Peak(s):  "Lackawanna"  -  13,823 feet
PT 13,660 B  -  13,660 feet
Date Posted:  05/14/2020
Date Climbed:   04/25/2020
Author:  supranihilest
 No "Lack-of-Wanna" Here!  

I've always wanted to know, is "Lackawanna" pronounced Lackawanna or Lackawanna? That is, is is lack-uh-WAnna or la-CAH-wen-uh? Right, it's irrelevant, moving on.

Being spring time that also means it's snow climbing time. "Lackawanna"'s southwest gully makes for just such a good spring snow climb, and Point 13,660 B, a soft ranked 13er, can be added on without too much trouble. Access for the gully is easy this time of year. How easy you ask? Well, you park on a pullout opposite the gully, walk across the road, and you're in the apron. Wow, that really was easy! The route finding couldn't be easier on this route either, considering it's just a snow strip that you'd have to try and get lost on, and overall the angle is reasonable in the Moderate range. All of these things make it a good spring climb when snow conditions are right.

I got a ride (thanks, Brian!) to the bottom of the gully and while I had brought snowshoes I found the snow in the apron to be nice and firm. I left my snowshoes behind a bush and crossed the admittedly ugly apron, which was full of bushes, old avalanche debris, and melted out dirt and rocks. I was able to stay on snow the entire way up both peaks so I put on microspikes and took out my ice axe before making my way across the apron and to the gully proper, where I dropped in and began the actual climb.

View from the road. Kind of ugly from here, but it gets better.
I hugged the snow on the left side then dropped in above the exposed dirt and rocks here. This is a snow climb, after all.

As I reached the true bottom of the gully things narrowed and steepened.

Where things went from nearly flat to somewhat moderate just a couple tenths of a mile off the road.

The bottom third or so of the gully was a bit more constricted and, at one point, passed through a rock choke as it snaked up the mountain.

Soft curves.

I wasn't exactly in a rush, but I did have a fire lit under me. I had already ascended 800 or so feet in the first thirty minutes, far ahead of the others who would eventually come up behind me. There's nothing quite like breaking trail up a wonderful snow line by yourself.


As I climbed higher, past the choke, the gully widened. The angle was remarkably consistent.

Nearing treeline.
Follow the white slab road.
Star Mountain looming across the valley.

As I got higher the snow transitioned from a firm, damp layer to a frozen upper crust. I was thinking about avalanches but not seriously, and the shallow punching through the surface didn't slow me down much.

That's a gully if I've ever seen one.
Step crunch. Step crunch.

I was having a great time blasting up the gully. Only as I neared the top did the snow turn on me, softening into knee deep mush. I wasn't too happy with that at this point in the day, so I snuck over to rocks that would keep me off any potentially unstable snow.

Final turn in the gully.
La Plata Peak on the far right in the clouds, Point 12,601, Point 13,300 F and Point 13,460 connected together, Jenkins Mountain in center, Point 13,322, Star Mountain, and Middle Mountain on the far right.
Tracks to heaven. Shots like this never fail to put a smile on my face.
I went over to the rocks since I didn't like the looks of the snow above or to the left.

From the rocks it was just a simple talus hop to the simultaneously round and rugged summit of "Lackawanna".

"Lackawanna" might be a bulky mass but this is the small summit atop it all.

"Lackawanna", being in the heart of the Sawatch, is surrounded by other Rocky Mountain giants.

Point 13,660 B on the left, Mount Champion in center. The big ridge on the right connects to Casco Peak.
Frasco Benchmark on the left, Casco Peak on the right. French Mountain is the barely visible peak behind Casco.
Mount Elbert's backside. Scandalous!
A rather headless La Plata Peak.

I was a bit tired and thought that Point 13,660 looked a long ways off. I really didn't want to have to come back just for a single unranked peak, even if it was a soft ranked one. The route was partially obscured by a rounded mound off "Lackawanna"'s summit, so I walked over to get a look.

That doesn't look too bad, though the snow going up 13,660 might be slow without snowshoes.

Well, it would never be easier than right now, , and I talked myself into it as a bit of roundabout laziness. The first half to the saddle was fast and easy as it was mostly windblown tundra. From the saddle the snow returned.

From about the "Lackawanna"-13,660 B saddle.

The snow here started thin and got ever deeper as I approached the narrowing ridge crest. Eventually it got to be about shin deep, all of it very soft. 13,660's entire north/northeast bowl was guarded by large cornices, which I stayed far away from.

Point 13,660's northeast face with cornices covering everything.
Big chunker of a cornice.
Small cornice nearing the summit, but a cornice nonetheless.

Most of the climb to the summit of Point 13,660 was easy with the exception of one short section where the winds blasting up the north face created a knife edge of snow with exposure on both sides. I traversed around it on the south side since the north side was significantly steeper.

The snow knife edge. The left side was steep but the north was a nearly sheer drop.

Once past the short, hairy section the remaining climb to the summit was a mellow affair on nice snow to a nice summit.

Aforementioned nice snow and nice summit.
Point 13,660 B's northeast face.

Different angle on Frasco Benchmark, French Mountain, and Casco Peak with Mount Massive and Mount Elbert on the far left and right, respectively.
Independence Pass area.
Grizzly Peak, Colorado's highest 13er.
"Lackawanna" being more rugged than the gully belied.

It was past 10:20am and I wanted to get down before the snow became dangerous, so I quickly returned down the summit ridge, crossed back over the snow knife edge, and raced back up the tundra to "Lackawanna", where I talked to a splitboarder for a moment and began down without wasting time. Another fellow splitboarder was already partway down.

Later, 13,660. You were actually pretty cool.
Open space between the peaks.
Looking down from where the rocks ended and snow started. Snow all the way from here to the road!

The splitboarders raced ahead of me, and as I descended just a couple hundred feet below the summit an avalanche crown appeared. Well, that was new, holy cow!

Not very deep but it was pretty wide.
Also pretty long.
Scary stuff. I'm thankful this didn't rip while I was on it!

The summit splitboarder had accidentally triggered this wet slab and it slid on the colder layer just below the surface. They were fine and I was spooked, since I had climbed directly adjacent to the boundaries of the start zone and hadn't thought twice about it once I was out of the area. I guess this was yet another good reminder to always take snow seriously.

I continued down the margins of the debris and eventually past the runout. The splitboarders were far ahead now, having the advantage of speed. I was envious.

That would be way faster AND more fun than hiking down.

The remaining descent was uneventful, though I was wary of new slides. I'm not sure what choice I had at this point than to just go fast and hope, and the farther down I got the better I felt. The snow in the bottom third of the gully turned into glue-like garbage that stuck to my boots like crazy and made walking irritating and difficult, but I sped down the full gully in less than an hour and reached the road.

If this has ever happened to you you know how infuriating it is.
In the homestretch.
Thanks for the good early season snow climb!

I took off my microspikes and collected my snowshoes, then began to hike down the road back to my car at the La Plata Trailhead, since I didn't have a ride down from here. Since the road was totally dry it was easy going and I quickly reached my car where I headed over to the Willis Gulch Trailhead for a second (and unsuccessful) round with Rinker Peak and the Twin Peaks. Despite the sketchy avalanche "Lackawanna" proved to be quite a nice, moderate climb and really got me stoked for the rest of the season.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Starting Trailhead: Upper Lake Creek "Trailhead" (about 1 mile west of the La Plata Trailhead)
Ending Trailhead: La Plata
Total distance: 7.68 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,101 feet
Total time: 6:14:32
Peaks: One ranked thirteener, one soft ranked thirteener

  • "Lackawanna", 13,823'
  • Point 13,660 B (soft ranked)


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Upper Lake Creek Trailhead "Lackawanna" 3:07:31 3:07:31 3:16
"Lackawanna" Point 13,660 B 0:54:16 4:05:03 2:55
Point 13,660 B "Lackawanna" 0:49:40 4:57:38 0:00
"Lackawanna" La Plata Trailhead 1:16:55 6:14:32 Trip End

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 26 27 28 29 30 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56

 Comments or Questions
05/14/2020 18:26
So you hike over avalanche debris into a known avalanche chute while it's full of snow, then a slide rips down between your ascent and descent? I think I have that right. Wow, pretty gutsy! Your picture #5 set off my internal alarm, fwiw. The crown of that slide looked quite a bit like the slide that took down the climber in Custer County. Sorry, don't mean to rain on the parade. Glad it all worked out and you had a great day.



Yikes is right
05/14/2020 19:32
Also the snow balling is pretty normal... until you just ski that shit instead of hiking it. Definitely do some more studying on avalanche conditions first. Iâm glad itâs a good story and nothing more.


Yikes indeed!
05/15/2020 09:58
Without berating you all day I will add this; I pulled up the CAIC for that day. The biggest red flag in the discussion was a lack of a good overnight freeze. I like your reports & if something happens to you I won't be able to enjoy them anymore. Stay safe out there!

Posthole Pete

* Storm Slab
05/15/2020 10:45
Was not a wet slab. I was the one who set it off. It was most certainly a storm slab from the new snow that drifted in over night up high.


05/15/2020 13:42
Come on Ben! You need to be more creative naming these.


05/15/2020 14:33
I appreciate everyone's concern, there was no real indicators of danger until it was too late. Snow was good and mostly supportive all day. Snow up high was not sticky, only down low. The avalanche debris I mentioned were very likely from the prior year - smashed up trees and flattened shrubs and such - nothing fresh. All snow on the entire route was smooth as a baby's bottom. I also didn't trigger the avalanche, I just took photos of it.

TL;DR: I climb when signs are go. I don't when they aren't. Signs were go. I went. ¯\_(ãƒ)_/¯

Posthole Pete

All good Ben.
05/18/2020 10:45
Those folks weren't there so their opinions mean nothing.

Regardless, great report. Thanks.


Avy debris
05/18/2020 12:02
At least a good portion of that avy debris (maybe all) at the base is from last year still (and the pile by the road isn't melting anytime soon). I got up this one Saturday and was close to too late. That bottom snow from 11k to 12k is dirty/rocks on it, etc. Seems like there is such a short window for a lot of these routes. I guess I tend to prefer a little later in the season as the approach is easier hiking/less postholing, and maybe the snowpack is more stable. But it's a tough game to play between too early and too late.


It’s good to go...
05/18/2020 12:09
...until isnât. Thereâs a reason a lot of us are scared of the white death.


White death
05/19/2020 11:20
@Pete: Aye, the avalanche subject is pretty touchy. I wouldn't say their opinions are totally invalid, since this did happen, but it's often hard enough to call these kinds of things even when there on the ground, let alone through a couple of photos afterwards.

@Andrew: There's definitely a short window, especially on the south facing routes like this one. There are so many factors at play that it's basically impossible to know with 100% certainty that something is safe, but that could be said about weather and rock quality and all kinds of things. Snow, to jmanner's comment, is probably the most variable and dangerous so definitely something to keep on one's toes about.

@jmanner: Absolutely. I apologize if I seemed flippant about what happened, since this was obviously a dangerous situation. Perhaps I ignored signs I shouldn't have, and ultimately the point that just because things seem OK doesn't mean that they absolutely are is an important takeaway.


05/18/2020 19:50
Just donât want to read a CAIC accident analysis. You seem like youâve got it covered. Thanks for the write up and taking the comments in stride.

All good.
05/19/2020 10:31
Didn't mean to get preachy in my original response. And I agree with your response and Pete's comment that we weren't there, all obviously true. I've set off a couple of slides in my "career" so I'm not suggesting I'm perfect, but I've also been to a couple of climbing-related funerals and that is a gut-wrenching experience to hopefully avoid. Finally, you may not be aware that years ago I (and another here on this site) warned about a known avalanche danger, a trip went forward that crossed right into that spot, the result was a member of this site getting killed. It happens. But trying to point out perceived risks is all meant as a group effort toward a safety discussion, not finger pointing/preaching. Personally I probably wouldn't do such a couloir in April, a bit too soon, but south facing couloirs are trickier to time for sure. Anyway, good intentions on my part. Be safe out there.



All good here, too
05/19/2020 12:00
Tom, no worries man. Like I said, these things are so hard to call sometimes. While I didn't trigger this avalanche I was there (I didn't see it, but it happened a couple of minutes max before I got sight of it) I did trigger one on Yale's east ridge in the spring of 2016. To date it's been the only avalanche I've personally triggered, and I frequently feel uncomfortable on snow. Climbing Mount Wilson in March in particular was quite the hair raising experience!

I posted the pictures of this slide despite knowing it would cause a bit of a stir because I think it's important to say that these things happened. Hiding it doesn't mean that it didn't happen and that I'm somehow not responsible for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think it's difficult or perhaps impossible to look at this from an outsider's perspective and take much away from it except that perhaps I personally make poor choices, and even then I'm not sure that's a good takeaway, because I don't think I do, which itself could be a heuristic trap that should be avoided. I'd probably climb again in similar conditions because they felt perfect and turned out not to be. I've also turned around or outright stayed home many times based purely on feelings of danger that didn't match with what the signs were saying. I guess my point is that I do make a real effort to be safe and only climb when I think it's OK. This discussion has been good too, and I think is probably not one that happens as frequently as it should. People either don't post their mistakes often or just don't make them - I hope it's more the latter!

Your "Sixth Sense"
05/19/2020 13:10
You: "I've also turned around or outright stayed home many times based purely on feelings of danger that didn't match with what the signs were saying." Yeah! Glad to read this, me as well. I call that the Sixth Sense ("I see dead people.."). IMO climbing is both art & science, I think too often climbers do the science thing maybe too much (the signs) vs. the art (the feelings). I joke that if anyone makes an avalanche go/no-go decision based on snow crystal analysis, run away! For sure look at all the signs, but what does your Sixth Sense say? Your gut? I was out for a 3 day trip this past weekend, backed off a remote technical climb, frustrating in that I could rationalize going forward, but the little irrational feeling, my Sixth Sense, said back off. Anyway, IMO keep listenin' to that voice!



Wasn't trying to sound harsh...
05/22/2020 12:26
...& agreed that I wasn't there. I've been in similar situations though - many times. Splitboarding, couloir climbing, even the typical several sidecountry trips off Snowmass & Highlands I take annually all have many scary stories that go with them. It's true - no one is perfect. You are correct as well; we don't always talk about it after a slide. My friends & I had the East Couloir on Daly slide on us midway run down a few years ago (loose wet slide). Even more recently - I found myself mitigating wet sluff coming down the East Face of Hunter Peak (not as scary). Timing is indeed difficult; I've had more than a few scary mountain moments climbing or snowboarding down sheets of ice. To Tom's point - I'll agree to that as well. A couple years ago a friend & I were looking to do a big day in Ice Lake Basin. As we got to the upper basin my gut took over. I knew almost instantly that Pilot Knob wasn't gonna happen that day. We still went on to get Golden Horn, Verm, Fuller, & V2. The advice I gave you has been given to me many times & so far has helped keep me alive. So with that in mind I'll repeat those most important few words we can't hear enough: Stay safe out there!

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