Peak(s):  White Rock Mtn  -  13,540 feet
Date Posted:  05/12/2007
Modified:  05/27/2007
Date Climbed:   07/02/2005
Author:  Martian Bachelor
 White Rock from upper West Brush Crk  

Quad: Gothic

White Rock Mtn lies 2¾ mi NW of Teocalli Mtn NE of Crested Butte and its mass fills up a large portion of the N half of the Gothic quad E of Gothic itself. Its S flank separates the East River to the W from W Brush Crk to the E. From the summit of Teocalli it dominates the near view in that direction since White Rock is more than 300 ft higher:


When approached from the same general trailhead as Teocalli, White Rock Mtn is a fairly difficult off-trail wilderness bushwhack to several high alpine basins, followed a bit later by a short, tricky traverse on its SSE summit ridge past two steep pinnacles. The second one, which is composed of the white rock that gives the peak its name, is deserving of a Fourth Class rating in my opinion.

Use other info to find and get up the 4WD West Brush Crk road to the start of the Teocalli Mtn Trail. Instead of heading E-NE up that trail, park there (if you haven't already parked farther down) and continue N on foot the last few dozen yards up the road to the next little level where there's a wilderness boundary sign at the start of the trail NW which goes about 1/3rd mi back to W Brush Crk. In 2005 the situation was about the same as the 1961 topo shows, namely that the trail ends in the meadow E of the creek. Along the way there was an avalanche debris zone which had come off the SW flank of Teocalli.

The first objective is to cross W Brush Crk, so walk up through the meadow after the trail fades out and look for a place to cross. I ended up doing this at a kink in the stream 0.3 mi past where the trail ends and just before it jogs more to the W. There's an exposed area of glacially polished bedrock on the other side of the creek in here. I don't know if this is the best place, but it worked. Once across, you're really in the wilderness until you get back across the stream much later in the day.

The next objective is to get to timberline in the basin which contains W Brush Crk's NW branch; the N branch goes up towards Coffeepot Pass. Instead of trying to follow the creek up, I first went W-WNW up a hillside of mixed willows and grass to gain about 400 ft in elevation. Higher up this stretch you'll be along the S side of the stand of timber which you need to then do an ascending traverse 0.4 mi NNW-N up through, gaining about another 300 ft of elevation, until you round a corner at about 11,250 ft. There's a lot of downed timber in here so the going is slow, but I think it has to be better than trying to follow the even rougher creek gorge above the stream crossing. If you get a little bit too high along the traverse you'll come to a small basin with a relatively flat, willowed area at its E end. A stream flows through here which comes off the ENE flank of Pt 12,779; this stream is not shown on the topo map. Don't confuse it with W Brush Crk's NW branch. The upper parts of this little basin are steep and rocky, so you want to be sure to cross this stream down at the lower end of the flat area (about or just under 11,200 ft) and continue N 0.1 mi further. (There is an exit out of the basin at its SW corner, but this leads to a moderately steep and rocky traverse, first W then NW, followed by a 100 ft of elevation loss in getting back over to the vicinity of W Brush Crk.) Assuming you make it to the 11,250 corner, you'll be above and S of W Brush Crk again. From here angle WNW up through increasingly open timber for ½mi and another 400 ft of elevation gain to an indefinite timberline area not far S of the creek. If you're lucky you may run across and be able to follow a fairly good game trail along this stretch.

The third objective is to get about 1000 ft higher in the basin SE of the peak. You'll generally be aiming for the first low point visible on the peak's E ridge. While a route straight up the upper reaches of the creek might go, I first crossed to its N-NE side at 11,620 ft, climbed up about 250 ft, and then crossed back over to its W side (the creek makes a righthand turn in here), angling NW (left) away from steeper, rockier terrain nearer the creek, eventually getting up to the 12,240 ft S lip of a micro-basin at the E base of Pt 13,401. From here I made a counter-clockwise loop E->N up a minor ridgeline on this basin's E edge for 350 ft more of elevation. This takes one up to the S side of the uppermost basin containing W Brush Crk just SE of the peak. The elevation is a little below 12,600 ft, so there's still almost 1000 ft more to go.

The way up to the 13,220 ft saddle on the peak's E ridge requires some route finding skills to avoid steeper areas. The 400+ ft slope below the saddle is not as bad as it looks from below once you're on it, but you'll still want to calculate a line up through the tougher parts and try to stay on route. For me, this generally meant staying right (E) at first and then angling left (W) in and just past the mid-section. I didn't visit the saddle directly because it was well snowed-in when I was there, so my waypoint for it is about 150 ft horizontal higher up the ridge:


That's Castle Pk visible off to the ENE.

It's about 240 ft vertical from this saddle up to a minor sub-summit (13,460 ft) at the intersection of the E and S ridges. You're now only 100 yds SE from the summit but the real fun has just begun as it's been little more than a Second Class climb up to this point. (P.S.: While White Rock's S ridge doesn't look bad on the topo, in reality it's quite jagged and will discourage all but the very most adventurous.)

Barring easy access to the little summit block are two towers with steep slopes on all sides. The first (E) pinnacle goes on its left (S) side in a couple of moderate and exposed Third Class moves about 20 ft below the level of the shallow saddle/ridge leading the few steps over to the pinnacle from the SE sub-summit. When I was there the slope below the saddle was the top of a snowfield which went way down the peak's SW slopes to the valley below. Under hard snow conditions one would definitely want at least an ice axe here; while the snow is not too steep just below the ridge (i.e., where you'd be on it), it gets steeper a little way down and a serious sliding fall could deposit one hundreds of feet lower in upper Queen basin. As this was the sunny side of the mountain, the snow was soft and well-consolidated when I was there to do the descending traverse across it to the base of the rock. It's helpful here to remember that this is the Elk's, so test each hold before weighting it fully. After a short strenuous climb up, when you round the S corner of this first pinnacle, it's advisable to build a cairn so you can find the route on the way back. The last several steps are on rumble covered ledges with a little bit of exposure. They lead you off the tower proper and onto white gravel just below the saddle between the two spires.

You're now close enough to the summit cairn that you swear you could nail it with a rock. Unfortunately the second pinnacle is quite a bit harder to get by than the first. On the sunny S side and down a little from the saddle there are some ledges and gullies which at first look like a route around the pinnacle, but they all seem to quickly turn into exposed spots with no good handholds on the downsloping ledges. The nature of the white rock is curious: in places it's solid, in others it's almost a crumbling mess, so there's rubble just about everywhere. You'll especially notice it underfoot. There's enough solid rock that maybe there's an easy Fifth Class route this way but I was doing it solo and didn't feel comfortable getting extended beyond a certain point.

After a walk up to the white gravel saddle to look at the N side of the pinnacle -- it's even steeper -- I briefly tried heading up and over the top of the spire. It's actually made up of several little spires with air gaps between them. That's not the easy way, so again after a short distance I step back down, try the S side again -- same results -- and then decide maybe a traverse on the N side will go after all. It has to. And it did, but not without some difficulty and some foolish moves on my part.

In getting the very short distance from the white gravel saddle over to the saddle beyond the second tower required me to make four risky moves in what might not be much more than 25-30 yds. The first of these was just a knee-up move onto a ledge, this generally being bad mountaineering form because if you slip you can tear your kneecap off and then be in a real pickle. Fortunately I had plently of practice with these on brick walls in the backyard as a kid. This ledge led a short distance around a first corner to the top of a steep, N-facing snowfield.

Breaking a path across this was the second risky thing I did. While the top layer of the snow was consolidated, a little extra down-force broke through it into a deep layer of sugar snow underneath -- something like a foot of it (perhaps a little less). Indeed, it was still quite early in the Summer. The 15 ft path I needed to make was basically going to sever the snowfield from its anchoring with the rock at its top, leaving it liable to slide on the unstable layer underneath. So I built the path very slowly, hoping to give the packed down snow time to re-freeze so as to maintain its bond with the snow above it and thus the rock, at least to some extent. That was the therory, at least. It helped that there was a good handhold on the rock for at least the first third of the way across. After that, I'd blaze the path another 6" or a foot and then quickly retreat to the handhold, wait several moments, consider what the heck I was doing, lather, rinse, repeat. It took quite a bit of time, but eventually I got over to where it was a little too far to retreat to the handhold, and so I moved quickly the last several feet to the rock on the other side. Any sane person would have been on a rope tether for this short stretch, as it would have been catastrophic if the snow had given way. This is probably the first time I've contracted true summit fever. In retrospect, once is all it takes...

One or two Third Class moves later and I was on a narrow ledge, again down-sloping slightly and with gravel on it, which led to a final protruding corner to get around, one where the ledge narrows to about a foot or less in width. Beyond the corner the saddle at the base of the little summit block is just steps away. Unfortunately the corner stymies me at first. It's not possible to get a handhold on both sides of it at once. I try shuffling my feet some and rearranging the handhold deployment, but it's still not possible to get around the corner while keeping three-point contact with the rock. So the third risky thing I do is a dyno (momentum) move by the corner. The idea behind one of these in case you're not familiar with the term is to cock back a little and get your body moving in the direction you want to go, and then just go there in one smooth, committing move. Fortunately the ledge got a little wider beyond the corner. The problem, of course, is that dyno moves are inherently irreversible, but I figured I'd worry about getting back when the time came.

So now I only had a few steps and about five feet down to get off the rock and onto the dirt at the saddle. There wasn't a good foot placement after the first one, so I just jumped. I did it without really thinking. It was only 3-4 ft and there was snow to land on. Snow's soft, isn't it? Well, I went right through the inch or two of snow, down to the ice covered rocks underneath, and started sliding. I guess the angularity of the general terrain had me thinking the snow was closer to being level than it was. Actually it was at a pretty good tilt. I think this N-facing snowbank joined up some 30 or 40 ft down lower with the one I'd crossed just minutes earlier. Anyway, it's amazing how quickly you pick up speed in a situation like that. In this case it was all over in the blink of an eye and I was only down about fifteen feet. By the time I stopped I was well into the sugar snow and more or less going down into and under the snow bank. I got my palms scratched up a little bit, but other than that the chief wound was that of feeling really stupid. I knew that the rocks under the snow on that shady N side had ice on 'em. It would have been really weird to have gotten buried deep in the snowbank from sliding down into and underneath it from above. Another ten or twenty feet down and I would have been there.

Anyway, after the short climb back up to the dirt and the col just W of the second spire, the 30 vertical ft or so up the summit block seemed easy. I suppose it rates as Third Class. It was at this point that I first looked at my watch since about two hrs into the day. I was shocked to find it had taken me 8¼ hrs to make the summit! Just long enough to drink some water, make a GPS reading, and take a photo looking SE-ESE across the pinnacles at Teocalli before getting headed down:


I've turned it over in my head multiple times and I can't account for this amount of time. I wasn't slogging or taking hour long nap breaks. There was a substantial amount of (melting) snow down in the trees and along much of the route just above timberline which slowed me down some, but not that much. Even if I spent upwards of 6 hrs making it up to the summit ridge, that means I took more than 2 hrs to get across the final difficult little stretch to the top. While I know I spent quite a bit of time finding the way on the second spire I don't think it was that long.

At any rate, coming back I bypassed the little stretch where I'd done the dyno move by following my fall/slide path down the snow a little and then working right (E) along the boundary between the snow and the rock. A short climb back up and I was on my route again. It took just 15 mins to get back over to the SE sub-summit. In all it was 3 hrs back down my ascent route from the summit to the start. (It's by doubling this 3 hr amount that I get the 6 hr estimate I used in the previous paragraph.)

After getting back home I searched around for other descriptions of climbs on White Rock. The only one I could find was in Ormes (1970's edition). He doesn't mention my route, but instead describes one on the W side of the mountain, from Copper Crk NE of Gothic; it goes part way up a drainage to about 12,200 ft and then angles S to the WSW ridge at 12,600 ft via a climbing traverse. I didn't take any time to look at this route. After realizing what time it was, I took a GPS reading and a couple of pictures before quickly getting going back down. (There was no summit register.) Whenever Ormes does not describe a route I wonder if it's because he knew it's not really a good way to go -- though I hasten to add that doing White Rock this way really was a unique, if fairly difficult, wilderness experience in a part of the Elks that isn't explored much. Did I perhaps do a first ascent by this route?

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