Red Pk B - 13,189 feet
|Red Peak from the SW & Off-Trail near Gore Lake|
I saw a short-story meme recently that was a conversation between God and one of the lead operational angels:
God to Angel: “Did you line up the historical events for the 2020 decade?”
Angel: “Oh. Umm, that request was for the entire decade??”
God: “Yes….what did you do?”
Angel: “I thought that request was only for the single year 2020.”
God: “So you put a decade of history into a single year?”
We’ve all been through the ringer this year in different ways. Some have lost jobs while others have lost their mental health. The virus has taken lives, while others have found death in relationships and other walks of life. And it seems we are all a little more familiar with our Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube accounts.
But amidst the gloom that shrouds this year, others have found it to be a period of refining and experimenting with new things. I’ve tried countless new recipes and upgraded my kitchen tools. The Jeep now has a CB radio and 67 Designs mounting system, additional recovery gear, and a few more miles of trail experience. And my outdoor gear has been through a couple rounds of organizational adjustments to simplify getting on the trail faster.
In the midst of all of this, my desire to sign out and explore has grown significantly, along with a drive to share these experiences with others. The outcome of this is a new storytelling method that I’m experimenting with on YouTube.
My first attempt at this was an excursion into the wilderness of the Gore Range near Vail, Colorado. The Gores aren’t known for the tallest mountains or the most easily accessible peaks. On the contrary, they are remote, rugged, and hard to summit by the average hiker. But they are relatively close to I-70 as you drive west from Denver, which equals less drive time and more outdoors time.
I spent a few weeks examining topographic maps on GAIAGPS.com, primarily looking for a blend between a treeline camp, lack of human presence, and access to a worthwhile peak to summit. Incredible ridgelines and high mountain bowls holding potential lakes exist all throughout the Gores, and this topographic study was a great way to get to know the terrain from behind the desk. Add in some Google Earth flyovers and I quickly settled on a general area.
Gore Lake is a commonly accessed on-trail location in the southern area of the Gores. The road to the trailhead takes you through the southeastern side of Vail lined with condos and cabins. But the hike itself drops you into the wilderness at only half a mile in. And the initial slow, 4 mile trail ascent up the valley is a rolling combination of forest, stream crossings, and impressive granite features that are characteristic of the Gore Range.
Arriving at an old gravesite provides a fork in the trail to the more difficult climb up the side of the mountain that gives access to the upper alpine gullies, meadows, and lakes. I followed the trail up at this point to around 11,000’. But my plan wasn’t to go to the popular Gore Lake another mile away (albeit a beautiful and worthy destination in its own right). My intent was to explore an unmarked bowl at roughly the same elevation as Gore Lake (11,550’), but on an eastern bearing across the upper valley in unmarked off-trail territory.
After a mile of trail departure and a few animal trails and stream crossings later, I arrived on the perch I had found on the topographic map and Google Earth overviews. There was a beautiful collective of shallow lakes still full of snowmelt, a perfect source for both water and appealing high mountain views. Camp setup went relatively smoothly, but I had a little trouble with the granite shelf just under the topsoil that prevented easy staking down of the tent. But this is not uncommon near treeline in the Gores.
Sunset and darkness came rather quickly the first night, but rest was welcome after the 6 mile trek with a fifty pound pack. The morning began the summit attempt of Red Peak. Being the most accessible peak on the southern end of the Gore Range, it is regularly hiked from Silverthorne, Breckenridge, and Dillon. But not from this upper bowl near Gore Lake.
The day started out with some rather intense talus hopping, crawling over mattress-sized boulders and scrambling up a 45-55 degree loose and ever-adjusting scree slope. A direct ascent of the ridgeline that would provide access to the high tundra proved to be more climbing than my unroped self came prepared for, so I searched for an alternate approach around cliff bands that jutted out above the saddle and made my way ever higher, being careful as the wind picked up intensity throughout the day.
And it was a day full of scree, almost from the moment I left camp all the way to the top of Red Peak almost 2 miles away. But the effort on the stabilizers was worth every majestic view. Feeling the elevation and gusts of wind high on the mountain are life-giving experiences to me. But today’s wind gusts were a little more than desirable. I later found that a wind meter several miles north recorded gusts of 75 mph that day, and I felt some really strong swirling up top that consistently pushed me up the side of the mountain and made me question whether I should keep going. I do fear being blown off a mountain one day. But I maintained a three-points of contact minimum and kept going, ever slower as the ridgeline narrowed and the exposure became more palpable.
Red Peak (13,189’) was a beautiful summit. I only wish I could have spent more time there. But the wind and wildfire smoke blowing through the area made me want to get back down sooner rather than later. After taking in Willow Lakes to the north and the reservoir down in Dillon to the east, I scampered back across the gusty ridgeline and dropped back into my camp’s bowl.
The evening proved a beautiful one, with the wind continuing to blow across the tops of fir trees and the high mountain lake where I camped. The fiery reds and yellows from the fall colors blended incredibly against the sunset scene. This is the beauty filled with moments that I work hard to find.
The wind died down overnight and the next morning was calm. But a storm was brewing when I woke and I could sense a short race against time to get camp packed up.
The descent was rather uneventful, except for a funny fall as I dropped down a 3 foot granite shelf with that fifty-pound pack helping gravity work against me. No injuries though, and a moment that I’m happy I caught on film as my youngest daughter (13 years old) thought it was hilarious to watch Daddy take a fall and then get up as if nothing happened.
The rain that appeared impending never came. Just a breezy, introspective walk out of the wilderness admiring the incredible fall colors as yellow aspen trees became the dominant foliage in the lower 9000’ elevations.
But my mission was accomplished: get out into the Gores for the first time, go where few travel while keeping it relatively accessible, but forge my own path to the top of a mountain and push my limits just a little. It turned out to be a signout opportunity for the books.
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