Peak(s):  "Tincup Pk"  -  13,345 feet
PT 13,050  -  13,050 feet
Date Posted:  03/24/2020
Modified:  03/25/2020
Date Climbed:   12/02/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 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.

20005_01
Poplar Gulch in blue.

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.

20005_02
Merciful.

The mountains southwest of the road formed a spectacular wall, running for miles perpendicular to my hike.

20005_03
Early morning light on Point 12,876.
20005_04
Closeup of Point 12,876.

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.

20005_08
Destructamundo.

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.

20005_09
Another shot of Point 12,876.
20005_10
Fitzpatrick Peak far in the distance. Yes, it's really that far away.

Around a curve in the road treeline came abruptly. The first view of the pass came, still a mile or two beyond.

20005_11
Tincup Pass from treeline.
20005_12
Fitzpatrick Peak looking large.

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.

20005_13
Bye-bye easy going.

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.

20005_14
Self-explanatory. Point 12,760 is behind on the left.
20005_15
Fitzpatrick Peak looking ridiculously far away. Not an option for today unless I wanted to bag it and nothing else.

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.

20005_16
Looking east up the initial slopes that lead to "Tincup Peak". Not exciting or hard.

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.

20005_17
Yup, looks exactly like a Tincup to me. How about you?

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.

20005_18
Point 13,050 on the right. Note the faint snow strip on the lefthand side of the ridge, that's the Continental Divide Trail. Mount Princeton looks huge in the back, even miles away.

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.

20005_19
The closer I get the more uncanny the resemblance to a Tincup is.

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.

20005_20
Emma Burr Mountain. She's a long way off and has a deep saddle.
20005_21
Point 13,050, on the other hand, is in the exact direction I wanted to go, looks relatively benign, and has a relatively fast, safe, and easy descent back to the road for a quick exit.

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.

20005_22
Start of the connecting ridge to 13,050.
20005_23
Sidehilling and nearing the faintly visible CDT.

As I neared the saddle between the two peaks the ridge started bearing its teeth.

20005_24
Some potentially interesting terrain ahead, but will it relent at the last moment?
20005_25
Still doesn't look like a whole lot, really.

Only at the very saddle itself did the ridge finally reveal its true self.

20005_26
I wish where were more of you, you look so juicy!
20005_27
Me wants.

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.

20005_28
On top of the crest, and it doesn't look like there's more to come. Bummer.
20005_29
Looking back on the ridge from the end of the narrow, exposed section.

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.

20005_30
Up the ridge. Not a whole lot going on here.
20005_31
More easy stuff.
20005_32
Interesting but all for naught, for I just walked around it.

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.

20005_33
Inviting slopes to the top of Point 13,050.

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.

20005_34
The road's down there somewhere. Antero is the prominent peak on the rear left, with a number of 13ers making up the bulk of that block.

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.

20005_35
Easy going.
20005_36
My general goal was the area of the lake on the left, though a direct descent to the lake didn't seem possible.

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.

20005_37
Nearing the end of the defined rib.
20005_38
Weird, exposed rocks with little explanation.
20005_39
Piled up and left behind.

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.

20005_40
Right at treeline.

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.

20005_41
A little bit of everything.

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.

20005_42
Hard to tell how steep this actually is, but it felt about at that line of too steep.

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.

20005_43

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.

20005_44
Warmth.

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.

20005_45
Old trail.
20005_46
Back to reality.

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!

20005_47
St. Elmo is really pretty charming.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: St. Elmo ghost town/bottom of Tincup Pass Road
Total distance: 12.88 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,976 feet
Total time: 8:13:44
Peaks: Two ranked thirteeners

  • "Tincup Peak," 13,345'
  • Point 13,050

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
St. Elmo "Tincup Peak" 4:40:21 4:40:21 0:00
"Tincup Peak" Point 13,050 1:31:19 6:11:41 0:00
Point 13,050 St. Elmo 2:02:03 8:13:44 Trip End

Version history:

Date Notes
March 24, 2020 Initial publication.
March 25, 2020 Added a couple of missing photo captions, corrected some typos.

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




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47


Comments or Questions
4thPlaceAtFieldDay

Photo 21
03/25/2020 14:31
I remember the ridge section shown in Photo 21. It's a pretty interesting feature as it looks like the ridge has collapsed for a short section. Maybe an old mine that has sunk in?


Tornadoman

13,050...
03/27/2020 14:07
Line of too steep? Looking at caltopo looks pretty close to that line of 'maybe this could slide'. I suppose having orphaned this one will try to pick a 'green' avy danger day if I go for it in winter...


supranihilest

asdfqwerty
03/27/2020 15:16
@4thPlaceAtFieldDay: I'm not sure. Nothing is marked on maps but perhaps the mineral rights were relinquished or something. I know there's mines all over the place over there so it's certainly a possibility!

@Andrew: For sure. I think it was a Yellow day when I went. There were two areas of concern that I went through, one above and one below the lake. Photo #39 shows the potential slide area above the lake, which I obviously come right down; it's short but still there and was difficult to tell that there was a possibly safer area slightly west. The potential slide area I cut through below the lake was well into the trees and I wasn't concerned about it at that point.



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