| A Few Gore Classics
Keller Mountain: 13,085 CO Rank 580
Peak R: 12,995 CO Rank 639
Peak S: 12,857 CO Rank 750
August 21, 2009 – Keller Mountain: An 8.5-mile Side Trip?
While piecing this weekend together, we thought Colin's cousin might be joining us in the afternoon for the approach hike. So, to kill time, we thought Keller would be fitting since it was high on both of our wish lists and leaves from the same trailhead as our backpack. I'm usually the one to suggest outlandish plans, but I leave the credit for this one to Colin. Frankly, I'm surprised I didn't come up with it, but I definitely was on board. We got a little later start than planned due to an emergency stop for a hat from 7-11 and a friendly warning to slow down from local law enforcement. So, at 6:45 we were finally on our way.
We hit the intersection for the Gore Range Trail about a half-mile up the Rock Creek Trail, which is where we stashed our heavy packs, and set off for Keller with just our daypacks. The trail is basically an old mining road until you get to the Boss Mine where you start up the increasingly steep slopes to Keller's east ridge. Once on the ridge, we followed the path of least resistance until we hit treeline – at one point coming across most of an elk skeleton. Passing several "idealic" (to coin a Roach phrase) campsites, we hit the talus for the first false summit around 9:45. Making pretty good time, Colin stashed some heavier stuff we wouldn't need and set off down the famous ridge. For some reason I thought Keller was only a Class 2 hike so I stuck with the hiking poles and became increasingly frustrated as I was tucking them under my arm to scramble about. After the second false summit I finally surrendered that this was, in fact, a Class 3 ridge and stashed my poles in my pack. Now the fun began… Colin avoided the bands dropping to the south while I hit the ridge. Now, thoroughly enjoying myself along the ridge, I realized why this is a "Classic" peak.
Approaching the First False Summit
Hiking the Ridge
Final Summit Push (or so we thought)
Grand Traverse with Holy Cross off to the right
Grand Traverse and Mount Valhalla
We hit the first summit around 11:15 and debated as to which was the high point. The first "summit" held a cairn but after a glance at the topo, we realized the point to our south was the high point. A quick walk over there and then we spent a half an hour basking in the views of the southeastern Gores – Grand Traverse, East-West Partners, and in the distance – the Ripsaw Ridge and our destination for the rest of the weekend – the Slate Creek Group. After getting off of our feet for a while and taking advantage of some photo opps, we set back off for the trip back. We figured the return trip across the ridge would take about the same amount of time, but once off of the talus, we'd be back at the packs in no time.
Descending the Ridge
Colin on the descent
The ridge estimate was accurate, as we got to Colin's stash in the same hour and a half. Here we all but finished off our water supply but we didn't think much of the descent. Problem was, we went too far south too early and ended up forced to make a descent before we reached the mine tailings. A nasty, steep, slick bushwhack ensued as we made our way down off of the ridge. Mercifully, we found the trail again about 2/3 down the slope and once on the trail, the sun began to burn us up. Without water, the trail seemed to go on forever and we finally got back to the packs at 3:15. We both underestimated the effort Keller was going to take and we paid for it. We had 10+ miles to go and we were pretty well worked. The quart of water I stashed at our packs did very little to satisfy our thirst, so we set off for Pebble Creek which we figured was a mile or so up the Gore Trail. I was in a zombie-like trance hiking the trail as dehydrated as I was, but just before the creek, I found a small spring that was a very welcomed sight. We each drank about a half-gallon before filling up again for the remaining hike. We also underestimated the hike as you gain and lose 1000+ feet on 2 different occasions on the way to the Slate Creek trail. Our next issue was that Keller took about 2 more hours than we thought, we were tired, and our late start made reaching our high camp highly improbable before dark. We hit the Slate Creek junction around 7:00, refilled our water once again and agreed to stop at the first site we found after 7:30. Right at 7:30 we hit a bend in the creek that had a prepared campsite and someone had left a kitchen full of pots and pans and a half of a bottle of wine. The temperature plummeted as the sun fell behind the ridge but we were settled before dark and had some time to relax before calling it a day.
Saturday, August 22 – Peaks R and S: An Intro to Gore Bushwhacking
Unfortunately, our previous days work not only left us with tired legs, but also some ground to make up. We packed up and were on the trail by 5:20 headed for Upper Slate Lake. The trail is pretty soggy and increasingly rough the higher you get in the basin. Both of us were getting pretty frustrated, as the approach to Slate Lake seemed to be taking a lot longer than we had planned. Finally, at around 7:00, Colin turned my attention off to our right. We were both relieved to see Slate Lake around 500-700 feet below us. Oddly, the trail never visits the lake; at least we never saw one that went there. We made it to Upper Slate Lake around 7:30 and found an unbelievable campsite where the trail meets the lake. After unpacking and a refill on water, we were back on the trail a little after 8:00 am.
The only easy terrain we found above the lake
After the lake, you are pretty much on your own as far as a trail goes. It's faint, but it's there, for a little bit anyways. After the trail dissipated, I read contradicting reports on which approach (high or low) is the best way to go. I took this as "damned if you do" news so I was not optimistic of what was ahead. I was right… it was rough. We went high and after another hour of bouldering we were only below Peak S, nowhere near South America Lake for our climb of Peak Q. (The plan was Q, R, S and back to camp.) Colin tweaked his knee the previous day and was feeling the effects of the 13-hour day. He stayed behind and enjoyed the basin while I set off for Peak S. I didn't think I could get any peaks since the going was so slow. But, the weather was shaping up to be perfect once again so I figured I'd press on. I cliffed out on Peak S's north face, but finally made it up to the gully that Ormes' describes as the route. It was holding some snow but easily avoided. I decided to not put on the crampons and stick to the rocks. Probably not the wisest choice since the gully was steep, slippery, and loose. Finally, at 12:15, I made it to the top of the gully, climbed the first tower and saw that I only had a short scramble left before the summit. Relieved and worn out, I reached the very obscure Peak S. The summit register was placed there by Mike Garret in 1987 and was only signed by about a dozen people, but was a virtual whose-who of Colorado Mountaineering. The most recent signature was from 2006 and 3 of the ~12 signatures were from Garret himself. As absolutely miserable the climb was, the summit views were magnificent. I had read that the traverse to R was "straightforward" but my initial glimpse was that it was anything but. I sat on the summit for about a half an hour dreading my descent. One last glance over to R and a line became obvious to me. I had more information on R's route so, even as tired as I was, I thought a traverse and a decent of R would be easier than the way I came up.
Ripsaw Ridge from Peak S
Peak R from Peak S - A "Straightforward Traverse"?
I set off for R at 1:00 under perfect conditions. I hit the R-S saddle and decided to take a spicy class 4 wall in lieu of the descent around the gully wall. After a quick scamper back up the ridge, I was on R's summit at 2:30 – absolutely exhausted. I read that R's summit view was the best in the range and that statement would be difficult to debate otherwise. Peak Q is in the middle of the range, but from that summit you can't see the one mountain that you would be standing on and Peak Q is one amazing mountain. Sadly, I wouldn't have the time or the energy for it on this day. I had a chance if we hadn't done Keller and I had an extra couple of hours instead of finishing the approach, but that wasn't the case. Regardless, the route up the east face is pretty difficult to spot. I would have really needed Colin's eyes to help with the route finding had I even wanted to attempt it. Anyways, my camera didn't stay in my pack for long and it was everything I had to not burn the entire roll.
East and West Partner
Peak C and Mount Powell
Peak Q to Peak C
Peak Q - One Impressive Mountain
Ripsaw Ridge from R
Peak S from Peak R
I finished off my water and started to descend the grassy ledges off of the summit. After cliffing out a couple of times, I was getting pretty frustrated and the scrambles over the rock ribs to the neighboring set of ledges were taking every last ounce of energy. Finally, I made it down to South America Lake at 5:00 and refilled my water supply. Descending next to the waterfall that leaves the lake was pretty easy and I was feeling optimistic that the "low route" would be much faster than the route we took earlier in the day. I kept an eye on Peak L, the next day's objective, piecing together the most logical approach. I descended into the marshes above Upper Slate Lake and found myself squashing around in the willows, trying to avoid the numerous pools, mud bogs, and creeks. I was realizing that you don't go anywhere fast or easily (or enjoyably) in this basin. Once the willows started to get thick and tall, I had had enough. I took my socks/shoes off and forged a creek that was waist deep before forcing my way up through the thick brush back up to the rocks. I tried to stay low in the trees but hidden cliffs and thick deadfall forced me higher and higher. Reluctantly, I was back up bouldering my way back towards camp. At one point, while fighting the rocky willows, I pushed through a willow and my foot hit a void. I fell about 5 feet off of a rock and was suddenly staring into a cave beneath the rocks/willows. Luckily, no one was home and I climbed back up on top of the rocks. I fought through the trees and rocks until I realized that I couldn't see the lake anymore. I never did find the "main" trail, but instead followed a game trail that dropped me about 100 yards past the campsite. I descended down to camp and darn near collapsed when I reached home at 7:15 that evening.
Peak R from South America Lake
Peak Q from SA Lake
Peak S from SA Lake (Ascent Gully is left one of the two in the picture - looks fun, doesn't it?)
A look ahead to the bushwhack back to camp
Colin was now well rested after spending the afternoon swimming in the lake, reading his book, and even started happy hour without me. I asked him if he was up for Peak L in the morning. There was some doubt in his voice and I was relieved, as I did not have the energy for another after consecutive 13,14 hour days. We decided to crack open a few beers, relax next to a campfire, and enjoy this little bit of paradise.
Sunday August 23 – The Hike Out
Peak Q from Camp
Waterfalls along trail out
Foregoing Peak L allowed us to sleep in. I woke up around 8:45 as Colin was up making coffee. We took our time getting ready as neither of us were feeling very good – not only the effort, but the drinks took its toll on our dehydrated systems. We were on the trail by 10:00 and I fought the urges to look back at L, but I was in no shape to try that one on this trip. I'm still not positive on how to get to the route in any sensible way without packing in a canoe. I'll have to come back for Q and L when I forget how difficult the terrain is in that basin. The trip out was fairly uneventful, the pollen in the grassy fields played hell with Colin's allergies and I had a blister the size of a silver dollar on my heel so neither of us were in high spirits heading out. We did agree that if we had attempted L, we were in for another 12-14 hour day and the hike out would have been beyond miserable. It was everything I had without L under my belt to get up and over the 2 inclines but the car was a most welcomed sight at 3:15.
Peak L from Lower Slate Creek
Colin hiking the meadows along Slate Creek
When you read that there is "bushwhacking and then there is Gore bushwhacking" that isn't an embellishment. That upper basin will humble anyone and definitely left a few marks on me physically and mentally to remind me of that fact. My legs are now pretty well shredded from my battles with the willows, my feet are blistered and torn up, I have more mosquito bites than I can count, and I'm as sore as I can remember after a weekend – but those summit views… they were still worth it. My pictures will talk me into returning and I'll probably be moaning and groaning next time too, but hopefully I'm lucky enough to reach L and Q's summits someday.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):