| Mount Meeker - South Ridge - third time‘s the charm
After two failed winter attempts up Meeker's south ridge and a weather-shortened attempt up Dreamweaver the mountain was beginning to taunt me, especially during my drive from Greeley to Denver. After two months it became too much and I began planning what would finally prove a successful summit attempt.
I climbed alone this time around. I began hiking from the Wild Basin parking lot at 7 am via the Sandbeach Lake trail. (see my first Meeker report.)
The going to Sandbeach lake was much easier this time around since snowshoes were not needed. I clipped along nicely and covered the 4.5 miles to the lake in an hour and a half. Time for the buswhacking over to Meeker Meadows.
Hoping to follow the route outlined in Roach's 13er book, I looked for the trail he describes at the north end of the Sandbeach Lake campground. I never found it though and was forced to find my own way. I decided to follow the river that feeds the lake on the northwest end for as long as I could. Following the water involved a lot of boulder hopping but it was worth the trade off of avoiding the still-present snowdrifts littered throughout the forest. After crossing a few tributary creeks and sliding back east a little I was greeted with my first view of Meeker since the lake, a welcome site confirming I was on course.
Meeker Meadows – Dragon's Egg Rock in middle right. Meeker summit in view.
The schedule was looking good. It was still before ten and I was already done with the approach. I was very encouraged by how quickly the bushwhacking phase from the lake to Meeker Meadows went; I had budgeted two full hours for the off-trail, accident-prone passage but only used forty-five minutes.
OK. Next phase of the hike. First task is to get across Meeker Meadows, up the basin, and to the Dragon's Egg. On my way up the boulder field to the egg I was greeted with a special treat: a group of four bighorn sheep grazing in the afternoon sun.
After admiring the sheep for awhile I continued up towards the egg. One variation I made to my previous route was to stay west of the Dragon's Egg. There is a large gully to the NW of the egg that I was shooting for. As long as I stayed between the egg and the cliffs on Meeker's west ridge the route remained a calm class two traverse, much easier than the boulder climbing required on the eggs east side.
The remaining route. West ridge on the top left, Dragon's Egg top right.
Dragon's Egg by noon. Right on schedule. I think I might actually summit today. From here the route finding fell apart. Per Roach's instructions I climbed up to and along the SW ridge but never found an obvious course of travel. One problem I found with Roach's beta is that he rounds off altitude readings: a buttress located at 12,500 feet is actually at 12,560 feet – an important distinction on a ridge full of buttresses. In light of the time-wasting map consultation my solution was simple: put my head down and go up. The summit's in view, go for it.
At 13,000 feet the snowfields came into play. Prior to this point there had been little to no snow for me to deal with. Now there was a small fifteen foot patch of bulletproof snow standing between me and the west ridge – the climbs final phase.
I had my ice axe but left the crampons in the car; a decision I made while studying the mountain on the drive up. With my crampons crossing the snowfield would have been very simple, albeit very exposed. Without them an attempt to cross was suicidal at best, as I discovered two steps in. Time to down climb and rethink my route.
The snowfield I tried to cross.
Roughly fifty feet down I found an easy boulder hop across the field that lead into a wide, snow filled chimney angled at roughly 45 degrees. Still cursing myself for leaving my crampons, I concluded that I could safely climb the short pitch by cutting my own steps into the snow with my ice axe. Fortunately the exposure was limited at the bottom of this section.
My ice axe steps are along the right edge of the snow. Hard to see
With the hard part over I rode the west ridge up to the summit in relative comfort. The summit boulder was much easier to top out on than I was lead to believe from various reports; it's just a simple frog move.
After three months in the making I finally gained the summit! A beautiful day and a well earned view of Long's Peak and the Wild Basin region.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):