| Huron to West Apostle - "Crushed Ice Traverse"
Huron to West Apostle – "Crushed Ice Traverse"
Route: Standard route up Huron - Pt. 13,472 - Pt. 13,517 - North Apostle - Ice Mtn - West Apostle – Down Apostle Couloir
Time: 18 hours
Team: Heather14, Cheeseburglar, Slynn4_13run
First off, thank you to John Prater for the information he was able to provide when he attempted the traverse between Huron and North Apostle. He was also able to give me a link to a report by Aron Ralston that had a complete traverse between the two.
The ridge from Huron all the way to Ice Mountain proved to be the best any of us have done. It was long and had a mixture of everything you could possibly want: catwalks, a mini knife edge, class 3 to low 5 climbing, exposure, ledges, etc. The climb from Ice to West is something we never really care to do again. And down climbing the Apostle Couloir was the worst descent I have ever experienced.
So why "Crushed Ice Traverse" for the name? I guess because it sounds cool.
When Ideas Become Goals, and Goals Become Obsessions
The idea of traversing from Huron to North Apostle first came about when I did a climb of Ice Mountain and North Apostle back in June. I remember looking at that long ridge and wondering if it was possible. Now fast forward to August… Heather was really interested in doing the Three Apostles traverse (Ice Cubed) and so I threw the idea out there about the ridge from Huron. The three of us decided to just stick with the Apostles and use this trip as a scouting mission. Unfortunately the weekend of August 9th had sketchy weather turning us back after summiting North Apostle. Heather still really wanted to get in Ice Mountain this summer, and I still hadn't done West Apostle. This was when Heather, jokingly, suggested we do the whole thing from Huron to West Apostle. However, I can't read sarcasm, so I immediately got excited about such an idea. Craig thought it was ridiculous and just had to come along to see what became of it. So the idea was in place.
I did some searching and found a few attempts and reports on fourteenerworld.com. One of them involved John Prater, so I sent him a PM. He and his buddy, Jeff Valliere, got most of the way through the traverse before bailing out just before the final ridge up to North Apostle. John then sent me a link to Aron Ralston's report from back in 2001 when he and his friend made it all the way. The three of us studied the reports and pictures and were able to determine where the cruxes might be and our bail-out options. It was definitely possible with good route-finding and an entire day free of storms.
Our first official attempt at this ridge was August 16th, but we got stormed off of Huron at 6am. The clouds dumped rain and snow on the mountains all weekend, so for the remainder of the weekend we spent watching the Leadville 100 runners at the turnaround point in Winfield.
By now we were all a little peeved that we spent the last two weekends pretty much doing nothing but driving up and down that horrible 4wd road with no real success (and technically, this had been Craig's 3rd weekend in a row in this basin). We all really wanted to get this done and move on with our lives!
The Traverse from Huron to North Apostle
Our alarms go off at 2:30am Saturday morning, and sticking with our routine of departing 15-30 minutes later than actually planned, we drove up from Winfield and got on the trail by 4am. The stars were out and we made good time to Huron's summit just in time for the sunrise.
Sunrise from Huron.
Craig pointing to our destination: The Apostles – North, Ice, and West (West isn't shown, but it is to the right of the picture).
The ridge from Huron to Pt. 13,472 is described in Roach's 14er book, and it is a pretty mellow class 2 ridge.
Heather and Craig with Pt. 13,472 ahead.
A view of the Apostles from Huron's southeast ridge.
We summited Pt. 13,472 in no time and started making our way to the next highpoint, Pt. 13,517. Things started to get interesting here as we came to the two towers sooner than expected. Aron reported some class 5 when staying on top of the towers, but John said a series of grassy ledges on the left side would keep things at class 3 and 4.
The two towers. (picture by Heather)
We did a mix of class 3 and 4 moves to get down to the ledges, and then made our way across as best we could. The ledges looked intimidating from a distance, but it wasn't as bad once you got up closer.
Heather down climbing to the ledges. (This is about where Heather decides to see if she can throw her backpack off the mountain. Craig caught it for her thinking she might want it later. )
Looking back at the second tower we bypassed.
The ridge past the towers to Pt. 13,517's summit was really enjoyable - lots of little catwalks and some good scrambling. It reminded me a lot of Ellingwood's southwest ridge.
Heather along the ridge. (picture by Craig)
We reached Pt. 13,517 around 9am, just three hours after starting off from Huron. The weather was looking great and we were having an awesome time with the ridge so far.
Looking back at our route from Huron and Pt. 13,472.
The remainder of the ridge to North Apostle.
From here the ridge got consistently more technical, and our progress was slower. There were lots of "bumps" we went up and over, and for the most part staying on top provided the best scrambling.
Craig along a mini knife edge with North Apostle in the background. (picture by Heather)
Heather and myself down climbing a class 4 section. (picture by Craig)
Our next big obstacle we came to had the option of staying high or bypassing the headwall on the right side. It looked like very loose rock and dirt if we went around it, so we decided to stay high.
Here I am pointing out our options. (picture by Craig)
Craig enjoying some of the scrambling.
The second large headwall (Pt. 13,070?) we came to did not look very inviting, and we believe this was about the point where John and his partner had to bail. The rock appeared pretty loose, but due to us not knowing what the other side had in store, we decided to drop down into a gulley on our left and traverse around it. Once below we followed an apron of loose talus to the next lowest point along the ridge.
The point along the ridge we decided to bypass by dropping down to the left. This could be Pt. 13,070.
Craig and Heather traversing the loose rock to the final saddle before North Apostle.
Craig and Heather doing some more class 3 and 4 to regain the ridge.
Looking back down from where we came. (picture by Heather)
The ridge towards North Apostle from the saddle (you cannot see the summit from here).
The climb was still getting progressively harder and the drop-offs were much more dramatic. It was also around this time that the skies started to cloud up and faint thunder could be heard. We didn't want to be in a hurry in this section, but our best option for escaping a storm at this point was to finish the climb up North Apostle and go down the standard route.
Here I am making one of the last difficult moves before reaching North Apostle's summit. (picture by Craig)
Once past this section we decided to stick with North Apostle's east face since it looked a bit easier and we needed to get moving. The clouds above us were pretty dark, and we knew how quickly conditions could change. We spread out a little more and took our own paths up to the summit.
Heather climbing North Apostle's east face.
We topped out right around 1pm, making for a 7 hour traverse from Huron. Just then the skies opened back up and we were in the sun again.
Where we were just a few hours ago – Pt. 13,472 and Pt. 13,517.
It had been a long day already, but we were still feeling good and since the weather cleared up we all agreed that the rest of the traverse could be completed.
The Traverse from North Apostle to Ice and from Ice to West Apostle
Our next targets – Ice Mountain and West Apostle.
The traverse from North to Ice came easily after what we just went through and thoughts of actually completing the whole traverse became real.
Heather climbing a narrow chimney up Ice Mountain.
We were all quite thrilled thinking the hard parts were behind us (WRONG!) and enjoyed a few minutes on Ice's summit. But once again, the clouds started thickening and thunder was heard off in the distance. So off we go again…
We assumed that since the Three Apostles were so popular (popular for 13ers at least), that route-finding would not be much of an issue, so we did not put too much effort into studying this section. We knew that coming off of Ice we had to stay on the south side and drop down, but we did not know how far to drop down. Several previous reports mentioned this problem as well. At first we only dropped down a few hundred feet and tried crossing the multiple ribs and gullies. But this wasn't going very well, and with the storm clouds still looming in the distance we decided to drop down even further along one of the main gullies. This part was a flat-out pain, and this was where I got my leg crushed by a rock. Here is Craig's account of the incident. I must have also hit my head because I don't remember any of this!
It was all fun and games out in the hills until things went south on the south side of Ice Mountain. A big storm was coming in and we had to leave the ridge because Stephanie hasn't finished the prototype lightning protection system we are working on. I scree skied the steep gully on the south side opposite of the Refrigerator Coulior. I was happily sunbathing in the last sunbeam left by the rapidly approaching storm.
Then I heard the boom of falling rock and turned to see Stephanie riding a rock avalanche down the gully. She screamed like a vampiress exposed to sunlight. I put my shoes on and approached the scene of the accident. My gut somersaulted as the situation ran through my mind. I felt terrible because I suspected we would have to leave her on the side of the mountain. All kinds of dire thoughts occurred about the existential plight we were about to suffer, such as whether to leave her alone on the side of the mountain or not, how much food to leave her with, if she should have the mace in case the Pikas came after her, and whether or not to leave her the only beer. I should have felt bad because she was crying like a cat stuck in a tree. But it was sort of like listening to your sister cry, you want to laugh but know you will be in big trouble if you do. (Craig, I hate you.)
I performed first aid, which pretty much involved taking off her shoe. Heather performed second aid, which involved some kind of magical ankle wrap. Then Stephanie sucked it up and climbed through the pain across the nasty ridges and gullies of the south side of Ice Mountain.
Heather doctoring me up. The white rock I'm sitting on was the one that rolled over my leg. (picture by Craig)
After this ordeal we finally got moving again, and by this time the skies were clearing up again. This was a good thing as I was moving much slower. But I was anxious to get off the mountain now, and I assumed I would head down the saddle between West and Ice while Heather and Craig went on up to West Apostle.
West Apostle from Ice's southwest face.
When we reached the saddle, we all took one look at the gulley we would have to go down, which was the Apostle Couloir, and decided it would be a nightmare. Thinking there was another way down from West Apostle to Lake Ann, I mustered up the motivation to finish out the traverse with Craig and Heather, and head down the other way. After some class 2 and 3 scrambling we reached West Apostle's summit and took a nice long break.
The ridge to West Apostle.
Huron from West Apostle – where we were 11 hours ago.
Summit shot on West Apostle.
Lake Ann to the northwest.
So we're sitting up here with no real idea of how to get down to Lake Ann. Smooth. We had maps with us, but they didn't show the route down, and from the looks of the ridges it would be some very involved and unpredictable down climbing. (Note: Once back down to the car we looked in Roach's book and did see there was a class 2 route down West Apostle to Lake Ann, but we did not know that when we were up there.) This meant that the only way we knew how to get down was by the Apostle Couloir. This was not going to be easy or fun!
We get back down to the Ice-West saddle and take our turns descending the couloir. We left our ice axes in the car thinking they wouldn't be needed, but they would have proved helpful in this situation. The couloir was mostly loose dirt with bits of degrading rock on our sides. We reached a section of snow and did some very slow and careful kick-stepping. Heather let me borrow one of her trekking poles and Craig used a stick as a means of self-arresting if needed. Craig didn't seem to have too much trouble with this descent, but he was very patient with Heather and myself.
Craig in the snow of the Apostle Couloir.
Kick-stepping into the snow was starting to aggravate my ankle even more, so I was very relieved when we finally made it down to the rock-field below. The sun was starting to set as we made our way out of the rocks and finally into the trees. And the trip can't be complete without getting slightly lost in the dark while trying to find our way back down to the creek crossing. After the creek we were on familiar territory and relished the well-marked trail back to the car. We arrived back at the trailhead by 10pm, completely exhausted but ecstatic that we did it. In the end, it all worked itself out. Right, Heather?
This was by far the most fun I've had climbing, and I couldn't have asked for better climbing partners. We all agreed that the traverse from Huron to Ice is a classic and something worth repeating. But I'm pretty sure none of us will be making another trip up past Winfield for a long time!