"Tincup Pk" - 13,345 feet
PT 13,050 - 13,050 feet
"Tincup Pk" - 13,345 feet
PT 13,050 - 13,050 feet
|The Peaks of Tincup Pass: Nobody Names Their Tincups|
The peaks of Tincup Pass (12,154') near the ghost town of St. Elmo are generally easy winter peaks. Access to St. Elmo is no problem since the road is plowed to the town; the approach is a bit long at six miles but it's on a road and almost always packed by snowmobilers from St. Elmo, making both ascent and retreat easy; none of the peaks are technically difficult but most are fun; there's not much avalanche terrain one has to contend with; views are nice; route finding is obvious; etc. Whether on foot (yes, some of the peaks could potentially be done on foot, even in winter), snowshoes, or skis/splitboard the peaks of Tincup Pass are a good place for winter beginners. In my case I'm not new to winter mountaineering but I did need several more ranked 13ers to hit 100 new, ranked 13ers for calendar 2019 and Tincup Pass provided once again: four easy, generally safe, ranked 13ers, all for the taking. I split them into two groups since they were too big to do in a single day (in summer it could be done), the first set of which is described in this trip report.
On Sunday the 1st I drove to St. Elmo and slept in my car near the start of the Tincup Pass Road. I started early Monday morning with my snowshoes strapped to my back, and hiked up the packed road, passing the Poplar Gulch trailhead just outside of town.
The road was in great shape and I made swift progress up the road. It would have been a lot more miserable and time consuming without the local snowmobilers.
The mountains southwest of the road formed a spectacular wall, running for miles perpendicular to my hike.
At one point I crossed one of the massive avalanche paths from the 2018-2019 season, glad I didn't have to worry about it this time.
Peaks all around me taunted as I slogged on the road. Four miles in I stopped to put on my snowshoes. They weren't necessary but every step I took my foot would slide backwards an inch or two, making for awkward, jarring marching.
Around a curve in the road treeline came abruptly. The first view of the pass came, still a mile or two beyond.
Eventually the snowmobile tracks came to an end. From here I'd have to break trail on my own, but I figured it would basically just be up to the pass at worst, then windblown after that.
Whereas the road to this point had been an almost entirely straight line it began switchbacking up "Tincup Peak"'s south slopes towards the pass; I cut these switchbacks up short, steep hills since it would have been an excessive waste of time to continue on the road. It didn't take much time nor effort from treeline to the pass.
Second order of the day, having ascended to the pass: ascend the easy, grassy slopes up "Tincup Peak". I knew little about Point 13,050 but knew "Tincup" would go without any trouble whatsoever.
I kept my snowshoes on for the initial part of the ascent. There was just enough snow that I could easily climb with my heel bars up, which made things so much easier. There were a couple of vaguely suspect snow patches at equally suspect angles, but nothing that I suspected enough to care about. The patches were shallow and runouts were safe if they did break, likely at the ground, so I wasn't too worried. I kept climbing until the snow became less uniform and the rocks more exposed, then took off my snowshoes.
Atop the crest of the gently curving ridge I got my first views of Point 13,050 and the "Tincup"-13,050 ridge for the day. It didn't look too hairy but sometimes these ridges hold nasty secrets.
The opening slopes of the ridge up to the elbow are the steepest, where it turns into a series of flats and bumps. As the western side was blasted completely dry I didn't have much trouble dispatching the ups-and-downs, and soon I was on top of Tincup Pass' namesake peak.
I took one look at Emma Burr Mountain farther to the north and immediately dismissed it as an objective for the day. It looked really, really far away, and I'd have to traverse back from it to get back to my car. Unfortunately these mountains don't much lend themselves to an easy linkup. Fitzpatrick is far from everything, and Emma Burr is a long, time consuming spur. Ascending 13,050 first would be heinous in winter and would ignore the easy road. One could do "Tincup," Emma Burr, and 13,050 in a day in winter but it'd be a big day; ditto with "Tincup," Emma Burr, and Fitzpatrick, which I did a couple of weeks later, but only with an overnight camp at treeline was that possible.
With only one of two options available - 13,050 or return to the Pass - I took the former choice and dropped down the ridge towards the lower peak. At first it was wide open, easy slopes with small rock clusters on the crest. I sidehilled to avoid them.
As I neared the saddle between the two peaks the ridge started bearing its teeth.
Only at the very saddle itself did the ridge finally reveal its true self.
Someone had already been on the ridge - their tracks are visible in the vertical photo. I had my ice axe and microspikes but none of this looked like either would be necessary. I scampered up the first set of rocks on the north/left side of the ridge onto exposed and steep ground. I was aiming for the crest but I had to find a weakness with which to gain it, first. The snow was surprisingly good despite the northern aspect. I didn't have any concerns about it collapsing under me and for the most part it made for good step kicking. The tracks seemed to disappear part way across and I wasn't sure why, since I hadn't found anything hard or committing. Some delicate Class 2+ moves on poised boulders took me on an ascending traverse along the gendarme, and eventually to a small, exposed slab. Was the slab actually the best way up? Probably, but holds were lacking, so I jammed my gloved fist into a crack and reached for the rounded top of the slab. This hold wasn't great but it was enough and I awkwardly hauled myself up using my torso for friction, looking more like a half-drunk seal, probably, than a climber. From there it was only a few steps to the ridge crest and the difficulty relented. While fun it was disappointingly only a few minutes of scrambling and probably went at Class 2+, maybe Easy Class 3, before basic hiking resumed.
It was around noon and I was making good time. Weather was quite nice. Fun scrambling had been had. I considered down climbing it and doing it again just to prolong it but didn't know exactly what the descent would be like, so I figured I'd best get a move on.
The angle and rockiness of the remaining ridge decreased the higher I went. Point 13,050 was more like a plateau than a peak, honestly.
Soon enough I was on top. All in all it had taken me barely an hour and a half to cross between peaks. Maybe I should have done the scramble again after all. Oh well.
The south slopes off 13,050 were largely dry. I had absolutely no reason to put my snowshoes on, despite a few short snow crossings.
Broad slopes narrowed into a rib and then expanded again on the western/right side of the rib. Unusual, glacial erratic-like boulders and outcrops appeared abruptly on the rib and disappeared just as abruptly below. I wanted to visit a high, lonely alpine lake before finishing the descent, and the eastern/left side of the rib didn't look like the best option. I didn't get close enough to really check it out but it appeared to mostly be steep tundra and cliffs.
Scooting around the right end of the rib I hit treeline, where snow started once again. Snowshoes went on, and I began my plodding descent in a vague southeastern direction.
Snow was pretty terrible here. I'd take a few steps on perfectly good, supportive snow and suddenly plunge to my waist with one leg, coming to a whiplashing stop. I'd extricate and take a couple of steps on seemingly supportive sun crust which turned out to be shin deep punch crust after I'd weighted one leg entirely. No rhyme or reason to where the snow would be good or not, no definite visual indicators, everything that looked good eventually proved to be waist deep sugar and vice versa. It was quite frustrating. I'd rather it be consistent suck than this jarring, guessing stuff.
The farther down I went the better the snow became. It was certainly deeper, but at least it was consistent. Two steepish, open slopes gave me pause, but there was really no way around them, and for the most part, they were small, even if the snow was concerning.
I made my way through these steep sections as quickly as I could, and soon found myself at the lake. Who knows how many people come here, as it's nestled in the middle of absolute nowhere between nameless peaks and does not itself have a name, so I admired the fact that I was absolutely alone in a special place for a moment.
After maybe a minute or two I turned around and left the lake to its natural, solitary self. The trees below the lake grew thicker and the snow now was wet, thick, and heavy. My snowshoes were of little use for flotation but did provide a minuscule amount of traction against the slippery forest floor underneath.
I stayed on the western side of the creek that drained the lake, eventually finding myself on more frustrating snow, stuff that was so wet and thin that even with the snowshoe's traction I was sliding and falling down frequently. I braced against the trees as best as I could to avoid it, but it still ended up happening numerous times. Fortunately it didn't last long and I ran into an old, closed trail that made for better traveling. I wasn't sure where it would take me exactly but I could just cut back into the forest if need be. Ultimately I had no need because it dumped me into a clearing after just a couple of minutes and I could see the road at the opposite end of the clearing.
A mile and a half or so later and I was back in St. Elmo, right around 2:45pm. All in all a great day of winter exploration and another great day on our glorious 13ers!
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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