| Gores - Man vs. Food Style
Labor Day Weekend 2009
Partners - Colin Osborne, Astrobassman
I began discussing a trip to the hills with my cousin, Colin, at last year's Great American Beer Festival. We decided on a long Labor Day weekend in the San Juans to try and tackle the Grenadiers would be the perfect introduction to Colorado's mountains. Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative so Astrobassman (since he's also named Colin, I'll cut the confusion and refer to him as "ABM" from here on) and I began discussing other options since my cousin was coming to town regardless. We had two finalists and decided on the Pitkin Lake area literally as we left Denver for a trailhead.
Thursday, September 3
I left work after lunch on Thursday so we could get the approach under our belts to break up Friday's climb. I wasn't sure how Colin would react to the altitude coming from Philadelphia so I was glad to get him a night at high camp. The plan was for ABM to meet us at our campsite along the trail Friday morning and continue on to join us for our climb. We hit the trail to Pitkin Lake at 4 pm and the initial portion is relentlessly steep but after about a half a mile it levels out and the sounds of I-70 simply disappear. I noticed Colin grinning ear to ear as we wound through open fields and aspen groves. To my surprise I saw my first bear in the wild on a slope opposite the trail near the first waterfall. Colin's experience in the Marines trained him to spot "inconsistencies" in his surroundings and without his eyes, it would have looked like any other rock on that slope to me. Unfortunately, it was a bit too far for any photo, but it was definitely a small black bear. I told ABM that we'd probably be camped near the second waterfall. I had read that Pitkin Lake was well above treeline and I wasn't confident in the weather for an exposed campsite. We reached the second waterfall and I saw plenty of trees above us so we continued up the trail. Trees actually continued all the way to Pitkin Lake and we found a nice sheltered spot right off of the trail around 7:15.
Me on the Trail
Friday, September 4 – West Partner Peak
ABM was supposed to be at our campsite around 7, but he told us to should leave if we didn't see him by then. We waited until 7:45 since we were significantly higher than we discussed. We also talked about hitting West Partner first while planning the weekend, but for some reason I thought I heard him say East on the phone the previous day. Anyhow, Colin and I set off for West Partner and made our way up the steep grass slopes to the saddle between it and Outpost Peak, reaching the saddle at 9:00 where we ditched the hiking poles for an enjoyable scramble along the ridge. The altitude was definitely affecting Colin but he looked right at home on the rocks. He made his first Colorado summit at 10:00 and finally got a taste of what I'm so fortunate to enjoy on my trips to the hills. Seeing someone soak in the views from a summit for the first time really made me appreciate my experiences that much more. We hung out on the summit for a good half an hour before turning around, wondering where ABM was. The SP route mentions a need to locate a 2 foot ramp to bypass a notch. We dropped even below this on the climb as a precaution, bypassed the loose gully for solid rock, but the ridge didn't look that bad. We decided to take the direct descent down the ridge. I hit the notch head on and it was very solid class III/IV, Colin took the 2-foot ledge which turned out to be more like 14-18 inches. When we met back up, I think climbing through the notch was even easier than taking the ledge. We made it back to our poles at 11:30 and were back at camp by 12:15, still no sign of ABM.
Colin on West Partner's South Ridge
Colin's first Colorado Summit
Booth Lake/Booth Peak
Q - one of Colorado's most impressive mountains IMO, and my summits from 2 weeks prior - R and S
A look back down the South Ridge
Once back at camp we soaked our tired feet in the creek and relaxed with a couple of wheat juices we packed in. Colin asked, "So, you wake up, climb, back to camp around noon and sit around and drink beer and relax all afternoon?" When I confirmed, the response was, "I could get used to this." ABM wandered into camp a few minutes later after a successful climb of East Partner – seems we did have our partners mixed up. Our campsite only had shelter for one tent so we discussed options. There was a tarn about 100 yards down stream complete with a fire pit, small waterfall, and room for two tents so the move was pretty easy – no need to even pack back up. Other than a nap during a brief afternoon storm, the rest of the evening was spent just hanging out around the rocks.
Saturday, September 5 – Peak X
We were up at 5:30 but delayed our departure until around 6:30 when the sun was making its presence felt. We knew we had a bushwhack in front of us and after ABM and my experience in Slate Creek, we wanted plenty of light. We dropped down off of the shelf holding Pitkin Lake and left the comforts of the trail and started hiking through the forest towards Usable Pass. Surprisingly, the bushwhack was not that difficult at all – minimal deadfall and rocks to negotiate and the avalanches in the valley clear out much of what normally would impede on progress. Also, a September hike definitely helped us since most of the boggy valley floor was dried out. This place would be a mess earlier in the year but I thoroughly enjoyed hiking along the several streams, tarns, and pockets of trees.
We split up in the valley floor and Colin and I started a traversing ascent towards Usable Pass. ABM stayed in the valley floor and went directly up the slope. I recommend the latter since Colin and I had a very tough time negotiating the loose rock covering the slope. After a very rough ascent we were on Usable Pass at 9:00 where we met our next obstacle. The descent on the east side of the pass is pretty hairy. Not from an exposure standpoint, but it's all loose dirt and steep enough that a slip would not end well. You'd probably end up picking up plenty of speed before you hit the rocks below. To make matters worse, there was a bit of lingering ice/snow that we would need to cross. I decided to give it a go and it took some concentration but I managed to get down to easier terrain after a few minutes. Colin's legs weren't quite adjusted yet so he decided to wait at the pass for my return and ABM tried a couple of different options but couldn't find a descent line that made him comfortable – I'd be solo on this adventure.
East Partner from Usable Pass
I spied a line much higher than the summitpost description and set out for the saddle between X and W. Unintentionally, I climbed up the cliff bands and hit the ridge about 100 yards more towards W than I had intended. I found myself on the narrowest of knife edges that I could imagine with extreme exposure on both sides and I didn't want anything to do with it. I descended to friendlier ground and traversed some very narrow exposed ledges until I had a favorable line to the saddle. From the saddle, Peak X is pretty straightforward but a true delight occurred about 200 feet from the summit. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my camera out in time to catch the two single-prop planes that buzzed Usable Pass, veering towards Keller Mountain and banking hard to the east just as they approached its north slopes. They were well below me and my cousin got quite a show as they passed no more than 200 feet directly above him. I reached the summit at 10:15 and enjoyed the views to the Slate Lake Mountains, Keller, and the partners. I didn't stay long since Colin was waiting for me (ABM headed off to try Peak W) and I was able to follow my intended line back to the pass, arriving at 11:15.
Q, C, Powell, K, Eagle's Nest, R, S from W's Summit
L from W
Y and Z
Ascending a loose gully back to Usable Pass
Pt. 12,710 at the head of the valley to Usable Pass
Looking down valley from same spot previous picture taken - Outpost Peak in the distance
We took our time through the valley heading back to camp as this basin is one of my favorite in Colorado. Instead of dropping all the way into the meadow that we used on the ascent we tried to hug the south slopes of East Partner which held many more obstacles but also had a lot of signs of bear activity. Once back at camp, we soaked in our small waterfall's pool, gathered a bunch of wood, and enjoyed the campfire until bed around 9:30-10:00.
The waterfall behind our campsite
Colin and me enjoying our pool
Sunday, September 6 - East Partner Peak/7 Pound Burrito
We woke up around 6 am to a think overcast day. Nothing seemed to be threatening so we decided to give East Partner a try and keep our eyes on the skies. Since ABM needed West Partner, Colin and I would be going alone. We left camp around 7 and headed straight up the grass slopes in front on our campsite. Incredibly steep, this provided a wake up call and cleared our heads of the previous night's festivities. We made the shoulder by 7:30 and set off for the loose gully. Because of the potential for rockfall, Colin split to a different gully. I was about 10 minutes above him when I hit the ridge, but the problem was I couldn't find the point where his gully topped out. It took us a solid half-an-hour to regroup and by this time we were on Class IV rock, well above the Class II route. We descended off of the ridge and traversed the dirt/grass slopes to the connecting ridge to Peak W. There were several options, but we chose to stick to the ridge proper (Class III+/IV) and hit the summit at 9:15. Colin finally got to sign a summit register (neither West Partner/Peak X had one) and we took a couple of pictures but while the clouds/fog added some interesting ambiance, they didn't allow for the greatest photo opportunities. Instead of downclimbing to the saddle, we spotted a loose gully that would bypass a lot of ground and while loose, seemed to be easy Class III. Once back on the route, we descended the standard gully and decided to take the gentle walk to Pitkin Lake instead of heading down the grassy slope direct to camp. We made it back to camp at 11:00 and packed up and left camp around noon. The hike out was uneventful and we were back to the TH at 2:00.
East Partner from atop the shoulder above our camp
Ascending the gully
Colin topping out on East Partner's NE ridge.
Colin's first summit register
East Partner's summit with South Slate Creek Valley behind him. - Will I ever be lucky enough to find myself camping down there?
Our Descent Route
And then, off to Jack N' Grill… I'm a fan of the TV show Man vs. Food (and food in general) and I know I could have put the host to shame in my heyday. I can probably give him a run for his money now in my old age and I'm always up for a gluttonous challenge. I've been hounding ABM all year to give it a try, but to no avail. I think Colin was more curious than anything, but he was game. Luckily we were off the mountain early enough to get to the place around 4:00 before the mad rush for dinner began. When they dropped two of the monsters in front of my cousin and I, I didn't think there was any way I would get it all down. I actually made pretty good time on it, finishing in about 25 minutes. Usually, eating that much food would make me sick, but the green chile was so tasty, I enjoyed every bite. The huge chunks of potatoes were a bit unfair if you ask me, but the thing was delicious. Colin stopped after 2 or 3 pounds since he knew he wouldn't finish it, but we would have breakfast handled for the next couple of days.
The Last Bite
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):