| Gore 4-Basin Loop
The Gore Quad Drainage Loop – Peak P (12,965) Peak Q (13,230)
Climbers – me and Mike (Chi Transplant)
Drainages accessed – Booth Creek, Upper Piney, Upper Southern Slate Creek and Pitkin Creek
Time and Vertical – approximately 16 miles and 7000 vertical, 14 hours of travelling.
Mike and I had been throwing ideas around for some early Fall Gore excursions since our last outing in the Booth/upper Piney Drainage. What started with a group of 4 to make and attempt at Eagles Nest-Powell traverse, all from Piney Ranch, ended up with Mike and I with plans to do the Rockinghorse Ridge (J to P) to the extremely reclusive and imposing Peak Q, back to P, across "The Saw" to W.Partner, then the Partner Traverse and a pack out to Mike's Xterra at the Pitkin Lake trailhead in East Vail. With the recent snow, neither of these were realistic, but Mike and I are so intrigued by the solitude and unknown of the Gores, a simple stroll in to the heart of them sounded like an appealing way to spend a brisk October Sunday.
It was an interesting weekend for myself. I had met up with Benners and Zambo for some quick, after work routes on North Table Mountain in Golden on Friday…..
climbers (not us) at N.Table Mtn
and then had some free tickets to burn with some friends from Boulder at Elitch Gardens Saturday. On a side note, I highly recommend the Shipwreck Falls water ride, preferably when its below 60 degrees and windy. You might need a couple Beast Ice 22ouncers before though.
Here's a taste of the one and only Shipwreck Falls…..
Sunday and a 4am alarm came around soon enough and I met Mike at the Pitkin Lake trailhead in East Vail to stash a vehicle and begin our day down the frontage road at Booth Creek. We were on the trail around 5:30am. There was some fresh snow along the trail around 10,000 feet. 2 weeks prior, we had done a nice loop in this same drainage with the Fly-Spider-W.Partner so we had some solid first hand beta as to how approach the day. When looking at this quad, there is an unnamed lake due NE of Booth Lake. We peeled off the maintained trail around 7am and headed for it.
Unnamed Lake in Upper Booth Creek
Saddle West of W.Partner
Looking North from the unnamed lake, we located the saddle to the West of West Partner Peak to access Upper Piney Basin. There was a slight breeze up there, but nothing major. We had full winter gear packed just in case, but the lack of wind made the day manageable.
From the saddle, we had your typical classic, otherworldly Gore views to the Northwest and Northeast.
we had to traverse the middle of this face to get to Pk.P
looking NW towards Piney Basin and Upper Piney Lake
Spider and the Fly
interesting cloud cover above W.Partner
Our plan was to sidehill across the slopes below "The Saw" and gain an obvious snow strip below the SW slopes of Peak P. The logic was we summit P and plan our future from there. Peak Q was the obvious prize and we didn't want to jeopardize our chances of summit, even if that meant forgoing Peak J. With the recent snow accumulations, ridge travelling was made twice as difficult.
Our side hill to the slopes below Peak P was probably the second most tedious traversing of the day, just behind the retreat from the ridge between P and Q to Graduation Point, the midpoint of the Partner Traverse. This is an idea of our slog up to the South Ridge of Peak P…..
slope to gain south ridge of Pk.P
But it wasn't for nothing as we were rewarded with this badass view of Peak Q, the monarch of the Gores.
From the col we gained, it was an exposed, snowy and misty ridge scramble to the summit of Peak P, but nothing that exceeded Class 3.
exposed ridge to P
We reached the summit of Peak P around 11:15am, an ascent time of around 5 hours, most of which was done from the saddle West of W.Partner to the ridge. We had a nice view of Rockinghorse Ridge…..
And a surprisingly dry Slate Lake Basin….
Upper Slate Basin and Q
Peak L, the sentinel of the Eastern edge of the Gore Range was shrouded in clouds most of the day, but they cleared for a minute here and there and I was able to nab a quick shot of it….
We spent about 20 minutes on the summit of Peak P, scheming 2011 summer trips, spring ski descents, figuring out ways to connect loops in this complex range, etc. and then began the traverse to Peak Q. From broken up and brief descriptions on Summitpost, we knew both sections could be done in class 3, but with the recent layer of snow, who knew what the hell this would really be like.
ridge to Peak Q
Although quite exposed on the North side and sections of nastiness on the South, we were able to keep it within class 3, quite manageable at that. There was a convenient south sloping ramp that allowed us safe passage to the P/Q saddle.
ridge traverse looking back at P. Class 3?
And a nice vantage point for a shot to the South….
As we approached the summit ridge of Q, Mike pointed out a unique, imposing spire shooting off the SW side of Q, known as the "Pogo Pinnacle". When dry, it probably goes at a death defying class 4 run. With snow, you might as well send your best to your loved ones and hope for a quick death. It looked cool though, kind of like this…..
"Pogo Pinnacle" and southern Gores
The easy in travel had us both jumping to conclusions, thinking we found a weakness in this complex beast that is Peak Q. This was until we reached the summit ridge and were stopped dead in our tracks.
about where we got turned around on the ridge to Q
We were on a false sub summit, 0.05 miles to the West and 15 feet below the summit elevation of 13,230. What was in our way is probably written about in mountaineering horror stories and literally made the hair on our backs stand up. Without snow, we could've simply backtracked a couple yards and traverse to the other side via a class 3 ledge system. As we crested the spiny ridge towards the true summit, we were haulted by a 30 foot cliff to the continuation of the ridge, which then presented what looked like an extremely exposed class 5.5/5.6 minimally protected wall, with no ways to get around it. With the new cover of snow, we couldn't risk the class 3 ledge system since we couldn't see the footholds and the snow wasn't deep or consolidated enough to kick in to. Plan C was to find a way down the south side, but that would include downclimbing 300-400 feet on sketchy terrain. It was 1:30pm at this time and we were in the middle of a lonely range with new snow and overcast skies. We made the call to turn around, but weren't incredibly frustrated, since 1, this peak is beyond worth coming back for and 2, its another reason to head back in to Upper Slate Lake Basin next summer. Bottom line, Peak Q is a beast and not obtained easily.
Nope, not this way either
In the midst of finding a weakness in the ridge, I got sidetracked and took this shot of Peak C to the West….
We downclimbed the ridge back to the "Pogo Pinnacle" col and took a quick rest, contemplating our descent route to Pitkin Lake.
Mike and "Pogo"
We made our way to Upper Slate Basin, our third drainage of the day, and traversed across a mix of open tundra and nightmarishly long boulder fields with loose snow covering it. Travel was slow, but Mike managed to lead us through the maze to the northern slopes below the Partner Traverse.
We basically made our way for a point due East of Graduation Point, the midpoint of the traverse and climbed toward it.
Graduation Pt and our exit couloir
This was anything but easy. It was the first snowclimb of the season, but we could barely consider it one, as it was about a foot or 2 of windloaded, loose snow on top of loose scree, ice axe and crampons would be rendered useless. We immediately got fed up and just gained the rock ridge, which wasn't much better. The views to the NE were nice though….
Lower Slate Basin
Mike tackling on some tough terrain below Graduation Pt
We finally gained the saddle around 5pm. As you can tell from these times, travel across the different drainages was slow, frustrating and methodical. We managed to keep our wits about us and enter our 4th and final drainage of the day, Pitkin Lake.
The downclimb to the lake was like the rest of the day, but we made it nonetheless, took a rest and then began the 5 mile trail to the car shuttle.
Found some potential ski lines though, this makes the San Joaquin Couloir look like Dercum's Dash at Keystone…
some couloir below Outpost Pk
And finally had some snow to finalize a long, yet unbelievably rewarding day. A class Gore loop.
descending out of Pitkin Drainage
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