Cap-Snow Finish - Never Ending Punishment (Noah's Edition)
The Finish of all Finishes
Climbers: Mike Fyten (oldschool) Noah McKelvin (winter8000m) Steve Gladbach (sgladbach)
This is my description of Day 2 and finish of the traverse. It's a bit more detailed. I hope it's not to boring. This is the last report of the traverse.
The Team. L-R Noah, Steve, Kiefer, Mike
After getting quite far on the traverse, we all stared ahead at what we thought would be a cruise to the start of the final two pitches of 5.5 to the top of North Snowmass. Little did we know, we stared ahead at our worse nightmare. I thought to myself, we can't continue. We needed at least a whole day or more to finish this last part. It looked absolutely scary. These Gendarmes or "Satan's Horns" are the full crux of the route. Were they even possible to climb? The didn't look like it. They looked extremely dangerous and suicidal. That's probably why they have never been climbed through.
The rest of the traverse and crux of the route
After doing some research, I found no reports of anyone climbing the ridge proper threw the crux of the route. Only in 1952 had it been attempted but even them didn't reach into the heart of the gendarmes. All we had to do is finish this last part without dropping into the basin. Sounds easy right? Thinking now, there is a reason no one has ever climbed through that section to what we know of. It's the hardest climbing on the ridge on quite loose rock that is poorly protected.
The rest of the traverse. Extra Credit: spot the Gendarmes!
We all coordinated a date and the last weekend of September was agreed by everyone. This was the last ime for us to finish this thing. I didn't want to go into the winter leaving this undone. I was quite intimidated of these things. I thought the last 3 miles of the ridge was hard. These things looked flat out scary.
Fast forward a bit and a storm hit the mountains a day before our adventure. I called many companied located in Aspen asking for conditons. They reported up to a foot of snow! I almost started crying. (kidding) We talked and called it off. I talked to Mike and we talked about moving it forward a day to a Saturday and Sunday adventure. It also was reported there was not that much snow as I had heard. We talked to everyone and finally the plan and trip was back up in the air. I had my doubts though that we would even get on it. In dry conditions, this thing is really dangerous. In wet conditions?
Kiefer then contacted us later that night and in the morning saying he was to sick to join us but told us to go for it. I was a bit sad and missed having him along on the traverse.
It was down to three: Noah, Mike, and Steve. We carried two ropes for what I thought as a double rope system. There was going to be alot of rope work. I'm glad Mike brought his 10.2mm lead rope. I brought a 8.6mm second rope. We brought about 6 cams and a set of nuts and some slings.
I met up Steve at Twin Lakes by Leadville at what was originally 1 turned into 4 because we were both having struggles getting stuff together.
We got to Lead King Basin at about 7 and were up at campsite 5 at Lake Geneva at about 8. I was curious. Gray's and Torrey's were covered in snow. The Sawatch range seemed to get a dusting. And many mountains by Snowmass were covered in snow on there North Faces. Snowmass oddly was free of snow from what we saw. Sadly, we were going to be climbing on the North Side. We met Mike there who had gotten there earlier since he was coming from Grand Junction. We all smiled and were cracking jokes soon of which will not be said on here.
As I went to sleep I tuned on my IPOD and thought about the next day. How was it going to turn out? I prayed that everyone would be kept safe. I just wanted to finish this thing and never return. I knew from two weeks ago how dangerous it was and this section was going to be way harder and more in likely more dangerous. I wanted to know how the day would turn out so bad.
Soon we started packing up and headed up after a brief breakfast at 5:30 in the morning. I was concentrated. We all were. We got to Siberia Lake and got some more water for the day.
Siberia Lake at sunrise
The traverse looked free of snow? So weird! Soon the sun started coming up and we saw once again Satan's horns. I was trying to spot a way accross them from below but couldn't. Everything looked like 5.10+ slab friciton with no pro.
How are we going to do this?
We made the dreaded ascent from the lake to the ridge which was Elk solid at the bottom but turned into very loose at the top. It was also quite steep. Don't slide off! We got to the ridge finally, the ending point two weeks ago. I looked at the rest of the ridge and after the Gendarmes it looked covered in snow. We just couldn't tell in the dark. Hope of finishing it seemed up in the air.
Here we go...
We started up the ridge where we ended and were trying to negotiate this sub-peak. The only way it seemed was to make a very airy step into this chimney that had very loose rock in it and looked like it would send you down a thousand feet down the other side. It's that steep on the east side. We roped up.
I started off with the lead and was quite intimitaded. Here we go, into the unknown. What are we going to encounter?
I made the airy step and stepped into the chimney and I heard a rock about to slide out right when I stepped into it. I put in a nut as soon as I could, clipped into it and stated," I'm on Belay." Wow! I climbed up the chimney. All the footholds were a tiny bit icy. I topped out and yelled in excitement. The next few feet looked not bad. I went as far as I could, set up a belay and belayed Steve up who was in the middle of the rope. Mike was in the end and cruised up! We all agreed that first step was rather scary.
Mike took the next lead and made a downward traverse down the ridge that kept your attention (5th class). Once again the pro was seperated by gaps of 30-50 feet. It was a no fall zone for everyone. We all joined him. Now it would be nice if the rest of the ridge was like this but we weren't even into the guts of this thing. Now we saw this huge Gendarme. You could not pass left, right, or over the top. The only way I saw was going through it. There was a gap sperating the gendarme that was not that wide. Wide enough that we all had to take off our packs, suck our stomachs in and slide through it. I took the lead and just to get to that slot I had to climb some mid fifth class with ok pro. I stood there right before it and smiled. It also didn't look like a drop off after this slot! I went through it taking my pack off and set a belay on the other side. We all joined and were admitting that was a cool pitch!
Once through Satans Doorway you got this view!
We called the slot "Satan's Doorway." It's the entrance to the guts of the traverse.
Me leading through Satan's Doorway
Steve told us he was taking the next lead. He took off. We still could not see the guts of the gendarmes yet. He did well and set up a belay about 200 feet into it. By this time we had two ropes out to speed up time. The leader would lead with the lead rope and the middle would hook into both ropes while the follower would be at the end of the 8.6mm rope. Did I mention the rope drag was horrendous?
By the time we all got to Steve's belay we were standing on what seemed to be an overhanging bulge of extremely loose rock. Things were sliding. I wanted to get off this belay. I felt like any minute, a couple tons of rock was going to fall off with me on it. Luckily we were on a rope. How much could we trust this protection in this choss rock though? I could see the gendarmes or Satan's horns. Good new is that there looked like a way accross. Bad news is that it looked like the hardest climbing on the ridge and with not much pro at all. Plus, time was flying by. It was taking forever to do this. It was Mike's lead who took one of the two most frightening, dangerous leads on the route. He lead a slightly downward traverse with gaps between the pro of up to 50-75 feet. This traverse pitch was in the 5.6-5.7 range it felt like. The bad thing was if any of us well, it would not be good news at all. There are no ambulances nearby or worse coffins. I followed after Mike and the whole time I was so mentally in it. Thinking to myself ,"You got this, test every hold." On a pitch like this you can't think about falling. Steve then followed after me and I was a bit worried. When he got in talking range I kept encouraging him,"You got this man." He finally got to the belay station and wow, were not even at the heart of the gendarmes yet. Guess what, It was my lead next! I was not as excited as I would be on a solid rock route. Someone has to lead it though.
My lead? SO excited. (Not really)
I lead on with a traverse on a easy ledge leading slightly downwards. I had Mike clip me into a piece right by him as sort of a top rope and I would let him know to take me off it when I get a solid piece in. I don't think I found that solid piece for a 100 feet. Everything was loose. No protection was good. I finally found a nut that I found to be "ok". I was right below the biggest gendarme on the ridge, Satan's horn. It looked like the traverse ended in about 50 feet. We would have to climb this vertical headwall to keep on going. It looked kind of solid and sweet. I yelled," can I take the next lead?" They were perfectly fine with that idea. I climbed a bit up it and made what almost was like a hanging belay. The belay was solid. I just didn't want to lean out in it from how bad the rock was. Mike And Steve soon followed and had trouble finding a spot to even stand. The bad thing was that this headwall when I stood right below it had no pro. I had regreted saying I wanted the next lead.
Starting the Scary lead looking down at the belay. The exposure was constant
I put on my rock shoes and was kind of scared. I didn't know how hard the climbing would be. I would be fine with that if it was protected but this wasn't. This proved to be one of the two scariest, dangerous pitches. Mike lead the last one. Now it was my turn!
The 5.6 R/X headwall
I set off. I found a small placement directly above the anchor. I clipped into it thinking,"hey, maybe this won't be to bad." It was a 5.6 headwall that was still loose. There was massive exposure. The talus at the bottom was right below your feet. I found a small placement in about 10 feet that I'll let you know I didn't want to fall on. The next 50-75 feet were unprotected. The minor protection was there at times but I didn't even bother with it because it was so bad. Who wants to sling a huge flake that's about to come off?
I placed one piece before the belay. I had to climb under this overhang to get to the belay. It looked like after one more pitch, we would be done with these gendarmes! I belayed everyone else up. We were looking straight accross the gendarmes. I don't know how they stand!
Still standing for now...
Mike took the next lead up this slab. It seemed to be 5.7 at first. He got a nut in about 10 feet up and ran up it. It was actually solid. Well 25 feet of it. He yelled that was the last of the gendarmes. We were happy. We still had the rest of the north ridge though. It was getting late. We admitted the fact that a bivy on top of Snowmass might have to happen if we don't hurry up.
Mike and Steve putting away the ropes for now. You can see Satan's doorway and the ugly Gendarmes along with the whole ridge!
We packed up the ropes when we got to Mike's spot and started off to the base of the last two pitches of which are reported to be the most solid pitches on the traverse. We shot up to the base in actually 20-30 minutes. There was some snow we had to negotiate. I was excited. Two more pitches and I'm off this crap. We put on our rock shoes and scrambled as far as possible. Steve took the first pitch and belayed Mike up. I soloed the first pitch. It was nothing to hard. There was some insane exposure!
Me on top of the 1 pitch
I stopped before the second pitch and was waiting to rope up. We were making time. Mike and Steve actually spotted a piton from the fist ascent of the ridge! This ridge has only been done a couple time I imagine. Not popular. No carins.
Mike on pitch one. Some awesome exposure!
Vertical on both sides! Me halfway up the final pitch! Steve below
I gave Mike the last lead. I was later quit depressed that I did. It was the best pitch on the route. Really solid! Well according to Eldo, Yosemite, and etc. probably loose. I followed Mike and soon was on top of North Snowmass! Steve then followed and joined us. These two pitches were only in the 5.5 range. We did encounter a little snow which made it a little more difficult.
Did we really do this? We all smiled and started to lighten up a bit. Before we were all pretty tense. I got easily angered for some reason one or two times. I thank Steve for dealing with me those one of two times I did. I don't even remember what I was upset with. Something like the rope not being coiled up and making it's own knots when I was climbing.
We slapped hands. We did the impossible. Really, we did. What I thought as impossible before turned possible. I was so happy. For me, this was a dream come true, again. We got a group summit shot and shot over to Snowmass over really snowy ground. (Class 3/4) We got to the top of Snowmass and the gratification of doing this was even more awesome. I stared at the ridge traverse stating to Steve and Mike," We did that!"
Mike with the traverse behind!
Not only had we done it but we had made the first ascent of the ridge proper according to the knowledge that's out there. We had stayed on the ridge the whole time and not dropped off in the basin once. The rating of the ridge? We give it a 5.7 R/X if you don't drop down. It didn't exactly have no pro pitches but just about with how bad the gear was.
We did it! On top of North Snowmass
Me on top of Snowmass Mountain via the most insane route!
We headed down the miserable West Slopes Side at about 5-5:30. For those of you who have done that descent. The ridge is even looser and more exposed. I was tired. We got down to camp and packed up and got down to the car in only 3 hours. From summit to camp and packing up to the car at lead king basin in 3 hours. I was impressed. I still had the long drive home to Denver though. I called off work the next day and got home close to 3 in the morning and woke up the next day thinking the whole trip was a dream.
We are also the second recorded party to do the traverse from Capitol to Snowmass and the fourth recorded party to just do that traverse.
I will never forget this experience.
On top of North Snowmass
This is a huge accomplishment for all of us. Many more to come.
The Cap-Snow Traverse
You may ask why we equait everything to Satan on this ridge. The answer is simple. Satan is the worst of the worst. And this ridge is the worst of the worst.
Again I say,
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.