| The Monarchs of the Gores
Spirit of the Gores
Peaks : Eagle’s Nest (13,420)/Mt. Powell (13,580) Traverse
Trailhead : Piney Lake (no shuttle)
Mileage/Vert/Time : 14 miles, 6000 vertical, 13.5 hours
This is a supplementary report to Kevin Baker’s fine write up of the Eagle’ Nest-Powell Traverse from last year. Kevin and company tackled this traverse with a car shuttle at Surprise Lake, outside Green Mountain Reservoir then a descent out to Piney Ranch.
Mike (Chicago Transplant), Ben (Benners) and I wanted no part of a car shuttle and decided, with some solid first hand beta from our friend Colin (astrobassman), as well as from Mike’s trip to the Corners the Spring before, we could manage to climb this traverse from one trailhead. From Kevin’s TR and uncertainty of what we would encounter on the ridge itself, we decided to also bring along a 50 meter, 9.6 diameter rope, a very light rack and a couple rap rings, quicklinks, slings/runners and webbing in the instance we’d be faced with a mandatory rappel or two.
Ben’s dad lives in Vail, lucky him, and he decided to sleep in a bed Friday evening. Mike, who lives in Avon (lucky him as well), knew that it’d be a lot harder to wake up and go for a 3am start than if he crashed in the back of his Xterra in the parking lot, and along with myself, who will choose the wilderness over a house any day of the week, met up in West Vail and made our way for the trailhead. That plan kind of bit me in the ass, as it began to rain while I quickly tried to set up my tent. Nevertheless, I was out in no time.
I was a tad worried about Ben and his car’s ability to make it up the slightly rutted out Piney Ranch road, which seemed to have deeper ruts than in the past. Around 2:50am, Ben and the ever so worthy Hyundai Sonata came strolling up the dirt road, I flashed him with my newly purchased Black Diamond Storm headlamp, he noticed and we all proceeded to gear up for the climb. Quick note on BD headlamps. Its nice to finally have a headlamp with decent light output (100 lumens). I’ve been using Petzyl lamps for years and always wondered how a company could get away with selling a product who failed to deliver with it’s single responsibility – to grant you light in the dark. Seems like a simple concept when you think about it, but its amazing how much of a piece of crap Petzyl headlamps were/are, and even more amazing that I continued to purchased them. Anyways, these BD headlamps, especially the Storm, have been a breath of fresh air to say the least.
This was our third adventure in the Gores in 3 weekends, and it was nice to spend it with a fellow Gore enthusiast (Mike) and a recent convert (Ben). The range is like a drug, hard to resist the urge to explore and is very reminiscent of the ruggedness of the Weminuche, parts of the Sangres and Rocky Mountain National Park, sans Trail Ridge road. Summitpost.org covers a lot of mountain ranges all over the world, but I truly believe the Gores have the finest page, the passion is clearly evident by all the various page authors and climbers and local professional photographers have done a damn fine job showing the aesthetics and feeling of solitude of its jagged, complex drainages.
We hit the trail by 3:30am under a clear sky. This go around, we were finally treated to some weather patterns in our favor. The afternoon before, the sky was black, there was an incredible lightning storm along the Continental Divide as we drove out to Vail and the forecast called for 40% chance of crap after 12pm. We were fortunate to have both a clear morning, some solid alpenglow lighting and a forecast that never came to fruition.
Not 150 yards from the parking lot, we encountered a family of moose, the first encounter being one crossing our path not 5 feet in front of Mike. The other stared at us with our headlamps shining in his face. He must’ve been so confused, but I’m glad the first guy didn’t trample Mike. Far and away the closest I’ve ever been to a full grown moose.
Mike had been up this trail 3 times prior and did a fine job of leading the way in the pitch black. We got a little off course around a section of deep, wet willows, that brought with it its fair share of amusement. Usually I’m the one in the group who loses his/her temper and cool and screams obseneties at various plant-life, innocent bystander marmots, deer, pika, etc. when things don’t seem to go my way. I’m childish like that and its been something I’ve always tried to work on, anger management that is. Well, on this occasion, it was Ben who lost it, and quite early on in the climb. As we battled through the lush, tall vegetation, Ben was tripping over hidden boulders, canyons of little streams, tripping him up and forcing him to fall on his ass. Most normal party members would be a tad alarmed at such frustration early on in a day out in the hills, but Mike and I, both familiar with the difficulties of travelling in the Gores, laughed it off and figured Ben would just vent it out and be alright. (disclaimer : I’m not trying to throw Ben and his nerd rage under the bus, if you would like to hear some stories of my blind anger in the mountains, I would love to recount some of the finer moments).
We reached the basin under Kneeknocker Pass soon enough, with a nice light show to enlighten our spirits.
sunrise light show over Kneeknocker Pass
This was Ben’s first real live view of Peak C and my first from this angle. Peak C is one of those peaks people could write a book about when discussing the emotions that are evoked inside when staring at this monolith. We were there to climb Eagle’s Nest and Powell, the 2 highest peaks in the range, but it was Peak C that stole the show, as it usually does from multiple vantage points around the range. C is the peak you first see when approaching from Piney Lake and its presence is made known throughout the entire day (except when on the ridge to Eagle’s Nest, as it is hidden by Powell). The impression I got was a more elusive, more jagged, more imposing (more everything) version of Wetterhorn.
When we finally finished wiping the saliva off our chins from gauking at C, we made way for the elusive “Cataract Pass” or “Game Pass” (as described in Summitpost).
The pass was easily obtained and we got our first glimpse of The Corners, Upper Cataract Basin and our objective in the distance. It was eye candy to me, since this was a new basin in the Gores. I’ve already seen (but not climbed) all the peaks, it’s the basins and the differing angles of the mountains that keeps me coming back for more.
HCW from "Game Pass"
Upper Cataract Basin, honestly, probably wouldn’t be all that impressive without the presence of the 12ers, The Corners. They are a jagged trio that compliment the surrounding ridges and 13ers nicely and are seldom visited.
route to Eagle's Nest
A little piece of advice regarding the EN/Powell ridge. Supposedly, there is a “saddle” somewhere along the ridge. We never really found it (nor did we honestly look for it) but when gaining the ridge en route to Eagle’s Nest’s summit, don’t gain too soon. The West face of the ridge is cliffy and, at times, exposed, so its best to remain low, without losing a ton of elevation (try to stay somewhat level with “Game Pass”) and then ascend when you find a reasonable ascent route to the ridge.
The climb up went quicker than we thought and we were treated with a nice view of the remainder of our route to Eagle’s Nest, as well as a grand setting of the Gores in the early morning.
EN/Powell Ridge. Mike is probably talking about some unranked 11er over yonder
Silhouette of Gore Thumb and Pk.L
ridge to Eagle's Nest
We were about 600 vertical feet from the summit and had some exposed scrambling on the ridge to look forward to.
final push to the summit
A little after 8:30am, we reached the summit
Eagle's Nest summit
In the background is the open expanse of Middle Park, Kremmling, Green Mountain (and the reservoir around the corner) and beyond. For anyone who has driven South on route 9, heading from Kremmling to Silverthorne, you have probably noticed this peak. Eagle’s Nest is the peak dominating the skyline from this vantage point. Despite being wedged in between Vail and Silverthorne, the Gores are incredibly elusive and they do not grant a whole lot of views from a road. My favorite places to view them, aside from the interior, is along the route 9 corridor around Green Mountain Reservoir, Ute Pass and the Red/Buffalo massif at dusk. When I lived in Summit County, the office I would work at would take breaks from our afternoon to view the fluorescent color light shows the Southern Gores would often put on and they were spectacular. If you haven’t viewed the Gores from their Eastern vantages, I suggest you do so soon.
Green Mountain and the reservoir. Mike pointed out thats a ranked summit
We were a tad behind schedule, mainly due to the willow bashing session earlier that morning. We would’ve been worried, but the weather was holding beautifully and we were guestimating the traverse was going to take no more than 2 and a half to 3 hours.
Around 10:01 on the dot, we begin the traverse.
Ben and the 1.5 mile traverse
We made quick time back to the notch where we gained the ridge from “Game Pass” and the scrambling began immediately, an interesting intro to the exposure and difficulty of the traverse.
some "interesting" scrambling
I’m not going to lie, I personally believe this was the “crux” of the traverse, as it was exposed, nearly vertical and required some legitimate 5.3/5.4 moves (I’d go as far to say a single 5.5/5.6). It was fun though and I believe it was at this point the Braveheart quotes and Sean Connery impersonations began to fly. That might’ve lightened the mood, cause I don’t recall being nervous. So, note to self, when climbing exposed, 5th class terrain, you don’t need a rope, you just need a sense of humor (kidding).
Ben and Mike came up behind me and both made a mutual comment “well, that was interesting”. If the traverse had kept stuff like that up, it would’ve take us the majority of the weekend to complete. We didn’t have that luxury.
We pushed on and found tower after tower and as Kevin Baker mentioned in his TR, “at times, it felt more like canyoneering”. This was true, as we were forced to shimy down narrow canyon-like walls to avoid too much insane exposure on the sides. Fun climbing regardless. If you got to an impassable power, there was always a way to bypass (on the right, never the left).
getting a little canyon-esque
At one point, you had the option to downclimb a finger crack slabby face, or down another canyon. I chose the face, Mike and Ben the canyon.
Fall potential was there, but as you can see, not incredibly far. My ankle was finally beginning to heal from a bad sprain a couple weeks before, so I wasn’t really thinking about falling.
After making really good time, we decided to take a quick 15 minute break at a nice open vantage point and soaked in the views to the West of the Corners and Upper Cataract Basin.
The Corners and HCW
There were a couple more substantial towers to negotiate before we reached the open, class 1 tundra walk to Powell’s summit and I couldn’t help but think of the title of Kevin Baker’s TR “Will it ever end?”. After 2 and a half hours, it eventually did and we had a nice 10-15 minute stroll up a flat tundra to the large summit of Powell.
one last final tower
final push to Powell
From the summit of Mount Powell, aside from Eagle’s Nest, the Corners and anything North of you, if you have a wide enough angle of a lens, you can capture nearly every named (more like lettered) peak in the range, starting with Peak C and the Ripsaw Ridge. Powell, by itself, isn’t an incredibly difficult peak to obtain, but the views it grants are worth the visit. I may be biased in my assumption, but I feel this is possibly the greatest summit in Colorado, for views of a single mountain range. You just have to go and see for yourself.
95% of the Gores
This was a phenomenal vantage point to talk logistics for future climbs, since we could clearly see a number of drainages, most notably Slate Creek, Bubble Lake and the Ripsaw Ridge. We also took a nice long breather, probably 75-90 minutes in total and Ben was able to get some decent shuteye.
Resting on Powell's summit
Mike and I discussed future ops….
Peak L "Necklace Peak"
rugged Gore Thumb (unranked 13er)
Peak Q - heart of the Gores
If you look closely, you’ll notice a notch on Peak Q. That damn thing turned Mike and I back on an attempt at that guy from the Vail side last Fall. It almost looks as if the West summit is exactly the same height as the East Summit, but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case. Come September 11th, we’ll hopefully be standing atop that beast.
We loaded up on some Ranch flavored Pringles, peppermint patties, cheddar cheezits, Stinger gel fruits, Clif shots, some swigs of the Red Bull and we were ready for whatever this downclimb had for us. The best thing you can do when exploring the Gores is to never underestimate how tedious travel is going to be, whether its going up or down. I can’t count on one hand how many false summits we’ve encountered, not to mention getting cliffed out, time consuming mandatory rappels, longer than expected approaches and whatever else Lord Gore’s creation enjoys throwing at us. This place is not for the faint of heart.
We foot glissaded a short snowfield and then made way for the ridge that ran North from Kneeknocker Pass, since it looked like a nightmare to obtain the pass. The downclimbing got pretty interesting…
But the view of C made everything feel right in the universe…..
And then again on the other side of the ridge. This is one sick peak.
Ben and a peak that starts with a C and ends with a C
We regained the trail, stuck our heads in the cold mountain stream and then slogged back to the car to cap off an incredible day in the hills.
B/W Piney Lake. A peaceful end to a fine day
(I've always joked that if I ever get married, it'll take place at Piney River Ranch. When it comes time to kiss the bride, I'll first make sure the camera man has a plain site of C in the background. )
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):