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Distance: 30+ miles Elevation: 5500' Length: 4 Days
This is my first trip report, but certainly not my first summit. I figured this trip warranted a report, and I'd like provide some more info for anyone looking to hit the Apostles area in winter as there's not much on them for this time of year.
I'd been staring at the Apostles for awhile, particularly Ice mountain, and got the crazy idea to try them in winter. I gave it a go in January with another friend but we weren't prepared for the approach and only made it as far as Winfield, opting to climb a couple of the 13ers north of Huron. After that trip I starting making plans to properly tackle Ice mountain, and the approach.
camp at Winfield
With the start of spring break, we left Gunnison early and made our way out to Buena Vista. As expected, the road (chaffee co 390) was closed way back from Winfield at the Clear Creek Ranch, about 8 miles. The skin to Winfield went pretty smoothly and we spent the night hoping the winds wouldn't blow as away. The next morning we began south out of Winfield into the true backcountry. We were fortunate to have plenty of snow cover for the entire trip, as well as good firm early spring snow.
some of our first views of the Apostles
our high camp at treeline below the Apostles
The views in the fields below Huron and Granite peak were incredible, and offered our first glimpses of the Apostles. We were cruising along nicely until about 1:00pm when we hit the trees below the Apostles, at which time the snow became unbearably sticky and impossible to glide through. We were constantly stopping to scrape snow off the bottom of our skis, and progress up hill became nearly impossible between the weight of the snow and our sleds. At any rate we eventually found a good camp site and passed out.
The next morning, monday, we got off to a good alpine start around 4:00 and were soon at treeline staring up at the Apostles in the moonlight. I could tell we had some pretty steep and exposed skinning to do, which made me pretty nervous, but our confidence was greatly increased after digging a quick pit. There was a couple inches of soft stuff on top of a pretty firm crust, and then about 2 feet of really well consolidated stuff (sorry I don't know all of the proper technical terms). If it did slide, it would have been huge, but it was looking like it would take a bomb to make it go. That being said, the route from about treeline through the Apostle Basin to the saddle between Ice and North Apostle is incredibly exposed and often over 35 degrees steep. It would be a nightmare in bad avalanche conditions.
the first steeps to gain the Apostle basin
The skin through the basin went well, although I could tell Josh was starting to get pretty tired. We reached a little notch about 400ft below the saddle and about level with the Refrigerator Couloir and decided to stash our skis there. I could see the Fridge would have been a straight shot to the summit, but I wasn't quite sure Josh had the in him after the skin, and something told me it wouldn't be wise to go solo up that. However it would have turned out, it was vital for us to make conservative decisions as far out as we were from any help. It seemed to me that Ice mountain was no longer happening that day, but the North Apostle still seemed doable.
The Apostle Basin
We continued up from the notch to the saddle and it became concrete, no Ice. It eluded me again, although it was even harder to be 500' from the summit after 15 miles and 3 days of work. I talked it over with Josh, and convinced him to give the North Apostle a try with me. So, I jogged up to the top and hung out for a little while he made his way up. It was tough for him, but I think very gratifying as that was his first peak, and he had been stumped on Shavano a month earlier. Now to get down.
Making our way to the saddle
North Apostle summit in view
Ice Mountain tempting me
josh making his way up
Getting back to the skis was pretty straight forward, but skiing was what worried me the most. Josh went first, and although it wasn't the smoothest, he made it to to our safe points well enough, although not particularly quick. As for me, those were some of the best turns I'd had in a long time - just wide open, steep slopes with a few inches of great snow. Perfect!
some steep turns
leaving the basin
A perfect day for some backcountry turns
After a bit we finally crept back into camp and went straight to the tent for a nap, which eventually turned into the whole night. Upon waking up we both agreed, we would give it our best shot to get back to the car that day. We were tired, cold, and a little wet and just not stoked on another night out. It was going to be rough, but we really thought/hoped we could do the 14 miles back to the trail head that day. To our credit, we did make it all the way out, but it was brutal and one of the best (or would you say worst) marches I've done in a long time. Regardless, it was one of the best trips I've taken and quite the experience. We didn't get Ice like we set out too, but the summit's not always the most important thing, and I've still got a project.
leaving the Apostles
the endless road back
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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