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Peak(s):  Apache Peak  -  13,450 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2020
Date Climbed:   07/25/2020
Author:  techno_pig
 Apache Peak via Queen's Way Couloir; Glissading Accident   

NOTE: The GPX file is a little screwed up - 1) it's 'wobbly', and 2) it shows a single point up on the ridge between Shoshoni and Apache - we did not go up there.

Climbed with my Wife on July 25, 2020. In total, we probably covered about 11 miles and 3,600 feet of gain. It took us 14h 21m.


Glissading is dangerous! A major hazard is going too fast. I glissaded down Queen's Way Couloir, got going too fast, and lost control on this climb. I was very lucky to escape serious harm.

I thought the runout would be onto the glacier, but it was straight into a band of talus. I misread the runout and decided to glissade based on what I (thought I) read. If I had gotten going much faster, I would have slammed into those rocks.

Be careful glissading! Read the runout carefully and stay in control.


1 - Trailhead to Lake 11,420 (3h 5m)

We departed the Long Lake trailhead at 2:52 AM. We followed the Pawnee Pass Trail and Isabelle Glacier Trail to the unnamed tarn at 11,420 feet. We lost the trail at one point and ended up scrambling along a creek bed for a ways, which is probably why it took longer than expected.

Pre-dawn columbines on the trail

Neat shot of my Wife scrambling in the dark as the sun started to rise

Sunrise arrival at lake 11,420

2 - Lake 11,420 to Isabelle Glacier (1h 11m)

There's a little trail off the north side of the tarn that leads up most of the way to the base of Isabelle Glacier. We followed this trail up to its end, then crossed some talus/little snow fields to get onto the base of the glacier.

View of lake 11,420 from the social trail on its north side. Sunrise coming up the valley

View of Isabelle Glacier and the Queen's Way Couloir

View back across one of the little snow fields below Isabelle Glacier

3 - Isabelle Glacier to top of Queen's Way Couloir (Snow Climb) (1h 34m)

Unfortunately I didn't take many pictures during this section. We strapped on our crampons and got out our ice axes to climb this ~35 degree snow slope. We didn't feel the need for ropes/anchors as the snow conditions were good (very self-arrest-able) and it wasn't very steep.

Looking north(ish) at the imposing head wall of the Isabelle Glacier, plus an interesting little tarn with concentric cracks in the snow/ice around it.

About halfway up there was a little grassy ledge with a spectacular view of the bowl/valley.

View from the Grassy Ledge

Once we topped out on the snow, we doffed our crampons and switched back to trekking poles for the final scramble to the summit.

4 - Top of Couloir to Summit (Class II Scramble) (1h 33m)

From the top of the Queen's Way Couloir, we found a route across the talus to the summit. We basically just angled SW up towards the summit. Another guy we bumped into climbed NW along a steeper route towards a false summit, then turned south-ish and walked along the narrow ridge to the true summit.

View on the talus slopes above the snow field

Note about weather: All day, the clouds were threatening a drizzle but we never thought we saw any thick thunderheads. We decided to proceed with the climb because 1) the forecast called for 20% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon and 2) we didn't see any serious weather. We got drizzled on as we left the summit, but we didn't hear thunder until we were back down at lake 11,420, and then we only heard one or two little rumbles.

5 - Summit Down to Top of Couloir (2h 23m)

Same thing as 4 only backwards. We basically boulder-hopped going excruciatingly slow because of some light rain. Those rocks up there are extremely slick when wet.

6 - Descent on Snow (51m)

Here's where things got interesting. We decided to glissade down the soft spring snow in the couloir/glacier. It went very well until near the bottom of the couloir. I got a little cocky and started going a little faster, thinking the runout would funnel me onto the long/flat glacier if things got out of hand.

In a blink, I realized I was going too fast and rolled over to self-arrest with my ice axe. My feet hit something - I think they fell into a little depression and hit some snow/ice on the downhill side of it. I was going fast enough that it flipped me over onto my back with my head downhill. That started a tumble that ended with me sliding face-first towards a loose rock sitting on the snow. I hit the rock with my arms braced in front of my head which sent me into another tumble. Luckily, that second tumble ended with me on my back with my feet downhill. I had lost my axe, so I kicked and struggled and fought to stop the slide before I hit the talus in front of me. Somehow, I managed to stop short of the rock. Miraculously, I was completely uninjured, save for a couple little bruises here and there.

Apparently, somebody heard/saw me shouting during my spill and reported it. When I got to the TH, a Boulder County Sheriff was looking for me. I made a report with him and he called off the rescue operation - a big, HUGE thanks to the Boulder County Sheriff, Fire District, and Rocky Mountain Rescue Group for being ready and equipped for rescues.

Labeled image showing the route up/my little spill

The rock I hit during the slide (taken afterwards). Originally, it was farther up the slope - apparently I dislodged it and caused it to tumble farther down

7 - Isabelle Glacier to Lake 11,420 (45m)

Again, just a reverse of number 2 above.

8 - Trails back to Trailhead (2h 59m)

Some real weather started to roll in and we got soaked during our descent on the trail. We were seriously fatigued (and I was aching from my fall) so it took a while, but it was easy terrain.

Data Table

For the geeks among us, I created a table with the segment type, elevation gain, elevation loss, distance, and time. From this, I was able calculate the Munter units* and our Munter rates** for the various types of terrain we encountered. You can use this table to estimate your segment times based on your Munter rates for various terrain types.

Note: The distances here are the distances from a CalTopo estimate - we actually went a little farther than it shows here. However, my GPS was on the fritz, and it reports distances that are way too far due to the "wobble" you can see in the map.

Segment Type Elevation Gain (ft) Elevation Loss (ft) Distance (mi) Munter Units Time Our Munter Rate
1 - Class 1 Trail Hiking up 1,294 -328 3.69 10.88 3h 5m 3.53
2 - Class 1+ "Trail" Hiking 445 -11 0.28 1.85 1h 11m 1.56
3 - Moderate Snow Climb 1,117 -12 0.44 4.15 1h 34m 2.65
4 - Class 2 Scramble up 430 -3 0.19 1.63 1h 33m 1.05
5 - Class 2 Scramble down 3 -430 0.19 1.63 2h 23m 0.68
6 - Moderate Snow Descent 12 -1,117 0.44 4.15 0h 51m 4.88
7 - Class 1+ "Trail" Descent 11 -445 0.28 1.85 0h 45m 2.45
8 - Class 1 Trail Hiking down 328 -1,294 3.69 10.88 2h 59m 3.65
TOTALS 3,640 -3,640 9.21 (more like 11) 37.00 14h 21m 2.58

*Munter Units: 100m of gain or loss is 1 unit; 1km of distance is 1 unit

**Munter Rates: Add up the Munter units and divide by time. Generally, use ~4 for uphill trail; ~2 for class 2 talus/boulder hopping; ~5-6 for flat/descent trail. Best if you calculate your own for various terrain types.

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

Comments or Questions
Glad you are safe
8/5/2020 1:40pm
Thanks for sharing and hope your future peaks are a bit less memorable!

Re: Glad you are safe
8/5/2020 5:16pm
Thanks Tornadoman! Yeah, I'll be keeping my glissading a little more low-key for a while.

glad you are ok
9/3/2021 4:09pm
I am glad you are ok.
That is certainly a very beautiful area.

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