Tuesday, October 14

North and South Arapahoe

Enough of the teaser wifey and DH say...okay I get it. I'm a big fat slacker and I've been keeping my adventures to myself. Well today I'll share, happy not to have holes in me courtesy of the Denver PD (story maybe to come later).

This post is the tale of two adventures to North and South Arapahoe peaks in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, one of my new favorite playgrounds. They take place approximately one month ago, a time when Denver was still hot and sunny but the mountains were beginning descent into winter conditions. The first trip started out early from the 4th of July trailhead, eager to put some miles under my feet solo and get to the 3rd class ridge that connects the peaks as early as possible. Despite a gleaming white blanket of snow visible as I drove the Element from Westminster towards the IPW, I had packed light. Moving fast and bailing before trouble hits is the plan. The morning alpenglow was amazing and my camera was powerless to capture it's beauty. I adjusted my treking poles quickly in the parking lot and hit the trail moving fast. I pasted a small group right away and another set of footprints motivated me as I moved through the trees.
I climbed upwards and the snow deepened.
First just a dusting, then solid cover, followed by inches, then drifts much deeper than that.
But it was all beautiful and below treeline I was plenty warm from moving so quickly uphill.
I carefully crossed the trail waterfalls, already getting wet enough from the snow and lack of gaitors. Goretex shoes do jack when the snow enters from the top.

I knew it was only a couple miles until my first turn so I kept one eye on my watch and the other on the wilderness around me. It would be easy to miss my turn with my head on a swivel.
Soon I caught my rabbit and took over the trailbreaking, now through almost a foot of new snow. We chatted and I invited him to join me for the traverse if he felt up for it. Then we turned off the Arapahoe Pass trail and started up the Arapahoe Glacier trail. Well we followed the trail for a few minutes, then it was gone. I located the correct saddle and began to head straight up to the 12,700 ft col. I paused a few times to wait for my new partner but soon the wind and cold demanded I keep up my quick pace to stay warm.
At the saddle the wind whipped at me and I added my rain jacket to my wool and windshirt. I dug snow out of the tongue of my shoes for the dozenth time and continued up. Extreme weather is so beautiful and playing in the wind and snow was intoxicating.
The glacier (and forbidden zone) lay beneath me as I climbed the ridge to the summit of SA.
I found bits of cairns sticking out here and there but the trail remained non existent. Nevertheless the summit is where the climbing stops so I just went up, dropping into holes and drifts frequently and rock hopping on icy boulders where possible.
The view from the high peaks in Colorado never disappoints me.
It was clear and I could see 14ers, 13ers, Winter Park ski resort and all of the city stretch out around me.
I could also see my main objective, North Arapahoe Peak, maybe a half mile away.
I signed the summit register on SA and enjoyed the peak locater for a minute before heading on. The traverse was a big unknown at this point and there was a lot of snow.
Trail? What trail? I started out and stayed on the ridge direct most of the time. I postholed into thigh deep drifts frequently. My gloves were soaked but I continued on, sticking to my basic rule of continuing onwards over anything I could reverse.
The ridge ticked by slowly and I was all alone. A few other people appeared on SA's summit now and then but no one dared to go where I was. I don't really blame them.
There are supposed to be 4 crux moves on this traverse, maybe 4th class at the worst. Today everything was covered in snow, ice or feathers. Balancing on the ridge crest was wonderful but exposed. The cruxes were serious and certainly nothing less than 4th class in this condition. The first gully was choked with loose snow but I passed it after a moments thought to the best route. The second crux was crusted with ice so I bashed it off with my hands before pulling through the move and back up to the ridge crest. Between the 2nd and 3rd crux is supposed to be easy scrambling I later learned but today it was scooting and careful moves up and down blocks along the ridge. At one spot I tried three times before I found passage I was comfortable with being alone and unroped. A fall to the left was unwise, the right often worse.
Still I was getting closer to the final climb to the summit until I arrived at the third crux. Here deep snow, ice and lack of knowledge did me in. The crux is a block that's too deep to down climb safely and you're supposed to skirt to the left of it on some exposed 3rd class climbing. You can see my deep postholes in the picture below. I tried 3 times to pass it but gave up each time. Dammit. I looked at my watch, I was over an hour into the traverse already. I sat in the snow on a small ledge and added up the pros and cons.
The summit was right *there* was the biggest pro.
But there were too many cons and I had a return time to stick to. I took a self portrait and began to reverse the ridge. Luckily the wind hadn't obliterated all my tracks so the way back passed much more quickly. Downclimbing snowy and icy 4th class was exciting but I felt comfortable.
I popped back to the summit of SA and found several other groups. The days difficulties were now behind me so I sat down to eat and drink a bit. A nice couple shared some cheese and crackers with me and I shared some peppermint tea. I lounged for almost an hour, disappointed to have turned around but confident in the decision.
I sent Marni an OK message with the SPOT so she would know I was off the ridge and back into easy ground and then headed down.
At least all the cool cornices were small consolation.
The wind was a great artist and yes that's the camera strap.
More snow formations.
I slipped and slid back down to treeline in fast melting slush. Back at the trail it was like hiking through a stream. So funny the difference that 2,000 vertical feet makes.
At least the storm started to fill in the mountains :)
My failed attempt was Saturday and the following Thursday I was eager to give it another go. I knew it was within my abilities and it was torturing me hanging over my head. The next day I was leaving for Yellowstone with DaveC but I put off packing, dropped Marni at school and hurried back to the 4th of July trailhead. I left very late for a mountain trip, leaving the parking lot after 10:30. To make up for it I brought only a liter of water, some almonds, an apple and a gel. My emergency bivy and a jacket were the only other things in my pack. I ran up the trail with my treking poles in hand. This time the trail was visible up to the col and I ran and power hiked up the rocks. 90 minutes later I topped out on SA and stopped only for a sip of water and the apple before starting on the traverse. Wow, the lack of deep snow revealed a use trail and I quickly arrived at the first, then second cruxes. I met a group of 3 on their way back and the said the snow was minimal. What a difference 5 days makes. I stashed my poles under the 2nd crux and flashed up it. I ran the ridge again to the third crux, abruptly being stopped by the notch again. This time I used the internet beta and down climbed around it. Less than 30 minutes after leaving SA, I stood on the summit of North Arapahoe, 13502ft.
I signed the register and ate some almonds. I chugged some more water and snapped more pictures.
The glacier below me.
Summit marker.
From where I came.
The lakes above Brainard lake trailhead below me.
Off limits? ;)
After 10 minutes I packed up and busted ass back. It was storming on some of the surrounding peaks and moving towards me. I wanted to be back in the trees before it got to me. A few hundred feet above the trees it began to hail and thunder so I ran faster. Another couple was still heading up...in shorts. Oh well, their decision. Back below treeline I stopped to put on my jacket and hood as it hailed harder.
I said my good byes for now as I ran to the car and finished up 4:20 after I started, in enough time to go pick Marni up from work.
The Arapahoes were a great learning experience and I'm sure I'll see them again. South is a great and easier winter summit. Next spring I'm planning on climbing the Skywalker couloir and also planning a complete south to north traverse of the IPW once I scout a few more sections (Rollins Pass to RMNP).


Marni said...

Beautiful pictures! You are one lucky boy to get to climb this stuff while the rest of the world works! Congrats on going back and getting your revenge :)

Cellarrat said...


Dave Harris said...

nice! if you're only gonna blog once/month make them like this ;) now get back out there and do something blog worthy (again).