| More Than We Bargained For on North Apostle
North Apostle 13,860' (79th highest)
Southwest Ridge (Class 2+)
Via South Winfield
November 3, 2007
Jamie Princo, Jamie Nellis and Mike Rodenak
Plans always have a funny way of changing, especially as the seasons move on and mountain conditions become more unpredictable. Originally we were looking at some easier "walk up" peaks down near Salida, but Jamie called me Thursday to say that Aaron was no longer going to make it and they were looking at peaks a little closer to home. He suggested North Apostle, with possibly heading over to Ice if the conditions were good. We were packing a rope, harness and some gear in case Ice lived up to its name and reputation. This was too tempting of an outing to pass up, and we decided to meet at their camp early in the morning to drive up the South Winfield Road.
The early going on the road was okay, though there were some icy and snowpacked spots. Somewhere around halfway up the road we crossed a frozen stream that was like an ice skating rink and on the backside of this the road steepened for a brief moment. Here we go again, just like Nellie Creek the week before I slid back and couldn't get past this point. Not being one to take chances on ice, we backed down to a pullout, turned around, and parked on the side of the road. We were probably around 10,500' and a good mile from the trailhead. As we hiked up we were encourage by the dry peaks around us, at least their south facing slopes were anyway. (Ervin and Blaurock below)
The road above this point was basically dry all the way to the trailhead, and the early parts of the trail were dry as well. A few small streams had frozen across in some points, but there was no major snow all the way to Hamilton town site. Soon we were at the split between the Apostle Trail and the Lake Ann Trail where we took a short break before the trail became more snow covered. We were easily able to follow the trail and find the split with the Three Apostles Trail. Soon we were crossing the creek and starting the steeper ascend into Three Apostle Basin. A deer had been kind enough to follow the snow covered trail for us earlier in the week and route finding was never an issue. As we got deeper into the basin the Three Apostles finally came into view, snow covered of course as they are north facing
We continued on and soon found ourselves at the base of the willow filled meadow that marks the end of the trail. There were some dry patches and this was a good place to have a snack and contemplate our future route. Jamie suggested a cleft in the headwall that he knew had been used successfully in the past when snow covered. We agreed that if snow conditions were good, we would go this way. I think we used the kiss-of-death term "Shortcut".
We traversed around and through the willow field trying to follow the path of least resistance. We then scrambled around some small rocks and headed for the base of the narrow gully. So far there was no indication that the gully was going to be any more difficult than the snowy talus we were on and we decided to give it a go. I went first, and tried to find the best rock steps under the snow as I could. At one point the frozen stream underneath led me to use a series of small ledges on the right side instead to avoid the ice. The gully was narrowing dramatically, and we could touch both side walls with our hands. Soon I was presented with the first of several "chockstones" lodged in the gully. These proved more difficult than we expected, I guess covered in heavier snow they are easy to bypass, but they required 1 or 2 fourth class moves each. Each one got progressively more difficult
The final one was the worst, the snow at the base settled when we reached it and we were presented with a step as tall as I am. There were several smaller rocks lodged on either side of the big boulder which we tried to use to our advantage, but unfortunately they created an overhang at the very top. I got my foot into a pocket below the upper stone, but needed my left foot to get higher to be able to mantel over the overhang. This required using a rather small step on the face of the cliff to the left to provide the necessary "boost". This cliff was also leaning into the gully, so it was two overhangs and the pack was getting in the way. I got myself high enough to reach over the large stone and pull myself over the crux. This was probably a fifth class move due to the overhang and awkward angled body position. This is the step from above:
We all struggled, and we all used slightly different foot holds as our heights are all different. This gully was no longer a shortcut as the 3 or 4 chockstones ate up a lot of time. The end was in sight, however, and the remainder of the gully was not nearly as difficult.
We found some rocks above a small unnamed lake that were dry, and had a nice snack break. There was still a lot of climbing to go, and it was already after noon. At least we wouldn't have to go back through that gully again, so that was good news for our descent schedule. We also decided that just like the road, we were not willing to take our chances on Ice and that North Apostle would be our only peak for the day. We started up the snow covered talus, the first section went smoothly and in about 15-20 minutes we were reaching steadily steeper terrain. We crossed some snow and then onto some snowy dirt and grass slopes. The snow was now starting to slow us down and the going was getting tedious. I just kept pushing forward, head down, mumbling to myself how much the snowy talus sucked. I got to a good stopping point and waited for my partners.
This pattern continued for a while, and the constriction in the slopes above us seemed to not be getting any closer. We pressed on: steeper, looser, and snowier the talus became and I could see my partners fading back. I was nearing the base of the constriction, and I thought I heard Jamie calling to me. He told me to go ahead that they were turning back. There just wasn't enough time left in the day to fight through this slope and be able to be back to the willows by sunset. I thought of turning around myself, but the talus was weighing heavy on my mind as well and I didn't want to have to come back. I was near the base of the Refrigerator Couloir now, and thought seeing as I would have to climb this talus again to get Ice Mountain, maybe I would turn back too and just come back next spring for the pair.
For some reason I started adding up the icy road, the chockstones, struggling up the talus and the weight of all that gear in my pack that wasn't going to be used and I decided I should keep going. At least to around the constriction to where I could see the summit pitch and there if the upper route was dry I would go for the summit. Five more minutes of struggling up this slope and I was atop the rocks at the constriction. To my delight, the route above the saddle was indeed dry, and I found a second wind to climb the last 400 or so feet to the top.
The views were great, but I didn't linger long. I vowed standing there that next weekend I was only going to climb south facing routes as all of the peaks to my north were dry. I think there is a good reason why not too many people climb North Apostle after the snows fly. I did manage to take some pictures of the view of course
I still had to go back down that snowy talus mess, this time there was even more mumbling to myself, and even a few curses when I would slip. One of which took the life of my nearly brand new trekking pole when it got stuck in front of a rock that slid and bent the lower shaft in half.
I made my way down, a few postholes and a few more slips, but no other casualties. I met up with my partners near our earlier snack spot at the lake and we grouped and headed down the standard route. I don‘t think we even looked at the gully we had come up when we passed it. We slowly worked out way back to the willows and had a last snack break in the fading daylight at the willows. Here we were treated to a nice alpenglow on the Three Apostles before heading down the trail
The trail remained easy to follow in the fading daylight. As we hiked we heard a few gun shots from hunters down valley and hoped it wasn't the deer that had broken trail for us. The sun set and we reached Hamilton. It was still a ways to go, but we made it back to my car before 8pm, there was still a chance we would be able to get dinner in Leadville, Subway doesn't close until 9. We were the last customers for the night.
This was definitely a more challenging hike/climb than any of us bargained for. Physically and mentally it was very taxing. Maybe without all the extra gear it wouldn't have been such a physical strain, maybe without the chockstones the talus above wouldn't have pushed our morale down. Whatever the circumstances, November and the Three Apostles give a new impression of this otherwise gentle mountain range. The funny thing is above the saddle with Ice, North Apostle was dry and much less complicated, maybe its just Ice that is the problem...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):