to successfully bypass all the time consuming junk.
Taken from Keller Mountain.
The blue arrows show our path'ish and the green arrow points to the hard to see small dip we aimed for. The yellow arrow is the unnamed high point and the red arrow is PT 12,847. Once we attained the dip (green arrow) we contemplated dropping down into the North Rock Creek drainage or beginning an ascending traverse to the saddle of the unnamed high point and PT 12,847. I wanted to rock, paper, scissors our decision but in the end we took our chances with re-gaining the ridge and retracing our footsteps (right choice).
On the way back across the East ridge.
Abe in efficiency mode.
Amongst the many things Abe and I talked about was the difference between the North and South sides of a mountain. The South side which we were on for most of the descent bakes in the sun and this made me "ball out" (as I call it, I think the proper term is ball up). Huge chunks of snow formed brick like structures on the bottom of my microspikes and I couldn't wait to get them off. Oh and remember that talus field covered in snow we came up, going down it was a total shit show although Abe did pull some sweet trickster 360 footwork. There were spots so deep I sunk up to my hip and was convinced I would pull my leg out sans boot, gaiter, and maybe my foot. I also had the pleasure of bashing my shin on hidden rock several times.
Once off the talus field and a wee bit into tree line we spotted a color changing disco ball underneath an evergreen but both decided it was too far away to further investigate and left it behind as part of the mystery and allure of the Gores. Also the snow we trudged through in the morning was melting so everything was muddier and I was feeling weird about looking at twigs and leaves and stuff. With perfect execution and basically NO bushwhacking we popped out somewhere along the Rock Creek Trail and quickly made our way back to the parking lot. It was 4:05 p.m. I think a no bushwhack route up Keller mountain in the snow makes for a good day. The mountain whisperer strikes again successfully wending his way up and down another 13er. Got to love the 13ers
The Gore Range delivered. Abe presented me with a few options for Saturday but he knew if he mentioned the Gores that is what I would choose. He could not have picked a better mountain or a better route to take a beginner scrambler with no snow experience up. I learned so much from him and really appreciate his willingness to go with me. One of my favorite days, it had everything I like: long hike, off trail, 13er no one cares about, scrambling, good company, spectacular views and now my new favorite...snow!
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):