| Slate Creek Basin
Slate Creek Drainage – Peak L (13,213 feet)
Group – myself and "Big Joe" Salsich
TH – Rock Creek
Food – 12 tortillas, pound of shredded cheese, canister of butter, old bay seasoning, 2 apples, 6 carrots, 15 beers, trail mix, mamba fruit snacks, 5 clementines, loaf of bread, red pepper hummus, chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels, banana chips, lemonade packets, emergen-c, olive oil, Smoked Tobasco, reeces pieces and York peppermint patties
My love for the Gores was definitely put to the test over the weekend. What resulted was an incredibly deep appreciation and an overwhelming urge to quit my job and explore the range for the next 10 years of my life. It had a profound effect.
I called my old buddy Joe, a former lineman for Wake Forest and a pension for adventure. I'm not sure if he was 100% prepared for what I had in mind, but he was a very worthy trail companion over the course of the weekend. We supplied in Silverthorne and made the short drive to the Rock Creek TH up Route 9, reaching the parking lot around 6pm. I naively thought 10 miles could be done in no more than 5-6 hours, bringing us to camp around midnight. Holy s**t was I wrong.
Anyways, we were on the trail by 6:20pm and at the Gore Trail minutes later.
Gore Trail turnoff from Rock Creek
The turnoff was no more than 0.5 of a mile up the trail. Once you take a right here and join the Gore Trail, let the up and downs begin! (The exclamation point is one of sarcasm, I'm by no means making that comment with any sort of excitement or benevolence). This is a dyslexic approach, done almost entirely downhill to the Slate Creek junction. Around 8pm or so, we noticed a fire right off the trail about halfway between the Boulder Creek and Slate Creek junctions along the Gore Trail. As we got closer, some guy whistled to us, maybe thinking we were a dangerous animal. As we came into view, we heard his very obvious southern accent and made introductions. His name was Shane from Alabama and he was lost. Actually, I've never met someone so lost in my whole life. His buddies were up the Slate Creek trail and we awaiting his arrival, but he missed the junction and decided to build a fire in his confusion. His pack was comical. He had a 110 liter pack, filled to the brim, a cooler hanging from a strap full of bacon and eggs, 3 eighteen packs of beer, a slingshot, a football, no water and no tent. I guess the 10 essentials have been edited a tad, but we did wait for him to put out his fire, repack and join us along the trail.
The scary part was Shane didn't recognize any part of the trail he apparently had already come down earlier in the day and he was carrying both 18 packs in either hand, along with a handheld flashlight, and still no water. I cinched one of the 18 packs to the head of his pack and offered to carry the other one in mine. He refused and minutes later, he dropped the 18 pack along the trail. Joe and I didn't mind cause it'd be a nice deproach present on the way out. We reached the Slate Creek junction around 10pm and Shane was on his hands and knees by now. Hiking to the lower lake was out of the question at this point, so we hiked up the trail for about 30 minutes and found a really nice spot in an aspen meadow.
campsite in meadow
Shane from Alabama. That pack deserves an award
Shane woke up early, we bid him farewell (and goodluck) and cooked some breakfast. Just as we finished packing up, a moose came passing through camp with a look of confusion on his face. At first look, I assumed Shane whipped out his slingshot and scared the life out of this guy, but we were probably on his turf, cause he kept circling around and trying to get a closer look at us.
We continued our approach, which we thought would take another hour or so. We rounded the basin with our first glimpse of L and Slate Creek Drainage.
Slate Creek Drainage
We were relieved to see Shane reunited with his buddies and we had a good couple laughs at his pack for a couple minutes. As unprepared as he was (or abnormally over prepared), he would've stumbled around the Gore Trail all the way to Frisco before he realized he was headed in the wrong direction.
We reached a forest section, before opening up into a muddy meadow where we were introduced to our first significant obstacle on the approach.
where the slog officially begins
From this view, the first stage of hell kicked in. It was a sustained uphill battle to the Lowee Slate Lake. Looking at the map, we figured it was a 15 minutes stroll to the upper shelf and Upper Slate.
nice waterfall below Lower Slate Lake
Wrong again. Over a hour later, I began to curse and throw temper tantrums. I reached a section of the trail where it went downhill, about 5-10 minutes past a prominent boulder field and thought to myself "this better be it". Actually, I yelled out something like that with a bunch of hateful 4-letter words, but miraculously, the lake appeared. It was so beautiful, I forgot to get mad and throw my poles and pack down in frustration. Rather I laid them down gently and sat looking at Pk.Q for a good 15 minutes before I came back to reality.
Upper Slate Lake
Joe was behind me since I didn't want my heart rate to lower when waiting, so I decided to pitch camp in the shade, put on the swim trunks and take a much needed dip in the lake. Joe showed up a little over 2 hours later, pissed off as well. He was about to yell at me, but then he saw campsite and immediately felt at ease. He pitched his hammock and konked out. Since I didn't have time for peaks that day, I decided to take a stroll around the lake and head up the trail to L and scout out the trail along the lake.
The water of the lake was very blue.
very clear water
And the mushrooms colorful
And the valley was quite lush and water was plentiful
And the surrounding peaks jagged, beautiful, with scary resemblances to the Weminuche, Ruby Basin in particular.
L and Gore Thumb
I found a nice spot to cool off right next to camp as well.
And was having too much fun so I woke up Joe and found an even better rock to hop off further up the lake.
A nice place for a dip
The sun finally retreated and the deeply inset jagged basin cooled off rather quickly. There was a nice fire pit about 10 yards from camp, so we cooked some old bay quesadillas w/ smoked tobacco, marinated some carrots with olive oil and old bay seasoning and the 15 beers we ignorantly, but appreciatively packed in. There was a lot of decent wood all around to start one up and we were warm in no time. We ate and drank well on this trip.
We hit the sack around 9pm, with myself getting up early to climb Peak L, Joe sleeping in and getting a head start on the hike out.
Alarm went off around 5:30am, I was on the trail by 6:15am. Having researched the trail along the southern end of the lake the day before, the approach went by very quickly. Here's the trail along the lake in a nutshell. From camp, hike steeply up the diminishing trail for about 20 feet, staying high rather than low. You'll soon run into 2 sets of campsites right along the trail. After the second site, hang a left out of the trees, briefly bushwack, climb the mini rock cirque and look for the trail on the high road. Find the trail, enter the woods again and look for cairns and sticks forming an arrow. There is a faint trail through the marshes and eventually a beaver pond on your right. Once past the pond, you can probably hear the roar of the creek by now. There is some slabby cliffs to your right and marshes to contend with. You don't want to get too close to the lakeside, but not too far up the hill. Constantly look for the trail, cairns and wear gaiters.
There are a number of places to cross the creek. I chose to hike above the prominent waterfall and found a place to cross up high. From the crossing, there was a very obvious chute with rock slabs on either side, that eventually spits you right out at the grassy slope you need to gain the SW ridge of L.
grassy slope to L's SW Ridge
Once halfway up the steep slope, don't forget to look left and check out this view of R and Q.
R and Q
I reached the ridge to L a lot quicker than I thought, bout a hour from camp. Peak L is kind of deceptive. I never really reached the saddle proper, more stayed on the south side, sidehilling and traversing East towards what I thought was the summit. I was actually just making a more direct route to the knife edge, cause when I topped out on the ridge finally, I could see L's pointy summit rising out of the earth and the knife edge just to the right of me. The views from L aren't too shabby either.
Summit of L
There was a stiff wind blowing as well, so that made the knife edge interesting. There was a notch in the knife as well and the wind was just howling through there. There is no way to straddle the side and hang over the north side, it's a sheer drop off. I decided to work the south side, using cracks as foot placements and grabbing the knife of the ridge when necessary. I was a bit worried I'd get blown off, so I kept it low to avoid any gusts. After the knife, you have to downclimb a short, class 3 section, reach a wind tunnel, airy notch and had the rest of the climb to look forward to.
my route on L
The red shows my tentative climb, basically the same description of Dave Cooper in his scrambles book. The rock here is unbelievably solid and fun, probably the best rock I have ever come across. I topped out on the summit ridge, a little to the East from the true summit. The summit block was a small spire with a little seat to sit on. I just tapped it and found a sheltered rock bench about 5 feet lower to stay out of the wind. This has been, for me, the best view of the Gores thus far, L truly deserves its reputation as a "sentinel peak". You definitely have that feeling of "guarding" the eastern edge of the Gore Range.
There were many other views to show in this report, but instead of posting 10 shots of what I saw, nothing deserves mention other than Peak Q, at the very heart of the range.
I had always thought Pigeon Pk, Pyramid, Longs, Rio Grande Pyramid or Vestal were the most prominent peaks in the state. That was until I saw Peak Q. All I can say is wow.
The downclimb off L is kind of a blur. Being distracted by the views of Q and R and reflecting on the weekend, I didn't pay much attention to the downclimb. First things first, the downclimb off the summit of L is not as tough as advertised. I did not feel the need for a rope and think hauling it back there for just one rappel would be a waste of pack space. I downclimbed while eating a snack. I'm not advocating this form of descending, just giving a perspective. Its similar to downclimbing off Vestal or N.Maroon, with incredibly solid slabs of rock. The only section of the climb, up or down, that had my utmost attention was the knife. The wind made things a little hairy, but care negated any further anxieties. I did take the wrong drainage down lower, but corrected myself early enough to avoid issues and was staring at the creek soon after.
the creek crossing
Roundtrip was 4.5 hours with a 20 minute rest on the summit and a dip in the creek. I highly recommend researching and checking out the approach on the south side of Slate Lake beforehand, it'll save you a decent amount of time and route finding.
By the time I got back to camp, Joe was already well on his way back to the car. I decided to cook one last old bay quesadilla, drank the last beer, enjoyed one last view of Peak Q and the lake, packed up and took off. It was nice having a 10 beer-less pack and since all the food was consumed, I travelled quite efficiently, catching some nice views of some exotic waterfalls I missed on the way up.
a nice waterfall on the way back
I caught up to Joe around the trail junction, we filtered some water and continued on our way. We reached Shane's 18 pack, which now only had 4 beers left. We forced down 1 each, poured out the other and begrudgingly packed out the trash. We felt semi-ok up to the Boulder Creek junction. From there, we had the last uphill section, which was a beast, to gain the Rock Creek drainage and my car. My legs and lungs were feeling pretty good, but Joe was hurtin', but having spent all those 2-a-days in college football, I imagine his stubbornness and perseverance were on par with some of the toughest of the tough, so we made it back to the car with little to no bitching.
Slate Creek is the finest drainage, basin, lake, region, etc I've seen in Colorado to date. As one guy we passed on the trail mentioned, you really have to "want it" back there. As the crow flies, its actually pretty close to Rt.9 and we could hear trucks driving along in the meadow near the Slate Creek trail junction. But making it back to Upper Slate Lake is a unique feeling, physically and mentally.
A couple things about the Eastern Gores :
- If packing in to Slate Lake, DO NOT pack in from Rock Creek if possible. Our 4wd, high clearance guy bailed at the last minute due to a bruised cornea, so we were forced to do this approach (we had no bikes for Boulder Creek). Brush Creek is probably the way to go, but it requires a SUV. The up and down on Rock Creek is downright demoralizing.
- At a bare minimum, allow yourself ATLEAST a 3 day weekend for this group, both for enjoying its scenery and giving yourself enough time to climb all the peaks (L, Q, R, S, T, Rockinghorse Ridge J/P). 4-5 days would be ideal.
- I'm not a huge advocate of "fast and light" but travel efficiently in this region. Don't be like Shane and haul in everything cept the kitchen sink.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):