Peak(s):  South Arapaho Pk  -  13,397 feet
North Arapaho Pk  -  13,502 feet
"Old Baldy"  -  13,038 feet
Date Posted:  10/29/2019
Date Climbed:   07/20/2019
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   SIRKINGCLAYTON
 Landwalker and the Arapa-No-Snow Traverse  

My first couloir climb ever was the classic Skywalker couloir on South Arapaho Peak, which I did with the Princess Leia Direct finish. It's a striking 1,000 or so foot line up a steep face that tops out somewhere in the 60 degree range and is well deserving of the title of "classic". My friend Clay had never climbed a couloir and I figured he has a good head when it comes to climbing so Skywalker would also be a good one for him. We hatched a plan to climb Skywalker to South Arapaho's summit, then do the Class 4 traverse to North Arapaho. I was also going to pick up the surprisingly ranked "Old Baldy" while we were there, because 13ers.

We met early the morning of at my house in Boulder and then drive to the 4th of July trailhead. We took my car, a tiny little Civic, hoping that the road wasn't bad enough and my driving skills were good enough to get us close. We were able to park just a couple hundred yards from the trailhead, stopped short only by all other closer spots being taken.

Joining with the hordes of other hikers from the ever popular trailhead we began ascending below treeline on a great trail, as expected.

Wheeee, trail!
People. People everywhere.

Views along the way were also stunning, as expected.

Devil's Thumb is behind this craggy lump.
Mount Jasper right of center with Mount Neva farther right in shade.

We hiked up to treeline where we got our first views of Skywalker.

Looks a bit thin at the top.
Another view.

The thin strip of snow at the very top center is called "Princes Leia Direct" and it's the steepest of three finishes at about 65 degrees. Two other variations split near the top: Escape goes left and is less steep but has mixed climbing, and Han Solo goes right and is the second steepest and also mixed.

While the majority of the couloir looked good (albeit it would probably be icy) we weren't sure about the Princess Leia finish. I had previously climbed it in early June. We were here in late July. The uncertainty about snow actually still covering the top out was our concern; it would potentially be unclimbable if it were 60+ degree scree. We talked for a few minutes. We'd rather reach the summit(s) than bail on the couloir so we stashed our boots, crampons, and axes near some ancient mining equipment hidden in the willows. While we were disappointed we still had time to do the classic Arapaho traverse, which we were more than happy with.

We continued up the excellent Class 1 trail as it switchbacked for what seemed like forever below South Arapaho. The upper peak is visible from the vast majority of the trail and is huge and rugged. While South Arapaho doesn't lie on the continental divide North Arapaho does, and South's immediate proximity means it too is a rough chunk of earth crafted by primordial hands.

Trail through lush tundra with South Arapaho looming above.
North Arapaho can be seen peeking its rounded summit out above the South Arapaho/"Old Baldy" saddle. South Arapaho is only 105 feet shorter than North Arapaho and is unranked despite its incredibly impressive stature.

The trail ends near the South Arapaho/"Old Baldy" saddle, opening up to amazing views north across the Arapaho Glacier to North Arapaho Peak.

There's plenty of snow on the southern aspects here, so we hoped we wouldn't find the same (or more) on the northern parts of the traverse.
South Arapaho's insane summit pyramid.

Without a trail the rest of the route up South Arapaho was rough and rocky, though short.

Blocky as heck but not as steep as it looks.

There were dirt segments mixed into all the blocks boulders and talus but they were generally looser than scrambling (Class 2/Class 2+) up the rocks directly. Since there's only 600 or so feet of steep climbing from the saddle to the summit it went quickly and soon the summit block popped into view.

A few people visible on the summit.

Once on the summit the full traverse finally came into view. It looked dry on the crest but snowy in nearly every area below. As long as we could stick to the crest we'd be fine, from our estimation.

North Arapaho's flat summit on the right. A rather stark contrast to South Arapaho's extreme pyramidal shape.
Some wild, rugged towers on the ridge east of North Arapaho. This was not part of the traverse, thankfully. Longs Peak is the big mountain left in the rear.

The traverse started out easy with a short hike along the ridge to the first scramble of the day.

Neat ledge that looks inviting but note the orange arrow on the right. Like the Keyhole route's bullseyes on Longs this route has a bunch of arrows leading the way.
Some of the first scrambling along the ridge. I felt that this was Class 4. Holds were large and plentiful but this was slightly overhanging.
At the top of the Class 4 section.
Clay on the catwalk-like ridge.

After the initial scramble up the arête there was a brief section of Class 2 before the infamous Class 4 slab.

Some of the easier terrain en route to the slab.
The slab from below.

Now for some reason the slab gets a lot of attention. I don't know why. Maybe because it's kind of visually wild looking? I didn't think it was Class 4, but rather Class 3, and much ado about nothing. It's covered in holds, is made of absolutely bombproof rock, isn't terribly exposed, and climbs easily up and down, a relative rarity for a slab climb. Oh, and it's only like 10 feet tall. It couldn't have consisted of more than two or three easy moves.

Looking down from the top of the slab. This photo makes it look steeper than it is, but gives an idea of the texture and height. That is, highly textured for a slab and not very tall.

The views of North Arapaho from here were incredible before the ridge dropped down slightly into more easy walking on the ridge crest.

Granite super highway.
Looking back to the south. Humanoid for scale.
Some cool rocks on the ridge.

After this easy section came what I thought to be the most difficult part of the traverse: a steep, very exposed down climb on rounded ledges. There was more than one way through this section and neither Clay nor I had a particularly easy time with it. We took different ways down and my route traversed both left and right as it led to easier ground.

A fall here would not be good. This drops off for a long, long way.

At this point we were close to the end of the traverse. One more major obstacle on the ridge reared up, a set of giant blocks that didn't offer easy passage. I'd call this final section the route finding crux of the traverse, and Clay and I couldn't find any more of the arrows marking the rest of the route.

Do we climb up the ugly looking chimney? Nope.

On the southern/far right side of the ridge Clay and I found a steep dirt slope clinging to the side of one of the blocks. While it looked like it would go it was also quite loose looking.

This is quite a bit steeper than it looks. Clay for scale.
Looking down from the same spot. A fall here also would be your last.

Neither of us liked this dirt slope. We swung back around to the left and we split directions. Clay went up a loose , steep break in the blocks and I went even father left and up a short Class 3 section which led directly to the flat, broad summit plateau.

Again, steeper than it looks. This was probably Class 4.
Fort Clayton, the highest fort in Colorado.

We took photos and immediately began on the reverse traverse. It had taken us about an hour and a quarter to get from South to North and with rain predicted we didn't want to be scrambling on wet rock. On our way back the traverse was faster and easier. The hardest section we encountered before, the ledgy down climbing, was easier going up and down.

The hard section. Harder than it looks.
Clay reascending this section.
Rugged, beautiful ridge.

Likewise the "crux" slab was easy. I'd still call it Class 3 and not the overall crux of the climb, but it does get a lot of attention, so it should be approached with care anyway.

Clay down climbing the slab crux. The angle of the rock is accurate. He has his hands on the top and right foot on a large foothold. There's maybe one or two more moves to the rocks at the bottom on the right.

By the time we had gotten back to the summit of South Arapaho the sky hard begun to darken. Rain was imminent. I got the go ahead from Clay to run down and over to "Old Baldy" since I wanted it and he didn't, so I scooted ahead and was on the summit of Old Baldy in less than 30 minutes from South Arapaho.

"Old Baldy" from its saddle with South Arapaho.
Rain starting to the south.
Still sunny to the west and northwest, but not for long. South Arapaho is an absolutely stunning peak.

"Old Baldy" is an exceptionally easy peak compared to even South Arapaho; gentle and grassy the entire way. A speedy Class 1 jaunt from the saddle and I had the summit of "Old Baldy" to myself.

The summit of "Old Baldy" doesn't look like much, but turn around...
...and the earth leaps up to the heavens. If there is one and only one reason to go "Old Baldy" it's the views of the Arapahos and Arapaho glacier. Even if you don't care about the summit for its own sake it's simply an incredible perch that you'll probably have to yourself.

By now thunder had been rolling for a while and it was pouring rain in several different directions. We weren't in the immediate area of any of that but we knew we would be soon enough. I ran back to meet Clay at the saddle and we hiked quickly back down to our gear stash, past tons of other people who were still hiking up higher. It began raining in earnest as we descended below treeline and hadn't stopped by the time we reached the car. It was past 2pm and the sky was only lit up by the flashes of lightning and yet there were still people hiking upwards. We were surprised and yet not, but glad we had a basic sense of self-preservation. We packed up and drove to Nederland where we got pizza and beer at Crosscut, a staple after doing any climbing or skiing in the area. I'm going to take Clay back for Skywalker at some point, but today we had a grand time as Landwalkers on the Arapa-No-Snow traverse.

Bonus wildflower picture.
Bonus wildflower picture.
Bonus columbine picture.
Bonus wildflower picture.
Bonus wildflower picture.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Clay G. (SIRKINGCLAYTON)
Trailhead: 4th of July
Total distance: 12.79 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,994 feet
Total time: 7:46:13
Peaks: Three thirteeners (two ranked, one unranked)

  • South Arapaho Peak, 13,397' (unranked)
  • North Arapaho Peak, 13,502'
  • "Old Baldy", 13,038'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
4th of July Trailhead South Arapaho Peak 2:48:25 2:48:25 17:11
South Arapaho Peak North Arapaho Peak 1:12:03¹ 4:17:40 0:00
North Arapaho Peak South Arapaho Peak 0:57:28¹ 5:15:08 0:00
South Arapaho Peak "Old Baldy" 0:27:04 5:42:12 0:00
"Old Baldy" 4th of July Trailhead 2:04:01 7:46:13 Trip End

¹Since this was an out-and-back segment the time difference accounts mostly for route finding, and I felt there was a lot more down climbing (onsight, thus slower) traversing South to North than there was in reverse.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 27 28 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

 Comments or Questions

10/30/2019 14:13
A very nice report. LOVE the pix!


10/31/2019 10:19
Jay, thanks as always for the comment! This is one of the more picturesque areas of Colorado I've climbed in (which says a lot!) and this year's high snow kept things lush and gorgeous for a long time which certainly helped!


S => N traverse
10/31/2019 12:16
You are quite welcome Ben - you always write such nice reports... My first mountain (in 1960) was Mt. Audubon and I have always loved the IPW. I've been up S and one of these days, I gotta work up the courage to try the traverse to N. The views from N look even better than the views from S.


10/31/2019 12:58
I'm jealous you've done Audubon - my friend Chris and I have attempted the southeast ridge twice in February of both 2017 and 2018 and gotten turned away both times. It's so close to home and I've just been getting after other peaks so it's still on my list (let's be honest, which peak is not on my list?). The Indian Peaks are a gem for sure!

You should absolutely go for the Arapaho traverse if you're feeling up for it. The rock is super solid and fun. Photos 27, 32, and 33 show what I consider to be the real crux of the route, all of which could be tackled with a short rope if necessary. I'd be happy to do this one again, maybe with that climb of Skywalker, eh? She'd be a great addition to an already solid list!


10/31/2019 16:55
I was looking at that couloir when I hiked South Arap a few weeks back. Looks llke a sweet climb for sure. If you don't mind going with a slow old guy, I would love to give that one a shot this spring...


Skywalker + Traverse
10/31/2019 22:32
I don't mind at all, let's do it! Both Skywalker and the traverse are great, and I'd love to hear about your climbing stories! I'll be sure to reach out in the spring and we can put something together.


nice work!
11/04/2019 12:23
also, SIRKINGCLAYTON has a account. who knew!


He Works in Mysterious Ways
11/04/2019 13:37
@Dillon: Thanks! Clay is all over Instagram but a ghost 'round here, it seems.

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