| Huron to 3 Apostles: Hail Mary in the dark
Huron in the summer is a rather "ordinary peak," so I had considered combining it with a ridge walk of the Three Apostles, and this great trip report galvanized my desire to do it: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=5113&start=25&stext=three+apostles#bottom
Saturday Aug 14th was a day of dazzling clear skies and I had all the time I needed - but I needed to leave earlier. I left the 4 wd TH at Winfield at 8:20 am. The total time elapsed to reach West Apostle via Huron, point 13,517, N Apostle, and Ice from the TH was 11 hours, 25 minutes. This circumstance turned my "easy walk" down W Apostle into frustrating wandering in the dark - but I was rewarded with a view of the stars twinkling in the surface of Lake Ann.
I took the standard route up Huron, reaching the summit at 10:00 am. From here, the rest of my route - due south to point 13,517, then a hard right westward to climb each of the Three Apostles. The picture below shows N Apostle, Ice, then West Apostle. Note the large ridge jutting perpendicular from Ice, and just behind it, a bulbous ridge on this side of Lake Ann. This is the descent route from West Apostle.
The descent of the ridge south from Huron began easily enough and I covered half the distance from Huron to Point 13,517 very quickly. Here's a view of the latter half, which still looks benign, but hides some difficulties.
As I neared the point, the going on the ridge got rougher. Having read the prior TR, I knew to drop to some grassy ledges on the left (east) side, but I then regained the ridge when convenient. That led me to get cliffed out on a tower:
Not liking that downclimb so early in the traverse (knowing harder climbing was ahead), I backtracked to the ledges and followed a system of narrow ledges to contour below the ridge crest.
After the ridge dropped down again, I regained it and I found myself looking up a well-defined and easy ridge to the Point:
I celebrated reaching the top of Point 13,517 with lunch of a can of tuna (excellent for nutrition, but best enjoyed on solo treks). My phone said 12:55; it had taken me 2 hours and 50 minutes get here. From the point, here are views back to Huron and ahead to North Apostle:
The scrambling between this point and North Apostle was the most difficult of the entire route - very loose, and the ridge is rife with pinnacles. Even in cases where I traversed below the ridge crest, the way ahead always appeared easier than it was, because very little of the rock was solid.
I think the easiest way would have been to abandon the ridge entirely and contour south of it, then climb to regain the ridge right below the light-colored line leading just to the right of the summit. My obtuse route stuck to the ridge as much as possible, until I was confronted with the scary tower shown below, and then I contoured too far south and ended up climbing on the southeast face to Ice.
Here's the thirty foot high pitch I elected not to climb, instead downclimbing from the ridge:
Walking below the ridge here speeded up progress, but the downside was that I lost sight of the ridge route.
I followed the path of least resistance a little too long, and found myself near the notch between North Apostle's main summit and a spire SE of it. This jagged outcrop in the picture below is part of the small ragged edge of the lower part of Ice seen in the ridge shot shown three pictures back:
So the summit now shaded me from the sun and I just took a switchbacking scramble route to the summit - some class II, but mostly class III here, with perhaps one or two IV moves. At least the rock had become more solid.
At 4:30, I found myself atop North Apostle. It had taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes to get here from the point, 6 hours from Huron. That disheartened me, as it seemed like it should have taken an hour less. With pause only for a couple photos, I moved on. Here's the route before me to Ice:
I apologize that I don't have any more photos of this part: time was against me. The scrambling here was just as loose and trying as the ridge climb to North Apostle, but the distance was about half as long. I knew from the description in Thirteeners (Roach & Roach) that I needed to find the top of the couloir to scramble to the summit. A cairn on the ridge crest marks the route - you go right of the ridge here into a narrow couloir (actually a split from the refrigerator couloir) and then there is a class III climb between rocks to get to the top. This class III part was a lot of fun - narrow, with lots of rock to grip on either side, so it didn't feel precarious, although a fall straight back would be down a steep slope. Walking thirty feet or so south to the summit, I hunted for a marker or canister register, but found nothing. The view south into the basin between Ice & West Apostle was very pretty:
Here is the view from the top to the western (lower) summit of Ice:
The leaning rock on the very top of this sub-summit is a chockstone about the size of a VW bug, minus the hood. Now 5:40, I had spent an hour making my way from N Apostle, and it took nearly another hour to stand right beside that rock and take the next picture (yeah, I clambered to the top of the rock, but I didn't dare try to get my camera out while clinging to it for life). This photo shows the ridge between the Ice main summit and the Ice lower summit. Just on the other side of the jagged portion in the middle of the ridge, you can see snow: this is the refrigerator couloir, and i downclimbed about twenty feet to cross it and subsequently climb back to the ridge in order to bypass that jagged tower.
So from here, I only had West Apostle. Good thing, too, as it was 6:30 and I was out of water, having drunk all of the 70 oz in my camelback. Here's a view of the route to West Apostle - the easiest section of ridge since before Point 13,517.
Not bothering about any sort of "ridge purism," I took the most expedient way by walking a straight course to where the ridge curves back into the left for the climb to West Apostle. Just before launching up that climb, I glanced back into the basin for another shot of the lakes:
Atop West Apostle, it was now 7:40 pm: an hour and 10 minutes from "Ice 2," 2 hours from Ice, 3 hours and 10 minutes from N Apostle, 9 hours and 30 minutes from when I left Huron. Amazingly, I had cell reception (none on Ice, the Point, or Huron - forgot to check on N Apostle). I called my wife to let her know the hard part was over and I'd soon be down. Wrong.
I walked westward from the summit, taking care on the loose rock and looking out for cairns or a trail. I found patches of a trail and then, at a smooth low saddle, a cairn. Consulting the Thirteeners book, I thought this was the place where one would climb up to gain the ridge from the "rounded ridge" lower down. It was hard to tell the micro-geography of the mountain side; dusk was on and I could see Lake Ann to the northwest, so I started down from the ridge. It was steep - like 60 degrees, loose dirt and scree. I moved as fast as safely possible, angling left (NW) in a desperate attempt to get close to Lake Ann before darkness fell.
The light vanished and I found myself cliffed out. I must've gone too far - the lower apron below the mountain was frustratingly close, but I was separated from it by a steep drop that I couldn't see into the gloom with my headlamp to see a way down. I turned off the headlamp, sat down to calm myself, then turned on the headlamp to consult Roach & Roach, ponder my descent, and plan my options. Luckily, it was still warm.
I knew I had to find that "rounded ridge" to then descend to Lake Ann. My best bet was that it was due east of me; the challenge I knew would be that small buttresses could block the way. Route finding takes on a new meaning on a pitch black night with only the meager rays of a headlamp. The moon was a sliver that gave no illumination. For the next few hours, I walked eastward, up and down the mountain, to find my way around difficulties I could not go over. I found a ridge that I thought led to a rounded portion only to find that from the rounded top and below it, there was no way to safely descend in the dark. Luckily, climbing back up showed terrain to the east that was considerably less steep.
I actually made good time here, contouring in a wide arc around that ridge I had been on, and found myself walking on grass instead of rock, with scattered pines. I couldn't see the lake, but I knew it lay westward and I moved doggedly ahead, my tongue dry in my mouth from a lack of water for the past three hours. I climbed either three or four "mini-ridges" - annoying stacks of treacherous talus before my headlamp bounced off a inky gloom. In that gloom, I could see my headlamp reflected like a wispy cloud when I glanced back and forth. And something else - small white specks. At first I thought they were more bugs attracted to my headlamp. I turned off the lamp. The specks remained, flickering: I realized I was seeing the reflection of the stars twinkling in that clear night sky.
Muttering some sort of incoherent prayer of thanksgiving, I slogged down the talus to the lakeshore to fill my camelback and risk two hand fulls of untreated water. It was 11:00 pm.
From there, I walked around the lake, found the Lake Ann trail, and reached my car at 1:04 am Sunday morning. It took me 11 hours, 25 minutes from the car to the last summit; and, due to my poor planning/late start, 5 hours and 24 minutes from the last summit back to the car. I found myself back in bed in Denver at 4:30 am - exactly 24 hours after I'd gotten up the day before to make this trek.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):