| One hell of a ridge run - Ripsaw Ridge
Ripsaw Ridge from road to Piney Ranch
Ripsaw Ridge – Pk.C (13,200), "C-Prime" (13,100), D (13,047), E (13,230), F (13,220), G (13,260)
Vertical and Time – 11 hours and 8000 vertical from camp at 9700 ft (according to altimeter watch. This includes all the backtracking and reclimbing I had to do)
Ever since climbing Peak C back in 2008 and gazing upon the infamous, yet mysterious, "Ripsaw Ridge", I was intrigued and intimidated by its length and number of jagged peaks along the ridgeline. I thought it was reserved for only a select few, but following some extensive research, some intense and consistent training over the last few months and a newfound passion for the Gore Range, I convinced myself this was the year I'd give it a shot.
Not much is written about this ridge. I'm probably stepping on all the toes of the Gore Range enthusiasts over on Summitpost, but this could be used as a sort of resource for anyone that wants to give it a try anytime in the future.
Lots more dead trees since 2008
While the weather wasn't flawless, nothing threatened the entire day and the 10% chance of T-storms held true, with dark clouds forming around 7pm, as I was leaving Vail for home. My buddy David and I decided to pack in to at least the campsites around the river at 96-9700 feet in the basin to save a little time and get some more rest. We found a pretty nice spot a little ways up from where the trail veers left and heads up the basin towards Upper Piney Lake at around 9660 feet. David had made a promise to a guy at work to wait for him in the morning, which made me a little uneasy, since his friend didn't plan to show up till 7am at the earliest. I was convinced with a start time like that, the Ripsaw would be out of the question, good weather or not. After a long hour of contemplating, I told David and his friend that I am leaving at 4am and will go solo if I have to.
Anyways, I make the choice to tackle this endeavor solo, which gave me a mixed feeling of anxiety and excitement all through the night. The alarm went off at 3am, but I didn't hit the trail till slightly before 5am. From climbing Peak C before, I knew exactly where to turn off, but this assumption caused me a level of arrogance and I found myself immediately off-route early on in the approach. When approaching along the creek, you begin to gain elevation quickly and reach a clearing where you have a nice view of "The Spider" directly to the East. It is here where you then begin to descend a bit to a creek running down from the Tarn Basin below Pk.C. Around here, look left (north) and try to find a waterfall in the upper right hand section of the shelf below the Tarn Basin. You cannot see Pk.C or C-Prime from here. Head up and slightly to the right, finding the path of least resistence.
waterfall under Tarn Basin
From the waterfall, climb up and around to the right (easiest ground) and you are quickly presented with the Tarn Basin and a good view of the C/C-Prime Southwest Couloir. When I climbed this in the summer of 2008, it was July 26th and the couloir was still filled in, top to bottom. This year, it was almost completely melted out. This made climbing tedious, since all you had to bite on to was loose blocks and scree for 1000 feet. When preparing for the Ripsaw, as you are climbing up this SW Couloir, keep a keen eye on the right wall of the chute. About 2/3 the way up, there is an exit chimney. This is your "easiest" entrance into C-Prime. From the small col linking C to C-Prime, your only options are an extremely sketchy and undocumented traverse around the North side or a direct climb of the West face, which is most likely a 5.7/5.8 highly exposed climb.
SW Couloir and exit ramp to C-Prime
I topped out on C's summit about 2.5 hours after leaving camp and was presented with my day's work.
Pk.C used to have a summit register. What I find very aggravating is the lack of register's on peaks this year. Either the CMC is in the process of replacing them with new ones or some LNT asshole is ripping them off one by one. I used to not care for registers, mainly on 14er, cause they'd be trillions of entries. 13er registers are more interesting, some dating back for decades.
Now, for the Ripsaw. To make a really long story short, there are two words to live by. SOUTH and EAST. When scaling the ridge, remain on the SOUTH side AT ALL TIMES. The North side of the ridge and the faces of all the peaks are sheer cliff walls. For 75% of the climb, you are able to remain relatively close to the ridge crest, but there are definitely times when downclimbing around a gully to find easier ground is a necessity. Also, all the EAST approaches to each individual peak along this ridge is MUCH EASIER than the West. Southern approaches to their summit blocks is an option as well. Every time I tried to find a weakness to the West or North, I got cliffed out and had to back track on low 5th class with tons of exposure. There are definitely times when you can have a little fun with the route and toy around with the scrambling, but ultimately you'll end up on the southern and southeastern flanks of the peaks, realizing you could've saved a lot of time, time which you gravely need.
Back to C-Prime. Upon reaching the C/C-Prime col, I tried to find a way around the northern flanks, but there wasn't a clear enough view, so I didn't risk it. After downclimbing about 150 feet, I easily found the exit ramp to the chimney leading up to C-Prime's eastern ridge.
Chimney up to C-Prime
This chimney had options and I chose to go straight up the middle and hopefully land closer to C-Prime's summit. There was a mixture of exposed class 4 scrambling and a few, short class 5.0/5.2 moves here and there. I'd go as far to say I made at least 5 to 6 class 5.4 to 5.6 moves throughout the course of the day, mainly during times when I was trying to find the path of least resistance or was too lazy to downclimb to find easier ground. Luckily, I started out the day with a good decision and landed myself right where I needed to be, no less than 60 feet below C-Prime's summit.
exposed ramp below C-Prime's summit
This picture shows the very exposed ramp I needed to traverse out on to in order to find the easiest scramble to just below the summit. The picture doesn't show the cliff below that slope in the picture and the ramp was big enough for about ¾ of my boot. I had to traverse way out on to the edge there with nothing but air below, but was able to find a nice, class ¾ chimney to the summit.
C-Prime's summit block
The true summit of C-Prime is not worth the risk of obtaining. Think the summit block of Snowmass with drop-offs on either side. I simply tagged the top with my hand, ate some trail mix and made my way for the C-Prime/D col. Downclimbing was easier this go around and I was able to land directly on a small col with a notch that led to a flat level along the ridgeline.
Ridge between C-Prime and D
For 90% of the ridge between C-Prime and D, I was able to travel quickly along the class 2 ridge crest, with no reason to drop down.
Pk.D. Easiest ground circles around to the right
This was my view upon reaching the western flank of D. I made the Ripsaw Rookie mistake of trying to approach this peak directly from the West. I was making quick work of the exposed class 4 scrambling when I topped out what I thought was the summit, but was the western ridge of the summit. There was no feasible way to obtain the summit from here, nor where there a way to downclimb into the SW gully, so I made my first backtrack of the day with a good 300-400 feet of air below me. This was not fun, not necessary. I let out a decent sized breath of relief when I reached safer ground and traversed around to the SW side of the mountain.
low class 5 downclimb. Got cliffed out on top of this. Downclimb sucked
While no walk in the park, the climbing on this side was much more realistic than the other and I made the summit around an hour and fifteen minutes after topping out on C-Prime.
For some reason, my memory of E and F are very hazy. The Ripsaw is a tough undertaking because you have 2 contradictory factors going on. Time is of the essence, so you need to travel efficiently, with little time for breaks. Since the ridge is so complex, route finding is an issue and takes up even more time.
What I do remember from both these peaks is they were the most complex of the entire ridge. From the summit of D, I was able to downclimb off the E/NE face to regain the ridge further down East, rather than downclimbing the SW gully and circling around. I was thinking at this point that G was out of the question and F might be a stretch. I was thinking I would have to save those for another weekend with my energy level, the anxiety of being solo in the middle of the Gores and the building clouds. Anyways, I pushed on. To be honest, I have no recollection of the traverse from D to E. What I do know is this was a section along the ridge where checking out the route more closely from the summit of D would've been beneficial. Pk. E has a sub-summit, which looks like the actual summit when viewed from low on the ridge. I climbed this sub-summit and got really pissed off.
Rest of Ripsaw
But the views of 2 of my summer goals showed their faces and I was happy again
Here was the view of the sub-summit. It looks like a real summit right?
subsummit of E
Well its not, save yourself the time and circle around the southern flanks to the col dividing the summit from the sub-summit and climb accordingly. If I remember correctly, you access the southern ridgeline of E and then climb directly North finding the path of least resistance.
first signs of prior life
real summit and climb up to E
F and G from southside of E
Peak E was the only summit with a register and it dated back to 1948 from an old CMC group. Steve Gladbach's name was on there from 2005 and only 3 since then, the last being August of 09. It was a very heavy summit register made out of cast iron or steel and was in perfect condition.
Summit register from 1948
F and G from E's summit
Still had a long way to go though. I read that the traverse from E to F was, by far, the most difficult section of the climb. For the first section, I was wondering if this was true, but was quickly shown why about halfway. The distance between E to F is about half as much of C-Prime to D, but it's the most arduous climbing of the day and it doesn't relent till you reach the very top of F. There are about 6 different gullies you have to climb in and out of, dropping down and then climbing back up, and repeat. I wish I could say you could stay on the ridge crest, but that's simply not an option. If you tried to remain on the ridge crest, you could probably find a way to do it, but this would suck for you big time cause when you reach the western base of F's summit ridge, not only would you not be able to summit from there, you'd have to traverse all the way back to E, downclimb 600 feet and circle all the way around to directly South of the mountain and realize you have to downclimb even further, another 60-70 feet to obtain the SE gully leading to the summit. I had to do all this, sans getting cliffed out on the ridge crest. F was the hardest summit to obtain on the Ripsaw and has a very exposed summit. Luckily, G is very close and there are actually cairns leading you directly off the eastern ridge to the F/G saddle.
Tedious climbing and traversing from E's summit to F
summit of F
traverse over to G
From looking at pic 23, you descend F along the east flanks, staying on the ride side of the ridge, gain the saddle and climb up the SW face with the snow patch, again, finding the path of least resistance. G was probably the easiest peak to climb, but there was still consistent class ¾ scrambling all the way to the summit block and the downclimb was nothing to take lightly either.
last final scramble
As tired as I was to stand atop of G, I definitely had a pretty unique feeling of accomplishment. Looking back at Pk.C, it felt like I climbed it eons ago and the ridge is no less awe-inspiring looking at it East to West.
looking back on Ripsaw
a very tired me
I had to retrace my steps back to the G/F saddle and just slog it out from there, 3200 feet to the valley below
3200 feet below
Following some potential, faint climbers paths, I miraculously made it to the Upper Piney Lake Trail, even closer to my tent as anticipated and was back by 4pm, enough time to take a quick nap and pack my things and enjoy the sights and sounds of the creek nearby.
I packed out, ate 3 double cheeseburgers and a large root beer at McD's in Vail and hit up the hot tub in no less than 2 minutes when I got home. Big F'ing day....
Some notes :
- Like I said, if you abide by the EAST and SOUTH policy of the Ripsaw, you'll save youself a lot of time on this ridge run. I got caught up in the moment at times and decided to do some fun scrambling, rather than downclimbing and finding easier ground. While this is tempting, you have to realize your timeframe and stick to it in order to finish this climb
- Time is very important. Watch the weather closely and get a VERY early start. The only reason I started at 445am was because the weather called for clear skies. I got lucky.
- An axe is definitely useful on this route, crampons would just be unnecessary added weight. On sections of the SW couloir climb to C and a patch or 2 along the ridge that were unavoidable, an axe would've been a lot of weight off my anxiety.
- Remember E has two summits, study them in detail from D and travel accordingly.
- The traverse took me 5 hours exactly, with lots of time spent backtracking and finding a feasible way. I've heard it's a 3 mile long ridge, so I'm not too ashamed of this time. The entire day, from camp to the traverse to reaching the car, took 14-15 hours, with a nap before I packed out. While it's a physical test, its more of a mental test when its all said and done. The climb from camp to C is 4000 feet and in a perfect world, of the 5 remaining summits, you descend no more than 500 feet, so you could make it a 6000 foot day, which isn't easy, but according my altimeter watch, I did 9100 feet, which I simply don't believe, but it's been accurate for the most part up till now.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):