| "Peak C" & Mt. Powell (Gore)
"Peak C" – 13,220
Mt. Powell – 13,580
From Piney Ranch
Fri, June 22 – Backpack in
Approx. 4 mi, 2200 ft
Last week between readjusting after my trip to Oregon and Washington, writing trip reports, and having a bad cold I didn't have much time to make plans for the upcoming weekend. More or less on a whim we decided we should check out "Peak C" in the Gore Range before more of the snow melted away. Since Mt. Powell is also located in the same area, we figured it would make a nice weekend backpacking trip. We drove to Piney River Ranch Friday evening after work, parked in the lot just outside the gate, and started hiking around 7:30. The first few miles were quick and easy even though the trail drops and regains about 300 feet. Just as Cooper describes in his book, the turnoff for the trail leading to the basin below "Peak C" and Mt. Powell is 2.9 miles from the TH. It was marked with a cairn and we were able to follow the unofficial trail reasonably well even in the dark as it climbed steeply and wound around small cliffs. At 10:05 we reached a nice camping area around 11,200 ft, set up camp, and hit the sack.
Sat, June 23 – "Peak C" & Mt. Powell
Approx. 3.5 mi, 4000 ft
We left camp at 5am and headed further up into the basin beneath "Peak C" and Mt. Powell. I still hadn't recovered from my cold and was feeling pretty crappy (luckily, I started to feel a little better after an hour or two). The route up "Peak C" is a little unusual. The first objective is to get up and over its southwest ridge via an obvious couloir. This was an easy task with crampons and an axe – the slope didn't exceed 35 degrees. Next we dropped down off the back of the ridge a little bit (less than 100 feet) and traversed southeast until we spied what we believed was Dave Cooper's route. We could also see where the standard route began – it would have required traversing further southeast. From our vantage the standard route's couloir was not visible, but we could see a gash in the rocks indicating where it was.
We hadn't decided beforehand whether to try Cooper's route or the standard route. Cooper mentions that a rope may be necessary for his mixed climb and since Dominic was keen on trying a more technical route we decided to give it a go. After all, we had hauled a rope, harnesses and some pro all the way up there. The route started on snow, went through a short, totally bare rock section (which was simply annoying to climb with crampons on) and then headed a little bit to our right up a fairly steep couloir (45 degrees?). When we topped out on the cornice above the couloir we could finally see the standard route's couloir below us. From there we ascended moderate snow slopes directly to the summit. There was nothing very difficult about the climb and I have to admit that we were a little disappointed. At first we wondered whether we had really taken Cooper's route but later when we looked at the pictures in his book we realized we definitely had. I think that the conditions were just a lot easier than they were when he climbed it. It took us about 2:45 to get to the summit from camp, probably a bit slow since I wasn't feeling great.
From the summit we peered down the northwest ridge of "Peak C" toward Mt. Powell. Cooper reports that it offers technical climbing and we were hoping that maybe there were just a few low 5th class sections that we could handle. Nope – one look told both of us that it wasn't an option for us. "Dwarf Pyramid", a 12er northwest of Mt. Powell, caught my attention – it's a cool looking little peak. After admiring our surroundings and basking in the sun we decided to take a nice little tour by descending the standard route. From the summit we scrambled southeast along the ridge (exposed 3rd class) until we came to a prominent notch. We climbed down into the notch and descended the top of the couloir on loose scree and talus for 100 feet or so until we came to snow. The upper portion of the couloir was pretty steep (45 degrees?) but the angle quickly relented. This couloir was very aesthetically pleasing and I would have to recommend it over Cooper's route under the current conditions. It was an enjoyable descent on continuous snow. The sun still hadn't hit it by the time we got down, so getting on this one super early isn't necessary.
We retraced our steps to the southwest ridge and back down the initial couloir to about 11,600 ft in the basin. From here we climbed on some snow but mostly loose talus and scree to Knee Knocker Pass (the saddle between "Peak C" and Mt. Powell). The standard route up Mt. Powell drops down slightly on the other side of this pass and then climbs up the easy south slopes. Cooper mentions that the south ridge provides nice scrambling so we decided to investigate. Everything went smoothly for a while with judicious routefinding and 3rd & 4th class scrambling. When we came to a large notch near 12,450 ft we couldn't find a way off the tower that wasn't 5th class. Since we had gear, we decided to rappel down instead of backtracking. There was another large difficult looking tower just past the notch so at this point we decided to leave the ridge on a faint trail and make our way up the south slopes route on big blocky talus.
We topped out shortly after 1pm and relaxed on the sunny summit for over an hour. The register was soaked so I let it air out for a while. The connecting ridge with Eagles Nest looked like fun and I read about it in the Kramarsic pages I had brought along, including a description by some guy who is credited with being the first to traverse it. We decided to put it on our to do list for the future. I was kind of wanting to traverse the 3rd class ridge from Powell to "Dwarf Pyramid" but Dominic had had enough. He used the excuse that I shouldn't be pushing myself too badly because I was sick. I reluctantly agreed.
Dominic wanted to investigate the upper portion of the south ridge that we had skipped on the way up. The plan was to descend the ridge to the notch we had rappelled into and descend to camp from there (Kramarsic describes an easy 3rd class route through this notch). We enjoyed some more nice scrambling along the ridge but finally had to drop down to our left side and traverse along a big tower before the notch. We followed a faint trail dropping down on the other side of the notch toward camp, but missed a slight left turn and found ourselves in a nasty gully. It was loose and kept getting steeper. I knew we'd gotten off track but I was hoping it would go. The gully narrowed and there was now water running down it. The rock became nicely smooth, polished, and totally down sloping. My big mountaineering boots were no match for the slabby friction climbing that was required. Finally we ran into 5th class terrain that I wasn't willing to downclimb unroped and with boots on. A few sketchy moves got us to a place where we could set up an anchor and rappel. I have to add here that if it were me, I would have climbed back up and found a better route, but Dominic is becoming obsessed with technical climbing and was anxious to play. Our 30 meter rope got us almost to safety – just one last tricky move remained. Dominic downclimbed it. I stuck a cam in a crack, attached it to my harness with some slings, and climbed down without a problem. I just didn't trust my boots and was afraid I might slip a little. We didn't get back to camp until after 5, making for quite a long day. At least 2 hours of that were spent sitting around during the hike though. The technical stuff also ate up quite a lot of time. We were happy to get to climb both peaks in a day, but I still felt bad about poor, neglected "Dwarf Pyramid". I will be back.