Peak(s):  "Grand Traverse Pk"  -  13,041 feet
Red Pk B  -  13,189 feet
"West Partner Pk"  -  13,041 feet
"Rain Pk"  -  13,130 feet
Date Posted:  05/26/2018
Date Climbed:   08/20/2017
Author:  gore galore
 A Connoisseur of the Obscure and the Tools of the Trade of the Topographic Map   

A Connoisseur of the Obscure and the Tools of the Trade of the Topographic Map

Grand Traverse Peak, "Middle Traverse Point," 13,035

Point 11,530

Red Peak, "Little Red Point," 12,450

Bald Mountain, Point 11,370

West Partner Peak, "West Partner Point," 12,760

Rain Peak, "Rain Tower," 12,600

"Black Creek Point," 11,084

Last Unclimbed Significant Gore Range 12,000 Foot Elevation Point

by gore galore

Ever since I can remember I have had a fascination with maps particularly topographic maps. At first I saw them as a dizzy array of illogical lines on a piece of paper much like the scribbling on an elementary school blackboard.

But I eventually came to know that those illogical lines had a language all of their own and once I mastered that language I could understand where and how I could safely travel in the back country.

At first I kept to the trails portrayed on the map, then progressively planned cross country routes that led me in directions to peaks where I didn't have a route description or a picture mainly because back in the day there might be none that I could easily find or none at all. I readily learned that the contour lines as I came to know them would show me the approach and route that I realistically had a chance to climb.

I also found out that a compass used in conjunction with a topographic map would give me more information. For instance, deep in a valley I could find the direction of an unseen peak and use the slopes and gullies with wider contour lines on the map as a way of approach until those lines might come closer together portraying ridges, cliffs or faces as a route to avoid or try.

And from the summit of that previously unseen peak I could also use my map and compass to pick out those surrounding peaks that were not so prominent taking the guess work out of which ones they were. And when I descended that peak say in a dense bushwhack I could set my compass in the direction I wanted to go back to camp and then use the contour lines on the map to avoid steeper terrain and arrive without fail to my campsite.

I also learned that there are a lot of symbols on a topographic map which have peculiar meanings of their own. In addition to contour lines there are an array of other lines portraying various boundaries and roads and trails and fences. There are squares for buildings, circles for tanks and crossed picks for prospect diggings. There are colors of blue for water and green for woodlands and white for open or above timberline areas all of which are crossed by colored brown contour lines.

It is well to learn these colors and symbols for varying terrain. For instance, if one finds themselves standing ankle deep in water and it is not a stream or a lake it is most probably a feature with blue tufts of a grass symbol floating above a white surface denoting a marsh. I have found that it is best to avoid crossing this feature on a map.

There are also all kinds of markings for summit elevations. One would think that a simple number would suffice but apparently not. There are various horizontal and vertical control stations all with different accompanying symbols like BM, VABM, X and <> (triangle) with enclosed dot with various combinations to denote the meaning of an elevation.

I have hardly ever failed to carry a map and compass as part of my pack for my mountain trips even to those familiar places where I know I would never need it. But mostly I carry them as the tools of the trade for the connoisseur of the obscure. Here is something of the obscure on two of my favorite topographic maps, Vail East and Willow Lakes of the Gore Range.


The Grand Traverse peak and ridge name is hardly one of obscurity today but when it was named by Stan Midgley and its crossing contemplated in 1943 it was decidedly so; it was assuredly so when Harold Walton first crossed it in 1945; and probably so when I made the crossing in 1985.

The present obscure feature of the traverse that I have long recognized from the map is the elevation point of 13,035 two thirds of the way across the ridge from Grand Traverse Peak. I had always wondered if I could find a route on the west face through the base cliffs cut by steep gullies with tentacles of rock ribs shown on the map as irregular and indented contour lines to the summit of "Middle Traverse Point."

I also had another reason to attempt "Middle Traverse Point" from the Bighorn Creek Valley. At the end of the trail is a square map symbol denoting a building which most people refer to as the Bighorn Cabin but which I have long known as the Olive Goodale Cabin which was undergoing a badly needed restoration project in the summer of 2017.

The cabin was the camp cookhouse with an adjoining room as the ore house for the patented claims in 1912 of the Dollie Mine located across the creek and behind the cabin. There is also the log remains of a two story 10-person bunkhouse a short ways down from the cabin and I well remember the outhouse back of the cabin which disappeared in the 1990's.

I first came across the cabin in 1980 on a trip to climb North Traverse Peak. I had a 1976 booklet of hikes in the Vail area in which Mrs. Goodale is quoted as saying, “Visitors trespass at their own risk on the Goodale property and are encouraged to be very careful. The cabin is very old, and the floor boards and roof are weak. Also, the fallen cabins, mine tunnel and shaft are very old and extremely dangerous.”

The mine reached its peak production of gold and silver in the 1900's with production stopping in the 1930's. The mine entrance was closed by a cave-in in 1955.

The restored cabin is now looked upon as a “destination rest spot and emergency shelter for hikers, climbers and back country adventurers”

OLIVE GOODALE of Minturn, Colorado was a school teacher in Minturn and Red Cliff. She was the adopted daughter of Millie Price who was a niece of the Koch brothers who immigrated from Germany in the 1860's and 1870's. The brothers founded the Bighorn Mining Company and staked the original claim for the Dollie Mine in 1879. Olive inherited the property from her mother and when Olive Goodale died in 1994 her son and daughter became the owners of the property.

On this particular trip I used the cabin as a rest spot as I always do on my hikes up Bighorn Creek and then crossed the creek to the tailings of the mine. I could see the most direct route up the face was a narrow gully on the right but it was blocked by a steep cliff which I knew I could not climb.

I then took a chance on a stub gully to the left which led to one of those rock ribs which I followed to a point above the narrow gully and as it widened provided my route to the Grand Traverse ridge and a short jaunt to the summit of "Middle Traverse Point."

The sight of the Grand Traverse cirque is one of my favorites in the Gore Range. I don't believe anyone attaches any importance to that elevation point of 13,035. But as a connoisseur of the obscure I saw "Middle Traverse Point" as a singular objective for a different route and another opportunity to gain the traverse ridge to this summit point overlooking that magnificent cirque.

POINT 11,530

This inconspicuous point tested my abilities as a connoisseur of the obscure. Point 11,530 is the end point on the long westerly ridge that comes off of Grand Traverse Peak and separates the Bighorn Creek Valley from the Deluge Creek Valley.

I originally went up the Bighorn Creek Trail to take a look at those contour lines of the north facing aspect on the map from the trail but found I wasn't prepared as to the time of day and the effort to get into the creek valley for a crossing to the base of the face.

My other thought was to climb it from the Deluge Lake Trail on a side hill bushwhack to timberline where I could determine the location of the summit on the ridge above. But when I took out my map packet my compass was missing to be left inexplicably at home.

I had no choice but to eyeball what I thought was the summit from the map and when I reached the chosen summit I decided to make up one more test. I stood on a level spot, raised one leg off the ground, outstretched my arms, closed my eyes, held my breath and counted to thirty and when I didn't fall over I decided I was on the summit of Point 11,530.

A week later when I climbed the aforementioned "Middle Traverse Point" I took a bearing on Point 11,530 finding that I was not on the summit and proving what I already knew that there is no substitute for a map and compass in the field for a connoisseur of the obscure.


Red Peak is a well known and popular summit in the southern Gore Range. It is a big mountain commonly called a massif with a west summit of 13,005, a main summit of 13,189, an east summit of 12,945 and an east east summit of 12,885 which are good reasons to account for the fifteen routes on the peak that I have done over the years.

On one of those routes on the north ridge of the main peak I once hunted unsuccessfully for the “Loose Goose” pinnacle, a formation climbed with two pitons by the first climbers of the Zodiac Spires in 1956. I found neither the pinnacle nor the pitons.

"Little Red Point" on the western slope of the massif is one of those consolation points for a connoisseur of the obscure to seek out to view familiar scenes from a different vantage point. From the two contour line swirls of its summit on the map one can see just how big the Deming Drop face of Deming Mountain really is, peer into the Gore Lake Sanctuary of Snow Peak or look over the tops of the Zodiac Spires into the rarely entered south cirque of Mount Silverthorne.


Access to the west forks of Booth Creek is by the little known and abandoned trail in the valley which leads to some fairly obscure stuff. From high on the Bald Mountain northern ridge one can look across the valley to the little known “Booth Creek Bristles,” or up valley to the “Druid Tower” or down into the valley timber to the small rocky ridge points of Point 11,370 with its brown colored rock looking like a flesh wound in the surrounding timber.

I took a circuitous route going up valley where the forks divided and then circled back through the timber where I found the hidden ridge with my compass. It turned out to be a delightful scramble across four small points to the seemingly highest point at its end. I left a record in the rocks thinking does anyone climb this stuff particularly Point 11,370 and why do they put the highest point on a ridge of multiple points always at the end of the ridge?


This one was from a few years back and like Point 11,370 I have to wonder if anyone had been to the "West Partner Point" summit before or even considered it a summit. As a prelude to attempting it I had to use a magnifying glass to count the close contour lines on the map of this spectacular buttress point denoting the beginning of the northeast ridge of West Partner Peak.

I had seen from various vantage points over the years that the buttress point was guarded by steep walls except on its north side where a permanent snow and ice field lay up against its lower north face. This face can be readily seen straight on from the Rockinghorse Ridge.

When I dropped over Might Pass into the upper reaches of the south fork Slate Creek Valley I reminded myself that I was in a totally different time zone than Vail or Dillon as few people have explored this side of West Partner Peak. I swung around the snow covered benches of the base of the buttress point into the shaded recesses of the north face.

The snow field was marble hard in the shaded morning and turned out to be a dicey proposition for climbing alone in a remote area. Alternately front pointing and cramponing up the face I reached the lower northeast ridge with the Point above me and to the left.

As there was no easy route from here I procrastinated before deciding to take a chance by swinging out on a narrow ledge of the south face of the buttress which at first seemed to be a dead end route. But then I spied the small debris pile on the ledge which indicated in this case the erosion from a small chimney that led upwards to the shattered shards of an arete and the so called summit.

I dared not try to sit on the top tilted boulder but reached up with my hand and left my record among the shards. Along with climbing "West Partner Point" I believe there are two major unclimbed routes on West Partner Peak.


Among the tangle of contour lines on the north side of Rain Peak emerges the outlines of a northwest ridge. On my numerous trips into the trail less south Rock Creek valley I had long spied a tower of note high on this ridge. Although it was conspicuous in the field it was necessary to use my magnifying glass again to separate the contour lines denoting this summit unmarked with an elevation figure.

I initially tried a route several years ago from the southeast ridge of Rain but then became twisted in those tangled contour lines on the north side of the peak such that I couldn't recognize the summit as I saw it from the valley even with a direction from my compass.

I returned shortly thereafter and found a route from the valley floor in the creases and crossings of those contour lines denoting rock points, ramps and ribs to a notch at the base of the tower. From here I climbed an arete of ledges, a crux slab and broken rock to the summit unmarked by a cairn that I called "Rain Tower."


This point assumes some historical importance as it is located on the ridge on the west side of the meadow where the Colorado Mountain Club had their base camp for their 1935 Gore Range Summer Outing. Point 11,084 is also shown on the Mt. Powell 1933 15M map as Point 11,079. It is a hidden but commanding presence as its ridge separates the two valleys of Black Creek.

My intention as I hiked the eight or nine miles to the meadow two years ago was to see if I could locate the end of the original trail from Black Lake to the CMC campsite. I had the idea that if I found the trail I could use it as an approach to try and locate “Parka Rock Aiguille” on the Dora Mountain massif that two teenagers, Bob Blair and Fred Nagel had climbed on the outing.

It didn't take very long to realize that I had no chance of finding the trail in the jungle of the Black Creek bottoms nor was I successful in locating “Parka Rock” as related in my trip report while climbing Dora Mountain in 2016.

But my consolation for this hike was the ridge point above the campsite whose small summit provided a wondrous sight to those two great valleys of Black Creek and its south fork of the Gore Range. And from its summit I could see some of the tops of those surrounding peaks and sense the climbing history in those two valleys below. Since its summit point had no name I called it “Black Creek Point.”


In his book “The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, Trails,” third edition, 2009 R. J. Secor asks the question of whether there are any unclimbed peaks left in the Sierra? He answers by saying “there are now records of ascent for all of these peaks, except for one.” He concludes that he will not climb this mountain, nor reveal its location, “preferring instead to live with the idea that there will always be at least one unclimbed peak in the High Sierra.”

The High Sierra or the “Range of Light” is as fine a mountain range as can be and I would like to also think that the Gore Range or the “Range of No Names” is a fine range in its own right although on a far lesser scale. In this respect it too deserves a last unclimbed point as its last unclimbed peak, Peak T was finally climbed in 2002.

When I approached what I believe is the last unclimbed significant 12,000 foot elevation point, its formation suggested blobs of rock that I could possibly find a way to wherever its summit might lay. But as I came closer and traversed to its bottom end the razor sharp fins of rock that appeared and denoted its summit put an end to any of my thinking of climbing this point.

I firmly believe because of its hidden aspect where hardly anyone ventures and the nature of its summit formations suggests that this point is unclimbed and will remain so until somebody else discovers it with more than my ability to climb it. Until then it will remain like Secor's last unclimbed peak in the Sierra as the last unclimbed significant 12,000 foot elevation point in the Gore.


So that is something of a small sampling from a connoisseur of the obscure. You will know you are one when you realize that you have been climbing mostly solitary for years because there is no real relevance in what you are doing except to yourself. You will hardly encounter anyone in the alpine because you are exploring small corners that are overlooked rather than following a well worn route to a peak. In fact there is no real guide route to where you are going except the one you make up as you go. There is no real peak list either except another contour line or map symbol leading to another place to explore. Without a peak list there is no real finish line to cross nor any accolades at the end. In fact there is no end unless your curiosity finally ebbs.

It is said that rock climbers have “a rope and a rack and a shirt on their back.” For the connoisseur of the obscure it is “a map and a compass in your pack and at home a map and a magnifying glass ready in your lap.”

Comments or Questions
Boggy B

If not accolades
07/31/2020 21:42
what's it all for?

Glad to stumble upon this today. Reading your stuff transports me back to memorable days in the range and makes me wish I lived nearer. Good work!

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