| Find Your Way Back
On September 5, 2010, I attempted Teakettle Mountain. I made it as far as the base of The Black Gully before calling it off. Maybe it was the weather building up on the horizon. Maybe it was frayed nerves from a previous day's tango with Gladstone Peak. Maybe I wasn't ready for a technical route or maybe I was just plain chickensh**. I guess I'll never really know.
Fast forward ten months...
Peak: Teakettle Mountain
Tale of the Tape: 3.3 miles and 2530 vert
Everything is nice and quiet in Yankee Boy Basin when we arrive a little before dusk. We kill the engine at 11,300 feet and look around. No cars, no tough guys on quads, no Lavender Cole, no three-ring circus. Nice, dude, nice.
Summit Lounger gets out his binoculars and surveys the upper ridge of Teakettle from our tailgate. In Yankee Boy, there is virtually zero approach and you can see pretty much everything from the deck. We peer through the Zeiss and spy a fair amount of snow up high. It might be problematic or it might not. There is only one way to find out.
Logistics by headlamp...
Our route will take us directly up to the base of The Black Gully. It’s a loose and tedious stretch but if the snowline is high, we are golden. Rosebrough says it will go but recommends sticking to the right. Garratt and Martin tell you to avoid it as an ascent option like Bierstadt on the 4th. And the Roach route up to the shoulders of Coffeepot ain't exactly tea with Ms. McGill so you know where this is going...
We decide to leave flotation behind, especially with Potosi on the table. If we make a run at the bicentennial, we won’t retrace our ascent route. Besides, fast and light often trumps slow, methodical and well-equipped – something I am still trying to grasp.
At 2130, I crush a can of modus in the dirty soft parking lot. The basin is very still and the temperature so warm that I can’t see my breath. Alarms are set for 0500 and we drift off into our own private places.
0530 and the climb is on...
We cross the road and grunt up steep grass. Eventually, we reach snow and begin a languid ascending traverse to our left. Crampons, styrofoam and a good cadence. Sunrise is hitting the top of Gilpin and nothing else, but we don’t need our headlamps. A faint grayish light emanates from the snow at our feet. The temperature is perfect.
In the distance, we see the talus spillway. So much for continuous snow up to The Black Gully. We remove crampons and engage the geological scat. Summit Lounger hits the left side and we watch him levitate. I don’t know about this guy… the shi**ier the rock, the faster he seems to move. We find a mixture of frozen mud and scree in his wake and it holds us. Amazingly.
Summit Lounger is now waiting for us at the base of The Black Gully. He tells us there is good snow to ascend. I like the sound of that. We put the spikes on again and shimmy up. It is a very mellow climb with the last 10-15 feet steepening a bit. But nothing major.
From the top of The Black Gully we survey the rest of the route. There is still work to be done to get to the summit pitch. What follows is everyone’s favorite game – “On Off On Off”. I believe I change in and out of crampons three times en route.
Any snow we encounter involves quite a bit of sidehilling which is not one of my strengths. Going straight up and down a snow gully is one thing but traversing requires another skill set. I let loose with the profanities and Summit Lounger just smiles. He tells me snow is my friend. I tell him snow has a way of shaking out weak hands. And with that, we press on.
The terrain soon eases and everything is dark, thick sand. Weird stuff. We leave moonprints behind and approach the summit block. This is a pretty powerful place to be and there is not a cloud in the sky.
The technical pitch has been reduced to 20-25 feet with all of the snow. Lots of air, however. Wooderson opts to use her axe to cross about eight feet of high angle stuff. It may sound trivial but a slip here and you’re taking a long ride.
I’m starting to get a little sewing-machine leg action going, like I'm over-caffeinated. But I’ve waited ten months for this. Greg sets up a top rope with zero effort. I tie in, stem and climb Teakettle. Unreal views.
The summit is tiny and very exposed. I don’t move around much. Summit Lounger belays Wooderson and I’m sitting up there with a weird grin on my face. Lots of emotions to say the least.
A few minutes later and The Team is together up top. Photos and voices. Endless horizons. Future plans of future ascents. There is 2500 feet of vert all around me and I'm getting a bit antsy. I can't even fathom what it would be like to get caught in a sh**storm up here.
On the other hand, Summit Lounger is bouncing around like he’s volleying at Wimbledon. His hops, skips, and lunges have me concerned. I mean, the summit is the size of a friggin' pool table.
We rap to our gear stash, feast and start heading down. The sidehilling isn’t so bad on the return trip (nothing ever is). We descend to the bottom of The Black Gully and hold a brief Council of War. Summit Lounger wants Potosi but the clock is ticking, the temperature rising, the snow weakening. We don’t want to slow him down so we cut loose and agree to meet back at the car. We watch him traverse high and begin the ascent to the base of Coffeepot before turning our attention to Scree City.
I go first and drop a few hundred feet before finding shelter behind a large rock. I then wave Wooderson down. The descent is not terrible. We repeat this process once more before reaching snow and sanctuary.
The only question now is will the snow hold us up? It’s pretty sweltering and we’ve got several hundred yards before reaching grassy green pastures. One, two, three steps – everything holds.
Back at the car, we strip, air out our gear and wait for Summit Lounger. It is hot as hell on the Yankee Boy deck but the Modus is cold.
These are great days we’re living…
The languid ascending traverse
The gully appears
Sunrise on Gilpin
The Black Gully
I'm glad this thing is holding snow...
There is still work to be done.
That's my girl
The Team II (including an appearance by your humble narrator)
when a problem comes along, you must whip it, before the cream sits out too long, you must whip it
Scree City Round II
Another fine day in the hills...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):