Oklahoma, Mt - 13,845 feet
Deer Mt A - 13,761 feet
"K 49" - 13,535 feet
Oklahoma, Mt - 13,845 feet
Deer Mt A - 13,761 feet
"K 49" - 13,535 feet
|OK 49 Deer|
I had originally intended to go to Aspen and climb the thirteeners ringing East Snowmass Creek, but got a late start out of Boulder and wanted to get more than three hours of sleep for those peaks. Most of them are easy, but they are still in the Elks, and thus require the utmost care and alertness. Instead I chose to stay a bit closer to home and climb a number of peaks in the roughly triangular area between Mount Massive, Mount Elbert, and Independence Pass. Bonus points for six out of the eight peaks being a Centennial or Bicentennial on this one! Today covers Centennial Mount Oklahoma, Bicentennial Deer Mountain A, and the strangely named "K 49", the only peak of the weekend outside of the top 200.
I drove to the North Halfmoon Trailhead Friday night. A few miles past the Mount Massive Trailhead the road is a bit rough but I was able to make it to within half a mile of the trailhead in a Civic by being careful. Past that the road was too steep and rough for me. I was surprised both by the amount of available camping along the road and the number of people making said camping unavailable. Huge numbers of people crowded every inch of space along the road and I was lucky to find a pulloff to sleep in for the night. The next morning I continued on the road on foot, arriving at the trailhead. At first I tried to find a way across North Halfmoon Creek since that's where the road went but that wouldn't have done me any good, and I took the trail up at that point.
A couple of miles in the trail split; I kept straight ahead on the North Halfmoon Trail while the Mount Massive Trail led up Massive's southwest slopes.
I kept an eye out for a side trail that would take me up a vague ridgelet towards Oklahoma and south of the lakes, but none really stood out. Eventually I just said the heck with it and cut west off the trail. I made two creek crossings, the first of which I was able to simply leap across, and the second, at the bottom of a deep and narrow gorge, which I attempted to cross on a log. The log was wet and slick as snot and I think I took about half a step before my right foot slipped off and my leg went into the icy creek up to my knee. Heck of a wakeup call.
This crossing was the last I'd have to do until my descent, and from here route finding consisted of hiking in a generally west direction towards treeline, where I figured things would open enough to show the route. Above treeline things became both more apparent and less. Oklahoma's south side is guarded by numerous cliffs and slabs and while there were breaks in all of them none looked particularly appealing.
I kept trucking west expecting to find something that would give easy access to the upper slopes, and eventually a pair of gullies provided that very access. A short snowfield crossing later and I began up the eastern gully, which was snow free.
The gully wasn't all that nice for hiking, being steep and pretty rotten despite the grass, but I was able to link together short trail segments here and there until I reached a short plateau.
Once on the plateau the remaining route was obvious. A snowfield stood between me and the summit, and it was surprisingly large and soft for this late in the season. I ended up postholing most of the way up the snow which was tiring and left me wet from mid-thigh to toe.
Past the snowfield there was a short talus and boulder hop to the summit. New snow had fallen overnight, which made me question whether the scramble up Deer would be doable; guess I'd find out when I got there.
I sat on Oklahoma for a hot minute catching up. Sleep hadn't come easy the night before and I was exhausted after just one peak. After about fifteen minutes of rest I began down Oklahoma's south ridge, which wasn't much to write home about. All in all to the deep saddle with Deer Mountain it was an easy breezy Class 2 romp.
Deer loomed large and intimidating from the large, flat plateau below. If bears get Bears Playground over in the Sangre de Cristo then this area should be called Deer Playground. It's only fair.
The climb up Deer begins easy enough; grass and talus slopes of a reasonable angle. Eventually these slopes get steeper and looser so I trended to the right on more stable ground. The last few hundred feet of the route is where all the fun is.
The rock on most of Deer Mountain was fairly rotten, and while the beginning wasn't difficult, starting at Class 3, it was clear I'd have to choose my line and holds carefully. This stuff was basically layers of rock a couple inches to a couple of feet thick with dirt sandwiched in between - not super confidence inspiring. There was about 20 feet of Class 3 before the route returned briefly to Class 2+ to a false summit.
From the falsey the true summit became obvious. I crossed over loose talus and boulders on the ridge crest to a rib, then scrambled (Class 3) up a short corner to the top of the rib before turning right onto more talus.
I clamored up the nasty talus, avoiding the snow, to a bizarre set of slabs. This was apparently the Class 4 section, and while it didn't look all that hard it was the typical loose stuff I'd encountered already. Many of the feet ended up just being little piles of dirt crammed into corners and cracks, but fortunately the hands were pretty good!
The slab took me a few minutes to get up since I had to be careful with the junky rock, especially foot placements. I went about half way up in the corner before traversing left a few feet to the open edge of the slab, then straight up from there to the easier summit ridge.
In the two or so hours it had taken me to traverse from Oklahoma to Deer clouds had begun to build up. They were still small puffies but the predictions were for 40% chance of thunderstorms after noon and it was 11am. I wanted to get "K 49", which would require a scramble, as would going back down Deer's northeast ridge, so I wasted no time in heading off towards "K 49".
The vast majority of the route to "K 49"'s west ridge is Class 2 or Class 2+ talus or dirt.
Near the saddle with Point 13,445 (an unranked tri-point between Deer, "K 49", and Point 13,736) was another Class 3 down climb on the typical questionable rock.
At this point the scrambling difficulties relented for the rest of the day. The crappy rock? Let's not act like we don't know what happened with the crappy rock. It definitely continued.
I hiked most of the way up Point 13,445 before turning down "K 49"'s west ridge.
A couple hundred feet descending on talus took me to the saddle, and then it was a long tundra and talus hop to "K 49". I found this part of the day tiring and exceptionally tedious, even though the rock quality improved somewhat. Sidehilling for nearly an hour up and over and around boulders will do that.
I got to the summit of "K 49" and was glad to be there. I'd considered going back for Point 13,736 and Mount Champion, but that was a big nope with how tired I was today. I'd just go for them the next day, no big deal. The views from "K 49" were the best of the day, which helped make up for the whooping I'd received.
The weather was still stable now at about 12:45pm, so I sat on the summit and gathered energy before beginning down the north ridge.
The rock here returned to megachoss status, but at least there was no scrambling. Still, it was so loose that it was basically like skating down the ridge. At the saddle the rock went from miniature dinner plates skittering everywhere to ankle deep kitty litter.
There were a couple of junky cliffs to navigate around near the bottom of the ridge, but eventually things flattened out. I stopped to pour the pebbles out of my shoes before continuing, and no, running gaiters wouldn't have helped. The holes in my shoes ensured that.
I wanted to get off the kitty litter as soon as possible, so I tried to beeline it to the creek, which meant traveling through willows. The willows themselves were small, and the ground wet, a welcome change from the rock everywhere else.
I got down to the creek and had to search around for a way across. The water was too swift and deep for me to cross safely, so I wandered up and down the bank until I found a place where I could jump across. I then continued northeast past another gorge, glad to be on the north side of the creek. I don't know how easy it would be to cross farther downstream, but it didn't look like there was anywhere to do it.
I followed the creek, typically staying well above it, until it joined the northern branch from the lakes at the base of yet another narrow gorge, which this time had a clear bridge to cross on.
I only crossed a few more streamlets on my way back to the trail, including one which had a small waterfall tucked into the trees.
Back on the trail I headed down as fast as I could. I passed a few folks and their dogs as they hiked up to the lakes, and a drizzle kept me intermittent company. It wasn't enough to be a nuisance, just to cool things off in the afternoon heat. When I hit the trailhead and then the road I had to stop and let numerous Jeeps and trucks pass as they went up and down the road. They were faster but I had it easier; it ain't easy to pass on a road that's only one and a half car widths. I got back to my car and drove into Leadville to eat - what else? - High Mountain Pies. For my money I don't think there's a better post-climb food than pizza. Deer Mountain's scrambling had been the highlight of the climb today, though it was a pretty weak highlight with all of the awful rock everywhere. If you're a thirteener maniac I'd say it's worth it, otherwise there's finer scrambling elsewhere, like on nearby Twining Peak or La Plata Peak's Ellingwood Ridge. Still, it's on The List, and The List demands completion.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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